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Nats lost Game 4 in the same way they stole Game 3

Poor pitcher defense got the Nats to a fourth game, and poor pitcher defense lost them Game 4.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation 2014 MLB Bracket

The Washington Nationals got a chance to play a fourth game in the National League Division Series thanks to an error by San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner. That's not meant to take credit away from them for hanging in and making the error matter, or anything like that -- the Nationals absolutely deserved to be in the playoffs, and had the talent to go deep within them. It's a fact, though, that Bumgarner was rolling along in his start until he forced a throw to third base that he should not have, resulting in an error, a Nats' lead and just a few innings later, Washington's first victory in the NLDS.

One day later, Nationals pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Aaron Barrett took turns handing the Giants runs with similar miscues. Gonzalez made an error on a ball hit up the middle that got lost between his legs, and then failed to scoop up a bunt that neither he nor third baseman Anthony Rendon ever fully committed to. This loaded the bases, setting up Gonzalez to walk a in run, and the inning was topped off by a grounder to first that scored a second run. None of these balls came close to leaving the infield -- two of them didn't even leave the grass -- and yet the Nationals managed to give up a pair of runs because of some poor pitcher defense.

Balance hadn't quite returned to baseball just yet, however; it was going to be tough for the baseball universe to forget Bumgarner's misplay if the Giants didn't make it disappear with a victory. In the bottom of the seventh inning, reliever Aaron Barrett did his part to wipe Bumgarner's record by spiking a breaking ball, leading to a wild pitch that scored Joe Panik from third. Barrett then overthrew on an intentional ball, but the Nationals somehow benefited from this, as Buster Posey was thrown out at home thanks to a nifty throw by Wilson Ramos and a heads-up tag by the responsible party, Barrett.

The damage was done, though, as the Nationals were down 3-2 in a game where the only real offense mustered by either side came from Bryce Harper's splash-down shot into the cove. The Giants' bullpen shut them down the rest of the way, and advanced to the NLCS mere hours after the Cardinals did the same. As no Giants suffered injuries or had performances that should cause concern for later on in the playoffs -- no worries, Hunter Strickland, you're not the first nor the last pitcher Bryce Harper will mash a tater against -- it's almost as if they won on Tuesday like they might've on Monday if not for Bumgarner's awful throw. Remember, too, that the NLCS doesn't start until Saturday, so it's not as if their playoff rotation is out of whack because they had to play a fourth game.

Bumgarner should consider himself lucky that the slate was wiped clean. We should also consider ourselves lucky that this no longer needs to be a possible playoff theme for the Giants, and we can go back to appreciating Bumgarner for the things he does oh so well on the mound instead of focusing on an error. At the same time, the non-Giants fans in the house should feel sorry for the Nationals, who haven't been to a World Series whether you're talking about the team they are or the team they used to be. They lost the series three games to one, but both teams scored just nine runs each in those four contests: the series was much, much closer than the win-loss record makes it appear, and one wonders how things would have played out if this had been the NLCS and a seven-game series instead of the five-game format of the Division Series.

On the positive, non-hypothetical side, the Nationals are still a very young and talented club, so this core's journey isn't necessarily over just because it ran out of 2014 to play. Harper was younger than most of the minor-league teammates he played with on his rehab assignment this summer. Anthony Rendon will be just 25 in 2015. Four of the Nationals five starters this year were 28 or under. They have youth and ability on hand, and with the right offseason, they could be right back here in a year's time. A year sounds like a long time just moments after a season ends, but it'll be here soon enough for Washington.