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Inexperienced, ineffective bullpen has doomed Nats

Sep 24, 2015, 9:11 PM EDT

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Matt Williams was asked, after yet another dagger of a loss Thursday evening, whether it’s fair to pin the Nationals’ overall predicament on a bullpen that seems to be at the center of just about every one of these.

“I wouldn’t believe that that would be fair,” the manager said, “to point at one thing and say: ‘That’s the reason.'”

Williams is correct. It’s never just about one thing. The Nationals find themselves in this scenario — trailing the Mets by 7 games with 10 to play after Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Orioles — for multiple reasons. Their lineup was never fully healthy. Their rotation didn’t live up to expectations. Their defense was suspect far too often. And their manager pushed too many wrong buttons at the wrong time.

But that bullpen certainly deserves to be near the top of the list, if not at the top, at least when discussing how the entire season has collapsed over the last month.

It happened again Thursday, with Blake Treinen handed a 4-3 lead in the top of the eighth and two batters later turning it into a 5-4 deficit. But this was far from the first time it happened.

Since Aug. 31, a stretch of 26 games, Nationals relievers have blown 7-of-10 save opportunities. (Note: That includes any lead blown by a reliever, regardless of inning, not merely the ninth.) That 30 percent conversion rate ranks 29th out of 30 MLB clubs, only the Padres worse. The seven blown saves are tied for the most in baseball, only the Tigers and Rays duplicating the feat.

“I’ve got confidence in the guys that come in,” Williams said. “They’re ready to pitch. They’re eager to pitch. They want the ball every single day. Part of my job is to show confidence in them and give them the ball and be supportive of them when they go out there. It didn’t work out today.”

Williams has to say that. A manager must express confidence in his players, especially an entire unit, no matter how much it struggles.

But deep down, how much confidence can Williams have in a group that in its current incarnation features only a couple of reliable-but-overworked arms, veterans hanging on by a thread in late September and young pitchers thrown into the fire for the first time?

The seven pitchers who threw the most innings in relief for the Nationals in 2014 were: Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler, Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen and Aaron Barrett.

Not one of those relievers is currently pitching for the Nationals.

“Nobody wants to fail, especially with the implications that we’re still in the race,” Treinen said. “But to be a baseball player, you have to have a short-term memory. I think everybody’s learning curve is different. We just continue to pick up the ball every day when we get an opportunity and go out and compete as best we can.”

Who knows what might have been had the Nationals’ relief corps been merely adequate over the last month? They would at least be within striking distance of the Mets instead of on the precipice of elimination.

There will be ample time to dissect that once the season ends in 10 days. Until then, the Nationals will try to keep convincing themselves it’s not over, trying to believe somehow their biggest roster flaw can reverse course, no matter how implausible that sounds.

“It’s not great,” Williams said of his club’s current dilemma. “Not where we want to be. But tomorrow’s a game, and we have to play that game and we have to win that game. So, it is what it is. Need to be prepared for tomorrow.”

  1. alexva6 - Sep 24, 2015 at 9:36 PM

    it was well stated on opening day that the biggest question mark was the bullpen.

    the underperformance of the starting pitching and the inconsistency of the offense put more heat on them than they could handle. add to that MW’s handling of them and well, “we’ve got ourselves a natural disaster”

  2. moozystar - Sep 24, 2015 at 9:45 PM

    And that’s all there is to say about that!
    -Forrest Gump

  3. breakbad1 - Sep 24, 2015 at 9:53 PM

    At the hot stove event at Nationals Park last winter, Rizzo told 850 people that Jansen would replace Clippard in the 8th and the team wouldn’t miss a beat.

    No, Rizz, we didn’t miss a beat, but we did miss the playoffs.

    • Karl Kolchak - Sep 24, 2015 at 9:58 PM

      When the Clippard trade happened, I remember both being surprised that it wasn’t Storen instead and being worried that the bullpen was losing its best and most experienced arm going into a season with sky high expectations.

      Rizzo’s 2015 bullpen disaster is the number one reason why the Nats need to hire an experienced executive to be the president of baseball operations. Rizzo might be good at wheeling and dealing, but he needs adult supervision in the front office.

      • therealjohnc - Sep 24, 2015 at 10:14 PM

        I am very glad that this has no chance of actually happening. I’m perfectly fine with Mike Rizzo as the Nats GM and head of baseball operations. Because I’ve been a baseball fan for a long time, and realize that the best laid plans aft gang a-gley. And I’ve been a Nats fan from Day One, and I remember what it was like before Mike Rizzo became the adult supervision the front office desperately needed.

      • hersheyman - Sep 24, 2015 at 10:56 PM

        Having grown up in Montreal, I was an Expos fan till they left (had season tickets from ’69 till ’85), then moved to the Harrisburg area and have been a Nats fan since. I’ve seen a lot with this organization, but this is the most disappointing season I can remember, no doubt about it. M Williams is a terrible manager, worse than Riggleman in strategy in my estimation, and that’s saying a lot. But worse is this Natitude crap – it sends the wrong message and isn’t a way to play the game. Werth’s act is old.

        But perhaps the biggest mistake was getting Paplebon. Hasnt anyone made the connection that they started playing terrible once he was acquired? Destroyed team chemistry and really messed with Storen’s head. Plus, I am convinced that Storen was a much better closer than Paplebon, at least at the time of trade. What a waste.

        Rizzo has done some really good things, but he really needs to take responsibility for some awful decisions this year. He has treated the pitching staff like movable parts – bring in Scherzer & put Roark in the bullpen; trade Clippard & bring in Jansen, trade Blevin & replace with an unproven rookie, and finally bring in Paplebon and move Storen to a setup guy. It just doesn’t work like that. Proof: EACH of these moves has backfired – 4 for 4.

        No doubt that Rizzo is generally a great judge of talent, but maybe he didnt see some of this coming because he never actually played the game and doesn’t understand the human aspect..

      • Nats Fan Zee - Sep 25, 2015 at 8:26 AM

        Hersheyman … You nailed it. I would add that after sitting I the cold for 18 innings last October, it also became acutely obvious that we needed another strong bat besides Bryce (no, no sport fans … Not Escobar). So what did we do? Go out and get another starter … One that will cost you another $6. (Or more) a ticket though 2028.

        All that said, l’ll be there with my boy Sunday and hope it does not rain (would be fitting though).

  4. wmlsays - Sep 24, 2015 at 10:22 PM

    This season was a display of mediocrity, as far as the general manager was concerned. Not only did he waste over $160 million dollars on a fairly mediocre team, his big acquisition was basically did nothing to help the team. And the bullpen! Rizzo may be a baseball genius to some, but this year illustrates that he still unable to build a team that can truly contend for a championship.

    • golfersal - Sep 25, 2015 at 10:47 AM

      Boy couldn’t agree more in your blame on Rizzo.
      Of course I think he handled the Desmond signing fairly, offering him a $107 million contract which Ian in his greed turned down. I have to think that if Desmond was signed up that this year would of been easier on him. But it was terrible.
      But I really blame Rizzo for zero negotiation with Jordan Zimmerman. He has proven to be our best pitcher over the last five years and showed again this year his importance. If Rizzo would of done his job and signed both Desmond and Zimmerman, things would of been different.
      I also blame Rizzo for this suicide signing of Max Scherzer for $210 million. Again on paper looks great but it stuck a daggar in the hearts of Zimmerman and Strasburg, who has to be thinking of leaving when his contract runs out in 2016. Then you have the Clippard factor, another person that Rizzo got rid of. Now that has two sides to it, Rizzo did get some great value in Escobar, but they are talking about trading him away so who knows.
      The bottom line is if Rizzo would of just stayed pat, signed up Desmond, Zimmerman and Clipper his payroll would of been around $120 million, things would of been much happier in the clubhouse and frankly the fans wouldn’t have to endure a 32% increase in our tickets prices. Nobody seems to care, but I am a season ticket holder since 2005 and my tickets are going from $45 to $65 next year. Not happy and frankly thinking of telling the Nats to screw off, I can get my baseball and Nats fix on MASN and buying tickets via Stubhub which are cheaper than being a season ticket holder or buying the tickets from the Nats.

  5. Eugene in Oregon - Sep 24, 2015 at 10:45 PM

    Agree that it’s hard to point to a single cause for the Nats’ demise this season. And it’s always difficult to point to any single cause for losing any particular baseball game. But it would be an interesting exercise to go through the season and try to identify those losses that could fairly definitively be attributed to: bad defense, poor offense, poor starting pitching, and bullpen meltdowns. Not all losses would be accounted for; some would be impossible to identify a single culprit, others would be of the ‘tough luck’ variety.

  6. thewerthwhisperer - Sep 24, 2015 at 10:50 PM

    What does anyone think we could get in return for Escobar?
    Boy is this team gonna look different next year.
    Imagine how many RBIs Harper would have if Span had had a healthy and productive season?
    A fellow can dream, can’t he?

  7. lesatcsc - Sep 24, 2015 at 11:13 PM

    It has been an odd season. On nights when the starters were good the BP was awful, on nights when the starters were bad the BP was okay. If both were good, the offence could be counted on to produce nothing. If the offence and the pitching were okay, the defence killed them. On nights they needed three runs, they padded their stats scoring 15, on nights they needed 2 they scored none or one. The statistics really don’t tell the story. They flatter the Nats. All season long guys failed in key situations, at the plate, in the field on on the rubber. Mix and match the performances differently and they might have been alright, they just seemed to rotate failing in key situations.

    IMO, the BP is crap, keep Papelbon and Stammen and start again. Trienen needs another year in the minors. He throws hard but he doesn’t have “it” yet. Bye Bye Storen and the rest. Not a keeper in the lot.

    They absolutely have to upgrade the lineup. A good team cannot have 5 consecutive batters desperately trying to raise their average to .240, especially when they strike out at an unworldly pace. Rendon, Harper and Taylor are keepers. Escobar might actually never have a higher trade value than he does right now and, as good as he was this year, does anyone think he will be that good next year? It’s not really clear where he fits going forward.

    I really don’t care if RZimm and Werth are bench guys next year. At least one of them needs to be supplanted by a big time healthy hitter to protect Bryce. If they have $210M for a .500 pitcher that gives up HRs every other AB, surely they can find some loot to get another real bat.

    I’m done waiting for Tyler Moore and they need a catcher to challenge for the starting job. Robinson and Espi look like decent bench guys.

    The rotation looks okay. Roark has killed his value, but Ross looked good and Scherzer, Stras and Gio is a nice front three. They only need one of the young guys, or a huge return to form from Roark to be okay.

    And finally, for the love of God, can we finally sit Desmond on the bench and watch Trea Turner play SS for a week or so? What is the down side???? I would fire Williams just for continuing to play Desmond.

    • senators5 - Sep 25, 2015 at 12:47 AM

      Well said. I agree with all of your points. I do have trouble with the posters who rave, er well, support Rizzo. He has made some very sexy, short and long term moves paying out enough money to literally stiff every season ticket holder and anyone else foolish enough to spend money for second rate performances from the mega rich,.and what is there to show for it other than Harper and maybe Rendon and hopefully Strasburg. Escobar can hit but he is a lazy and often uncommitted player. Desmond should be gone today, MAT is a strange case, all the talent in the world with absolutely no baseball savy. Trea Turner to last the grind of MLB must bulk up and strengthen his upper body. and Oh… the catchers = C- There is not one BP pitcher I would rely on next season. Wow! That’s really cruel but that’s what I believe. I do look forward the youngster, Joe Ross, in the the starting rotation. And finally, I thank all of you season ticket holders for keeping the rest of us poor slobs entertained, I know Scherzer and Werth appreciate your big bucks to keep them multi millionaires even though they have not come close to earning those, no those obscene bucks they are being paid,

      • senators5 - Sep 25, 2015 at 1:18 AM

        Oh,and I forgot, MR has contributed heavily to the VERY fat wallet of Mr. Boras who literally has this franchise by its baseballs,

    • chaz11963 - Sep 25, 2015 at 10:13 AM

      Mostly agree, but Rivero is a keeper.

    • soonernat - Sep 25, 2015 at 1:52 PM

      OK I’m confused… is Scherzer a .500 pitcher who gives a HR every other AB or part of nice front 3?

    • soonernat - Sep 25, 2015 at 1:55 PM

      lesatcsc – I’m confused…is Scherzer a .500 pitcher who gives up HRs every other AB or part of a nice front three??

      • soonernat - Sep 25, 2015 at 1:56 PM

        Please excuse the double posting….I only meant to be sarcastic once 😉

  8. trfwans - Sep 24, 2015 at 11:30 PM

    If you believe Phil Wood, for the past three days Darren O’Day has been auditioning for the setup role on the 2016 Nationals. I think he passed the audition.

    • jeffreycbullock - Sep 25, 2015 at 3:41 PM

      You do not want O’Day as your closer – he is a submariner ad they eventually start getting killed by lefties – Quisenberry sticks in my mind but I am sure there are others.

  9. wskyrnr21 - Sep 25, 2015 at 7:01 AM

    Why isn’t anybody throwing McCatty into this mix. He after all is the pitching coach?

    • jeffreycbullock - Sep 25, 2015 at 3:43 PM

      THANK YOU! I have been saying that most of the season – God knows why not – a lot of pitchers are pitching up this season and he has done nothing to help.

  10. newenglandnat - Sep 25, 2015 at 7:52 AM

    The bottom line is that outside of Harper and Escobar (both of whom obviously had terrific years), every single other player that you expected to have a meaningful role (including SPs and key relievers) performed below what you would have reasonably expected. Not even “below what you hoped.” But below what would have been reasonable. Some of that was injury, obviously, and at some positions, we had some good replacements, at least statistically.

    But when something like 14 of your top 16 guys going into the year are objective disappointments, that’s a problem!!!! To me, the blame is everywhere. First and foremost with good old fashioned bad luck, secondly with the players, third with the manager, and fourth with the GM.

  11. NatsNut - Sep 25, 2015 at 9:00 AM

    The bullpen has definitely been the most visible, impactful, and recent (not to mention painful) of the team’s weaknesses, but man, looking back at the whole year, it really was just everything.
    I believe the team was very, very well built and hav a hard time blaming any one person or move for this season. SO MUCH just went freakishly wrong. I mean, really, just the one factor of having our regular lineup together for more than 2 days could hav gotten us so far. But so, so many other factors piled up im surprised we’ve done this well.
    Oh well. Anyway, im still a big fan. No angry indignation here. A little bummed out, but im not going anywhere, and will sorely miss this team the minute the season ends regardless of how it ends.

    • NatsNut - Sep 25, 2015 at 9:03 AM

      Also, i hope this team, top to bottom, has learned to not say a word about winning the 2016 world series. Not ONE PEEP until December 5 2016. 😉

    • natsfan1a - Sep 25, 2015 at 10:11 AM

      Agreed on the multiple factors, and on the last para. 🙂

  12. JayB - Sep 25, 2015 at 9:07 AM

    +1 but I would expand to winning anything ever…..say nothing play hard and with attitude….not Natatude…that has got to change.

  13. raleighnat - Sep 25, 2015 at 9:14 AM

    Rizzo messed up on the bullpen and on Matt Williams. Overall though, he’s done a great job in my opinion. There aren’t many GM’s that wouldn’t have switched rosters with him when the season began. It is going to be interesting to see how we bridge from this window to the next. Some good gm’ing in the offseason and we should compete again for the division next year. I see a GM’s main job as to consistently field a team with the talent to compete for a playoff spot year end and year out. I think Rizzo has learned some lessons this year though:

    a) more complete hitters (reduce the number of free swingers) and more lefty / righty balance
    b) bullpen is really important
    c) hire an experienced manager

    • jeffreycbullock - Sep 25, 2015 at 3:47 PM

      I think Rizzo is leaving MW twisting in the wind – he did nothing at the trade deadline (not trading for offense) because he’s ditching MW (rightly so he’s realized) – he’ll be fired days after the season is done – MW will be a coach the rest of his time.

  14. JayB - Sep 25, 2015 at 10:07 AM

    That is like saying Rizzo messed up on $160 Million but he learned something……..not really acceptable to me and I can only guess what Uncle Ted is going to say when as promised by Rizzo judge me on the numbers at the end of the season.

    • raleighnat - Sep 25, 2015 at 11:44 AM

      That is an awful lot of money for the outcome, I’ll concede that.

  15. topnat - Sep 25, 2015 at 11:14 AM

    Lets not forget that Boras went past Rizzo to the Lerners on the Max deal. What we don’t know is how much of a money bind that put Mike under for securing veteran relievers. Add in Stammens injury and Barretts implosion, two ypung guns in their first year of relief pitching after being starters ( Trienen, Rivero) and Janssen being just bad and Storens fragility you have a nasty mix.

  16. adcwonk - Sep 25, 2015 at 12:58 PM

    Hersheyman … You nailed it. I would add that after sitting I the cold for 18 innings last October, it also became acutely obvious that we needed another strong bat besides Bryce (no, no sport fans … Not Escobar)

    The Nats currently lead the NL in runs scored — and that’s even including the Rockies (who’s offensive stats should always be discounted).

    And it’s Rizzo’s fault for not getting more offense? (And why ignore Escobar, who’s third in the NL in BA?)

  17. tlsmith - Sep 28, 2015 at 2:58 PM

    The main problem is the feast or famine offense. Feasts on poor pitchers -pops out , grounds out ,strikes out against better ones.The average looks not so bad , like someone standing with one leg in a bucket of ice and the other in a fire.Either the batting coach is an idiot or Desmond and Wilson are rock heads. I suspect the latter, because I have heard Williams explain that a compact swing is what works against good pitchers.

    • tlsmith - Sep 28, 2015 at 3:13 PM

      When your season’s outcome is dependent on Casey Janssen’s batting practice level stuff you are in big trouble- not that he was the only problem in the bullpen. MW always expressed confidence in him ,and what else could he say . I can only hope he had his fingers crossed behind his back.All in all , things just didn’t work out. Almost enough to make you wonder what Matt Williams did to anger some voodoo queen.





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