The rollercoaster; More Groundhog Day; Some bright spots

Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

A day after dominating the Dodgers in a well-played shutout, Nats fans were cautiously optimistic that their team could beat the Dodgers in a game where both teams were missing two star players. The Dodgers sat Justin Turner and scratched Corey Seager, and the Nats are still missing Trea Turner and Juan Soto.

The difference is the Dodgers have depth and besides their battery they do not have Mendoza hitters  like the Nats who must play them daily. The Dodgers easily moved players around to their left-handed dominant lineup with Joc Pederson leading off and the versatile Max Muncy at third base (what position can’t this guy play?), and Enrique Hernandez moved to second base,  and Chris Taylor who is their lightest hitting player at .214 played shortstop. From an outsider’s perspective,  you would not have known the Dodgers were missing anyone. Heck, they went to the World Series last year without the injured Seager.

The bottom of the first inning started off in such Nats style. Starting pitcher, Anibal Sanchez,  painted Pederson’s kryptonite zone and did not get calls so in a 3-2 count, he had to throw a strike that had plate just as Nationals radio voice Charlie Slowes said “Pederson is 1 for his last 10.” Pederson took the outside pitch over the wall for the only run the Dodgers would need in this eventual 5-0 shutout. Maybe a location change would have helped, but these 2019 Nats have been guilty of constantly throwing pitch after pitch to the same location like a dog itches that same spot to its detriment. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The other thing you can’t teach Mike Rizzo and his staff is the art of platooning. The Dodgers do it like a hockey shift. Manager Dave Roberts said platoons are “a big part of what we’re doing,” and his G.M. and analytics department knows that Pederson’s career splits dictate a platoon (.571 OPS vs. LHP, .851 vs. RHP). Pederson hit 2 home runs last night. Roberts says it’s about the numbers, and that is all it should be about.

There are such vast differences between these two squads which extend to the use of starting pitchers where the Dodgers have used their starters the least the last two years, and they use that injured list like a resting spot when their analytics point to a need for a break.

Last night Roberts pulled his starter, Kenta Maeda, after six innings of one-hit baseball and just 86 pitches. The only blemish was a Wilmer Difo clean single. The other thing the Dodgers do so well is pitching to their defense. Their shifts thwarted numerous hot shots.  The Dodgers have been to two World Series in a row and are the odds-on favorites again this year. Why not. They are analytically sound.

Credit to the Nationals for keeping the game close with spectacular defense until Adam Eaton with 2-outs dove for a bloop instead of playing it into a single in the 4th inning while facing the bottom of the order. It was the 4th inning and no chance that Robert’s would have pinch-hit for the dominant Maeda and that ill-advised dive by Eaton allowed the runner from first base to scamper around and score as the ball got by Eaton. The 1-0 game pushed to 2-0.

Sanchez was pulled in the 5th inning and if this was a playoff game he would not have come out for the 5th inning with Pederson as the leadoff batter. Sanchez up until that point could have been embroiled in a 0-0 game if the ump and Eaton cooperated.  Sanchez threw his worst pitch of the night and Pederson smashed it for his second tater in the game and the score ratcheted to 3-0.

Nats have now lost 12-of-their-last-15 games and are now 8 games below .500.  They have now scored 3-runs or less in 21 of the team’s 38 games (55.26%). Statistically it looked like that 3-run deficit was canyon sized. The bullpen looked great with Justin MillerJoe Ross, and Erick Fedde who all threw zeroes but Matt Grace was left in the game to face lefty killer David Freese who seemingly ended the game with a 2-run blast. Why Davey why?

The Nationals would make a game of it by loading the bases in the 8th inning and the guy who does not play third base made the play of the game for the Dodgers diving to his backhand on a hot smash from Anthony Rendon on what should have been a bases clearing double was a spectacular out as Max Muncy had the smarts to get up and dive to third base to tag the base for a force out on Wilmer Difo who he beat by mere inches. Baseball is a game of inches and last night the inches all went the way of the Dodgers.

The Nationals bad luck BABIP was on full display all night but again credit to the Dodgers for defensive positioning and making plays.

You would hope by now that Mike Rizzo would want to emulate the success of the Dodgers who spend less than the Nationals yet use analytics to make the difference be it platoons, pitcher usage and defensive positioning.

The rollercoaster ups and downs is tough on emotions. Losing when winning  is so desperately needed hurts the team’s health and well-being, and last night’s final results was another Groundhog Day revival.



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