November 26, 2015

Washington Nationals Game 139 Review: Another night, another late inning collapse


Since the New York Mets overtook the Washington Nationals  more than a month ago, everyone — media, fans, the front office, Matt Williams, the players — have pointed to the six games the Nats had left with the Mets head-to-head.

They’ve squandered the first three. Despite holding a lead going into the seventh inning for the third night in a row, the result remained the same. The Mets rallied, no one on the Nats could shut the door, and the prohibitive favorite to win not just the N.L. East — but represent the senior circuit in the World Series — lost again.

This time, the Nats fell 5-3 to the Mets, falling seven games behind — and 9 1/2 out of the wild card — with 23 to go. [Read more…]

OPINION: Nats collapse against Mets a potential organization-changing loss

Let me very clear about this up front: Matt Williams instructing Anthony Rendon to bunt in the ninth inning Tuesday night was not the reason the Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets at home for the second straight game. It might be why they didn’t win, but it’s not why they lost.

No, that distinction falls to Drew Storen and his maddening inability to throw strikes in what was the highest of high-leverage situations he’ll see all season long. Storen is so wrapped up in his anger and disappointment about being removed from the closer’s spot once again that it’s spilled over into his pitching. There’s no other way to analyze the situation.

How effective would you be if your bosses demoted you and sent a national press release out about it?

The reason behind his poor performance is mechanical: he has sped up his delivery, causing him to “fly open” where his arm lags behind the rest of his body. This causes trouble locating his fastball and overthrowing the slider, resulting in poor location. Until last night, it’s just made him wild in the strike zone and open to more contact.

Last night, he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.

But this column isn’t about Storen.

No, it’s about Matt Williams and what has become a nightly dissection of every single decision he makes through the course of a baseball game.

Up until he ordered Rendon to bunt last night, Williams hadn’t made any glaring mistakes. It was reasonable to ask Blake Treinen to start the seventh inning. Williams got Treinen out quickly enough and turned to Felipe Rivero, who was the next lefty up since he’d already burned Matt Thronton to bail out Jordan Zimmermann in the sixth.

Rivero, though, had nothing, walking both batters he faced,  including the left-handed Curtis Granderson — to force in a run.

In came Storen, the former closer and now eighth-inning-guy, to try to rescue the seventh inning. It didn’t work. As so many of Williams’ decisions have failed of late.

All of those decisions, though, are defendable. At some point, your pitchers have to throw a strike. There’s so much pressure on this bullpen that they are suffocating now. They are pitching to avoid contact, pitching scared. It’s not just Storen, though he’s the main and obvious culprit.

I usually don’t like attributing performance problems to body language, but it was obvious watching on TV last night and the close-up cut-ins of Storen’s face that he was pitching while simultaneously appearing confused, terrified and angry at the home plate umpire.

For both parties’ sakes, it’s probably time to move him out of high-leverage situations and eventually let him move on.

But after the homer against Jonathan Papelbon put his team down, Williams was once again put in a challenging situation and he failed to rise to it.

Jayson Werth singled to lead off the ninth inning, bringing the winning run to the plate. That second point is key. Instead of letting Rendon — one of his team’s hottest hitters — hit away (with his 2-3-4 hitters due), Williams ordered him to sacrifice; to give up one of the three remaining outs he had left. It’s a spectacularly poor decision.

Over 100 years of statistics in professional baseball tells us a player scores from first with no outs more often than a runner at second with one out. Yet managers continue to give up an out to lower their chances of scoring.

Rendon, who’s only been asked to sacrifice a handful of times in his baseball career, failed, with his bunt forcing Werth at second base. Even if he’d been successful, the Mets still would have walked Bryce Harper, due next. By taking the bat out of Rendon’s hands, you surrendered a chance of something good happening from his at bat — and Harper’s. It’s doubtful that if Rendon simply had struck out, the Mets would have walked Harper with a man on first to put the winning run on base.

Essentially, Williams took the bat out of both Rendon’s and Harper’s hands. His two best hitters.

Williams said post-game he wanted to avoid the double-play.

Williams — by his decision and words — managed last night in the hopes of avoiding something bad instead of allowing his player the opportunity to do something good. He’s been doing this on a constant basis the second half of the season.

National baseball media has taken Williams to task, making him a laughingstock of late for his nightly mismanagement of the bullpen and other short-sighted decisions. GM Mike Rizzo has spoken a couple of times now on Williams’ behalf, defending him. It’s become a distraction, the last thing you want your field manager to be.

Matt Williams wasn’t the reason the Nats lost last night. But his constant decision-making process to avoid the bad rather than create the good indicates that he’s lost confidence in his players and is trying to impact the game himself rather than allow his players’ talent and ability to do the job.

For that reason alone, it’s time for a change.

Washington Nationals Game 131 Review: Nats Collapse Continues, Lose 8-5


It wasn’t Joe Ross’ night, Tuesday in St. Louis. The young rookie just didn’t have his usual pinpoint command. In 2.2 IP, he walked six, struck out three, and gave up just one hit. It’s not the sort of line score that you hope for out of your recent slumpbuster. The Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals battled it out to 5-5 after eight full.

That’s when the bullpen imploded, again, and the Cardinals stole an 8-5 decision over the Nats.

Ross got the top of the third inning off to a start, raking a single to right off Marco Gonzalez, making his first MLB Start. Jayson Werth followed with another single, and Anthony Rendon drove in the first run of the night with a double down the line. That’s likely where Mike Matheny should’ve gone out to calm his pitcher down, but he left him out to hang, instead. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 129 Review: Strasburg Pulled Early, Nats Beat Marlins

The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins 7-4 on Sunday afternoon despite starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg being pulled after four innings pitched.

Strasburg threw 60 pitches and 43 strikes in four innings while giving up four runs and two home runs on seven hits while striking out three batters. According to the team after the game, Strasburg left with an upper back injury not considered to be serious. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 126 Review: Nats Squeak by Padres, Injuries Arise

The Washington Nationals beat the San Diego Padres 4-2 on Thursday night in D.C. but suffered quite a blow in regards to injuries.

Outfielder Michael A. Taylor and third baseman Yunel Escobar were down for the count by the end of the night but Washington still managed to sneak by the Padres.

Taylor ran into the outfield wall tracking down a fly ball and came up lame and needed help get off the field with a knee contusion. Escobar was hit by a pitch in his wrist — which drove in a run — and left the game.

Starting pitcher Joe Ross threw six innings of one-hit, one-run ball while walking two batters and striking out seven for the Nats. He threw 77 pitches and 48 strikes. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 110 Review: Storen Struggles in the Eighth, Rockies Beat Nats 6-4

The Colorado Rockies beat the Washington Nationals 6-4 on Sunday afternoon after a rough eighth inning relief appearance by Nats pitcher Drew Storen.

Starting pitcher Max Scherzer pitched six innings for Washington. He gave up four runs (and three home runs) on eight hits while hitting a batter, intentionally walking a batter, and throwing one wild pitch. Scherzer tallied ten strikeouts and threw 84 pitches (63 strikes). For Scherzer, this particular 10-strikeout performance marked his seventh such outing this season and the 32nd of his career. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 108 Review: Nats blow 4-0 lead, lose 5-4


Everything looked great for the Washington Nationals on Friday night, right up until it didn’t. Jordan Zimmerman had the Colorado Rockies guessing through six, and only allowed a single run to score. The Nationals’ offense worked out well, scoring four on three separate skeins of decent offense. And then Drew Storen, who’d been untouchable all season long, gave up a grand slam to Carlos Gonzalez in the eighth, now trailing 5-4. The Nationals couldn’t get to Tommy Kahnle or John Axford in the late innings, and that was that. Everything was fine, right up until it wasn’t.

Danny Espinosa got the Nats started off right in the first tonight, with a double to the left field corner that got past Kyle Parker, allowing Espinosa to race into third. Espinosa has been a spark plug for the Nationals in 2015, a bright spot amid an offensive grey zone. Bryce Harper would plate Espinosa on a grounder to the right side, giving the Nationals a 1-0 lead in the first.

Ryan Zimmerman continued his hot streak, returning from injury. With Harper aboard, Zimmerman drove a double to the right field gap. Harper was hustling from the crack of the bat, and scored standing up, coming all the way home from first.

Jordan Zimmermann continues to impress this season, retiring 16 of 17 in the middle innings, and scattering four hits through 6.2 innings at Nationals Park. Zimmermann’s fastball was his strength tonight, but his slider gave him a number of outs the second time through the order. The Rockies got to him in the seventh, scoring their first run of the night on a double and a single. Zimmermann gave way to Casey Janssen, who retired Nick Hundley on one pitch to end the threat.

Drew Storen ran into some trouble in the eighth, as Jose Reyes singled with Daniel Descalso aboard after a walk. With two out, Storen faced Nelson Arenado as the tying run, and Arenado hit a swinging bunt single down the third base line to load the bases. Carlos Gonzalez took a challenge fastball into the Nationals’ bullpen for to give the Rockies the lead. Storen would finish the eighth with a strikeout up in the zone to end the inning.

John Axford pitched the eighth for the Rockies, allowing Ian Desmond aboard on a walk. Desmond would steal second, and advance to third on a grounder. With clutch hitter Michael A. Taylor at the plate, the Nationals had every chance to even the score. Alas, Taylor struck out, stranding the tying run 90 feet from home.

The Rockies bullpen-by-committee sent Tommy Kahnle to the mound to finish the game. Pinch hitter Clint Robinson was a strikeout victim, but Yunel Escobar saw everything he needed during Robinson’s short at-bat. Escobar drew a five-pitch walk as Kahnle’s change-up couldn’t find the plate. Danny Espinosa popped up, bringing Bryce Harper to the plate as the winning run.

Tommy Kahnle opened the at-bat with a 96mph fastball right down the pipe, which Harper took for a strike. Ball one came on a fastball to the outside of the plate, and then Harper swung through an 88mph changeup to fall back 1-2. He fought off a fastball up, but succumbed to another changeup to strikeout and end the game.

54 games remain in the 2015 campaign, 108 are past. The Nationals will need to win at least 32 of those if they want to be in the mix for the post-season. They need to win games like tonight if they want to be in the hunt for October. Alas, it wasn’t to be tonight, and the Nationals fall further behind the surging Mets in the NL East.

HERO: Danny Espinosa had a helluva night, going 2-for-4 with two runs scored

GOAT: Drew Storen, for giving up two walks, a hit and then a grand slam to Carlos Gonzalez.


  • Bryce Harper reached base for the 200th time this season in today’s game.

NEXT UP: Rockies/Nats continues Saturday night, Stephen Strasburg’s return from the DL (5-5, 5.16) vs. Eddie Butler (3-8, 5.45), 7:05 first pitch.

Washington Nationals Game 105 Review: Late Rally for Washington tops Dbacks 5-4


The Nationals and Diamondbacks traded 3-run rallies on Tuesday night in a game delayed 30 minutes by rain at the beginning. The Nationals knocked out Patrick Corbin after just an inning and a third, as he gave up six hits and two walks. Max Scherzer went six full, throwing 114 pitches, retiring his last eight hitters in a row. A late rally was the difference-maker, as the Nats dropped a pair of runs on the Arizona bullpen in the eighth to setup Jonathan Papelbon’s first save at Nationals Park.

The Nationals struck early, sending nine men to the plate in a 25-minute bottom of the first. Yunel Escobar lead off with a home run, to get things started. Anthony Rendon followed it up with a single, and Bryce Harper crushed a double to give the Nats 2nd and 3rd with no one out. Ryan Zimmerman singled to left to plate the Nationals’ second run.

It was at this point that the Diamondbacks started showing concern with Corbin’s health. A visit to the mound was made, but Corbin was left in to face Jayson Werth with no one out. Werth, still recovering from a broken wrist, pulled the ball on the ground to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who wheeled it to shortstop Nick Ahmed for the runner at 2nd, but a hustling Werth dove into first to break up the double play, allowing Bryce Harper to score.

The Nationals would load the bases on a walk to Wilson Ramos and a single from Michael A. Taylor, but that would be it for the Nats in the first. All told, a 36-pitch effort from Corbin, and he would be near the end of his rope. As the Nats would put Escobar and Harper back aboard in the second, Corbin’s night drew to a close, hooked with one out recorded.

It was the Diamondbacks turn in the fourth, putting three hits and a walk together in a four-batter span to tie the ballgame. Max Scherzer gave up a walk to David Peralta, singles to Jake Lamb and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and then a double to Chris Owings to complete the 3-run rally. Max Scherzer racked up a 30-pitch fourth inning.

Josh Collmenter was the shutdown man for the Diamondbacks, limiting the Nationals to one hit and one walk in 3.2IP. Though Collmenter’s pitches were fairly weak, the Nationals could not spot them to save their lives. Andrew Chafin threw scoreless sixth and seventh innings, handing over the ball to David Hernandez.

Ryan Zimmerman lead off the eighth with a walk, and went to third on a double from Jayson Werth over the head of the third baseman and into the corner. Ian Desmond, on his way to an 0-for-4 with 3 strikeouts, grounded out softly to Paul Goldschmidt (0-4, 4K). Wilson Ramos dug deep and muscled a ball over Goldschmidt’s head to score both Zimmerman and Werth to put the Nationals on top for the night.

Casey Janssen, Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon each worked an inning tonight, and preserved the victory for the Nationals. Janssen and Storen were both lights out, retiring the side in each frame facing just the minimum. Things got more interesting for Jonathan Papelbon, though. Jonathan Lamb lead off with a single to right, and advanced to second on the fly-out by Saltalamacchia. Welington Castillo grounded out to Ian Desmond, but Lamb broke ahead of the ball to make it into third with two away. Nick Ahmed, representing the tying run, hit into what should have been an easy ground out to Yunel Escobar, but Escobar botched the throw to first, letting Lamb score, and letting Ahmed make it into scoring position. Fortunately, Cliff Pennington grounded the ball right back to Papelbon to let the Nats’ newest reliever pick up his first save in a Nationals uniform at Nationals Park.

HERO: Wilson Ramos for his clutch single in the eighth to put the Nats up for good.

GOAT: A small goat goes to Escobar for that ninth inning error

NEXT UP: It’s Chia Jayson Werth’s Beard night at Nats Park tomorrow night, Rubby de la Rosa (8-5, 4.59) vs. Gio Gonzalez (8-4, 3.75), 7:05pm! Don’t be late.

Washington Nationals Game 100 Review: Scherzer shuts down Marlins


Max Scherzer rebounded from his rocky last start to pitch seven shutout innings, Ryan Zimmerman homered for the first time since returning from the disabled list, and the Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins 1-0 on Thursday.

The Nats (54-46) extend their lead in the N.L. East to three games with the Mets loss to San Diego.

Scherzer (W, 11-8, 2.22) allowed just three hits and walked three in his effort, striking out six. He threw 75 of his 109 pitches for strikes, generating nine ground ball outs with just two fly ball outs.

Drew Storen, moved into a set-up role after the acquisition of closer Jonathan Papelbon, struck out two in a hitless eighth inning. Papelbon earned his 18th save of the season — in 18 tries — with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out former Nats Michael Morse for the final out.

Morse was then traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-way trade with Atlanta, then designated for assignment by L.A. before ever getting on a plane.

Miami’s Dan Haren did a good job of limiting the Nats, giving up just four hits in six innings. But two of those were from Zimmerman, who’s 4 for 11 since being activated, and he hit his first homer since May 19 against the Yankees.

The Nats travel to New York to face the Mets in a three-game weekend series. Gio Gonzalez (8-4, 3.83) faces Matt Harvey (9-7, 3.16) on Friday night.

MLB Trade Deadline: Nationals reportedly add Jonathan Papelbon


According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals made a bold and controversial move on Tuesday, sending AA pitcher Nick Pivetta — the Nats No. 12 prospect — to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for closer Jonathan Papelbon. The deal is contingent on the Nats committing to Papelbon as the closer, and the team picking up his option for 2016 for $11 million, according to the reports. The teams had not announced the deal at the time of this posting.

Papelbon, 34, is 2-1 with 17 saves (in 17 tries) with a 1.59 ERA and 0.983 WHIP this season, with a 9.1 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9, some of his best work in his illustrious career. He’s saved 342 games in 11 seasons at an 88.6 percent success rate, elite for a closer with his mileage.

The biggest drawback to taking on Papelbon is, frankly, his attitude. He’s always been seen as a “me-first” guy, and his insistence on being the nominal “closer” for accepting a trade of any sort is the type of behavior that has been commonplace in Papelbon’s career.

A search for “Papelbon jerk” on any search engine gives a litany of the sort of behavior that makes it difficult to root for the player.

GM Mike Rizzo has been very careful over the past several seasons to acquire quality people in addition to quality players, but this deal is about filling a very big hole in what should otherwise be a championship-contending roster, now that the walking wounded are returning to the lineup.

In Tuesday night’s lineup, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman joined Anthony Rendon in the batting order, Werth for the first time this season. Only Denard Span remains on the disabled list. If Ian Desmond has turned a corner hitting-wise, the additions of Werth and Zimmerman (if they can return to pre-injury production) give the Nats a very solid batting order.

The bullpen, however, has been a source of concern all season long. Really, since the day Rizzo traded Tyler Clippard for Yunel Escobar. Anticipated set-up man Blake Treinen was sent to the minors because he can’t get left-handed hitters out, Tanner Roark has been spotty in any role in the pen this season, and dumpster-diving acquisition David Carpenter ended up on the disabled list.

The only constant in the pen has been at the very back end, in Drew Storen. Storen has put up All-Star caliber numbers this season, with a 1.73 ERA, 1.018 WHIP, 10.9 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. He’s been, simply, excellent. It seems the Nats have continually been looking for ways to replace Storen at the back end, and he just continues to play good teammate. It seems a shame that Storen is the one to get demoted in this deal, though all he’s done is his job all season long.

It’s a dicey situation all around. Papelbon is a quality pitcher that makes the bullpen longer and stronger, but at the same time, he’s a divisive personality that has been difficult to root for at every stop in his career. Add in the fact that his acquisition means a reduction in service for a fan favorite, and it makes for a tough situation.

The team gets better by adding a divisive personality and demoting a fan favorite. It’s more than wins and losses — fans need a vested interest in players to root for, unless your personality is such that all you care about is the bottom line and you root for the laundry, no matter who’s in it.

The big question now is can the Nats rehabilitate Papelbon so that fans can get behind the deal? That will take a LOT of work in certain circles, and may not be possible for some — even if the move brings a World Series Championship.

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