Drew Storen and the 40-save plateau

Nine days ago, Drew Storen was sitting on 34 saves for the season, having gone since Aug. 22 without closing a game. The notion of reaching 40 saves this year seemed remote, and while Storen was on his way to a good first season as the Nationals’ closer, he probably wouldn’t have the stats to push himself into elite status.

A week later, the Nationals have won six of eight, Storen has saved all of their victories and at age 24, he’s got a 40-save campaign under his belt.

The closer got his 40th save on Tuesday night, pitching a perfect ninth inning in the Nationals’ 3-0 win over the Phillies after getting his 39th save just a few hours earlier in the first game of a doubleheader against Philadelphia. Only Chad Cordero (with 47 saves in 2005) has more in a season since the team came to Washington, and Storen’s 2011 total is the fifth-highest in franchise history, behind only Cordero, John Wetteland, Jeff Reardon and Ugueth Urbina.

And what’s more impressive is the way Storen has done it.

Five closers have more saves in the majors than Storen this season. All of their teams are likely headed to the playoffs. Sixteen of Storen’s 40 saves have been in one-run games, and only nine have come in situations where the Nationals led by three or more. The Nationals have made a habit of winning games the hard way all season, and that’s demanded a certain level of excellence from Storen and Tyler Clippard. They’ve delivered it.

Where Storen goes from here remains to be seen. He is only the fourth closer to post 40 saves in a season where he turned 24, joining Cordero in 2005, Neftali Feliz in 2010 and Craig Kimbrel this year. But there is virtually no precedent for a closer being this effective at this age, and the one that exists doesn’t signal good things; Cordero was undergoing shoulder surgery by 2008 and has appeared in nine major league games since. History is also littered with more closers like Huston Street, who got the job at a young age but haven’t been able to reach a dominant level, than it is with closers like Mariano Rivera.

But what Storen has done this season is even more impressive considering he started the year as a part-time closer with Sean Burnett while the Nationals waited for him to grow into the role. And while closers aren’t exactly long-term commodities, Storen seems to be a fixture on this team for the next few years. If the Nationals intend to compete for a winning record and push themselves into the playoff picture next year, chances are Storen will be a big part of that.

He’s already proven this year he’s up to the task.