The beginning of this years Washington Nationals season hasn’t quite met expectations. While the team is still 2 games above .500 and just 2.5 games behind the Braves for the NL East lead, the Nationals certainly have the talent to be in first and many more games in the green.
Like the old saying goes: “Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.” When it comes to the Nationals, it doesn’t look like they’ll be selling tickets anytime soon and they definitely won’t be winning championships at the rate their going defensively.
Last season, the Washington Nationals biggest nemesis was, contrary to what many might have thought, their offense. While at times the bullpen came in and let them down, and ultimately ended their playoff run and season, it was the offense that wasn’t able to put together the performances needed to win games. They didn’t start to produce at a high championship level until the end of the season when the club was putting upwards of 6-7-8 runs on the board night in and night out.
The problem that has reappeared from last season is that the Nationals can’t seem to win games that are close (1-2 run difference) or low scoring (2-runs or less scored by the winning team). The pitching has, for the most part, been there and has been strong much like last season. But when it comes to backing up the pitcher, there’s not much help there.
When it comes to the four major hitting stats (runs scored, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage), the Nationals just don’t have it this year. They rank near the bottom in every category and their highest rank, 27th, is in runs scored. For the other three, they rank as follows: batting average- 29th, on base percentage- 29th, and slugging percentage- 28th. As you can see, offensively they’re awful.
The pitching is still strong. While they may not have the best collective staff in the league this season, they still rank in the top ten in ERA (5th – 3.43), quality starts (3rd – 27), and Walks/Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP, 7th – 1.22). They rank 12th in the MLB in opponents batting average with .247.
Where the Nationals are really shooting themselves in the foot is on defense. The Nationals currently sit comfortably atop the majors in total errors committed with 38. The next closest team is the Cubs with 34. Washington is also at the bottom of the MLB in fielding percentage with .977. To put that in perspective, the Arizona D-Backs currently lead the majors with an average of .993.
In fact, when looking at the statistics, the Nationals key starting lineup is among the worst when it comes to fielding and committing errors. Check it out… (and this is not the CURRENT batting order…just the “usual” lineup. Either way, this is simply to show errors committed.)
1. Denard Span – 0 errors
2. Jayson Werth – 0 errors, has missed time due to injury
2A. Steven Lombardozzi – 1 errors while playing second base
3. Bryce Harper – 3 errors (2 in right field, 1 in left field)
4. Ryan Zimmerman – 9 errors (leads MLB in third basemen errors)
5. Adam LaRoche – 3 errors
6. Ian Desmond – 7 errors (tied for MLB lead in short stop errors)
7. Danny Espinosa – 2 errors
8. Kurt Suzuki – 4 errors
8A. Wilson Ramos – 3 errors
9. Starting Pitchers – 2 errors (Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez with 1 each)
So as you can see, the hot corner, short stop to third base area, has been poorly defended which has allowed a number of base runners on first. When that happens, teams have been able to move the runner around the bags and eventually score him. Also, when a runner makes it to first on an error, it sticks in the back of that pitchers mind and can mess with him and throw off his rhythm.
The bottom line for the Nationals is that they have to get back to the basics. It’s been sloppy, choppy, and down right disgusting in the field for them. Forget trying to score points. If you can’t keep your opponent from scoring, it won’t matter how many runs you’re able to put on the board.
For the Washington Nationals, it’s time to spend a little more time practicing the finer things in baseball. Fielding ground balls, deciding who is going to cover second on a double play, and setting your feet and making a better throw to first to get the runner are all things that can improved and polished and will make an immediate and positive impact on the game.
Maybe Davey Johnson should invest in those “Fundamentals of Baseball” videos that the little league coaches show their teams when they’re trying to teach their youngsters how to soundly play the game of baseball?
What? It couldn’t hurt…