If Tuesday’s victory over the Astros proved anything it is that there is a thin line between comedy and tragedy as a laugher quickly transitioned into a tightly contested one run game in the course of one inning. Thanks to multiple double games from Zimmerman and Rendon the Nationals jumped all over the Astros and held a 6-1 lead heading into the top of the eighth. Tyler Clippard took the mound because it was the eighth inning, Tanner Roark had labored to get through five innings, and Ross Detwiler is a figment of your imagination.
From the very start of the inning Tyler Clippard didn’t appear to have it as Jason Castro and Matt Dominguez lead off the inning with a single and a double. Against the third batter of the inning, Jonathan Villar, Clippard would serve up another hittable pitch that Villar would drive to center for a single and the Astros would cut the Nats lead to four. After two strikeouts it looked like Clippard could get out of the inning, but the batter was Jose Altuve who already had himself a three hit night, and he would collect his fourth hit on a two RBI double. Aaron Barrett would then come in and get George Springer to fly out to center on just two pitches.
The other valuable lesson of Tuesday’s contest is that perception is not reality. The perception of the Nationals bullpen is that it is weak at the back end. The fans in the stands were more than willing to let you know how Clippard had outlived his usefulness and how Soriano always makes it interesting. The runs Clippard gave up Tuesday were the first earned runs he’s allowed in the last 25 games. An amazing streak for any reliever. As far as Soriano goes people’s threshold for interesting must be very low as his 0.96 WHIP is far below the MLB average for a reliever of 1.30.
With this victory the Washington Nationals have also reclaimed first place as the Braves fell again to the Philadelphia Phillies, but even with the Nationals only 0.5 games out of the division lead heading into this game all the talk on talk radio and social media was of how disappointing and inconsistent the Nationals have been. The Nationals over their last 20 games have gone 12-8, a .600 winning percent, and 97 win pace. If this is inconsistency most baseball fans would take it over whatever the other option is.
The Nationals held on to win a laugher that turned into a one run game, but they also pounded out four runs on six hits on a pitcher that was ranked the best in baseball by Baseball-Reference WAR and the 13th best by Fangraphs WAR. In other words the Nats beat a pretty decent pitcher, and while Roark didn’t have his best stuff and Matt Williams failed to recognize that Clippard didn’t have it the Nationals beat a team with a suddenly hot line-up.
The Astros are giving people a glimpse of the future with Altuve, Springer, Singleton, and Castro anchoring the middle of their line-up, a middle of a line-up a lot of teams wouldn’t mind having. The big guns of Carlos Correa and Mark Appel have yet to arrive but Springer and Singleton are already giving Astros fans a taste of what’s to come, and while the Nationals should beat them it by no means be easy, and on Tuesday night it wasn’t. The Nationals held on to win a game they looked to have under control, and in the process reclaimed first in the NL East.