Quick. Tell me who Player A is and who Player B is:
Would you guess that Player A is Tyler Clippard, post-All-Star break, and Player B is Drew Storen, post-All-Star break? If you are a die-hard Nationals fan, dollars to doughnuts, yes. Perhaps to a more casual fan, the selective exclusion of stats like saves and innings pitched may have obscured the identities. Anyhoo, the point of this blind résumé review is not to suggest that Tyler Clippard’s days as the closer of the Nats are numbered, or that they should be. Just to highlight that the margin for error is not quite as spacious as it once was.
Tyler hit a bit of rough patch in July, sporting a 5.79 ERA (three consecutive appearances in mid-July accounted for most of the damage and both of his blown saves for the month), and while the August ERA has been better (3.60), a surging walk-rate and morbidly obese 6.13 xFIP (regressed, expected ERA independent of fielding) suggest that Clipp should consider himself fortunate to have blown only one of his save opportunities. And if you don’t like numbers, you only have to peer down a inch or two for visual evidence (praise Roger!).
It should be noted that peering under the hood at Storen’s numbers does reveal a little leaking oil coming from the recently repaired luxury sedan, though with the caveat that we are looking at things only after seven innings of work. Drew’s walk rate of 6.43 BB/9 equals his k/9 rate, and that is not good. And his xFIP sits at an ugly 5.27. Plus, just watching him, he has hung some pitches that deserved far worse fates then they received (thank you baseball gods!).
So, what to take away from all this number crunching? The pessimist would say that the Nationals have gotten lucky, that with their closer and former closer turned primary setup man struggling so much, they are fortunate to have only blown three saves. And while there is perhaps a kernel of truth in that thought, the optimist (that would be me!) would counter by saying that you can’t forecast a gloomy future on the basis that it should have been ugly yesterday but it wasn’t, so it must be tomorrow. That is, the historical performances of both Tyler and Drew, and their skill sets, are the controlling factors for how today, tomorrow, and the rest of the season will play out. On the basis of those factors, the Nats should actually get much better play from both pitchers. And if that is the case, it may not matter which résumé Davey Johnson pulls for his closer position. Both will be outstanding and more than fulfill the requirements of the position.
Davey Johnson provided the headline to last night’s 3-2 victory extra innings over the Houston Astros. The video of Roger Bernadina’s spectacular game-saving catch fills in the rest of the story:
Roger. Over and out.
Collapse. Last night around 8:30, I thought that word would best describe my head hitting the pillow as I fell into a deep slumber, reaping the fruits of several consecutive nights of poor sleep. On the heels of a Ryan Zimmerman three-run home run that put the Nats up 6-0 against the Braves, it never crossed my mind that come the morning, that word would have a wholly different meaning.
Alas, before the sun peaked above the horizon, a check of the box scores revealed the word’s new meaning, a description of Washington throwing away a NINE! run lead to Atlanta in an eventual brutal 11-10 extra inning loss. For once, my lazy gene paid off, shielding me from what has to be one of the worst losses in National’s franchise history. And I’m drawing that conclusion from the Washington Post and a box score. I shudder to think what I would be feeling if the Sandman hadn’t called me.
Game ball(s): The Atlanta Braves hitters. Yep, each and every one of them. You don’t rally from nine runs down, even with the opposition bullpen imploding, without showing a tenacity for winning that is worthy of a game ball. Make that eight game balls.
Goat(s): Davey Johnson. While there were a lot of pigs making a mess in the pen, I will allow Davey’s own words to claim the award: ”Arguably the worst game I’ve ever managed in my life,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. ”I’ve never lost a nine-run lead when it was my part of the game to handle the pitching and it’ll be hard for me to sleep. I had a worse night than the guys did.”
Bryce Harper is still only 19: The only consolation I see right now is that in less than five hours, the Nats face off again against the Braves, in the first game of a day-night doubleheader. That’s the magic of baseball. Tomorrow usually offers the chance at quick redemption.
Current Record: 53-38
Living in Tallahassee, Florida, one of the advantages of the wrap-around weekend series against the Marlins is that I can watch the Nats on my big screen tv rather than on my laptop through MLB tv. In addition to getting my brain to stop pleading for scissors listening to F.P., it carries the advantage of getting to hear an opponent’s perspective on your squad, what is working and what is not working. And last night, the Marlin’s announcers kept emphasizing the early dominance of both team’s pitchers, Gio Gonzalez and Mark Buerhle, and how quickly both worked their craft.
That narrative held up for the entire evening, but a couple of small-ball plays by the Marlins in both the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings allowed Miami to eke out a 2-1 victory. Gio pitched a good game, certainly good enough for a W, but then again, Buerhle was just that much better, and the Marlins got the clutch run-producing hits when necessary. As Davey Johnson said about the game, ”Old fashioned National League ball – they bunt the guy over and then their guys delivered a hit. That’s what wins ballgames.” Gotta love Davey. The only thing missing from that was an “I reckon”.
Game ball(s): Buerhle. While the Marlins have to be thrilled about what they have gotten from Buehrle so far after signing him in the off-season, if you had told them during Spring Training he would be the most valuable of their flashy signings, do you think they would have held their traditional fire sale before they won a championship?
Goat(s): The FSN broadcast. As nice as it was to watch the game from the comfort of my couch, for some God-awful reason, the Marlins broadcast kept featuring a “pool boy” contest for The Clevelander bar out beyond the left field fences. And you wonder why Miami fans are considered among the worst in all of sports?
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Jesus Flores. Yeah, he didn’t come up with a game-tying hit with Roger Bernandina on second in the top of the ninth, but he did go 2 for 3 and drove in the only run of the night for the Nationals. Plus, Jesus has been struggling at the dish, so it was nice to see him get his bat back on track, if only for a night.
Current Record: 50-35
Playing in Colorado is always wacky. For all the wonderful things it can do for a struggling offense, it can do just as much harm to a team’s pitching staff. So, after 4 games, 33 runs scored, 25 runs allowed, 15 pitchers used, and a series split, I’m sure the Nationals were looking forward to getting to Atlanta to resume the battle for the NL East crown. Thankfully, the team’s equipment managers did take one memento from the Mile High City to play the Braves, the hot bats which churned out another 15 hits in route to a 5-4 victory.
Game ball(s): Michael Morse. Dot, dot, win. While I’ve been singing the praises of the warming bat of Ryan Zimmerman, just as importantly, Morse’s bat has been coming around, his game-winning solo home run in the eighth inning being his second in as many days. We all saw what a healthy Morse can do last year, and that’s just what Washington needs to sustain the offensive gains made in Colorado, because, alas, MLB simply won’t take to the idea of turning the Rockies pitching staff into the Nats’ Washington Generals.
Goat(s): Davey Johnson. Sounds strange saying this about Davey, but he kept Ross Detwiler in too long, which nearly cost the Nats the win. I’m sure Davey was thinking that Ross had been outstanding for six innings, and after burning through the bullpen in Colorado, he was hoping to squeeze another inning out of him. Unfortunately, when Hotlanta caught up to Detwiler, Davey was too slow to summon the bullpen to the rescue.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Stephen Strasburg. I know I’m looking forward to later today, but with a 4pm start and temperatures expected to rise above triple-digits, I will be watching to see how Strasburg manages his tempo, pitch count, and overall stamina on what will certainly be a very tough day to pitch.
Current Record: 44-31
I guess Edwin Jackson caught wind of my post yesterday morning and just plain decided that he didn’t want any part of a plagiarist’s future book. Okay, probably not. But he was on his game last night, leading the Nationals to a 3-1 victory over the Orioles. Interesting tidbit I picked up reading various articles this morning: Three months into the season and Washington has yet to post a double-digit scoring effort. I imagine that’s why a 3-1 winning line score seems so familiar. Later today, Ross Detwiler will take the mound in an effort to take the weekend series. With Jake Arrieta and his 5.83 ERA taking the mound for the Orioles, perhaps we will see an end to that streak today???
Game ball(s): Jackson, Mike Gonzalez, Sean Burnett, and Tyler Clippard. The Nats are 3 1/2 games up in the NL East almost exclusively as a result of their brilliant pitching staff. Imagine if the team ever starts hitting? Cue John Lennon.
Goat(s): Jim Riggleman. One year ago yesterday, Riggleman abruptly resigned in the midst of a contract squabble with the team. I wonder if Jim is finding that he is able to stretch his dollars better with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos?
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Well, this is certainly interesting: Tyler Clippard to remain closer even when Drew Storen returns. It has been quite the changing narrative surrounding Clippard’s usage this season, starting with the team not wanting to pull him from his setup role when Storen went down during Spring Training to now not wanting to pull him as closer when Drew returns. Parsing Davey Johnson’s words though, he was careful to leave the door open for a swap, if Clippard were to slip up and Storen were to flash dominance in a setup role. For now, I can’t argue that isn’t the correct course of action. Drew is the Nationals’ long-term closer, but coming off of a bum elbow, there is no sense in rushing him back into ninth inning duties before he finds his groove, especially when Clippard has been outstanding himself.
Current Record: 41-28
So, WordPress was kind enough to inform me after last night’s post that the next musing would be number 100. Despite the fact that even Larry David is impressed, it is still even more humbling to learn on this momentous occasion that the Nationals have come bearing gifts:
Thank goodness. I would have hated to have to continue to waste so much of my rage on just the Nationals’ fifth starter when there are so many more things worthy of vitriol. But before I turn my guns, I can’t let this nugget from Adam Kilgore’s article go by without comment:
Wang will work closely with pitching coach Steve McCatty while pitching as a reliever. Wang has been rushing through his delivery, which causes his arm to drag behind his body and prevents him from getting his hand on top of the ball. The result is a fastball that lacks its trademark sink and instead moves wildly across the plate.
The glitch has made Wang ineffective.
Yeah. And McDonald’s poor customer service is because they rush through everything too. I’d be quite surprised if Wang is still hanging around the bullpen when H-Rod and Storen return from the disabled list.
To finish off this party in style, I have to say that amid all the furor over the Joel Peralta pine tar incident, and whether Davey Johnson broke another one of baseball’s unwritten rules or not by outing him,* something simple seems to have been lost. Shouldn’t Peralta have known that of all managers and all teams who might be aware of his shenanigans, it would be Davey and the Nationals? And perhaps with that light bulb flickering on, you’d lay off your cheating ways for a few games? I don’t know what does and does not go over well in major league clubhouses, but I do know that even Forrest Gump knows that stupid is as stupid does.
*A concept which I have to say is completely anathema to an auditor such as myself.