No Gateway for Nats in St. Louis
Nationals Go One Step Up and Two Steps Back
Blame it on the rain? Counting games before the All-Star break, the Washington Nationals dealt with seven rain delays in eleven games. Still, it was a disappointing start to the second half of the season for the Nats who lost two of three to the St. Louis Cardinals. Washington has played well in series against other struggling teams on the road. The three-game set in St. Louis was not one of them.
Game 1: NATIONALS 7, Cardinals 5
Trevor Williams started for the Nats and looked like he had good stuff, despite a home run given up to Lars Nootbaar in the bottom of the first inning. The homer came in the middle of two strikeouts. Williams seemed upset but used the extra energy to strike out five of the first six Cardinal batters.
All nine of the Nats first nine batters made outs. With two outs in the bottom of the third, heavy rain suspended the game until the following day. On Saturday afternoon, Cory Abbott took over for Williams and got the out to finally end the third inning.
Joey Meneses hit a signature grounder to the opposite field for a single that tied the game at one in the top of the fourth. At the time, Meneses was batting over .400 with runners in scoring position. The St. Louis defense made three errors in the top of the fifth and the Nats cashed in for three runs and led 4-1. But any chance for a shut-down inning was dashed when Brendan Donovan hit a three-run dinger off Abbott in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game at four. In the top of the eighth, the Nats strung together three hits after two outs. Meneses came through again with an RBI double to put the Nats back on top, 5-4.
Shutdown Innings Elusive
Kyle Finnegan could not shut down the Cards in the bottom half of the eighth frame either. Wilson Contreras hit a game-tying home run off Finnegan, who blew his seventh save of the season. Finnegan (W, 4-3) recovered and set down St. Louis in order in the bottom of the ninth.
In the top of the tenth inning, Lane Thomas hit a sharp grounder to right field to score auto-runner Alex Call and the Nats took the lead. Ildemaro Vargas hit into a double play, but CJ Abrams (2-5) scored to give the Nats an insurance run.
Hunter Harvey recorded his ninth save with a perfect tenth, including a game ending strikeout.
GAME 2: CARDINALS 9, Nationals 6
After an hour rain delay to the start of the game, Nats pitcher Jake Irvin got through a lengthy first inning unscathed. But Alec Burleson led off the second inning and took Irvin deep to put the Cards up, 1-0. Three more hits and a HBP by Irvin extended the St. Louis lead to 4-0 after two innings.
The Nats cut the lead in half in the top of the third thanks to solo shots from Alex Call (1-3) and CJ Abrams (2-4). The scrappy Nats scratched for single runs in the next two innings on an RBI single by Riley Adams (2-4) and a sac fly by Joey Meneses. A shut down inning was not in the cards for Nationals relief pitching, and St. Louis went ahead by three in the bottom of the fifth.
Defensive Turning Points
Meneses hit a ball headed for at least the top of the left field wall, but Burleson made a sensational catch to rob Meneses of extra bases and squashed a possible Nats rally in the fifth. In the top of the eighth, Cards right fielder Jordan Walker robbed Adams of a single with Dominic Smith on second after he doubled.
Washington loaded the bases in the top of the sixth with one out but came up empty. Single runs in the sixth and eighth innings clinched the Cardinals’ victory despite two Nats runs in the top of the ninth.
Amos Willingham (L, 0-1) took the loss for the Nats even though he gave up the least number of runs (one) of any Nats pitcher on the night. Jose Ferrer and Paolo Espino were ineffective following Willingham.
Alex Call has hit safely in six of the eight games since he was recalled from Triple A. Call has also hit three of his six home runs during the same span.
GAME 3: CARDINALS 8, Nationals 4
It was a bittersweet week for Josiah Gray after he shined at the All-Star Game on July 11 in Seattle.
Gray (L, 6-8) had not pitched well against the Cardinals in previous outings. Despite giving up a first pitch double and hitting a batter, Gray wiggled out of the first frame. But Gray would throw 95 pitches in just five innings of work. He gave up four runs on 10 hits. The Cards put the leadoff man aboard in the first four innings and it finally paid off for the home team.
The Nats could only manage four hits in the game, but they made them count. Keibert Ruiz’ 10th homer in the top of the second gave the Nats an early 1-0 lead. The Nats got within a run in the top of the sixth. CJ Abrams (2-4) tripled and scored on a 2-run double by Dom Smith (1-3).
But once again the shutdown inning eluded the Nationals. Jordan Weems relieved Gray after five innings. Weems gave up four more runs but only got one out.
Abrams National League Player of the Week
CJ Abrams has raised his average by 21 points (up to .254) since batting leadoff. Abrams is 12 for 23 in his last six games, all batting first. That led to this:
Nats record fell to 37-56.
Next Up for the DC9: Three games at Wrigley Field to face another sub .500 team in the third place Chicago Cubs.