In the 13th game of a stretch where the Nationals play on 15 consecutive days, the last thing Washington needed was a an extra-inning game. Despite a quality start from John Lannan, and timely hitting from the Nats batters, the club couldn't hold on and lost 4-3 in the bottom of the 10th at Wrigley.
In the end it all came down to a worn-out bullpen. Brian Bruney looked absolutely gassed in the 10th inning, his second inning of work, walking two batters including a game winning free pass on four pitches to Aramis Ramirez with the bases loaded. Bruney's final losing pitch was his 25th of the night, the most he had pitched since Apr. 5 in a 1-11 loss to Philadelphia.
But what was manager Jim Riggleman to do? Capps and Clippard were both unavailable because they had pitched previously on consecutive nights, Miguel Batistia had pitched three innings only two nights before, and the only arm left in the pen who was fresh was Jesse English. Not wanting to waste his last arm he left Bruney in to see if he could finish out the inning, instead the reliever gave Chicago the win on a free pass.
A breakdown of bullpen use during the 13-game streak
Capps: 6 appearances, 7.1 IP, 2 back-to-back appearances
Clippard: 6 appearances, 8.1 IP, 2 back-to-back appearances
Bruney: 7 appearances, 7 IP, 0 back-to-back appearances
Batista: 4 appearances, 10 IP, 1 back-to-back appearance
Burnett: 5 appearances, 2.2 IP, 1 back-to-back-to-back appearance
Walker: 3 appearances, 6.1 IP, 0 back-to-back appearances
English: 3 appearances, 4.2 IP, 0 back-to-back appearances
The overuse of the bullpen hasn't exactly been Riggleman's fault. As you can see above, he has done a good job of evening out the innings between the pitchers, but poor starting
David hasn't been getting many hits early on in the season batting a weak .222, but he is tied with Jeff Francoeur for the team lead in RBIs with 10 and is also the team leader with a .405 OBP. His 19 walks lead the team, so as long as he is getting on base that's the important thing, but obviously we would like to see his batting average higher. It is clear that Wright has been tinkering with his swing this year. As shown by the graph he used to keep his hands and bat much higher but has since dropped them down to shorten his long swing. Wright already puts an enormous amount of pressure on himself as he has embraced his role as the "face" of the franchise, which also means he has been the face of failure due to the Mets struggles in recent years. Lets just hope if this new swing doesn't work out, he has the mental toughness to come up with another solution.
Batter of the Week - Justin Bloxom, 1B/DH, HagerstownBloxom fell in between the cracks last season after be selected in the 11th round and behind another Kansas State product A.J. Morris. After playing a full college season, his numbers suffered a bit during his stint with the Lake Monsters, where he posted a line of .228/.346/.303 in 67 games. At K-State, Morris had a power surge in his junior year, knocking out 12 home runs and racking up 16 doubles in 62 games, but the power has yet to show up in his professional career. While the power might not be there, the hitting skill is being displayed nicely and in this last week Bloxom was 11-28 (.393 AVG) with four doubles and seven walks. Hagerstown manager Matt Lecroy has also been impressed with Bloxom's bat and has recently been batting him in the cleanup spot. Bloxom showed off some wheels on the basepaths as well, swiping four bags in the seven day span (he is 5 for 7 on SB attempts this season). Currently, he is in the top 10 for the South Atlantic League in hits, doubles, and OBP. Besides Chris Marrero, the Nationals lack any solid options at first base, so a hot hitting another skilled hitting 1B is a welcome addition to the system. At his age, a promotion to Potomac may be in line sooner than anyone may have originally thought for this late round pick.
Thompson, a former first-round selection by the Marlins, was acquired last season in exchange for Nick Johnson. The left-handed pitcher uses a sinker-changeup combo along with a pretty sharp slider to attack hitters. Thompson had two starts this week, both of which he pitched favorably. In his first start, he took on highly regarded Phil's prospect Phillipe Aumont and went seven innings to pick up the win (Storen closed out for the save). He was then promoted to Syracuse to make a spot start and picked up his second win of the week. His total line for the week was 15.0 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 11 SO, 12 GO:8 FO. For the year he has a 2.81 FIP and 1.20 WHIP and has yet to let up a home run. Thompson is on the 40-man roster and impressed many with his exceptional performance in spring training, but finds himself in a situation rare to D.C: too many starting pitchers. The current Nationals rotation has been performing well over the last week and even the Syracuse roster was too crowded for Thompson, who was sent back down to AA today. Despite this, Thompson is yet another reason for Nationals fans to be excited about the future and will be up with the big league club soon enough. Until then, dominating performances like this week's will only increase his value.
Over at Federal Baseball they have a great collection of stories which look into just exactly how good the Nationals are. It's a useful debate, especially considering the fact that many outlets predicted the Nationals to finish, at best, fourth in the National League East. Starting this week, we will be looking at the shape of the National League playoff race every Monday with the help of Accuscore.
As you can see below, the Nationals 4-3 record last week helped them improve their playoff chances from 7.8% to 13.9%. Accuscore also projects that they have a 9.3% chance of becoming the National League East division champions. As Oh points out, the Nationals are just 2-4 against the Phillies (who have a 69% chance of winning the division) but 8-5 against everyone else they have played.
NATIONAL LEAGUE (By Stephen Oh)
The Chicago Cubs were 4-3, but saw a major +20 percentage point improvement. While 4-3 is a solid record the reason why the Cubs improved this much was their sweep of Division rival, Milwaukee, on the road. The Cubs also benefited by the 2-4
Scott Olsen rebounded after a poor start last week to to pitch seven innings while allowing only six hits, no runs, and recording eight strikeouts against a strong hitting Dodgers club. Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps came in to close the door, helping complete the shutout and giving the Nationals a 1-0 victory to take the series from Los Angeles.
Olsen's success directly coincided with the return of his slider. The lefty, who had completely abandoned his slider in his last outing that saw him only pitch two innings tossed 10.1% sliders. 40% of his sliders were whiffed at and none were put in play. As it has been in the past, the slider still is Olsen's best pitch, which he clearly lives and dies on. Olsen's eight strikeouts Sunday dwarfed his previous season total of six, and helped him earn his first win since July 5, 2009.
Tyler Clippard came on in the eighth and held the Nationals 1-0 lead allowing no base runners. In his last three outings Clippard has recorded a Hold or a Win. The righty reliever has easily been the most valuable pitcher on the Nationals, as he is leading the team in wins and strikeouts out of the bullpen. He has not allowed a run in his last five outings. Capps came in in the ninth and earned his eighth save of the year. His velocity was slightly down as he pitched two innings the night before, but Capps was dominant yet again and is quickly proving to be a great value with the small contract he signed this offseason.
With the win the Nationals have now won seven out of their last 11 contests and improve to 10-9 on the season. They will head to Chicago tonight for a three game series against the Cubs before they get a well deserved day off. The club was 6-4 in their recent home stand, winning each series they played, all three of which were against teams who finished 2009 with a .500 or better record.
To help preview the coming series against the Chicago Cubs, we sat down with Joe Aeillo from an outstanding Cubs blog, View From The Bleachers. Go check out their site, they do some really cool stuff over there. I also prepared a short preview for them which I will post here once it gets put up. Anyways, Joe and I talked about Riggleman, Strasburg, Zambrano, and getting the Cubs back to the World Series.
The Nats Blog: Can this team as it stands make it back to the post season and compete for that elusive World Series title?
View From The Bleachers: I think, like any team, we have issues that need to be addressed. However, I'm fairly confident that a few can be filled from within, while the others can be brought in via trade or waivers. The bullpen is the biggest issue right now and it's been down right nasty. If you can keep the game close and knock the starter out...you've got a chance, and and very good one at that, to be Uncle Lou's squad. Those issues will sort themselves out as the season wears on and right now I feel like this team can compete for a playoff spot. We're not going to be the favorites, but we can get there.
There have been a number of developments over the past week with regard to the health of both the Washington Nationals and their farmhands. The biggest story in terms of its impact on the team is the status of Ryan Zimmerman. After returning from an injury to his left hamstring, Zimmerman missed a fourth straight game with a tweaked right hamstring. Fortunately, this injury appears less serious than its predecessor, and the team lists Zimmerman as day-to-day. The Nationals are 4-4 in the eight games Zimmerman has missed, but Zimmerman’s health is absolutely crucial to the team’s long-term success.
In addition, part-time right fielder and utility man extraordinaire Willie Harris has been sidelined with a sore right knee. Harris had an MRI Sunday which revealed no structural damage, good news for both his health and the Nationals’ season. After a diving catch in Saturday’s game, Harris said that he could “barely bend his knee,” but fortunately the MRI “didn’t show much but fluid.” While the veteran is certainly in pain, at least his injury does not appear to require surgery or an extended stint on the disabled list. no comments