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Did final-inning loss erase Nat's magic?
LET'S TALK baseball
It was a fun year for Washington Nationals' fans until the final inning of the final game. Then, man, what a letdown!
One strike away--twice--from moving on to the league championship series. Then, disaster. It was a heartbreaking ending.
It was pitching that got the Nationals into the playoffs and pitching that sealed their doom in the final inning. Walks set the stage for a couple of key St. Louis hits and it was all over.
Walks! They usually come home to haunt a pitcher. If you allow the batter to put the ball in play, even the best hitters fail about seven out of 10 times. A walk doesn't give the batter a chance to fail. You young pitchers remember that.
Perhaps Drew Storen, Washington's closer who was on the mound during the final St. Louis rally, was just nervous in this high-profile setting. That does happen, especially to young players. The kid deserved better.
I wondered how the young Nationals would handle the pressure down the stretch and they seemed a little shaky at the end, backing into the National League's Eastern Division title with a couple of losses. Then, with the pressure off, they finished strong, ending with the best record in baseball.
Pressure took its toll in the playoffs, too, with the Nats getting bombed twice and their top pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, walking batters like he rarely did in the regular season.
Still, it was a good season, especially since nobody expected the Nats to finish much above .500. The fans definitely got their money's worth.
So what about the future? Was this season a fluke or will the Nats continue to be one of the best teams in baseball? That's a tough question.
This year, the Nationals won about a dozen games they could easily have lost, games where they had a little luck and came though with a win in their final at-bats.
Will luck be with them next year? Remember, you take away a dozen victories from a 98-win season and you have a team that is just barely over .500.
Will Gonzalez win 21 games again? Will shortstop Ian Desmond, who had a career year, hit as well again next season? Will getting bombed in the final inning of the playoffs destroy Storen's confidence? After all, he has all winter to think about it.