May 23, 2014, 10:20 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: It’s a struggle for the Nationals to score runs these days, with a lineup lacking Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper. But these guys seem to be finding new ways every night to drive themselves (and their fans) crazy when it comes to clutch situations at the plate.
Despite a shaky outing from Jordan Zimmermann on his 28th birthday (four runs in six innings), the Nationals gave themselves a chance tonight against the Pirates. Actually, they gave themselves plenty of chances, only to fall short for the majority of the night. They finally got a sac fly from Greg Dobbs in the sixth, then a sac fly from Scott Hairston and a passed ball in the eighth to bring themselves to within a run.
Given one last shot to try to rally in the ninth against Jason Grilli, the Nationals couldn’t deliver. Grilli, activated off the DL earlier in the day, got Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond to close out the game, send the Nats to their third straight loss and leave them 24-24 for the season. It’s the first time they’ve had a .500 record since Opening Day.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: Look, the Nats are trying to snap out of their offensive funk with a lineup missing three key middle-of-the-order bats. That’s a tall order. So their run-scoring troubles are entirely understandable. At the same time, they have no choice but to keep putting these lineups out there until the big boys come back. And so they simply must do a better job taking advantage of what opportunities they get. The last three nights, they haven’t come close to doing that. They were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position through the seventh inning tonight. That left them a staggering 0-for-25 with runners in scoring position since their 7-run explosion in the bottom of the sixth Tuesday night against Johnny Cueto. They finally ended that streak on Zach Walters’ bloop single in the eighth, though that didn’t even drive in a run.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: It could’ve been much worse. The way the Pirates were squaring up everything against him, Zimmermann was fortunate to get through six innings allowing only four runs. The right-hander served up seven base hits and put another three men on base via walk or hit batter. The biggest blow: Pedro Alvarez’s 2-run homer into the shrubbery in center field on a hanging changeup from Zimmermann. Overall, he now sports a 3.95 ERA in 10 starts this season. Not terrible, by any stretch. But not what the Nationals expected from one of their big three starters.
KEY STAT: Four of the eight position players in the Nationals’ lineup tonight entered the game with batting averages of .182 or worse.
UP NEXT: It doesn’t happen often: A pair of No. 1 overall draft picks pitching against each other in the big leagues. It’ll be Stephen Strasburg (2009) vs. Gerrit Cole (2011) at 7:15 p.m. Saturday. The only other matchups between No. 1 picks in the last decade: Kris Benson vs. Paul Wilson in 2005 and David Price vs. Luke Hochevar in 2012.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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