Friday at around 5:00 things looked their darkest. Jordan Zimmermann got hit hard again ballooning his July ERA to 7.18 and Davey's pen mismanagement led to a very odd sequence of events which ended with Tyler Clippard slamming the organization. Yet today a sense of hope permeates the Nats fandom. The trio of Ross Ohlendorf, Dan Haren and Taylor Jordan* held the Mets to a single run a piece in each of the next 3 games, and this was backed up by some stellar pen work, giving the Nats the series 3 games to 4.
This wasn't a good homestand. They went 4-7 when we wanted 7-4. They lost ground early during their1-5 slide and weren't able to make it up with these recent wins because the Atlanta "Champs By Process of Elimination" Braves finally played some good baseball and swept the best team in the NL, the St Louis Cardinals. That's the problem the Nats face now. They need to win AND the Braves (or Cincy and Arizona) need to lose. That's a tall order.
But still the modest goal I set was to get to next Monday within 9 games of the Braves. This sweep kept that hope alive when the Braves could have buried the Nats completely.
In the past week 5 Nats have an OPS of .950 or better; Desmond, Bryce, Ramos, Werth, and Zimm. That's the flipside of no one hitting. Sometimes everyone will hit. Now can they keep it up just a little while longer? 8 games maybe?
Anyone worried about ZNN? Needham put out a "simple" path to a possible playoff spot and with Nats-colored glasses on you can see it working, but not if ZNN is injured or otherwise stinks. That's a season-ender in my book.
Anthony Rendon's July (.190 / .236 / .333) is going to force an issue that no smart fan wants to see forced. Should Lombardozzi play more? The guy is better than the .250 singles hitter he has been this year. The problem is that just means he's a .265 singles hitter or so. His value comes from being a contact bat off the bench that can play 3B/SS/2B (BUT NOT OUTFIELD DAVEY!) well enough to fill-in if necessary. But there are going to be some that look at that .357 AVG in July (ignoring the .417 BABIP) and say he needs to start. Is Rendon going to get better (.203 BABIP)? Probably. Would Danny be a plus fielder the Nats bats might be able to carry (if they are going to carry Rendon or Lombo anyway)? Yep. Will people care about either of these things? Nope.
So how did Davey screw up the relief in ZNN's game? He didn't have a plan for if Mattheus, just back from injury, couldn't make it through 2. He put Mattheus in in the 8th down 5-0 and he went out to finish the game up in the 9th, but all of a sudden he struggled and was up over 40 pitches in his first appearance. He had to come out. But for who? It was a double header with Ohlendorf to pitch the night game and Haren going tomorrow. At this point it looked likely relief help would be needed if not tonight than tomorrow. All his best arms went the day before and using them here would likely keep them out till Sunday. So the decision was made to use Storen who was supposedly sick and pitched like it. Storen got bombed. Fans revolted. Storen got sent down.
What should have Davey done? Stuck Stammen out there in the 8th had him finish it out. Or better yet, said "screw it" let Stammen come in to pitch to Murphy and finish out that inning and have Abad finish the game. Either way you don't bring in a guy off injury and plan on him pitching 2 innings first time out. That's just dumb.
What about Storen being sent down? I feel the same way about this as I do with bringing in Soriano. Right move, handled horribly.** Storen had been struggling terribly. He should have been sent down before Friday. If you couldn't do that then you find some other meaningless time to put him out on the mound and when he gives up another run then you send him down. Anything so it doesn't look like he's being punished for going out on the mound with the flu and not getting outs. Of course it was the DH that necessitated the timing of the move but still. Just awful handling, managing to turn something nearly every fan agreed about (Storen should be sent down) into a rally cause against the team for a weekend.
*An idea of how far Haren's star has fallen. He's now just one of Ohlendorf, Haren and Jordan.
** How was the Soriano deal handled badly? All you had to do was talk to Storen and Clip and say "Soriano is one of the best closers out there. This isn't about the way 2012 ended. This is about 2013. We have a chance to get him and make our back end unstoppable. We're going to do it." But the Nats didn't talk to them first and even though Rizzo said it wasn't about game 5 he also said "(Storen's) a young
closer that was thrust into the closer role as a very young man and a
very young major leaguer. We feel that we benefit having Sori on the
club. Not only by pitching the ninth inning, but also by mentoring a
good young potential closer in Drew Storen." Young, young, young. Potential closer? I don't know how you read that and don't come away with the impression Rizzo didn't think Storen wasn't ready to keep closing.