The Good with the Bad: NYM Series Takeaways

The Good With the Bad is a segment in which Citizens of Natstown 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.

Faced with an opportunity to pad their lead in the NL East, the Washington Nationals instead dropped all three games against the New York Mets. The two rivals now share the top spot in the East. They will face each other two more times—in Washington this September, and in New York for the last three games of the regular season.

OUIJ'S TAKE

Fortunae Rota Volvitur. Coming out of the All-Star Break, the Nationals and the Mets had the ability to set their pitching rotations any way they wanted. The Mets opted to arrange matters such that their top three pitchers (Harvey, de Grom, and Syndergaard) would each face the Nats twice. The Nats had the chance to set the rotation so that Max Scherzer would face the Mets twice. They declined to do so, letting the rotation turn as normal, leaving Gio, Joe Ross, and Jordan Zimmermann to face the Mets. The Nats won two out of three games in the first meeting between the two teams. This weekend, the Nats were swept, scoring a miserable 5 runs all weekend. At the time, it was fashionable to mock the Mets for taking their head-to-head series with the Nats too seriously. But it might just be that they decided that these games were important enough to merit even the marginal advantage represented by re-setting their rotation.

Tanned. Rested. Ready. Let's lead into this next segment with a tweet from the inimitable Dan Steinberg of the DC Sports Bog.

The Nats are in an enviable position in baseball, as they boast two Proven Closers™: Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon. Now, advocates of baseball played the right way insist that closers are only brought on in Save Situations: late innings, where the team leads by 3 or fewer runs. To bring in a closer in any other situation is to demean the status of the office.

Accordingly, neither Storen nor Papelbon appeared in this Mets series. Not that there weren't times when their appearance might have been welcome. Friday Night saw the Nats take the Mets into the bottom of the 12th. Promising lefty Felipe Rivero had pitched the 11th and came out to face the right-handed Queens Folk Hero Wilmer Flores in the bottom of the 12th. Flores hit a walk-off bomb. Storen? Nowhere to be seen. No lead, see. Nats could have turned the lineup over to a pinch hitter, then Rendon, then Escobar. But the game was over before they had a chance. Storen stayed fresh.

In the bottom of the seventh on Saturday, Matt Williams opted to send out Joe Ross, whose pitches the organization has been trying to limit, to face Lucas Duda. Ross had been out on the base paths—he admitted after the game he was a little tired from running the bases, but insisted he was "fine"—and Matty had his choice of left handed "seventh-inning guys" available (Thornton or Rivero). Maybe "seventh-inning guy" isn't yet a defined role since Papelbon's arrival? In any case, Ross's stellar outing was spoiled by a solo home run hit by Duda.

Thornton would enter the game in the 8th to face lefty Granderson (double), lefty Murphy (groundout) and then be induced to intentionally walk Cespedes bringing up Duda...who hit an RBI double for what ended up being the game-winning run. If only there were an 8th inning reliever with proven success against both lefties and righties! one that looked an awful lot like...oh, yeah, Drew Storen. But that was a tie game on the road. Such situations are beneath the dignity of the Proven Closer™.

Why dwell on these moments when the Nats got crushed on Sunday? This series represented a three-game swing in the standings, but the sequence of wins and losses mattered. The Nats really should have won one out of the first two games in order to preserve their divisional league. Somewhat more aggressive bullpen management (such as using Proven Closers™ in— horrors!— non-save situations) might have put the Nats in a position to win one or even both of those games, and so not have to worry about being embarrassed on national television as they were on Sunday night.

Instead, Matty was rigidly orthodox once again. Neither of the Proven Closers™ threw a pitch in anger in an important series against the only team in the division currently chasing the Nats.

Instead of keeping the Nats in games, Storen and Papelbon had lots of time to get better-acquainted in the bullpen. After Papelbon's rather forward attempts at conversation earlier in the week (which briefly turned baseball writers into accidental bullpen slashfic authors), who knows what they got up to down there? Or maybe Storen had plenty of time to call his agent on the bullpen phone that sure as hell wasn't ringing for him or Pap.

Papelbon might as well be the Maytag Repairman. As for Storen, well, I'm tempted to say he hasn't been this rested since the morning of Wednesday, October 8, 2014.

The Offense Was Bad and Should Feel Bad. "Hey!" you say. "This is all marginal nonsense. You can't win games by scoring only 5 runs over three days!" To which I say: you are correct! The Nats got shelled on Sunday Night Baseball. You can't blame that on Matty or the relievers or anybody but the batters, who couldn't solve a very good pitcher. A one-run baseball game is a roll of the dice. But all of these marginal shifts— better relievers keeping the team in tied games or keeping close games close— load the dice ever so slightly in your team's favor. These are the kind of marginal differences that might push a game or two your way every so often.

ALYSSA'S TAKE

The West could be won. Fortunately, the Nats padded their lead atop the NL East just enough to remain tied with the New York Mets even after the sweep. The good news is, with the exception of back-to-back series at the L.A. Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, the Nats have a manageable schedule this August. All 16 of the Nats’ home games equate to opportunities to regain ground over the Mets. This week, Washington welcomes the 50-53 Arizona Diamondbacks and 44-59 Colorado Rockies, before hitting the road Aug. 10-20. Even more, the Nats finish up the month against the Milwaukee Brewers (44-62), San Diego Padres (51-54) and Miami Marlins (43-62). Sure, Nationals fans can’t preemptively scratch in a big Curly-W for the remainder of the month, but it’s too soon to cry “season over.”

Werth, Zimmerman and Rendon could breathe life back into the Nats' offense. No one on the Nats roster can walk away from the weekend happy with Washington’s offensive output. But, there is something to be said of those newly returned to the team, and their readiness for battle. Jayson Werth demonstrated a much-needed ability to remain patient—and persistent—at the plate, namely in his matchup against former teammate Tyler Clippard Friday. Werth fouled off seven pitches with a two-strike count before Clippard earned a called strike three on a low pitch—number 13th of the at-bat. Zimmerman had some trouble making contact—as did virtually the entirety of the Nationals roster—but his bat speed and overall comfort at the plate are good signs for the Nats. To top things off, Anthony Rendon was about the only player to figure out Mets’ pitching. After earning two hits Friday, the Nats’ second baseman tallied three hits Sunday—showing that even against star pitching, someone on the Washington roster can find ways to produce.

Strength can be found through adversity. For those who were hoping Matt Williams would get a wake-up call, there is good reason to think this most recent Mets’ series was it. The addition of Jonathan Papelbon hardly meant anything once it became clear that the Nationals’ offense would do nothing to create a save situation. The Nats came up with five total runs over the three game set. Worse yet, only Anthony Rendon (twice), Bryce Harper and Yunel Escobar had multi-hit games, in the entire series. With that said, few playoff runs come up without mid-season slumps, and it’s better for all that the Nats fall on hard times now than in September.


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