Washington Nationals reliever Drew Storen had a lot to prove in 2015. Storen had once again struggled mightily in the playoffs in 2014 and many doubted if he was capable of closing games out in high-pressure situations. Nevertheless, Storen was to start the season as the team’s closer.
The expectation, of course, was that the Nationals were going to be one of the best teams in baseball last season. The team would cruise through the regular season and storm into the playoffs with a World Series title on their minds. Storen would have all year to mentally recover from another disastrous postseason, and he would have a golden opportunity to redeem himself once the Nationals returned to the playoffs in 2015.
Unfortunately, none of that happened. The National underperformed and failed to make the postseason for the second time in three years, and Storen had an inconsistent season that likely ended his career in the nation’s capital.
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Storen was one of the best closers in baseball early in the season. Prior to the All-Star break, he had a 1.89 ERA. He had accumulated 27 saves in 29 opportunities and appeared to have completely overcome his October struggles. Then the Nationals took the closer’s job away from Storen, and the rest of the season went down-hill for the right-hander.
After the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies, Storen was demoted to the eighth inning role and struggled mightily. The right-hander’s confidence was clearly crushed by the demotion and he posted a 5.82 ERA after the All-Star break. Storen struggled with his command and was no longer a reliable eighth inning option by the end of the season.
Of course, every aspect of the Papelbon trade backfired on the Nationals. Papelbon struggled in the closer’s role for Washington and was suspended for the last week of the season after choking Bryce Harper in a dugout skirmish. The trade also derailed Storen’s season, which came to a dissapointing close when he broke his hand after smashing it into a locker in September.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Storen — a former first-round pick whom the Nationals at one point expected to be their closer of the future. But the team clearly no longer trusts Storen with the closer’s job, and the strained relationship between the right-hander and the front office makes it unlikely that he will be back in a Nationals uniform next spring. The team will likely try to trade both Storen and Papelbon this winter, leaving two key vacancies in the back of the ‘pen.
Hopefully Storen gets a chance to close out games for a good team next season. But for the Nationals, the time has come to turn the page on the young right-hander and look to someone else for the eighth-inning role.