By Matthew Jacobson (@MJacobson12)
The Nationals came home after an impressive series win over the Chicago Cubs in which they used none of their “Big 3” starters (Scherzer and Strasburg were injured, while Gio Gonzalez was away on Paternity Leave) in what was likely a preview of the NLDS. The Nats would come home to a team that would likely not be in the playoffs in the Florida Marlins, but has played the Nationals close lately, with the teams splitting their last 28 meetings 14 and 14.
In another odd occurrence, Marlins starter Chris O’Grady was pulled in the second inning, similar to Max Scherzer pulling himself in the second inning of a game against the Marlins (O’Grady happened to be starting that game as well). He would be relieved by Odrisamer Despaigne. Matt Wieters would continue his hot streak with an RBI single in the second inning, giving the Nats a 1-0 lead. Two innings later, Bryce Harper mashed a first-pitch curveball over the wall in right-center, extending the lead to 2-0. For Harper, it was his 29th home run of the season, and the 150th of his career. In the fifth, Max Scherzer appeared to be cruising along, before a Tomas Telis double and Odrisamer Despaigne single cut the lead in half. Giancarlo Stanton would tie the game just an inning later with a monster shot to left field.
With Scherzer at 94 pitches, signs pointed to him being done after that sixth inning, but he returned for a seventh inning, and after walking Ichiro on 4 pitches, he told Mike Maddux that he would get the next out (he used some NSFW language, but the point was he was going to get his 21st out) and that he did. He struck out Dee Gordon swinging on three pitches, ending his day with a line of 7 innings pitched, 5 hits allowed, 2 earned runs allowed, 2 walks, and nine strikeouts. We are truly blessed to see Max Scherzer pitch here in DC.
Scherzer wanted the win, but the Nationals could not muster a run in the seventh inning, meaning he would be stuck with a no decision. The Nationals struggles against the Miami bullpen continued, as they got just the two runs off Despaigne, and could not score against Drew Steckenrider or Junichi Tazawa. Brandon Kintzler worked another scoreless inning in as many appearances with the Nationals, allowing just one walk in the top of the eighth inning. In the bottom half, it was Wilmer Difo getting things started with a leadoff single. He moved to second on an Andrew Stevenson sacrifice bunt, and to third on a Brian Goodwin groundout. This would set the stage for Adam Lind against lefthander Jarlin Garcia. After falling behind 0-2, Lind knocked one right back up the middle, plating Difo, and giving the Nats a 3-2 lead that they would not relinquish.
One month ago, if you told me that the Nationals were winning by a run going into the ninth inning, I would respond by asking you how many runs the Nationals allowed in the 9th inning. But here we are, on August 8, and save situation leads going into the ninth inning are not only safe, but they are secure. Sean Doolittle continued his perfect run in save situations, working around a leadoff single to retire the next three batters he faced. A big thing that I had noticed last night was Doolittle’s somewhat struggle to throw first pitch strikes, and last night he threw strike one on the first pitch to all four Marlins he faced.
Kintzler, Madson, Doolittle. Finally, the Nationals have that bridge from the starter to the closer that all great teams have. Good on Mike Rizzo for addressing an obvious need, even if it may have taken until the trade deadline.
The Nats are back in action tonight at 7:05, looking to extend their 14 game lead in the NL East. AJ Cole takes the hill for the Nationals against Vance Worley.