Baseball is not a Victory March
There is one thing very important to understand about Tyler Clippard. He has not only been one of the Nationals best relievers, but one of the best relievers in the NL. His ERA this season is almost double that of his last season with a 2012 ERA of 3.59 compared to last season's ERA of 1.83 but his FIP is virtually the same at 3.21 in 2012 compared to 3.17 in 2011. The year before that in 2010 he had an ERA of 3.07 and FIP of 3.18. For three straight seasons Tyler Clippard has been the same pitcher, and a very good one at that.
His recent struggles shouldn't be used as proof of anything. There is no such thing as a closers mentality in baseball and the only thing that is different about the ninth inning is that when it ends the game is over. When Clippard blew the save last night there should have been a feeling of disappointment in the crowd, but not the level of vitriol and in some cases downright hatred that was spewed at Tyler Clippard.
Storen is back and his most recent outing was great. Storen should be the closer at this point, but none of this says that Tyler Clippard is a bad pitcher. He is a very good one. The work Clippard has done as the Nationals set-up man over the last two seasons is nothing short of phenomenal. He is one of the best in the bussiness and what happened last night is going to happen to even the very best relievers in baseball.
Examine it for a minute. When Clippard throws a pitch he is all arms and legs flying all over the place and falling off the mound. Aoki was smart to bunt against him and he placed the bunt perfectly. The person with the easiest shot to have thrown him out would have been a good fielding pitcher, but because of Clippard delivery he isn't that. Ryan Zimmerman had to run in and try and field the bunt perfectly. He wasn't able to do this, and so Aoki was on first.
After allowing to let Aoki reach base Clippard was doing a good job of holding him until Flores let a passed ball go by. Rickie Weeks then hit a long fly ball that advanced Aoki to third. At this point the Nats should have been happy to have an out. Weeks is one of the best power hitting second basemen in the game, but next up was Ryan Braun. Time after time this season the Nationals have found themselves in this situation and Davey Johnson always elects to pitch to the batter. Davey fears no one and wants his players to fear no one, but picking your battles can be smart.
Walking Braun would have been the by the book move, but Davey pitched to him and Braun made him pay with a game tying single. The save was blown, but the game wasn't lost yet. At that moment though it did look like something changed in Clippard. Up until Braun hit the single he looked like Tyler Clippard and was pitching like Clippard, but after that his body language change. Trying to read a players body language isn't the smartest thing to do, and perhaps this was just another bad night in what has been a bad month for Clippard, or maybe it is getting to him.
All players slump. Even relievers. When a reliever slumps it seems more important because their slumps cost teams games in a very visable manner. Clippard has been one of the best relievers on the Nationals and he will be that again. This one loss is nothing to get overly concerned about. If the Nats can manage to go 6-6 in their remaining games the Braves have to go 11-0 to win the division.