- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2015

The post-party trend continued Sunday afternoon, as the Washington Nationals lost another game on the day after their annual Nationals Dream Foundation gala. This time, it was a 6-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the series finale.

With the loss, and the Mets’ win over Arizona earlier in the day, the Nationals slipped back into second place in the NL East, a half-game behind New York.

THE RUNDOWN: After turning in his best start of the season Tuesday afternoon, the usually hyper-efficient Jordan Zimmermann was remarkably inefficient Sunday. You could see that his command was a tad off from the first inning, when he walked Anthony Rizzo on five pitches, a rare occurrence for Zimmermann, especially so early in the game. He gave up a lot of contact as the game wore on, to the tune of 10 hits and four runs, but the Nationals only trailed 4-3 when he exited the game. The deficit grew in the sixth, however, as Blake Treinen picked up whatever leftover sloppiness Zimmermann had left behind. He walked consecutive batters with two outs to load the bases, then threw a slider in the dirt for a wild pitch, allowing a run to score. Aaron Barrett and Casey Janssen followed with scoreless innings, but the deficit was too large for a middling Nationals lineup to overcome.

THE HIGHLIGHT: Because he usually shares the field with Bryce Harper, Michael A. Taylor’s defense — and specifically his arm — is often overlooked. In the past few games, however, he’s offered a few reminders of what he can do. On Friday, he grabbed a would-be double when it bounced off the wall and zipped a throw to second base, narrowly throwing out Kris Bryant at the bag. Then, on Sunday, he put an end to a rough sixth inning and saved Treinen a run, collecting a single off the bat of Starlin Castro and nabbing Miguel Montero at the plate.

STAR OF THE GAME: Danny Espinosa played left field Sunday. That is not a typo. For the first time in his professional career, and possibly the first time ever, Espinosa jogged out to left field to start the eighth inning. There was a brief delay as Janssen finished warming up, and the umpire noticed that there were only eight players in the field. Then Espinosa sprinted to left. In spring training, manager Matt Williams mentioned that he would be comfortable with Espinosa playing any position on the field because of his tremendous athleticism. He wasn’t kidding.

THE TAKEAWAY: After being swept in Cincinnati, the Nationals returned home at the beginning of the week with the goal of getting back on track. Instead, they went 2-5. It’s difficult to stop a snowball from rolling downhill, and the Nationals have amassed quite a snowball. There’s no one reason that they have continued to struggle. The pitching, generally, hasn’t been as good as it was when the Nationals won 21 of 27 games. The situational hitting has, by and large, not been there. Still, there’s little reason to panic. In Boston at the beginning of the season, players insisted they were not concerned about their slow start but acted differently. They just looked uptight. There are no signs of that right now, and that’s a good thing.

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