Shaky Closer? Dramatic Comebacks? Nationals Baseball!


Sep 3, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth (28) is greeted by center fielder Denard Span (2) in the dugout after scoring a run in the twelfth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Nationals won 8-5 in fourteen innings. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

There was some news this week. Some things happened. The Nationals sort of had this thing happen in the bullpen, something about Rafael Soriano no longer the closer so he can work on “mechanical things.” In all seriousness, what does that even mean? To me, it sounds like Matt Williams has no clue as to who should be the closer, which doesn’t make him all that much different than anybody else at this point. Take your favorite, insert into the ninth inning role, and hope Tyler Clippard doesn’t give up yet another game-tying home run. That happened this week. Along with other stuff too!

If you’re expecting me to be negative, all Mr. Dark Cloud, you can find another Nats weekly review because this isn’t the one for you. The Nats beat Cole Hamels yesterday, with Adam LaRoche going deep not once but twice against the Philadelphia lefty, and I couldn’t be happier to see it happen. Besides giving the team a much needed win against Philly and a respectable 3-3 record for the week, it provided the first opportunity to see Williams closer by committee strategy for the first time.

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That duty fell to Drew Storen, and considering he saved 43 games for the Nats in 2011, that didn’t really come as a shocker. To end the game Storen struck out Ryan Howard, sort of fitting since 2011 was the last productive season for Howard as a big leaguer. So, consider Sunday rewind the clock day at Nationals Park.

Any discussion of the Nats hitters has to begin with the week LaRoche had. Battling the flu and back pain, he came off of the bench in the series finale against the Dodgers and hit this game-tying home run. He then decided to drive in three more in that game, came back home and hit three more home runs, driving in five against Philadelphia. In the span of four games, he claimed the team lead in home runs from Ian Desmond and is just one back from Desmond in RBIs. His slash line is .333/.421/1.133 with four homers for the week, 10 RBIs, and five runs scored.

Denard Span collected his 1,000th hit of his career this week, and then he decided to add a few more. Oh, and against Los Angeles, Span hit two home runs in a game (the second time in his career he’s done that), is one stolen bases shy of reaching 30 for the season, and made this ridiculous catch against the Dodgers. He and Bryce Harper also played Keystone Cops for this not quite gem and lost a ball in the sun on Sunday, nearly getting beaned by a raining baseball, so he didn’t lack for entertainment. Overall, he hit .364/.462/.636, or, as it’s come to be known, a down week.

I made my case for Anthony Rendon as a possible MVP candidate, so I won’t go all crazy here. He put up a solid week, batting .292/.400/.375 with four runs scored and two stolen bases. Asdrubal Cabrera might have hit the second biggest home run of the week, his two-run home run in Wednesday’s game that allowed the Nats to not blow that game for the third time. Also, he hit .304/.385/.565. Harper hit the first home run by a lefty against Clayton Kershaw since Jay Bruce nearly one full year ago. Harper hit the ball exceptionally well this week, hitting laser beams across the diamond to a line of .304/.385/.565.

For the week, the team continued its fascination with the long ball, belting eight home runs while hitting .236/.312/.400.

Gio Gonzalez earned a win! He earned two wins! Having gone almost two full months since his last win (July 5th against the Cubs) Gonzalez tossed his third and fourth straight quality starts and earned victories against the other best team in the NL and a Philly team that was 11-5 in their last 16. For the week, the lefty tossed 12 innings with a 3.00 ERA. He allowed eight hits and two walks while striking out seven.

Taking Gonzalez’s spot in the starting staff for lengthiest time between wins is Doug Fister, who last won on August 12. (Tanner Roark is a close second, last winning August 15.) Fister had another rough outing, giving up 10 hits for the second straight game. In the wonderful land of cherry-picking arbitrary dates, over his last three starts Fister has given up 27 hits in 16 2/3 innings. Batters have a .365/.405/.595 line during that timeframe. At least he only gave up one home run in this last start.

Stephen Strasburg had his second straight great outing, going six against the Phillies while allowing one earned run on four hits. While wins don’t necessarily mean all that much for a pitcher, it was difficult to not see him win that Friday start. Of course, that was the game where Rafael Soriano had his complete meltdown, which prompted Williams to finally make the inevitable decision.

Anyway, before getting to the current bullpen situation, the starters went 2-2 with a 3.31 ERA this past week. They tossed 35 1/3 innings, allowing 32 hits and striking out 30.

I’ve written at length elsewhere about Soriano’s struggles, so I won’t bore you by rehashing my same old arguments. His blown save on Wednesday was a tough one, considering Jayson Werth dropped the last out. His outing on Friday was another matter, however, reminiscent of the egg he laid against Miami on July 28.

The Nats have built a comfortable lead, so these blown saves don’t necessarily hurt as much as they could, right now, but if Williams didn’t step in and do something this team was going to be extremely limited in how far they would go in the postseason. Clippard proved once again that he shouldn’t be the closer, allowing Carl Crawford to hit a game-tying home run in the 14 inning Dodger game, so the job essentially becomes Storen’s to lose.

I know quite a few people are hoping for Matt Thornton to close as well, but he’s the one reliable left-hander in the pen that Williams knows will get a left-hander out. I don’t think you can say the same thing about Jerry Blevins and Ross Detwiler at this point. Anybody added to the roster after August 31 is ineligible for the postseason roster, so the September call ups are out (too bad since Aaron Barrett has looked really sharp since returning), so I think Thornton’s best role remains as a lefty menace.

Other than that, for the week the bullpen tossed 24 2/3 innings with a 2.55 ERA, allowing 21 hits and seven walks while striking out 25.

The Nats currently have a seven game lead on the Braves, and with 21 games remaining now is the time to finish off Atlanta and prepare for the NLCS. And, as luck would have it, Atlanta visits DC for a three-game series beginning Monday. The Nats then travel to New York for four with the Mets.

Both Fister and Jordan Zimmermann pitch twice this week, and the Nats will need both to be in top form to handle the always dangerous Braves and a Mets team that has won six of their last nine, including a 14-5 pasting of the Reds on Friday.