A couple of hours after the Nationals fell to the Mets in a tight 3-2 ballgame last night, the Reds also lost, keeping the Nats 6 1/2 games back in the National League wild card chase.
Does the Nats’ loss sting even more knowing that they could have made up more ground on Cincinnati with a victory last night, or do you find yourself just breathing a sigh of relief that the Reds didn’t pick up another game on the Nats yesterday?
With just 28 games remaining on their schedule, the Nats need to take advantage of whatever opportunities they have the rest of the way out. All the little mistakes - errors, not running out ground balls, deciding to make low-percentage throws - can end up looming very large with the margin of error so small.
As I mentioned a handful of hours ago, Bryce Harper not running out a ground ball in the eighth inning didn’t cost the Nats the game last night. Neither did Harper swinging 3-0 at a pitch just inside the strike zone with Jayson Werth on deck. Neither did Ryan Zimmerman deciding to make a tough off-balance throw in the top of the eighth.
But those kinds of decisions can add up, and when you trail by 6 1/2 games with 28 to play, every game is massive.
In reality, the main reason the Nats lost last night’s game is that they continue to be unable to solve Dillon Gee, the Mets righty who has a 2.16 ERA against the Nats in five starts this season and a 3.99 ERA against everyone else.
The Nats have gotten to Gee for just eight runs in those five starts, and are reaching base at just a .286 clip in those contests. Gee is a solid pitcher, but for whatever reason, he kills the Nats.
“He’s got good stuff, but he’s extremely smart on the mound,” Ian Desmond tried to explain last night. “He’s like a, there’s not really a pitcher comparison I can give to him. Like (Cardinals catcher) Yadier Molina, when you hit against him, you can’t think along with him. And so much of hitting is mental. Your mind, you’re trying to think along with the pitcher and you’re really trying to - it’s not guessing, it’s more anticipating, looking for a ball in a certain zone. But he mixes his stuff up a lot, and tonight, when he’s especially sharp like that, it makes him even tougher. ...
“He is good at identifying swings, swings and misses, check swings, things like that. He’ll speed you up on the fastball in and then you’ll think OK, he sped me up so I got to slow down. And he’s thinking slow down and then he’ll throw you another fastball in, which typically, you don’t see a lot of that. Whoever taught him how to pitch did a really good job, and I don’t want to give him too much credit because I have taken him deep a couple times, but he is a smart pitcher.”
Unfortunately for the Nats, they almost certainly aren’t done with Gee for the season just yet. Unless something bizarre happens and Gee’s turn in the Mets rotation gets thrown off, he’ll face the Nats up in New York a little less than two weeks from now.
On a lighter note, if you watched last night’s game, you’ll probably remember one moment in the bottom of the seventh inning when Mets manager Terry Collins and a trainer came out to the mound to look at Gee. The right-hander had rolled his shoulder and taken a strange walk around the mound following a pitch to Desmond, and Collins wanted to make sure Gee was OK.
Turns out, Gee was fine, he was just feeling pretty awkward. Apparently, Gee lost track of the count and thought that he had struck out Desmond on the third pitch of the at-bat. He expected to see catcher Travis d’Arnaud whip the ball around the horn, only to get the ball lightly tossed back to him with the count 1-2.
“I had no idea that he didn’t call that first pitch a strike. I thought it was, and I didn’t know,” Gee said. “I felt bad. I felt like an idiot out there. I was trying to play it off. I played it off the wrong way. And then they come out. It was just a disaster. I don’t want to be a guy that they think I’m showing anybody up out there, either. I just forgot.”
“When he turned around and then he gave me the shoulder thing, I said, ‘Oh, no,’ ” Collins said. “And then when I went out there, he said, ‘I really just tried to bluff my way through not knowing how many strikes there were.’ It fooled me. It had me gasping for breath.”
Gee then struck Desmond out on the next pitch. Kind of indicative of the way things have been going for the Nats against the Mets right-hander this season.