Jonathan Papelbon walks in winning run, chalks it all up to bad luck

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Jonathan Papelbon, the game’s highest paid reliever, gave up three runs on four hits and two walks to blow a 3-1 lead and take a loss against the Rangers on Wednesday. But at least he was willing to shoulder the blame for it.

Well, no, that’s really not what happened at all.

“The whole inning was kind of just one of those innings. You get a cue ball down the third base line. Then you get a double-play ball, which you think is the game-ending double play. It’s not,” Papelbon said. “My whole focus was get a ground ball, get a double play and get us out of the inning.”

Said potential double-play ball — which wasn’t exactly a soft roller — came with the infield drawn well in because the bases were loaded. And the bases were loaded because Papelbon pretty much stunk up the joint. Not only was his fastball a hittable 91 mph, but he was missing with it all over the place. He ended up walking Shin-Soo Choo to end the game on a pitch that wasn’t even close.

Here’s his strike zone plot from BrooksBaseball.net:

source:

That’s just not good. At one point, he nearly hit Donnie Murphy in the head with a splitter or slider that was meant to be low and outside.

It was the second straight game in which the Phillies’ bullpen came up short. Papelbon did pitch a scoreless frame in the season-opening win Monday, but with his velocity in decline and his command clearly not there yet, more shaky outings are likely on the way.

 

Nationals’ sell-off a vindication for Dusty Baker

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The Nationals threw in the towel on Tuesday, trading second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and 1B/OF Matt Adams to the Cardinals. The club also placed outfielder and soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper on revocable waivers but took him back. The Nats’ sell-off is a vindication for former manager Dusty Baker, let go after the Nationals failed to advance past the NLDS for a second straight year.

Baker had roughly the same team current manager Dave Martinez did. It was arguably worse, considering he never wrote Juan Soto‘s name on the lineup card. The 2018 squad, sans Baker, has been marked by mutiny and underachievement. While failing to reach the NLCS in Baker’s two years was disappointing, he took them to Game 5 in the NLDS both years as well as 95 and 97 regular season wins. Right now, Martinez’s squad has a winning percentage more than 100 points lower than Baker’s last year. They’re on pace to go 80-82, which would be their first sub-.500 season since 2011.

Baker has always had an undeserved bad rap. He was, correctly, blamed for the Cubs’ demise, due somewhat to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior falling apart, ostensibly from overuse. However, after his stint in Chicago, Baker took the lowly Reds from the bottom of the NL Central to the top in two years between 2008-10. Then he took the Nationals, which had won a meager 83 games in 2015 and had made the playoffs just twice since moving from Montreal, to two consecutive NLDS Game 5’s.

Not much changed from 2017 to ’18. Martinez inherited Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Michael Taylor, Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy, Matt Wieters, Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Shawn Kelley, and Koda Glover, among others. But for one reason or another — injuries, admittedly, make up one reason — almost all of these players are having worse years under Martinez than under Baker. Describing the 2018 team to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Baker said, “They’re together, but they’re separate.”

Is it strictly Baker that would make the difference? No, of course not. But the Nationals organization seems unwilling or unable to address issues that may extend into the front office. The Nats seem happy to go through a new manager every couple of years and hope that fixes all that ails them. Since Frank Robinson’s five years at the helm from 2002-06, Manny Acta managed two and a half years, Jim Riggleman one and a half, Davey Johnson two, Matt Williams two, Baker two. Maybe the problem was never the manager. Perhaps the problem is the Lerner family and Mike Rizzo.