GB&U GAME 63*: The Benefit of Defense

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | , , , , , | 2 comments »

"I can't fault the defense for any of those balls hit tonight." --Rob Dibble, June 16, 2009.

THE RESULT: Anderson Hernandez hit a three-run home run against C.C. Sabathia to give the Washington Nationals a 3-2 lead, but two misplayed balls in the seventh inning by center fielder Elijah Dukes led to a two-run rally by, and eventual loss to, the New York Yankees, 5-3, before more than 44,000 at New Yankee Stadium.

Following a Johnny Damon single, Mark Teixeira lofted a fly by to the wall in center field. Dukes got back in plenty of time to make the catch, but took an awkward jump and missed the ball, as Damon scored and Teixeira cruised into second base.

Ron Villone (L, 3-4, 1.83) struck out Alex Rodriguez for the first out. But Dukes then misjudged a line drive off the bat of Robinson Cano that eluded his glove by mere inches, instead going for a tie-breaking double.

Both plays, despite the MASN broadcast crew trying to explain away otherwise, were perfectly make-able plays for a quality center fielder.

Ryan Zimmerman made several nice plays in the field. But the one he did not, a throwing error in the third on a Damon ground ball, cost Nats starter Shairon Martis an unearned run. Damon scored when a line drive from Cano ate up Nick Johnson at first, another misplay that did not go as an error but could have.

Martis went six innings, pitching out of trouble seemingly at every turn. He gave up two runs--one earned--on four hits and five walks. He struck out only one batter, but managed to escape damage and left the game with a lead.

THE TAKEAWAY: It's no wonder that people have an unrealistic impression of this team. There's been a lot of debate recently about the broadcasters covering the Nationals team about how "honest" they are and "calling it like it is", and maybe I caught them on a bad night.

But I tried to ignore the "we's" and "us's" and actually listened to what they had to say tonight, and it was mostly covering up a poor defensive performance. Both Rob Dibble and Ray Knight made excuses for Dukes' misplays, Dibble going so far as to call the Yankee Stadium lighting "the brightest lights at night [he's] ever seen."

Please. I guess if the broadcasters are railing against middle relievers not getting outs or whining about umpires making bad calls, they are "honest". But what I heard tonight were excuses.

THE GOOD: Anderson Hernandez. 2-for-3 with a three-run home run, his first of the season and second of his career. If A-Hern is hitting a homer at New Yankee Stadium, you know it plays short.

THE BAD: Mike MacDougal. Called on to keep the game at a one-run deficit in the eighth inning, and Mariano Rivera looming large in the bullpen, he did not do his job. Two walks and a hit in a third of an inning lead to an insurance run and knife in the back.

THE UGLY: The defense. The Nats had only one scored error tonight, but like most of the season, it hardly tells the story. Three of the Yankees runs were a direct result of poor fielding.

A bad team can mitigate the damage playing good defense, but this team shoots itself in the foot on a nightly basis, and no amount of fielding practice can make a bad defensive player better. By the time you reach the majors, you're either a good fielder or a bad one.

If you have one or two poor fielders on your team, you can hide them for the most part. But this team is full of bad--and out of position--fielders.

Watching the game, the difference in defensive play was startling.

NEXT GAME: Tomorrow against these same Yankees at 7:05 pm. John Lannan (3-5, 3.51) versus Chien-Ming Wang (0-4, 14.34) No, that ERA is NOT a typo.


  1. Dave Nichols // June 17, 2009 at 10:17 AM  

    Follow up, from Nats Journal:

    Should Elijah have caught those balls?

    "Well, in his defense, he's not a natural centerfielder," Manny Acta said. "Those balls were hit pretty good, and would I want him to catch every one of them? Yes. But he did make an effort."

    Villone looked upset after the second play, but said he blamed only himself.

    "They were hit too hard," Villone said. "No matter what, they shouldn't be hit that hard. Whether they were caught or not, that's more irrelevant to me than where I had the pitch and where they hit it. I didn't do my job... I blame myself, not anybody else."

  2. DMan // June 17, 2009 at 6:28 PM  

    Made the same observation myself about the disparity in defensive skills. Hard as it is to digest, our Nats acutally gave the game away to the Yanks.