Dissecting the disaster in Miami

There’s plenty to discuss coming out of last night’s 2-1, 10-inning loss to the Marlins.

So let’s dive right in.

On Bryce Harper getting ejected in a 1-0 game in the eighth inning:

Can’t happen. It just can’t.

I know Harper was frustrated by a couple of Hunter Wendelstedt’s calls during a sixth-inning at-bat in which he was called out on strikes. Two called strikes in that at-bat were legitimately out of the zone, according to PITCHf/x. I know that Harper was frustrated by what he felt was another wide strike call in the eighth inning when Wendelstedt again rung him up. That called third strike was actually on the black.

Regardless of all that, you simply cannot get thrown out of a one-run game in the late innings when you’re your team’s best player. The Nationals had runners at second and third and one out when the No. 3 spot in the order came up in the top of the 10th. It should have been Harper against Marlins closer Steve Cishek in that situation. Instead, it was Scott Hairston - a right-handed hitter - against the sidearming right-hander.

Not only is Harper the far superior hitter (with no offense intended to Hairston), he’s also the better matchup. Left-handed hitters get a much better look at sidearming right-handed pitchers than right-handed hitters, and Cishek’s splits (.228 batting average against when facing lefties, .150 batting average against when facing righties) support that logic.

Harper is still young and will have to learn these types of things as he goes. We need to remember at times like these that Harper is still just 20, and while it might seem like he’s been around forever because of his high profile and immense ability, he’s only been a big leaguer for 15 months.

Still, with every game meaning so much at this point, the Nats cannot afford to lose their best position player late in a tight ballgame. Look at how Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond or Adam LaRoche handle calls they don’t agree with. They might share their disapproval with the umpire, but they do it either discreetly or in a manner in which they’ll get to vent while making sure they stay in the game.

Harper is a force offensively, he plays at a high level defensively and he’s a threat on the bases. He needed to be on the field for the entirety of last night’s game.

On the offense:

Sure, Harper should’ve been digging into the batter’s box in the top of the 10th with two runners in scoring position and one out. But he wasn’t. Hairston had a golden chance to drive in the go-ahead run. So did Ryan Zimmerman, who stepped up with two outs.

Neither guy got the job done.

The Nats went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position last night. They stranded nine runners. They managed just a single run yet again, marking the 25th time this season they’ve scored one run or fewer.

Dan Haren twirled a gem, throwing six scoreless innings. It ended up not mattering.

Since that recent eight-game stretch where the Nats averaged seven runs per game, they’ve put up the following run totals: two, two, five, one, three, one.

Blame Rafael Soriano, if you’d like, for blowing his fourth save of the season and allowing the game to go to extras. (For what it’s worth, Soriano’s .857 save percentage is tied for 17th-best in the majors). Blame Chad Tracy, if you’d like, for his two-base error to open the bottom of the 10th inning, an error that led to the game-winning run. Blame Davey Johnson, if you’d like, for not pinch-running for Tracy when he reached leading off the top of the 10th.

But the Nats’ main issues again come back to the lack of offense.

On what today’s game means:

In a word - plenty. There are very few must-win games in baseball, and there are none in July. One game at this point in the season does not make or break a season. But my goodness, if the Nats lose to the Marlins this afternoon, they’re in trouble. (I know, I know. They’re in trouble already. But you get my point.)

A loss today means the Nats will have been swept by the team with the worst record in the National League. It means they will have dropped six of their last seven. It means they will head into the break with a sub-.500 record, which is a truly remarkable hypothetical.

This is a team that won 98 games last season and was expected by many to improve upon that total this season. A loss today would have them playing at an 80-win pace.

They already trail the Braves by seven games in the National League East. They already trail the Reds by five games for the final wild card spot. The Nats cannot afford to be getting swept by the Marlins when they’re in as deep of a hole as they are already.

Side note: I’ll be taking the afternoon off today due to a family obligation, but we’ll still have game coverage for you here on MASNsports.com. I’ll be back tomorrow morning with some thoughts on what we’ve seen over the first half and what’s to come in the final 67 games of the season.

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