For the second straight game in the National League Division Series, the Washington Nationals starting pitcher could not do the job he’s done all season long. Unlike Game 1, the Nats could not recover from Jordan Zimmermann’s poor start like they did when Gio Gonzalez struggled the day before, as the St. Louis Cardinals soundly beat the Nats, 12-4, and evened the best-of-five series at one game apiece.
Zimmermann, who much of the season was arguably the Nats best starting pitcher, retired the side in order in the first inning. But that was the last of his proficiency, as the Cards got four straight hits to start the second inning en route to four runs in the frame, which pretty much sealed the Nats fate in a game they just never looked like they were in.
For the second straight game, the Nats fell victim to sloppy defensive plays, base running blunders and mostly silent bats.
The Nats actually scored first. With two on in the second, Jordan Zimmermann’s flare off Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia fell in front of right fielder Carlos Beltran. The outfielder was slow to get the ball back to the infield and Ian Desmond alertly broke for home, beating the relay to give the Nats the only lead they would hold all day.
The Cards answered right back in the bottom of the inning, just as they did in the second inning of Game 1. Allen Craig singled off Ryan Zimmerman’s glove and Yadier Molina reached on a single to center. David Freese then doubled to center off Zimmermann to score Craig. Daniel Descalso then grounded one past Danny Espinosa to plate Molina, giving the Cards a 2-1 lead. Freese later scored on a ground out by Skip Schumaker, pinch-hitting for the starter, Garcia, and Descalso came in on a Jon Jay single.
St. Louis added to the lead in the third, as Craig hit the first of three Cardinals homers on the day, wrapping a big fly around the left field foul pole.
Craig Stammen took over for Zimmermann in the fourth, but provided little relief. Descalso, who hit four homers all season, took Stammen deep as the leadoff hitter that inning to make it 6-1. Stammen then walked No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma, who came in to score later on an error by Danny Espinosa on a routine ground ball off the bat of Jon Jay, putting the Nats down 7-1.
The Nats bats woke up a little in the fifth inning. With one out, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche went back-to-back with home runs to cut the Cardinals deficit to 7-3. The Cardinals got one of those back in the sixth, as Carlos Beltran clubbed a massive shot off the facing of the second deck in straight-away left field, making it 8-3.
The Nats could have been set up for a big inning in the seventh, as Jayson Werth singles and Bryce Harper doubled, both earning their first hits of the series. Zimmerman followed with a sacrifice fly to left that scored Werth easily, but Matt Holliday’s throw went straight into the turf and rolled toward shortstop. Harper, who originally went half-way — then went back to tag on the fly ball — broke for third and was easily gunned down trying to take the extra base.
St. Louis tacked on three more in the eighth off Sean Burnett, ruling out any chance of a last-inning comeback. Kozma doubled with one out and scored on Jay’s triple, which was clumsily played in right by Werth. Beltran them launched a 3-1 pitch over the Nats bullpen in left to make it 11-4. The Cards added one more run to complete things, as Allen Craig doubled to left and Michael Morse fumbled the ball picking it up after coming off the wall, allowing Matt Holliday to jog home with the Cards’ 12th run of the game.
THE TAKEAWAY: It was key with the convoluted rules that forced the Nats — with homefield advantage — to start with two games on the road that they earn a split in the series before they came home to three straight games at Nats Park, which they accomplished with the Game 1 win. But it’s hard not to be discouraged after the way the Nats got pasted by the Cardinals in Game 2. Poor fielding, poor pitching, bad base running, not much hitting — this one featured it all.
This group of players have been resilient all season long, so they’ll have to put this one away as soon as they get on the plane to come home. In the post-season, bad games are magnified much more than during the regular season, but it’s just one game of a five-game series, and it means nothing more in the long run than a 4-3 loss would have — as long as the Nats don’t let it linger in their minds.
Nats fans, however, will probably have to be talked off the ledge for the next two days.
THE GOOD: Ryan Zimmerman went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and the Nats first home run in the post-season.
THE BAD: Craig Stammen. Gave up two runs on a hit and two walks — and one out. Very shaky for the second day in a row. Also, Sean Burnett was beaten up as well, giving up four runs on three hits and a walk in 2/3 of an inning.
THE UGLY: Jordan Zimmermann. Five earned on seven hits in just three innings. He did not walk a batter but he didn’t need to — the Cardinals just squared up on everything he offered them.
THE STATS: 10 hits, 4 BBs, 10 Ks. 1-for-7 with RISP, 8 LOB, no GIDP. E: Espinosa (1), Morse (1), 1 DP.
NEXT GAME: Game 3 Wednesday at 1:07 pm at Nationals Park. Edwin Jackson (10-11, 4.03) hosts Chris Carpenter (0-2, 3.71).
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.