Quick Links

Nats fail to execute in 2-1 loss


Nats fail to execute in 2-1 loss

They'd been in this situation plenty of times already this season, locked into a tense, low-scoring affair that would be decided by one big hit.

"We've played a million one-run games," Ryan Zimmerman said. "So it's not really anything big."

And yet after watching the Nationals fail at the plate on several occasions during Friday night's 2-1, 11-inning loss to the Orioles, it would be easy to question whether this lineup was getting caught up in the moment and trying too hard to make something happen.

There were just too many instances of poor execution, whether in the form of fouled-off bunt attempts, a botched hit-and-run or watching strike three whisk by right down the heart of the plate to think otherwise.

"We get in that situation, and we get a little over-anxious," manager Davey Johnson said. "Just trying too hard, the way I figure it, and not letting them come to us."

The opener of the most-anticipated Battle of the Beltways since the series commenced in 2006 lived up to the hype, with an energetic crowd of 36,680 on hand. Two upper-division clubs that have enjoyed success this season behind stellar pitching got a couple more dominant performances from their hurlers, with Baltimore's Jake Arrieta allowing one run over seven innings and Washington's Edwin Jackson doing his counterpart one better and making it through the eighth.

Ultimately, Nick Markakis' towering homer off Ryan Mattheus in the top of the 11th -- it struck the facing of the second deck down the right-field line -- decided this one, a tough blow for a Nationals pitching staff that had hung on all night to that point.

"I made a bad pitch," Mattheus said of his 2-2 slider down and in to Markakis. "He's a good hitter, and that's what good hitters do with bad pitches."

Mattheus, though, might never have found himself in that situation had the Nationals lineup managed to push across just one more run at any point during the previous 10 innings.

They didn't have many opportunities against Arrieta and four Orioles relievers, but what opportunities they did have were mostly squandered. Only Ian Desmond's solo homer in the sixth resulted in a run for the home team.

The Nationals went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. They weren't much better with a man on first base, either.

Such was the case in the bottom of the fifth, when Johnson called for a hit-and-run with Jackson at the plate and slow-footed catcher Jesus Flores on first. Jackson whiffed at Arrieta's pitch, and Matt Wieters easily gunned down Flores to kill that potential rally.

Was Jackson surprised to get the hit-and-run sign in that situation?

"Not really," the right-hander insisted. "The managers that I've played for, they've been pretty aggressive, especially Arizona's Kirk Gibson and St. Louis' Tony LaRussa. If a pitcher can halfway handle the bat, they'll put the hit-and-run on."

The poor execution continued in the seventh, when Bryce Harper led off with a single and Johnson decided to ask Danny Espinosa to bunt the rookie over to second base. Except Espinosa took one pitch for a strike, then twice bunted foul, sent back to the dugout after the final one.

"You try and you work on it every day as far as bunting, and sometimes it's not the easiest thing in the world to do," Espinosa said. "I know everyone thinks it is, but when you've got a guy throwing hard and the ball comes up and in, you want to bunt it. At the same time, you're trying to just protect yourself and move, and you foul it off."

By the time the bottom of the 11th rolled around, the Nationals were trailing and facing their last chance. They did give themselves a chance, though. Pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi was plunked by Orioles reliever Pedro Strop to begin the inning, only to be wiped out on Desmond's double-play grounder.

Now down to their final out, the Nationals still had one last-ditch shot when Roger Bernadina struck out on a pitch that wound up at the backstop and reached on the wild pitch. Zimmerman followed with a single up the middle, putting the tying runner in scoring position for cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche.

LaRoche has been the Nationals' most-productive, and most-consistent hitter, but he capped off perhaps his worst night of the season when he weakly tapped the ball back to the mound for the game's final out, completing an 0-for-5 night in which he never hit the ball out of the infield.

"We had chances," Johnson said. "And then our inability to get a bunt down, and bunting bad pitches ... a game like that's frustrating. We don't have to try to force on the execution of a bunt.

"That was a tough one. We pitched good. I thought the bullpen pitched good. One pitch, ballgame."

Quick Links

Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Majestic’s reign as the maker of MLB jerseys are about to come to an end. 

In 2020, Fanatics and Under Armour will be teaming to make on-field jerseys and apparel for all MLB teams, according to a Sports Business Journal report. 

The news outlet also reports that the deal means the MLB’s licensing relations with Nike will be over as well. 

Under Armour will produce the jerseys starting in Spring Training of the 2020 season, and “broad apparel rights” will go to Fanatics. 

New Era will continue to be the maker of MLB hats. 

Given that Maryland native Kevin Plank founded Under Armour, and that the business' headquarters are in Baltimore, it’s sure to be a splash with baseball fans in the DMV.

You can read the full Sports Business journal report here. 

Quick Links

Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Here is an early look at the biggest questions facing the Washington Nationals as they embark on another offseason in their quest to build a championship team...

What to do with Wilson Ramos and the catcher position?

The Nationals' biggest question entering this offseason is without a doubt at catcher with All-Star Wilson Ramos on the mend after having the ACL in his right knee repaired on Friday. Not only is the recovery a long one - he could be out until well into the 2017 season - it is the second time he's had the ligament fixed. At 29, his viability as a primary catcher moving forward is a real question. Even Ramos admitted he may have to transition to the American League with his next contract.

If Ramos does leave, behind him will be a significant hole on the Nationals. They have several in-house options, but none that are anywhere close to Ramos, who emerged this season as the best offensive catcher in baseball. Pedro Severino is a nice young player, but has a career .632 OPS in the minors. The drop-off on offense from Ramos to him would be significant. The same can be said about Jose Lobaton.

It won't be easy replacing Ramos with an external option, if that's the way the Nats opt to go. Catchers who can hit and play defense like him are a rarity. Matt Wieters of the Orioles would be the best option in free agency, but he's a year older and is also a step down offensively. Unless they like Wieters - who does happen to be represented by Scott Boras - they may have to trade for a new backstop, and that won't be easy either. 

This is all not to rule out the Nationals re-signing Ramos, but right now it's difficult to project what type of contract he will garner and whether that could fit in their plans. Surely it would be tough for them to offer a long-term deal, but maybe they make sense if he decides to take a short-term contract to reset for free agency either next offseason or the one after that.

Any major upgrades needed?

The Nationals are in an interesting spot, having won 95 games and the NL East, but with yet another disappointing end to their year. General manager Mike Rizzo loves to make big splashes in the offseason. Every single winter he does something aggressive and unexpected. What will he do this year? There aren't many areas where he could potentially upgrade, but that hasn't stopped him in the past.

If Ramos leaves, catcher is obviously the biggest need. But beyond that, the two major problem areas in their lineup this season were at shortstop and first base. Danny Espinosa played solid defense and hit 24 homers, but held an unsightly .209 batting average. His .552 OPS in the second half was worst in baseball among those with at least 165 at-bats. 

Espinosa is always looking over his shoulder this time of the year and just this past winter appeared to be the odd-man out when the Nats traded for Ben Revere and signed Daniel Murphy. Espinosa managed to overcome the odds and play 157 games. He has one year left on his contract, so one way or another the Nats will need to start thinking long-term about his position.

Shortstop is an easier situation to evaluate than first base, where Ryan Zimmerman is due to make $14 million each of the next two seasons and $18 million the year after that. He had the worst season of his career with a .642 OPS through 115 games. Bringing in a first baseman to flat-out replace Zimmerman seems unrealistic, given his contract. But perhaps they can find someone who plays both first base and left field, with Jayson Werth having just one year left on his deal.

Who will be the closer?

The Nationals found success in the ninth inning with Mark Melancon after they acquired him at the trade deadline in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it was just a rental. Now Melancon is due for free agency and the Nats once again have questions at the position. They could opt to re-sign Melancon, or go with another free agent option. Aroldis Chapman, whom they have coveted in the past, will be available. So will Kenley Jansen, who just helped end their season with the Dodgers. It's an unusually deep crop of star closers and it would be a surprise if the Nationals didn't snag one of them. Another option would be to promote Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen, but that would be out of the Nationals' character.

Are they content with the rotation?

If one were to pick the biggest reason the Nationals lost their NL Division Series against the Dodgers it would have to be the starting rotation. It was their most glaring weakness and it wasn't even close. This is despite the Nats being built on starting pitching and boasting one of the best regular season rotations in baseball. Losing Stephen Strasburg to injury didn't help, but they still had four capable starters left over. Max Scherzer struggled in Game 1, while Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross combined to pitch just 11 1/3 innings in their respective outings. 

If you look at the year as a whole, starting pitching was not a major concern. But the Nats are always aggressive in addressing their needs, whether big or small. They have top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, but neither distinguished themselves this season. Do they sit tight and hope things improve, or do they try to make another game-changing move? With a weak free agent class, any outside upgrade would have to come through a trade. Also, Gonzalez' $12 million team option is definitely something to watch this winter.

Will extension talks with Harper heat up?

Both the Nationals and Bryce Harper, one could argue, may have incentive to back away from the negotiating table this winter, given the Nats have to be less confident in giving Harper a record-setting contract after his disappointing year, and that Harper may not be wise to sign his new deal when his stock has lowered. But if the Nats and Harper do not come to terms this winter, that sets up a lot more pressure for the following offseason. Harper has two years left on his contract. Heading into next offseason without a deal, with just one year remaining, would create a lot of uncertainty for all sides involved, including the fans who certainly want to see the 2015 MVP remain in Washington for a long time. The storyline would dominate their offseason.

This upcoming winter always seemed like the best time to broker a deal to avoid that scenario, but the timing has not worked out with Harper's production on the field. Also, would anyone be surprised if it turns out Harper was dealing with an injury this season that held him back at the plate? If it were a serious one, he wouldn't have kept playing. But any injury has to be factored in those discussions.

[RELATED: Bullpen, baserunning leads to Nats heartbreak]