Coming into this week, the Washington Nationals had 11 blown saves and 11 bullpen losses. In the past two games, the team’s blown saves have shot up to 13 — but the bullpen losses remained at 11. In back-to-back games, the bullpen bent but didn’t break, and in the process, secured two signature wins among some craziness if you watched the games. The Nats are now tied with the Phillies for 4th place in the NL East.
The Nats had a 6-run lead heading to the top of the sixth inning. Starter, Josiah Gray, was tiring and took the mound to start the inning, and you’ve seen this too many times before — he put three runners on-base, with two scoring, and just one out, before he was removed — and in the end he ate four earnies in 5 1/3 innings. Statistically, it was Gray’s worst start since his season debut against the Braves two months ago, and Gray’s ERA shot above 3.00 for the first time since May 5.
That 6-run lead evaporated quickly to just 3-runs. A laugher turned into a fire drill calling on all hands to get ready, and a fireman summoned from the bullpen to extinguish the flames. The 3-run lead then turned into a 1-run lead, and then the 1-run lead disappeared into that 13th blown save. But the bullpen didn’t pitch that poorly all things considered. The balls were finding holes, and the Phillies were hitting ’em where they ain’t — or should I say more properly, the Phillies were hitting them where the Nats were not positioned. Sure, in all, the bullpen gave up just two earned runs via two walks and six hits, and an error. Five of those six hits were singles. One was a 9th inning double to the red hot Nick Castellanos who did not score. The bullpen covered 4 2/3 innings, almost as much as Gray, and he gave up 4-runs, the bullpen just the two earned, and one unearned.
You can do the math and process the managerial strategy, and wonder if that 1/3 of an inning recorded in the sixth inning by Gray was worth giving up three runs? Sound familiar? As the say, “Was the juice worth the squeeze?” It happened to Patrick Corbin against the Royals in similar fashion last weekend en route to six earnies after the Nats had a 7-run lead in that game. The bullpen gets stressed when they are working on thin margins. It happens too often with this team.
“When you play a team like that, you’ve got to put up as many runs as possible, and when you come out the way we did, you’ve got to tack on. … But we got one more than the other guys tonight.”— Manager Dave Martinez‘s rationalization after the game
While Kyle Finnegan ate the blown save in the 8th inning, he also saved (statistically not a save) his own win after Alex Call walked and then stole second base and scored the winning run on a Lane Thomas single in the bottom of the 8th inning. What a comeback. The Nats won 8-7. You have to figure manager Dave Martinez’s bullpen will have to find some different options for Saturday’s game as Finnegan threw 34 max effort pitches over 1 2/3 innings, and Hunter Harvey en route to a hold threw 2/3 of an inning and 16 pitches for 50 pitches over a 3-day span.
The mixed crowd pulling for both teams totaled just short of 30,000 by 173 fans. They were cheering and booing until the end, and the final applause was the loudest when the last out was recorded by the home team.
At times, you could not tell if it was Philly fans booing Bryce Harper along with Nats fans as he went 0-4 on the night, or even with Trea Turner who received mostly cheers mixed with some booing as he acknowledged last week that he was aware of Philly fans booing him in Philadelphia. Serious question, were they booing him in Washington too?
In fact, three-of-the-first-five batters in the Phillies lineup are all ex-Nats if you include Kyle Schwarber. Nats fans loved each when they played with the Curly W, but certainly some will never forgive Harper, almost five years removed from his departure from D.C. Even a Nats’ World Series win has not changed their feelings towards Harper who was gone before the Nats won it all. Some seem to show up just to shower him with boos. The normally respectful Nats’ crowd, has Saturday and Sunday to serenade Harper with their displeasure.
Whoever wins today at Nats Park will regain fourth place to themselves. The Phillies were never supposed to be in this spot entering the season with the league’s fourth highest payroll at $243 million versus the Nats at $101 million, per USA Today. While the Nats are over-achieving, the Phillies are under-achieving. Both teams have 25 wins on the season. The Nats would like to send the Phillies a knock-out punch today.