Baseball / Sports

Nationals capitalize on miscues, knock Brewers out of first place

WASHINGTON -- Be it a strong opponent or weak one, manager Ron Roenicke made one thing clear late Sunday afternoon.

The Milwaukee Brewers must start playing better, smarter baseball.

"We need to quit making so many mistakes," Roenicke said. "We're not always going to swing the bats great; we're not always going to pitch great. But we should be able to make solid plays.

"We need to do that. In close ball games, that's what it comes down to."

Roenicke was fuming about two fundamental mistakes in the ninth inning that led to a tough 5-4 loss to Washington at Nationals Park. For the first time since April 5, the Brewers fell out of at least a share of first place in the National League Central, pending St. Louis' night game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The first mistake came in the top of the inning when Rickie Weeks, whose run-scoring single off Nationals closer Rafael Soriano tied the game, was thrown out on the back end of a double-steal attempt with Carlos Gomez. Had Weeks held first or made it safely, a subsequent deep drive to center by Ryan Braun would have been a go-ahead sacrifice fly.

The speedy Gomez has the green light to steal whenever he gets a good jump and would have been safe at third had the throw gone there. It's up to the trail runner to watch the lead runner and if he also gets a good jump, break for second. Otherwise, you hold first base.

"I got a late jump because (Gomez) kind of started a little bit, then stopped and went," Weeks said. "You can't just say that one play did it. It's one of those things where you wish it didn't happen but it did."

Roenicke made it clear the trail runner must be sure he can steal the base in that situation.

"When you have a chance to steal a base with Gomez there and you have Braunie at the plate, you feel like you're going to score another run," Roenicke said. "(Weeks) got a good lead but his job is to watch the guy in front of him and get a good jump."

In the bottom of the ninth, the Nationals had Anthony Rendon on first base with two outs when Jayson Werth sent a sinker from reliever Rob Wooten into the left-field corner. As Rendon raced around from first, leftfielder Khris Davis, who does not have a strong arm, overthrew cutoff man Jean Segura and the winning run scored without a play at the plate.

That can't happen, either, said Roenicke.

"If (Davis) hits the cutoff man there, he's out," Roenicke said. "And there should be somebody behind 'Seggy,' too, so if you overthrow him, there's a second guy there."

Earlier in the game, the Brewers stole two runs with aggressive base running. Braun never stopped running and came around from second base to score on Jonathan Lucroy's tapper to pitcher Gio Gonzalez in the third inning. In the fourth, Segura scored from third base after the throw to first when Gomez grounded to shortstop Ian Desmond with the infield in.

But, for the second consecutive outing, starter Yovani Gallardo couldn't hold an early lead. The Nationals came back with three runs in the bottom of the fourth to take a 4-3 lead on a two-run homer by Ryan Zimmerman and a run-scoring wild pitch after Washington reliever Craig Stammen kept the inning alive with a swinging bunt.

"It sucks," said Gallardo, who allowed eight hits and four runs in six innings. "When we have the lead, I have to figure out a way to maintain it. I hung a curveball to Zimmerman that he went the other way with. If I go out there and keep making pitches, throw that curveball down in the zone, it's a different story."

It was the 13th loss in 16 games for the Brewers, bridging the all-star break. It also dropped their record against winning teams to 25-27, including 12 losses in the last 16 matchups.

The schedule doesn't get any easier in the second half but Braun said it's not the opponent that matters.

"We've got to play well against everybody," Braun said. "Overall, we just need to play better. I don't think it really matters who we're playing against if we go out there and play quality baseball.

"If we don't play quality baseball, it doesn't matter who we're playing against. Philadelphia came into our place and they didn't have a good record and swept us in a four-game series. So, overall, we just have to play better."

(c)2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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