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AZ 6, Nationals 7 - Bullpen: The Abomination

Record: 64-70. Change on last season: +3

What part of "unmitigated disaster" is unclear? We had a five-run lead. The Nationals were down to their last out in the bottom of the eighth inning. They even had nobody on base. And yet, thanks to a trio of awful performances from our bullpen, we contrived, somehow, to lose this one in eleven innings. Boy, I'm looking forward to seeing the Fangraph for this one - the end will resemble the North face of the Matterhorn, I imagine.

However, before we get to the atrocity exhibition, featuring the works of Messrs. Pena, Julio and Lyon, let's review the good things about this game, shall we? Because through the front seven innings, we were comprehensively outplaying Washington, with a sterling start from Batista, and a one-man wrecking crew in the shape of Chris Young. He went 3-for-5, with five RBIs (that's more than Conor Jackson had in the entire month of August) from the leadoff spot, and also added another clip to his burgeoning highlight reel in center field. Okay, full disclosure compels me to also say that Young was caught stealing - and so easily, I must say, that I think he was running on slick tyres, despite the conditions. But on the whole, a good day's work for Young. If he keeps this up, he'll soon be as indispensible in center, as Drew is at short.

Speaking of Drew, he had two hits today, though one of them was (according to the radio - this game was untelevised, which given the way it ended, was probably a good thing) more of a swinging bunt that travelled about forty feet. He seems to have been doing that a lot lately, and his BABIP [batting average on balls in play] is also freakishly high, which usually indicates a correction towards the norm is likely in due course. Quentin drove in our other run with a monstrous homer in the top of the eighth but - perhaps more impressively - was hit by a pitch for the sixth time. That now ties him with J-Strada and Jackson, even though Q is barely at 100 PA's.

Miguel Batista got his fourth straight no-decision, even though, in those starts he now has a 1.93 ERA over 28 innings. He did extend his unbeaten streak to thirteen games, but has only four wins over that time: seven no-decisions in his last eight outings, and nine in eleven. He gave up five hits and three walks in his seven innings, with the second the only time the Nationals got a runner past second base. He was pulled after 104 pitches for a pinch-hitter, and I can only presume Melvin regarded the 6-1 score as "a safe lead". He should have known better.

Though that's perhaps understandable, even more so when Tony Pena(rio) fanned the first two hitters he faced. However, a double, a walk and a homer pulled the Nationals right back into it, and continued Pena's struggles. I've mentioned this previously but today's outing enhances the split. Here's Pena's splits before and after August 3rd:
Before: 10.2 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 ER, 0.84 ERA
After: 12.2 IP, 21 H, 6 BB, 12 K, 13 ER, 9.24 ERA

To make matters worse, Julio then came in for the ninth, and allowed a two-run homer to Soriano, tying the game. Julio is another one who has flailed horribly of late. Here is Jorge the Jorrible's line since taking the loss against Colorado on July 23:
Julio: 13.1 IP, 16 H, 10 BB, 20 K, 14 ER, 9.45 ERA
He's blown three saves in the past seven attempts, though this was his first save situation in three weeks. It will also, quite possibly, be his last - I would not be surprised if Jose Valverde gets the call once more, for these last four weeks.

Luis Vizcaino was the sole bright spot, retiring all five hitters he faced, three on strikeouts and taking us into extra innings. However, while we'd got rid of the Nationals' starter in four frames [as an aside, we were unluckily robbed of a run early on, when a ground-rule double would have scored one for us, if it had stayed in the park], over the seven subsequent ones against their bullpen, our offense managed just three hits and a walk. This lack of production turned round and bit us in the bottom of the eleventh. Let's just review Brandon Lyon's performance, shall we?

  • Bottom 11th: Washington
    B. Lyon relieved L. Vizcaino

  • B. Castro walked
  • R. Fick sacrificed to third, B. Castro to second
  • A. Soriano intentionally walked
  • F. Lopez walked, B. Castro to third, A. Soriano to second
  • R. Zimmerman walked, B. Castro scored, A. Soriano to third, F. Lopez to second

Twenty-three pitches. Seven strikes. Four walks. And the only out Lyon got, was the one handed to him deliberately by the Nationals. In Dressed to Kill, Eddie Izzard discusses how, when someone kills a person, that's murder - but if a despot kills a million people, we can't deal with that, and almost go, "Well done! You must get up very early in the morning." The same goes for this performance by the bullpen. This wasn't bad. This wasn't awful. This wasn't atrocious. This was, "Well done! You must get up very early in the morning." The combined line for our relief corps - and remember, this includes Vizcaino's 1.2 perfect innings - was as follows:
AZ Bullpen: 3.1 IP, 3 H, 7 BB, 7 K, 6 ER
48 balls in just 3.1 innings. That's more than Batista threw (41) over seven.

The worst loss of the year so far? Certainly, as far as our bullpen is concerned. And it certainly doesn't bode well for our chances of getting to the same record as last season. S'funny how goals shift: not so long ago it was, "legitimate playoff contenders". Then it was, "Well, .500 baseball would be okay for the year." Now, anything better than last year's 77-85 record would feel like a victory of sorts. This does give us September to sort out the wheat from the chaff, and provide some insight into who can help us next season.

Thanks, however, to those who commented: kylerkenney (when you said, "beware of pitchers with ERAs north of five", did you mean Pena(rio)?), icecoldmo, William K, azdb7, npineda, singaporedbacksfan and andrewinnewyork. Best get this up, since the second game starts in about an hour. This one is televised, but is there anyone out there who, after the disaster of this opening game, has much enthusiasm for watching it? I'm not sure I have, but we'll see how I feel after some quiet time! :-)

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