SAN FRANCISCO - The focus inside the Nationals clubhouse after Monday night’s 4-2 loss to the Giants was on the pitching staff, notably Gio Gonzalez’s frustration after getting pulled following a leadoff walk in the sixth and then Shawn Kelley immediately giving up a 464-foot home run and departing three pitches later with a recurrence of nerve irritation in his elbow.
A clutch hit or two at some point during the game, though, might well have changed the entire storyline of the game and maybe even kept Kelley from entering from the bullpen in the first place.
As has been the case through most of the season’s first month, the Nationals didn’t give themselves many opportunities for sustained rallies. And on the few occasions when they did, they didn’t take advantage of them.
Never was that more apparent than during the top of the sixth at AT&T Park, when the Giants did just about everything in their power to gift the Nats a run or two. Back-to-back errors on routine plays - Evan Longoria dropped Bryce Harper’s foul pop-up behind third base, Andrew McCutchen dropped Ryan Zimmerman’s line drive to right - left runners on second and third with one out in what at that point was a 2-1 game.
But with a chance to make the Giants pay for their gaffes, the Nationals instead rolled over. Matt Adams struck out on a 3-2 changeup out of the zone. Matt Wieters then sent a fly ball to center to end the inning and leave both runners stranded in scoring position.
“That was the big turning point of the game,” manager Davey Martinez said. “If that happens, we do something different in the bullpen. And unfortunately, we didn’t knock those runs in.”
If Adams or Wieters drive in those runs, the Nationals take a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the sixth, and Martinez probably gives Gonzalez some more leash before making a move. At the very least, he would have been able to turn the final innings of the game over to his top three relievers instead of Kelley, who has been used almost exclusively in low-leverage situations so far this season.
This has unfortunately become a recurring theme for the 2018 Nationals, who have been hamstrung by injuries to Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy but haven’t been able to make up for their losses by at least converting the scoring opportunities they do get.
Here’s the pertinent stat: The Nationals have reached base 290 times, tops in the National League. They’ve stranded 174 runners on base, tops in the National League.
So is it a positive thing that they’ve given themselves so many chances, or a negative thing that they haven’t taken advantage of those chances?
“You can look at it both ways,” Martinez said. “If you asked me as a player, I’d be very frustrated. If you ask me as a manager, I’d say the guys are swinging the bats well, so keep swinging. They can’t catch them all. Just keep taking good at-bats. They’re taking their walks. They’re having good at-bats.”