The Washington Nationals led from the first inning to the end in an impressive win over the reigning World Series champs in a game that finished at 4-2 in front of a sold-out Wrigley Field crowd and a national audience on the MLB Network.
This game showed exactly why Mike Rizzo spent so much in prospects to trade for Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle and Brandon Kintzler in July. There was no repeat of the June 29th game against a depleted Cubs team where the Nats blew a 2-run lead in the 9th inning as Dusty Baker went to Blake Treinen who ended up with a blown-save-loss. There was no déjà vu rather a case of déjà new.
These 3 newly acquired relievers finished up the 7th-8th-9th innings with shutdown baseball to Hold & Save a win against the Cubs. Kintzler had to hold a one-run lead in the 7th, and Madson in the 8th inning had a two-run lead, and Doolittle for the 9th completed his 5th save for the Nationals in 5 chances while throwing just 6-pitches while finishing this game with a 5-4-3 around the horn doubleplay turned behind him.
It was a very good Tanner Roark who had a 6-inning shutout going, but to nobody’s surprise was brought out for the 7th inning with a 97 pitch count, and Roark almost on cue gave up 2 runs quickly — very quickly actually as the 3rd batter he faced smacked a two-run homer to cut the lead to a narrow 3-2 score then Roark was quickly pulled by Dusty Baker. What was gained there? Kintzler still had to work to get 2-outs in what was now a one-run lead instead of a three-run lead. Why exactly was Roark out there for the 7th with this new bullpen? Again, this is why you have this bullpen. If Roark was at 85-to-90 pitches then you could see the reason to give him some rope. After Roark gave up a first-pitch leadoff double in the 7th inning, Baker left him in to pitch to more batters.
Daniel Murphy was most of the Nats offense as he crushed two home runs for 3 of the Nationals 4 runs, and it was Anthony Rendon who added a sacrifice fly with bases loaded and no-outs for the final Nationals run of the game. The Nationals who improved to 64-43 only had 7-hits on the game, and 3 of those 7 hits belonged to Daniel Murphy while Howie Kendrick had 2-hits and Bryce Harper had the other 2-hits and the other 6-starters in the lineup were held hitless.
Perhaps one the most unusual defensive plays you will ever see was scored as a 9-to-1 forceout at 2nd base when Heyward popped-up to shallow right-centerfield and Brian Goodwin misplayed the ball but was backed-up on a headsy play by Bryce Harper who threw the runner out who had to advance from 1st base, and he was forced out at 2nd base. The video is here.
The debate rages on with regards to pitcher usage and a common argument for Dusty Baker pushing his starters was simply “the bullpen stinks”, but Mike Rizzo fixed it to maybe overkill when he added 2017 All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler on top of acquiring Ryan Madson and Shawn Doolitte. Still Baker stuck with his starter with World Series hero Kyle Schwarber as the first batter of that 7th inning.
“[Tanner Roark] was dealing,” Dusty Baker said. “We were watching him, particularly in that seventh because he had 100 pitches. But that’s nothing for Tanner. He’s a workhorse. It was time to get [Roark] out of there and turn it over to our newly revamped bullpen. You feel very comfortable putting those guys in the game because you know they’ve been in that situation many times and they feel very comfortable in those situations.”
In fact, it is something statistically significant for Roark who goes from a .661 OPS in innings 4-to-6 to .942 for innings 7-to-9 and that was before surrendering a double and home run in the 7th inning in today’s game which will push that OPS to 1.161, and if you think that’s a small sample size that’s the 4th home run and 2nd double in only 29 at-bats for Roark in 7th innings this season. Roark hits a wall this year around pitch number 92 when you look at trend lines. Today, Roark hit the wall at pitch number 98.