15 Thoughts: Nationals’ loss in Game 2 of the NL Division Series

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Beanballs,Sports,Brian McNally

1. Nothing’s easy in the postseason. After feeling good about themselves thanks to a comeback 3-2 victory in Game 1, the Nationals return home even in this NLDS at 1-1 after an ugly 12-4 Game 2 loss in St. Louis. They now turn to right-hander Edwin Jackson on Wednesday just 12 days after the Cardinals hammered him for nine runs, eight earned, in his worst start of the season.

2. This loss starts with Jordan Zimmermann. He’s been so consistent all season for Washington, but the Cardinals also appear to be a rough match for him with their right-handed heavy lineup. They crushed him on Sept. 1. That remains the worst start of his career – eight runs allowed in 3 2/3 innings. This one was shorter – three innings – but not quite as ugly. Still, St. Louis posted five runs on seven hits. David Freese smoked a double into right in the second inning to tie the game at 1 and set up second-and-third with no one out. The Cardinals scored four runs in that frame.  Allen Craig crushed a homer to left in the third to make it 5-1.

3. Zimmermann threw 46 four-seam fastballs out of his 63 pitches. He also threw three two-seamers, six curves and just eight sliders. Four of St. Louis’ hits came off that fastball. Yadier Molina twice singled off the slider. In the regular season 62.2 percent of Zimmermann’s pitches were fastballs. He was at 77.7 percent on Monday. The slider was used 23.6 percent of the time during the regular season, but only 11.5 percent on Monday. Without a change-up to keep those right-handed bats off balance, Zimmerman is vulnerable when he doesn’t command that fastball. For whatever reason there didn’t appear to be a Plan B on Monday.

4. Having said that, Washington’s bullpen needs to be better. The middle relievers didn’t get the job done. Craig Stammen is in danger of not pitching again this series. He struggled in Game 1 on Sunday with two hits allowed and two hit batters in an inning of work. Monday he gave up a home run to Daniel Descalso and walked two batters, recording just a single out and letting two earned runs score. What was a manageable 5-1 deficit was suddenly 7-1 after four innings.

5. Moving on: Michael Gonzalez gave up a long home run to Carlos Beltran in the sixth. Suddenly the two solo homers hit by Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche the inning before weren’t quite so meaningful. It was 8-3. Washington cut the lead to 8-4 in the seventh – more on that later – but lefty Sean Burnett was a disaster in the eighth. He gave up a double to Peter Kozma, the No. 8 batter, but seemed okay with two outs. Then Jon Jay tripled home a run, and Beltran hit his second monster homer of the night to effectively end the game at 11-4. Burnett walked Holliday as his final contribution and he scored when Craig doubled off reliever Tom Gorzelanny. The bullpen picked up Gio Gonzalez in Game 1. It didn’t do the job in Game 2.

6. Back to that rally that suffered a premature death in the seventh inning. Bryce Harper just can’t get thrown out at third base. The Nats had runners at second and third and no one out down 8-3. Jayson Werth tagged and scored on a fly ball to left hit by Zimmerman. But when the throw back to the infield by Holliday inexplicably slammed into the grass maybe 10 feet away, Harper tried to take an extra base. Unfortunately, the ball rolled right to Descalso, the second baseman, who was in the right spot at the right time. His throw to third was in plenty of time to get Harper. That meant two outs instead of one. It took a runner out of scoring position with LaRoche and then Michael Morse coming up. And what could have been at least an 8-5 game going into the bottom of the seventh was 8-4. Sometimes the 19-year-old does act his age. Too aggressive for that spot.

7. Speaking of Descalso: He batted .227 with a .303 on-base percentage and a .627 OPS in 374 at-bats during the regular season. He was a bad offensive player. Yet in two games in the playoffs he is 2-for-6 with a solo home run on Monday, a near two-run homer taken away by Werth in right field on Sunday, a walk, two RBI, three runs scored and a couple of fine defensive plays. Do the Cardinals have a playoff hero tree somewhere they just grow these guys?

8. Ian Desmond is trying to play that role for Washington. After a 3-for-4 afternoon in Game 1 he batted 1-for-4 in Game 2 and scored another run. He also made a great defensive play at short in the second inning to throw out Skip Schumaker on a grounder deep in the hole. A run scored to make it 4-1, but it at least kept that inning from spiraling out of control.

9. Bad times for Nats second baseman Danny Espinosa. He is 1-for-6 with a walk in the series. He committed an error in the field Monday that allowed a run to score – though, to be fair, he was playing in and the ball was smashed to his left. He has struck out three times. There was also that odd bunt in Game 1 with runners at the corners and no one out. Just bad luck in the top of the sixth, though, when Espinosa smacked what appeared to be a triple into the gap in left center. Unfortunately, Jay ran it down and made a spectacular leaping catch just as he slammed into the wall. Espinosa looked like he was in shock as he made his way back to the dugout.

10. How valuable is catcher Kurt Suzuki defensively? Nats pitchers have thrown 18 pitches in the dirt in front of him through the first two games of this series and Suzuki has blocked 17 of them. One Gio Gonzalez fastball skipped past him in Game 1 and led to a run – though he had no chance to stop it and the play was ruled a wild pitch.

11. One Zimmerman had a good night. Ryan was 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBI, including his long home run to left field in the fifth inning. He also looked better in the field after an error in Game 1, making a couple of real nice stops at third base and staying true on all his throws.

12. The bullpen wasn’t a complete disaster, of course. Christian Garcia, also under the weather, according to Nats manager Davey Johnson, entered with runners at first and second, one out and his team down 7-1. He got Holliday to ground out on a comebacker and struck out Craig swinging.  He then walked the first two batters he faced in the fifth inning, but got Descalso to hit into a double play and struck out Peter Kozma. Ryan Mattheus, who escaped a bases-loaded, none out jam in Game 1, retired the side in order in the seventh.

13. Johnson told reporters in St. Louis that he thought the shadows stopped being a factor at Busch Stadium around the third inning. Now get ready for the Sun Monster at Nationals Park. Wednesday’s game is set for 1:07 p.m. The time has been shifting along with the angle of the sun, but around the 3-to-4 p.m. hour has been causing fielders problems in the outfield recently. The shadows could be an issue in the late innings.

14. How good have these offenses been in nine meetings this season, including the postseason? St. Louis is averaging 6.0 runs per game (54) while the Nats are at 5.6 runs per game (50).

15. A reporter in St. Louis asked Johnson if this was the type of Cardinals’ offense he expected to see in this series. His response – to much laughter apparently: “I hope I never see this offense again.”

Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14

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