The Nationals are somewhere they have not been since 2005 – .500 at the All-Star break. The Nats have received contributions from myriad sources in the first half, getting big hits and pitching performances from unglamorous players such as Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Tom Gorzelanny. When considering the best Nat of the first half, a few names jump to mind: Michael “Beast Mode” Morse and his 15 homers (and his feathered hair), Jordan Zimmermann and his emergence as a bonafide top of the rotation starter, and Tyler Clippard and his microscopic ERA (despite the dweeby goggles). When you think about the whole picture, however, the National player who had the best first half was Drew Storen.
The Nationals rolled the dice a little with Storen’s psyche coming into the season. They knew he had all the tools to be a closer coming into last season, and gave him a taste of the gig late in the summer. Storen appeared 54 times in 2010, compiling a 3.54 ERA and picking up 5 saves. Many thought Storen would be the full-time closer coming into 2011, but then-manager Jim Riggleman announced Storen and Sean Burnett would share the job. When Burnett melted down in the late spring, Storen emerged as the clear-cut closer in the District. He snatched the job at the beginning of June and has not looked back since.
At the break, Storen’s numbers are downright impressive. He has 23 saves in 26 chances, has won 5 games (a hefty number for a closer) and has allowed 13 earned runs in over 46 innings pitched (good for a 2.54 ERA). The numbers are undeniably good, but a closer look at recent results makes you understand just how critical Storen has been to the team’s success.
First, let us consider the early days of the Davey Johnson tenure. In Johnson’s first ten games as skipper, the Nationals won five times. The Nats won each of those games by a single run, but that was not the only similarity. In all five of those victories, Storen pitched the ninth inning, picking up three saves and a win in the process. When Johnson decided Storen needed a break, the Nats promptly coughed up an 8-run lead to the Cubs (probably not just a coincidence).
That 5-game run was not unique for the Punch and Judy Nats, who have won 13 games by a single run since the beginning of June (and lost only three one-run games in that span). The importance of Storen’s season goes far beyond the Nats current win-loss record. Having a ice-water veined closer is crucial for that kind of team, and Storen has proven himself to be just that. He has given the Nationals front office one less thing to worry about going into the offseason.
It must be said, however, that closers can be fickle. Based on this season’s numbers, Zimmermann might be more of a sure thing than Storen. That is not to take anything away from Storen, who looks like he is hear to stay, but for every Mariano Rivera and Dennis Eckersley, there are fifty J.J. Putz’s, Brad Lidge’s and Dan Kolb’s – guys who through injury or loss of command went from top-line closer to also-rans in MLB bullpens. With that in mind, the Nats should continue to develop late-innings guys down on the farm. For now, they can just enjoy how Storen keeps slamming the door late in tight games.
News and notes from around the Bigs:
- Morse may have gotten hosed on the All-Star game (Pablo Sandoval? Scott Rolen? Really?), but you have to applaud the team’s marketing campaign.
- Bryce Harper was the main draw of the MLB Futures game (which also featured AAA-bound Brad Peacock), but went 0-4.
- Tyler Clippard discusses his flexibility.
Small notes from around the Bigs: We will keep it in-house here, so we can discuss an interesting trend at the All-Star game. As discussed above, the Nats standout player from the first-half was Drew Storen, a closer they drafted out of Stanford in 2009. Storen would be an All-Star if the Nats were in playoff position at the moment, but a couple of other Nat-related closers are there. Aaron Crow of the Royals (who the Nats drafted in the first round of 2008, but could not sign – they picked Storen with the compensation pick) and Joel Hanrahan of the Pirates (dealt to Pittsburgh by the Nats in ’09) are both appearing in the Midsummer Classic.
As always, check out Patrick’s homepage for all of his thoughts on the Nationals. Please share your thoughts, complaints and comments below. For daily updates, you can subscribe to these articles (free at the top of the page) or follow Patrick on Twitter (@Neuman85). Enjoy today’s entertainment below!
Song of the Day: The Avett Brothers – “Pretty Girl from Matthews”
Nats Video of the Day: Double video today, with a look inside Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen’s bachelor pad (warning: bad hair and forced humor ahead).