In July, the Nationals are already winning games with more frequency than they did in June. And they're doing so with exponentially greater dramatic timing. Last night's 6-5 victory over the Padres was their third in five games this month, and all three wins have come walk-off style. Ryan Zimmerman has been involved in the first two, driving in the winning run last Thursday against the Mets and scoring it on Saturday against New York. He did both of those things last night, blasting a solo homer off Luke Gregerson in the ninth inning to win a game it looked like the Nationals had given away.
The key now for the Nationals is continuing what they started last night. Save for one bad inning, they played well against the Padres, and if they can eliminate the eighth-inning mistakes that helped San Diego tie the game, they could get on a little roll to end the first half. But it'll require them to stay sharp against the Padres, who have the best pitching staff in the National League, before facing the Giants' Matt Cain on Friday.
Here are the awards from last night's game:
Ryan Zimmerman: This is an obvious one. As I wrote in the game story last night, Zimmerman is still the guy the Nationals turn to when they're in a bind, no matter what his All-Star status may be or who might be commanding greater national attention. With two homers, he proved that against last night. He also made a number of impressive defensive plays, as he does with such regularity that they're overlooked. Just a tremendous game from the Nationals' franchise player.
Michael Morse: After a mini-slump, Morse resumed his campaign for more playing time, driving in two runs in a 3-for-4 night. He'll probably get a little more time this week, too, as manager Jim Riggleman tries to get Nyjer Morgan a day off.
Livan Hernandez: The right-hander's night was much better than his four-runs-in-seven-innings line would suggest. He got tagged with two extra runs when Riggleman put him back out for the eighth - something the manager admitted he shouldn't have done - and he gave up a couple hits, which turned into runs when Tyler Clippard struggled with inherited runners again. But for Hernandez to allow two runs in the first seven innings on a 99-degree night is impressive.
Tyler Clippard: Clippard's performance last night, and the way it looks in the box score, is one of the reasons so many people don't put much stock in relief pitchers' stats. He's credited with a hold, coming after one-third of an inning where he allowed one unearned run, and Sean Burnett got tagged with a blown lead. Here's what actually happened: Clippard allowed a pair of inherited runners to score and got tagged with a run of his own when Ian Desmond made a throwing error on a would-be double play. There were troubles throughout the eighth inning for the Nationals, but they were brought to bear most fully when Clippard was on the mound. He's now allowed 14 of 31 inherited runners to score, and was leaving his changeup high in the zone most of the time he was in the game. He still appears to need a little work to get himself straightened out.
Nationals Park weather: I know this is kind of a cheeky one, but I'm doing it at the behest of several people in ourin-game chat last night. It was really, really hot at Nationals Park last night. So hot that the air felt like it was stinging your skin. And we're in for another round of this on Wednesday. Maybe we'll get A/C in the press box instead of the blast furnace.
In Case You Missed It:
--Ian Desmond's throwing error came on a play that most everyone agreed he shouldn't have tried to make, but as Desmond explained in Byron Kerr's story, it's the kind of play he's hard-wired to try and make. He got a low feed from Cristian Guzman on the play, which probably should've been his cue to pull the ball down, especially with two outs and a chance to finish the inning with no harm done. But it's those same instincts that helped Desmond fire a bullet to the plate to save the game in the ninth. The mentality is - and I make this comparison reluctantly, because Desmond seems like a nice guy - similar to Brett Favre's; he believes he can make every throw, and you've got to take the good with the bad.
--Riggleman's reasoning for using Clippard instead of Drew Storen in the eighth was switch-hitter Chase Headley; Riggleman wanted to turn Headley around so he was batting from the left. Headley is a .242 hitter from the left side, compared to .276 from the right, and Clippard's changeup makes him tough on lefties (though that hasn't been the case as much this year; lefties are hitting 86 points better off him than righties).
1. Let's revisit the eighth inning; was it the right move to start with Hernandez, or should Riggleman have gone straight to Clippard? Or, should he have used Storen?
2. Where are you at with Desmond? Are you willing to ride the roller coaster, or are you getting nauseous? Personally, I think the Nationals are right to keep playing him; he's got oodles of talent, though some of it is unrefined at this point. But the stuff you can't teach, he already has, and the stuff you can teach, he can learn. What do you think?
Leave your answers in the comments section, as well as anything else on your mind. Brett Favre...eeew.