Following Thursday night’s game, in which the Nationals blew a four-run lead and saw the Cubs tie things up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth before finally prevailing in 13 innings, I asked Anthony Rendon a question that Nats fans have probably been wondering for weeks now.
Why can’t the Nats just have a nice, quiet, 5-0 win one of these days? Why does it always have to be so dramatic?
“That’s what I’m saying!” a smiling Rendon said. “Where those games at? But that’s baseball. That’s just kind of the tale of how our season’s been going.”
That same question and same response could probably have been repeated last night.
The Nats trailed 6-0. Then they led 11-7. Then they needed a tremendous Bryce Harper diving catch to prevent things from really getting terrifying in the bottom of the ninth.
Drew Storen couldn’t retire either of the two hitters he faced leading off the ninth, walking the first, then surrendering a double. That led Davey Johnson to turn to Rafael Soriano, this after Johnson had told reporters before the game that Soriano would be unavailable that night because of recent overuse.
In the end, Soriano got the save (with an assist to Harper), but it was another high-wire act, something the Nats have seen way too much of from their $28 million man lately.
Over his last seven appearances, Soriano has a bloated 11.37 ERA with 13 hits and two walks allowed in 6 1/3 innings. And it’s not like those numbers are inflated by one or two bad outings; Soriano has surrendered at least one earned run in five of those seven appearances and also allowed at least two baserunners in five of the seven games.
He has the third-most blown saves of any closer in the majors and has the second-highest WHIP (1.30) of any of the 13 closers with 30 or more saves.
Anyone who has watched the Nats over the last couple weeks can tell that the main issue with Soriano is that he’s just leaving the ball up in the zone and out over the plate. If it seems like the 33-year-old is missing far fewer bats than he normally does, well, it’s because he is.
Last season, Soriano struck out 9.2 batters per nine innings and gave up 7.3 hits per nine. This year, his strikeouts per nine innings have dropped to 6.9 and he’s surrendering 9.4 hits per nine, far and away the worst averages of his career, in both categories.
Is Soriano worn out? He prides himself on being able to handle a heavy workload and is on pace for 72 appearances this season, which is just three more than he had last year. Is he going through a bad mechanical phase where he’s not getting the downward trajectory on pitches that he needs to?
That’s not exactly my department. But something isn’t right with Soriano right now, and with the number of close games the Nats have been in lately, their closer is really getting put to the test.
On a more positive note, Tyler Moore now has multi-hit performances in all four games he’s appeared in since returning from Triple-A Syracuse, going 9-for-16 (.563) in that span. All nine hits are singles, but this is still major progress for a guy who was hitting .151 when he was sent down in July and had gone 9-for-67 leading up to his demotion.
Another positive is Tanner Roark, who as I mentioned last night is now 4-0 with a 1.10 ERA in six major league appearances. Roark’s WHIP dropped to 0.74 after last night’s huge outing, in which he delivered 4 1/3 scoreless innings.
The guys in the bullpen should be rested and refreshed going into today’s action, and they have Roark to thank for that.
Finally, I’ve got a quick and belated thought on the David DeJesus trade yesterday that sent the outfielder to the Rays. I was still getting some questions about the deal on Twitter last night, so I’ll briefly wrap it all up here.
Why did the Nats claim DeJesus off waivers from the Cubs at all, if they were only going to have him around for four games before then shipping him elsewhere? Because they were able to massage the waiver wire and get a prospect out of it, that’s why.
Four days after getting DeJesus from the Cubs in exchange for some cash (and not much of it, at that), the Nats flipped DeJesus to Tampa Bay in exchange for a player to be named, which will end up being one of two 22-year-old pitching prospects.
The Nats had a good feeling that there were American League teams that would have claimed DeJesus off waivers from the Cubs, so they put in a claim themselves before DeJesus was on the table for AL teams. (The waiver process goes by the reverse standings of same-league teams, then reverse standings of other-league teams.)
They then put DeJesus back on waivers, saw no NL team claim him, and then when the Rays did, were able to make a deal, dumping DeJesus’ salary and also getting a prospect.
Pretty shrewd stuff by the Nats’ front office, if you ask me.