The Nats are Holding the Nats Down

I woke up Thursday morning to see the Nationals had lost again last night. I
noted that the only run the Nationals were able to score was a solo home run by
Adam LaRoche. The good news is that LaRoche seems to be finding himself after a
slow start, which is not abnormal for the veteran 1B. It is easy to see what is
going on with the Nationals, really, and that is that they simply haven’t been
scoring a whole heck of a lot of runs. Looking at the Nationals record isn’t so
discouraging at 22-19. Even during the last stretch of games, the Nationals may
have failed to tie the Braves for 1st place, but they aren’t exactly losing
ground on them either. Having lost 2 of 3 to the Dodgers, and the win last
night against the Padres, the Nationals are only half a game back of the 1st
place Braves in the NL East. So what is the deal? Why aren’t the Nationals
killing baseball like everyone thought they would?

In the last several weeks, it has
seemed like everything has gone at least slightly askew for the Nationals. To
start the season, they kept throwing the ball away, the bullpen would give up
the lead, and the starting pitchers (except for Zimmermann) had been hit or
miss. Then, you had Ryan Zimmerman hit the disabled list due to a bum
hamstring, then Ramos, then Werth, then (it looks like) Ramos again. Just two
nights ago, Detwiler’s back tightened up, Ramos’ hamstring tightened up. We are
unsure of Detwiler right now, but Ramos is DL-bound again. Not a good night for
the visiting team. Monday, the Nationals won, but a full speed wall impact
tossed up questions about Bryce Harper, who returned to the lineup last night.
I don’t even want to talk about how it looked like Haren was battling a bit of
discomfort on Tuesday, a night when he pitched so well, but suffered from a
lack of support. The fact that he fought through it and only allowed two runs
is great, but still something to look out for. In the Dodgers series, the
Nationals seemed to have been somewhat snake bitten.

What else? Well, you can look to the
fact that the lineup is so out of whack it is ridiculous. With Werth on the DL,
Harper sitting out, and a rotating question mark in the two whole, nothing has
been working. Espinosa has been struggling big time, posting a .177/.208/.323
batting line. Espinosa’s defense has been nothing short of stellar, but maybe
it would be best to place him lower in the batting order to take him out of the
limelight a bit. National catchers have been hitting well and displaying
patience as my colleague David Huzzard noted, so maybe it is time to stop
associating the bottom of the order with catchers and think outside the box.
Since Ryan Zimmerman came off the DL, he has been hitting well again, hitting
.333/.451/.429 in 12 games. On Monday, Zim drove in 3 of the 6 runs that were
scored that night while batting 4th. I have always been a fan of Zim hitting
3rd, but there is no question it should be Harper there now. Without Harper
there, you have a gaping hole in the offense and it is harder to set up the
offense earlier in games.

The bench hasn’t been great either.
Chad Tracy, Tyler Moore, and Roger Bernadina have all been struggling to find
some consistency this season. All of which are batting below .200 and have been
called on to take the place of an injured regular this season. Steve
Lombardozzi is the one guy off the bench hitting over the .200 mark, but he is
posting a .216/.237/.284 line so far. The long and short of it is that not one
of them is getting it done when they are called on. Will they come out of it? I
think they will, but with the bench struggling & many guys injured, it is
easy to see why there is little in the way of offensive contributions,
especially from a bench that was so dependable in 2012.

Then we get to the starting staff. I
want to point out that Jordan Zimmermann has been amazing, leading the
Nationals staff so far this season and being the one starter who the team has
been able to lean on. Ross Detwiler has been good too, but I think he will come
down to Earth a bit. That is not to say he will be bad, simply that he will not
be as lights out as he has been. The fact that he experienced an issue with his
back last night is concerning, as even if he comes down to Earth he is a
significant contributor to the team. Gio Gonzalez was inconsistent to start the
season, but he seems to have found his way a little bit. Personally, I believe
his last 2 starts are more indicative of what to expect, having posted better
numbers and working out of tough spots in those instances. In those games, he
went 6 and 7 innings and allowed 2 and 0 earned runs. He also struck out 11
total in those 2 games. Gio had experienced some frustration with himself which
would affect his pitching, but he seems to be doing a better job of staying
within himself. Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals ace, has simply not been
pitching like an ace. Overall, the numbers look good and wins are not the best
way to measure a pitches success, but being 2-5 on the season has to strike you
as a bit odd. His start before the gem in San Diego last night, he was cruising
until Ryan Zimmerman tossed the ball away. After the error, the Cubs blasted
the game open and Strasburg lost his mound presence. This drew the ire of his
manager and the rest of the baseball world. Understandably so, that kind of
thing should not affect an ace that much, unless your name is Carlos Zambrano,
who is a lunatic. For Gio and Strasburg, Gio and Strasburg have been the
biggest enemies. While Gio seems to be settling in more and more, Strasburg
needs to get there, hopefully we see that tonight in San Diego.

Finally, you have the bullpen. It seems
to me that a majority of the pitchers in the bullpen have come around to being
themselves. Soriano has been lights out, just as the Nationals had hoped he
would be. In his last 13 games he has allowed no runs and converted 9 saves,
which is stellar. Tyler Clippard got off to a slow start, but he seems to have
settled in as well. Clippard’s last 10 games have seen him throw 9 innings,
strike out 10, and allow only 1 run. It is safe to say Clippard seems to be
getting back into form. Don’t get me started on Duke, he is a lost cause. Henry
Rodriguez has even been good, posting a 1.42 ERA and striking out 7 in his last
5 appearances. It seems the bullpen is getting locked in, but Drew Storen has
been a hard luck case. Storen has a 4.70 ERA this season, which is not good for
a reliever and a guy who has historically been lights out. Advanced stats tell
a slightly different story, though, as his FIP is 3.48 and his K/9 is 8.22 and
BB/9 is 1.76. These are pretty good numbers, but what stands out is the .360
BABIP. Looking at the big picture, Storen is getting the brunt of the Nationals
bad luck. That should equalize, but in the meantime it is a bit tough to see.

Overall, the Nationals are where we expect them to be. Luck has not been on
their side in any facet, considering all the injuries and all the goofy statistical
abnormalities. A few guys could also stand to take a step back and put things
in perspective a bit, but the overarching issue seems to be the Nationals not
playing like the Nationals. 3 games over .500 for a team that has nothing going
right is impressive, albeit a bit hard to watch at times. They need to buckle
down, stop feeling sorry for themselves, stop pressing, and start playing. They
are loaded with talent, simply to reaching their own high standards. Maybe the
best thing for them to do is just say screw it. Hey, what is the worst that
could happen?




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One comment

  1. Keeping in mind the Nats are now 1/2 game out of first, everyone can see we’re not quite clicking. The lineup is in flux night to night, and individual players have been on a roller coaster ride of inconsistency all season with a few exceptions. The one new ingredient that was missing early on is confidence. When the Braves got out hot and we weren’t folks were starting to panic a bit. Things have settled back in, Haren is solid, the bullpen is much improved, Laroche is back to being a stud, and little by little the pieces are falling back into place. And the result is an increased level of confidence. And more good news is on the way because the bench has absolutely nowhere to go by UP. I’d just like to see a little better chemistry in understanding roles, moving runners up a base rather than striking out trying to knock him in from first base. We had a lot of late inning heroics last season that have evaded us up to now but baseball is all about percentages and eventually the ball will bounce our way as well. All in all, we’ve underperformed relative to talent and are still 1/2 game out with a lot of warm weather and a lot of games in front of us. I’m optimistic this team is ready to make a strong push.


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