Quick Links

Jose Lobaton unlikely hero as Nationals beat Dodgers in Game 2, draw even in NLDS

Jose Lobaton unlikely hero as Nationals beat Dodgers in Game 2, draw even in NLDS

Offensive jolts often come from where they are least expected in the MLB playoffs, however sometimes they emerge from exactly where a team is seeking them, from a player they signed in free agency in part because of his postseason prowess, or from another only in the lineup due to an injury.

The Nationals received all of the above in their 5-2, series-tying Game 2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday. All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy keyed several rallies and catcher Jose Lobaton launched a three-run homer, as the Nats adjusted to and conquered L.A. starter Rich Hill, who began his day with seven strikeouts through three scoreless innings, only to unravel shortly thereafter.

"That's what playoff baseball is all about right there, man," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "For Loby to do that, it really turned the game around. To say it was a big swing is an understatement."

Murphy had the type of day that made him an NL MVP candidate this season. He landed three singles - two to drive in runs - walked and scored. He approached Hill with patience and resolve to spark a lineup that collectively looked off-balance early against the Dodgers southpaw. 

Murphy's first RBI knock scored Trea Turner in the fifth inning. His second, poked to opposite field off lefty Grant Dayton, brought home Jayson Werth, who reached on a double with two outs in the seventh.

Murphy helped the Nats go 4-for-8 with runners in scoring position after a 1-for-10 performance in Game 1. The Dodgers went just 1-for-9 in Game 2.

"He wants to be in that position," Baker said of Murphy. "You have to want to be in that position."

"On both sides you can see that senses are so heightened in the playoffs," Murphy said. "It's so much fun."

Lobaton's homer in the fourth inning was a massive breakthrough for the Nationals, their first real sign of life against Hill. Lobaton took a curveball - Hill's signature pitch - and dropped it in the visitors bullpen in right field. The sellout crowd erupted as Murphy jumped and raised his arms with joy rounding third. The Nats suddenly had a lead for the first time in the series.

"Man, that was huge," manager Dusty Baker said. "I didn't think anybody could hit a home run out of left field today, the way that wind was blowing everything back. I mean, he had to hit it a ton."

"When I hit the ball, I didn't know it was going to go out," Lobaton said. "When it went out, I was like 'wow, that's pretty cool.'"

That flipped a switch after Tanner Roark dug them a hole with two runs allowed in his first three innings. The Nationals' most consistent starting pitcher this season, Roark was not his usual self on Sunday. Whether it was playoff  jitters, or his long wait to pitch - seven days of rest since his final regular season outing - Roark couldn't command the strike zone and began his outing with 30 balls among his first 60 throws. 

Roark was all over the place, nearly decapitating Dodgers rookie superstar Corey Seager with an errant fastball in the first inning. Seager then answered with a laser home run over the right field fence, much like he did off Max Scherzer in Game 1.

Roark also encountered trouble in the second and third innings, the latter including an RBI single by Josh Reddick. Lobaton dropped the throw in from right field on his tag attempt at the plate. Roark went 4 1/3 innings and allowed seven hits and three walks.

The Nationals missed a few chances to score early on Hill, including with the bases loaded in the bottom half of the second. Murphy singled, Ryan Zimmerman walked and Danny Espinosa took a fastball off his left arm. Lobaton, however, then hit a grounder right to Hill, who threw home for the forceout to begin a 1-2-3, inning-ending double play.

Lobaton's big swing in the fourth built off a strong performance in Game 1 by fellow catcher Pedro Severino. After pitching in with a double and a run, Severino was replaced by Lobaton because of the latter's three career hits off Hill. Manager Dusty Baker had a hunch and it proved prescient. Through two games, both backstops have helped compensate for All-Star Wilson Ramos, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

"[Lobaton] will probably be starting... tomorrow," Baker said. "Boy, just keep it coming."

After Roark exited, the Nationals got key outs from their bullpen. Marc Rzepczynski struck out Yasmani Grandal and got Howie Kendrick to line out to strand three runners in the fifth. Sammy Solis took over for Rzepczynski to end the top of the sixth on an Adrian Gonzalez flyout to leave two runners on base.

Blake Treinen replaced Solis to record a dominant seventh inning. He got Reddick to line out to left, Yasiel Puig to ground out to short and Grandal to go down staring at a slider.

"You just try to finish your inning with nobody on. You don't want to give them any momentum," Treinen said. "To be able to get after [Grandal] early and put him away, it means a lot to be able to finish your inning clean."

Treinen continued his effort in the eighth inning, with Kenrick going down looking at a sinker that barely clipped the bottom edge of umpire Chris Guccione's strike zone. After that, it was veteran Oliver Perez who retired former Phillies stars Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley on groundouts. And after Perez, closer Mark Melancon tossed a scoreless ninth.

"Both sides were aggressively going to their bullpen, and this kind of shows you the importance of the bullpen in these playoffs," Baker said.

"Our bullpen, everybody we bring in is pretty lights out," Harper said. "Melancon shut the door right there and it was a beauty."

Murphy and Lobaton brought home the runs, but others in the Nationals' lineup also made their mark. Zimmerman singled and walked to follow his two-hit performance in Game 1. Turner added two singles, a run and a steal. Bryce Harper singled and Espinosa reached twice, each time getting hit by fastballs from Hill.

The Nationals fought for this one. Now the NLDS is locked at 1-1 as they tilt west for Game 3 in Los Angeles.

MORE NATIONALS: Dodgers well-aware of Nats' Trea Turner and his threat to steal

Quick Links

Nationals stage spirited rally in ninth but fall just short in series opener vs. Cubs

Nationals stage spirited rally in ninth but fall just short in series opener vs. Cubs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wade Davis struck out batting leader Ryan Zimmerman with runners on second and third to end Washington's ninth-inning rally, and the Chicago Cubs held off the Nationals 5-4 Monday night.

In jeopardy of being shut out for the first time this season, the NL East-leading Nationals scored four times in the ninth. Their comeback began against Hector Rondon and continued when Davis entered.

MORE: CSN'S UPDATED MLB POWER RANKINGS

With Washington down 5-3, Bryce Harper's single loaded the bases with two outs. Davis threw a wild pitch that scored a run before striking out a swinging Zimmerman, who's hitting .344. The final pitch bounced, and catcher Willson Contreras zipped a low throw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to close out the victory.

Contreras hit a leadoff home run in his first career game-opening at-bat and Eddie Butler (4-2) worked five scoreless innings to keep the Cubs ahead.

Quick Links

2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

The Dodgers are living their best life right now. 

Cody Bellinger looks like he's just going to go and hit two home runs a game for the rest of the year, Yasiel Puig is fun again and they're fresh off a 10-game win streak. Kenley Jansen went 112 batters without issuing a walk. All of this is coming, by the way, during a year when Clayton Kershaw is more Very Good than he is Great.

It's a good time to be a fan of an incredibly young and talented team in a top-5 market with a well-regarded front office that's been written a blank check. How did everyone not named the Dodgers do this week? To the rankings! 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

30. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 24-49
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance:  Maikel Franco (.333/.419/.481 last week)

And there goes Maikel Franco, right back on the trade block. The Phillies' rebuild is starting to look a lot murkier. 

29. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2017 Record: 27-50
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Brandon Belt (.316/.409/.947 last week)

It's weird to see the Giants play THIS poorly. Johnny Cueto is arguably the best available starter on the trade market though, and that obviously bodes well for their future. 

28. CINCINNATI REDS

2017 Record: 29-38
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Joey Votto (.360/.385/.680 last week)

When you go 1-9 over the last 10 and let the Nats put an 18-spot on you, you drop a spot or two in the rankings. Them's the rules. 

27. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 31-44
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Yangervis Solarte (.364/.462/.909 last week)

In an annual July tradition, the Padres will fleece someone for one of their relievers. Brad Hand in a Dodgers uniform, anyone? 

26. DETROIT TIGERS

2017 Record: 32-42
Previous Ranking: 15
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Miguel Cabrera (.400/.444/.840 last week)

The Tigers are our biggest fallers of the week. 2-8 in their last 10, including a frustrating Perfect Game bid broken up by a bunt single. Not their best week. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE