A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.

Can They Fill the Vacuum?

Filed under: Fan Experience,Games — Wigi @ 5:36 pm April 29, 2010

In disappointment, there is often opportunity.

In this case, the disappointment is the Capitals premature exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Caps fans and Nationals fans have a lot in common, and I think that you can assume that the Natosphere and the Capsosphere have been of one mind as of late.

I think most people thought that Washington’s collective sports consciousness was going to be focused on the Caps for a while longer. But now, with their Stanley Cup run cut short, fans will spend a few days wringing hands and pointing fingers. But by the end of the weekend, Washingtonians will realize that between now and mid July, there’s really only one sports show in town.

Our beloved Nats.

Sure, the Nats are playing some inspired baseball right now, and they rightly deserve the attention of Washington sports fans. For most of April, the Nats have been under the radar.  But now, rather than having to compete with the (other) red for a month, they have the stage to themselves. This makes me a little nervous.

For those of us who haven’t completely blocked it from our minds, there is a bit of trepidation as the Nationals head to Miami for a three game series against the Florida Marlins. In the last two years, the Nationals are 9-26 against the Marlins. I haven’t completely absorbed the idea of a Nationals team that is playing better than .500 for a month.

It is just a gut feeling, but not much good happens in Land Shark Stadium.

This presents an opportunity for the Nationals. But it also has risks. If the Nationals can win two of three in Miami,  they’ll return home with a winning road trip and the best start ever since moving to Washington in 2005. But anything less (especially a sweep) could convince the casual fans that not much has changed down on South Capitol Street. In a city that suddenly finds itself starved for a new sports obsession, the Nationals need two wins.

Sure, in the greater scheme of things, they’re just three games, and you don’t make or break a season in a single series. But you can make an impression with fans, and heaven knows that the Nationals need to make an impression with the casual fan base. Back in 2005, it was that torrid June and early July, where the Nationals had streaks of ten in a row and six in a row that made RFK a rockin’ place to hang out – literally! The Nationals had a five and a half game lead on July 3, and they were the darlings of Washington, and all of baseball. Since that day, it has been all down hill for the Nationals, until this season. The casual fans have left.

Here’s the chance to win them back. Win two of three from the Marlins. Come home, win two of three from the Braves, and then two of three from the Marlins at home. Not a ten game winning streak.

Just two-of-three…

Two-of-three…

Two-of-three.

The Nats can change the world in nine days…

If they can fill the vacuum.

In Arizona, Its All Heat, All the Time

Beyond the left field fence at Surprise Stadium, the billboard-sized scoreboard displays the line-score of the game, balls, strikes and outs. And at the bottom of the sign, between the Budweiser and the Bud Lite advertisements is a collection of lights, with the caption “MPH”. The casual fan could be excused if he or she thought that part of the scoreboard wasn’t working today, because the first two times Stephen Strasburg threw a pitch, the display showed “00″. I was convinced it wasn’t working until the third pitch, when the MPH display showed “01″.

Stephen Strasburg pitches against the Surprise Rafters on November 2.

Stephen Strasburg pitches against the Surprise Rafters on November 2.

The radar gun just confirmed what anyone watching already knew: these were extraordinary pitches from an extraordinary pitcher. One could go through most of a season of Major League games and see but a handful of pitches that exceeded 100 MPH. But here in Surprise Stadium clearly something special was happening. It seemed every pitch that left Strasburg’s hand put goose-eggs on the radar gun.  A friend of mine who attended the game with me, but who has never seen a Major League game in person watched the top half of the first inning, and when Strasburg took his first few pitches in the bottom of the first, she actually gasped in amazement. “Even I can tell.” she said.

She wasn’t alone. The crowd of about 300 sat in complete silence – the only sounds were the hum of the air conditioners and the pop of baseballs against leather. Nobody cheered or clapped. They watched.

When Strasburg left the game at the end of the fifth inning, the crowd seemed to wake up and realize they were watching a baseball game. The fans started to clap and cheer – though AFL crowds tend to be small and quiet.

All it all it was a great day for the Desert Dogs, who won the game 10-2. It was a great day for the Nationals, too.  Chris Marrero (DH) and Danny Espinosa (SS) both had spectacular days, with Marerro going two-for-five with five RBIs and Espinosa two-for-four with a walk, scoring three runs. Nationals relief pitchers also had great days, with Josh Wilkie, Jeff Mandel and Drew Storen each pitching an inning in relief. Mandel allowed the only other run of the game.

Reminiscing…

I was reading Tom Boswell’s piece in The Post today, and it got me thinking about the Nationals, and their first year in Washington. The return of baseball to Washington had captivated me – as a native Washingtonian and childhood fan of the Senators, I made the trip back to DC for Opening Day – a ritual I have re-enacted every year since.

Back in Late July, 2005, I got a phone call from a friend of mine that lived in Denver. My friend had helped me with my business, and suggested that perhaps I should take a weekend and go to Denver, and take in the Nationals series against the Rockies. The Nats had just completed a torrid first half, had lead the National League East, but were now slowly coming back to the pack, and in fact, they had lost their lead by this time. I, like every Nats fan, was totally wrapped up with the improbable season, and I couldn’t get enough. While it was clear that the Nats had begun their slide back towards the middle of the pack, I expected the Nats to right themselves and stay in the playoff picture to the end. I was wrong, of course… but had the Nats played just .500 ball the rest of the way (a reasonable hope and expectation after a 51-30 first half), they might well have been playing in October – 90 wins won the National League East that year, and 89 won the Wild Card.

I debated the idea of going to Denver, and when I realized I could only make one trip east for the remainder of the year, I decided that I should save the opportunity, and go back to DC for the playoffs. I skipped the trip to Denver (where the Nats swept the Rockies), and instead watched the Nationals at RFK in September, where they lost their last three, to settle at 81-81.

The 2009 season is now over (for the Nats, at least). I watched the Twins-Tigers game yesterday, and couldn’t help imagining the Nats in that situation. Not our current Nats, mind you… but the team of our future. Maybe even next year’s Nats. There is a lot to look forward to, not the least of which is that it really can’t be any worse than it was this year. We have good young pitching today, that hopefully will be great young pitching tomorrow. We have the leadoff-hitting center fielder we’ve wanted since our hearts were broken by Endy Chavez. Willingham and Dukes could play for almost any team, and both are poised to find their place in the big leagues. Adam Dunn is proving to be a better first baseman than anyone ever expected, and while Ryan Zimmerman is proving to be everything we hoped he would be, our hopes are stratospheric. He is our superstar. Once again, the questions are up the middle, and while I am skeptical that Ian Desmond is the answer at shortstop, or that Guzman will thrive at second, I am just a blogger, and not a major league scout or GM… so what do I know? And the question remains whether Jesus Flores can come back from his injuries, and becomes the every day catcher we think he is, or the Nick Johnson of the catching fraternity.

So for Nationals fans, the slate has been wiped clean, and not a moment too soon. If you need a positive message to take forward from 2009, the Nats played .440 ball after the All-Star break (including the end-of-the-season seven-game winning streak, and an eight-game streak in August), compared to under .300 for the first half. And unlike in previous years (thanks, Jim Bowden), instead of needing to cobble together a team comprised mostly of castoffs and second chances, the Nationals have a small but manageable shopping list for the offseason. When you’re 58-103, the playoffs may seem to be light-years away, but the addition of just one or two players can make a huge difference; for example, the Nationals with Nyger Morgan were 22-26 (.458) , and 36-78 (.315) without him.

Boswell’s point today about the playoffs is this: Once you’re in, it doesn’t matter what you did before that. The same is true for the Nationals in 2010. It doesn’t matter what happened in 2009. On April 5th at 1:05 PM, we’ll all be in our seats at Nationals Park, our Nats will be tied for first, and the promise of every baseball fan everywhere will be ours – in April, anything is possible. The difference between 2010 and every Nats season that came before it is that the best Nationals team ever will be on the field.

After Further Review (Updated)…

Filed under: Fan Experience,Games — Tags: , — Wigi @ 8:33 pm May 27, 2009

… instant replay is toxic to Major League Baseball.

In baseball, every officiated call is subjective. It is the opinion of the umpire whose job it is to make that ruling. His (or her) opinion is the one that stands. That is fine. In fact, it is more than fine – it is part of the perfection of the sport. It isn’t about a calculation, or empirical evidence. It is a drama that plays out over time. It is an ebb and flow of events. It is human.

And it is precisely that reason that there is no room in baseball for instant replay. Because while an umpire may make a mistake, the umpire is never wrong. That is the basic premise that is at the core of the sport. The umpire is the last, final arbiter of what happens on the field. The umpire is, by definition, always right.

Allowing instant replay allows for the possibility that if an umpire makes a mistake, someone can review a video to determine whether that umpire is  wrong. Now that we’ve allowed for the possibility of an umpire to be wrong, every call is now open to interpretation. If you can use technology to determine whether a hit is a home run, why can’t you use the same technology to determine if a player beats a tag, or if a pitch is a ball or a strike? The technology exists to get these calls “right” all the time. Why don’t we use them? If it is appropriate in one case, shouldn’t it be appropriate in all cases?

The bottom line is, the mistakes that umpires make are random events. They’re professionals. The circumstances that arise that put the umpire in the position to make a judgment call – one about which he or she is absolutely right, by definition – occur randomly and in equal numbers for both teams. Instant replay doesn’t make the umpire’s calls more accurate or the outcome of the contest more fair. It doesn’t remove a bias. And at the same time, it slows down the game, polarizes the fans, and reduces the stature and authority of the umpires.

In the last three games, I’ve seen two instant replay scenarios. Having watched the video, I feel that the umpires ultimately made the wrong call both times. I am incensed, because they got it wrong both times, even with the help of technology. I feel cheated. And had the decisions gone the way I would have liked, Mets fans would feel the way that I do. But in both cases, I could live with an umpire making a judgment call without the aid of video, and having that call be a mistake.

Umpires making judgments is a part of the elegance of the game. The fact that they occasionally make mistakes is unfortunate, but it is also part of what makes baseball the wonderful game that it is. The technology and philosophic basis that underlies instant replay in baseball tramples on that elegance.

I am totally at peace with the idea that umpires make mistakes.

I find it completely intolerable that umpires can be wrong. Instant replay allows for umpires to be wrong. If they can be wrong, they’re not umpires.

======

Note on the home run from last night’s game: I went back and watched the SNY feed of the home run, and there is a very good angle that they had in that feed that shows clearly that the ball DID NOT change direction as it passed in front of the Subway sign. The SNY feed “rocks” the ball back and forth as it passes the sign, and the ball is taking a straight trajectory.

Also… while this is going on, Mets broadcaster Ron Darling comments that he doesn’t think it hit the sign, because he says that the fans in right field would have been reaching out to catch the ball if it was that close to them… and also, none of the fans are pointing to the sign to ‘help’ the umpires with the call. He thinks those fans know it didn’t hit the sign… and of course, Debbi Taylor went out there and interviewed some of the fans, and they said that they didn’t see or hear the ball hit the sign.

The Quiet Revolution

Before the Nationals game last Thursday against the Pirates, Manny Acta held a team meeting.

Since that time, the Nationals bullpen has an ERA of 2.30 (4 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings). Of those four earned runs, two were charged to Kip Wells, who gave them up in the twelfth inning of last Friday’s game against Baltimore. He was pitching his second inning in relief, and after a fluke base hit by pitcher Danys Baez of the Orioles, Wells gave up two doubles.  The bullpen has  struck out nine while walking eight – and if you throw out Daniel Cabrera’s performance last night, they’ve walked only five. Joel Hanrahan has two saves. Jason Bergmann, Kip Wells (despite giving up those two runs Fiday night), Ron Villone and Joe Beimel have pitched very well. Even Jesus Colome had a scoreless inning last night.

The team as a whole has had two errors, and given up no unearned runs.

That is quite a turnaround, and we would be feeling a lot better about it if the Nats were hitting the way they have been all along this season. What we’ve seen instead is a struggling offense. My theory is that the Nationals sorely miss the bats of Elijah Dukes and Jesus Flores. In the meantime, we’re left with a team that looks a bit like last year’s team -  a team that opponents can pitch around a bit, leaving our lineup without protection. The Nats are a very different team at the plate with Flores and Dukes in the lineup.

Add to it all the strong performances by callups Craig Stammen and Ross Detwiler – both of whom have pitched well as starters, and suddenly the Daniel Cabrera situation seems a bit less urgent. Cabrera didn’t make a strong case for himself last night… but at the same time, that probably means he could probably be DFA’d without risk of losing him, and perhaps some time in Syracuse would be good for him. And maybe that would be as good for him as time in Washington has been for Stammen and Detwiler.

The Nats rotation has enough depth to survive an injury or two. We’re playing better defense, and our bullpen has started to show their stuff. Later this week we should have two big bats back in the lineup.

I am not crazy enough to declare the disaster over… but there are certainly lots of reasons to be hopeful.

It may have all started in the Nats clubhouse last Thursday.

—–

On a different topic, Chico Harlan posted in Nationals Journal about the Reviewed, Debated Home Run. Here is what I commented:

This situation is the shame of instant replay.

It isn’t that the umpire made the wrong call. In my biased opinion, he did make the wrong call. But instant replay gives umpires the opportunity to make a mistake twice, under the guise of trying to get it right once.

With no instant replay, mistakes are made. With instant replay, mistakes are affirmed. And in fact, the instant replay rule detracts from the game. It isn’t as if instant replay eliminates bias – it eliminates a random event.

I don’t think it was a home run. But nobody is served by instant replay in this situation. The kind of remedy that instant replay gives you here is the same kind that technology might one day automate the calling of balls and strikes. It offers the illusion of objectivity… and it is just that, an illusion. Baseball is the most human of sports. Adding technology to the mix does not make the game better. It separates us from the game.  That the umpire made a mistake last night isn’t nearly as bad as the idea that technology only served to affirm that mistake.

I’ll take my chances with the umpires.

All of the Pieces

You have to admit, watching the “Battle of the Beltways” has been entertaining so far.

In the last two games, we’ve seen great Nationals pitching and at least crisp, and occasionally spectacular defense:

Justin Maxwell snares fly in the first inning. (Image courtesy of MASN and the Washington Nationals. Used with permission)

Justin Maxwell robs the Orioles Adam Jones of a home run in the first inning. (Image courtesy of MASN and the Washington Nationals. Used with permission)

What we haven’t seen is the Nationals hitting the ball.

The reason for that has to do with the Disabled List. When you remove Jesus Flores and Elijah Dukes from the lineup, there’s actually a way to pitch around the Nats. Adam Dunn has struggled since Dukes has been out, and the Nationals miss Jesus Flores both behind the plate as well as when he’s at bat. And while Anderson Hernandez doesn’t make the lineup any more formidable by himself, his speed, and the presense of Cristian Guzman two hitters later in the lineup helps to insure he gets some pitches to hit.

In my last post I spoke about the need for the Nationals to be accountable for their level of play. The next day, Manny Acta held a team meeting, and since that time, the Nats seem to have been transformed – at least when it comes to pitching and defense. It hasn’t been lost on at least some of the national media: Tim Kurkjian wrote a piece last week about the bright future for the Nats. If the Nationals can play average defense and get average pitching from their bullpen, if the all-rookie (almost) rotation can continue to go six or seven innings every game… and if the Nats – and given history, this is a big if – can keep their starting eight on the field and off the Disabled List, we’re going to see real baseball break out on Half Street.

But in this respect, the Nationals are fragile. As well as the team has played since the end of the Pittsburgh series, they’ve barely been able to put up runs, even against a team as weak as the Orioles. Once you’re into the bench, things get dicey. The bench is acceptable, and perhaps above average, as a bench goes. But when the Nats bench is starting every day, the lineup just isn’t as imposing as it could be.

And as spectacular a catch as Justin Maxwell made today, he isn’t the hitter that Dukes is.

The sample size is small – three games – but since Manny’s team meeting, the Nationals seem to have their head screwed on more or less straight. Once we get all of the pieces back, we might actually see what the Nationals are capable of.

The Font of Accountability

About twenty years ago I worked for a company called GlobeWireless that processed marine telegrams – messages to and from ships at sea. This was done via morse code. Every message that passed through our station was matched with a confirmation receipt. Nobody went home until every message was accounted for as being delivered. If it meant staying an extra two hours to track down the loose ends, that is what you did. My bosses insisted on it, because a lot hinged on the proper delivery of these messages. Money. Sometimes, lives. Records were kept, and we could prove the delivery of every message going back many years.

Years later, when I started working in the hospitality industry, I noticed that there was a certain similarity in the process. Our guests would want certain items reserved on their behalf, and we would make those reservations. As the manager, I insisted that we get written confirmation of every reservation, and that confirmation be compared to and attached to the original request. That way we could prove that every reservation had been made for the guests. The only problem was, my boss thought that was an unnecessary step, and so she wouldn’t back me up when it came to insisting my employees follow the processes.

The reason I mention these two examples is because I wanted to point out that accountability is an organizational value that starts at the very top of an organization, and the values that are held at the top are the ones that are implemented at the bottom.

What does this have to do with baseball? Only this: Look at the product that we see on the field at Nationals Park. How accountable are the players to the outcomes? Only as accountable as their manager asks them to be… who is only as accountable as his boss asks him to be… and so on, up the chain.

This is one of the reasons that I am much more concerned about the errors that the Nationals make than I am about the bullpen. Errors are, by definition… errors. They are the plays that the defense should make, but does not. Contrast errors with skill and talent: Ronnie Belliard can play third base, and he and Ryan Zimmermancould have the same fielding percentage, and have the same number of errors. But having Belliard at third is not the same as having Zimmerman. A sharply hit ball down the third base line gets snagged by Zimmerman and is scored 5-3, while the same ball is a double with Belliard at third. And that isn’t an indictment of Belliard – it is just that Zimmerman is more talented.

Yesterday’s game is a perfect example of one where we’re ready to pile onto the bullpen (and certainly the bullpen didn’t hold up their end of the bargain), but the real damage was done earlier in the game – by errors.  Ross Detwiler lasted five innings, but his defense gave up three errors. In my Fantasy Baseball Alternate Universe, if you take those three errors away, Detwiler goes six innings instead of five, with the same number of pitches (84), and comes into the 7th inning facing the 8-9-1 batters, and a 5-2 lead! Now, I know that you can’t simply advance through the results and assume they would be the same had certain events not occurred, but you have to admit, this would certainly be a plausible outcome - without those three errors. At that point, Manny Acta could have sent Detwiler out for the seventh, warming two pitchers in the bullpen, and be one inning further down the road, with a bigger lead, and a strategic advantage. The bullpen might well have blown up in the Alternate Universe, too. But the bullpen would have been entering into the game in a very different situation… one where they had a much better chance of success, and one that a winning team designs their bullpen around.

There may not be much that the Nats can do about the bullpen, in terms of talent. In today’s Nationals Journal, Chico Harlan points out that half of the Nats bullpen has a negative VORP (for the uninitiated, there is some discussion and explanation of this statistic in the comments of that posting). That statistic is calculated on the historical outcomes, so it is hard to separate talent from performance from VORP. But on the defensive side of the equation, the performance of the pitchers and the performance of the defense are not inseparable from the talent of the pitchers and the talent of the defense. In other words, if the team is not being asked to be accountable for their outcomes when they have the ball – when four errors in a game is minimized at the expense of overworking the bullpen, and hoping the bats come and bail you out - that is an organizational problem, not a talent problem. Being the less-talented team is acceptable – disappointing, but acceptable. Being a better team that is not playing at the level they are capable of is not.

Errors, narrowly defined as a statistic, do not answer all of the questions. Errors, as a statistic, are an indication of the larger problem. The problem that makes the Nats play sloppy in all aspects of their game. The problem that causes Elijah Dukes to be picked off first four times. The problem that has bullpen pitchers taking the mound and believing that they need to be perfect, because if the defense isn’t there for them, the pitcher is the one on the way back to Syracuse (or free agency, in the case of Mike Hinckley). The problem that prevents a team from executing basic, fundamental baseball.

It isn’t about errors. It isn’t about poor baserunning. It isn’t about the bullpen or the pitching – and in fact, complaining about that distracts from the real issue. It is about being sloppy and unprofessional in every aspect of their game. The Nationals are sloppy because they are allowed to be sloppy. I am not saying they’re not trying. I am saying they’re not disciplined.

Rob Dibble has advocated that the Nationals take infield practice every day. There’s something to be said for that, though it has to be part of a larger belief – that excellence and being accountable for the outcomes is important. That has to be a core organizational belief. And it has to come from the top, Ted Lerner. If you’re still unconvinced, you only need to look up I-95 forty miles. The Orioles were the envy of every Major League team in the 70′s and 80′s. They created “The Orioles Way”, which was an organizational philosophy of excellence. Everything they did furthered that goal. Enter Peter Angelos. Witness the death of “The Orioles Way.”

It isn’t that the Nats are not talented. It is that nobody is holding the organization accountable for doing their jobs. When Ted insists that it be done, it will be done. And if it isn’t, find someone that will do it.

Period.

Bittersweet

Filed under: Fan Experience,Games,Players,Teams — Tags: , , , — Wigi @ 11:38 am May 14, 2009

I tuned into yesterday’s game in the 8th inning. I usually watch entire games, but between the game time and some family obligations, I didn’t get back to the office until late. The Nats were leading.

It was excruciating.

Ryan Zimmermanwas hitless, and once he came up in the 9th inning and grounded into the fielder’s choice, the reality of it all settled in. The streak was over. As Zimmerman stood on first base, the fans in San Francisco gave him a standing ovation. Bay Area, you guys are class.

Far from being a sure thing, the Nats had to just survive the bottom of the 9th, and they’d head home winners for the day, and .500 for the west coast road trip. They survived. And if you think about it, first place teams are happy to go home splitting a west coast road trip. The Nationals should be absolutely thrilled.

After the game, I wandered through the current thread on Nationals Journal. It was full of fan posts rooting for the Nats to blow the save and go to extras, so Zim could get another at bat. How strange! I secretly felt the same way.

I imagined the post game interviews, and I imagined that every time someone asked Zim about the end of the streak, he said, “We won the game.”

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so melancholy after a win.

A little later in the day, I got an email from a friend who had taken his three year-old daughter to her first Potomac Nationals game. It put it all into perspective for me. Here’s an excerpt:

[My daughter,] She had a ball! At first she was a bit cowed by the large crowd — there were literally scores of strangers packing the stands. Soon enough, though, she was peeking at the action. She saw a batter swing and miss (a Red Sok, fortunately) and giggled uproariously. Then a foul ball? Forget about it, the kid was hooked. By the end of the game, as the sound-effects guy pulled out all the stops, she was clapping along to the clapping thing and imploring us to “Do the charge again!”

We got there dreadfully late — big trouble getting out of bed and out the door. The upside of that is, we stayed till the end. I just did the math, and I’m pretty sure my three-year-old just spent almost two hours sitting and watching a ball game. That does my heart good. And as we left the stadium, some random woman walking the other way was appropriately smitten with Herself’s copious charm and handed her a Nerf-type baseball. Just because, as far as I could tell. So sweet.

As I loaded her into her car seat to drive home, my daughter announced, “We see baseball tomorryow.”

This is what separates baseball from every other sport. There is a complex web of story lines. At one end of the spectrum, we see a struggling team packed with talent. We see one of its young players start to edge onto the stage with the immortals of the sport. We watch one of our most talented pitchers continue his undefeated streak – on a last-place team. We see a hitting streak end. We see our fans torn between the success of the team and the achievements of one of its stars. And at the other end of the spectrum, we see a father and daughter start a tradition that will last a lifetime.

More importantly, those story lines don’t exist in a vacuum. They are all tied together – even when they occur 3000 miles apart at different games, in different leagues. By watching, we become a part of it.

It is fitting that today is an off day, because it feels like the end of a chapter of an incredibly compelling story. The Nats will be home tomorrow. Zim’s streak has been wiped clean, but not before we’ve glimpsed greatness. Spring is over, and now it is summer. A new baseball fan is born.

What time is first pitch?

Don’t Be Fooled

For most of the season, Nationals fans have been rooting for exactly the scenario that they received last night: a lead in the ninth inning, and Joe Beimel in to close the game.

The result: A blown save.

Most of the Natosphere was probably asleep as the Nats fell behind, then came back and took the lead, heading into the bottom of the 8th up 7-5. Kip Wells gave up a  solo homer in the 8th, and the Nats took the field in the bottom of the 9th ahead 7-6. Beimel retired the first two batters, then allowed Emmanuel Burris a single up the middle. Burris took a lead off first, and Beimel threw away a throw-over, and Burris advanced to second. Beimel walked Edgar Renteria and then served up a hanging curve to Pablo Sandoval, who dutifully placed the ball into the left field stands. Nats lose, 9-7.

Everyone is going to want to pile on to the bullpen, and Beimel in particular after yet another blown save. But none of that matters.

It doesn’t matter because Cristian Guzman’s error in the 4th inning contributed two unearned runs to the Giants total. Two runs. Who knows how many additional pitches. Beimel’s error in the 9th didn’t make a difference in the final outcome, but Beimel would likely have pitched differently with Burris at first, rather than at second.

The bottom line is, the Nats are playing sloppy defensive baseball, and the pitching staff, and the bullpen in particular, are paying the price. That isn’t to say the pitchers are blameless. Daniel Cabrera couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn from the inside with runners on base. But the pitchers are being asked to do more than they should have to do… and the pitching staff is the Nats weakest link.

The Nats can’t continue to play sloppy defense, and hope that a top-notch offense will come to the rescue every night. The interesting thing is, the offense does seem to come to the rescue every night. But the team has to pitch, and the team has to play defense. Lately, it has been enough about half the time. Imagine how good the outcomes would be with fewer erros.

Rob Dibble posted a very interesting blog on the MASN site the other day, suggesting that the Nats could win 92 games if they won four out of every seven every week for the rest of the season. Of course, it is foolhardy to believe that this team could do that. Or is it? I argue that it is only foolhardy to believe it because this team either can’t or won’t play the disciplined baseball they should be playing.

For the first time since the Nats moved to Washington, they have a team that can hit. No lead is safe when playing the Nats. But because the Nats don’t play disciplined baseball when they have the ball, no Nationals lead is safe, either.

The Nats are making too many errors.  They’re throwing too many pitches. They’re giving away too many bases. They’re handing their opponents too many runs.

Joe Beimel blew a save tonight… A save he should have made. But don’t be fooled – it should never bave been a save situation in the first place.

Negating the Negative

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 10:52 am May 10, 2009

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, the scattering of spectacular wins that the Nationals have pulled off in the early part of the season were fun to watch, but not really indicative of the way a team builds a winning habit. Surround them liberally with games-they-should-have-won, and you have the formula for our April malaise.

Yesterday’s game was another spectacular win, but unlike some of the earlier versions, it was a game where the better team won, rather than the worse team getting lucky.

And don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of luck involved… but it wasn’t the luck that results from the other team’s bad fortune, but rather, the luck you create when you’re playing well. The highlight was Austin Kearns and Jesus Flores combining for a 9-2 force at the plate, but there was plenty of highlights to go around, and you can see them here (to see the Kearns-Flores put-out, click the link below the video player).

… and for those of us who care to revel in ex-Nat schadenfreude, there was no better central character than Felipe Lopez. In addition to being the player thrown out at the plate going from third to home on a ball hit to right field, he was called out at first earlier in the game on a ball hit in the infield , even though Adam Dunn dropped the throw… but Dunn was able to pick the ball up before Lopez got to first because Lopez didn’t run it out. Some things never change.

The Nats modest streak doesn’t undo a terrible April. But suddenly the Nats are winning the games they should win, and as a team, and for us, as fans… we can finally take a breath and look around at the MLB world. On this Sunday, we discover that we’re only 5.5 games out of first, and we no longer have the worst record in baseball – that distinction belongs to the Indians.

The Nats can’t undo April. But they’ve started to build a sound season, despite the rocky start.

Other notes: Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman both hit solo homers deep to center. Zimmerman’s extended his hitting streak to twenty-seven games. Both homers can be seen in the video highlights linked above.

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