If the Washington Nationals wanted to see firsthand what a turnaround team looks like, they needed to look only as far as their opposing dugout as the Los Angeles Dodgers completed a three-game sweep in the Nats’ 3-1 loss Sunday afternoon.
The game many hoped would feature a top-notch pitcher’s duel between Jordan Zimmermann and Clayton Kershaw turned out to be a complete bust for Natstown. Zimmermann lasted just two innings, during which he surrendered a whopping seven runs on eight hits, including two home runs. He struck out just one batter and threw 39 of 58 pitches for strikes.
All but Jayson Werth proved powerless from the batter’s box. Through seven innings, Werth had the Nationals only two hits of the game – both of which were solo home runs off the otherwise untouchable Kershaw. Kurt Suzuki and Chad Tracy accounted for the other two hits of the night, both of which were singles.
What’s even more discouraging for Nationals fans is the fact that Zimmermann was about the only thing left to be sure of in the first series of the Washington’s 11-game homestand. After sitting out of the 2013 All-Star Game with neck stiffness that has bothered him on and off throughout the season, Zimmermann said earlier this weekend that he felt much better. Even still, whether or not Sunday’s outing was impacted by neck stiffness, it certainly poses a concern for the Nationals who are now two games below .500 and set to take on the red-hot Pittsburgh Pirates for a four-game set.
It became quickly apparent to everyone and anyone that Zimmermann wasn’t himself as he took the mound. He pitched into and out of trouble in the first, allowing back-to-back singles by Nick Punto and Adrian Gonzalez.
In the second, it took no time at all to realize he was on the fast-track to recording one the most miserable stat line of his season thus far. The newly returned Matt Kemp crushed a hanging slider for a leadoff home run in the second before A.J. Ellis singled and Mark Ellis doubled. Kershaw brought home A.J. Ellis on a ground out before Carl Crawford singled in Mark Ellis. Nick Punto walked and Hanley Ramirez homered to left to make it 6-0 Dodgers.
But, the bleeding didn’t stop there – and Nationals manager Davey Johnson opted to leave Zimmermann in to finish the second inning.
As it turned out, capping off the inning was easier said than done for Zimmermann.
Before he exited the game, he walked Andre Ethier, only to face Kemp for the second time in the inning. Kemp made the most of his return trip, doubling to left to bring home Ethier to make it 7-0 Los Angeles into the bottom of the inning.
Werth responded with the best thing he could do – a solo homerun to left center field – but Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Scott Hairston went down in order to quickly relieve Kershaw of any added trouble.
Ross Ohlendorf took the mound for the Nats in the third and remained there for six innings. His only trouble spot took place in the fourth inning after he surrendered singles to Gonzalez and Ramirez. Ethier batted in Gonzalez on a ground out an Kemp tallied his third base hit of the game to make it 9-1 Dodgers.
The only assistance Ohlendor received arrived in the form of Werth’s second solo homerun. At that point, the effort was futile.
With the win, the Dodgers have now slid into a tie with the Arizona Diamondbacks for first place in the NL West.
THE GOOD: Quite frankly, it’s difficult to find much good in Sunday’s outing. Jayson Werth went 2-for-3 with two home runs and a walk, but even that is overshadowed by the fact that he and his teammates failed to produce on Friday and Saturday when there were plenty of runners on base, eager to cross home plate.
If Davey Johnson avoids any criticism for his management of Sunday’s game – if not the entire Dodgers series – a thank-you card should be sent to Ross Ohlendorf for holding down the fort after Jordan Zimmermann finally left the game. Ohlendorf didn’t pitch a gem, but he provided six solid innings of relief with a final line of 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K and 2 HR
THE BAD: Dodgers pitching – namely, Clayton Kershaw – absolutely shut down the Washington Nationals’ offense, which has been lackluster throughout the series. The Nationals tallied only four total hits and went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. In fact, removing Werth’s home runs from the equation, the Nats stranded all of their base runners – then again, they only had four.
THE UGLY: There’s no easy way to mention the elephant in the room – the Nationals’ series against the Los Angeles Dodgers has added a new dimension of reasons to question if Davey Johnson ever could – and perhaps, should – question his job security. It might still be far-fetched to even toss out the possibility of the Nats’ beloved skipper – and last year’s NL Manager of the Year – falling short of completing his final term as an MLB manager. But, there are a number of not-so-far-fetched motivations behind why the Nationals Twitterverse blew up with the idea after Sunday’s loss.
For starters, the Nationals, who tout a powerhouse lineup, cannot continue to struggle against sub-.500 teams and mediocre pitching as consistently as they have this season. They can’t go 1-for-9 with RISP in their series opener against the Dodgers and 1-for-12 with RISP and 12 LOB the next day, only to produce just four hits in the finale (all while claiming to be World-Series-or-Bust). And, now that they have already done just that, it’s Johnson’s responsibility to test some new formulas.
One of the guttsier decisions Johnson made not too long ago was his choice to rearrange the lineup based on on-base percentages and run support. The rearranged lineup produced exactly the results he wanted to see – and the struggling Denard Span looked red-hot in the seven-spot.
But, why it took so long to make substantial changes to the batting order, who knows?
Take Sunday’s outing for an example, even. How a team’s top dealer – and one of the best in the league – can surrender six hits and two runs in 1.1 innings pitched before a coach even visits the mound is also worth questioning.
The Nats have, on paper, all of the ingredients necessary to field a league-leading team day in and day out and yet they are staring up at the Atlanta Braves – and worse-yet, a Philadelphia Phillies squad that most analysts wrote out of existence before Opening Day.
One can’t assume Davey Johnson’s days as the Nationals’ leader are numbered. In fact, it’s unlikely that they are. However, the time for the Nats to make season-saving changes was weeks ago, and quickly, the window for possibility is narrowing. Put simply, it’s telling that the question has even surfaced.
THE STATS: 2 R, 4 H, 1 BB, 11 K, 2 HR, 0-for-5 with RISP, 4 LOB
NEXT GAME: Monday, 7:05 p.m. vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park – RHP Charlie Morton (1-2, 3.19 ERA) vs. RHP Dan Haren (4-10, 5.61 ERA)