The Good with the Bad: PHIL Series Takeaways

The Good With the Bad is a segment in which contributor Luigi (Ouij) de Guzman (@ouij) and Alyssa Wolice break down the negatives and positives for each series, respectively. You, the reader, can then decide to see the glass half empty - or full - with each series wrap.

OUIJ'S TAKE

The Myth of the "Spot" Starter. The Phillies imprudently elected to start play during Saturday night's monsoon, forcing the Nats to burn Gio Gonzalez and provoking one of the more interesting managerial tests of the year. With Strasburg scheduled to start Game One, Matt Williams had to consider who was going to start the second game of the doubleheader. Major League rules allowed the Nats to bring up a twenty-sixth man for the roster, and most reasonable minds thought it would be Taylor Jordan (scratched from his scheduled start for Syracuse) to start Game Two.

But as Stephen Strasburg pitched deeper and deeper in to Game One, Matt Williams called the bullpen and brought Tanner Roark into the dugout. Roark would start Game Two, and infielder Wilmer Difo was called up as the twenty-sixth man instead. During his remarks between games, Matty declared Roark to be fully stretched out. The two-inning relief appearance he made just five days before was equivalent to an unusually vigorous side session, Matty reasoned, and so Roark should have been ready to go at least five innings. That didn't happen. Roark managed three scoreless innings before collapsing in the fourth, giving up four runs on six hits.

You might be wondering--well, what's the problem? Roark pitched five days before and had only thrown twenty three pitches in that outing. He was on his regular rest. Maybe it just wasn't his day. Maybe. But it also totally ignored the fact that during the intervening five days, Roark was a bullpen pitcher and was thus theoretically on-call every night. He was on-call as late as the fourth inning of Game One of the doubleheader. This is very different from the tightly-controlled routine of recovery and warmup that a starting pitcher undergoes from start to start. It's one thing to ask a reliever to be ready for twenty or thirty pitches at a moment's notice. It's quite another to expect him to go out there and throw eighty-three pitches at what amounts to no notice.

After the rain had washed Gio's start away, Matt Williams knew he could count on only one "normal" game in the doubleheader--probably Game One. The second game was a puzzle: nine innings that had to be filled with pitchers that are, for all intents and purposes, on innings restrictions. Instead of recognizing this reality and throwing a series of limited-inning relievers in the second game, Matt Williams declared a "starter"--Roark--and expected that starter to perform as if nothing had changed. But Roark's preparation all through the week had changed. He had been a reliever, and, ultimately, he turned what would have been a great three-inning relief performance. Matty demanded a start, and left Roark in an inning too long, paying the price.

The tactical blunder is all the more glaring when you consider that the twenty-sixth man, Difo, only appeared as a pinch hitter. Matt Williams had the chance to get nine innings out of an extended pitching staff in three-inning chunks (Taylor would have given him some slack capacity in this regard). Instead, he squandered an important roster spot on Difo, who couldn't even give Desmond one game off.

If it's anything about Matty that should drive Nats fans crazy, it's his overly categorical mind. You are a starter (To be left in the game long enough to get a pitcher win in all but the most miserable rout) or a reliever (never to enter a game outside your designated role). The double header exposed yet another fault in Matty's rigid dogmatism--a fault that will surely come back to haunt the Nats in a more crucial situation than the nightcap of a doubleheader against the miserable Phillies.

ALYSSA'S TAKE

A Scherzer perfecto seems increasingly likely. For his third straight start, Max Scherzer flirted with a perfect game. After retiring the first sixteen Phillies he faced Friday night, Scherzer allowed a double by Freddy Galvis to break up the no-no. He went on to give up two runs over five hits in eight innings pitched, further quieting any thoughts of a post-no-hitter decline.

Strasburg looks more like himself. Finally, time on the disabled list appears to have paid Strasburg dividends. Since his return, the Nationals starter is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA. In Game 1 of the Phillies doubleheader, he allowed just two runs over four hits and one walk through seven innings, while fanning nine. The outing also marked the first in which Strasburg made it beyond the seventh inning since mid-April.

The Nats are going streaking. There are highs and there are lows to every season, but more often than not, a team's ability to turn up on the winning side of the 162-game stretch is determined in large part by their ability to string together win streaks. Nats fans saw the team’s win potential in late April when Washington posted a total 26 runs against the Atlanta Braves over two games. The month of May indicated a turning point for the Nats, who celebrated both a five- and six-game winning streak in the month. While neither the Phillies nor the Braves boast powerhouse lineups, a mid-season win streak is all the more valuable when it is recorded against division rivals. The Nats celebrated just that, having recorded eight straight wins before dropping Game 2 of the doubleheader Sunday.

den Dekker made the most of his first Nationals start. At last, injuries handed den Dekker his first opportunity to start in the outfield with the Nats Friday night, and he made the most of it. With Washington up 3-0, den Dekker fired a two-run shot off Philadelphia starter Aaron Harang (4-10), awarding Scherzer and Storen some later-innings insurance.

Storen isn’t making headlines. For years, Nationals fans have heard tales of woe relating to the Washington closer role. But, while Nationals starters have become the talk of town, Drew Storen has quietly celebrated consistency, ranking in the NL’s top-10 list for walks per nine innings while holding a 2.10 ERA. With 23 saves and only two blown opportunities, Storen is tied for second-place on the NL saves list with the Cardinals’ Trevor Rosenthal. The two trail only Pittsburgh’s Mark Melancon, who holds 24 saves on the season thus far.


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