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One bad pitch leads to rare blown save by Soriano

Jun 8, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

AP AP

First things first: Rafael Soriano threw a bad pitch to Yonder Alonso with two outs in the bottom of the ninth late last night in San Diego. A 1-0 fastball up in the zone and over the plate to Alonso, who sent it flying over the right-field fence at Petco Park, sending the game into extra innings, with the Nationals ultimately losing 4-3 in the 11th.

This loss is on Soriano, who was one out away from securing the Nats’ seventh win in eight days but couldn’t finish it off.

But for anyone who believes this was merely the latest example of a substandard closer failing to do his job … well, let’s just go full-on Lee Corso and say: “Not so fast, my friend!”

Since late last summer, Soriano has been among the most-successful closers in baseball. Yes, that’s right. Among the most-successful closers in baseball.

Don’t believe it? Well, last night the veteran right-hander was scored upon for only the second time in his last 36 appearances. During a stretch that dates back to Aug. 24, 2013, he owns an 0.75 ERA, an 0.94 WHIP and 22 saves in 24 opportunities. Alonso’s blast was the first home run he surrendered in nearly 10 months.

That’s as good as any late-inning reliever in baseball. Even Craig Kimbrel. Yep, the Braves’ menacing right-hander, the best closer in the game, has been scored upon in eight of his last 36 appearances, including a blown save last night in Arizona. In the same number of appearances as Soriano, Kimbrel has posted a 2.12 ERA and 1.00 WHIP while converting 23-of-27 save opportunities.

Now, before you blow a gasket, the point here isn’t to suggest Soriano is better than Kimbrel. There’s nobody in baseball who doesn’t believe Kimbrel is the best closer in the game, including yours truly. Point is, Soriano has been much, much better than most who follow the Nationals tend to believe.

All closers are human, which means they’re going to give up a run every once in a while. And “once in a while” hasn’t come very often for Soriano and the Nationals since late last season.

Was last night’s loss a frustrating one? No doubt about it. What was shaping up to be another uplifting come-from-behind win, with Ian Desmond’s monstrous homer in the seventh putting the Nationals ahead for the first time all night, instead turned into a late-night horror show.

Yet this team has still won 6 of 8, still finds itself 1 game back in the NL East (where all five clubs lost yesterday, three after blowing ninth-inning leads) and still boasts the best bullpen in the majors.

That’s thanks in no small part to one of the very best closers in the majors right now, a fact that tends to get overlooked on those highly rare occasions in which he doesn’t get the job done.

  1. knoxvillenat - Jun 8, 2014 at 6:28 AM

    More upsetting to me was Fransden getting picked off on third base in the first inning. Where the heck did he think he was going and why didn’t the coach tell him to keep his butt closer to the bag?

    Bad base running by a veteran, no excuse for that.

    • Doc - Jun 8, 2014 at 8:31 AM

      Good pitchers like Cashner need to be had early in the game, before they establish themselves.

      Fransden’s goofy play prevented us from a major rally. His being picked off was seriously stupid!

    • ehay2k - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:14 AM

      My thoughts exactly. This was not entrely on Soriano, who has been satistically solid,although his outings make me think he is heavily invested in Maalox stock!

      When Frandsen got picked off, I wondered aloud if that would come back to haunt us. It did. And looking at the replay, Henley was sleeping because it was clear Frandsen had to retreat a full second or two before the throw came. So far this year, I have been very disappointed in our 3b coach – he sends guys when he shouldn’t, stops them when he shouldn’t, and let’s them roam way off base when he shouldn’t. He doesn’t seem to know who has a good OF arm and who doesn’t. (Hint G. Stanton, good. Ben Revere, not so good). If there were a WAR for coaches he’d already be a minus 3.

      MW needs to address this.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:04 AM

      +1

  2. tcostant - Jun 8, 2014 at 6:38 AM

    Just a heart breaking loss, I feel bad for anyone who stayed up only to watch that.

  3. sjberke - Jun 8, 2014 at 6:40 AM

    This is only Soriano’s second blown save of the season. I can think of only one instance where a closer went through a whole season and converted every single save opportunity–Eric Gagne’s legendary 2003 season for the Dodgers. Even the greatest closer of all, Mariano Rivera, usually blew 3-5 save opportunities a year.

    But you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Soriano last year blew his third save opportunity of the season in April and then blew two more in May. That crystallized negative feelings for him that were already there due to his contract and sympathy for the supplanted Drew Storen. At this point, it might take a Gagne-like performance to reverse those feelings.

  4. tcostant - Jun 8, 2014 at 6:47 AM

    So I was long asleep when this game finished, but trying to figure out why you take your starter out after less than 65 pitches and only giving up two runs in six innings? He hit the inning before and was not PH for

    • masterfishkeeper - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      1. He hadn’t had a start for quite a while, so 65 pitches was a lot. Also, he wasn’t all that stretched out in the minors.

      2. The Padres were starting to figure him out.

      3. The Nats bullpen was rested.

  5. natsfan1a - Jun 8, 2014 at 7:23 AM

    I was asleep as well, but good to know where to cast the blame this morning. Nah, just kidding. So, if I take the time to speed-watch last night’s game, which I did record, any notable plays/event that I should check out? (Confidential to sec3: thanks for the editorial intervention early in the game thread, but I can quit any time I want to. ;-))

  6. Joe Seamhead - Jun 8, 2014 at 8:39 AM

    Thanks, Mark, for setting the record straight. I felt horrible for Soriano last night after he had struck out one guy, then made a terrific play on a squibbler to get the guy guy at first for the second out, only to blow the save with a misplaced pitch. I likeDrew Storen, but though we’ll never know, I doubt that he could have put up the same numbers as Rafael has over his last 36 appearances.

  7. Doc - Jun 8, 2014 at 8:46 AM

    Good to set Soriano’s record straight, Mark.

    As I’ve said before, Soriano has a PR problem. Also, everybody focuses on Kimbrel because he has good ol’ swing n’ miss stuff!

    I stayed up for the whole game; the longer you stay up, the worse you feel about the loss.

    Only 102 games left.!

    Let’s get the Pads today,guys, and blow away Mikey Mo’s Gigantes!!!!!

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 8, 2014 at 9:31 AM

      Mikey Mo with a walkoff last night. He’s a special player. X factor type.

  8. Eric - Jun 8, 2014 at 9:08 AM

    Big +1 for this post, Mark.

  9. rmoore446 - Jun 8, 2014 at 9:27 AM

    As Joe E. Brown said at the end of Some Like It Hot: “Nobody’s Perfect.”

    I watched to the bitter end.

    • Doc - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:45 AM

      Good quote rmoore!

      Time for some levity. I laughed as a kid, when I saw that flick. I

      laughed just as much when I saw it as a big kid!

  10. Faraz Shaikh - Jun 8, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    Ugh, why can’t we win all our games?

  11. scnatsfan - Jun 8, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    I stayed awake until thr HR at that point I had seen enough

  12. Theophilus T.S. - Jun 8, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    Soriano’s PR problem isn’t because of his salary or Drew Storen. His salary is huge for a reliever but would you rather be paying Papelbon? I think not. At the time, fans were clamoring for the Nats to shower millions on Fielder and others so why not on a relief pitcher? And Storen had no monarchical claim on the closer’s job. Soriano’s PR issues included (1) perception as a non-cooperative pouter and diva, which may have been accurate then but I think has been “adjusted” by Williams, with one result being better, cleaner ninth inning outings; (2) the lost draft pick “squandered” for a player about whom much the fan base was ambivalent — on their most charitable days. This probably wasn’t a major issue for most fans but it has recurred to me many times.

    Despite Storen’s stellar season so far, Soriano’s season has been just/nearly as good and you need to have a serious debate with yourself on the question, will Storen be an improvement next season, assuming Soriano doesn’t qualify for his option? Or, would you really prefer to have Soriano back next season? Barrett might be the “next” Nats closer but does anybody think he’s really ready for that gig, based on this year’s “low leverage” situational use? I don’t.

    Right now my view is that Soriano is the most serviceable option until someone shows beyond a reasonable doubt his is better for the job.

    • Doc - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:47 AM

      Amen, bro!

  13. Theophilus T.S. - Jun 8, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    “he is.”

  14. Section 222 - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    Nice post Mark. Thanks to the good work of JoeS and others here, I think the general view of Sori amongst your faithful Insiders has “adjusted” over the past few months. You still have a few people clinging to totally without factual basis memes that “he never has a clean inning,” “it’s always an adventure,” or “he’s a diva and a pouter” but not many. I didn’t stay up to watch Ray and Johnny after last night, but FP didn’t show the kind of disgust that he did after Werth saved Sori against the Mets several weeks ago. Facts are stubborn things, and slowly but surely they can change people’s attitudes.

    Much as I like the guy, I doubt he’ll be back as our closer next year. It seems there are already efforts to make sure he doesn’t finish enough games to qualify for his option. And I’m fine with that. Going into his 5th year as a big leaguer, Storen will likely get another shot, with Barrett waiting in the wings.

    • veejh - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:54 AM

      No way Sori is back next season, I think his option is something crazy, like $15M, and that money needs to be spent retaining either Dez or JZim.

      I was a total Soriano hater, I am one of the few that has changed his tune. I definitely don’t love him, but my disdain is gone….he has performed excellently this year and we need him to continue. Tough luck last night. Ohwell.

    • 6ID20 - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:15 AM

      Nice effort by Soriano to make sure he didn’t get credit for a game finished after he finished that game last night.

  15. Whynat - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    17 Closers in MLB have better save conversion rates in 2014 than Soriano:
    Street, Uehara, Holland, Soria, Papelbon, Cishek, Janssen, Hawkins, Romo, F. Rodriguez, Rodney, Jansen, Chapman, Doolittle, Perkins, Reed, and Qualls,

    He is serviceable, but not elite. He was promoted as an elite closer, which he is not. That is why fans have not warmed to him. It is all about meeting or exceeding expectations.

    • adcwonk - Jun 8, 2014 at 12:26 PM

      You can’t just look at that single statistic. For example: both Papelbon and Soriano have given up runs in only two appearances. But the time Papelbon gave up one run, his team was ahead by two, so he got the save. When Soriano gave up one run last night, Nats were ahead by only one, so he gets a blown save.

      Further, it appears you are looking at “blown saves” only, and not including losses. E.g., Chapman, in 11 appearances has 1 BS and 1 loss. Soriano in 24 appearances has 2 BS and 0 losses. So you’re saying Chapman has a better “save conversion rate” ? Similarly, Cishek in 25 appearances has only 1 BS — but he has _two_ losses. How is that better than Soriano.

      Soriano, for this spring, is an elite closer thus far, if you look at the big picture.

    • IsawTeddywin - Jun 8, 2014 at 3:06 PM

      So since I don’t see kimbrel on that list, guess he’s not an elite closer, either.

      • Whynat - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:01 PM

        not this year, anyway

  16. natsguy - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    Hey Eric is it hard to see where you are.

    The land of rose colored glasses and he who shall not be named.

    • Eric - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:47 AM

      What on earth are you even talking about?

  17. hitmeimopen - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    Soriano’s stats do not reflect the many times he is bailed out by the defense behind him. I am NOT a fan of his and although it may seem that I rail against him only when things like last night happen, what does that say? It’s his only job…and I think he doesn’t do it well. I could live with that if he didn’t thumb his nose at the opposition after a win with that stupid ‘untuck’. It is distasteful…he bothers me like no other Nat…even Espinosa.

    • Section 222 - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:43 AM

      All closers are “bailed out” by their defense. Every single one. I seriously doubt you can show that he has an unusually large number of great plays made behind him, as opposed to major league players making major league plays, which is *their* job, than any other closer, but have at it if you think you can. Until then, your opinion is obviously colored by your distaste for his ritual. Plenty of closers do something similar, and plenty of fans enjoy it. It has nothing to do, however, with whether he is a good closer or not.

      • hitmeimopen - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:13 PM

        Nothing can be done about it, anyway…at least for this season.

  18. veejh - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:30 AM

    DP…regarding your bunt comment on the previous thread….well, when a batter hasn’t been hitting that well, I disagree. And specifically, in the case of McLouth not bunting over Espi, what happened? He grounded to 3rd andEspi was forced out at 2nd…..a wasted out instead.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:42 AM

      +1 it’s situational based on several factors. Poor batter who can bunt so you bunt. Give Span and that #2 hitter a chance while putting the pressure on the Pads.

      The chance of McLouth getting a hit in that situation I put at about 1:8. Not good odds.

      • veejh - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:02 AM

        And yes, Span and Werth to follow. I like those odds, rather.

  19. scnatsfan - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    It will happen again and, when it does, it will break our hearts again. And it will happen to every team.

    • 6ID20 - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:27 AM

      I bet you said the very same thing in the middle of the night on a Saturday in September 2005 when the Nats closer served up a gopher ball to an obscure funny-named SD batter with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, thereby blowing what looked like a certain win. Didn’t you?

      • Section 222 - Jun 8, 2014 at 2:16 PM

        I remember that night. It was even more crushing since we had a 5-0 lead going into the 9th. I said the same thing that night when Cordero gave up a grand slam to tie the game that I did last night. I’m sorry, but can’t be reprinted on a family blog.

        Just for grins, I looked up the Chief’s numbers during his magical All Star season — 47 saves, 7 blown saves (87% save conversion rate), a 1.82 ERA in 71 appearances. In only 34 of them did he face the minimum number of batters.

  20. philipd763 - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:54 AM

    Same old problem….no offense. The problem has been going on for two seasons. We need a lineup of consistent hitters, not a bunch of guys who pad.their stats with two week hot streaks.

    • veejh - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:57 AM

      Meh….we’ve been mashing. Cashner is good. As soon as they go to the pen, what happens…3 runs.

    • adcwonk - Jun 8, 2014 at 12:51 PM

      Same old problem….no offense.

      Hello? Nats have second highest run differential in NL!

      • natszee - Jun 8, 2014 at 12:59 PM

        Yes. Glad we drafted a bunch of pitchers, again. Not like we might need a SS, 2B or 1B option in the near future. Guess Rizzo feels that is the trade currency. I agree to a point but would love to see some internal growth at these gaps.

  21. philipd763 - Jun 8, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    In Soriano’s case good stats are very deceiving. He’s awful!

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:16 AM

      We’ve seen awful closers. Soriano is not one of them, even if he isn’t perfect. When Joel Hanrahan was here, now he was awful.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:20 AM

        Of course, Hanrahan went to Pittsburg and had a few terrific years after he left DC, but he was infuriating when he was here.

      • Section 222 - Jun 8, 2014 at 1:10 PM

        Yes. Remember his nickname here? Gascanrahan!

    • adcwonk - Jun 8, 2014 at 12:53 PM

      He’s awful?

      You, know, sometimes stats *do* say something.

      What do you make of the fact that he’s only allowed runs twice in 36 appearances? How in the world can you be awful and do that? Are you attributing it all to luck? Get real.

    • Eric - Jun 8, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      Somehow I have the impression that phillipd763 was being ironic…could be wrong though.

  22. veejh - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    Post game, Ray blamed Espinosa for not playing deep on the bloop winning single, and I was wondering why Werth was playing so deep against that weak batter. If the batter blasts a hit over Werth’s head, good on him.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:38 AM

      Exact replay of Bj Upton walking off last year.

    • laddieblahblah - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:53 AM

      Werth was playing shallow, not deep, against a RH hitter, to try and make a play at the plate in case of a hit to RF, or to pick off a line drive to save a hit. He was almost close enough to make that play, even though the pop up dropped where the 2nd baseman would normally have made that play.

  23. veejh - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    Questionable move leaving Zimmerman in LF after we took the lead, by MW. The leadoff double in the 8th, that Zim almost got to, probably would have been caught by McLouth. Clipp pitched out of it, but had he not, it could have ugly for Zim, and MW.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:41 AM

      That got some big jeers on the Nats blog. Tough play.

      The Nats lost because they didn’t get insurance runs.

  24. laddieblahblah - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    Soriano made a location mistake to Alonso, but it would not have mattered if a San Diego reliever had not also made a location mistake to Desmond. Pitchers make mistakes, and good hitters take advantage of them. That’s baseball.

    But the Nats cannot afford to keep losing 1-run games, especially against teams like the Padres, who have the worst offense in the league. If the Nats were just .500 in 1-run games they would have a solid lead in the NL East, right now.

    In the 11th inning, Desi was not able to reach an 8-bounce bleeder which snuck through the SS hole because Desi was playing up the middle, and Danny, for some reason, was playing in, on the IF dirt, and could not reach a fly ball that dropped so short in RF that Werth could not get there, either, even though he was playing shallow, to begin with.

    Stammen pitched well, getting a slow grounder to short and a pop fly to shallow RF, just behind the 2nd baseman’s normal defensive position, but both ended up as hits, because of ineffective defensive positioning. I am sure there must have been a rational for positioning the defense that way, but it cost them the winning run.

    They can’t just keep beating themselves that way if they want to go long into the post-season. The only good AB by the Padres in the bottom of the 10th was the walk. Stammen pitched that guy well, too, but the hitter did not bite on 2 very good pitches from Craig, taking them both for ball 3 and ball 4.

    That was a team loss. Frandsen and the 3rd base coach deserve some blame, as well. That is a mistake that cannot be made.

    The league must see something in the way the Nats run the bases. Span was picked off, too, by the Padres, and Ryan got hurt sliding back into 2nd base after being picked off by the CATCHER! The CATCHER! From behind the plate Ryan was picked off by the catcher even though he was just a few feet from the bag, and then he cost his team a month and a half of DL time so his thumb could heal because he got picked off 2nd base by the CATCHER!

    They are not playing like champions, or even like serious contenders. That is why they have lost so many 1-run games that they could have, and should have, won.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      Good synopsis as it’s not 1 play that beat them. 1 run margins are always in jeopardy with 1 swing.

    • veejh - Jun 8, 2014 at 12:01 PM

      Not to detract from everything you’ve pointed out, but Stammen got away with a bunch of pitches last night. He threw 3 or 4 cement mixers in the 10th.

    • dcwx61 - Jun 8, 2014 at 1:12 PM

      +2

  25. natsempire - Jun 8, 2014 at 11:58 AM

    Soriano has been great. But he was due back on earth, eventually . Unfortunately,
    he is likely to be hit hard and blow saves over the next dozen or so outings.

    • veejh - Jun 8, 2014 at 12:02 PM

      I disagree. Just because he finally blew a save, doesn’t necessarily mean the flood gates have been opened.

  26. natsempire - Jun 8, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    I don’t mean that the next dozen or so outings- he will blow saves on each and
    every one of them. But that during that time frame, we are likely to see him struggle
    much more often than he has over the last 36 appearances.

    • adcwonk - Jun 8, 2014 at 1:44 PM

      Why? The last time he gave up runs, which resulted in a blown save, it was followed by nine straight scoreless appearances.

  27. Eric - Jun 8, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    Great analysis, laddie. I do think our running game is WAY better than the train wreck it was when Zim hurt himself. It was an unmitigated disaster at the time, for sure, but I think they’ve made some great adjustments since then. They’ve been way more selective and, as a result, pretty efficient, albeit not prolific.

    On the other hand, I feel that defensive positioning has helped us little and hurt us somewhat regularly since the season began. But, that’s entirely perception. It’s quite possible that I’m just not noticing the shifts and adjustments unless they fail. Would love to see an NI article analyzing the subject.

    • dcwx61 - Jun 8, 2014 at 1:24 PM

      +1

      • dcwx61 - Jun 8, 2014 at 1:25 PM

        We are much better than a 500 team.
        No one has all three: Bullpen, starting pitching and lineup, and bench. A 4 tools team

    • Section 222 - Jun 8, 2014 at 2:32 PM

      I’m pretty sure it’s perception. Especially watching on TV it’s very difficult to see how defensive positioning is responsible for a ball getting hit right to our guys. At the park sometimes you can tell. No positioning system is going to be perfect, but I have no doubt at all that it’s saving more hits than it’s giving up.

      Like you I’d enjoy a piece by Mark analyzing how it’s going to so far.

  28. dcwx61 - Jun 8, 2014 at 1:16 PM

    Not that it matters one iota…but I have yet to believe in Matt’s in game play calling. I think he manages a good tight clubhouse, however. But you gotta believe during the season.

  29. dcwx61 - Jun 8, 2014 at 1:22 PM

    But I’m bummed,,,just finished The Lou Gehrig book by Eig.

    Now some research shows that trauma to the head could cause the conditions that appear like ALS.
    He had some nasty knockdowns…The key was he didn’t give his concussions time to heal like we do now.
    Of course, no batting helmets back then/

    Will read a more jovial story of the Big Bam next

    • dcwx61 - Jun 8, 2014 at 1:29 PM

      But the beginning of his story sucks too….Left to an orphanage at age 7….no visitors…mother dies of exhuastion at age 39…grew up Pigtown..Father an angry drunk

      • dcwx61 - Jun 8, 2014 at 1:30 PM

        Maybe ought to read the Yasiel Puig story instead…but it aint over

    • Doc - Jun 8, 2014 at 2:05 PM

      Haven’t read the book yet.

      Gehrig also had a football career while at Columbia–some knocks to the head there too, possibly.

  30. Doc - Jun 8, 2014 at 2:11 PM

    Still bummed about Fransden’s and Henley’s pick off last night.

    Williams needs to give them hell, and fine them both! Step us to the mic, Matty!

    Who put 3B coach on Henley’s face????

    • adcwonk - Jun 8, 2014 at 2:20 PM

      He may be giving them hell, for all we know. I would think it’s best to keep it in the clubhouse . . .

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