Revisiting all the key decisions in the Nationals' Game 5 loss

The sting hasn't worn off yet, and it probably won't for quite some time. The Nationals are dispersing around the country today, going home for the winter instead of going to Chicago for a shot at the pennant.

Game 5 of the 2016 National League Division Series was an all-timer, one they'll be talking about for years. Whether the Nationals themselves or their fans will ever be able to appreciate that remains to be seen. Certainly it's not something anyone wants to contemplate today.

So much happened in this 4-hour, 32-minute marathon - the longest nine-inning game in National League history, regular season or playoffs - that it would take a full-length novel to dissect every significant moment, but it's absolutely worth revisiting the most significant of the significant moments and the decisions that were made at the time.

We begin with ...

Bob Henley waving Jayson Werth around third base
Situation: Bottom of the sixth, two out, Werth on first, Ryan Zimmerman at bat
Score: Nats lead 1-0
Result: Zimmerman smoked a double into the left field corner. Henley waved Werth around third, but the Dodgers' relay from Andrew Toles to Corey Seager beat him by about 30 feet and he was easily tagged out to end the inning.
Second-guess: There's not much to debate here. It was a terrible decision to send Werth. Yes, you make the defense make a play. But this one didn't require a perfect play by the defense. Even had the throw been off-line, Werth still would have been out by a healthy margin.

"We had two outs there," Henley explained. "We had a lead. I saw the ball get down to the base of the wall. I know J's not an above-average runner, I understand that. But we've been aggressive all year as a club, and I took a shot at it. Toles had to make a good throw to Seager, and then he had to make a good throw, and they did. I think after the fact, hindsight, do I wish I could have it back? Well, yeah, sure. That's just human nature. But I've tried to be aggressive all year. It's our style of play. Does it hurt? Sure, it hurts. Anytime it doesn't work out and you feel like it might have cost us, of course I think it hurts."

One fact has to be pointed out, and it certainly was part of the equation Henley was running in his mind in that split-second: If he holds Werth, the Nationals have runners on second and third with two out for Danny Espinosa. Now, Espinosa had delivered a big RBI single earlier in the game. But in that moment, what were the odds he was going to deliver another? Probably still better than Werth scoring ahead of the throw. But chances are, the Nats wouldn't have scored in the inning either way.

Dusty Baker sending Max Scherzer back to the mound in the seventh
Situation: Top of the seventh, nobody out, nobody on
Score: Nats lead 1-0
Result: Joc Pederson homered on Scherzer's first pitch, tying the game and knocking out the Nats starter.
Second-guess: This was probably the toughest call of the night for Baker. Scherzer had thrown six scoreless innings, and his pitch count was only 98. But he also had thrown some really high-stress innings in the fourth and fifth, needing 30 pitches and 20 pitches respectively to get through those frames. He needed only 11 pitches to complete the sixth, but he had worked awfully hard just to get to that point in the game.

Baker-Arms-Crossed-White-Sidebar.jpgShould your ace be able to go more than six innings and 98 pitches with your season on the line? Of course. But some other things to consider: 1) The seventh inning was a trouble spot for Scherzer plenty of times this season, and he had surrendered six homers in that inning, most of any frame. 2) Pederson feasted on right-handed pitching this year (.269/.371/.547, 24 homers) while having almost zero success against lefties (.125/.250/.219, one homer).

There's no right answer to this one, and we'll never know if Marc Rzepczynski or whichever left-hander Baker brought in from the bullpen would have fared any better. But it did prove to be a critical moment in the game, one that had major ramifications for everything else that followed.

Baker removing Scherzer for Rzepczynski
Situation: Top of the seventh, nobody out, nobody on
Score: Tied 1-1
Result: Rzepczynski came on in relief of Scherzer and proceeded to walk Yasmani Grandal on four pitches.
Second-guess: Here's where the wheels truly started to fall off. Rzepczynski didn't even throw one measly strike before departing the game. That's on him, not the manager. But you can certainly argue that once Baker decided to let Scherzer start the seventh, he should have let him continue, even after surrendering the tying homer.

Baker removing Blake Treinen for Sammy Solis and double-switching out Ryan Zimmerman for Clint Robinson
Situation: Top of the seventh, one out, runners on first and second
Score: Tied 1-1
Result: Solis gave up the go-ahead single to pinch-hitter Carlos Ruiz, who hit a sharp grounder past a diving Anthony Rendon at third base.
Second-guess: Baker had no choice but to bring in Solis to face Ruiz, who was pinch-hitting for Chase Utley. He couldn't leave Treinen in to face Utley again, not after that matchup backfired in Game 4. But did he need to double-switch out Zimmerman at that moment?

Baker clearly wanted to try to get multiple innings out of Solis. And with the pitcher's spot due up third in the bottom of the seventh, the only way to ensure that was to double-switch somebody. Zimmerman's spot was now due up ninth, and so he became the victim. The problem: Solis only wound up facing two batters before getting pulled himself, which seemed to make the double-switch unnecessary.

The other problem: In what was already a tie game at this point, Baker was removing one of his veteran, middle-of-the-order hitters, a guy who had admittedly struggled all season but had a very good NLDS and had just delivered a huge double moments earlier.

"Of course I want to stay in," Zimmerman said. "I want to play. I want to get as many at-bats as I can. But that's his job to give us the best chance to win. That's what he thought."

And still another problem: With Robinson now batting ninth, Baker pinch-ran Joe Ross for him in the bottom of the seventh. Ross never did score, and now Baker inserted Michael A. Taylor into that spot as his center fielder, with Trea Turner shifting to second base and Murphy shifting to first base. Taylor came up in a big spot in the bottom of the eighth and promptly struck out on four pitches.

Baker removing Solis for Shawn Kelley to face Justin Turner
Situation: Top of the seventh, two out, runners on first and second
Score: Nats down 2-1
Result: Turner crushed a ball off the wall in center field. Two runs scored, and Turner wound up on third base with a triple. Kelley wound up in pain after throwing only two pitches and had to come out of the game with what initially appeared to be a serious injury.
Second-guess: Turner was the only right-handed batter in the Dodgers starting lineup, so it would seem perfect logic to bring in a right-hander to face him. But he actually has dramatic reverse splits this season: .305/.356/.563 against righties, .209/.303/.337 against lefties. Solis, meanwhile, had been just as effective against righties as lefties all season, making him such a valuable piece out of the bullpen and more than simply a matchup reliever.

On top of all that, Kelley had precious little time to warm up in the bullpen, though he would not blame that for his injury. (He said he lost feeling in three of his fingers, but the two-time recipient of Tommy John surgery was confident he did not tear the ligament again and believes he would have been fine to pitch again in a couple of days.)

"It happened quick, but nah, it's probably just a freak thing," he said. "I got ready pretty quick, but that's part of being a reliever. I torqued that pitch, and it sent that thing down my arm, and the rest was history. ... I wish I could have stayed in. I don't know how I could have."

Bryce Harper stealing second, taking the bat out of Daniel Murphy's hands
Situation: Bottom of the seventh, one out, runners on first and third
Score: Nats down 4-3
Result: With a 3-2 count on Werth, Harper took off for second base. The idea was to stay out of an inning-ending double play if Werth hit a ground ball. But when Werth swung and missed, Harper wound up safe at second. Good scenario for the Nats? Not really, no. Because now first base was open, and that gave the Dodgers the option to intentionally walk Murphy and instead take their chances with Rendon, who struck out to end the inning and strand the tying runner on third.
Second-guess: There was logic in having Harper run there, and had Werth simply been able to put the ball in play it probably would have worked. But when Werth struck out, it most definitely denied the team's best hitter and MVP candidate an opportunity to swing the bat in a huge spot.

Baker removing Oliver Perez for Mark Melancon and double-switching out Rendon for Stephen Drew
Situation: Top of the eighth, two out, runner on second
Score: Nats down 4-3
Result: Melancon, after intentionally walking Kendrick, got Charlie Culberson to hit a comebacker to end the inning. Drew led off the bottom of the eighth and drew a walk.
Second-guess: This didn't really have a negative impact on its own, but it did create some other less-than-ideal matchups that could have cost the Nationals. Most notably, when the No. 5 spot in the lineup came up with two outs in the ninth, it wasn't Rendon at the plate with a chance to tie the game but Wilmer Difo, the last man available on the bench. Rendon had a bad series, no doubt about it. But with your season on the line, would you rather have him or Difo at the plate?

"You know, when you're playing catch-up, when you're playing from behind, you have to do things that you don't really want to do," Baker said. "But I had to double-switch at certain times to make sure Melancon wasn't at the plate with first and second, or something. I had guys moving around - Trea, Michael Taylor - to try to stay in the game and get back in the game. It almost worked. I mean, we had action there all the way till the last out. We just came up short."

Indeed, they did. The Nationals had plenty of chances to deliver the one hit that would have changed the outcome of this game and this series.

But they didn't, and so now they'll be spending a long winter contemplating all the decisions that were made during the frantic finish to their final game of 2016.

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