Thursday, October 13, 2016

Closing the deal

If this were about politics, I'd pose the following question---

Switch the parties (or candidates) whereby Trump is a Democrat and Clinton a Republican. What percentage of blind loyalists do you think would still cast their Presidential ballots along party lines?
Betcha a lot of them. They just don't know any better.

But it's not about politics. It's about the recently concluded NLDS. The LA Dodgers have eliminated the Washington Nationals. Because the Nats have a few guys that can't close the deal.

Start with Dusty Baker, the manager. He's been a skipper for 20 years and had a lot of talent on different clubs. But his teams could never get over the top (win a World Series) even when they were favored to do so. The man with the toothpick has caught some flak over the years because of his tendency to overuse pitchers to the point of burning them out. This can loom large in October after a long regular season. His career managerial record is just a shade over .500. Nothing special by any means. True, the players play the game, but for whatever reason, those on Baker managed teams always seem to come up short in the post season.

Same with start pitcher Max Scherzer. A former Cy Young winner, MS can be as dominant as anybody out there. Yet he can't seem to carry that dominance into the post season. He was the starter earlier tonight in the deciding Game 5. As we know, the Nats lost. The same guy throwing the same stuff can be super tough from April through September, but seems to turn into a journeyman when October rolls around. Go figure.

The story of pitcher Stephen Strasburg is well known. Like Scherzer, SS can be lights out with his commanding stuff, but he only seems to be good for a half, maybe two thirds of a season before his arm gives out every year. It's great that he can rack up the wins and strike outs for a few months. But not so great when he's always on the shelf with a bad wing come crunch time.

By all accounts, Bryce Harper is an extraordinary, if hotheaded player. The outfielder is a premier defender, has a great throwing arm, speed on the bases, and can hit for average and power. Yet his collar seemed to get a little tight when he stepped into the batter's box this postseason. Could it be the usually superior pitching batters face in the playoffs is too much for him?

Add it all up and the Nationals now find themselves on the outside looking in. There's no shame in losing to a quality team like the Dodgers. And any team can beat any other team on any given day in the majors. But the Nats were slight favorites, playing at home, and had their remaining ace (with SS out again) on the mound (Scherzer). Meanwhile, the Dodgers were forced to pitch the game by committee, having already taxed their starting rotation in earlier games. Washington couldn't have asked for a better scenario.

And now they scatter and go home.

Because they couldn't close the deal -- again.

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