Part of why we love baseball is the feeling that we can’t fully predict anything. Then there are games like Saturday, where the outcome felt like it was decided in the first inning. Asdrubal Cabrera got bad coaching and was easily thrown out at home. Robert Gsellman and Amed Rosario’s mistakes in the field led to four Washington runs. Eventually the Nationals wore down the Mets and won 9-4.
Sinkerball pitchers rely on late downward movement to induce weak ground balls, but Gsellman hasn’t had that in 2017. His fastball tends to tail in to right-handers more than it tails down. The Nationals looked at Gsellman’s poor command and put together a simple game plan: take the pitch that starts near the bottom of the strike zone, because it will sink out of the zone. Take most of the breaking pitches, because Gsellman can’t throw them for strikes consistently. Just wait for mistakes and hit them up the middle. And it worked, as the Nationals got nine hits in 21 at-bats, versus only five swings and misses.
If the Mets played outstanding infield defense, Gsellman’s outing may not have been so bad. In the bottom of the first, Wilmer Difo grounded to Wilmer Flores at first. Gsellman had to look down to find the bag, so he took his eye off Flores’ wide throw and missed the catch. Anthony Rendon doubled, and Difo scored on a wild pitch. Adam Lind grounded up the middle to Rosario, who was shifted perfectly. The young shortstop thought he could wait for the ball to reach him then throw home, but Rendon read the play perfectly and beat the throw. Then Matt Wieters struck out. If the Mets made either of those two fielding plays, it would end the inning. Instead, Gsellman gave up a single, a walk, and another single before retiring the pitcher for the last out.
Gsellman didn’t get much better. Terry Collins pushed him to go four innings because of today’s doubleheader in a futile attempt to save the bullpen. The Mets were able to get a run back in the third inning off of a Jose Reyes double and Juan Lagares line drive single. By the end of the fourth inning, it was 6-1 Nationals. Ironically Gsellman lowered his ERA because his error made all of the first inning runs unearned.
Flores was the main bright spot in this dreary game. He went 4-for-4 with a home run and an opposite field double in the eighth that made the score 6-4. Nationals fans probably looked at their bullpen and said “this can’t be happening again!” Kevin Plawecki singled with two outs to bring up Travis Taijeron to the plate as the potential go-ahead run. It could have been a storybook moment. Rookie callup takes a cross-country redeye and delivers a go-ahead RBI in his first big league game. Taijeron reached for the first pitch and broke his bat on a routine grounder to end the threat.
Jeurys Familia came in for the first time since May 10 and didn’t look close to regaining his closer role. He couldn’t get the sinker down or get any swings and misses. Instead, he gave up four hits, two walks, and allowed three runs to score. The scariest moment was when he threw inside to Adrian Sanchez as he was attempting to bunt. The 97 mph fastball hit Sanchez square in the chest, knocking him down for several minutes. Sanchez stayed in the game and hit an RBI single before being lifted for a pinch runner.
With a left-hander on the mound, Terry Collins sat out Dominic Smith once again. Collins was terrified of giving Michael Conforto opportunities against lefties, so this might be the same pattern. On the other hand, the Mets have not had an off day since Smith was called up on August 10. It may be a good idea to give the remaining healthy players a few days off to make sure they don’t get ground in to the disabled list as well. I’m not going to worry as much unless Smith is benched versus a lefty after an off day or after he’s already been benched.
Jose Reyes came off the disabled list and led off against the left-hander. Hopefully this is a sign that the front office wants to tank. There’s no other reason to give Reyes regular starts at this point. The Mets need to see if Flores could play second or third every day. They also need to see if callup Gavin Cecchini can hit at the major league level. With Cespedes out, Brandon Nimmo played left field and Taijeron played right. There is no natural outfielder on the bench, so expect this configuration for a while.
It’s a Sunday doubleheader. Tommy Milone faces Tanner Roark in the day game, 1:35 p.m. on SNY. The night game is on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Seth Lugo and Max Scherzer are both expected to come off the DL to start the nightcap.
Photo credit: Brad Mills – USA Today Sports