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Strasburg’s performance another missed chance for Nats

Sep 10, 2015, 10:00 AM EST

USA Today

What makes the Nationals getting swept by the Mets this week so devastating was not only the fact it all but pulled the plug on their postseason hopes. What added to their misery was that all three games featured unique breaks – at least for this team in this particular year – that would normally lead to victories.

In Monday’s loss it was a grand slam by Wilson Ramos. In Tuesday’s loss it was a Little League grand slam by Michael Taylor aided by a Yoenis Cespedes error. And on Wednesday they got something they had not seen since Aug. 10: their starting pitcher recorded an out in the eighth inning.

Yes, it had been 28 games and 30 days since Gio Gonzalez secured an eighth-inning out against the Dodgers. The last time before that was Max Scherzer on July 12 at Baltimore.

Stephen Strasburg put in one of his best starts all season, and in terms of strikeouts one of the best of his career, and it still wasn’t enough. It still couldn’t overcome the Nats bullpen, which has become a series of horror films with more sequels than Saw.

Strasburg was brilliant, striking out 13 batters which is just one short of the career-high he set in his 2010 MLB debut. It was his first outing in 10 days after missing a start with an injury, and he returned with conviction. His fastball sat in the upper 90s with precision and his curveball hooked and snapped through the strikezone.

“Stras came in and threw great today. One of the best games I’ve seen him throw all year,” Bryce Harper said. “That curveball was absolutely devastating today.”

“Stephen threw the ball extremely well tonight,” Ian Desmond added. “He threw the heck out of his curveball and he was locating his fastball. Coming off the year that he’s had, that was a big-time performance.”

Strasburg’s curveball secured the third strike on nine of his 13 punchouts. The other four were on his fastball. That combination helped Strasburg finish with only two runs allowed in 7 1/3 innings of work, tying his longest start of the season.

Strasburg said afterwards he felt great throughout the outing, but was superstitious when asked if it was his best stuff of the season.

“I don’t know. It’s been such an up-and-down year. It seems like when everything starts to click, then something happens. I’m just trying to stay positive, just trying to keep fighting and keep grinding. That’s all I can do,” he said.

Strasburg made it to the eighth inning, which appeared to be a significant break for the Nats’ bullpen, but he exited soon after allowing the game-tying run.

The Mets called on Kelly Johnson to pinch-hit for Wilmer Flores to lead off the eighth inning. Johnson pulled a 2-0 pitch to the second deck in right field to lock the game up at 2-2 and eventually bounce Strasburg from the game.

“I just made a bad pitch to Johnson,” Strasburg explained. “What are the chances? Fresh off the bench and he takes me upper deck. Just gotta tip your cap there.”

Strasburg faced two more batters before manager Matt Williams emerged from the dugout to a spattering of boos from the 27,530 in attendance at Nationals Park. His choice to replace Strasburg was Drew Storen, and the fans had a bad feeling about what would happen next.

Cespedes made those fears come true, just as he did the night before. This time the Nationals got much closer to avoiding disaster. They just couldn’t fully get out of harm’s way.

  1. nats106 - Sep 10, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    Wasn’t at the game last night but watched intermittently and boy, Stras did look good.

    Took me back almost 3 years. Harper and Stras took us to a surprise playoff experience (no surprise to some who had been watching the team in 2H 2011.) RGIII wasn’t RG me, John Wall was coming into his own. It looked to be an exciting time to be a DC sports fans.

    Those were reminders of what DC was in the 80’s and the real Joe Gibbs era. Now the WAPO actual paper has their football section disguised as what I thought was an anti Snyder ad, but actually it was not. Pretty interesting stuff-a Skins logo with a Reset-Rebuild-Reject header on the first half. On the 2nd half Repeat. going through constant failure and finishing up with “your turn, Scot”

    It could always be worse, but it could certainly be better. Oh well.

    • npb99 - Sep 10, 2015 at 12:00 PM

      This is a dismal sports town. My son is leaving for college next fall. A year ago he was lamenting there hadn’t been any championship teams in DC while he lived here (which is since birth). I said there was still a chance with the Nats, and you never know with the Caps. Nothing but collapses since then. Forget it, son.

  2. wmlsays - Sep 10, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    I thought that the Mets signing Cespedes was a great move that Rizzo should have done himself. That would have added a bat to the Nats and denied the Mets the power player that they needed to vault over the Nats. And now that the Mets are free to try to sign Cespedes for the long haul, I would expect the Mets to be the favorites to win the NL East for years to come. Rizzo has failed to build a cohesive team that can go deep in the playoffs. His non adaptive style of thinking is a death knell for improving the team. Missing the playoffs twice in the last three years, with teams that are supposedly talented, is not an anomaly. It points to inherent weakness in a team. A team that Rizzo built. And a team that is now ready to be eclipsed, not only by the Mets, but by the Cards, the Dodgers, the Cubs, the Pirates and even the Giants as the best team in the NL. Not that they were ever the best team in the NL.
    The Mets will have a better starting rotation, they will be able to field a good defensive team, they have power hitters. The Nats need to improve fast or it is entirely possible that 2014 was the last time (in a while) that they made (or make) the playoffs. I am not sure Rizzo will be up to the task.

    • langleyclub - Sep 10, 2015 at 11:12 AM

      The Mets preferred Carlos Gomez to Cespedes, but they rescinded the trade after Gomez’s physical caused the Mets some concern. So, the Mets got lucky. Cespedes is a streaky player, and he is red-hot right now, but he is the same guy that the Red Sox traded for last year at the trading deadline, and Cespedes was ordinary:

      213 ABs 5 HRs .717 OPS

      This year

      157 ABS 14 HRs 1.032 OPS

      Everybody is a great GM in retrospect. BTW, the Nats problems since the trade deadline have no been with the offense. The Nats are second in the NL in runs scored since the trade deadline.

      • wmlsays - Sep 10, 2015 at 11:25 AM

        I’ve had this thing about addition via subtraction. Depriving your opponent of an asset (which in this case, proved valuable) can be just as good, if not better, than adding assets yourself. In this case, the Mets would not be where they are without Cespedes. The Nats did little to help their ailing middle relief corps and in the end, even when the Nats scored against good teams, they can be outscored (especially if the opponent had a semblance of good pitching). Note that losing to the Mets six times since the break, losing to the Cards twice, were not a result of the inability to score (which you rightly pointed out). In the end, it was the hole that Rizzo left unfilled that cost the team dearly.

      • langleyclub - Sep 10, 2015 at 11:41 AM

        wmlsays;

        If the Nats had acted to prevent the acquisition of the player the Mets wanted (which would require New England Patriots type of surveillance), the Nats would’ve acquired Gomez, who has not played well since the trading deadline. If the Nats had taken that step (which would’ve hurt their run production as the Nats OF has been productive since the trading deadline), the Mets would’ve gotten Cesedes anyway.

        The Nats were never going to acquire Cespedes. To act like they should’ve now that everyone knows that he has stood on his head for 6 weeks is the very definition of Monday morning quarterbacking.

        As it turned out, the player that would’ve helped the most may have been Clippard as he has pitched well as the Mets 7th/8th inning guy (many here were calling for that given the Nats middle relief struggles). Even so, no one anticipated Drew Storen’s complete meltdown as an effective reliever prior to the trade deadline.

      • wmlsays - Sep 10, 2015 at 2:08 PM

        Actually, there was talk of getting Cespedes before the deadline but most people said that the Nats didn’t need him. Which may be true, but by him falling into the Mets lap, it changed the dynamic of this race into a one sided domination. Unfortunate as it is, some of this could have been mitigated had the Nats solidified their bull pen. I still don’t think the Pap acquisition was a bad idea. The supposition was that Storen would serve as a good 8th inning guy (or even 7th inning guy, if needed). Unfortunately, that plan didn’t quite work out. Which is why when gaming a roster (which is what all this stat stuff is all about), it is probably a good idea to game what your opponent can possibly do and take out that possibility (if at all possible). It doesn’t matter now. Rizzo has not shown himself to be as adept in adaptive adjustments and acquisitions as he is in conceptualizing an overall plan for developing a franchise roster for years to come.

    • bc4314 - Sep 10, 2015 at 11:17 AM

      Cespedes has been great since moving to the Mets, no question about that. But let’s remember that the Mets made that “great move” only after their trade with Gomez fell through.

      Any team is free to sign Cespedes to a long term deal after the season so why are the Mets favored to sign him? There may be a reason he has played for four teams in four years. His defense is not great and his performance will most likely regress to his career average (OPS .807).

  3. Whack-A-Mule - Sep 10, 2015 at 11:19 AM

    The multiple recent blown games (the result of blown late-inning leads) hardly
    constitutes a new or novel pattern for the Nats.
    Please refer to our early exits from playoffs in 2012 and 2014 for more of same
    (“Groundhog Day”) .

    The team may not have deteriorated significantly since 2012.
    However . . .
    the team does not seem to have improved at all.
    (“Groundhog Day 2 ” ) .

    • wmlsays - Sep 10, 2015 at 11:27 AM

      The lack of improvement (which I am prone to disagree with – it appears that they actually regressed) is not something that Rizzo should be proud of.

  4. langleyclub - Sep 10, 2015 at 11:33 AM

    Time to look forward. So, the Nats rotation in 2015 will likely be:

    Scherzer (let’s hope he returns to his 1st half form)
    Strasburg (keep waiting for the dominant/healthy season equal to his talent; it will be his walk year)
    Gio (Has been consistently inconsistent since 2012)
    Roark (one of the 10 best starters in the NL in 2014)
    Joe Ross (love his stuff; innings limit should not be a problem)

    When the inevitable injury occurs, I would expect Giolito to join the rotation in late May/early June to avoid Super 2 status. Other candidates would include AJ Cole, Austin Voth, Taylor Jordan (was considered equal to if not better than Roark in the Spring of 2015), Reynaldo Lopez, Richard Bleier (was the Nats best minor league starting pitcher in 2015 – he would need to be added to the 40 man roster or another team will sign him) and whomever else the Nats sign. I am a fan of that rotation and the upcoming starting talent. Fair to expect that the 2016 rotation (even without Jordan Zimmerman and Fister – addition by subtraction) will be significantly more effective next year.

    • alexva6 - Sep 10, 2015 at 11:47 AM

      I suspect that Roark’s time has passed. yes he was good in 2014 but he seems to have lost that bottle full of magic.

      I think Cole slots in as 5th starter, Voth starts in AAA, Giolito starts in AA and Taylor Jordan is the 1st emergency replacement, assuming it is short term.

    • jd - Sep 10, 2015 at 11:52 AM

      langley,

      I haven’t given next year much thought but I do think Stras is about to really bust out, I would be for trying to lock him up long term. I think Cole is at the cross roads, he finished up this year very well. I agree about Giolito sort of being next year’s Joe Ross. I have questions about Roark. I think Jordan could be the next Stammen (hope).

      I think the bullpen is a hot mess. Paplebon will return as the closer, Storen will be gone. I think I’ve seen enough of Treinen and I think Thornton and Jansen are on the other side of effective, I like Rivero’s potential but I really think we could use at least 2 reliable relievers to shore up the pen.

      With Turner replacing Desmond and with Rendon returning to 3rd who plays 2nd? Espinosa? Difo? I think it’s time to cash in on Escobar’s nice offensive numbers and move him for some other talent. Zim is OK at 1st (not great) but boy can he carry a team when he’s hot. If he can somehow beat the injury bug and along with Robinson I think we are good at 1st.

      I think Werth’s days as a full time every day player are coming to an end, despite the fact that he’s owed $21 mil for each of the next 2 years I would get a full time left handed hitting strong defending running mate (hello Jason Heyward). I love Taylor and Harper requires no commentary. I also think Ramos is fine until Severino graduates.

      We don’t know what else is in store trade wise and FA wise but I suspect quite a bit. The key for me is that MW can’t be brought back, you have to make a move and you have to do it swiftly, I think Mc.Catty should depart as well.

      • senators5 - Sep 10, 2015 at 12:58 PM

        I agree with most of what you wrote, BUT I do believe RZ,’s days as a Nat should come to an end and move him to the AL where he can be a DH. His injury list will continue to grow and not shrink as evidenced by the past several seasons

  5. natsguy - Sep 10, 2015 at 11:43 AM

    Bleier was just a 4A addition last year. I don’t think you want to waste a 40 man spot on him. Taylor Jordan has had his chances and was found wanting Giolitto is not ready. AJ Cole did not exactly light up the world this year. Austin Voth maybe in 2 years. If that is what you are looking at for next year you might want to keep looking.

    • langleyclub - Sep 10, 2015 at 12:17 PM

      Barring injury, Giolito will come up next year. That is a lock. Pitchers often have a short shelf-life, and teams need to pounce when their stuff is electric and his stuff is.

      “AJ Cole did not exactly light up the world this year”: he had one MLB start. So, based on one bad outing that is it? He is 18-9 with a 3.15 ERA over his last two years in AA and AAA. If needed (and he might not be needed), moving up to MLB is the next logical step. Austin Voth will be in AAA next year; if he pitches well and there is a need, he will get an MLB shot. Agree that Bleier was added as MILB filler, but he has had a great year in AA/AAA and is a lefty. If the Nats don’t offer him a 40 man roster spot, someone else will.

      With two or three exceptions, every MLB team would love to have the depth that the Nats have in starting pitching talent.

  6. brooksandstreams - Sep 10, 2015 at 1:45 PM

    It’s been a minute since i’ve seen “the orchid” dominate like that. His stuff was electric most of the night and it took d’Arnaud jumping his first pitch fastball and Johnson working a fastball count in order for my Metsies to get anything off him. Truth of course is starting pitching wasn’t the Nats problem this series. That pen is tough to watch right now and If i were a Nats fan i’d be calling for Rizzo’s head on a pike. Last i checked baseball (most times) is a meritocracy. How does Storen lose his job with the season he was having? and for the services of Papelscum? Sure, Storen’s lost his confidence at this point but you could argue Rizzo had lost confidence in him long before by acquiring JP. Something he didn’t have to do since the Mets were able to acquire Addison Reed in late AUGUST for middle relief help. Rizzo (and MW) has to be gone when the Nats season ends in the regular season, right?

  7. micksback1 - Sep 10, 2015 at 1:55 PM

    Stras showed up and was magnificent while his manager left him out to dry, again.

  8. micksback1 - Sep 10, 2015 at 1:57 PM

    I meant left his team out to dry, again and again and again….

  9. NatsLady - Sep 10, 2015 at 5:05 PM

    I don’t think the Lerners will let Rizzo go. They re-upped him in the middle of the 2013 season, which, if you recall, was not a season when the Nats won the World Series.

    Williams is another story. The key, IMO, was Rizzo saying we are not going to look at 2016 while it’s 2015. That means he IS going to look at 2016. For a long time I was not in favor of firing Williams. It takes a long time to develop a manager.

    But the latest episode (using Storen yesterday) makes me wonder. His thought process, as expressed in the presser, was woeful. Even if he wanted to get Storen back in there ASAP, putting him in there to face Cespedes (who, by the way, Strasburg had TWICE struck out) is very questionable. You are supposed to give a guy the best chance to succeed, and that wasn’t it–the same guy who blasted him the day before, a runner on base, etc.

    I don’t think Rizzo is afraid to admit his own mistake. Clearly, Williams isn’t (even if he doesn’t say it publicly). His bullpen management recently has shown he will use his best pitchers in high-leverage situations even if they aren’t the traditional “hold” and “save” chances. It hasn’t worked.

    My most earnest hope is that Rizzo will make the best decisions, and that he won’t base them on Twitter or bloggers but rather on his own research and “gut”.

  10. NatsLady - Sep 10, 2015 at 5:07 PM

    P.S., If the Nats don’t make it, I’m rooting for the Rangers.

  11. senators5 - Sep 11, 2015 at 12:38 AM

    and if not the Rangers, then the Twins? From a true old time Senators fan who from an early age understood the meaning of the word “defeated.”

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