Remember when the Washington Nationals had the best bullpen in baseball?
The bullpen made things exciting again when Drew Storen gave up two runs in the ninth, but the Nationals (58-47) had just enough insurance runs to hang on, defeating the Miami Marlins (53-54) by a score of 4-3.
The win gives the Nationals a full game lead in the NL East after the Atlanta Braves lost last night, and sends them home with a 5-4 record on their three-city road trip.
Today’s hero was Tanner Roark (W, 11-6). The offense was stagnant after scoring a run in the first, but Roark locked the Marlins down despite getting little support. He pitched seven innings, giving up just one run on three hits and two walks while striking out seven. His start today was his fourth straight in which he has gone seven innings, allowed one run, and earned the win. Eleven wins on the year gives him the staff lead, marking another improbable step on his unexpected rise.
Joe made an observation on Twitter this afternoon that I feel must be repeated here. Over the past 365 days, Roark has the fourth best ERA in baseball. He leads many universally regarded aces such as Adam Wainwright, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, and Yu Darvish. By Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP, Roark is 17th, but still ahead of pitchers like Darvish, Johnny Cueto, and Jordan Zimmermann. By any statistical measure, Roark compares to baseball’s best pitchers, and a year is far from a small sample size.
Unfortunately, the Nats’ offense did not quite live up to the level of their starter. Anthony Rendon drove in Denard Span as the game’s second batter, but Brad Hand went on cruise control after that. From the second through the seventh, Hand gave up no runs on two hits and one walk. He only struck out two Nats all day, but did a great job of inducing weak contact.
But in the eighth, Hand was touched for two hits to open the frame and got pulled. A Jayson Werth sacrifice fly broke the tie, but the Nats were not done. Adam “Wheels” LaRoche walked and stole second with two outs and a runner on third, and Ian Desmond smacked a single that brought home two very important insurance runs.
In a bit of a quirky move, Manager Matt Williams decided that Rafael Soriano would take today off, having pitched three times in the past five days, so it was Storen who got the save opportunity. He surrendered a home run to Giancarlo Stanton to lead off the inning, but got two outs after that. Miami had fight in them once again though, and put the tying run on second and winning run on first after a single, an RBI double, and a walk. Fortunately, Storen rebounded to force Reed Johnson into a game-ending groundout.
The Nationals’ bullpen was abysmal this series. In six innings, they surrendered an incredible nine runs on 12 hits and two walks. Had those six innings been scoreless, it’s easy to see the Nats sweeping this series. But no bullpen can be perfect, and one can only expect them to rebound when the Nats welcome the Philadelphia Phillies to town starting tomorrow.