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Nationals 2, Mets 1: Another Winnable Game Slips Away

Sure, all games are technically winnable, but some are more winnable than others and this game was particularly winnable. Johan Santana had one of his best starts in a while, striking out seven and allowing just a run on six hits and two walks in seven innings. Livan Hernandez was Santana's equal tonight, likewise allowing just one run and whiffing seven over seven frames.

So it came down to a battle of bullpens and managerial wits, and the Mets came up short in both departments. Elmer Dessens and Pedro Feliciano teamed up to get through the eighth, but Feliciano allowed three of the first four batters he faced to reach base in the ninth -- one was an impressive bunt single by Nyjer Morgan -- and the Mets were in a pickle. Why Feliciano was pitching at all instead of Francisco Rodriguez can only be explained by the vagaries of save-era closer usage. With the bases loaded and just one out, Jerry Manuel called on Ryota Igarashi to end the game quickly get out of the jam, and went with an astonishingly nonsensical interesting defensive alignment to boot. Jesus Feliciano was brought in to be a fifth infielder, with Angel Pagan and Jeff Francoeur playing basically straight-up center and left field against the righty-hitting Ryan Zimmerman. It didn't much matter as Zimmerman hit a sacrifice fly to Francoeur to bring home Willie Harris with the winning run.

Returning to Santana for a moment, the proof of his encouraging start runs deeper than the macro results. He induced 15 swinging strikes on his 97 pitches, good for a 15.4% rate that was much higher than in any of his June starts.

Date Opp SwStr #Pitches SwStr%
6/2 SD 8 123 6.5%
6/10 SD 4 108 3.7%
6/15 CLE 7 103 6.8%
6/20 NYY 8 114 7.0%
6/26 MIN 10 105 9.5%
7/1 WAS 15 97 15.4%

Yes, this time was against the Nationals, but while the Yankees and Twins don't strike out much, the Indians are on par with the Nats, whiff-wise, and the Padres strike out more than either. The news gets even better, because the dominance of Santana's changeup was in full effect tonight. The change has long been an important weapon for Santana; when it's going well he can keep hitters off-balance and get them to flail uselessly as they swing far too early to make contact with it. How good was Santana's changeup? Better than one out of every four that he threw was swung at and missed. Here's a look at swinging strikes on his change tonight as well as in his June starts.

Date Opp SwStr #Pitches SwStr%
6/2 SD 6 36 16.7%
6/10 SD 3 39 7.7%
6/15 CLE 3 24 12.5%
6/20 NYY 2 24 8.3%
6/26 MIN 1 21 4.8%
7/1 WAS 6 22 27.3%

That's awfully nice. One great start against the Nationals isn't irrefutable evidence for a dramatic turnaround, but it's undoubtedly a propitious sign from the Mets' would-be ace.

That the Mets even came close to winning this game is a little surprising considering the starting lineup they fielded.

Player Post-game OPS
Feliciano .646
Tejada .630
Wright .929
Davis .763
Francoeur .720
Carter .684
Blanco .764
Cora .577

Yuck. The loss knocks the Mets two games back of the idle Braves, but they remain two games ahead of the Phillies, who lost to the even-cruddier Pirates. Jon Niese takes on Luis Atilano Friday night at 7:05pm.

Poem by Howard Megdal

Santana was dominant, with his pitch count thrifty
But Mets were shut down by a man nearing fifty
I can't say the ninth inning strategy's great
Leaving game to pitcher with ERA over eight

SB Nation Coverage

* Traditional Recap
* Boxscore
* Amazin' Avenue Gamethread
* Federal Baseball Gamethread

Win Probability Added

Big winners: Johan Santana, +28.1% WPA, Jason Bay, +3.2% WPA
Big losers: Ryota Igarashi, -16.3% WPA, Jeff Francoeur, -12.7% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Desmond fielder's choice in eighth, +11.0% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Morgan RBI single in seventh, -19.4% WPA
Total pitcher WPA: +4.0% WPA
Total batter WPA: -54.0% WPA
GWRBI!: Ryan Zimmerman

Game Thread Roll Call

Nice job by KeithsMoustache; his effort in the game thread embiggens us all.

Num Name # of Posts
1 KeithsMoustache 111
2 astromets 105
3 Gina 98
4 aparkermarshall 80
5 CTRefJay 71
6 fxcarden 61
7 Jadden Hopkins 60
8 Brian. 51
9 Michkin 50
10 DavidE 50