Oh my goodness! What can I say about the Washington Nationals being swept by the Atlanta Braves this past weekend? Well, I could come up with excuses (“it was only three games – they’ll bounce back!”); I could be optimistic (“Jayson Werth is finally hitting and Danny Espinosa’s wrist injury isn’t that bad!”); or I could just be blunt and honest: The Nationals have not been playing very good baseball.
Yes, the Atlanta Braves have been hot with their 11-1 record, but that is still no excuse for the way the Nationals have been playing. The Braves’ record has nothing to do with the 4 errors committed by the Nationals this past weekend. There is no correlation between Justin Upton’s 7 home runs and Adam LaRoche’s .147 batting average. The Nationals are not playing well, and there’s no reason to sugarcoat it.
While Nationals’ Manager, Davey Johnson, has asked us to not “micro-pick,” journalists and bloggers and experts alike need something about which to complain, so micro-picking is what we will do. First of all, Nationals’ starting pitchers have thrown a lot of pitches early on, making them leave games by the sixth or seventh inning. This has overworked the Nationals’ bullpen, which has a collective ERA of 6.34 (last in the Majors). Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren, and Ross Dettwiler need to pitch deeper into the seventh or eighth inning, and to do this, they need to find their strike zones early. Tyler Clippard has not been as effective as in years past, and for the love of mankind, can they please get rid of Henry Rodriguez?
Then there’s hitting. Leadoff hitter Denard Span has an on-base percentage of .423 and OPS of .772 (that's a relatively new statistic – “on-base plus slugging”) and has been very patient at the plate. But that does a team no good if the subsequent batters can’t bring Span home. Jayson Werth has been hitting a little (but not enough), Bryce Harper has been admirably consistent (but not enough), and Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche have not been hitting (and neither has the bottom of the order, actually). Span and Harper can’t do it all by themselves.
And what’s with all the errors, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman? Desmond had improved so much last year and Zimmerman started the season off making Gold Glove-type plays at first base. But in the last 3 games, he committed 3 of the team’s 4 errors. It is not common for a third baseman to commit an error in 3 consecutive games; let’s hope Ryan is not feeling the effects from his off-season shoulder surgery. He hasn’t given us an explanation, so who knows?
So what’s next? Well, fortunately the Nationals are headed to Miami to play against the 2-10 Marlins. They can’t use the “That team is on a hot streak!” excuse, so they need to start hitting and Jordan Zimmermann needs to pitch 7 or 8 solid innings. After that 3-game series they have a day off and then go to New York to face the Mets. If they come back from that road trip with less than a 4-2 record, the Nationals will have to re-evaluate their “World Series or bust!” mantra. Yes, I know there are still a lot of games to be played this season, but if the Nationals keep playing the way they played this past weekend, they will be lucky to make it back to the playoffs.