Nationals 4, Astros 3: Second Look

The Nationals came back for a 4-3 win last night, getting their second straight victory and their second by one run since July 6. It was the kind of win the Nationals often produced early this year, with a couple timely hits, sharp defense and a reliable bullpen. Those kinds of victories haven’t come much in the second half, but they got one on Wednesday.

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“As a ballclub, you learn a lot in games like that,” said reliever Tyler Clippard, who got his team-high 11th win in the victory. “Even though we’re out of it a little bit, and the season’s kind of winding down, when you’re in close ballgames, and you see all the little things happen in the game, and all the detail-oriented things you need to get done to win a close ballgame, it’s huge for the development of young guys and the guys we have in this clubhouse to continue to grow. That’s what we need.”

Here are the awards from last night:

Golden Geese
Danny Espinosa: The second baseman was in a 5-for-51 slump before his third-inning triple, which came from the right side of the plate. Then, after the Nationals had given up a one-run lead in the top of the seventh, Espinosa homered from the left side of the plate to get it back. He’s homered five times this month. He plays the game hard and has impressive range on defense. The Nationals look like they have a keeper here. “When he puts it on the barrel, it jumps pretty good,” manager Jim Riggleman said.

Joel Peralta: The barrel-chested reliever struck out three of the four batters he faced, holding a one-run lead through the eighth inning and into the ninth. He got four swinging strikes among his 14 pitches, and dropped his ERA to 2.00 in 35 appearances this year.

Jason Marquis: In his last start, Marquis lasted one-third of an inning, and the biggest problem with all of it was that you couldn’t call it his worst start of the year. He came back on Wednesday with a solid six innings, allowing two runs and producing a big sixth-inning double play to leave the game with a lead.

Goose Eggs
Doug Slaten: The lefty pitched to one batter, and walked Anderson Hernandez, who eventually scored the game’s tying run that cost Marquis a win.

Roger Bernadina: He has struggled for most of the second half, and Wednesday was no different; Bernadina went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.

In Case You Missed It:
--Ian Desmond made a questionable decision to run in the third inning after driving in Espinosa with a single. He took off from first on an 0-1 count, which would normally be a decent situation to run. But it came with Adam Dunn at the plate and none out. Dunn took a low changeup, and Desmond ran right into Jason Castro’s throw.

--For the second straight night, Jim Riggleman pulled a reliever in the ninth inning to get a matchup between Sean Burnett and Geoff Blum. The goal on Wednesday was the same as it was on Tuesday; to turn the switch-hitting Blum around so he’d have to hit right-handed, where he’s a much weaker batter. But this time, Blum got a hit off Burnett.

Talking Points:
1. We’ve seen Espinosa start off hot, go through a slump and play his way out of it last night, a progression he said he’s been through at every level of the minors. Have you seen enough to want him to be the guy at second base next year, or does he still have more to do to warrant a long look?

2. How many wins would the Nationals have to end up with for you to call this year a modest improvement. They’re at 64 now, or five more than last year. Would you call a 67- or 68-win season progress? Or do they need a surge at the end to get to 70 or 71 wins. Or does none of it matter at this point?

Leave your answers in the comments section. A reminder: Today’s game is a 4:30 start, and my tentative plan is to run a live Nats chat from 3:30-4:30. I’ll set something up for that early this afternoon, but you can either leave questions before the chat, or come back to ask them live at 3:30.