Game #52 Nats need to convert a sweep; Bullpen continues their new trend

In tonight’s series finale, Max Scherzer will face Matt Cain in the final game in San Francisco this season. Five years ago they were 2 of the biggest marquee names in baseball, and today they are almost polar opposites. Both pitchers have at least one no-hitter on their resumé plus post-season success, and All Star pedigree, but their careers have been on a divergent path of sustained success in the past few years.

Matt Cain has a 4.45 ERA this season, and they were not even sure he would make the Giants rotation this year. Last season, Cain worked 4 games out of the bullpen and started just 17 games finishing with a 5.64 ERA in 2016. Scherzer of course went on to win the NL Cy Young last year. Cain and Scherzer were both born in 1984, and while they are the same age, they seem so different when projecting their futures. Cain has been with the Giants through the 3 World Series seasons, but was not even on their 2014 post-season roster.

The Giants will most likely cut ties with Cain after this season as they hold a team option. Cain may very well go the route of Tim Lincecum and end up as a Giant where the fans wonder “what have you done for us lately”. Cain could have some mileage left on his pitching odometer but so did Timmy Jim who also is the same age as Scherzer and Cain and Lincecum appears to be out of baseball. Five years ago, this pitching duo would be a must-watch match-up, and now some of the fans show-up because they already prepaid for their tickets and others just no-show. AT&T Park looked mostly empty last night as their Giants team looks like it is ready for a break-up the band diminuendo finish for a group of players who celebrated multiple ring ceremonies together. When teams underachieve this much, management has few choices but to make changes.

Speaking of pitchers left for roadkill, the Nationals beleaguered bullpen has come back to life. The Nats bullpen has the best earned run streak in the past 9 games going 8 of their last 9 games without giving up an earned run.

“What’d I tell you earlier? We’re starting to roll. We’re fine,” Nationals’ closer Koda Glover said. “Like I said, when everybody was kind of freaking out a little bit, we’re fine. It’s baseball. It’s going to happen. I know you know that. But it’s one of those things where we’re getting relaxed and we’re ready to go.”

Koda Glover was officially named the closer last week by Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker, and this has given the bullpen some much needed structure.  When your team is winning by narrow margins, the closer will get a lot of work. Glover has saved 4 games in the last 5 days and couple that with the travel and weather—Koda Glover admitted he was tired.

“I’m pretty tired right now,” Glover said after his 7th save last night. “It’s one of those things where you’ve just got to fight through it. The cold weather kind of takes it out of you, too. Six-hour flight. All that stuff. It’s one of those things where you’ve just got to grind through it. Luckily, I was able to do it.”

The 4.82 ERA for the bullpen is no longer the worst mark in the NL as the St. Louis Cardinals now own that dubious distinction. There are also 4 AL teams that are worse than the Nationals’ bullpen. Slowly that group of seven ‘pen members are settling into what Dusty Baker asks of them and possibly the mistake the team made was not having a long-man to start the season.

The Nats bullpen was stressed to begin the season as the starting pitchers ramp up their innings and the bullpen has to pick up the slack. At this point in the season, the Nationals bullpen still has the least usage at 143 2/3 innings versus the league average of 175 innings. The Nationals starting four still has the highest collective pitch counts. Last night just felt like another example of a starter being used beyond reasonable limits for anyone watching as Gio Gonzalez‘s fastball dropped so low in velocity that it was categorized as a change-up. If Dusty Baker is as confident as he says he is in his bullpen then actions should speak louder than words.

“I still feel very confident in my bullpen,” Dusty Baker said. “Quite honestly, I’m kind of tired of talking about it. Everybody wants to go on a day-to-day thing, and that’s not how you do it. That’s why you play six months of the season. We’ve played two months. We’ve still got two-thirds of the season left to go.”

Matt Albers continues to surprise with his appearances. The finesse pitcher was lighting up the radar at 94mph last night. The 34-year-old reliever has almost mirrored his success of 2015 when he had a 1.21 ERA. Albers is currently at 1.29 and has already finished 7 games this season which has eclipsed the 5 games he finished in 2015. Albers is getting high leverage innings and is getting the job done. Albers had a 0.00 ERA in spring training for the Nats and was assigned to Triple-A Syracuse before getting his call-up on April 10th.

“[Alber’s] been good ever since spring training,” Baker said. “He’s been good to this point. He’s had one or two hiccups along the way. That’s going to happen to anybody. But he’s throwing the ball good. He throws strikes, keeps the ball down and throws up double plays when we need them.”

In player news today, Bryce Harper had appealed his 4-game suspension for the altercation with Hunter Strickland on Tuesday, and Harper has accepted a reduced suspension to begin tonight for 3-games.

For anyone paying attention, Harper was batting .146 the last 2 weeks and had his worst game of the season yesterday going 0-5 with 3 strikeouts and leaving 8 men-on-base. Harper will finish his month of May unfortunately with a nose-dive statistically from his red-hot April and a final slash of .244/.340/.500/.840. The only thing that can change that slash is if MLB changes an error call to a double as Harper had requested. UPDATE: MLB PR announced that there was a scoring change from the May 19th game against the Atlanta Braves which has changed an error against Jace Peterson to a double for Bryce Harper and 2 RBIs.

Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants
Stadium: AT&T Park San Francisco, California
1st Pitch:  10:15 pm EDT
Nats Radio: 106.7 FM The Fan; SiriusXM®  (Internet 869)

Line-ups  (subject to change without notice):

  1. Trea Turner SS
  2. Jayson Werth LF
  3. Daniel Murphy 2B
  4. Ryan Zimmerman 1B
  5. Anthony Rendon 3B
  6. Matt Wieters C
  7. Brian Goodwin RF
  8. Michael Taylor CF
  9. Max Scherzer RHP
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