Results tagged ‘ Drew Storen ’
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. We move to the bullpen for our first reliever on the list, Sean Burnett.
One of the most overlooked aspects of any Major League team is the bullpen, especially looking beyond the more defined “closer” role. Your standard relief corps includes seven pitchers at any given time, complementing the five-man starting rotation as part of a 12-member pitching staff. And while some of the six outside the closer may generally fit into certain roles, lefties like Sean Burnett often fill the void wherever and whenever they are needed.
To that end, Burnett served Davey Johnson’s bullpen in a number of different capacities in 2012. After using him more in situational spots that called for a lefty-lefty matchup early in the year, Johnson called upon Burnett as a closer for a pair of key saves, May 14 vs. San Diego and May 21 at Philadelphia. The southpaw then settled into more of a setup role, consistently pitching the full eighth inning in front of Tyler Clippard and then Drew Storen, upon his return from injury. And though Burnett’s 2.38 season ERA is certainly indicative of the type of year he put together, a deeper look into his numbers reveal an even more impressive performance.
Burnett posted an ERA below 1.75 in three of the season’s six months, including an April that saw him allow just five hits and two walks while fanning 10 over 6.2 scoreless frames. He held opponents scoreless 58 times in his 70 relief outings, the most appearances made without allowing a run of any hurler on the staff. For whatever reason, his pedestrian 4.26 daytime ERA (9 ER/19.0 IP) turned into a head-turning 1.43 (6 ER/37.2 IP) mark at night. Burnett’s other impressive splits came in his ability to limit lefties to a .211 average (19-for-90) with 28 strikeouts, and the fact that opponents batted only .169 (13-for-77) with runners in scoring position.
However, arguably his most valuable set of numbers were Burnett’s improvements to his strikeout and walk rates. After averaging 3.9 free passes and 6.2 punchouts per nine innings (good for a 1.60 K/BB rate) for his career, the southpaw allowed just 1.9 walks per nine in 2012 while striking out 9.1 (a 4.75 K/BB rate). For some perspective, no other regular bullpen member cracked a rate of 3.00, and even the most efficient members of the vaunted starting rotation checked in no higher than 3.56 (Jordan Zimmermann) and 4.10 (Stephen Strasburg).
Burnett and the team hold a mutual option for next season. It has been reported in the past week that Burnett may decline that option, but that the 30 year-old is interested in working out a longer-term deal here in Washington.
It’s hard to believe, with the season the Washington Nationals have had, that they have not had more walk-off home runs. Other types of walk-offs have come in nearly every shape and form, from singles, to wild pitches, to sacrifice flies. But Ian Desmond’s two-out, two-run shot to beat the Diamondbacks in the bottom of the ninth on May 2, more than five months ago, a seemingly distant memory, was the lone game-winning blast of this memorable 2012 campaign.
Until last night.
If you believe in the cosmic powers of the game, the baseball gods, as it were, this one was foreshadowed. Leading off the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game on 10.11.12, Jayson Werth worked an epic at-bat against Lance Lynn, driving the 13th pitch into the visitor’s bullpen at Nationals Park for his 14th career postseason home run. But the bizarre parallels go beyond that sequential string of numbers alone.
On September 8, the Nationals trailed the Miami Marlins by a score of 6-5 entering the bottom of the ninth inning at home in D.C. With closer Heath Bell already throwing his warm-up pitches and Werth slated to lead off the frame, a torrential storm descended upon Nationals Park, sending fans scampering to seek shelter from the high winds and sheets of rain. The game went into a delay for more than two and-a-half hours, the dramatic bottom of the ninth put on ice. Finally, the weather cleared, the teams reemerged to the field, and Werth dug in against Bell. They battled through a long at-bat, Werth fouling off three pitches before finally working the count full.
Less than 1,000 fans remained from the original crowd of 28,860, all descending behind the dugouts, standing, yelling, living and dying with every pitch. It had the feel of a high school playoff game, the drama and emotion running on high for those diehards that remained. Werth finally saw a center-cut fastball from Bell and smoked it to the Red Porch in left-center field for a game-tying home run. The Nationals would go on to win in walk-off fashion in the 10th inning.
Ross Detwiler also started that game, with Drew Storen earning the win following his and Tyler Clippard’s scoreless innings. Each reliever fanned the side in that September game. Clippard did so again Thursday night, with Storen punching out a pair.
The same momentum from the pitching in that September game grew in the late innings Thursday night. And once again, Werth delivered, on an at-bat five pitches longer and more surreal, a crowd of better than 44,000 already frenzied fans igniting like a supersonic jet engine as the ball cleared the left field wall.
Enjoy the full at-bat below, the six minutes of tension cut down to a tidy 2:47, to appreciate just how amazing it was. Then click below to listen to Nationals play-by-play man Charlie Slowes, who summoned the memories of that September 8 game before the 13th pitch, and the overwhelming crowd behind him as his prediction came true.
Washington Nationals (95-61) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (84-72)
RHP Edwin Jackson (9-10, 3.77) vs. RHP Adam Wainwright (13-13, 4.02)
The Nationals six-game road trip continues to its second city, after Washington took the final two games to win the series in Philadelphia. Edwin Jackson returns to St. Louis for the first time since winning the 2011 World Series with the Cardinals as he opposes Adam Wainwright in the opening game of the series.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
From reliever Drew Storen, upon watching fellow bullpen-mate Tom Gorzelanny catch Michael Morse’s second home run Thursday night in his cap, as to which part of the play was more exciting:
“Well, they both were. We’re just happy anytime something happens out there.”
1. Werth RF
2. Harper CF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Morse LF
6. Desmond SS
7. Espinosa 2B
8. Suzuki C
9. Jackson RHP
95 CURLY W’S IN THE BOOKS
With six games remaining, Washington has matched a franchise best with 95 wins (‘79 Expos) and needs four wins in its final six games to match the best mark by a D.C.-based team (‘33 Senators). The Nationals are the first ballclub from the Nation’s Capital to eclipse the 90-win plateau in 79 years, or since the pennant-winning 99-win ‘33 AL Nationals. This is the ninth 90-win campaign posted by a D.C. baseball team. From 1913-33, the AL Nationals posted eight 90-win seasons: 1933 (99 wins), 1925 (96), 1930 (94), 1932 (93), 1931 (92), 1924 (92), 1912 (91), 1913 (90).
X MARKS THE SPOT
Edwin Jackson enters tonight’s start with nine wins, looking to join teammates Gio Gonzalez (21 wins), Stephen Strasburg (15), Jordan Zimmermann (12) & Ross Detwiler (10) in the 10-win club. Washington would join the Giants as MLB’s only teams with five 10-game winners this season. In franchise annals, only the ‘79 Expos had at least five pitchers with 10 or more wins: Bill Lee (16 wins), Steve Rogers (13), Ross Grimsley (10), Rudy May (10), David Palmer (10), Dan Schatzeder (10). Only Lee and Rogers logged at least 10 wins in starts.
The Nationals are 10-3 in their last 13 games at home against the Cardinals. However, since the beginning of the 2008 campaign, Washington is just 1-10 at the newest version of Busch Stadium. Washington has won six of the last nine one-run games in the series. Pitching in a starting role, Sean Burnett bested the Cardinals on June 29, 2004 at PNC Park to pocket his first big league win. Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein is the older brother of former Cardinals SS David Eckstein, who was named World Series MVP in 2006. MASN’s Bob Carpenter is a St. Louis native who spent 10 seasons broadcasting Cardinals baseball on radio and TV. WJFK’s Charlie Slowes began his broadcasting career at St. Louis’ KMOX, where he performed various on-air duties during broadcast of the Cardinals, the NFL Cardinals, the Blues and St. Louis University basketball from 1984-86.
DATE IN DC BASEBALL
September 28, 2010: The last of 76 home runs hit by Adam Dunn as a National is a game-ending solo blast off Jose Contreras and finalizes a 2-1 victory over the visiting Phillies.
September, 28 2011 — Washington wraps up its season with a 3-1 win at MIA, as Stephen Strasburg picks up his first win after coming back from Tommy John surgery. Drew Storen picked up his 43rd save with a clean 9th inning.
Washington Nationals (94-61) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (78-77)
LHP Gio Gonzalez (20-8, 2.84) vs. RHP Tyler Cloyd (2-1, 3.86)
After splitting the first two of the three-game set, the Nationals look to take the series from the Phillies with Cy Young contender Gio Gonzalez on the mound. The southpaw has won four of his last five and seven of his last nine starts, but one of those two losses came here in Phladelphia.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
From Ian Desmond, asked if his 25th home run on Wednesday night (on the same night that Bryce Harper hit his 20th) had any particular significance to him:
“No, I’m just trying to distance myself from the 19 year-old.’”
1. Werth RF
2. Harper CF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Morse LF
6. Desmond SS
7. Espinosa 2B
8. Suzuki C
9. Gonzalez LHP
GIO TRYING TO CATCH THE D-TRAIN
Gio Gonzalez will go for his 21st win of the season tonight vs. Philadelphia, in an attempt to become the first NL East left-hander to win an excess of 20 games since 2005 (Dontrelle Willis, 22). Note that Gio never faced Philadelphia before 2012, but was a part of their organization in 2006 when he spend the year at Double-A Reading. Against the Phillies this year, he is 2-1 with a 1.89 ERA (4 ER/19.0 IP) in three starts.
Although it was not technically a save situation, Drew Storen finished off last night’s 8-4 victory over the Phillies with a perfect ninth inning, collecting one strikeout. In 20 appearances since August 17, Storen has walked one and struck out 16 while posting a 0.53 ERA (1 ER/17.0 IP) along the way.
ACCORDING TO ELIAS…
Bryce Harper hit his ninth triple and 20th home run of the season in Washington’s win over Philadelphia on Wednesday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, over the last 40 seasons (1973-2012), the only other rookie with that many triples and home runs in one season was Nomar Garciaparra (11 3B, 20 HR) for the Red Sox in 1997.
DATE IN DC BASEBALL
September 27, 1968: At Detroit‚ Frank Howard snaps a 1-1 tie with his 44th homer‚ and the Senators beat the Tigers‚ 3-1. Howard’s run is his 89th‚ and he’ll finish the year with that‚ compiling the most homers in history without scoring 90 runs.
September 27, 2006: The Nationals and Phillies played a marathon, 14-inning contest that lasted four hours and 53 minutes at RFK Stadium. Philly won the game, 8-7, in which the Nats employed the services of 23 players (15 position players, 8 pitchers).
It’s only appropriate, on this last day of summer, that we can officially begin to discuss postseason baseball in Washington D.C. no longer as a “likelihood” or a “probability,” but as a reality. That’s the thing about the baseball season – a hot start is great, like the one the Nationals stormed out to by winning 10 of their first 14 games, but in the scope of a six-month marathon, it means very little. All the excitement of holding down first place is fantastic fun, but it does not mean anything until this time of year. There are no cheaply won postseason spots in our sport, and only sustained success over the duration of the spring and summer will lead to those meaningful games in October that Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson and everyone around the organization have been talking about since Spring Training.
Yes, the National League East remains undecided, with a combination of eight Nationals wins and/or Braves losses still needed to determine the division crown. Beyond that lie the fight for home field advantage through the various rounds of the playoffs. These Nationals have taken nothing for granted so far this season, and you can be sure they won’t start now. Nevertheless, one indelible fact remains: there will be postseason baseball in our Nation’s Capital for the first time in 79 years.
“What’s the big deal?” an exuberant Johnson jokingly questioned of the press corps, as fans watching his post-game press conference in the adjoining Lexus Presidents Club cheered his arrival.
The Nationals almost clinched their postseason spot Wednesday night in dramatic, surprising fashion, coming from nowhere to overcome a six-run, eighth-inning deficit, only to fall to the Dodgers, 7-6 in the ninth. While that would have been a game for the ages, long remembered by those who stuck it out to the end, it would have supported the script that is often preached, but not necessarily accurate, about this year’s Washington club, that all of this sudden success is a surprise. In actuality, it is the culmination of years of building the right way, from the ground up, and simply watching the pieces come together at the Major League level all at once. In a sense, it was much more fitting that the history was made thanks to a well-pitched, well-defended game, trademarks of a team that Washington fans have fallen in love with this season.
Drew Storen gave the game and the fans their endearing moment to cherish, as he faced the daunting middle of the Dodgers lineup – Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez – holding a three-run lead in the ninth. The cushion would turn out to be more than enough. Storen painted a perfect, outside corner fastball to freeze Kemp, Wednesday night’s hero. He then handcuffed Gonzalez, the powerful lefty’s bat waving helplessly over a disappearing changeup. Finally, he blew away Nationals nemesis Hanley Ramirez – who owned a career .339 (147-for-433) mark with 27 home runs against the Nats coming into the at-bat – on a nasty slider to end it, pounding his mitt once and high-fiving catcher Kurt Suzuki in celebration.
“I didn’t even think about it until I saw it on the scoreboard afterwards,” said Storen of the clinching moment. “I was just having fun. The crowd was real into it. If you’re not out there having fun in that situation, you shouldn’t be out there.”
And though Storen provided the coup de gras, seemingly everyone chipped in. Ryan Zimmerman opened the scoring with a booming double to the left-center field gap, scoring Bryce Harper in the third inning. Danny Espinosa had an RBI-double of his own, and came in to score on a Suzuki sacrifice fly, the culmination of a hard-fought, professional at-bat. Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth each had a pair of hits, with the shortstop stealing one bag and the outfielder swiping a pair. As it has been all year with this team, you never know who the hero will be, and there were many of them Thursday night.
Ross Detwiler, meanwhile, continued to impress, and continued to show why this team has a real chance to make a deep October run. With six nearly flawless innings, in which a solo home run and a pair of singles were the only bumps in an otherwise smooth road to his career-best 10th victory, he quieted the powerful Dodgers lineup to put the Nationals in position to clinch.
“It was great seeing all of them on their feet,” the lanky lefty said of the crowd. “It really gives you the chills a bit to see how into it all of them were.”
Detwiler has consistently gone about his business, and though he is sometimes overshadowed by his teammates, there is no hiding his 6-3 record and 2.76 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break. He also became the fourth Nationals starter to hit double-digits in wins on Thursday, with Edwin Jackson sitting on nine victories heading into his start tonight against Milwaukee.
Speaking of those pesky Brewers, they are suddenly hot, and have clawed their way back into the race for the second National League Wild Card spot. In fact, the final four series on the Nationals schedule – Milwaukee, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Philadelphia again – all bring teams fighting for every game, their postseason lives at stake. Each game will be its own challenge, as the Nats try to wrap up the division. Those battles begin again tonight. But for today, at least, allow yourself to soak in the reality.
This is happening.
The Nationals recently finished an 11-game homestand that saw the team go 8-3 as they continued their charge towards October baseball. Despite playing games every day during that stretch, Washington players and coaches made time in their busy schedules to continue to contribute behind the scenes to the D.C. community.
Friday, August 31: Between his two-hit performances on August 30 and 31 in consecutive victories over the Cardinals, Ian Desmond joined teammates Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen along with Screech for a visit with patients of all ages at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH). During the visit, the players participated in physical therapy exercises and activities with patients, playing catch with some of the adult patients – you could do worse than tossing a ball around with a trio of Major Leaguers for your rehab work. The crew also signed autographs and took pictures with patients, families and hospital staff.
“Obviously, any time we can go out and bring a little light into people’s lives, it’s our pleasure,” said Desmond after the visit.
One of the patients – Nick Balenger – stood out in particular. A local high school baseball player who recently suffered a tragic injury while on vacation, he is working his way back from partial paralysis to try to get back on the baseball field. During the visit, the players delivered Balenger a personalized Nationals jersey signed by the entire team.
“He’s a Nationals fan and he lit up when we walked in there,” said Desmond of Balenger. “I guess he’s been following us pretty closely.”
Saturday, September 1: In between his victories on August 29 at Miami and September 3 at home over the Cubs, Ross Detwiler and the Nationals coaching staff took time to help out with the MedStar Youth Baseball Clinic. After Nationals coaches ran through drills with all those in attendance – including D.C. youth baseball teams, children of military families and guests of MedStar Health – Detwiler signed autographs for each and every participant on the Nationals Park concourse.
Friday, September 7: Three days after notching his second win of the homestand, Edwin Jackson hosted Edwin’s Entourage. For the second time in 2012, Jackson met with local children for well over an hour before the game. He hosted D.C. Dynasty, a non-profit organization that promotes the growth of youth baseball in the Washington D.C. community.
“The reason I’m here today is for you to get an up close and personal experience, to let you know that anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” Jackson told the group of youngsters as they chatted in the press conference room.
Jackson went around the room and had each attendee introduce themselves by their name and position on the diamond, then fielded questions about life, baseball and his own path to the Major Leagues, where he is just one victory away from his fourth straight double-digit win season.
Chicago Cubs (51-83) vs. Washington Nationals (82-52)
LHP Chris Rusin (0-1, 1.80) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (8-9, 3.53)
The Nationals rode seven scoreless innings from Ross Detwiler to a 2-1, series-opening victory over the Cubs on Monday, their fourth win in the first five games of this homestand. They will look to Edwin Jackson to keep the momentum in their favor tonight, as he makes his first start since his magnificent, eight-inning, 10-strikeout performance last Thursday.
1. Werth CF
2. Desmond SS
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. Morse RF
5. LaRoche 1B
6. Espinosa 2B
7. Moore LF
8. Flores C
9. Jackson RHP
Adam LaRoche clubbed his 25th home run of the season yesterday, a solo shot off Jeff Samardzija. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, LaRoche is one of four current MLB players who have had 25-homer seasons for four different MLB teams. Also hit 32 for the 2006 Braves, 25 for the ‘08 Pirates and 25 for the ‘10 Diamondbacks. The other players on that list are Adrian Beltre (Dodgers, Mariners, Red Sox and Rangers), Alfonso Soriano (Yankees, Rangers, Nationals and Cubs) and Jim Thome (Indians, Phillies, White Sox and Twins).
By closing out Monday’s 2-1 win, Tyler Clippard became the third National to reach the 30-save plateau, joining Chad Cordero (47 in 2005, 37 in ‘07) and Drew Storen (43 in ‘11). Clippard also became just the third pitcher ever to record 30 saves and 10 holds in a single season. Clippard’s 30-save, 10-hold predecessors were Kerry Ligtenberg (30 saves/11 holds for Atlanta in ‘98) and Ugueth Urbina (32 saves/11 holds for Texas and Florida in ‘03)
Five games into this 11-game homestand, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa are a combined 16-for-38 (.421). Desmond (8-for-20) has hit safely in five of his last six games, all of which were multi-hit efforts. His RBI-single propelled the Nationals to the victory on Sunday afternoon. Espinosa (8-for-18) has hit safely in five straight and has notched six hits in his last nine at-bats.
It seems that with each and every passing week of this 2012 season, the Washington Nationals are finding increasingly more dramatic and creative ways to win baseball games. There have been late-inning rallies, beginning on the season’s first two days at Wrigley Field. There have been walk-off wins of nearly every variety, from wild pitches (twice), to sacrifice flies, to heart-stopping, come-from-behind home runs. There have been victories of nearly every shade, coming in just about any way the mind can dream up. And then there was Monday night.
After carving out a 4-1 lead, the Nationals found themselves in extra innings against an Astros team that had won just four its last 34 games. Fortunately for Washington, that Houston squad had yet to win any of its nine extra-inning contests, and the Nats – no stranger to free baseball – were not about to become their first victim. But for all of the timely, clutch hits the team has put together lately and, really, all season long, this game turned on something entirely different.
We will make our best attempt to describe the play on paper, though it deserves to be seen, if you haven’t already watched it. After Roger Bernadina pulled a single through the hole between first and second base to open the top of the 11th, new Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki bluffed at a bunt and took strike one. He squared again on the next pitch, popping the ball in the air in front of first base. Steve Pearce crashed from first, but the ball dropped in front of him, just as pitcher Wilton Lopez closed in to try to make a play of his own. Then, Pearce and Lopez literally crashed – into one another – with the ball glancing off the first baseman. Matt Downs came running in from third just as Pearce made a desperate effort to collect the ball and throw out Suzuki. Downs pulled up at the last second, flailing over Pearce as he dropped his elbow, the throw towards first instead sailing into foul ground and up the right field line.
Meanwhile, Bernadina raced from second to third, where Bo Porter held his hands up to stop the speedy outfielder, a prudent decision with none out in the inning. But the Shark had other plans. He blew right past Porter for the plate, and right fielder Brian Bogesevic’s throw, which seemed destined to make a close play at the plate, airmailed the catcher and went to the screen. When the dust settled, Bernadina had scored and Suzuki stood at third base.
The run would be all the Nationals would need to end a game they no doubt feel they should have won in much less time than the four hours and 15 minutes it took to complete.
Surely, they won’t be happy about the events that led up to the 11th inning on Monday, or that forced extra innings in the first place. The relief corps, which has been one of the most solid in baseball this season, suddenly became allergic to their own fastballs, falling behind hitters with off-speed pitches. After loading the bases in the eighth, Drew Storen escaped with the lead. When Tyler Clippard walked and hit a batter in the ninth, he did not. However, after allowing a game-tying double that left the winning run at third base with just one out, Clippard buckled down to strike out the next two batters, pushing the game to extra innings.
There was another bright spot from the relief corps’ performance, thanks to Craig Stammen. The same hurler who came up with 2.1 innings of clutch relief eight days prior in the Nationals maniacal, 11-10, multi-comeback game in Milwaukee, delivered again with 2.0 innings of hitless relief. No reliever in baseball has pitched at least two frames as often as Stammen, who did so for the 21st time on Monday. And so while the focus will remain, undoubtedly, on “what turned into a three-ring circus,” as Nationals radio man Charlie Slowes put it, the ultimate takeaway from Monday night is this: some way, some how, the Nationals just keep finding ways to win.
It has been a thrilling first half of the baseball season in the Nation’s Capital, punctuated by tight, low-scoring games and wild finishes. There has been a multitude of different heroes, both household fixtures and under-the-radar names. Nearly every player on the Nationals roster can lay claim to a defining moment of the season. And we’re only halfway home.
With 83 games already in the rear-view mirror, there are still 79 remaining, a reminder that as far as this team has come, there is just as far still to travel. And while we were quite vocal in telling you that the window of opportunity was going to open this year, it is hard to imagine anyone expecting the Nationals to own the best record in the National League at this juncture in mid-July.
Let the numbers wash over you; take a moment to soak them in. A 49-34 record, best in the National League. A four-game advantage over the second-place Braves, the largest division lead in the NL. Seven walk-off wins, best in the National League. A 3.20 team ERA, the lowest in baseball. All of these are impressive feats, especially given the injuries the Nationals have faced this year, but they also only go to show just how much work still remains.
The Nationals have already employed 36 different players on their 25-man roster, and will add at least one more to that list soon, with Drew Storen’s impending 2012 debut. Chad Tracy and Jayson Werth are expected back in the not-too-distant-future as well, bringing plenty of value with them, but also questions about how manager Davey Johnson may, in turn, juggle his roster. Where will those who have filled in so capably – the Tyler Moore’s, Steve Lombardozzi’s and Michael Gonzalez’s of the world – find themselves upon these players returning? The surplus of talent is certainly a good problem to have.
One thing is certain: the road does not get any easier. Washington faces NL East foes in the first 14 games out of the All-Star break, beginning Friday night with four in Miami, a city that has been something of a house of horrors for the Nats over the years. The Nationals are just 24-42 in South Florida since 2005, and have won only three of their last 14 series on the road against the Marlins. They dropped three straight over Memorial Day earlier this year.
Of course, Washington will take on a Miami team missing its primary offensive weapon – Giancarlo Stanton – who Bryce Harper (ironically) replaced in the All-Star Game. With four days to rest up from the bangs and bruises of the first half, now is as good a time as ever to buck that trend and begin the second half on the right foot.
Has everyone had time to breathe? Good, because now the real fun begins.
The baseball season is full of many tests. This year, the Nationals schedule has them slated to face a total of 20 other Major League squads: the five American League East clubs joining the standard 15 National League teams on the slate. Much of what was considered the “easy” portion of the schedule came early, giving those who doubted the team’s April success grounds for an ominous warning: just wait until May 18.
That was the day the Nationals began a stretch of 32 straight games (originally 33, but one was postponed due to rain) in which they played every member of both the NL and AL East, including five games against Atlanta and six versus Baltimore. Washington entered that portion of the schedule at 23-15, a half-game back of the Braves and just two games ahead of the Mets, with the Marlins another game behind in a very tight division race. Even though Washington dropped a tough loss on Sunday to close that stretch, they still finished the gauntlet with an 18-14 mark, leaving them at 41-29 overall, three-and-a-half games clear of the second place Mets and four ahead of the Braves. The Nationals also put some distance between themselves and both the Marlins (eight back) and Philadelphia Phillies (nine back).
They have done this with the same formula they have used all season long: excellent pitching and clutch hitting, often from different sources each night. While Adam LaRoche has continued to provide the power and Ian Desmond keeps delivering big, two-out RBI, others have left their marks as well. There was the Stephen Strasburg’s first Major League home run to help beat the Orioles. Bryce Harper’s first Major League walk-off to grab first place back from the Mets. Ryan Zimmerman’s bases-clearing double against Tim Hudson and the Braves. The Tyler Moore show in Toronto.
Through it all, though, there has been a larger revelation, one that has come so quietly that no matter how much attention we draw to it, it never seems to be enough. Tyler Clippard has emerged as not only the closer of the Nationals, but one of the best in the game since he has stepped into the role. In addition to a perfect 12-for-12 mark in save opportunities, Clippard has put up the following line in 16 appearances against Eastern Division foes since May 18:
15.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 20 K
To summarize: Clippard has allowed just two hits (and seven total baserunners), while recording 46 of the most important outs of the last five weeks. He has struck out 20, four times the number he has walked, and a rate of better than 11.7 per 9.0 innings pitched. He recorded the final out in 12 of those 18 wins, including three straight on the road at Fenway Park. His seven Interleague saves matched Yankees closer Rafael Soriano for the most in baseball.
Despite Sunday’s blip, Sean Burnett has been terrific setting up in front of Clippard. When roommate Drew Storen returns, the back of the bullpen will only get that much stronger.
While beating Major League teams is never easy, the Nationals do play seven of their final 13 games before the All-Star Break against the Colorado Rockies, owners of the highest staff ERA in the Majors at 5.33, easily more than two runs per game higher than Washington’s 2.95 mark. It might be just the opportunity the pitching-lead Nats need to get their bats going, heading into the season’s second half.