More than a few armchair sports psychologists spent the weekend wondering whether the recent loss of the closer’s role was at the center of Drew Storen‘s meltdown this weekend for the Washington Nationals. In case you missed it, Storen, who had 29 saves before losing his job to Jonathan Papelbon at the trade deadline, allowed six earned runs in the span of two days and took two losses at the hands of the Colorado Rockies. In the process, his ERA rose from 1.52 to 2.70. On Friday night, Storen allowed an eighth-inning grand slam to Carlos Gonzalez, en route to a 5-4 Nationals’ loss. He came back Sunday to allow a tiebreaking two-run single to All-Star DJ LeMahieu, again in the eighth inning.
If you want to pin this weekend’s struggles on Storen’s demotion, be my guest. That’s not the problem. Of course Storen was miffed about losing his job. Who among us would be giddy about a demotion, perceived or not, that would also likely correspond with a drop in earning power. One condition in Papelbon accepting a trade to Washington was a guarantee that he would close again in 2016. Storen hits free agency in 2017, and although he will be well compensated, losing the title of closer will no doubt hurt his value on the open market. That being said, Storen handled the demotion like a professional, and had gone five straight appearances following the trade without allowing so much as a single hit.
Storen’s mini-meltdown came at the hands of the strongest offensive team in the National League. Say what you want about Colorado’s pitiful pitching staff, this team can rake. The Rockies lead the National League in batting average, runs scored, and slugging. Gonzalez tagged Storen for a grand slam, but he hit two more home runs on Sunday. He’s now batting .394 with 15 home runs and 34 RBI in his past 27 games. LeMahieu, a .318 hitter on the year, just beat Storen. Had Storen executed his pitch just a little bit better, he gets out of the jam without allowing a run. Instead, LeMahieu singled to left, and Storen’s performance gets questioned yet again.
The Washington Nationals have their fair share of problems as they try to match the red-hot New York Mets, but Storen is not one of them. Before the weekend series, Storen had allowed multiple runs in an inning just once all year. That came on June 16. The last time he had allowed a run was on June 24. Storen has been one of the best relievers in the National League all year, regardless of which inning he pitches, but he was due to allow a few runs. The demotion was no doubt a blow to his ego, but it is not what has affected his performance. Storen will be fine, and the Nationals can continue trusting him to shut the door in the eighth inning. Now, if they could just get that lineup to produce some runs.