There are a lot of studies out there that suggest that the anecdotal concept of "clutch" does not really exist. As emotional beings, fans tend to remember the good (a player coming through with runners in scoring position or in a big situation) and tend to forget the equal number of times that player has failed.
Some of the more celebrated "clutch" players in history, statistics-wise, were no better in pressure situations than they were in any other situation. It's just that we remember the good times, like Reggie Jackson's three-home run game in the World Series. Turns out Mr. October performed more or less the way we would expect him to, commensurate with his career numbers. He was no better -- or worse -- statistically in the playoffs.
Why the diatribe as a set-up for a game story?
I'm sure you'll read many words about how the Washington Nationals had plenty of base runners, but no one could come up with the "clutch" hit to drive them in in last night's 3-0 loss to Jonathan Niese and a pair of relievers for the New York Mets. At least part of it is true, the Nats did have 10 hits and two walks, a total of 12 base runners over nine innings. That's something to work with.
But this team is lacking in power and production. There are no big hits, just strings of little hits, when they score runs. Think back to Sunday's game in the first inning, when a couple of base hits, a walk and a double by the pitcher turned into six runs.
That's how this team has to manufacture runs with the dearth of power and contact right now. And last night, they couldn't string anything together. The team went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and left 10 men on. That says more about the lack of contact-making skills (eight strikeouts) and utter absence of power (two doubles in eight hits) than any particular player's "clutch"-ness.
The Nats also entered play not only as the worst hitting team overall in N.L., but last against left-handed pitching as well, hitting under .200 for the season against southpaws, which Niese obviously took advantage of.
Granted, they played this game for the most part in a monsoon. The conditions were a travesty, with large puddles forming in the basepaths and in short left and right fields. But both teams had to suffer the conditions.
Another huge contributing factor to the lack of production is first baseman Adam LaRoche. He once again went 0-for-4, striking out twice and stranding three runners. He's hitting .177/.291/.270 for the season, all of it right in the middle of the Nats batting order. All of his plate appearances have come from the fourth and fifth spots in the order, and it's killing the Nats production having an out machine in the middle of their lineup every night.
LaRoche is a notorious slow-starter, but this is ridiculous. For his career, he hits .208/.303/.385 in April and .250/.330/.432 in May and finishes hot in August and September. At the pace he's on, he'll have to hit .400 the rest of the way to achieve his career numbers per 162 games of .268/.337/.480 with 26 home runs and 92 RBIs.
Perhaps the tear in his left shoulder rotator cuff is worse than the team believes. LaRoche insists that it does not cause him pain, but degradation of the joint certainly could affect strength and flexibility. It certainly would explain his performance, which at this point simply can't be shrugged off to "slow start".
The loss drops the Nationals to two games below .500 at 20-22, in an exact tie with the Mets for fourth place in the division. A Mets team, we might add, missing David Wright, Ike Davis and Angel Pagan.
THE GOOD: Michael Morse went 2-for-4 with a double and an outfield assist, gunning out Justin Turner at third base.. Henry Rodriguez, Todd Coffey and Doug Slaten combined for 2 1/3 innings of one-hit, scoreless relief.
THE BAD: Tom Gorzelanny. He only gave up three earned runs, but he was darn lucky to do so, considering he gave up eight hits and five walks in 5 2/3 innings. He did strike out seven, so he had that going for him, which was nice. He also added a throwing error on a pick-off attempt for good measure.
THE UGLY: Adam LaRoche. 0-for-4, two Ks, three LOB.
THE STATS: Eight hits, two walks, eight strikeouts. 1-for-9 with RISP, 10 LOB, 0 GIDP. E: Gorzelanny (1).
NEXT GAME: Thursday at 1:10 pm at Citifield v. New York Mets. Livan Hernandez (3-5, 3.92) faces Dillon Gee (2-0, 4.44).