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AZ 3, Nationals 5 - The Eighth: it's the New First...

Record: 64-72. Change on last season: +3

Runs scored by Washington this series 3 x eighth innings: 10 22 x non-eighth innings: 6

So, we go into the bottom of the eighth inning, leading the Nationals. Thanks to a sterling performance from our starting pitcher, we've held them to just one run through the front seven. But then, it all falls apart. Washington scores four times in the bottom of the eighth, and we lose the game by two runs in a thoroughly dispiriting fashion.

No, even with the small variations, it wasn't very funny the first two times I heard it either, yesterday.

Jeez. You couldn't make this kind of stuff up. To lose one eighth-inning lead is a misfortune; to lose two feels like carelessness, as Oscar Wilde once (almost) said. But even one of the greatest wits of all-time would have been struck dumb by the horrors that have befallen Arizona in the eighth frame of this series. Today, I imagine every fan held their breath as we moved into the Inning of Doom, even knowing our ace Webb had been brilliant since the first inning, retiring 16 of 17 Nationals in a row (the other reached on an infield single). And immediately the first two Washington hitters there reached, on a bunt single and a walk, the three runs and loss which followed had a glacial inevitability about them.

It's a little hard to blame Melvin for this one, since Webb had been so good up until then. But as with yesterday, one wonders whether he should have been quicker going to the bullpen, rather than waiting until after the opposition had taken the lead. Sure, the bullpen had been largely ineffective on Friday, but what about bringing in new closer Valverde? He hadn't pitched in an entire week, and had regularly been going two innings since coming back from Tucson. With the game on the line, why not try and save the win for Webb? What did we have to lose?

But once again: five hits, four of them singles, is not going to win you very many games, though we did manage five walks, with only three strikeouts. The only noteworthy offense was probably Chad Tracy using one of his two hits to break that month-long homerless streak, with a solo shot to lead off the fifth inning. That tied the game at one, and we tacked on single runs in each of the next two innings, to give us a 3-1 lead. However, as already noted, it didn't last, with another wretched collapse.

It was a combination of factors in that eighth inning. We seemed unprepared for the possibility of a bunt single, and Webb gave a free pass to Church. Although he then struck Soriano out, Drew seemed to blank out entirely on a ball hit almost straight at him. He wasn't charged with an error, but it could have been an inning-ending double-play. He said, "I was trying to hold the runner close, and by the time I got back, I got set and...I lost it right off the bat. By the time I picked it up again, it was right at me. It's one of those things I should have had." And that's the game, right there. [That was scored as a hit, but Arizona were charged with two actual errors elsewhere, both on throws: Gonzalez and Tracy the culprits.]

Webb entered the eighth inning having allowed one earned run on three hits and a walk, with a great chance of going 15-5. He left the game having got one more out, but now having surrendered five earned runs on seven hits and three walks, picking up his sixth loss instead. This meltdown could mark the end of his Cy Young chances: voters have notoriously short memories, and how you play in September is a lot more important than how you pitched in April. Webb's early form - he went 8-0 with a 2.01 ERA through April and May - seems a very long time ago now. Since then, he's only 6-6 with a respectable, but not award-worthy, 4.07 ERA.

Thanks to icecoldmo, who provided the play-by-play this morning, azdb7 on the colour commentary, plus Devin, npineda, jazzbo13 (from whom I "borrowed" today's headline) and DiamondbacksWIn for their comments. This dispiriting sweep means we are still winless in Washington since the franchise moved there. Even before the loss, Baseball Prospectus gave us barely a 1% chance of making the playoffs, and it must surely be lower still now.

Heroes and Zeroes
Series 43: vs Nationals, on road

Batista: 7 IP, 5 H, 3 BB, 5 K, 1 ER
Vizcaino: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 3 K, 0 ER
Young: 3-for-8, 5 RBI
Pena: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 3 K, 3 ER
Lyon: 1 IP, 0 H, 4 BB, 1 K, 1 ER, Loss
Julio: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 ER

Remarkably, two-thirds of this series's Heroes and Villains appeared only in the opener, and the other two largely have their performances in the same game to thank for their positions. It's pitcher-dominated as you might imagine: for the first seven innings, Webb and Hernandez were equally as good as Batista, allowing only one earned run each. However, Miggy was pulled, while the other two were left in, and the subsequent results were bad enough to tag both with a loss, and disqualify them from Hero status. Vizcaino was easily the best reliever of the series; the only one we used in Washington who is not to be found somewhere in the above chart, is Randy "One Pitch, One Out" Choate.

The team as a whole batted a pretty poor .218 for the series - 22-for-101. Nobody had more than three hits: only Byrnes and Young had even that many, but Young only played in two games, and also drove in five of our 12 RBIs. Again, only O-Dawg and Gonzo managed more than one in that category, and the overall K:BB ratio for the Diamondbacks was 16:9. [Enhanced for widescreen TV. ;-)] I presume the Zeroes need little or no explanation - they're the guys who managed to blow a 6-1 lead while retiring two Nationals hitter, and then lose the game for us.

As noted, Melvin announced before the game that Papa Grande was, indeed, replacing Jorge the Jorrible in the role of closer. "Julio was great early on for us," said Melvin, "but he hasn't had the same success... The problem is, when you struggle for your team, that's a difficult role to struggle in too long... We went with Valverde earlier, so it's time to make the change." It also looks like Edgar Gonzalez will be getting the spot start on Wednesday, necessary because of Friday's postponement and the double-header yesterday squeezing the rotation.

Gonna grab the Fangraphs for the past couple of days and post them. Just discovered it's another day game tomorrow, but since it's Monday, getting up should not be too much of a problem. However, I'll probably get the GameDay Thread up, just to be on the safe side!

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Today: Eighth Inning Retch, Part III