The Marlins may be miles from contention, but these are still critical games for Washington. The Nationals play Miami four times, followed by four against the Houston Astros. Both opponents were bad before they disintegrated with a series of trades. The Nationals have an ideal chance to build on their lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, which sits at two games after the split and a Braves win.
Taking advantage requires constant alertness, and Manager Davey Johnson was alarmed by one moment nearly every observer would have missed. During Game 1, the Nationals led 7-1 in the sixth inning, and Marlins infielders played behind Jayson Werth at first base, conceding a steal. Werth, in compliance with standard etiquette, stayed.
“I was a little upset when we didn’t run,” Johnson said. “You don’t quit competing. You don’t let them dictate when they’re out of it, because they’re going to keep competing. I had a few discussions – ‘Why didn’t we run?’ Those are little things. But they can be big things. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. You’ve got to be at your best.”
For most of Game 1, the Nationals were. John Lannan made his second cameo from the minors and turned in six solid innings, his second victory in as many major league starts. (”It was a little less weird” than the first time, he said.) Adam LaRoche continued a torrid stretch by going 3 for 4 with a homer. Both he and Mark DeRosa drove in three runs. Even with Bryce Harper and Michael Morse taking a rest, the 3-4-5 hitters — Ryan Zimmerman, Werth and LaRoche — reached base in 12 of 15 plate appearances.
“The healthier we get, the better we’re going to be,” Zimmerman said.
The Nationals stranded 11 runners, and shaky relief pitching necessitated Johnson summoning closer Tyler Clippard when he did not want to. He worried about the tax on his bullpen with a game to go. But the Nationals had controlled the entire game, and it lasted into the beginning of Game 2.
Steve Lombardozzi led off against Johnson with a triple to the center field fence, and two batters later Zimmerman scored him with a sacrifice fly to right field. The Nationals led, 1-0.
Gonzalez was sublime for his first five innings. Jose Reyes reached on a bunt single with two outs in the first, and then Gonzalez retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced. He struck out five of them. He allowed a single to Greg Dobbs in the fifth, and on the next pitch Austin Kearns grounded into a rocking-chair double play. Gonzalez needed 49 pitches for five innings, 36 of them fastballs.