Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Game 5 Recap: Leaky bullpen and a Gutwrenching Ninth


Not the best outing for Storen. Photo Andrew Harnik/

What a gut-wrenching game.

It started out as great as you could hope; scoring 3 runs in the first inning and igniting the largest crowd in Nats history.  The offense finally strung together a series of big hits from the top of our order against the same pitcher (Adam Wainwright) who shut us down so easily in the first game of the series.  The Nats offense woke up again in the 3rd and bounced Wainwright (the same guy that pundits expected to completely shut the team down again).  You can’t blow a 6-0 lead, can you?  Here’s a stat; on the Season the Nats were exactly 45-6 when scoring 6 or more runs.  But they’ve also coughed up larger leads; they blew a 9 run lead in Atlanta in July in a game that looked eerily similar to last night’s game; get a big lead, your starter gives up a few innocuous runs, then the bullpen slowly leaks runs until its all over.

Gio Gonzalez wasn’t really that effective, all told.  His final line: 5ip, 5 hits, 4 walks and 3 runs (all earned).  In the first inning he honestly looked startled on the mound, scared to be there.  He scuffled through the first inning looking tentative and got bailed out by some slightly over-aggressive hitting from the top of St. Louis’ order.  He did pitch with better confidence the next couple of innings (who wouldn’t with a 3-0 first inning and 6-0 third inning lead?).   He was definitely commanding his curve ball far better than in game 1 and was keeping St. Louis at bay.  However a lead-off walk burned him in the 4th for the first run, and then a complete meltdown in the 5th from Gio turned into two more runs.   His 5th inning line is as ugly as it gets for a starter; Double-Single-Walk-run scoring wild pitch-walk-walk to force in a run before finally getting the 3rd out.

Here’s where the bullpen just failed to get the job done.  Edwin Jackson walks the lead-off guy and he scores, making it 6-4.  The Jordan Zimmermann experiment from game 4 couldn’t be replicated, costing the team a run.  I can’t second-guess the move though; it had worked so well the night before.  Tyler Clippard gives up a home-run to Daniel Descalso to make it 6-5.  And of course we know what happened to Drew Storen, who picked a really bad time to match his career worst outing, giving up 4 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks in the 9th.  And the big hits didn’t come from the middle of St. Louis’ order; it was Descalco and Pete Kozma of all people getting the clutch hits.

My dad pointed out an interesting question; Storen was sharp last night but not tonight; could it be because he threw three straight games?  Storen had appeared in 3 straight games twice before this season but didn’t pitch full innings each time.  In this series he threw an inning each in games 1, 3,4 and 5.  His pitch count by game?  10,11, 26, and last night’s 33 pitch debacle.  Dad’s specific complaint was about the use of Storen in the blow-out game 3.  Why waste an inning there when you pretty much well know you’re going to need your 8th and 9th inning stars both subsequent nights?   Is it possible that Storen was just a bit gassed from the cumulative effects of a 26 pitch outing the previous night AND having pitched three consecutive days?

Another pet peeve of mine; how do you let Descalso steal second base un-challenged in the 9th?  Yes there’s two outs, but that put him in scoring position to tack on an extra run on the subsequent single.  If you hold that guy on, maybe you throw him out and get the 3rd out right there before the Cards get the lead.  He certainly doesn’t score on a single to RF.  This isn’t a problem just with Storen; the Nats pitching staff is notoriously bad at holding runners.  In the end, that extra run didn’t really matter … but it could have mattered if Suzuki threw the guy out before the go-ahead single, right?

There’s not much else to say in the way of analysis; the Nats should have been able to hold onto a 6 run lead, and Storen just had a bad night.  The fact that it came in such an important game is a shame.  If we want to look at a critical issue with the pitching staff on the night, it is probably this; the Nats pitchers put the Cards lead-off guy on in SIX of the nine innings, and that runner scored 5 of those times.  They got the lead-off hitter on base every inning after the 3rd.  That’s just a failure to execute by your pitching staff.  Of course it’s also a testament to the hitting ability of this St. Louis team up and down the lineup.

There goes the season; I had tickets for Game 1 of the NLCS.  I guess we have to wait til next year.

13 Responses to 'Game 5 Recap: Leaky bullpen and a Gutwrenching Ninth'

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  1. For all the talk of the players, a pathetically managed game by Johnson, seemingly unaware that this was an elimimnation game.
    Could go on and on, but yet another time that a manager doesn’t differentiate between the regular season & the playoffs.
    Happens all the time, but Davey supposed to be the ‘smart one’. Not this month.

    Mark L

    13 Oct 12 at 1:57 pm

  2. Lots of criticism of his handling of the bullpen. Why did Storen need to be thrown in a blow-out game 3 loss? Was that enough to tire him out and make him lose his effectiveness in game 5? Why didn’t we see Ryan Mattheus? Where was Christain Garcia? Why put him on the roster if he’s not gonna throw.

    When Gonzalez loads the bases with none out in the 5th …. maybe you let him try to get out of it but you at least have someone warmingup right? Our bullpen? empty.

    Todd Boss

    13 Oct 12 at 2:37 pm

  3. Overall, I am very content with the season. They were a year ahead of where most thought they’d be.

    However, two observations of game 5. First, the team, especially the pitchers, seemed to play in order to not lose instead of playing to win. There were way too many opportunities squandered and the pitchers attempted to be too fine with their pitches. They spent too much time nibbling and not enough time attacking.

    Second, the pitchers never adapted to the way the umpire was calling the game. When the ump was calling the inside or outside corners, they never adjusted and were constantly pitching from behind in the count. The Cards seemed to have adapted earlier and with my first point, were able to chip away at the lead.


    13 Oct 12 at 7:42 pm

  4. It’s important to remember that the Nats had THE youngest lineup in all of baseball & THE 3rd youngest pitching staff of all 30 teams.
    This was supposed to be mitigated by having such a ‘smart’ and experienced manager.
    Dave Johnson was none of these.
    Some people can’t breathe under the pressure and it was his job to find out which players ccould do it. He was as much frozen in fear as any of his players.

    Mark L

    13 Oct 12 at 8:08 pm

  5. Agree; honestly I thought 2012 was shaping up to be an 86-87 win team, with perhaps 90 and a wild card run not out of the realm of possibility. Improving 17 games was just unreal. Its just a tough pill to swallow knowing you had your closer on the hill with a 2 run lead and you couldn’t get the win, no matter how badly outplayed the team was generally in the series (lucky to win game 1, blown out in 2 and 3, before games 4 and 5 were coin-toss games).

    Good points about the nibbling; I did not note it. I was over emphasizing the lack of execution, the walks (8 of them in the game for the nats versus just one for the Cards), and the meltdown in the 9th. The Natstrodomous blog posted the pitch chart from Storen’s 9th inning and he was consistently outside with the majority of his pitches.

    Todd Boss

    13 Oct 12 at 10:15 pm

  6. I may do a “lessons learned” post from this post-season. But three major ones for me were 1) keep your starters on normal rest. I think Gio was way over-amped and Zimmermann was ineffective, largely in part b/c they were both on massive amounts of rest. If memory serves it was like 9 days for Gio and 10 days for Zimmermann. 2) You named an 8-man bullpen; use it. Why was Mattheus not used in game 7? Gonzalez was an effective loogy all season; he got one inning in mop-up duty. and 3) don’t let a starter get in trouble. Gio probably should have gotten yanked in that 5th inning with the bases-loaded and nobody out; why let him throw a WP, walk another guy and let in 3 runs?

    Todd Boss

    13 Oct 12 at 10:20 pm

  7. That was pure agony. From the moment the Cards scored their first run to make it 6-1, didn’t it feel like you already knew how it would end, but you had to watch it happen in slow motion anyway? The offense finally shows up, and this time the pitching implodes. Just awful.

    I agree that Davey bears blame for leaving Gio in too long, and that he should have yanked him with the bases loaded and no outs in the 5th. In that regard, the 6-1 lead was probably a liability, because it was enough of a cushion that Davey believed he had the latitude to Gio battle through it like he often has before. That being the case, tough, he absolutely MUST have someone warming up in the bullpen. Davey’s second mistake was putting Jackson in the game for whatever reason. If the game went to extras, sure. But it was the 7th inning, so why not pitch Mattheus? I don’t get it.

    BUT… no one will ever convince me that the lion’s share of the blame for the utter implosion in Game 5 should go anywhere but on the pitching staff—specifically Gio, Clippard, Storen, and (to a lesser extent) Jackson. As for Stammen, he finally looked more like his regular season self. And Burnett only came into the game for one out because Espinosa blew a double play by getting eaten up by a groundball right at him. (I won’t even start on Espinosa’s offense. I know all about his potential, but the man was an automatic out every time he comes to the plate.)

    I started paying close attention to Suzuki’s mitt in the 5th inning, and the fact is that none of the four pitchers who gave up runs were putting the ball where Suzuki wanted it. The blame isn’t exactly equal, though:

    Jackson was just Jackson. He missed badly enough to get hit hard a couple of times and gave up a run, but he always does. As is usual for him, though, his strikeout pitches (in this case, sliders away) were picture-perfect. I do blame Davey more than Jackson here, because Jackson always gives up his runs early in games (1st or 2nd inning). In this case, coming out of the bullpen, the 7th inning was his 1st inning. How does Davey not see what might happen there?

    As for Clippard, he just reverted to being the Clippard from late summer who’d get crushed by one hitter and give up a run but manage to not to blow the save. He was lucky he had a two run lead.

    As for Gio, he was just awful. I lost count how many times Suzuki held his mitt low in the zone for groundball-inducing pitch, and instead he had to reach over his head to receive it. How many hitters did Gio start with a 1-0, 2-0, or even 3-0 counts? How many hours into a game can you get and still not feel comfortable? If this is who he is—a panicky wreck under pressure—how much use will he be as a hypothetical playoff starter in the future?

    I feel worst for Storen, but he essentially had the same problem as Gio: On key pitches, he badly missed where Kurt Suzuki wanted the pitch. After the unraveling of Gio and the mistakes of Jackson and Clippard, Storen was the firewall. He was the guy we wanted in there. There’s not much else to say.


    13 Oct 12 at 11:53 pm

  8. I didn’t really start to worry until Jackson let in the 4th run, honestly. At 6-3 I figured Gonzalez was out and the bullpen should be able to hold on. Plus, even when Storen gave up the first 2 runs to tie it, I though to myself, “well, the Nats could get two straight walk-offs…” Never did I imagine that he’d give up FOUR runs in a save situation. Just amazing.

    I couldn’t kill the Jackson move b/c the Zimmermann move worked so well the previous night. Gotta be fair. BUT, the bigger question is, why is Johnson using those two guys instead of Garcia, Mattheus and Gonzalez in the first place?

    The team may need to start thinking about moving on from Espinosa. He’s got 1400 plate appearances now and is still a .240 hitter. My only thought is, it took Desmond til his 4th season to really put it together too. Maybe Espinosa turns around and hits .290 next year and is suddenly an all star.

    I kept harping on pitchers not executing all series. It was, as you say, just a horrible showing altogether by nearly every pitcher on our staff.

    Todd Boss

    14 Oct 12 at 7:04 pm

  9. Wanna read the worst Strasburg column yet? According to the Washington Post’s own John Feinstein, the shutdown decision was made by Scott Boras, not Mike Rizzo. And Boras manipulated Rizzo into signing Edwin Jackson, which Feinstein asserts was the moment the Nats lost their season. I say the Nats lost it when the 1994 season was cancelled due to the strike, which kept the Expos from winning the World Series that year. But for that, they never would have left Montreal, and the Nats wouldn’t have just lost Game 5 to the Cards. The fact that Feinstein gets a paycheck for writing this stuff is actually demoralizing.


    15 Oct 12 at 10:27 am

  10. Feinstein can be an idiot. With Stras in the mix, Det likely never plays, yet he’s the only who came up with a quality start. And I’m not sure Stras had any more quality starts left anyway, given his shaky ending. I’m sure Boras was happy about Stras being shelved but unlikely he’s calling the shots.

    The Nats lost their momentum the last 2 weeks of the regular season, having the worst record of all playoff teams, plus being hammered by the Cards toward the end. Their year ending stumble continued during the playoffs, but they still barely lost in 5 games despite poor starting pitching and giving the NL’s top hitting team an amazing number of free passes.


    15 Oct 12 at 12:40 pm

  11. I saw that Feinstein had written a column on the topic and KNEW it wasn’t going to be good, so I purposely skipped it. No desire to read his opinion on baseball. Golf and basketball yes, anything else forget it.

    An argument that Boras is somehow involved with the management and decision making of Rizzo is laughable; Rizzo is completely head-strong in his opinions and I can’t possibly see him being “told” to do anything. And the Jackson deal was lauded industry wide for its value.

    Todd Boss

    15 Oct 12 at 2:12 pm

  12. I read a sabre-slanted blog that calculated that Strasburg, if he was pitching in the series, would only have contributed some small fraction of value more than what we got out of the starters we had anyway. I wish it was more well read, because it would be good “ammunition” against writers who use nothing but opinion to state that the Nats would have won the series with Strasburg.

    I agree with you here; the fact that the Nats were in a position to win that series, being up 2 runs in the 9th with their closer on the hill, despite how badly everyone else performed is nothing short of a miracle. I have no doubt the Cardinals will breeze through the Giants and I give them a great shot at winning the Series (in which they’ll have home field advantage). Just more proof (if they eventually win) that the baseball playoffs are just a complete crapshoot; if this were 2011, the Cards wouldn’t have even qualified for the playoffs. Now they’re in a fantastic position to win it all.

    Todd Boss

    16 Oct 12 at 6:29 pm

  13. Have you ever had salt rubbed in a wound before? Well, now you have:

    This may be sour grapes on my part, but I’m genuinely appalled at some of the taunting remarks—after the fact, none had the guts to speak up during the series—made by some veteran players who ought to know better. Just classless. I just became a temporary Giants fan.


    17 Oct 12 at 10:12 am

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