If you’ve been a baseball fan for any amount of time I can guarantee that you’ve been asked by a casual baseball fan why something happened or was the way it was and you shrugged your shoulders, threw your hands in the air, and said, “It’s baseball.” In a sport so good at giving us numbers for everything and with smart people working all the time to give us even more numbers there still exist that which cannot be explained. The real explanation for the Nats struggles against the Braves or other un-explainable matters of the game could simply be sample size issues.
The Nats have played the Braves six times and have looked significantly worse against the Braves than any other team they’ve played. It isn’t even that the Braves are a significantly better team than the Mets or the Marlins. When the Nats play the Braves they just play worse. I am certain the Nats early season defensive struggles will be highlighted by beat writers and talking heads today but 10 of the Nats 13 errors have come against the Braves, and let’s not even talk about the number of outs on the bases or runners left in scoring position. Some of that has to do with the Braves excellent defense and good pitching, but not all of it.
Baseball is not a simple game to understand. There are times when things that do not make sense become a common occurrence. The explanation for the Nats struggles against the Braves could be as simple as it is only six games and over any six game stretch even a good team has a chance to look horrible and when those horrible games happen against a very good team like the Braves a 1-5 record is produced.
Watching the Nats play against the Braves is different than watching them against anyone else. The psychological aspect of the game cannot be dismissed. Because something cannot be quantified doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The mental side of the game isn’t a part of proper analysis not because people deny its existence or importance but simply because the matter that in which it affects the game is completely unknown. The Nats very well could be overly conscious of their struggles against the Braves and pitchers are throwing too hard leaving the ball up in the zone, fielders are always trying to make the perfect play and making errors instead, and base runners are trying to force runs when there aren’t any to be had. This could all be part of the Nats struggles against the Braves, but it is something that can never be known for certain.
The Nationals have 13 contests left against the Braves and I’m willing to bet they will finish those with a better than .167 winning percentage. The season series to the Braves may already be lost. The Nats have created a big hole to climb out of and are already in scoreboard watching mood in April. It is somewhat the same thing that happened in April of 2013 when the Braves jumped out to a big division lead early, the Nats injuries piled up, and they became more concerned with what the Braves were doing than playing their own games.
Matt Williams’ job is to keep the Nationals focused on the day at hand and he seems a manager who manages to win today and worry about tomorrow tomorrow. After Davey Johnson’s constant preaching of how it was still early and then he found it too late before the ship righted Matt Williams’ style could be the perfect salve for the Nationals. A 1-5 record is bad against any team and worse against the direct competition for the division title, but it isn’t the end of the world. The Nats just need to keep playing as they have against teams that aren’t the Braves and recognize that a bad six games is going to happen over the course of 162 and those six games just happened to be against the Braves.
If you’re told something is in your head long enough sooner or later it will be. This could all be a small sample size issue now, but could develop into something more and if you don’t believe me remember these words the next time you play golf, “Don’t hit it in the water.”