No major league team had ever blown more than a four-run lead to lose an elimination game. No team until the Nationals managed to let a six-run lead slip away in a 9-7 loss to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS.
One imagines Davey Johnson will put much of the blame for Friday’s defeat on his own shoulders. He certainly should. The baffling call to put Edwin Jackson into the game in the seventh was a decision that could have worked out even worse than it did (Jackson allowed one run, narrowing the lead to 6-4).
That inning should have gone to Ryan Mattheus or Christian Garcia. Those two aren’t household names and they aren’t sure things themselves, but they’re genuine relievers who have experienced success in the role this year. Jackson is a starter who was pitching on one day of rest.
The ninth was the real disaster, though, and one wonders how much differently that would have gone if the Nationals hadn’t put in Drew Storen to get some work in Wednesday’s 8-0 loss. Storen went on to throw another inning Thursday, so by using him again Friday, the Nationals were asking him to pitch a full inning three days in a row for the first time this year. He had pitched three days in a row twice previously since elbow surgery, but they were in a setup role and he wasn’t working full innings (he pitched two innings in three days the first time and 1 2/3 innings in three days the second time).
It was obvious Storen wasn’t at his best tonight. He still could have gotten out with the save if David Freese had been called out on a checked-swing or if Ian Desmond had handled Daniel Descalso’s game-tying single.
But Johnson left him in, even though he was struggling to get his slider down, making him a one-trick pony. Had the Nats sent the game to the bottom of the ninth at 7-7, they still stood a very good chance of winning with the Cardinals’ bench completely exhausted and most of the team’s best relievers having already worked. Instead, Johnson let Storen lose the game, a mistake he’s likely to spent the whole winter regretting.
The Dodgers have signed lefty Rich Hill to a three-year, $48 million contract.The deal was reported to be imminent over the weekend, but was finalized today following Hill’s physical.
Hill missed a good deal of time in 2016 with blister issues — and he’ll be 37-years-old on Opening Day — but when he was healthy he was fantastic, posting the best season in his 12-year career. He had a a 2.12 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 110.1 innings between the Athletics and Dodgers.
Along with a healthy Clayton Kershaw a maturing Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda, the Dodgers rotation looks to be a strength in 2017.
UPDATE: Buster Olney reports that a deal is in place pending a physical. The financial terms are not yet known. UPDATE: Joel Sherman of the New York Post hears it’s in the four-year, $62 million range. That will make him, temporarily at least, the highest-paid closer in baseball history.
12:15 PM: Ken Rosenthal reports that the San Francisco Giants are close to a deal with closer Mark Melancon.
Melancon had an outstanding 2016, posting a 1.64 ERA, 2.42 FIP and a 5.42 K/BB rate in 71.1 innings while saving 47 games for the Pirates and Nationals. You may recall that the Giants had a strong interest in Melancon last summer. It was a well-founded interest given the bullpen woes which waylaid San Francisco in the second half of last season and continued on into the playoffs.
The terms of the apparently impeding deal will be known soon enough, but Rosenthal reported yesterday that Melancon was fielding offers in the four-years, $60 million range. That’s a lot for a closer, but it’ll probably look like a bargain compared to the deals signed with the other two top closers on the market, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. Some have speculated that Chapman could get a deal closer to $100 million than $50 million, though that seems optimistic.
What the past couple of seasons have shown, however, is that having a top bullpen will get you very, very far in Major League Baseball. Champan may have been gassed at the end of Game 7, but he was essential to the Cubs’ World Series title. Powerful bullpens gave the Royals a title in 2015 and the Indians an AL pennant this past year. A weak one was, obviously, the Giants’ achilles heel.
Their great need at the back end of the pen, according to Rosenthal’s report, is apparently about to be filled.