Skip to content

A formula that could work wonders for Nationals

Jul 31, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT


There’s no one way to win in October. Teams have found plenty of formulas for success in the postseason, whether in the form of a deep rotation, one dominant workhorse, a quality bullpen or an opportunistic lineup.

But here’s one way to try to do it: Get seven innings out of your starter, then get one inning apiece out of a pair of lights-out relievers.

That’s what made Thursday afternoon so enticing for the Nationals. They got an early solo homer from Ryan Zimmerman, then watched as Max Scherzer put up seven zeroes, with Drew Storen adding another in the eighth and Jonathan Papelbon wrapping up with a 1-2-3 ninth.

That’s how you win a 1-0 ballgame, and that’s how you could win plenty of ballgames come October.

When Mike Rizzo traded for Papelbon on Tuesday, this was precisely what he had in mind. And it only took a couple days for the scenario to play out exactly to plan.

First and foremost, Scherzer needed do what he did, shutting out the Marlins over seven innings. The right-hander perhaps wasn’t as unhittable as he was during his historic June, but he was plenty good enough. And he made some big pitches when he needed to, whether inducing a double-play grounder to end the sixth or striking out Adeiny Hechavarria on a 95-mph fastball to end the seventh and his afternoon.

There have been times this season when Matt Williams has felt compelled to push his starters too far, to try to squeeze one extra inning out of them. Why? Often because he has more confidence in a tiring starter than in the amalgam of mid-to-late inning relievers who have occupied his bullpen at various points of the season.

Perhaps that managerial style will change a bit now, what with Casey Janssen (21 of last 23 batters retired) available to pitch the seventh, Drew Storen (MLB-best 1.37 ERA over the last two calendar years) available to pitch the eighth and Papelbon (18-for-18 in save opportunities) available to pitch the ninth.

We don’t know for sure yet how this will all play out, but if the last two days are any indication, this new-look bullpen may work out just fine after all. The key, as was noted at the time of the Papelbon trade, is how Storen deals with a relegation of roles through no fault of his own.

Well, here’s how Storen has fared so far since the trade was made. He has faced six batters. He has retired all six, four via strikeout. He has thrown 19 pitches, 17 of them for strikes.

Obviously, these have been an emotional couple of days for the closer who is no longer a closer. That he has been able to channel that emotion into a couple of lights-out pitching performances bodes well for Storen and for the Nationals moving forward.

Papelbon, for his part, has appeared to go out of his way to help make the transition as smooth as possible, spending as much time as he can alongside Storen and sharing and receiving tips from his new bullpen mate.

That doesn’t mean this is going to go swimmingly the rest of the way. There could, and probably will, be bumps in the road, and it’ll be up to the various participating parties to overcome those and stay focused on the task at hand.

But on Thursday, everything went exactly according to plan. And if this remain on that straight-and-narrow path, the Nationals might just have themselves something special for the stretch run and beyond.

  1. 3on2out - Jul 31, 2015 at 6:36 AM

    I remain unenamored with Papelbon. He wants to catch Mariano? His raison d’ etre is to compile the most number of saves in history? If Bryce said all I care about is passing Bond’s lifetime home run record would we be amused? News flash, Jonathan. It’s a team game and not all about you and your quest. Help your team win. That’s your talking point. Catch Mariano? Not so much.

    • texnat1 - Jul 31, 2015 at 10:13 AM

      That analogy doesn’t quite work because every time Papelbon gets a save, the team gets a win. So fine with me if he is trying to get as many as possible.

  2. laddieblahblah - Jul 31, 2015 at 7:08 AM

    Can’t say which was more fun – watching the return of Super Max or enjoying the virtuoso performance of the new back end. What great performances, backed up by solid D.

    Pitching and defense – where have we heard that before? The guy always seems to keep that focus.

    But the most fun this morning was learning that the Mets blew a 2-out, 2-run 9th inning lead to Upton’s eventual 3-run homer, preceded by Derek Norris’ grand slam. I think I got that right, although I’m still wondering if it really happened.

    • virginiascopist - Jul 31, 2015 at 7:23 AM

      That’s right, it wasn’t a dream (well, I guess you could classify it as a nightmare for Mets fans).

      And Justin Upton receives the Dan Uggla award for a game-winning 3-run home run in the top of the 9th inning to complete an improbable comeback.

      • knoxvillenat - Jul 31, 2015 at 7:25 AM

        Agreed, pitching and defense will be the key down the stretch and through the playoffs. I’m liking this new BP configuration.

        And Laddie……welcome back and best wishes on your recovery.

      • Section 222 - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:58 AM

        And the funniest thing was the Upton was visibly displeased when the umps called a rain delay with two outs in the 9th and Norris batting with no one on base. He wanted to go home! Hilarious.

    • laddieblahblah - Jul 31, 2015 at 7:30 AM

      “And Laddie……welcome back and best wishes on your recovery.”

      Thanks. I have been assured that it will be a lengthy recovery. My oldest friend is a doctor, and he sent me an email just last night explaining things the way a friend would. There is no quick way back. Will be confined to watching the Nats on TV for the rest of this season.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:14 AM

      Hi Lev Hold & Save.

  3. nattygoats - Jul 31, 2015 at 7:25 AM

    Let’s keep praising the pitching yesterday. And Why not it was great. But 1’run against Dan Haren and the Marlins is disturbing. 5 hits? You can’t use the excuse of going against great pitching anymore.

    • laddieblahblah - Jul 31, 2015 at 7:34 AM

      BABIP for the Nats was really unlucky last night. Both Rendon and Desmond roasted a couple of drives to deep right center which would have been gone in almost any other venue. Their corner infielders were kept busy snagging line drives hit right at them. It was just one of those games.

      • veejh - Jul 31, 2015 at 7:40 AM

        Agree. I believe one inning there were 3 screaming infield outs in a row. I’m gonna say there was 7 scorched shots all directly to infielders yesterday. BABIPd, for sure.

      • veejh - Jul 31, 2015 at 7:46 AM

        To boot, the first AB of the game, Rendon hits a 395 foot shot to right center, that would have been a HR in pretty much every park in the MLB, that ended up being caught by Ichiro. I think he tracked down 2 more similar shots during the game that seemed like they should have dropped.

      • unkyd59 - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:15 AM

        Question: Is it appropriate to suggest that batters should approach their ABs with the knowledge that 395 ft shots could easily just be long outs? Should they be shortening up to work the area in front of the OFs (I assume they play back further, to avoid having the 395ers gal in behind them)? Or is it unrealistic to expect the average MLB batter to have skills that sophisticated….. It just seems to me that if the big parks take away the long ball, they also offer other opportunities… What say ye?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:16 AM

        Ramos hit one to the right-center gap that was hit further than Rendon’s. A definite HR in Nats Park. Ichiro can still play defense.

      • Section 222 - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:01 AM

        In response to unky, my answer would be no. I’m not a hitting expert like some here, but asking players to change their swings because of the distance to the fences would seem to be counterproductive. When Rendon talks about hitting, for example, he talks about “barrelling it up.” He’s not calibrating how hard he swings.

      • zmunchkin - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:45 AM

        Agree with Deuces response to unky. There are a lot of factors that impact where, and how far the ball is hit, A fraction of an inch for where on the bat, a fraction of a second for when the contact is can have a dramatic impact.

  4. nattygoats - Jul 31, 2015 at 7:26 AM

    No more for me. Headed to citi field soon.

    • Section 222 - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:01 AM

      Have a great time. Send pictures.

  5. chaz11963 - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:19 AM

    well played game, and MW had no difficult bullpen decisions. The hitting is coming along just fine. Rendon and Zim both look good at the plate, Escobar continues to do his thing, and Harper continues to be one of the best offensive machines in MLB. This will be a good weekend series with the Mets at Citifield (which the Nats seem to find as a second home). The Mets are coming into it with the heart-breaking loss at SD and if they don’t do well, especially with their recent upgrades, I suspect it will torpedo their new found hope and no doubt cause a continued mass depression among their fans.

  6. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:31 AM

    “There have been times this season when Matt Williams has felt compelled to push his starters too far, to try to squeeze one extra inning out of them. Why? Often because he has more confidence in a tiring starter than in the amalgam of mid-to-late inning relievers who have occupied his bullpen at various points of the season.”

    Does the casual Nats fan understand those dynamics that were unfolding and if it was another stud reliever acquired could have set-up the same situation where Drew moved to the 8th.

    The situation isn’t perfect but it was forced by no dominant 8th inning man and the ridiculous trade demands for Chapman and Kimbrel. Rizzo should be congratulated for a great trade where he didn’t plow out his farm to fill the need.

    Yesterday showed how Game 1 could unfold and how you beat Greinke if today was the start of the playoffs as it would be Nats @ Dodgers.

    • chaz11963 - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:52 AM

      No doubt, the dominant pitching we are seeing across MLB is going to be a huge factor in the post season. Rizzo has made a big step toward addressing that issue for the Nats.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:54 AM

        If Strasburg can return to dominance, look out!

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 31, 2015 at 12:10 PM

        Everyone has to perform. I don’t expect Greinke will be as dominant especially given his BABIP

  7. chaz11963 - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:40 AM

    A bit off topic, but once again the Mess help us out:

    • ArVAFan - Jul 31, 2015 at 10:21 AM

      And for this we should be thanking Bernie Madoff? Talk about a cloud with a silver lining!

  8. Mrsb loves the Nats - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:41 AM

    Nats batters smoked a dozen or so balls yesterday, big benefit to that big park… They were also robbed by the Fish more than a few times, imo.

    Trade deadline approaching quickly… Be interesting to see what teams do next…

  9. Mrsb loves the Nats - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:41 AM

    Drew is unavailable tonight, correct?

    • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:51 AM

      Why? He’s only thrown 19 pitches in the last two days, and before that he hadn’t pitched for a week. No way he should be too tired to pitch tonight.

    • texnat1 - Jul 31, 2015 at 10:16 AM

      I would think probably so. Plus the hope would be that Pap saves it tonight, which would likely make him unavailable tomorrow night, meaning Drew might need to step in then.

  10. lphboston - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:50 AM

    For obvious reasons the Nats need to make it as easy as they can on this manager. Keep decisions out of his hands.

    • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:53 AM

      Obviously. He will continue to use his worst relievers in situations where he shouldn’t. But now his worst relievers aren’t as bad as they were before.

    • hokiepokster92 - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:16 AM


      Davey Johnson: “Players get all the credit when the team wins, the manager gets all the blame when the team loses.”

      Reality: players are responsible for both wins and losses. The manager can’t hit nor throw the ball for his players. It’s the manager’s responsibility to put the players in the best situation to succeed. The manager has no control over a roster occupied by erratic, inexperienced relievers to work with. He also can’t use his top relievers to pitch every game.

  11. Doc - Jul 31, 2015 at 8:55 AM

    Closer, Smoser—Stor is the 8th inning Closer and Paps is the 9th inning Closer. There, Brian Kenny and MLB Network, are yah happy!

    • rlndtln - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:11 AM

      The umpire kept Haren in the game.Haren needs 3 inches on each side of the plate and he got it yesterday.Our guys had to protect when they could have taken and there were 2 walks on 3-2 counts that Porter called strike 3.

  12. jfmii - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:06 AM

    Unfortunately, Doc, many, including Drew, don’t view it that way. I would imagine he won’t be creatively thinking up ways to display the saved ball from an 8th inning Hold. In fact, that ball won’t even be saved. Too bad, really, because there is almost no difference in the leverage-level for either inning:

    • scnatsfan - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:12 AM

      But that’s the problem living in an ESPN culture; you show the last out and the closer pumping his fist not the guy who pitched out of the 8th inning jam. Wade Davis is smart enough to know it and look what is has done to KC’s pen; educated baseball people see it. Is Drew smart enough to realize he still will get paid and have a huge role on a potential champion? Or would be rather sign for big $ and close in Philly?

      • hokiepokster92 - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:19 AM

        Drew is a smart guy. I think he has a view of the big picture. That being said, he still got demoted through no fault of his own. He’s human. How can anyone not feel slighted to use his job when he was performing at a high level.

  13. Section 222 - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:09 AM

    One thing not mentioned in this piece is how much of a problem the 8th inning has been for us this year. Treinen, Barrett, Grace, Martin, and even Janssen early on lost games for us in that inning. We always dreamed of having someone as good as Storen pitching then instead of the parade of pretenders. And now we have someone as good as Storen — his name is Drew Storen.

    Once again I say, all hail Mike Rizzo.

    • Doc - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:36 AM

      Fortunately, Rizz has some ice in his veins!

    • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:37 AM

      It wasn’t just the 8th innings when they were ahead. How many times did your Treinens and Barretts come into a game trailing 2-1 and leave it trailing 4-1 or 5-1? As FP correctly pointed out time after time, you can steal a win in the 9th sometimes if you’re only behind by a run. Three or four runs behind, you don’t steal too many wins in the ninth. Like almost none. Pushing the Barretts and Treinens closer and closer to mop-up roles is a major upgrade.

      • therealjohnc - Jul 31, 2015 at 10:03 AM

        This is a good call. The “Stammen role” has been a disaster area for the Nats as Treinen, Barrett, Solis, Martin and others have cycled through that spot in the bullpen with indifferent to terrible results. Roark has certainly had his struggles there as well. If he can find his mojo again, then the Nats bullpen shapes up as a real weapon. If he can’t, and Strasburg comes back and is effective fairly soon, then he may be replaced in that role by Joe Ross.

        A bullpen with Papelbon, Storen, and Janssen at the back end, Thornton and Rivero for LH batters, Barrett for RH batters, and either Roark or Ross in the long man/spot starter role. I like it on paper, let’s hope it works!

    • laddieblahblah - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:41 AM

      “One thing not mentioned in this piece is how much of a problem the 8th inning has been for us this year.”

      Yeah. I figure Max & co. will now feel a lot better about the back end closing out. That is sure to add to their win totals, perhaps for every single one of them. I now see Max winning 20 by year end.

    • ehay2k - Jul 31, 2015 at 9:45 AM

      Agreed 222. This year, the 8th was never an inning where we could feel like we had a solid performer coming in, like we did with Clippard. Jannsen has been very good recently, but he also can’t pitch every night. So now we have quality depth which was lacking.

      At this point, the goal is to get to the playoffs, and then see how this pitching staff fares. Will they shut down opposing teams enough so that our historically so-so playoff hitting can finally win a series or two (or three!)? I’m willing to take that gamble.

      In Rizzo We Trust!

    • Joe Seamhead - Jul 31, 2015 at 10:06 AM

      What a difference a day makes! Now this BP has gone from a cast of Maalox salesmen inducers marks to a strength to be reckoned with. And Rivero and Thornton aren’t exactly chopped liver.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jul 31, 2015 at 11:59 AM

        Would you believe that I wish I had an edit function for that mess of gobbledygook?

  14. janebeard - Jul 31, 2015 at 10:01 AM

    I respect Drew now, more than ever. And Fister, too, for that matter, to accede to this guy’s demand to wear an old number on a new club.

    I hope that the Papelbon deal allows that Drew gets the 9th when he (Pap) starts getting rusty. Or rude. Because he will. Not that we wi have Drew in our clubhouse next year, I’d bet.

    I have a wonderful baseball friend who suggests that, as we used to have Clip and Store, we now have Drew and Spew.

    This “solution” does take care of the enormous gap we had between starter and closer. I just wish it wasn’t at Drew’s expense.

    • Section 222 - Jul 31, 2015 at 10:38 AM

      Drew and Spew? Ugh. I think you’re being unfair Jane. This guy is now our guy. And what I’ve seen so far, I’ve liked, including the reported comments about how he called Drew and told him he didn’t want to come here if it was going to be a problem, and his postgame interview about how he was nervous for his first appearance.

      I guess I disagree with you on “because he will.” He was playing for a lousy team with obnoxious fans. Not that that excuses his behavior but it may explain it. And other than the crotch grabbing incident and his public requesta to be traded, I’m not sure what rude behavior you’re referring to. Most of why people don’t like about Pap is his attitude on the mound, but again, now he’s our guy so that won’t bother us.

      As for his “demand” that Fister relinquish his number, I’m sure it was a request. Moreover, such requests are regularly made by veteran players. Younger players are happy to do it, and sometimes get a token of appreciation. You may have forgotten that Jayson Werth “demanded” that Michael Morse give him No. 28 when he joined the team.

      Finally, and this goes back to my first reaction to the trade, people who think the trade was “at Drew’s expense” are just wrong. This is a team game. I would hope that any player, including Drew Storen, would rather be the setup guy on a World Series champ than the closer on a losing team. That’s why Rizzo made this trade, and I’m going to assume that after his initial self-centered reaction, Drew gets that and is all in. If not, frankly, I don’t want him pitching for this team. He needs to get over it, and I think he will.

      Whether fans will is another story. Maybe a few more games like yesterday’s will ease the pain. I now I got warm fuzzies seeing Drew come in the relieve Max instead of Barrett.

      • soonernat - Jul 31, 2015 at 11:53 AM

        I believe Fister made some money by giving up his number….

      • Joe Seamhead - Jul 31, 2015 at 11:56 AM

        Dang, Deuces, you have been the voice of reason lately.

        Jane my initial reaction to the reports of the trade for Jonathan were not all that positive, either, but I am quickly getting over it, just as I did when Yunel was acquired. Along with a lot of other comings and goings.It’s a game, but it’s also a business, and a business where winning results are what is expected from management. We as fans we get emotionally attached to our favorite players, but good GM’s are not afforded that luxury. Their number one priority to the team, and really to the fans also, is for wins on the field. I am glad that we have a guy like Mr. Rizzo to make those cold hearted decisions.

    • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 31, 2015 at 11:01 AM

      They’re not yelling Boooooo, they’re yelling Speeeewww! Works for me. Just win, baby.

  15. Pete "Hit 'n Run" Wood - Jul 31, 2015 at 2:19 PM

    I propose we anoint this new phase of Nats history “Rizzo’s Pap Smear!”

  16. jeffreycbullock - Jul 31, 2015 at 4:01 PM






As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at Click here for past audio clips.

Follow us on Twitter