A Manifestation of Season Long Issues

 

Last evening the Nationals lost a 3-2 game that was tied heading into the late innings. It was another in a long line of close games in which the Nationals were the team that couldn't get the one extra run while the other team could. While there were very few issues with Monday night's game there was some manifestation of season long issues. The first is that the Nats don't have a middle ground when it comes to runs scored. They have scored two or fewer runs 51 times, five or more 43 times, and three or four runs just 18 times. That is really the issue with the Nats offense. If they could raise their floor just a little bit their average runs per game would increase monumentally.  

The other big issue in Monday night's game was with how Scott Hairston was used. He had a great game when he was batting against a left hander, but once the left hander left the game so should have Hairston. Span entered the game for Lombardozzi to improve the Nats defense which left the Nationals with left handers Roger Bernadina and Chad Tracy on the bench. With one out and a runner on third in the ninth inning in a one run game against a right handed pitcher and two left handed batters on the bench, and one of them being an outfielder there should have been no chance of Hairston batting. That has been an issue with Davey Johnson all season. Instead of putting players in a position to succeed he has given them every chance to fail. While there is no guarantee that Tracy or Bernadina tie the game they have a much better shot at doing so than Hairston, and having two shots with the platoon advantage is better than one. Especially when in one of those chances a hit isn't even necessary to tie the game.  

Davey Johnson's surrender mentality when the offense doesn't perform in the manner he prefers is only one part of the issue, and while Tyler Clippard has been one of the best relievers in baseball he is still part of a bullpen that ranks 20th in the majors in ERA. If that ranking isn't alarming enough consider that the Nats bullpen has a 3.72 ERA and the Mets bullpen 3.75. In regards to runs scored this season, the Nats bullpen is no different than the Mets bullpen and that is extremely alarming. In baseball everything is connected and having a bullpen that doesn't allow the team to stay in the game long enough to score the third run instead of the opposition is one part of why the Nationals offense is in the state that it is. The more than .100 point difference in OPS by the offense when trailing is more alarming than the bullpen's struggles, but having a bullpen that enters the game and then gives up the tie almost immediately cannot be ignored as anything but a problem.  

The final issue is one that is much more subtle. Stephen Strasburg was given an early one run lead and then failed to hold it. It was only a one run lead, but the Nationals had it for all of two innings and then the game was tied. In case you're curious Stephen Strasburg suffers an alarming jump in OPS against when given a lead. While pitching with the lead Strasburg has a .786 OPS against. In all other facets of the game Stephen Strasburg is having a better season in 2013 than he did in 2012, but when given a lead in 2012 he had a .617 OPS against. For comparison in 2013 Strasburg's OPS against when behind is .408 and when tied .592. In 2012 he did almost the reverse with an OPS against of .821 when trailing and .597 when tied. So in a tie game Strasburg in 2012 is the same as Strasburg in 2013 as far as the batters are concerned, but when he has a lead in 2013 he has pitched like he did when trailing in 2012. It is a very odd change and hard to figure out a reason for, and while the why of it is a mystery the fact that it is, is disturbing enough.   

Those three issues all manifested themselves in the Nats 3-2 loss to the Braves last night. Pitching Clippard in the eighth inning of a tie game should never been seen as an issue and Strasburg pitched seven innings giving up only two runs. Neither the bullpen issues, nor Strasburg's inability to hold a lead were the biggest issue Monday night. The biggest issue was that Davey Johnson put a batter with a career OPS of .697 against right handers when he had two left handers on the bench and one with an .808 career OPS against right handers. That was the move that really cost the Nats the game, and while there is no guarantee that either Tracy or Bernadina score Rendon from third they both have a better chance to do so than a platoon right handed hitter who is feeble against right handed pitching.

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