Davey Johnson fiddles as D.C. burns

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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.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.