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.
Brewers’ right-hander Phil Bickford received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a drug of abuse, per the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin. This is the second time Bickford has been suspended for recreational drug use, as he was previously penalized in 2015 after testing positive for marijuana prior to the amateur draft.
Bickford was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2015 draft and was later dealt to the Brewers for lefty reliever Will Smith at the 2016 trade deadline. He finished his 2016 campaign in High-A Brevard County, pitching to a 3.67 ERA, 10.0 K/9 rate and 5.0 BB/9 over 27 innings.
Two other suspensions were handed down on Friday, one to Toronto minor league right-hander Pedro Loficial for a positive test for metabolites of Stanozolol and one to Miami minor league outfielder Casey Soltis for a second positive test for drugs of abuse. Loficial will serve a 72-game suspension, while Soltis will serve 50 games. All three suspensions are due to start at the beginning of the 2017 season for each respective minor league team.
Brewers’ GM David Stearns issued a statement after the Commissioner’s Office announced Bickford’s suspension (via Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America):
We are very disappointed to learn of Phil’s suspension, but we fully support the Minor League Baseball Drug Prevention and Testing Program and its enforcement by the Commissioner’s Office. Phil understands he made a mistake, and we fully anticipate that he will learn from this experience.
Confirming a report from Tuesday, the Diamondbacks officially signed right-hander Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $2.75 million contract on Friday. The 39-year-old stands to receive up to $4 million in incentives, per Jack MacGruder of FanRag Sports, with $250,000 kicking in when the veteran reaches 40, 50 and 60 appearances and $500,000 if he reaches 70.
Rodney came three games shy of the 70-appearance mark in 2016 during back-to-back stints with the Padres and Marlins. He put up a cumulative 3.44 ERA on the year, which effectively disguised the extreme split during his performances in San Diego and Miami. The Diamondbacks aren’t anywhere close to contending in 2017, but Rodney should stabilize the back end of their bullpen while providing Arizona GM Mike Hazen with a potential trade chip during next year’s deadline.
Hazen issued a statement following the signing:
With Fernando, we’re getting an established Major League closer and a veteran presence in the bullpen. It is helpful to have someone with his experience on the back end to slow the game down and get the final three outs.