On the heels of what was — at least by one statistical measure — the best-pitched game in Nationals history, Jordan Zimmermann faced a daunting challenge trying to come anywhere close to duplicating his effort from five nights prior.
Yet the right-hander very nearly did it last night in St. Louis, tossing his second straight complete game, allowing only three hits and a walk, never giving the Cardinals one opportunity to step to the plate with a man in scoring position and doing all this in only 76 pitches.
Pity that it had to come in a loss, a 1-0 heartbreaker at Busch Stadium.
Zimmermann's lone mistake of the evening — a second-inning changeup right down Broadway to Matt Adams — resulted in the lone run of the game scored by either team. Lance Lynn was one pitch better than his counterpart, tossing eight scoreless innings, carrying a perfect game into the sixth and never letting the Nationals get even a hint of a rally going all night.
That lack of offense will be the biggest takeaway from this game, a frustrating loss for a club that had been red-hot but continues to be lorded over by the Cardinals — who have now won 10 of the last 12 head-to-head meetings between these two teams, beginning with that fateful Game 5 on South Capitol Street more than a year-and-a-half ago.
But Zimmermann's gem, even in defeat, shouldn't be overlooked. In the bigger picture, it's probably more significant, because it's a continuation of a complete turnaround by the right-hander over the last two weeks.
Remember how bad Zimmermann looked in May? Remember the concerns that arose after he ended the season's second month with a 4.07 ERA and .307 opponents' batting average?
Well, that's ancient history now, because Zimmermann has been nothing short of dominant ever since. He shut out the Phillies over eight innings. Then he shut out the Padres with his 12-strikeout, 0-walk masterpiece earlier in the week. And now he adds another gem to the mix.
Put it all together, and Zimmermann now sports an 0.36 ERA in June, having allowed 10 hits and two walks over 25 innings, striking out 21 along the way.
And that 4.07 season ERA? Well, all of a sudden it's down to 2.98. That .307 opponents' batting average? It's all the way down to .259.
Sure, it would've been nice if Zimmermann could've been rewarded for his efforts last night with a win. But in the big picture, that's less significant than the fact one of the Nationals' most-important pitchers looks like an ace once again.