The Washington Nationals started the season off at 20-15, giving Nats fans hope that this season was going to be the year things "turned around". 

Since? Not so much. 

Since winning the first game of a four-game series in Colorado May 13, this team has gone 13-28, a .317 winning percentage over 41 games, lower than either of the back-to-back 100 loss seasons of 2008 and 2009.

They've been bad longer this season than they were good.

Still, we've seen a lot of quotes like this one from Tyler Clippard after Sunday's game, "We're battling our butts off. We're playing good, but we're coming up short."

And this, from Manager Jim Riggleman yesterday, "We played hard, we played good, we played good [Saturday], the Orioles beat us.  But it's just not happening for us.  But it's going to.  If we play with that effort, cleanness, we played yesterday and today we're gonna win our share of games."

He's of course referring to Saturday and Sunday's games, where the Nats allowed runs to score on wild pitches and balls thrown into the dugout from second base.

Playing hard and playing well are not the same things.  Yet after every agonizing loss that's the refrain we hear over and over again from the manager and players.

The Nationals are first in the big leagues in one category:  making errors.  Their 68 errors committed are seven more than the second place teams, Pittsburgh and Florida.  They have the lowest fielding percentage in the majors as well.

Errors and fielding percentage are crude tools to measure defensive efficiency, but it's a starting point, and illustrative relative to the competition.

The Nationals, especially the executives, are trying to explain the defensive problems away.  GM Mike Rizzo told The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell, "We're underachieving. We're playing bad baseball. Defensively, we're giving away far too many outs."

And here's the kicker: 
"This is not and should not be a 10-games-under-.500 team."
But that's exactly what it is.

Rizzo goes on to detail the number of players on this team with World Series and playoff experience, like that's the be-all and end-all of player development.  Brian Bruney had World Series experience, too.

Riggleman talking about 'playing hard' and Rizzo saying 'we should be better' is just rationalizing.

This team is last in the majors in fielding, 23rd in runs scored per game and 22nd in runs allowed per game.  Their Pythagorean W-L is 34-42, one game better than their actual 33-43 record.  They are exactly who their numbers say they are.

The Nationals have four players in the regular lineup OBPing less than .330 and slugging less than .400.  In the words of the immortal Charles Barkley, that's terrible.

Want some more information to further depress you?  In both 2008 and 2009, the Nats had stretches similar to the 20-15 start that got Nats fans so excited this year in the first place.

From July 21 to August 27, 2009, the Nats went 20-16, beating the Mets, Marlins, D-Backs, Reds, Cubs and others.

From April 22 to May 30, 2008, they went 19-17, not quite as good (but close), taking down Atlanta, Philly, Baltimore, and Milwaukee among others.

Even the worst teams are capable of playing decent ball for a stretch.  It's just unfortunate for the Nats that stretch for them this season came at the beginning of the season, when folks were paying attention and the win/loss numbers stand out in the standings column in the sports page.

Worse of all, the Nationals are 5-12 (.294) since June 9, the day after the debut of Stephen Strasburg, hitting .233/.291/.365 as a team and scoring just 3.4 runs per game. You have to wonder if the recent spate of terrible play is washing away all of the goodwill that Strasburg has brought to the team.

A guy decked out in Orioles gear walked up to me on the concourse at Orioles Park Saturday afternoon while I was getting out of the sun.  He said to me, "Strasburg is pretty good, but the rest of your team stinks."

How was I supposed to argue that?

1 comments

  1. Jenn Jenson // June 28, 2010 at 6:23 PM  

    Gee Dave, I see you've abandoned the "voice of doom" in favor of a sugar-coated version.

    Despite my generally optimistic approach, when hope was in abundance, I kept looking at the roster and saying to myself ... really, it's kinda the same guys.

    A lot of the guys this year are the exact same players we had last year. And the new guys? For the most part, they resemble the players they replaced.

    Like in other parts of my life, to stay sane I'm rooting for the triumph of hope over experience.