Coming off Thursday night’s humble celebrations, the playoff-bound Washington Nationals hoped to zero in on the division title, but instead fell victim to the red-hot Milwaukee Brewers in a tough 4-2 loss Friday night.
Edwin Jackson (ND, 9-10, 3.77), in search of his 10th win of the season, outpitched Milwaukee right-hander Shaun Marcum (ND, 5-4, 3.86), but another blown save by Tyler Clippard (L, 2-6, 3.46) cost the Nats their opportunity to trim their Magic Number for the division down to six.
As if they were riding momentum from last night’s win, the Nats wasted no time putting runs on the board against one of five teams in the thick of the NL Wild Card chase. With two outs in the first inning, Ryan Zimmerman singled up the middle and Adam LaRoche belted a two-run homer to left center, giving the Nats an early 2-0 lead.
Unfortunately for Washington, however, Jonathan Lucroy took advantage of a hanging breaking ball by Jackson in the top half of the next inning and rocketed a solo shot so deep into the left-field seats it nearly reached the concourse.
Despite early bombs by both teams, the night was less a slugfest, but a pitcher’s duel. After center fielder Carlos Gomez robbed Ian Desmond of an extra-base hit with a highlight-worthy diving catch in the second, the Nats’ bats went quiet as Marcum settled in. In fact, aside from Edwin Jackson’s single in the third and Michael Morse’s in the fourth, the Nats did not have a runner on base again until the eighth.
Jackson found his own groove, but not before stellar defense in the fourth would save him from a jam. Following a double by Ryan Braun to straight-away center, Aramis Ramirez singled to Bryce Harper and Brewers third base coach Ed Sedar waved Braun on home to try for the tying run. However, Harper quickly chased down the ball in time to launch a perfect throw home to gun down Braun and salvage the Nationals’ 2-1 lead. The Brewers continued to threaten, however, as Jonathan Lucroy grounded safely to Harper to leave runners at the corners with one out. Luckily for Jackson, the Nationals’ infield came to the rescue with a spectacular 4-6-3 double play to end the top of the fourth.
After, the Brewers’ bats would remain quiet… that is, until Tyler Clippard came on for the save.
Norichika Aoki led off the inning by laying down a perfect bunt just left of the batter’s box in fair territory. Zimmerman raced in to make the play but Aoki beat it out before he could attempt the throw. Aoki advanced to second on a passed ball by Jesus Flores and Rickie Weeks’s sacrifice fly to deep center left Aoki at third with one out. Braun, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles on the night, singled to tie the game and quickly stole second in time to score on Ramirez’s double to the left-field corner.
Lucroy lined out to left, but Travis Ishikawa reached first on a tough play by Desmond that allowed Ramirez to score. The play was originally ruled a throwing error, but the officials later credited Ishikawa with the hit, tacking on another earned run against Clippard before night’s end.
Craig Stammen came on to relieve Clippard and quickly struck out Gomez to end the inning, but the damage was already done and the Nats fell 4-2.
THE TAKE-AWAY: Once again, despite a fantastic effort by Edwin Jackson to become the fifth Nationals pitcher with double-digit wins this season, Tyler Clippard failed to secure the save for the win. With Clippard and right-hander Drew Storen potentialy splitting the Nats’ closer role, it will be interesting to see how Clippard’s fifth blown save this season will influence Davey Johnson’s decisions as Washington looks to secure the division.
THE GOOD: Edwin Jackson shined Friday night, allowing just six hits and one run in eight innings of play. Following the home run to Jonathan Lucroy, Jackson retired the next six batters and with help from Bryce Harper and the Nats’ infield, he pitched into—and out of—only one jam all night.
The Nationals defense was superb. Bryce Harper, once again, demonstrated why third base coaches should think twice about sending runners home when the ball lands in his territory.
THE BAD: The Nationals’ bats were relatively quiet all night. They managed only five hits and two runs and tallied six strikeouts before the end of the night.
For Nationals fans who speculated that the “Teddy Conspiracy” would come to an end after the Nationals’ clinched the division, it’s time to come up with a new theory. Yet again, the 26th President lost to George Washington.
THE UGLY: Moreso than in the regular season, closers play a vital role in the playoffs. If the Nationals’ bats stay quiet, Washington could run in trouble if it can’t rely on Tyler Clippard to produce big outs. It might be time to reconsider how—or if—the Nationals should continue to split the closer role between Clippard and Storen.
STATISTICS: 2 R, H, 1 BB, 6 K, 2 LOB
NEXT GAME: Saturday at 1:05pm against the Milwaukee Brewers. Gio Gonzalez (19-8, 2.95) hosts Wily Peralta (2-0, 2.14)