The Good with the Bad: ARZ Series Takeaways

The Good With the Bad is a segment in which Citizens of Natstown contributor Luigi (Ouij) de Guzman (@ouij) and Alyssa Wolice break down the negatives and positives for each series, respectively. You, the reader, can then decide to see the glass half empty - or full - with each series wrap.

No one likes the view from second place, but the Washington Nationals are still on the New York Mets’ heels—thanks in part to splitting the four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Washington’s record is now 56-51, and the team trails New York in the NL East by 1 ½ games.

OUIJ'S TAKE:

Pinched. The most surprising thing about Matt Williams is that, despite his nickname ("The Big Marine") and fearsome reputation, perhaps the defining characteristic of his management style is his timidity. I have already railed at length against his bullpen management. After this series split, I think we should focus on how he deploys pinch hitters.

How is Matty timid with pinch hitters? Well, on Monday, in the bottom of the fifth, the Nats were down 5-0. Doug Fister was in line for the loss. With one out, Michael A. Taylor hit a clean single. Would Matty lift the struggling Fister for a pinch-hitter (perhaps Danny Espinosa) and a chance to put some runs on the board?

Of course not. Faced with the aggressive choice (pinch hitting), Matty instead went with the most timid one available, instructing Doug Fister to sacrifice bunt. This nearly blew up in his face, as Fister's sac bunt attempt was initially ruled a double play. On appeal, Taylor was held to be out on second, but Fister was safe on first. Yunel Escobar was called out on strikes to end the inning. Thus ended the threat. Fister would last one more inning, but the scoring chance was gone.

In the bottom of the fifth of Wednesday's game, the Nats led 2-1. Gio Gonzalez had thrown 96 pitches. Gio was due to bat second, and bat he did, making an out. 2 out of the next 3 batters Gio would face in the top of the sixth were right-handers. When Gio failed to retire Ender Inciarte, Matty pulled him.

On its face, Wednesday isn't so bad. But if the hook was going to be that quick in the top of the sixth (and it was going to be, given Gio's pitch count that day), there was no reason to send Gio to bat for himself--especially with a small lead. Matty could have managed it more aggressively and called for a pinch hitter (like a certain utility player who seems rather underutilized these days), at least giving the ball club a chance to add on an insurance run or two.

Sure, that would have put the bullpen into the game, and the bullpen might have blown it (they did blow it in the top of the sixth). But the bullpen was coming into the game anyway--why not try to score some more runs?

For a guy who, before Thursday's game, implored his players to be aggressive, Matty is an awfully timid manager when it comes to deploying the resources he has at his disposal.

The Augean Stables. Wednesday's game, played before a huge crowd of Chia fans (line score for their hero, Jayson Werth Chia: 0 for 3, RBI, K, and some awful fumbling about the outfield) was a throwback to an earlier era of Nats game. Aaron Barrett's command problems apparently extend to throws to first base while fielding bunts. That threw the game away. What followed was a veritable cavalcade of failure, as a succession of Nats relievers tried (and failed) to keep the Diamondbacks from scoring. In the end, Tyler Moore ended up pitching two-thirds of an inning.

Never Slide at First. Oh, did anyone catch that Jayson Werth was called out on an infield ground ball because he slid headfirst into first base? He wasn't avoiding a tag--he was just diving in for reasons known only to himself and His creator. This is pretty much the definition of pressing. Players are wasting time and effort doing things that seem spectacular but do not appreciably help the ball club. This is a worrying development.

Selling the Drama. This wrap-up would be incomplete if I didn't remind you that my noble & learnéd friend Alyssa came up with the idea for the promotional item given away during the most embarrassing loss of the series. This was conceived in a year when the Nats failed to make the playoffs. That seemed...inauspicious to me.

ALYSSA'S TAKE:

Joe Ross for the Win. Before Nationals fans even try to unravel how Doug Fister as a long man will work out, it’s not time to forget that Joe Ross pitched a solid six innings Thursday evening. The Nats’ right-hander allowed just one run on five hits and struck out seven batters. Even more, the outing represented the 22-year-old's fourth straight quality start. Time will only tell if the Nats keep Ross on an innings limit, and it is up to Ross to push the boundaries of that limit by shutting down opposing batters.

Two out of Four Ain’t Bad. The MLB scheduling gods threw the Nationals a bone and gave the New York Mets an off-day Thursday—meaning, a Nats win allowed Washington to regain lost ground. As they trail first place by just 1 ½ games, it may not be “the Nats’ Division to lose,” but the top of the throne is certainly within reach. It’s in Washington’s best interest that the team pulls it together for this weekend’s three-game home set against the 45-61 Colorado Rockies. Things won’t come easy on the road with the L.A. Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, but there is a light at the end of the August schedule, for sure.

Viva Desmond. Ian Desmond got payback for being benched Wednesday in the best way possible: he went 2-for-4 with a second-inning home run off Jeremy Hellickson in the series closer. The homer marked Desi’s 12th of the season and was the first run of the day. Prior to Thursday’s game, Desmond went 1-for-8 in the series. His only hit, however, kept alive the potential for an epic ninth-inning comeback in Monday’s would-be loss.

After Ryan Zimmerman homered with one out, Clint Robinson singled and took second on Desmond’s soft grounder. Wilson Ramos kept the streak of singles alive to plate Robinson and move Desmond to second, and both Desmond and Ramos scored on a double by Michael Taylor. Unfortunately, of course, the stretch stopped there as Jayson Werth grounded out and Yunel Escobar flied to left to end the game.

A Save is a Save. It wasn’t pretty, but Jonathan Papelbon finally pitched in another save situation—and secured the Curly W for the Nationals Tuesday night. After Storen pitched a perfect eighth, Papelbon allowed a lead-off hit to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Jake Lamb in the ninth. Papelbon then got Jarrod Saltalamacchia out on a fly ball to center, but Lamb—the tying run—made it from second to third on Welington Castillo’s grounder in the next at-bat. The inning stayed alive a bit longer thanks to a throwing error by Yunel Escobar, but Papelbon forced Cliff Pennington to end the game with a grounder to the mound on a 1-2 count.


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