The Nats have been taken to extras in two straight games by the Astros. They've won both games and that's what matters. W's are W's. A terribly played 4-3 squeaker over the worst team in the league counts the same as a 12-0 shellacking over the best one. And yet...
The Nats are supposed to be one of the best teams in the league, so the feeling is, non-coincidentally, that they should be playing like one of the best teams in the league. Racking up extra-inning farces and scoring a few runs of young pitchers with terrible ERAs is not what you want to see. Still it could be, and in fact it probably is, just a bad stretch. All teams go through bad stretches, even the best, so the hope is this bleccch play by the Nats is just one of those phases. Lucky for them it's happening at exactly the right time, when they can still win because their opponent is so bad.
Two wins on the road and most fans still aren't feeling good. Such is life with the expectations of a pennant winner.
Now on to something positive. There has been some worry about the 'pen, at least from me. It hasn't pitched well overall since the break. Tyler Clippard in particular looks really bad (WAIT! I swear positive is coming!). After blowing no saves the first half of the year he's blown 3 in the 2nd half, and has allowed a baserunner in 11 of 15 appearances (8 times he's allowed more than one). Stammen is also struggling. But the thing is these two (and H-Rod of course) account for a lot of the poor stats and given that, the regression of the pen doesn't really matter. Not in the long run.
You see in the playoffs the starters will get stretched (one hopes) and your pen can be reduced down to a few decent guys made up of whoever is hot. Right now Sean Burnett has been lockdown since the break. Take away the Braves game (everyone has one bad game), and he's given up 5 hits and no walks and has struck out 10 in 10 innings. Tom Gorzelanny has been very effective in the same time period. Fifteen baserunners in 11 2/3 innings with only 3 XBH. You've mostly liked what you've seen from Storen. A little wild, but hard to hit (5 hits in 7 innings - 1 XBH) And Mike Gonzalez has been good over the last few weeks. This is all you really need in the playoffs.
The Nats pen is deep. Outside of H-Rod, who is still on the roster because he has a cannon for an arm and more importantly Rizzo will not accept defeat in that Willingham trade, every arm in that pen is talented enough to go out and throw a scoreless inning. Some arms might be getting tired, but that just means other arms are getting rest. Some guys might go through a rough patch, but usually that means other guys are hot. Because the pen has been well-constructed, the Nats didn't have to worry about finding that one last arm during the trade season, and actually don't have much to worry about now.
In the next few weeks the Nats may lose a couple games because the pen blows it, but don't worry about it. Davey has to keep working guys in regular rotation so that come October he knows who's feeling good and who's not and how to use them properly. Expect that long leash with Clippard. When it gets to the playoffs the Nats will have their best 3-4 starters and their best 4-5 relievers on call. These guys will match up with anyone from any other team in the postseason.