Twenty-two of the Washington Nationals games this season have been decided by one run. Last night against the San Diego Padres was no different. But this time, the Nats got two runs in the first and John Lannan and a trio of relievers made them stand up, as they beat the Padres 2-1 before 25,027 at Petco Park.
The one-run win increases the Nationals record in such games to 9-13, and the Nats have scored a grand total of 63 runs in their 24 one-run games, an average of 2.58 runs per game. So not only are they playing a lot of close games, but they are low scoring close games, adding to the tension. The Nationals have scored three runs or less in eight of their past 10 games.
The Nats even their record for this extended road trip at 5-5, with a chance Sunday to return to D.C. on a winning note. Their season record stands at 29-36, a half-game ahead of the Padres, last in the N.L. West.
Saturday night, manager Jim Riggleman decided to change things up a bit, batting Jayson Werth lead-off and left fielder Brian Bixler (subbing for Roger Bernadina, who was felled by a tight hamstring during warm-ups) behind the pitcher in the ninth spot in the lineup.
The switcheroo didn't really have an impact on the Nats offense, as they managed just five hits, with Bixler accounting for two of them. Werth went 0-for-4 in the leadoff spot, stranding three runners in the process.
Washington got out of the box quickly in the first inning against Clayton Richard (L, 2-8). Ian Desmond hit a one-out single and scoring on Danny Espinosa's line drive double that left fielder Ryan Ludwick dove for but had the ball kick off his mitt. Espinosa proceeded to steal third base, and after a Michael Morse strikeout, he scored on a Wilson Ramos single to center.
That's all the offense the nats could muster, and on this night, it was all they would need.
Lefty John Lannan authored yet another terrific performance, allowing only rookie Anthony Rizzo's first Major League home run. He went 6 1/3 innings and gave up just six hits and two walks, striking out one. Lannan threw 96 pitches and seemed upset when Riggleman lifted him in the seventh in favor of Todd Coffey after Jorge Cantu hit a soft liner to right for a single.
But Coffey got Chris Denorfia to ground out to short and got Jason Bartlett on a comebacker to end the inning. Both Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen walked a batter, but neither gave up a hit and both struck out two in their innings of work. Clippard earned his 16th hold, and Storen his 14th save.
Lannan increases his record to 4-5, and lowers his ERA to 3.60. In his last four starts he's given up a total of two earned runs. In fact, in six of his last nine starts he hasn't given up more than two earned runs. Unfortunately, with the Nationals offense the way it is, last night was only the second win he has to show fro that period.
The Nats have one more game with the Padres before coming home for a 12-game homestand and will play 23 of their next 29 games overall at home. After an 11-game west coast trip, that has to be a comforting thought to everyone on the ballclub, especially if they can secure victory on Sunday, which would give them a winning record on the trip.
THE GOOD: The pitching. Granted, San Diego's team batting average is only fractions higher than the Nats, but Lannan, Coffey, Clippard and Storen did their jobs last night.
THE BAD: Werth. He looked as confused as he has all season in the leadoff spot in Riggleman's lineup. He's hitting .160/.353/.280 in June, going 4-for-25 with just two extra base hits -- and just two RBIs.
THE UGLY: Matt Stairs lined out to center pinch-hitting for the pitcher's spot in the eighth. He's now hitting .103 (4-for-39) with one extra base hit this season.
THE STATS: Five hits, one walk, one strikeout. 1-for-4 with RISP, three LOB, one GIDP. No errors.
NEXT GAME: Sunday at 4:05 pm EDT against San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Jordan Zimmermann (4-6, 3.39) faces Tim Stauffer (2-4, 3.58).