Nationals Retrospective: Week 3

Facing the Marlins and Mets this past week theoretically provided the National a chance to steamroll over some division foes and beef up their record. Fans eyes lit up with the prospect of getting the team’s offense and pitching to be more consistent against two teams that aren’t necessarily expected contenders. A 3-3 record on said road trip is just fine, but the Nats had multiple opportunities to make that a 4-2 or even a 5-1 and put themselves right on the heels of Atlanta.

It is important to throw out there; the Nats are not imploding or showing serious signs of long term disappointment. Even after a week where Washington played .500 ball, the team is sitting in second place in the division with a 10-8 record, three games behind the rival Atlanta Braves. Even though there is no reason to grab the torches and pitchforks just yet, Nats fans have certainly been watching a good team play badly.

With that said, let’s take a look at the past week and all the ups and downs that have come to define the Nats young season:

Observations:

Pitching Continues to Underperform

Nats pitching has simply not looked good. Aside from Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, Washington starters have been ineffective over the past week. Dan Haren gave up seven runs (three earned) in under five innings of work against the Marlins on Tuesday. Strasburg gave up four runs against the Mets on Friday. Gio Gonzalez gave up five runs in four innings against New York on Saturday. These numbers on their own aren’t incredibly concerning, but they also don’t even begin to reflect how unintimidating the starters have looked visually. Nats pitchers have been criticized this season so far for not ‘attacking the strike zone enough.’ The results have been palpable.

The starting pitching conundrum doesn’t even begin to touch upon the issues with the Nats bullpen. Coming into the 2013, the bullpen was looked upon as one of Washington’s most solid assets. Thus far, it has proven to be the team’s Achilles heel. The Washington bullpen is tied for the MLB league in blown saves. After the seventh inning, including extra innings, the Nationals have a 5.02 ERA. The pen also ranks 24th in the majors in batting-average-against, with a .266 BAA.

We all understand it’s early. But any Nats fan will admit it’s frustrating to see the pitching, an aspect of the team which excelled and dominated in 2012, start of this season so inexplicably ineffective.

Errors, Errors, Errors

What? Where did this come from? We talked a little last week about how Ryan Zimmerman blew a few games for the Nats because of his defensive miscues. The error bug seems to be contagious and is spreading through the clubhouse. Washington’s defense leads the league with 18 errors so far on the young season. The reigning American League Champion Detroit Tigers have made only four.

These facts and figures wouldn’t be so frustrating if General Manager Mike Rizzo didn’t preach the defense-first mentality when constructing this team. As fans, we know Rizzo did a good job in assembling a team of Gold Glove Caliber players. Fans have seen this team play, know they are capable of rock solid defense and anything to the contrary makes losses that much more frustrating.

While the errors have been racked up to this point, the team is not playing as poorly defensively as it would seem. The MLB standings in UZR/150 has the Nats listed as #14, ahead of preseason contenders STL, LAD, BAL, CIN, OAK, NYY, TOR and LAA. Errors and mental mistakes can and will be rectified.

Anthony Rendon Debut

The much anticipated debut of star infield prospect Anthony Rendon seemed to come and go in a matter of minutes. Rendon made an amazing play in foul territory in first inning of Sunday’s contest against the Mets. Playing third base, Rendon chased a ball into third base foul territory towards the Nats visiting dugout. Using every inch of possible real estate, the promising prospect leaned over into the dugout and flashed the leather while reeling in the pop-up, registering the first out of the game. Following the great play, Rendon would go 0-4 in his offensive debut, striking out twice. Rendon batted sixth in the debut and replaced an ailing Ryan Zimmerman (more on that later). Obviously this is just one game, and the first-round draft pick is believed to have a very bright future ahead of him. But there were no dazzling heroic story lines to come from the debut.

Injuries:

Ryan Zimmerman Hits the DL with Tight Hamstring

Oh boy. Is it bad to say we saw this coming? Over the past three seasons, Zim has averaged 129 games a year. Zimmerman began to have hamstring issues last weekend in a series against the Atlanta Braves. The former All-Star began sitting out Friday in the series opener against the Mets. The Nats opted to put Zimmerman on the DL the next day in order to give him time to address the hamstring issue.

While losing an everyday player always has an impact on the team, this Nationals club is built to not rely too heavily on one guy. If multiple go down it’s a different story, but a 15-day DL stay for Zimmerman will prove to be negligible when you have the bench talent to fill in and not to mention the call up of Anthony Rendon.

Around the League

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have cooled off since we talked about them last week and are currently riding a three game losing streak. Atlanta still sits at the top of the NL East with a three game lead, but the Nats are within striking distance. Slugger Jason Heyward continues to be off to a slow start, hitting .121 avg. (.519 OPS) through his first 17 games. The Braves are showing signs of slowing down, but they will hands-down be a contender the entire season.

New York Mets

The Mets are still holding their own, although they are clinging to stay above .500 with a record of 9-8. New York has seen excellent showings from top young pitcher Matt Harvey. The Mets will have to ride this strength as they continue to get inconsistent offensive production and essentially play with a seemingly nonexistent and unproven outfield that stars Marlon Byrd as its centerpiece.

Philadelphia Phillies

Last week, we discussed how the Phillies were a .500 team. One week later, the same sentiment essentially holds true. Philadelphia is 4-6 in their last ten games and sits at fourth in the division with a 7-11 record. This seems about right for a team that is aging, trying to replace offensive production once provided by the likes of outfielders Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino and are simultaneously dealing with a slow start by Ryan Howard (.685 OPS) and uncharacteristically poor starts by Roy Halladay (6.04 ERA, 5.50 FIP, 3.63 BB/9) and Cole Hamels (6.46 ERA, 4.81 FIP, 3.80 BB/9). Star pitcher Cliff Lee gave up five runs in as many innings on Friday as the Phils were shut out. The Phillies were shut out a total of three times this past week - two of which were only one-run games.

Miami Marlins

This team is bad. And we’re not being biased here. Any baseball fan who looks at the standings and sees a 4-15 record can tell you that. The team as a whole has an astonishingly dismal .557 OPS - that’s good for last place in the Majors by 74 points. The entire team combined has hit six home runs. This means there are 7 players that have hit more home runs than the ENTIRE Miami team. It’s no surprise the Marlins are only scoring 2.26 runs per game. The numbers speak for themselves. And what they’re saying is not good.

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