WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' defense has become a weakness. Entering Saturday's action, the team led the Major Leagues in errors with 19. The Cardinals took advantage of Washington's latest defensive lapse and Bryce Harper's absence late in the game on Saturday afternoon in a 4-3 victory over the Nats in front of sellout crowd of 41,084 at Nationals Park.
St. Louis took advantage of Washington's miscue in the second inning. With Allen Craig on first base and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann on the mound, Jhonny Peralta hit a routine ground ball to third baseman Anthony Rendon, who was going for the force play at second, but threw the ball wide of second baseman Danny Espinosa and all hands were safe.
"It's not because of a lack of effort. We are just a little unlucky, right now," outfielder Jayson Werth said about the defense. "I feel like it's going to come back around. We'll be all right."
After Kolten Wong grounded out for the second out of the inning, Tony Cruz singled to right field to score Craig and Peralta. It looked like Werth had a chance to get Peralta at the plate, but Werth caught an in-between hop and was unable to make a good throw to catcher Sandy Leon.
"I really didn't catch the ball in stride. I went to throw it and I never really had a good four-seam grip. I let it go and the ball took off," Werth said. "It was a play I could make. Again, I feel we are a little unlucky, right now."
Right-hander Lance Lynn followed with a double to right field to plate Cruz. All three runs were unearned.
Other than that inning, Zimmermann was solid. He allowed one earned run over seven innings on the mound, while fanning six. The earned run was scored in seventh inning on an RBI single by Matt Holliday.
"Zim pitched well. He got in a situation with Holliday in his last inning in which he gave up a base hit," said manager Matt Williams. "But other than that, he pitched well enough to win."
Lynn was just as good, allowing one run over 5 2/3 innings. He also allowed five hits in the contest and struck out five. The run scored in the fifth inning, when Espinosa hit a solo home run over the right-center-field fence.
"My stuff was better today than it's been all year, and that's the disappointing thing in the way the game finished for me today," said Lynn. "That's the best stuff I've had all year."
What made the game even worse for the Nationals was that Harper was removed from the game after six innings because he didn't hustle to first base on a groundout to Lynn. The move would prove costly in the ninth inning.
The Nationals added a run in the eighth, when Rendon doubled off Carlos Martinez to send Adam LaRoche home. They also threatened again in the ninth. The Nationals had runners on second and third with one out, when Frandsen grounded out to third baseman Matt Carpenter, but Zach Walters scored on the play to make it a one-run game. After that, Werth struck out to end the game, as Washington's comeback attempt fell short.
"It was the inability to run 90 feet -- lack of hustle," said Williams about why Harper was lifted. "He had to come out of the game. We made an agreement, his teammates made an agreement: When we play the game ... we hustle at all times. We play the game with intensity, with willingness to win.
"Regardless of the situation, regardless of what's happening to you personally, we have to play the game a certain way to give us the best chance to win. ... For the sake of the organization, he needs to play with aggression in the way he plays."
Asked how he was feeling after the game, Williams said, "We made a couple of minor mistakes today that cost us, but we were in the game. We had Jayson at the plate, the tying run on third, we'll take that every day against one of the best closers in the game. So, we'll take that every day. There are positives and negatives to it. We're in it again, and that's a good sign."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He can also be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.