I've said before but for me a game is far more often lost than won. That winning is less about making great plays and more about avoiding mistakes. It's not always the case but that's how I look at sports (kind of life too if I'll be honest) and that's going to be a lot of how I look at this game right now. This doesn't mean I don't think it was a pretty well played game and series. I think both those things. It's just how I see things play out in terms of deciding who win and who loses.
Anyway let's take a look at the key moments from yesterday and see how we ended up here today.
Dodgers start Rich Hill. There are arguments that can be made for starting a pitcher on short rest. They are difficult arguments to win and none apply to Rich Hill. You saw Urias. He was pretty good, wasn't he? He should have started and Roberts was lucky he didn't get burned worse by this decision.
Lobaton can't get the ball in play to possibly score another run. Espinosa had just come up with a big hit and the Nats had 1st and 3rd with one out. If you're Lobaton, you have to hit it hard and hope for the best. Yes, a double play is certainly possible, but so are sacrifice flies and fielder choices. You can score a run on an out here fairly easily. With the pitcher spot looming behind you it's even more imperative to get that ball in play as he is unlikely to drive the run in. But Lobaton fouls off two pitches and then strikes out. Scherzer would follow with a K of his own and the Nats would only score once.
Dodgers let Max off the hook. Max pitched well last night, but it was obvious early on he didn't have his usual control. If the Dodgers could take a smart approach to facing him they could have him out early, maybe even sometime in the 5th if they were really lucky. Maybe that's without scoring but still the advantage the Nats had going into last night was Max. Get him out and it's a brand new game. He sat at 35 pitches with no outs in the 3rd inning and had just thrown 5 straight balls. But then the Dodgers' brains locked up. Toles swung at a strike at the bottom of the zone and grounded into a double play. Rich Hill swung at a first pitch ball and grounded out himself. Now not only was Max not on the ropes, but he was set up for a long outing. A simply terrible approach that for a long portion of the game sat with me as the key moment.
Werth can't get the ball in play to possibly score another run. Hey if I'm going to get on Lobaton I have to get on Werth here too. Turner had singled, stole second and advanced to third on Bryce's deep fly ball to center. With his speed almost any GB out, or halfway deep FB scores Trea. But Werth strikes out on five pitches. There is a slight difference as at this point it didn't feel as precarious for Hill as it did earlier.
Anthony Rendon's liner goes right to the CFer. Rendon had a bad series, but he really squared up on this one. There's no fault here - it's just a shame as it would have scored two.
With the bases loaded, Max strikes out Ethier and gets Utley to ground out. After being no-hit for 4 innings the Dodgers finally got to Max with three singles. I'll note here that the last one, by Toles, might have been caught by a better 2B as Murphy was caught flat-footed then couldn't reach it with his jump. It would have been a very good play but I think it was possible. Anyway with both singles going to Bryce and that last one having a chance to be caught, the Dodgers hadn't managed to plate a run. The Dodgers brought in Ethier to get a big hit but Max struck him out on some nice pitching. Then keeping the ball down he got Utley to hit a ground ball that didn't go through.
Dusty lets Max hit for himself. Look, it ended up pretty much working out as Max would get through the heart of the Dodgers line-up the next inning, but it was still the wrong decision. Results don't always match up as they should. Why was it wrong? Max's mistakes can be HR mistakes and he had missed up a couple times in the 5th inning, including on Reddick's base hit. At around 86 pitches and getting ready to face the Dodgers line-up a third time it was time to give him a big hug, thank him for keeping it scoreless and move on to the pen. With the top of the line-up following Scherzer, a guy getting on would have a good chance of scoring. But instead he sticks with Max, Max K's and the Nats don't score that inning.
Bryce gets picked off. With two outs, not terribly impactful but don't get picked off, even on a questionable move.
Henley sends Werth, Werth is out at home. Now we finally take the most important moment away from the Dodgers dumb swings in the third. The Nats had been testing the Dodgers all night and the Dodgers had been coming up empty. They weren't making mistakes per se, but when the situation called for just solid baseball plays - throws on target with decent speed - the Dodgers couldn't do it. So being aggressive is arguably the right call. But this wasn't aggressive it was stupid.
Here's the play (apologies for the needless "statcasting") If you pause it at 29 seconds (during the close up on Werth running) you can see in the distance Toles clearly having thrown that ball before Werth is reaching third. Werth has already taken his eye off the ball, rightly expecting his 3rd base coach to give him the correct call. Henley though inexplicably sends Werth. Pause it again at 1:01 right when the angle changes. In the corner you see Toles in his throwing motion. In the foreground Henley waving Werth around not facing the throw. Perhaps he think Toles mishandled it. But then he looks up and HAS TO see the ball is in the air. Yet he keeps sending.
You could argue he was in the wrong position too. He should be between 3rd and home to give himself maximum time to make the decision but you can see that he had to first think about seeing into that corner so maybe drifting toward home was superceded by that. Of course that doesn't explain both how he didn't see what was obviously in front of him, and why he kept moving UP the line away from home rather than down toward home after deciding he would send him. If he simply bounces the other way there might be a chance for a last second "WOAH I SCREWED UP" and hoping Werth can scramble back but going in the other direction he takes that away as a possibility.
Anyway Toles throw was quickly made but completely average. The same could be said of Seager's throw. Werth was still out by 30 ft. If say it had been Puig and an Espy type throw by Seager it honestly could have ended up with Werth scrambling back to third.
Max stays in and Pederson homers. I had been saying after the 6th that I could see going with Max on a batter by batter situation. I hate taking out effective pitchers "just because". A lot of why a pitcher is working well in a given night is particular to that night. How he's feeling, how those batters are seeing him. To have an advantage and throw it away seems foolish. But I didn't think it through. Max wasn't exactly dominating, though the 6th was pretty good the whole story of the game said something else. Max has a tendency to make "home run" mistakes. Joc Pederson is useless against LHP. All that taken together should have meant Max should take a seat. It was all true going into the 6th, nothing changed for the 7th other than Max was 11 more pitches in. Now Max didn't make a mistake. He made a good pitch and Pederson made a great swing. But now, if not earlier, was the time for match-ups to take over and that meant Max should have come out. However, I'm not going to kill Dusty for this one. If you want to live and die with your ace currently throwing a shutout, not gassed, and with no opportunity to lose the game only the lead, that's fine by me.
Rep walks Grandal Grandal was the Dodgers Rendon. A good hitter that was having a terrible series. Yet Rep walks him on four pitches, none particularly close. Inexcusable.
Culberson fails to get his bunt down. This is kind of like the Bryce getting picked off situation. Not all that impactful in the course of the game, but get your bunts down
Dusty lets Solis face Ruiz, Rendon fails to come up with Ruiz's grounder. You understand the first one somewhat. Dusty doesn't want to burn one of his lefty arms without throwing a pitch. But it's endgame and you have to worry about what's in front of you not what might be in front of you later. Ruiz hits lefties much better than righties. At this point Gio has to be considered a usable arm so you still have two lefties if need be - plus your closer and set-up guy. That's gotta be enough to get 8 outs. But Dusty sticks with Solis, Solis gives up a shot. Reminiscent of Game 5 when Desmond couldn't come up with a hard shot that was playable, Rendon lets this one get by him and the Dodgers take the lead. Hard play? Sure. Impossible? No, not even close.
Dusty brings in Shawn Kelley to face Turner despite Turner's splits, Turner delivers. This to me is the defining moment of the game. Turner has reverse splits meaning he hits righties better than lefties. It's not even close really. Here's his numbers for 2016
vs RHP : .305 / .356 / .563
vs LHP : .209 / .303 / .337
Sometimes this can happen as a fluke but that isn't the case for Turner. He's hit righties better than lefties every year since 2011 (he only had a handful of ABs in 2009&2010) except 2014 and that's not because he didn't hit righties that year. He did. He just had a fluke year where he hit lefties too. So his career splits are .832 OPS vs RHP, .695 vs LHP. Everything said you use a lefty, not a righty, to face Turner.
But Dusty went with the typical move - bringing in a righty to face Turner. I suppose you could argue that he just wanted a better pitcher in, Kelly being better than Solis, but I don't believe that. I suppose you could argue "Kelley gets out righties better than Solis does!" but that's all based on the basic truism that lefties hit righties better and vice versa. Unless you have a freaky motion or some sort of particular trait that would seemingly affect a batters ability to hit you there's no reason to believe a pitcher's split is particular to the pitcher, but rather an accumulation of splits particular to batters. In other words a lefty pitcher doesn't get lefty batters out well because he is particularly good at pitching to lefty batters, but because lefty batters are particularly bad at hitting lefty pitchers.
Anyway he should have kept Solis in - which not only would have likely been more effective against Turner than throwing Kelley out there but if he was successful would have allowed him to pitch to Gonzalez as well and save Perez. But he didn't. And Turner would triple off of Kelley giving the Dodgers a big lead that they wouldn't fully relinquish.
Heisey homers. Heisey does not have any strong splits so keeping Dayton in to face him is not a mistake. The pitch Dayton threw though, that was one. He had made the same error Rep did - he walked the first man he saw on 4 pitches - and he also paid for it as Danny came in on Heisey's HR. Now it's back to a 1-run game, albeit reversed, with 9 outs for the Nats to score one run (and keep holding the Dodgers)
Werth strikes out swinging, Bryce takes second. This is questionable. Did it really take the bat out of Murphy's hands? Sure with first base open it was an easy call. You aren't moving the winning run into scoring position with the walk. However, I'd still have walked Murphy. There's no reason to take a chance on him RHP vs LHB when struggling Rendon is coming up next.
Rendon strikes out. Overmatched.
Espy fails to get the bunt down. I had actually just said before this that I wondered if Jansen was particularly hard to bunt on. He doesn't appear to have great movement watching him, but guys just miss his pitches in a way that suggests that he does. I've found that usually means a "rising" action that gets guys at the plate and that means, yes, a particularly hard pitcher to get a ball down on. But still get the bunt down.
I also kind of have issues with the decision to bunt. Your next two batters are Pedro Severino and Michael Taylor. Danny isn't great, but he's better than them and had, for whatever reason, looked a lot better at the plate last night (no Ks!). If I'm going to try to get Drew home, I think your best chance is with Danny rather than Severino or MAT facing Kenley Jansen in their first AB of the night.
Murphy pops up. No blame but we're talking key moments and this was definitely one. You're hoping at worst to move the runners over where a passed ball or wild pitch or error could score them, at best for a hit. A pop-up doesn't even allow for an error thanks to the infield fly rule.
Difo K's. Again no blame. Yeah he shouldn't have swung at the last pitch but Kershaw threw some nasty stuff early in the at bat to get to that point setting Difo up for being too protective of the plate. It would have been a miracle talked about for decades if Difo got a hit here.
So there you go. For the first 6+ innings it looked like the biggest play of the game would be some silly swings in the 3rd that allowed Scherzer to go as long as he did. But then Henley made a terrible call to run the Nats out of a potential run-scoring situation, and Dusty ignored the splits to put the Nats in a disadvantageous situation and those plays decided the game.
That's it. I'm beat. We'll be back next week for some full season post-Mortem