Phillies defeat Nation 7-6 on September 19, 2010 at Citizens Bank Park
What Went Wrong
Drew Storen blew a three run save in monumental fashion.
Did it Matter
Maybe more than we even know. The Nationals looked like they had this game well in hand and even I was feeling confident at times, but with the Phillies offense any score is handicapped by four and when the Nationals entered the ninth leading by three runs it was only destiny that they give the Phillies the four runs they rightly deserved. Rumors have been circulating all winter that the Nationals want to add a veteran to the bullpen in case Storen isn't up to the job. If he had nailed down this game maybe the questions wouldn't be there, and it has been made worse by the Nationals signing of Jayson Werth as his walk-off homer was the finishing touch and on all his player highlight reels.
Aside from a Maya missed bunt in the early innings there were really no chances for the Nationals to tack on any more runs. They made the most of the opportunities that were presented. Maya was unable to finish the 5th inning, but the Nationals still got the game into the 9th with a lead and handed the ball to the closer. Four batters later the game was over and the Phillies had won. The Phillies offense is a quick strike offense than can tear the heart out of a team, and the only thing fans can do is watch in dismay as their team's chances of winning are torn asunder before their very eyes.
Jayson Werth won't be with the Phillies in 2011, and Drew Storen will have additional experience, and if Storen can't handle the closers job then there is Burnett, Clippard, Rodriguez, and Balester. Blown saves are going to happen though. The Nationals had a 99% chance to win the game entering the 9th inning. In a 162 game season that means a league average team will lose 1.62 times with those odds. The Nationals were not and most likely are not a league average team, and the Phillies are an above league average team.
Mets defeat Nationals 2-1 on October 1, 2010 at Citi Field
What Went Wrong
Tyler Clippard gave up a walk-off homer to Josh Thole in the bottom of the 10th.
Did it Matter
Clippard was the set-up man for most of the year, but as his streakiness became more apparent he lost his job to Drew Storen and Sean Burnett as they became the closer and set-up man depending on what day of the week it was. Clippard's breakout game came against the Mets early in the season when he pitch 3 shutout innings with 7 strikeouts, but Tyler Clippard had trouble in games when he couldn't locate his change-up and batters could sit on the fastball up in the zone. Clippard was either very good or very bad. There wasn't much middle ground, and this was one of the bad days.
This was a relatively clean game by the Nationals. Not very many runners even reached base to be left on base, and Jordan Zimmermann pitched a good game. The biggest problem was that this was a late September game with Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham shutdown for the season. I remember at the time I was looking forward to having free time when I wouldn't be watching baseball games every night of the week, and now I am wondering why I wanted all this free time. The more time I spend with myself the more I realize I am just not that interesting.
It was fun to see Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa during September, but that could be nothing compared to what we might see in September of 2011. I am not going to make any predications right now on who it will be as we have very little data to go on and September call-ups are going to hinge heavily on 2011 minor league stats, but most likely it won't be the Larry Broadways and Bernie Castros of the world anymore for the Nationals. With Ian Desmond in 2009 and Ramos and Espinosa in 2010 the age of real prospects is upon us. While Ryan Zimmerman did have a very good year last season there were health issues at the beginning and the end of the year. If he can stay healthy all season then he could be in for a very big year.
When I first set out to chronicle every one run loss the Nationals suffered in 2010 I had certain preconceived notions. I remembered a few of the games off the top of my head, and others I had forgotten entirely. I thought I would be spending a lot of time writing about Ian Desmond, but I didn't. His errors either didn't cost the Nationals as much or cost them more, but in the closest of close games he was steady. Instead it was the second base due that I spent most of my time lambasting for sloppy play in the field, and that is one thing that is certain to get better in 2011. The other notion I had was that Adam Dunn would make a few appearances, and he did. It is in the close games where the little things matter that much more, and bad defense and untimely strikeouts are going to heart, and Dunn had a number of those, but the counter to that is many of the games were one run games because of Dunn's offense.
The Nationals should be a team that is better at the little things in 2011, but the little things are called little things for a reason, but if the Nationals can improve to just a .500 record in one run games that would be improvement in the right direction. Would anyone last season have predicted that Scott Rolen and Aubrey Huff would help two teams to win their divisions? Offense in many ways is unpredictable. It can come from unlikely sources, but things like base running, defense, and baseball IQ are much more steady and reliable skills. With Werth, LaRoche, Ankiel, and Stairs the Nationals are better in a few areas. Both Werth and LaRoche can hit to all parts of the field and play better defense than the people they are replacing. Werth's presence in right field also allows the platoon of Bernadina and Morse to shift to left field where their defense is either a plus or not as much of an issue.
Another aspect of these games was that the Nationals had more sloppy play and bad luck in the early and middle part of the season than at the end. Simply put the team got better as the year went along even if it didn't show up in the overall record. There were more games early on when the Nationals beat themselves than at the end of the season where they were simply beaten. Not every game is going to go the way the Nationals want it to, but what can be controlled should be controlled, and the team beating itself is unacceptable. It looks like that got better as the season went along. Either Jim Riggleman was able to get through to the players or the players that were an issue were no longer Nats by the end of the season. My initial opinion is that the Nationals will perform better in close games in 2011. The unfortunate thing is they don't have starting pitchers that will keep many games close. Of course they didn't have that in 2010 and they played in 48 one run games, and it would take quite an effort for the starting rotation to be any worse in 2011.
The best thing about sports is that all predictions, proclamations, and pronouncements will be proven true or false with time, but I would not be the least bit surprised if the Nationals end up with a slightly better record in 2011 due to how they play in the close games.