Sunday, April 13, 2008

Nationals Stop Their Slide at 9

I must first apologize for my neglect of the Washington Nationals. My dereliction of duty has produced a back-log of much needed media and explanation of why and how the Washington Nationals are falling so far after starting the season 3-0. First, I will discuss their most recent win that took place on Sunday 13th, and why they were able to win despite their mistakes.
The Nationals got another strong start out of pitcher Tim Redding who has pitched very confidently in each of his three starts this year. Redding doesn't overpower anyone and rarely hits over 90 mph on the radar gun, but he mixes up his speeds very well and uses the defense behind him to get the job done. In this particular game, Redding escaped what would have been critical innings through a couple of key double plays.
The Bullpen took over and also played very well against a surprisingly potent Atlanta team. King, Ayala, Cordero and Rauch pitched four innings only giving up one run en route to the Nationals win. A stat that I do find disconcerting is the number of walks given up by the Nationals pitching staff. Combined they allowed seven base runners to get on base through walks. The Nationals are not a flawless team, and cannot rely on raw talent to overpower hitters. When they are putting this many free base runners on base it raises the potential for big innings.

The Nationals also jumped on the Braves pitching mistakes early. Glavine was weak from the first pitch only hitting around 80 mph on the gun and the Nationals were able to pick up two runs in the first inning at his expense. The next Braves pitcher Jeff Bennett was also shaky walking two base runners home and hitting Lo Duca, who would later score. However, the Nationals were unable to put the game away. There were multiple times during the game where a key hit would have put the game out of reach instead of the 5-4 nail biter that it was. Much of the blame is put on Wily Mo Pena who with the bases loaded grounded into a double play, and struck out looking on consecutive at bats. However, it has been a consistent theme throughout the Nationals season that they become complacent and fade after the first couple of innings.

Startling Season Long Trends:

Bottom line the reason for the nine game skid was a lack of fundamental baseball.

Game 1 of the Skid = Ugly extra inning game in which the Nationals left 24 runners on base, struck out 7 times as a team and saw Colome walk in the winning run in the bottom of the tenth inning

Game 2 of the Skid = Against the rag tag relief core of the St. Louis Cardinals the Nationals again left 25 runners on base, failed to capitalize on 2 Cardinal errors and saw starting pitcher Odalis Perez throw only 56 of his 103 pitches for strikes.

Game 3 of the Skid = Ran into a very good outing from opposing ace Adam Wainwright who pitched 8 innings and scattered all 8 of the Nationals hits.

Game 4 of the Skid = Offensive futility leads the Nationals to only 5 hits and 0 runs against Kyle Lohse who sports a 4.77 era.

Game 5 of the Skid = Washington made two costly errors and wasted a good outing from Tim Redding, accounting for 6 unearned runs. They also left 20 runners on base and struck out 9 times.

Game 6 of the Skid = Marlins' first baseman Mike Jacobs hits two homeruns and pummels the Nationals 10-4

Game 7 of the Skid = The Nationals play solid baseball but come up short. Nationals' pitchers strike out 10, walk 1. Nationals' batters only leave 10 on base, get 7 hits and only strike out twice.
Game 8 of the Skid = Tim Hudson pitches an incredible game against the Nationals. Matt Chico tries to keep up but Hudson was too sharp.

Game 9 of the Skid = The Nationals leave 19 runners on base and starting pitcher John Lannan walked 4 after only throwing 48 of his 85 pitches for strikes.

When the Nationals win ball games they play solid defense and most importantly throw strikes. They are not offensive juggernauts but will need to produce at a better pace to compete against the offensive teams of the NL East. In their 9 game skid they certainly shouldn't have won all of them, but had the potential to win at least four of those nine games if they had taken care of who they are as a team. The Nationals pitchers currently sport a 4.96 ERA a 1.49 WHIP and a .275 BAA, while the Nationals hitters are only scoring 3.83 runs a game, hitting .230 and have struck out 28 more times then they have walked. (for you sabermetrics geeks, their OPS is .662, also not good)

Simply put, they are not very good right now across the board and will continue to lose while their players are playing mediocre. Good teams will take care of the games they should win and that is what the Nationals need to focus on. They shouldn't worry about the losses to stud aces like Tim Hudson or John Smoltz or the blow out games against the heavy hitting Marlins, but the games in which they are more than capable of winning they have to bear down and get the job done.

- The Hokie

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