John Lannan pitched seven strong innings innings tonight allowing only two earned while striking out five and scattering seven hits. The quality start put the Nationals in position to strike late in the game for the second night in a row, rallying to a three run eighth inning for their second come-back victory in as many nights.
The Nationals chances of winning dropped precipitously following Cristian Guzman's double play with two runners on in the seventh. In typical fashion, Guzman attacked the first pitch he saw and ended the rally with one fell swoop. The play had the biggest negative impact of the game (-.204 WPA) for the Nationals, representing an opportunity lost and bringing their win expectancy from 70.4% to 50%. Things got worse in the bottom of the eighth as Brian Bruney came on in relief and allowed a leadoff single to Casey McGehee (-.068 WPA). With one runner on the Nationals botched a sacrifice attempt by Brewers batter Carlos Gomez on a throwing error by Alberto Gonzalez (-.192 WPA), allowing McGehee to get all the way to third. The next play was a sacrifice fly, scoring the run. The three plays dropped the Nationals chances of winning from 50% all the way to 24.3 in a late inning situation.
The Nats mounted a comeback in the eighth after Gonzalez made amends for his error with a single (.097 WPA) and Willingham got hit by a pitch (.135 WPA). Ian Desmond laid down a sacrifice and Adam Kennedy came up big with a single scoring the two runners (.303 WPA). Wil Nieves hit a single of his own after Kennedy stole second to add an insurance run. With the rally the Nationals improved their win expectancy from 32% to 91.9% in one inning.
For the Nationals improving to .500 was a nice touch, but as an organization they have to be more pleased with how John Lannan pitched tonight. The club's ace had been shaky in his first two starts, combining for eight earned runs and 13 hits in 8.2 innings pitched while walking six and only striking out two. Lannan was able to regain his 2009 form by adjusting his release point which allowed him to regain his control and better attack the strike zone. For a pitcher who lives and dies on getting ahead in the count, like Lannan does, not throwing strikes can lead to more starts like his Apr. 5 outing where he only lasted 3.2 innings.
Above is the pitch chart and release point for Lannan's first start on Apr. 5 against the Phillies where he allowed five earned runs and three walks in 3.2 innings. As you can see on the left his pitches were all over the place, he had trouble hitting the zone. If you look to the right you will see that his release point, while tight, is much lower than his 2009 spot.
Here is Lannan's pitch chart from tonight's stellar performance. As you can see the lefty attacked the zone much more tonight, which allowed him to get ahead in the count and force pitchers to chase the pitches he wanted to throw, instead of falling behind and throwing hitters pitches. If you look to the right you will see he had a much better release point, while it may not have been as tight (consistent) it was higher which led to better overall control.