Three Strikes: Nationals capitalize on Dodgers’ mistakes, take Game 2
- After jumping out to an early lead the Dodgers looked primed to go up 2–0 in the NLDS, but the Nationals capitalized on Los Angeles’s missed opportunities to stage a comeback and level the series.
The Dodgers built an early 2–0 lead in Game 2 and appeared poised to break things open, which would allow them to depart Washington with a two-games-to-none lead in the best-of-five Division Series.The big blow that finally landed came not from them but from the Nationals in the form of Jose Lobaton’s three-run homer off Rich Hill, and Washington evened the series with a 5–2 win—making this the first series this year that’s guaranteed not to be a sweep. The two teams will pick up the action on Monday at 4 p.m. ET/ 1 p.m. PT in Los Angeles, their travel day having been scrubbed due to Saturday’s postponement.
Here are a few quick thoughts on the game.
Dodgers wasted opportunities
The Dodgers never let Nationals starter Tanner Roark catch his breath, but they couldn’t produce the knockout blow. As he did in Game 1, Corey Seager homered in the first inning, avenging a first-pitch brushback from Roark. With one out in the second, Joc Pederson singled, Yasmani Grandal walked and Andrew Toles was hit by a pitch, but Roark escaped by striking out HIll and getting Chase Utley to ground out to first base, ending a 25-pitch inning.
In the third, a one-out walk by Justin Turner and then singles by Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Reddick produced a run, with Turner challenging rightfielder Bryce Harper’s arm by racing home. Had Lobaton held onto the ball, which came in on the first base side, during his sweep tag, he might have gotten Turner, but he came up empty. An intentional walk of Pederson paid off when Grandal grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to keep the score at 2–0.
Roark departed in the fifth after allowing a pair of singles to Turner and Reddick, sandwiched around an out, With the lefty-swinging Pederson due up, Nationals manager Dusty Baker went to lefty Marc Rzepczynski, with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts countering by sending up Yasiel Puig, who worked a walk. Again the Dodgers had the bases loaded, but Rzepczynski struck out Grandal, then got Howie Kendrick, who was pinch-hitting for the lefty-swinging Toles, to smoke a 107 mph lineout to Jayson Werth in leftfield.
In all, the Dodgers, who during the regular season produced the NL’s second-highest OPS with the bases loaded (.924 on .319/.355/.569 hitting), went 0 for 5 while making six outs in that situation on Sunday, and just 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. They left 12 runners on base.
Rzepczynski was the first of five Nationals relievers who held the Dodgers scoreless; he worked 1⅓ innings, with Sammy Solis (⅓), Blake Treinien (1⅓), Oliver Perez (⅔) and Mark Melancon (one) each following in suit. Rzepczynski’s three walks were the only baserunners allowed by the group until Melancon allowed a one-out single to Justin Turner in the ninth.
Trouble with the Curve
When he was available during the regular season, Hill dominated batters with his curveball, inducing them to whiff on 22.7% of those that they swung at and holding them to a .166 batting average and .223 slugging percentage when they put it in play, homering just twice. Lefties hit .109 with a .125 slugging percentage on the 64 curves they put in play, righties .191 with a .265 slugging percentage on the 147 they put in play (all data from Brooks Baseball). Via Baseball Savant, The Astros’ Jose Altuve and Mariners’ Chris Iannetta were the only players to homer against him on a curveball, both while Hill was still pitching for the A’s.
On Sunday, Hill threw curveballs on 42 of his 82 pitches according to Brooks, and while the Nationals whiffed on six of the 17 they swung at (35.3%), five of the six hits they collected came via the hook, three of them during Hill’s third time through the batting order.
Daniel Murphy’s leadoff single off a Hill curveball went for naught in the second inning, as did Trea Turner’s one-out single in the third. But in the fourth, he hung one to Lobaton, who during the regular season hit just .232/.319/.374 with three homers in 114 PA as the primary backup to Wilson Ramos. Lobaton drove the hanger an estimated 394 feet to left field against a headwind to give the Nationals a 3-2 lead, their first of the series.
Lobaton, playing primarily because of Wilson Ramos’ season-ending ACL tear, had just one regular-season hit against left-handed pitching this year; the switch-hitting backstop went 1 for 15 with a pair of walks and a sac bunt during the regular season, but the lone hit was—wait for it—a home run off Dodgers lefty Scott Kazmir on July 19. His only other homer off a lefty came in 2013, when he took White Sox ace Chris Sale deep while a member of the Rays.
Once enough Nationals got a look at Hill’s repertoire, they feasted. Turner led off the fifth inning with a single off a 2–1 curve, then stole second base. He took third when Harper, who had just bunted foul to fall behind 1–2, went the other way with a single to left field via a two-seam fastball that was left up in the zone. Murphy applied the coup de grâce on another hanging curve, stroking it up the middle to bring home Turner and forcing Hill from the game after 4 ⅓ innings, just as the Dodgers had with Roark.
Murphy, who didn’t start any of the final 14 regular season games due to a gluteal strain, and had just three plate appearances during that span, appears to be back in the form that made him one of the league’s top hitters (.347/.390/.595, first in SLG, second in AVG, third with a 157 OPS+). After going 1 for 3 with a walk in Game 1, he was 3 for 3 with a walk on Sunday. His third hit, off lefty Grant Dayton, brought home Jayson Werth with the seventh-inning insurance run that ran the score to 5–2.
The Dodgers are no strangers to the havoc that Murphy can wreak in the postseason, of course. In last year’s Division Series against the Mets, he went 7 for 21 with a double and three homers, including a sixth-inning solo shot off Zack Greinke that proved to be the margin of victory in the Game 5 rubber match. Murphy is now hitting .359/.431/.719 in 72 postseason plate appearances across the past two seasons.
On the other side of the ball, Seager, with his homer, became the seventh player 22 years old or younger to hit multiple postseason homers during the wild-card era, and the first Dodger ever to do so in a postseason history that dates back to 1916. He had already supplanted Pete Reiser as the youngest Dodger to go deep; Reiser was 22 years, 202 days when he homered in the 1941 World Series, while Seager was 22 years and 163 days with his first. Seager also became the youngest shortstop to homer multiple times in a single postseason, supplanting Derek Jeter, who was 23 when he did so in 1997.
Of course, Seager is no stranger to the longball. His 26 homers this year ranked third among shortstops; the A’s Marcus Semien and Rockies Trevor Story both hit 27.