The Washington Nationals could find a better lead-off hitter, but so could almost all of baseball’s other teams. And, if the playoffs were any indicator, more offense is not what they most need. It was Washington’s starting pitching which brought them into the postseason, but it was ultimately the bullpen that lost it for them. The Nationals still need a few more quality arms if they want to make it to the World Series.
Both the National’s starters and relievers gave up lots of runs in their first-round playoff series. In 24 innings, the starters surrendered 15 runs, one of them unearned. However, the relievers were even more generous, allowing 17 runs (one unearned) in just 21 innings. The lack of better pitchers in the bullpen caused the Nationals to over-use their best relievers, leaving them weary for the deciding game of their first playoff series since moving to Washington.
Drew Storen is an excellent closer. But he began the 2012 baseball season injured, and threw only 30 and 1/3 innings in the regular season. Yet he was called upon to pitch four times in the series against the St. Louis Cardinals, including three days in a row. It was only on the last of these appearances that he surrendered runs to the Cardinals, costing the Nationals a win in the last game of the series. Meanwhile reliever Craig Stammen, also made four appearances and allowed three runs.
The Nationals also showed an inability to trust the only true long reliever on their team. During the whole post-season, Tom Gorzelanny pitched only a third of an inning (He did have a 2.88 ERA during the regular season). A well-rested Gorzelanny could have taken the ball with Washington ahead by three runs in game five, pitched three innings, and let Washington close out the ninth with specific pitcher-to-hitter matchups. But that and winning were not in the cards for the Nationals.
There is something strange going on in the nation’s capitol, as the always reliable John Lannan was kicked out of the organization’s starting rotation and sent to the minors. And now the more recent decision, to not let Gorzelanny pitch, but still keep him on their playoff roster instead of another long reliever, raises a lot of questions. Going into the 2013 season, the Nationals need to pick a pitching staff they can trust.