A lead, but a missed opportunity (Nats sweep doubleheader with 4-0 win)

The Nationals hold a 1-0 lead after three innings tonight, thanks to Steve Lombardozzi’s RBI single in the second, but they’ve already made two outs on the bases, one of which could have been easily prevented.

After Tanner Roark’s infield single leading off the third (which now makes the right-hander a spiffy 3-for-9 at the plate in his big league career), Denard Span shot a ground ball down to first base.

Freddie Freeman gloved it and got the force at second, but shortstop Andrelton Simmons’ throw back to first skipped away from Freeman and went down the right field line. Span took off, rounding second and heading for third on the error by Simmons. Had he stopped there, the Nats would’ve had a runner at third with just one out and Ryan Zimmerman coming up.

But third base coach Trent Jewett decided to push the issue, and after seeing second baseman Dan Uggla drop the ball, Jewett waved Span home.

Span gave it all that he had on the play, barreling for the plate, but Freeman caught the throw in from Uggla, and his relay to Braves catcher Gerald Laird was just in time to get Span at home.

If you’re scoring at home, the play goes down as a 3-6 fielder’s choice, an E-6 on Simmons and a 4-3-2 putout at the plate.

It was a crazy, fun, exciting play to watch, but the Nats can’t be thrilled with the outcome. The decision to send Span home was only magnified when Zimmerman followed with a single to center, which would have obviously scored Span from third had Jewett put up the stop sign.

It’s always easy to second-guess a third base coach, but with the heart of the order up, Jewett probably would have been wise to hold Span with one out. He might’ve got caught up in the excitement of the wacky play - heck, we all did - but under those circumstances, giving Zimmerman and Jayson Werth a shot to bring in Span might’ve been best.

The Nats still lead just 1-0 in the fourth. Roark has now delivered four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and a walk. He’s struck out four, and is at 67 pitches to this point.

Update: Span is now the owner of the longest hitting streak in the major leagues this season.

And he’s now half-way to Joe DiMaggio.

Span ripped a single to left with one out in the fifth, giving him 28 straight games with a hit. That tops Michael Cuddyer for the longest streak this season and is actually the longest in the majors since Dan Uggla had 33 consecutive games with a hit back in 2011.

Span then stole second base - his second steal today and 18th of the season - but he was left in scoring position when Jayson Werth flied out to center to end the inning.

It’s still 1-0 to the sixth.

Update II: Roark went seven innings tonight. He didn’t allowed a run. He surrendered just two hits, none after the second inning. He threw 101 pitches, far and away a career high.

The rookie struck out six and walked just one. His ERA is down to 1.08 with tonight’s performance. He’s in line for the win, which would leave him 7-0 as a major leaguer.

What a tremendous performance by Roark, just adding on to his previous line of tremendous performances.

The only problem for the Nats is that they’ve built up just a 1-0 lead through seven.

The Nats have seven hits thus far, but just the one run on the board. Freddy Garcia has held them at bay, and things are perilous as we go to the eighth. Craig Stammen will take over for the Nats.

Update III: The Nats got three huge insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, with Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche each adding an RBI to help lead the Nats to a 4-0 win.

They’ve swept today’s doubleheader, and for the time being, improve to four games back of the Reds for the final NL wild card spot. Cincinnati currently leads Houston 9-0 in the fourth, however.

Zimmerman crushed his 25th homer of the season in the eighth and went 2-for-4 tonight, and Bryce Harper, Desmond and Lombardozzi all had two-hit nights, as well.

Roark, meanwhile, improves to 7-0 for his big league career. And the Nats have ensured that the Braves will not clinch the NL East title at Nats Park.

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