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Nationals' closer Jonathan Papelbon’s fail rate has reached critical levels

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Jonathan Papelbon cost the Nationals two games this week. How much failure can a first place team like the Washington Nationals tolerate?

MLB: Washington Nationals at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

When Jonathan Papelbon headed out to the mound to face the Padres on July 24, things were on the up and up. He was sporting a nifty 2.56 ERA and was coming off of seven straight scoreless outings. Unfortunately, he had a really bad outing that day and cost his team a game.

Two days later, he had another bad outing and lost his team another game.

When Jonathan Papelbon walked off the mound after facing the Indians on Tuesday, July 26, his future suddenly seemed bleak.

His ERA was suddenly all the way up at 4.18. His team's fanbase, a group that had never really warmed to him in the first place, was calling for his job.

"How does he look? Well, right now he doesn't look like Pap. He doesn't look very good. And usually he doesn't walk people like that..." -Dusty Baker on Jonathan Papelbon's third blown save

This is a guy whose job is to come out and get his team a win when the game is on the line.

In his first 32 outings this year he had cost his team only three games including the one where he came in with the bases loaded in a tie game and slipped up.

From May 3 through July 23, Papelbon had a 19-game streak where he did not disappoint his fans once. Now he has suddenly cost his team five games in 34 tries and that is far more than fans are willing tolerate in a closer.

The Cubs this week traded for Aroldis Chapman who took the closer's job in Chicago from another pitcher who has let his team down five times this year, young Hector Rondon.

Rondon has a shiny 1.95 ERA through 37 innings but gave up a crucial run in five Cubs losses and ultimately has cost his team as much as Papelbon has cost the Nationals.

In 2016, Jonathan Papelbon has only successfully completed his mission 85 percent of the time. There are closers who have done worse this year but they don't play for first place teams.

When expectations for a team are high, the expectations and pressure placed on the closer can be brutal.

While Papelbon has shown he is able to handle being rejected by the fanbase, at the end of the day, the team is interested in winning games and the decision may come down management believing that another pitcher can do better than 85 percent.

It doesn't matter that at 35 years of age Papelbon is not in the prime of his career anymore. It does not matter that he does not have the velocity on his fastball that he used to have or that he is in a serious funk when it comes to control this year.

"We've had a couple of stumbles, Pap hasn't performed like he has, like his track record dictates..." -Mike Rizzo on Jonathan Papelbon on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.

All that matters is can he secure the win as reliably, or more reliably, than any other pitcher on the team.

Right now the answer is clear.

What happens next is on management. This is a bullpen that is one of the best in the majors this year. If this team can't find a way to upgrade the 9th from within when the closer is really struggling then the team might just have a human resources problem.

A demotion for Papelbon does not have to be permanent. A promotion for Shawn Kelley, Matt Belisle or one of the other pitchers in the organization does not have to be permanent.

What matters is that getting that curly-W when the game is over now, a month from now, and when the postseason starts.

It is entirely possible that come October Jonathan Papelbon will once again come to the mound in the 9th with the game on the line with seven scoreless appearances behind him.

Right now, however, he is coming off of two terrible showings and it is getting increasingly difficult for a management dedicated to getting curly-Ws to explain why Papelbon is the best choice when the game is on the line.