Hard to Remember we Like this Sport


Digging through numbers and searching through the rubble of the Nats season to find answers to what went so horribly wrong can numb the mind. The reasons are right there spelled out in bold and painful numbers, but many of them raise more questions than they do answers. The Nats are awful in high leverage situations. More than .040 points of OPS worse than the next worst team. This could simply be a sample size issue or it could be an issue of the players internalizing all the pressure or it could be that the manager makes the moments feel more tense. The main issue with trying to find the reason behind the numbers is that some of the possible explanations are beyond our ability to know. 

The last 26 games have been some of the worst baseball the Washington Nationals have played since moving to DC. That wasn't supposed to happen this season. The Washington Nationals worst case scenarios were all still over .500 and none of them predicted the team would play .300 baseball for an extended stretch of time. In the 26 games the Nationals have played since sweeping San Diego and being four games over .500 and four games back in the division they've gone 8-18 scoring 3.1 runs a game and allowing 4.2. Well below average offense and below average pitching is a quick recipe to play .500 baseball.   

As much of a problem as the offense appears to be consider for a second that the Pittsburgh Pirates have scored 26 more runs than the Washington Nationals but have won 16 more games. The reason for that is that the Pirates pitching has performed in a manner that the Washington Nationals was supposed to. The Pirates are the best team in the NL at preventing runs while the Washington Nationals are basically league average. A rotation headed by Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmermann shouldn't lead a mediocre pitching staff especially when the back of the bullpen has a closer with a 2.91 ERA and a set-up man with a 1.99 ERA. The players the team wants to be performing have for the most part performed, and yet everything around the fringes has gone wrong.  

It is hard at times to fathom how important those fringes are. How the bottom of the roster can doom a team, but that is exactly what has happened to the Washington Nationals this season. Watching this team play. Watching them struggle and fight to score one, two, or three runs and even end up with the lead at times and then to watch the pitching collapse in the end or middle of the game is tough. It is a bad brand of baseball. It isn't fun to watch and it makes it hard to remember that we like this sport. That we survived the second half of 2005 all the way until now with mostly really bad baseball. Expectations and the excitement for something different have made this year even worse, but it is time to get back to basics.  

It is time to go to the park and admire the players that are performing even if those players happen to not be on the team. Enjoy a walk on a warm summer evening around the park. Take in the sounds and smells of the game. We go to the ballpark to forget our daytime lives. Do that still and try hard to find some enjoyment in baseball for the sake of baseball. It is tough to say that. I haven't been able to do it at Nationals Park this season, but I've done it plenty of times at the Pfitz. At minor league games the results don't matter. All that exists is baseball. Clear away the veil of perceptions and that is all that exists at a major league park as well. Pretend that the Nationals are some other team. A random team that draws no emotional attachment and the suffering will be easier to endure and end sooner. Really the best suggestion may simply be to relax.   

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