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Thom Loverro: Game 2 of NLDS not a pretty sight for Nationals

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Thom Loverro

The Washington Nationals were worried how the sun would affect their vision during Monday afternoon's Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

After four innings, they might have preferred simply to hide their eyes.

The Nationals saved some of their worst baseball of the season for Monday, falling to the Cardinals 12-4.

Jordan Zimmermann had perhaps his worst start of 2012, and while the Cardinals were teeing off, the Nationals flailed at every bad pitch St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia threw for the two innings he was in the game.

It was the Nationals' offense at its worst, free swinging against a pitcher who couldn't throw a strike. Even though Washington's hitters couldn't see that, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny recognized his starter was hurt and pulled him after just two innings once his team was staked to a 4-1 lead.

It's not far-fetched to think that if Washington's hitters had let Garcia hang himself with his inability to find the plate, the Nationals could have had a 5-4 lead after the damage against Zimmermann.

But that's not who these Nationals hitters are. They have some of the fastest bats in baseball, and they go up to the plate determined to use them. They might have been better off if Garcia had been throwing strikes. At least they might have gotten some solid hacks.

Bryce Harper, in that No. 2 spot in the lineup, looked every bit the 19-year-old rookie he is, from the eye black that ran down his face at the start of the game to getting thrown out at third trying to advance on a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning. That cut short a possible rally after Ryan Zimmerman's flyball scored Jayson Werth and reduced the Cardinals' lead to 8-4.

That's who Harper is now, though. He doesn't know another way to play, not yet. And the Nationals' lineup isn't filled with hitters that get on base unless they are hacking at the ball. It's who they are, and it won them 98 games this season.

It just didn't win for them Monday.

What was missing was the pitching -- Zimmermann allowed five runs on seven hits in three innings, and Craig Stammen and Sean Burnett allowed six runs in one inning combined.

When the offense struggled at times, particularly early in the season, the starting pitching kept the Nationals in the game until the bench and bullpen took over -- just like Game 1.

That said, what did you expect? That the defending World Series champion Cardinals would just lay down after dropping the first game to Washington 3-2? St. Louis has a powerful lineup, and it seemed to see Zimmermann's pitches just fine, shadows or no shadows.

Washington returns home Wednesday to host Games 3 and 4 -- and 5, if necessary -- at Nationals Park. Maybe the series will swing back in the Nationals' direction.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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