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An inexplicable loss in a season full of them

Sep 2, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT


And you thought Monday’s loss was tough to watch?

What transpired Tuesday in St. Louis made the previous night’s game feel pedestrian, as if it was just some run-of-the-mill loss every team suffers during the course of the season. It wasn’t, of course, but the Nationals’ 8-5 loss Tuesday — coincidentally the exact same score as the night before — bordered on the inexplicable.

Seriously, how do you explain this game after the fact to someone who paid no attention to it? The Nats jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but Joe Ross lost all ability to find the strike zone and was yanked in the bottom of the third. Matt Williams then coaxed 4 1/3 scoreless innings out of Doug Fister, Matt Thornton, Blake Treinen and Felipe Rivero, only to cringe as Drew Storen blew a 2-run lead in the eighth and then as Casey Janssen served up a walk-off, 3-run homer to Brandon Moss in the bottom of the ninth, all while a fully rested Jonathan Papelbon watched helplessly from the bullpen.

Does that even adequately describe the events that unfolded at Busch Stadium, where (by the way) the Nationals have now lost nine consecutive games dating back to Game 1 of the 2012 NLDS?

It has become a nightly ritual to play the blame game with this team. And certainly given the manner in which they’ve been losing games — their last four have either been by 1 run or after taking a lead into the seventh inning or later — it’s an appropriate exercise.

So who gets the blame for this one? There were multiple offenders…

— Joe Ross, for his third-inning meltdown. The rookie right-hander has been both effective and poised throughout his surprising run this summer, but he was neither in this game. Everything fell apart for him during the bottom of the third, when he walked four batters, including three in a row, hardly any of those pitches located anywhere near the strike zone. He wound up getting pulled after throwing 32 pitches in the inning, only 10 of them strikes. That immediately raised a fair question: Is Ross fatigued after throwing 145 1/3 total innings this season when he has never thrown more than 122 1/3 in any previous year as a pro? Afterward, he told reporters he simply couldn’t get a good grip on the ball due to the humidity in St. Louis. Ross has never used the rosin bag before. If what happened Tuesday really was strictly the result of a sweaty hand, can we excuse him for not taking a moment to try it out during that fateful inning? Or anybody else on the club for not insisting that he try it?

— The Nats lineup, for essentially shutting down after scoring four runs off Marco Gonzales in the top of the third. The only other run of the night came in the top of the seventh, and it was unearned and came without benefit of a single ball that left the infield. Yes, five runs should be enough to win a game, as it was Tuesday. But the lack of continued offensive pressure after getting to the St. Louis bullpen early certainly contributed to the eventual outcome.

— Drew Storen, for blowing a 2-run lead in the eighth. This is really where the game was lost. Handed a 5-3 lead, Storen proceeded to give up a leadoff single to Tommy Pham before plunking Brandon Moss with a 1-2 slider way down and in. Then he fielded Greg Garcia’s sacrifice bunt attempt and foolishly tried to throw out Pham at third base. The ball wound up sailing past Yunel Escobar and rolling into the left-field corner (more on that in a moment) as a run came home. Storen told reporters afterward the throw was “right over the bag.” That might be a bit off, but regardless of the location of the throw, the timing of it was questionable. At best, it was going to be a bang-bang play. Which means it wasn’t worth the risk. Get the sure out at first base and then move on from there. Storen didn’t, and so when Stephen Piscotty grounded into a double play a couple batters later, the tying run crossed the plate because the inning couldn’t yet be over. And so Storen’s struggles continue: He has now given up runs in six of his last 10 appearances, a stretch during which he has posted a 12.10 ERA. He also now owns a 7.71 ERA and six blown saves in 19 career appearances against the Cardinals (including the 2012 postseason).

— Yunel Escobar, for not catching Storen’s throw (or at least knocking it down) and then casually tracking it down after it got away. Maybe Escobar wasn’t expecting it. Maybe he didn’t have enough time to properly position himself. Whatever the reason, he didn’t execute his portion of that play as well as he could have executed it. And his slow retrieval of the ball, after pausing to roll his eyes when the throw got away, made the whole thing worse. And none of it helped refute the notion that the Nationals would be better off with a better defensive alignment in the infield: Anthony Rendon at third, Danny Espinosa at second.

— Casey Janssen, for giving up the winning runs in the bottom of the ninth. Janssen gets less blame than others, though, because it was foolish to think he was going to get out of that inning unscathed given the fact he was running on fumes. The veteran reliever had already thrown 26 pitches the previous night while giving up the decisive 4 runs. Now he was asked to come right back the next night and show no signs of fatigue while doing it. The inning started off find for Janssen, who got Jason Heyward to ground out and Yadier Molina to pop out. But then he served up a double to Cody Stanley and then he walked Pham and then he left a 1-0 fastball up and out over the plate to Moss, who crushed it to center field for the game-winner. That home run came on the 47th pitch Janssen had thrown in the span of 24 hours, a terrifyingly high number for a veteran reliever who has dealt with shoulder problems the last few seasons. Which is why plenty of blame needs to go to…

— Matt Williams, for saving Jonathan Papelbon for a save opportunity that never came to fruition. Now, he’s hardly the only manager in baseball who wouldn’t use his closer in a tie game on the road. Many, probably most, would’ve done the same thing. The problem here was that the alternative was Janssen, who had thrown so much the night before and who didn’t appear to have anything left in the tank, certainly by the time Moss stepped to the plate. Or Sammy Solis, who would’ve been a better lefty-lefty matchup against Moss but who was the only other pitcher left in the bullpen and thus was needed to be the long man in case the game kept going for awhile. None of the options was ideal. If Papelbon did pitch the ninth and didn’t give up a run but his teammates scored off Trevor Rosenthal in the top of the 10th, who would’ve then closed out the game for the Nats? Janssen? Solis? Papelbon in his second inning of work? There was still plenty of opportunity for disaster, and while that doesn’t excuse the manager for his bullpen usage, it does offer valid reason to hand out some blame to…

— Mike Rizzo, for not giving his manager more options that might have made these decisions easier. Tuesday was the first day of September, the first day major-league clubs are allowed to expand their active rosters beyond 25. Across the sport you saw teams add a bunch of reinforcements, as many as six or seven in some cases. The Nationals added three players: Solis, third catcher Pedro Severino and Dan Uggla. Why, with a pitching staff that has been struggling of late, weren’t more arms called up? It’s not as if the Nats won’t be adding more players in the next few days. Why not bring those guys up as soon as they were eligible? If Williams knew he had a couple more fresh relievers available just in case the game kept going, he might have been more inclined to go to someone other than Janssen in the bottom of the ninth. The Nationals bullpen has been an area of concern since the day the club packed up in Viera and headed north. That it remains such a concern on September 1 is a troubling fact.

  1. Another_Sam - Sep 2, 2015 at 6:18 AM

    I opened the paper, saw the score and the phrase ” . . . Bullpen implodes again . . . “. I had to check the date. Deja vu all over again.

  2. nats1924 - Sep 2, 2015 at 6:27 AM

    So, you can add this to the list of Drew Storen’s chokes.

    trade him for batting practice baseballs, garbage!

  3. Another_Sam - Sep 2, 2015 at 6:29 AM

    Regarding blame: typically I’m not one to overtly discuss blame, but the write up above – (NB Another very nice piece, Mark. Thanks.) – puts the topic on the table. Here’s my take: two run lead in the 8th and a recently erratic pitcher puts the first two hitters on. I know what this armchair manager calls for. Quick hook.

  4. robertrobert104 - Sep 2, 2015 at 6:47 AM

    the real problem with the Nats is that they can’t take the pressure, don’t know why. One thing: they don’t seems to have fun this year. No smile, no fun, they seems tense, tired and they are missing something, i don’t know why exactly. And the fact that the team is not good don’t help either. Basic plays seems out of reach. Expectations were too high for these guys….I love baseball, I love my Nats, but in the off-season, changes will have to be made.

    • Guapo - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:32 AM

      Agreed. This team has no fun and it’s because of the leadership.

      Williams is bitter, unprepared and uninspiring.
      Zimmerman and Werth are the veterans and both are quiet, brooding types who show little fire, at least outwardly, on a regular basis.

      In order for this team to get well, somehow the reigns of leadership need to be passed to guys like Rendon and Harper. They need to set the tone for this club going forward.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know that it will ever happen. Zimmerman and Werth are in expensive, long term deals and by the time they are up both Rendon and Harper will be out the door. Not because either is chasing money, but both like to win.

      It’s sad to see a franchise come so close to greatness and let it pass by. I blame Storen.

      • bowdenball - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:57 AM

        The leadership is exactly the same as the team that won 96 games last year.

        And the idea that Rendon and Harper will leave because they “like to win” rather when neither of them has experienced a losing season in their Nationals careers and both have already experienced the postseason – Harper twice by the age of 21- just might be the craziest thing I’ve ever read here. Pure nonsense.

        By the way Werth’s contract expires a full season before Harper reaches free agency and two seasons before Rendon reaches free agency. But no reason to bother with facts, I guess.

      • davebinmd - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:29 AM

        Werth has been credited with flipping-over the clubhouse attitude from the losing mentality that was here before he arrived, and his ability to do that was the intangible that induced the Nats give him that contract in the first place.

        To counter BowdenBall, just because they won 96 games last year under Williams doesn’t mean that his act hasn’t worn thin now. Including the four ‘major’ sports, there’s an endless list of coaches/managers who got great results at first but by the second or third season, their message no longer resonates or inspires, and they ‘lose’ the players. That appears to have happened now with the Nats.

      • bowdenball - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:39 AM


        I agree with you, actually. The 96 wins wasn’t meant to defend Williams at all, who I’m more than ready to part ways with. It was more about the idea that there was no other leadership on the team and that Werth and Zimmerman weren’t getting it done. If that were a problem the team wouldn’t have won 96 and 98 games with those two guys playing major roles on the field and even more so in the clubhouse. They’re not the problem, at least not off the field. Williams, however, is clearly part of the problem IMO.

  5. Sam - Sep 2, 2015 at 7:32 AM

    Nationals relievers this year rank 11th in baseball in FIP, 13th in SIERA, and 16th in ERA…pretty much average in terms of conventional ways of judging pitchers’ performances.

    Where they really fail is in their ability to preserve the Nationals’ chances of winning games. They have the 12th most meltdowns (any appearances that results in a -6% swing in WPA) and the 19th most shutdowns (+6% WPA). As a group, they are 24th in CLUTCH (which measures how they affected the team’s chances of winning in high leverage situations).

    CLUTCH and WPA measurements are NOT forward-looking; they measure what happened but have no predictive value. So, we can very definitely say: the Nationals’ relievers have been really un-clutch this year. They have done a bad job keeping the Nationals in close games (either when they have the lead, are tied, or down but not out).

    What’s odd – to me, at least – is that their conventional metrics suggest that they shouldn’t be this bad. Blame it on bad defense, bad execution in really important spots, or maybe just plain old bad luck – whatever it is, they haven’t gotten the job done in the most important situations, and it’s really killing the team.

  6. alexva6 - Sep 2, 2015 at 7:34 AM

    for our baseball aficionados a question, while the fateful bunt play was in progress someone (Ramos?) was yelling 3!. McCarver claimed that this means first base. I wasn’t watching or listening to our broadcast team was there any mention of this?

    • Sam - Sep 2, 2015 at 7:44 AM

      I fell asleep long before that play, so I don’t know if anyone was actually shouting “3.” However, I do know that from my time playing baseball, no one ever put in enough thought to convert the player’s position to the number that scorers use. If “3” means “first base,” then by that logic ,”6″ means throw to where ever the short stop is standing. Do you think a player is going to field the ball, look up, and find the short stop before throwing the ball?

      Not a chance.

      “1” = first base. “2” = second base. “3” = third base. “Home” = home when I was playing.

      • alexva6 - Sep 2, 2015 at 7:58 AM

        just heard MW say that Lobaton was calling for third so I guess that settles that.

      • vannordens - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:00 AM

        In spring training, the catcher always yelled what base to throw to and 3 was third base.

      • Joe Seamhead - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:01 AM

        It’s still that way on the field with any level of baseball I’ve been around. Catcher will yell 3! for 3B.

        So, I have a question for Matt Williams. In the 8th inning Ramos got a leadoff single. Taylor came up and on his 7th pitch in the AB he flied out. Then MW put Trea Turner in to pinch run and he stole second and advanced to third on CRob’s ground out. With Turner on third, Werth struck out to end the inning. So, my question is simply why didn’t Matt put Turner in to run for Ramos before Taylor’s AB? That was really dimwitted in my opinion.

      • Section 222 - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:38 AM

        I can’t think of any explanation at all, Joe. Except asleep at the switch. He might even had stole 3rd too. And scored on C-Rob’s groundout.

        He ran out of bullets in the bullpen. That’s not his fault. It’s Ross’s and perhaps Rizzo’s. But when you forget about the bullets you have, not sure who else can be blamed.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 2, 2015 at 12:43 PM

        I’ve always used 4 for HOME. For some accents, “Home” can sound like “One”.

    • Section 222 - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:08 AM

      3 means third, and Lobi called for it. Not Storen’s fault. The throw was bad though. Too hard for close range for one thing. And off line. When the 3B is retreating to the base, handling a throw that’s not on the money is pretty tough. Esco did seem a little nonchalant going after it, but I don’t think it mattered. Did someone advance a base they wouldn’t have? Of course, if Rendon had been playing 3B by then he might have made that play, and the earlier one too.

      If in fact Rizzo had the option of bringing up other pitchers, then Mark’s assignment of blame to him makes some sense. I can’t blame MW too much for not going to Pap. He was running out of bullets pretty fast.

    • jfmii - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:24 AM

      Jagler said Loboton yelled “3” and that there was no doubt he meant 3rd base

  7. edbrinkman - Sep 2, 2015 at 7:58 AM

    What a disappointing season. Rizzo’s ‘end of season autopsy’ will reveal multiple causes of death!

  8. 3on2out - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:09 AM

    Escobar’s lackadaisical trot to go after Storen’s throw spoke volumes to me.

  9. Mrsb loves the Nats - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:16 AM

    Its becoming laughable now… Just a disaster.

  10. Guapo - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:27 AM

    To quote the great Isuro Tanaka – “This team has no….marbles”

  11. nats106 - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:27 AM

    I’m grateful for baseball in DC
    I’m grateful for baseball in DC
    I’m grateful for baseball in DC

    Rinse, lather, repeat.

    Now that’s said, I can honestly say I’ve never been this despondent about a season. Yes, the 1984 Super Bowl hurt, but that was done in a couple of days. This is like a toxic IV drip.

    Even the 2009 season had it’s merits-low ticket prices, small crowds so I could stretch out during a game. This season has been a total fail. As a season plan holder I’m not only not feeling any love, I now feel like a shaken piggy bank that was broken once the money was taken from me.

    Oh, woe is me. On the bright side, all of us are better off than 99% of the world’s population. With all the turmoil going on, I’m grateful for baseball in DC and to live in America.

    • Dave - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:45 AM

      Being still in the hunt–albeit holding on by the skin of their teeth–this disappointing team is, in my opinion, giving us an experience better than 60-70% of other baseball cities.

      How’s it going in Detroit this summer? Seattle? Boston? There’s a hot mess–Boston.

      We’ll be all right. If the last games we see in person are at the end of September, so be it.

      That said, I hate to see losses like the ones the Nats crafted the last two nights.

      • npb99 - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:20 AM

        Good to see a positive spin, and if the 2010 team had had this record in early September, it would have been great. But disappointment comes from not meeting expectations. The 2015 Nats team should have been able to do a lot better than this, hence the sour mood around here.

    • micksback1 - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:59 AM

      I am too and we have a great fan base drawing almost 3 million. MW has single handedly destroyed this season

      • tcostant - Sep 2, 2015 at 2:44 PM

        Expect closer to 2 million next year…

  12. TBA - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:43 AM

    Was watching intermittently. BDid anyone actually go out and talk to Ross? Did they just leave the kid twisting in the wind? Desmond? Zimmerman? Cat? One visit by Ramos was it? He’s a rookie and a young one at that. Give him some help resetting.

  13. natsnatsnatswoo - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:51 AM

    So MW couldn’t use Solis in the 9th because he needed him to be the long man in case the game went into extras? Well then, why not double switch him into the game by replacing Escobar or Desmond with Espinosa? Voila! Solis is the long man! But wait, says MW. What is this “double switch” of which you speak?

    Fire Matt Williams!

    • theoneontheleft2 - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:08 AM

      …although…it’s not like Solis has been exactly lights out. He could have just as easily imploded, and Williams would have been criticized for bringing in an untested rookie in a critical moment.

      IMO, the bigger mistake was in the 6th, when Fister, who at that point was cruising, was pulled to give Dan Uggla another opportunity to lower his batting average. (And, seriously, what is Williams’s and/orRizzo’s obsession with Dan Uggla? Reminds me of the inexplicable loyalty to Matt Stairs and Chad Tracy in seasons past.) Either leave Fister in (because you know the bullpen behind him is a disaster waiting to happen); or at least double-switch and get Escobar out of there.

      Many have commented that Pappelbon not getting in the last couple of days is Williams’s biggest mistake. To me, the sin is that Uggla has gotten in the game, but Espinosa has not. That Escobar has started at 3rd twice while Espinosa sits. Crazy.

      • Joe Seamhead - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:50 AM

        I agree that Fister was probably pulled too early. As to Uggla’s AB, I said on the game thread that it might have been the ugliest K of the season. He missed the third strike by about 2 feet.Maybe he needs some refresher therapy with “Doctor” Donatelli.

      • Guapo - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:25 AM

        Agree completely. I was stunned when Fister went out so quickly. More stunned when he went to Jansen after such a long outing the night before.

        Williams can’t come back next year, he just can’t.

    • manifesto13 - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:37 AM

      Thanks, Woo. You made me laugh in the face of gloom.

  14. micksback1 - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:55 AM

    If back in May if someone told you the Nats would score 10 runs (5 per game) verse Cards the first 2 game of this series, 99% of us would assume 2 wins.

    What is there left to say. This team stinks, it is full of players that right now are not capable of winning a championship let alone a division or a Wild card berth.

    I have no problem with young Ross, he gets mulligan and I expect a young 22 year old to struggle now and then. My one question is why did not Cat come out and try to calm him down. The answer is, once again, the worst (Yes I mean it) manager in baseball that has no clue on how to deal with players, rookies etc..

    This all began with the team losing confidence in a manger back in early August because they know deep down that MW does NOT put his players in a position to succeed, period.

    Add that with the usual over rated choking dogs like Storen and other vets who one would expect to step up in crunch time and you have a half ass, crappy team who simply is bust. Does anyone really see Storen back next season? that would be as big a mistake as having Stooge Williams back

    On appositive note, R Zim is playing his baseball since the second half of the 2012 season. I am very pleased with Zim

    This is down right sickening and sad and Mike Rizzo you can right the ship by firing at the end of this season your only major mistake you have made in a stellar career as the team’s GM and fire this idiot. Good GM’s can make mistakes, Great GM’s admit it and move on…what will you do Mike???

    • nats106 - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:04 AM

      Check, check, double check. Pretty much in agreement on everything Mick. Also, not only do I give Young Joe Ross a total pass, it’s to be expected from even the best pitchers from time to time, and he might be running out of steam at this stage. I also have to wonder if that line drive off his knee messed him up just enough. McCatty didn’t even go out to check on him (sorry standing at the outside of the dugout doesn’t count).

      I go back to what I said before (and was poo-pooed by the baseball elite on this board-it’s a business and you don’t reward poor performance by continued playing time and you don’t penalize performance by benching, relegating to the bullpen, etc.

      • micksback1 - Sep 2, 2015 at 3:51 PM

        TY and well said about “the baseball elite” or another words, true homer who miss the 100 loss seasons and blast anyone, even season ticket holders who invest a lot in this team who dares criticize ANYTHING about a player, coach, etc… yet they are the gospel when they criticize.

    • theoneontheleft2 - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:21 AM

      “[Rizzo: MW is] your only major mistake you have made in a stellar career as the team’s GM.” While I might have agreed with that statement last year…Rizzo has plenty of major mistakes this year. Starting with Clippard for Escobar

    • Section 222 - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:12 AM

      Cat DID go to try to calm Ross down. I don’t know why, but you and about 50 other people missed it. It was after Carpenter walked.,game_tab=play-by-play,game_state=Wrapup

      There’s plenty to blame MW for without making stuff up.

  15. micksback1 - Sep 2, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    Let me defend MW for taking out J Zim in the playoff game with one runner on and 2 outs. Hey gang, Drew blew that one again and it was 100% on him. I actually defended MW in 2014 while most others criticized him which was crazy because, all Drew (the CLOSER) had to do was get one FFREAKIN OUT!!! He learned nothing from his 2012 playoff implosion, he stinks!!!

    Drew is a loser!!!

    • bowdenball - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:04 AM

      What do you hope to accomplish with a post like this, mick? Do you think there are readers who aren’t disappointed with Storen right now? What does screaming and name-calling do to add to the discourse?

      • janebeard - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:17 AM


      • jfmii - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:31 AM

        Thanks for saying what I was thinking, and saying it better than I could have.

      • Section 222 - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:14 AM

        Nothing bb. He just likes to vent. Repeatedly and repetitively. He also makes stuff up, rewrites history, and has thin skin, and a chip on his shoulder.

        Other than that he’s a great guy.

      • micksback1 - Sep 2, 2015 at 3:47 PM

        Nothing bb. He just likes to vent. Repeatedly and repetitively. He also makes stuff up, rewrites history, and has thin skin, and a chip on his shoulder.

        so a bit judgemental on me heh?

        So sec 222, I make things up? You take one comment (cherry picked, OF COURSE) about when Cat visited the mound and you damn well know I did not mean when Ross was hit by the line drive and you make it a referendum on everything else I post.

  16. bowdenball - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:01 AM

    I’m glad to see Mark call out Rizzo’s inexplicable decision to leave the bullpen so bare on the day of roster expansion. I hope someone in the media gets a chance to ask him about it directly. Williams still should have gone with Papelbon in the 9th of course, but the roster limitations guided all of his mistakes last night- waiting so long to pull Ross, reserving Papelbon and going with Janssen, sticking with Janssen after his 26 pitches last night and his obvious command issues … all traceable to the lack of roster options on the day when you should have no such concerns.

    That loss was a top to bottom organizational effort. Thanks for calling out all of them instead of just the bullpen and MW, Mark

    • Sam - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:10 AM

      You know, just because additional relievers may have been available last night, does that mean we would have wanted them to pitch? Storen still would have pitched the 8th. Papelbon still should have pitched the 9th. What would have changed exactly?

      • alexva6 - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:19 AM

        Jansen would not have been needed for the 9th for one thing

      • bowdenball - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:23 AM

        A couple big things. One- ideally you wouldn’t have waited as long to get Ross out of the game in the bottom of the third because you’d know you had plenty of arms and pinch-hitters to get you through things. Who knows if Williams would have actually done. Two- Janssen was clearly gassed after throwing 26 pitches the night before. He should not have been in the game in the first place and should have been pulled at the first sign of trouble as his pitch count soared again. Whether the 9th or the 10th after a Papelbon shutout inning, having options available to play matchups and/or to relieve a gassed arm improves your odds significantly.

        There were other, smaller things from earlier in the game too. For example, maybe you use someone other than Fister to get out of the 3rd so you can pinch-hit in the top of the 4th instead of wasting an out, and then bring in Fister to start the 4th.

        Options are always helpful. Being able to play lefty-lefty and righty-righty matchups out of the pen is always helpful. There’s literally no reason not to give your manager that extra help as of September 1.

      • NatsJim - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:43 AM

        Why would Pap have pitched the 9th inning of a tie game on the ROAD if other options were available? At home, sure – pitch the 9th, make sure you get an inning out of your closer since there will be no need to protect a lead. But if other options are available no way do you burn your closer in a tie game on the road.

      • bowdenball - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:55 AM


        The notion of “saving” the closer on the road is one of those old school baseball rules about bullpen usage that makes no sense and that open-minded and forward-thinking managers have discarded, at least in games their team is so desperate to win that it can’t cater to accumulation of statistics. The reason is simple- you use your best pitchers in the highest leverage spots, and there is no higher leverage spot than in a tie game with the home team one swing away from victory on every pitch.

        Look at it this way: let’s oversimplify the difference between a closer and a generic reliever and assume the closer is fated to pitch a scoreless inning and the generic reliever is fated to allow one run. If you use the generic reliever in the bottom of the 9th in the tie game, the game is lost. You have a zero % chance of winning. However if you use the closer in the bottom of the 9th, you may still win the game even with the run allowed in the bottom of the 10th. Perhaps you also scored a run in the top of the 10th, so the game continues to the 11th. Perhaps you scored two runs in the top of the 10th and you win anyway. Perhaps you scored 5 runs in the top of the 10th and you didn’t have to use generic reliever at all, you could use a mop-up guy instead.

        Does that make sense? I know it bucks conventional wisdom but most followers of the game and some managers have approached it this way for years. I suspect more managers would do the same except for the need to cater to the closer’s pursuit of “saves.” That should have been the last of Williams’ concerns last night.

      • NatsJim - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:05 AM

        Interesting explanation BB, I like it – thanks.

      • bowdenball - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:36 AM

        Glad I could help, NatsJim. Like I said, it’s a defensible practice in mid-June when you have to worry about managing your closer’s innings anyway and you have the flexibility and low stakes that allow you to cater to his desire for “saves” in the name of clubhouse morale. But those things didn’t apply last night, with the Nats desperate for a win to cling to their playoff hopes and Papelbon having been criminally underused since the trade.

      • texnat1 - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:38 AM

        At an absolute minimum, Paplebon should have been brought in once Jansen gave up a hit. There were two outs at that point. There is no reason to think that Paps couldn’t have gotten 4 outs instead of 3. Williams just can’t get past those sort of preconceptions, however.

      • bowdenball - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:58 AM


        Williams would say that he didn’t bring Papelbon in for four outs b/c his spot was due up third in the top of the 10th. Of course he could have double-switched, but apparently it’s too much to ask for Williams to think things through that much.

    • alexva6 - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:17 AM

      I can only surmise that raiding your AAA team before their season ends in frowned upon. but given the desperate nature of the Nats situation it needed to be done.

      send the Syracuse owner a check to ease his pain and get Martin, Grace, Cole, Hill and Jordan up here now.

      • jfmii - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:33 AM

        Mets called up a bunch from their Triple A team that is in a pennant race with 7 or 8 to go

  17. GNat - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:04 AM

    It’s over.. As much as I love the team, it just isn’t our year. Injuries and not playing according to the track record are the cause. Missing the playoffs will be because of the year as a whole not the last couple weeks.

  18. Bob meyers - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:15 AM

    Excellent column! First rate analysis. And focuses again on Williams’ ineptness with bullpen management.

  19. janebeard - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:21 AM

    Thank yo for writing this. Somehow, it helps. There is blame to go around, that’s for sure. In the old days, we didn’t expect them to be good, so it was easier, as a fan — or maybe just me — it was easier to look forward to the next game, no matter what. I hope they can end the season at least in second place. Playing for second place is now my goal.

    • natsnatsnatswoo - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:44 AM

      They currently have a 12.5 game lead over the Braves for second place, with 31 to play. Talk about setting the bar low….

  20. npb99 - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:22 AM

    Mark’s heading says it all, summing up the season.

  21. veejh - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:29 AM

    Lets not forget Zim Escobar and Desis inability to bat in a leadoff double from Harper and MWs inability to replace Esco w Rendon and slide Espi into 2nd for defense. Had Rendon been playing 3rd, the probability of that toss from Storen being caught increases dramatically. It didnt play into the game, but den Dekkernshould have been in LF, too.

    • veejh - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:30 AM

      I really dislike MW now.

  22. jfmii - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:40 AM

    One other game management issue for me. Why didn’t Turner run for Ramos before Taylor’s at bat? If Turner steals the base with no outs, then you have a much better chance of getting him in because you can get him to third with only one out. Is there a reason I am not thinking of?, or is this another example of our worst fears about MW: Uh, oh yeah, we have a 3rd catcher, why don’t we pinch run for Ramos? All seems so unprofessional. Makes you ask, what is he thinking about? THAT’S HIS ONLY JOB.

    • veejh - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:42 AM

      He’s usually asleep at the wheel. Nothing new.

    • Joe Seamhead - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:56 AM

      Yeah, I asked the same question at 8:00 this morning as to waiting to bring Trea in. Dimwitted, in my opinion.

      • texnat1 - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:39 AM

        At this point, we should just be happy that it occurred to him at all. Better late than never. That’s as good as we are going to get.

  23. Another_Sam - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:48 AM

    Although I’m always calling for creative use of the pen, perhaps MW’s hands are tied. Maybe Pap has it in his deal that he’ll be used only in the 9th and only in every one of the save situations.

  24. JayB - Sep 2, 2015 at 9:49 AM

    you are finally getting it….Veejh….nothing new for over a year……MW is the very worst manager I have ever seen and has been from day one……Now…after all this and too late to save two seasons…you see it?

    • jfmii - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:01 AM

      I assumed he would improve over time. He hasn’t. If anything, he has regressed.

    • veejh - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:22 AM

      Sorry it took so long.

  25. jfmii - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    They have let the Escobar tail wag the team dog all year

  26. Joe Seamhead - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    I woundn’t say that Matt Williams is the very worst manager that I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty long in the toothand have lived through much worse, but I pretty much lost confidence in him a long time ago. But I also think that Rizzo is giving him a somewhat set formula to work with regarding the pitching staff in general. Matt came here as a rookie manager and was supplied with almost an entire coaching staff that was not of his personal choosing from Knorr and McCatty, to Hendly, to Tarasco, to Schu, all the way down to personal trainer Philbin. He brought in his bullpen coach and defensive alignment specialist. [How has that worked out?]. My point is that I suspect that Mike Rizzo is the boss man in more ways than is the norm. Maybe I’m wrong.

  27. scnatsfan - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:29 AM

    As a fan of the hot stove, will be interesting to see the Nats make this year in the offseason. The thought it was just bad luck that led us to this place is laughable. its not a question if moves need to be made but how big those moves are. At some point you have to look at players like Gio, Ramos and Zim and say are these good players but not championship players – and to get good players in return you have to give up talent.

    • jfmii - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:45 AM

      Wrong about Zim

      • scnatsfan - Sep 2, 2015 at 11:01 AM

        This team, IMHO, needs a leader, a vocal leader. And that isn’t Zim. Love the guy but he is who he is.

    • Karl Kolchak - Sep 2, 2015 at 11:22 AM

      You don’t get “good return” trading players who are massively underperforming.

  28. Theophilus T.S. - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:39 AM

    I confess to making it a point to not watch either Monday or yesterday, on the assumption that nothing good was going to happen. Reading various accounts and looking at the box score it’s apparent that nothing good did happen, although Zimmerman seems to be accelerating his pursuit of Harper for the team RBI leadership — and how did that happen?

    Every game lost is on the players. And in some cases — the last two nights for example — on the GM, for failing to provide the players with the skills necessary to win. No excuse for six BB in less than three innings, rookie or not — although Ross overall is a plus. No excuse for Escobar’s sloppy defense — his bat was indispensable in the early going but his glove(?) is a big part of the reason for the season-ending swoon. When Janssen was signed I was concerned he wasn’t going to be a quality addition, in part because I discounted his “closer” experience and in part because I doubted he had the stamina to make it through full season.

    Was Williams hamstrung in his use of the BP? Yes, because — against the Cardinals, more than probably any other team because of the quality of their offensive game — you need your best available reliever to close in the ninth, or at least put the game into extra innings. (Should the team have acquired Papelbon is a separate question.) None of the pitchers left behind in Syracuse has shown they would have a been a better choice than Janssen and most of them are more arsonists than firemen.

    Rizzo blew up the BP in the last off-season and this is what he got, A couple of usually reliable relievers (one of whom is in an unaccustomed role), a couple of guys who aren’t relievers by trade, a couple of relievers who can’t be used on consecutive days, some rookies, etc., etc., etc.

    My biased opinion is that, every year, Rizzo either (A) over-estimates his BP or (B) over-values the pieces he gets. He hasn’t put enough of a priority on it.

    This off-season will require a considerable roster overhaul if the team is to be a contender while younger talent matures. All of the FAs with significant roles — including Janssen — will leave. I think Escobar and Storen will be useful trade chips. In addition to rebuilding the BP — again — Rizzo will need to get a veteran starter, unless he thinks he’ll get a rebound from both Gonzalez and Roark (odds against both of them). He’ll need to balance out the IF, with good defense at all four positions. They’ll need a fourth OF who can play defense. And in my opinion they need a new catcher but with all of the other needs that may be the lowest priority. Good luck!

    • scnatsfan - Sep 2, 2015 at 11:03 AM

      Agree. Barrett, Treinen, Martin, Grace, Solis – all arrived, all showed they are not ready for prime time.

    • langleyclub - Sep 2, 2015 at 11:49 AM

      Completely disagree with your assessment that no Cuse pitcher could help. Treinen struggled went to Cuse and has been dominant for the Nats.

      Rafael Martin was brought up early in the year, had a one great outing in Boston, but then struggled and got sent back to Cuse. He has also straightened himself out giving up one run since the All-Star Break, converting every save opportunity and posting a dominant 1 to 24 BB/K ratio.

      Had the Nats brought up Martin. He could’ve pitched in the 6th, and then, Treinen would’ve been available in the 9th instead of Jannsen. Crazy that with rosters expanded that the Nats had so few options in the 9th inning of a key game.

  29. tcostant - Sep 2, 2015 at 10:57 AM

    I’m not gonna bang on every bad move that Matt Williams made last night, but one is still stunning.

    After Storen going to 3rd base and Escobar not catching it, the game was 5-4. The bases were loaded with no out and Matt Williams had the IF in. This is the 3rd time this I saw MW do just this, trying to cut down the tying run with the IF in, but with the winning run on second.

    Ironically it actually worked, but Desi turned a double play, rather than going home to cut down the tying run.

    I still perplexed why MW would play the infield in, in this situation. Playing the infield in is said to turn .300 hitters into .400 hitters.

    In the past 30 years (and I’ve watched a lot of baseball) I’ve never seen a manager play the infield in with the WINNING RUN on second base, and I’ve seen it three times IHIS YEAT by Matt Williams.

    End of Rant

    • scnatsfan - Sep 2, 2015 at 11:04 AM

      I’ve bashed MW all year but I’m amazed he gives me more ammo as the season goes on

    • natsnatsnatswoo - Sep 2, 2015 at 11:28 AM

      His “defensive positioning guru” made him do it. Note that this is the only coach MW brought with him when he came on board. Note also that defense has consistently been a major problem the whole time MW has been here, Coincidence? I think not.

      • tcostant - Sep 2, 2015 at 2:47 PM

        I assume your kidding. Playing the infield in is a manager decision…

  30. langleyclub - Sep 2, 2015 at 12:02 PM

    Hate Escobar at third. If he is uncomfortable or can’t play 2B, he has to sit. Really don’t get why he is an automatic start when healthy. IMO, Escobar should at best rotate with Espinosa, and I would give Espinosa a majority of the starts.

    Really hope that Escobar is not back with the Nats in 2016. Just not sure how much trade value that he has. He doesn’t have the lateral range to play SS, and apparently doesn’t like/can’t play 2B. He is total liability at 3B. Realize that with Rendon’s injury issues and with Turner unproven that the Nats need another middle infield option going into next year, but I would prefer a no-hit great glove MI than another year of Yunel Escobar.

    Escobar has had a solid year at the plate, but has almost no power or speed, and is third in the NL in GIDP.

    • sunshinebobby - Sep 2, 2015 at 1:02 PM

      My 2016 infield:

      1B-Zimm (with C-Rob perhaps getting 300 at-bats in a semi-platoon when Zimm is cold)
      SS-Turner (or flip-flop with Espinosa if that appears to work better; it’s all about flexibility, Mr. Williams, sir)

      Esco moves on…Where? I don’t really care. As long as we get rid of him at the end of the year faster than he jogged after that throw last night.

  31. 9rhrssy01 - Sep 2, 2015 at 12:21 PM

    Who says MW isn’t flexible. Didn’t he use his seventh inning guy in the ninth? He just flexed in the wrong direction

  32. sunshinebobby - Sep 2, 2015 at 12:58 PM

    My 30-second solutions:

    1. DFA Janssen today. Just to send a message.
    2. Have Espinosa re-introduce himself to MW; I pretty sure the manager has forgotten his name.
    3. Have Papelbon sit next to MW during the game; see Solution No. 2.
    4. Have Uncle Ted or Uncle Mark call Rizzo in on the carpet to explain that somebody is going to have to be the fall guy for this season — you or your buddy-buddy, the Big Marine.
    5. The Silver Lining? I don’t think the Lerners have the cajones to raise ticket prices after this implosion of a season.

    But I could be wrong on that last one.

    • Joe Seamhead - Sep 2, 2015 at 1:40 PM

      Regarding # 5…they already did.

      • nats106 - Sep 2, 2015 at 4:04 PM

        Yes, they already did-and removed many of the old programs, reduced red carpet points, eliminated value games where pricing was lower and created a new “platinum” game level where tickets cost more.


  33. Joe Seamhead - Sep 2, 2015 at 2:50 PM

    I think that the new site is a welcome addition for some, but I also think coming in here and promoting it with a link to it is classless. It is akin to coming into somebody else’s store and handing out leaflets promoting your new store.

    • jfmii - Sep 2, 2015 at 3:43 PM

      Joe Seamhead, what did I miss?

      • Joe Seamhead - Sep 2, 2015 at 4:20 PM

        It got deleted.

  34. jeffreycbullock - Sep 3, 2015 at 12:44 PM

    By rolling his eyes on that play, Escobar proved to me once and for all that he would’ve fit in fine with the pre 2004 Red Sox. I’ve read somewhere that he is a somewhat divisive locker room presence.





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