When the epitaph is written on the Washington Nationals 2015 season, the month of August will feature prominently. The Nats went 12-17 last month, including an atrocious 1-10 against teams above .500. The Nats 12-17 finish in August marked their worst month since July 2013, when they went 11-16 and dropped from 6 games back to 11 games back of the eventual division champion Braves.
While the Nats were floundering against good competition, the first place New York Mets faced just two teams that were above .500, going 2-3 against the Nats and Pirates. The Mets did what they've done throughout the entire season, though, pummeling those bad teams on their schedule (7-0 against the Rockies... 3-0 against the Marlins... 5-0 against the Phillies) on their way to a 20-8 record in August. It was New York's best month since June 1990, when they went 21-7. This was just the second time in twenty five years since that the Mets have won twenty games in a month (August 2000, 20-9).
All told, the NL East race swung 8.5 games during August. The Nats led the division by 2 games over the Mets after their series opener on July 31, but now trail the Mets by 6.5 games as the calendar turns to September. The Nats now find themselves hoping to pull the same magical comeback that they did in May this season, when they went 18-9 on their way to gaining 6.5 games.
On the positive side, once they get out of their house of horrors in St. Louis (lost eight in a row at Busch Stadium, 2-11 there since 2011), the Nats will face just one club with a winning record the rest of the way: The New York Mets (six times). Unfortunately, the Mets play just three series against teams with a winning record themselves (the Nats twice and the Yankees). The way that New York has punished bad teams so far this season, that doesn't figure to give the Nats a lot of opportunity to gain ground.
I'm not going to write too much about last night's game. If you want to see Matt Williams hammered a bit for his bullpen management, you can go here.... or here.... or here. Harper Gordek's point at the end of the final link does a better job of breaking down the bottom of the seventh inning than either of the national writers:
Matt Williams, despite being skewered and roasted today really didn't do anything WRONG. Janssen was getting the types of hits he wanted. You could argue he didn't give up a hard hit ball all night. But even though it wasn't OMG WHAT ARE YOU DOING WRONG to leave Janssen in, it wasn't the best option either. Storen was. This team needs the best option out there and Williams isn't giving them that. (Which in turns makes Williams himself not the best option either)
Williams is plagued not only by some sort of unearthly ability to pick the wrong arm and the wrong time, but by his own lack of urgency. Perhaps it's an overconfidence in the team, god knows Rizzo feeds that beat. Perhaps it's just his nature. But at this juncture every game is urgent. You can't worry about who's going to hold the lead in the 8th, you have to have all hands on deck to hold it in the 7th. You can't worry about who's going to be available for the next game, you have to burn through all your arms this one if need be. Stop playing as if it's May.
Casey Janssen wasn't exactly getting hammered in the seventh inning. He allowed a grounder through the 5.5 hole to start the inning. Brandon Moss hit a broken bat grounder to second base and Janssen was late covering first base after that. After inducing a double play, Janssen (and perhaps Williams) made the biggest mistake of the inning, pitching around Matt Carpenter to put the tying run on base for free. If Janssen (or Williams) wasn't confident enough to attack the Cardinals left-handed leadoff man, who has a 141 wRC+ against RHP and a 102 wRC+ against LHP, he probably shouldn't have been facing him. Flamethrowing lefty Felipe Rivero was ready in the bullpen.
From there, it's hard to fault Janssen too much for the singles by Stephen Piscotty and Jhonny Peralta. He got ahead of both hitters and eventually got each of them to hit his pitch. Here's the pitch that Piscotty roped into left field to cut the lead to 5-4:
That's an ankle high 75 MPH curveball that Piscotty hung with and poked into left field. With Jayson Werth playing in no doubles defense, he had no shot at the ball. It seems unlikely that he would have gotten to it playing at regular depth as well, but we'll never know. It was a good piece of hitting, and it wasn't exactly one of those "Cardinals Hits (TM)" that we talk about all the time. However, it certainly wasn't a bad pitch that was begging to be hit a long way.
Janssen again got ahead of Jhonny Peralta, who worked the count back to 2-2 before roping a slider into the gap in right center field. Here's the pitch:
Again, not a terrible pitch. It was a slider on the outside edge a touch below the strike zone. Peralta went with the pitch, found an open patch of grass, and knotted the game at 5-5. That mercifully ended Janssen's night against the
BABIP Gods Cardinals.
You know how the rest went. Williams went out and got Janssen, bringing Rivero in to face Jason Heyward (who hasn't had quite the wide platoon split that Carpenter has). Heyward hammered a 2-1 fastball over Jayson Werth's head in left field, scoring two runs. After an intentional walk to Yadier Molina, Kolten Wong looped a single into right field to provide the final scoring as the Nats fell 8-5.
Prior to Piscotty's liner, Janssen hadn't really allowed any hard contact. He'd allowed three baserunners, which could (should?) have certainly inspired Williams to have Drew Storen ready to come on and (gasp) get an out in the seventh inning with the tying run on base. Mike Rizzo went out and got Jonathan Papelbon to set his team up with two shutdown relievers for the stretch run, but that was kind of pointless if Williams isn't going to use either of those relievers in the highest leverage spots. Trailing by 6 (now 6.5) games in the standings with a month to go, if now isn't a time for urgency, will there ever be one?