Dave Martinez really started managing in the 7th inning and on…but what about the 6th and 5th innings?

The  Nationals had the golden opportunity with the Braves and Phillies losing today, but the Nationals blew several chances to win this game today and instead lost this heartbreaker in extra innings 7-5. Maybe as we wrote earlier, it started with the line-up card construction. Juan Soto has been scuffling, and today was as good as any to get that young man a rest day against a tough lefty. There were several Nats that have not done much against starter Wei-Yin Chen while Mark Reynolds has had quite the success against him at .417 with 3 home runs. Could Reynolds have played 3rd base like he did earlier this month in place of Anthony Rendon who was batting near .100 against Chen? Apparently not in Dave Martinez‘s thinking. Instead, Rendon went 0-5 in this game.

In the bottom of the 5th inning with one out and Spencer Kieboom on second base, manager Dave Martinez batted Jefry Rodriguez instead of going with Reynolds there to pinch-hit. In the 6th inning with bases loaded and the lefty J.T. Riddle up, Martinez stuck with righty Jimmy Cordero instead of bringing in lefty Matt Grace right there in what would have been the highest leverage spot of the game. Riddle singled and drove in 2-runs and the Marlins took a 4-2 lead at the time. If you are truly playing these games like they are the fourth game of the playoffs, you have to be in a different mindset. Martinez really did not start pulling the levers until the 7th inning.

“I really thought when [Jefry Rodriguez] went out there for the [sixth inning] he was pretty strong,” manager Dave Martinez said.  “Two pretty good hitters got a couple of hits. We decided to make the move then.”

After that, it was a pleasure to watch Dave Martinez make moves. Those moves do not always work out like we saw in the fateful 10th inning, but Davey was strategizing. The Nationals had two comebacks in the game to tie it up but couldn’t come up with the knockout punch such as runners on 3rd and 1st with  one out and Juan Soto up, and he hit into a doubleplay on the first pitch he saw. At a point when a long flyball “out” known as a productive out could have scored the winning run with a sacrifice fly, Soto ended what was a comeback chance to go-ahead.

The winning runs scored  in the 10th inning off of a bases loaded 2-out single with a doink off of the batter’s end of his bat from a Koda Glover cutter. It really seemed to sum up the season when that ball found open green grass in the outfield. With bases loaded, you really don’t want a batter to get contact because bad things can happen when balls are put in play. Glover really needed a strikeout there, but fell behind quickly to a .222 hitter who got lucky just putting it in play. Nobody ever got an RBI off of a strikeout — think about that riddle for a second.

“Three broken bats, [and] infield singles. I mean, that’s tough,” Glover said. “Honestly, I would rather give it up some other way than three broken bats…”

Besides pitches not executed in this game, the Nationals defense failed at key times. We could have been talking about Spencer Kieboom’s back-pick pick-off play or throwing out another baserunner or Trea Turner making a nifty dive for a ball, but not today when one the biggest plays of the game was a booted tailor-made doubleplay grounder to Daniel Murphy. That was a costly error by Murphy that led to the 2-runs scored off of Jimmy Cordero which of course were unearned runs, but a huge part of the game when J.T. Riddle delivered the go-ahead single in the 6th inning. Credit to Cordero, he made the pitches, but he was not pulled at a crucial point in this game and was forced to face Riddle, the hot lefty batter for the Marlins.

“Cordero came in and was lights out,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Got a doubleplay ball that we couldn’t turn.”

Murphy would come up with a big hit to get the Nats back into the ballgame, and much credit to Adam Eaton who replaced the hitless Michael Taylor to get two hits and a game tying home run in the 9th inning to keep the game going. Along with Taylor, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman had hitless nights.

The Nats wasted a 2-run home run from Trea Turner and an RBI single in the 7th inning to tie the game which should have made Turner the star of the game. Turner joined elite company with that home run which was his 15th of the season and that coupled with his 30+ steals made him the first shortstop since Jimmy Rollins who was the last to accomplish that feat in 2012 (23 HR, 30 SB). Turner is the 10th shortstop in MLB history to produce that particular combination of power with speed, and his 2018 season marks just the 21st time it has happened. With 35+ games remaining in the season, Turner has time to make more history. After the game though, Turner only wanted to talk about the disappointing loss.

“I think to fight to get back in the game is pretty hard, and then you do it two or three times in a game and then not be able to come out victorious — I think is definitely disappointing a little bit,” Trea Turner said. “That’s baseball. If you give those guys more chances and don’t capitalize on your chances then you’re not going to put yourself in a spot to win. That’s kind of been a problem lately, but you’ve got to continue to grind.”

Unfortunately on this night it was more about the failures and the lack of execution at key times then celebrating the clutch hits that got the Nationals not one, not two, but three separate comebacks in this game to either go ahead or tie the game and two of those comebacks were in the 7th and 9th innings . To win this game, they just needed to plate one more run which they could not do. This is why the mistakes get accentuated. If the Nationals win, are we really going to talk about Dave Martinez not going with his best statistical line-up or Daniel Murphy‘s error? Murphy seemed to more than make up for his error with starting the 7th inning rally in an amazing 11-pitch battle that ended in a single off of a 100mph heater.

“I make an error right there [that] put us behind schedule, and then I misplay a line drive,” Murphy said. “It was a direct hand in us losing this ballgame. Two plays I should’ve made. I didn’t. And it really hurt us a lot tonight, unfortunately.”

While Daniel Murphy was hard on himself, he was a few inches short of catching that line drive, but the missed doubleplay ball sure loomed large at the time. The issue with Murphy continues to be whether or not his offense is good enough to make up for his defensive shortcomings? On this night, probably not, but this was a team loss. There were so many other plays that were not made that no one player should wear this loss but with time on the season getting short — this is just another example this season of the little things adding up and finding another way to lose a game.

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