June 26, 2017
Sports Insider Weekly
The Washington Nationals missed an opportunity to sweep the Cincinnati Reds with a 6-2 loss on Sunday. Washington claimed the first two of the weekend series in grand fashion – first with a 10th inning tie-breaking single by Bryce Harper on Friday, and again on Saturday, with a 18-3 offensive blowout. By Sunday they were already winners of the three-game series; a victory would’ve just been a bonus for the first-place team.
Tanner Roark (6-5), who gave up a six-run lead in just 2.2 innings in his last start was hoping for redemption. Instead, the struggling pitcher once again got roughed up in the top of the first, giving up five runs to put his team behind early on Sunday.
While the team was never able to recover from the five-run deficit, Roark was. Instead of removing him Nationals manager Dusty Baker let the bruised pitcher stay in the game. Roark left the game after throwing 116 pitches over six innings. After the rough start, he only gave up one run in the second–a solo homer by Scooter Gennett.
“There’s nothing you can do about those balls that find holes,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “But Roark threw the ball better today than the score indicated.”
The 30-year old pitcher, who claimed he wanted to stop “pitching like crap” after his blowout in Miami, might have felt a little more confident by the time he left the mound Sunday. After throwing 40 pitches in the unfortunate first inning, Roark threw just 36 in the next three innings combined and retired all three batters in the sixth via strikeout.
“I told myself you don’t need to change a thing. Just keep attacking, keep moving the ball in and out, up and down,” Roark said after the game. “I’ll build off this one and keep chugging along.”
While the embattled pitcher didn’t give his team the best start to work with, his strong pitching as the game wore on kept the team, who scored 18 runs the day before, within striking distance. But the Nats were offensively anemic on Sunday afternoon, with Michael A. Taylor’s two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth accounting for the team’s only points.
Washington next faces the reigning champion Chicago Cubs (38-37) who trail the Milwaukee Brewers by just a game-and-a-half in the NL Central. While the Cubs are still good, they aren’t the same team from last year. After winning a league-high 103 games last year, they are only one game above .500 so far this season.
While both teams are still very much playoff front-runners, they are both dealing with various issues and injuries. Washington is without starting outfielders Jayson Werth and Adam Eaton who are sidelined with injuries, while Chicago slugger Kyle Schwarber was recently down to the minors, and Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist are both on the Disabled List.
The Nats will host the Cubs for a four-game series starting Monday. And while it will still be a popular series, unlike last year, when Chicago was the team to beat, the first-place Nationals have the upper hand.