They say closing can be a different animal. Matt Albers found that out as he struggled to find the strike zone in the ninth inning in an 11-10 loss to the Atlanta Braves. He had to groove a 2-0 pitch to Tyler Flowers, who had struck out in his first three at bats against Stephen Strasburg, but drove Albers pitch into the Nationals bullpen for a three run homerun. That drove up his ERA.
Both starters got assaulted for homeruns in five or less innings of work. For Mike Foltynewicz he had perhaps his worst outing of the year. He gave up a lead off homerun to Trea Turner in the first, a ball that just eluded the leaping Ender Inciarte in centerfield. A walk to Bryce Harper and back to back singles by Adam Lind and Matt Wieters scored Harper. The Braves were still up 3-2 when he got Micahel Taylor to hit a hard grounder to second.
In the second Brian Goodwin took a Folty pitch down the right field line with the ball not stopping until it had reached the Nationals bullpen. Two singles and a walk would load the bases. Anthony Rendon hit a fairly shallow fly to right field with Trea Turner challenging the gun of Nick Markakis. That gun does not appear so lethal anymore with Turner easily beating what appeared to be a loopy throw from Markakis.
The Nationals added another run in the fourth on a single by Matt Wieters and a double into the left field corner by Brian Goodwin. Stephen Strasburg hit a hard grounder to second with Brandon Phillips choosing to get the out at first rather than throw it home. Despite the run the Nationals were still down by one, 6-5.
In the fourth the Nationals chased Folty. Bryce Harper led the inning off with a rocket line drive that barreled into the right field bleachers to tie the game. Daniel Murphy singled and Adam Lind hit a high, routine fly ball to Inciarte in center. Murphy seemed to put on a burst of speed as he rounded second and raced to third with only one out. Did he forget how many outs there were? Inciarte lost the ball and it bounced behind him for a double with Murphy scoring easily. Perhaps Murphy recognized Inciarte had lost the ball? That was the end for Folty. Michael Taylor singled into left center with the dive by Matt Kemp not being caught and bouncing the ball away far enough to allow Lind to score from second. Brian Goodwin lined a single to right with Markakis diving and bouncing the ball away enough for Michael Taylor to score from first on a single. The four runs gave the Nationals a 9-6 lead.
Strasburg had his troubles as well. He gave up a two run homer to Nick Markakis in the first inning, only the second homerun of the year by Markakis. Matt Kemp followed with a solo homerun off a 97 mile per hour fastball into centerfield reaching the first two rows of the Red Porch. The Nationals were quickly down 3-0.
After the Nationals had strafed Folty for four runs to take a 4-3 lead Strasburg got lit up again. Brandon Phillips singled and Nick Markakis walked to put two runners on. With two out Matt Adams connected into a pitch and hit it over the 402 marker in centerfield to give the Braves a 6-4 lead.
When Strasburg departed after the fifth inning he was still in good shape to be the winning pitcher. The Nationals were up 9-6. Strasburg had given up three long balls but he had whiffed 10 hitters, many of them swinging and missing at his curveball. At close to 100 pitches and clearly not sharp Dusty Baker chose to go the bullpen.
Oh that bullpen. It is turning into a nasty word in D.C. From Drew Storen to Jonathan Papelbon to now Blake Treinen the fans have not seen a closer they have liked in a few years now. Jacob Turner worked two scoreless innings, but the signs should have come in the seventh inning when his outs were hard hit. Perhaps there is not an arm in the pen Dusty can trust except for maybe Matt Albers, but he wanted to get to the ninth inning before using Matt.
Matt Adams hit the first pitch thrown by Jacob Turner in the eighth inning for a homerun into the right field bleachers. Rio Ruiz doubled and a four pitch walk to Dansby Swanson ended the day for Jacob Turner.
In comes the fireballing Enny Romero. He is lefthanded and throws bbs that consistently hit 100 plus miles per hour. His first bb was fired into the arm of pinch hitter Danny Santana. The problem with Romero is he has no control where his bbs are going. With the bases loaded Ender Inciarte hits the next pitch deep enough into left field to score Ruiz. That made it 9-8. With two out it was enough to bring in Matt Albers.
Matt got Brandon Phillips to ground to short to end the inning. The Nats went down meekly in the bottom frame and Albers came on to protect the one run lead in the ninth. The animal began to roar in the head of Albers. He couldn’t find the plate. After getting ahead of Nick Markakis 0-2 he threw four balls to walk the leadoff hitter. A called third strike to Matt Albers gave the fans something to cheer about, but then Matt Adams walked on a 3-2 count. That brought up the hitless Tyler Flowers who had struck out three times and grounded to second. Albers threw two balls to Flowers. Not wanting to walk him to load the bases and put the tying run on third with just one out Albers next pitch was grooved and Flowers blasted the pitch into the right field bullpen. Bryce could only turn and watch it sail into the arena that has been the bane of the Nationals season.
Bakers trusted reliever was tarnished as all the other bullpen arms. His 1.06 ERA climbed to 2.10. Shawn Kelley came on to pitch and made fans moan even more with a two base throwing error. Fortunately he got out of the inning without another run scoring. Kelley has only given up 8 homeruns in 16 innings. That lost him the closer job.
The Nat bats finally perked up against the Braves bullpen, realizing they were behind and had to score some runs. After scoring in four consecutive innings to start the game they were shutout by the Braves bullpen in the next four innings. A Michael Taylor double and Trea Turner single had given the Nationals one run. Bryce Harper failed to provide the walkoff, lining to center for the third out.
Game Notes: Overall the Nationals are hitting .274. After the sixth inning their batting average drops to .249. That means that in addition to having a poor bullpen, the Nationals have trouble hitting against the opponents bullpen, a double edged sword…The Nationals 11 blown saves are still two behind the Mets and Rays who lead the majors with 13. But only Minnesota has a worse OPS (.812) than the Nationals (.810) bullpen. The Nationals 5.11 ERA is third worst in the major leagues with the Detroit Tigers (5.14) and Minnesota Twins (5.55) falling behind them. Surprisingly the 63 walks by the Nationals bullpen is tied with Cleveland for the least walks by a bullpen. Perhaps the bullpen should think about throwing more balls…Stephen Strasburg had his curveball working. Most of his strikeouts were swings and misses at his curveball. His fastball was hit hard…Nick Markakis arm is no longer a threat. There is too much loop in what used to be a cannon for an arm…People in the stands refer to Matt Albers as Fat Albers in reference to Bill Cosby and his Fat Albert character. Let’s just say Albers does not have a svelte figure…It was $1 ice cream night. In order to get the ice cream you had to use an app from MLB. Myworld still uses a flip phone which does not take kindly to apps. So much for our $1 ice cream…Brian Goodwin was a triple shy of the cycle. He was intentionally walked in his fourth at bat and struck out in the ninth in his final at bat to miss hitting for they cycle.