Last night's 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals was an odd game. The Nats and Cardinals combined to put 32 runners on base in ten innings. Just three of those runners ended up scoring. Gio Gonzalez battled through six grueling innings, allowing twelve baserunners and somehow leaving with a 1-0 lead. Alas, we wouldn't be treated to a drama free night from the bullpen.
That's OK. The fans still went home happy when Yunel Escobar provided us with the Nats first walkoff win of the year in the tenth.......
For some more details about everything that happened in last night's win, please check out Patrick's postgame recap of last night's game or Doghouse's WPA Post. Rather than focusing on the whole game, I'll just focus on a couple of the decisions, key at bats, and talk about Drew Storen a bit.
Matty and the bullpen
I've spent quite a bit of time discussing roles already this season, though I've yet to go on a closer rant. If you're waiting for my first closer rant of the year, it's probably not going to happen tonight. Williams' decision to stick with Gio for the sixth inning was probably the most suspect move he made. Gio was at 97 pitches and was clearly scuffling a bit after loading the bases with two down in the fifth. He'd been pulling quite the Houdini act all night, stranding one in the first, two in the second, one in the third, two in the fourth, and three in the fifth.
Had he allowed any runs to that point? No.... But there's some old saying that if you keep playing with fire, eventually you're going to get burned. Gio's spot led off the fifth inning, and it certainly seemed like an ideal time to pull a pitcher with a high pitch count who looked like he was on the ropes for most of the night. Even though Williams did decide to stick with Gio, I'm a bit shocked that he stuck with him after the first two batters reached in the top of the sixth inning. Williams got away with it, which unfortunately means that Williams will probably do the same thing the next time he's faced with that decision.
It was good to see Tanner Roark see his first action in eight days (Hey Matt! Let's not do that again!) with a shutdown in the seventh inning. Thornton was absolutely the right call for the eighth with Jay (L), Molina (R), Wong (L), and Adams (L) due up. I do think that a manager who wasn't as dead-set on roles as Williams has appeared to be might have considered leaving Thornton (only 11 pitches in the 8th) in to face Matt Carpenter (splits are .025/.042/.013 better against RHP) and Heyward (.054/.065/.089 better vs. RHP) to start the ninth, but I'm not going to crucify him for going to Storen.
I don't want to feed the narrative. Storen has had a few rough patches over the years, and he often gets thrown under the bus for his blown saves in the 2012 and 2014 NLDS. His struggles in some of those high pressure situations have led to some... hmmm... observances from some members of the fanbase that he can't handle the pressure of pitching in the ninth inning. Being a ("Capital C") closer can be kind of a thankless job. People tend to remember the times when you fail, but they're far less enthusiastic about the times when you succeed.... after all, that's what closers are supposed to do, right?
Still... Let's not sugarcoat it. Storen had a rough outing. Ironically, the two hits that he allowed weren't the rough part. He worked ahead of Matt Carpenter and left a slider a bit too far over the plate that Carpenter roped the other way into left field for a single. Storen was ahead of Matt Holliday, but Holliday worked his way back in the count and deposited a 2-2 changeup through the 5.5 hole that was a clean single to tie the game. There was a problem in there somewhere, though.
After allowing the leadoff man to reach on a clean single with a one run lead, Storen threw a wild pitch with an 0-1 count to Jason Heyward, advancing Carpenter to second. Two pitches later, Storen struck Heyward out swinging on another pitch in the dirt that Wilson Ramos couldn't get to, advancing Carpenter to third with one out. Ramos made a fantastic play to chase the ball down, gun Heyward down at first, and keep the go-ahead run from reaching. He didn't really have a chance at either of Storen's wild pitches (only technically charged with one). While Storen struck out the next batter behind the leadoff single, he created a situation for himself where there was a runner on third with just one out for a really strong contact hitter.
Of course, there was another scary moment with Storen on the mound right after Holliday's single. On his first pitch after blowing the save, Storen and Ramos got crossed up. Storen threw a slider off the outside corner, but Ramos seemed to be expecting a fastball up and in. It's hard to say whether this was a miscommunication or Storen reading the signs wrong, but it's something that's best avoided with the go-ahead run standing on first base in the ninth inning. He recovered to strike out Jhonny Peralta and get out of the jam.
Does any of this mean that Storen can't handle the pressure of pitching in the ninth inning? Absolutely not. It means that he's a good pitcher who had a bad day. Even the great Mariano Rivera blew 46 saves in his career... 51 if you count the postseason. Drew needs to put Tuesday's game behind him and forget about it the next time he's called upon. That's all.
I called Ian Desmond a slightly below average shortstop the other day whose overall defensive value is a bit propped up because of positional value. I stand by those words, but boy was he fantastic on Tuesday night. He made a terrific play charging a ball hit towards his right just past the infield grass on Jhonny Peralta. He displayed quite a gun on a couple of double plays he turned. Oh yeah... He did this, too!
Wilson Ramos made some outstanding plays to help his pitchers out as well. He pounced on a Lance Lynn bunt with two on and nobody out in the sixth inning to gun down the lead runner at third base. He made an outstanding play to snag Storen's strikeout/wild pitch by the Nats' on deck circle and get Jason Heyward by a step at first base. He also threw out Matt Holliday to complete a strike 'em out/throw 'em out double play to end the ninth inning.
Oh.... and Jon Jay made some spectacular plays for the Cardinals as well, robbing Jayson Werth of a game-winning hit to end the ninth inning and stealing a hit from Ryan Zimmerman right before Yunel Escobar's walkoff blast.
Desmond's at bat in the ninth
I praised him for his defense, and I will note that Desi extended his hitting streak with a double off the wall in the third inning. However, his plate appearance in the ninth was pretty terrible. He did that thing that Desi does sometimes (most of the time?)... He went up and hunted the fastball on every pitch. It didn't matter if the pitch wasn't a fastball. He was coming out of his shoes swinging at it regardless.
Desmond came to the plate with one out in the ninth inning and the bases loaded. The winning run was ninety feet away and the Cardinals infield was drawn in. Danny Espinosa was the runner on third, so he should have been going up there trying to make solid contact without hitting it right at a defender on the infield. Instead, he loaded up and tried to hit fastballs onto Half St. Jordan Walden didn't accommodate, throwing him a couple of sliders off the plate and putting Desi in an 0-2 hole. After a couple of show-me fastballs that were also off the plate, Walden came back with the slider and Desi took his seat in the dugout.
I'm not going to harp on the failure to hit well with runners in scoring position, but sometimes you have to focus on situational hitting. Desmond did a pretty poor job of it in this at bat.
The stupid Cardinals broadcast on Bryce Harper
As you may have seen me mention once or twice, I live in St. Louis. This means that there are a few times every year where if I want to watch the Nats game, I have no choice but to tune into the Cardinals broadcast... blackout restrictions apply. Seeing as how the Nats have a little recent history with the Cardinals, I'm sure that at least a handful of you follow that twitter account that I posted in yesterday's article. Those of you who do have seen your fair share of Cardinals fans acting like the baseball police (particularly the unwritten rules police). Yeah... It extends to their broadcast team as well.
Bryce Harper came to the plate in the eighth inning of Tuesday's game with the Nats leading 1-0 and Jayson Werth on first base with nobody out. Mike Matheny predictably went to LOOGY Randy Choate for this at bat. Like many LOOGYs, Choate has kind of an awkward, unorthodox delivery that is extremely deceptive to left-handed hitters. Harper took Choate's first pitch fastball for a strike, and clearly had little interest in it. He looked like he was getting ready to lean over the plate because he was expecting Choate to work him away with his off-speed stuff. At this point, Tim McCarver went on about a 45 second rant about Harper....
You see the way he took that pitch? That's why Bryce Harper is one of the more disliked players in the game by the players. If we could show that first pitch. The way he took the ball, now you're up 1-0 in the bottom of the eighth. Talk about showing a pitcher up. If you're playing against him, that makes you mad. You don't like that, and I don't blame players who say they don't like it.... and there are a lot of them. You know, I think if you tell a young guy like that, still 22 and all that... give him the benefit of the doubt. Say 'Look. Don't do that. And if you do do that, you're going to pay the consequences. These are grown men that make a living playing this, make a lot of money doing this. When there's money on the line, you do something like that when you're ahead, you might get hurt.' It's just the way that you went about it. It's a sassy way. It's sassy. Who thinks it's cute? Cause it's not.
I saw nothing wrong with the way that Bryce Harper took a 0-0 fastball. Randy Choate didn't seem to have any type of reaction. Yadier Molina didn't seem to have any type of reaction. He was facing a LOOGY who makes his living throwing predominantly breaking balls off the plate away to left-handed hitters. A left-handed hitters best chance against those pitches is going to involve them diving over the plate. Harper started to lean, moving his front foot forward in the batter's box and then standing up straight when Choate surprised him with a fastball on the inner half.
I'm going to stop here. My feelings on an announcer who famously erred when saying how many letters are in the word "strike" in a postseason broadcast a few years ago berating Bryce Harper for... well... nothing aren't going to be something that I'm going to be able to say in a family friendly way. Since he's going to call that showing up a pitcher, I sure hope Mr. McCarver went down to the Cardinals clubhouse and said something to Matt Adams about skipping around first base when he hit a home run off of Clayton Kershaw last season.