On June 1, 2010 the Washington Nationals were 26-26 and were looking to get back to over .500 against one of the worst teams in baseball the Houston Astros. When the Nationals entered the bottom of the ninth with the lead it looked like they had a good chance to win, but Matt Capps would not be on as he would load up the bases and end up facing the Astros best hitter, Lance Berkman.
Lance Berkman is known as a patient hitter with a good batting eye but when he tried to check his swing and couldn’t he should have been out. What instead happened is that umpire Bill Hohn ruled that Berkman didn’t swing and he got second life. With that second chance Berkman singled in the tying and winning runs and the Nationals fell to under .500. The Nationals would end up winning only eight games in June and would never get back to .500.
Games like that were the story of the 2008-2010 Nats. Those were the dark days when the Nationals would lose games that they should win because of a bad call by the ump, an error by a fielder, or any number of other small mistakes. Now the Nationals are doing something quite different. The Nationals are in the midst of a five game winning streak. Of those five games one was a late comeback against the Marlins and three of them have been close games against the Astros. Games that could have gone either way, and would have gone the other way in previous years.
In the first game against the Astros the Nationals won because the Astros couldn’t field a bunt and allowed Roger Bernadina to score all the way from first. In the second game they lost on a deep drive that should have been a game winning double, but Roger Bernadina made a miraculous catch. Then last night umpire Angel Hernandez called a balk that wasn’t a balk on Gio that led to an Astros run and called Harper out on ball five with the bases loaded that took a run away from the Nationals. That could have had a bigger impact on the game except for the fact that Gio Gonzalez was brilliant pitching his first career nine inning complete game.
The point of all this is that during the Nationals five game winning streak they should have lost four of the games. They should be in the midst of a three game losing streak, but they aren’t. This is the type of thing that happens to good teams. Against the Astros the Nationals offense has scuffled, but the pitching hasn’t and because of this the Nationals have a winning streak in the place where a losing streak should be. Think of this as a batter that was lacing line-drives all over the place and suddenly cools off, but while he is cool bloopers are dropping and ground balls are finding holes. The player should be slumping but they aren’t and then they break out of the slump that wasn’t a slump and again are hitting line-drives all over the place.
This is how long winning streaks happen. Mix in a late inning comeback with a couple of lucky wins, and then have the offense come out of its collective slump and suddenly a five game winning streak becomes a seven or eight game winning streak. The Nationals are now winning games in the same manner they once lost them. In many ways it is the effort of the pitching staff that is creating this luck, but it is also that good teams win games they shouldn’t while losing teams lose games they shouldn’t. This is how baseball happens.