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September 9, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

Six walks

Tonight’s disastrous game in which the Nats gave up a 7 to 1 lead in the seventh inning to lose 8 to 7 was their worst collective meltdown in a must-win game since Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, when they also blew a 6-run lead. At the center of it, as he was in Game 5, was Drew Storen, showing his all-too-familiar deer-in-the-headlights expression as he let a 4-run lead slip to 1-run on a Cespedes double, followed by a walk, a wild pitch, and then two more walks to score the tying run. Then Jonathan Papelbon, called on to pitch two innings with the score tied, surrendered an 8th-inning home run to pinch hitter Nieuwenhuis, giving the Mets their margin of victory.

Before I finish talking about the bullpen, though, I’d also like to point my finger at the other complicitous parties in this fiasco—Mike Rizzo and Matt Williams.

Rizzo shares the blame because it’s been obvious since before the season began that the bullpen would be a weakness—indeed, perhaps the team’s most critical weakness—yet he’s done very little to address that weakness. The loss of Rafael Soriano to free agency, of Tyler Clippard and Jerry Blevins to trades, and of Craig Stammen to injury left a bullpen that had only been mediocre in 2014 severely decimated. The attempt to patch it with Casey Janssen, Blake Treinen, Tanner Roark, and Felipe Rivero was less than successful. At the trade deadline, he failed to bring back Clippard, instead letting him go to the rival Mets, and his acquisition of Papelbon might have undermined the previously successful Storen. More ambitious possible acquisitions, such as Chapman or Kimbrel, were not pursued.

Regarding Williams, all I can say is that an overwhelming sense of dread came over me when, after Storen had given up his first walk, F.P. Santangelo noted that this inning was up to Storen. No one was warming up in the Nats bullpen. Why not?!! With September call-ups, the bullpen was filled with fresh arms. After that first walk, Storen was missing the zone wildly and wasn’t getting any of his pitches where he wanted them. In a critical one-run game, you can’t let him walk two men to load the bases—the second walk on five pitches, which included a wild pitch—and then ask him to face another batter. Bring in someone else—A.J. Cole or Doug Fister or Matt Grace or Rafael Martin or Sammy Solis—somebody who will throw strikes. Storen walked in the tying run on four stinking pitches, none of them close.

Although the Nats’ bullpen hasn’t been good in recent seasons, it’s always been a pen that could be counted on to throw strikes and not give up walks. In 2013 the Nats’ bullpen had the third-best walk rate in the NL, in 2014 the second best, and in the first half of 2015 they again had the second-best walk rate in the league. So it was disconcerting to see that in tonight’s disastrous 7th inning, the six runs scored on only three hits, but six walks! The first pitch to 10 of the 12 Mets batters was a ball, and six of them got ahead 2–0, while four got ahead 3–0. It’s just really hard to pitch well if you’re never ahead in the count. I don’t know exactly what went wrong, but Treinen, Rivero, and Storen seemed to all have a collective case of bad nerves that was making them miss their locations.

The Nats are now in a really deep hole, and if they are swept tomorrow, their post-season hopes will effectively be extinguished.

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