You know, as bad as the Phillies have played at times this year, being a fan of the Washington Nationals must be a far more frustrating experience.
Last season, the Nationals had the best record in baseball at 98-64 and won the NL East by four games over Atlanta, and by 17 games over the Phils. And although they got beaten by the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs, their future certainly appeared bright.
They came into 2013 with two of the best young pitchers in the game, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman, one of the game’s two most exciting young players in Bryce Harper, a lineup with a nice mix of veteran talent and youth, the best rotation in the National League, and a bullpen with an established closer in Rafael Soriano.
On paper, the Nats appeared to have no holes.
But things have not gone well in DC so far this year. After last night’s brutal 4-2 loss to the Giants in 10 innings, the Nationals fell to .500 on the season at 23-23, 4 1/2 games behind Atlanta, and just one game better than the Phils.
That’s right. The Nationals are just one game ahead of the Phillies in the standings.
Tuesday night’s loss in San Francisco was just brutal. Holding a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth, Soriano gave up an RBI triple with two outs to tie the game, then watched as Pablo Sandoval hit a Yunesky Maya offering out of the park for a walk-off two-run homer. It was Washington’s fourth straight defeat, and they are now 3-6 on their current west coast road trip.
To add insult to injury, Soriano blamed the defensive alignment in the outfield for preventing Harper from catching the game-tying triple. After the game, Harper took the blame, saying he was afraid of hitting the outfield wall, which isn’t surprising considering he nearly broke his face on the outfield wall in Los Angeles last week.
So, not only are the Nats losing, they’re blaming each other afterwards. Not a good sign.
Through 46 games, their 2013 run differential is a staggeringly bad -27, which is only slight better than the Phils’ -34. And there are ominous signs that things are not going to get better anytime soon.
Relief pitcher Ryan Mattheus pulled a Ryan Madson after Monday’s loss to San Francisco, breaking his hand after punching a locker. Oddly, Madson and Mattheus both suffered their self-inflicted wounds in San Fran.
Not only that, there are signs Jayson Werth, who signed a 7-year, $126 million contract with the Nats after the 2010 season, could be out another two weeks with a stubborn hamstring injury. Team officials described the Werth medical report as “alarming.” That’s not a word you want to have associated with the guy you still owe $83 million AFTER this season. Werth has played in just 238 of the 370 games the Nats have played since his arrival. It’s fair to wonder if the Werth contract is actually worse than Ryan Howard’s deal.
The Nats also lost Wilson Ramos to the DL for a hamstring injury recently (seriously Nats trainers, let’s stretch those things out a bit in pre-game warm-ups, huh?) and Ross Detwiler had to be scratched from his start Monday in San Francisco.
However, the big problem for Washington, much like the Phillies, has been the offense, which has actually been WORSE than the Phils’.
Let me say that again. THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS’ OFFENSE HAS BEEN WORSE THAN THE PHILLIES’.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The Nats have scored just 157 runs in 64 games this year, an average of 3.41 runs per game. The Phils, meanwhile, have scored 164 in 64 games, for an average of 3.56 runs per game. And while the Phillies’ offensive futility was predictable, given the number of at bats John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, Delmon Young, Erik Kratz and Ben Revere were projected to get, as well as the predictable decline of Ryan Howard, the Nationals’ failure to score runs is definitely more surprising.
Their team batting average of .226 and OPS of .654 are both second-worst in baseball (only the Marlins are worse).
Last year, Adam LaRoche had an OPS of .853 and hit 33 HRs and 35 2Bs. This year, it’s .696 with 7 HRs and 3 2Bs. Danny Espinosa has been among the worst hitters in baseball, with a .163/.191/.296 slash line, a staggering 38 Ks and just 3 BBs. Ian Desmond‘s OPS is down from .845 last year to .767 this year. Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats’ best hitter, has been decent, with an .800 OPS, but has also missed time with injuries this year, playing in just 31 of the team’s first 46 games. Denard Span has been a good pick-up, posting a .333 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot, but with just five stolen bases so far this year. And Werth’s struggles were mentioned above, having played in just 27 games with an OPS of .708.
The only bright spot has been the human pinball Harper, with an OPS of .982 and 11 home runs. But even Harper’s reckless style of play has caused him to miss a few games and has many worried about his safety.
Starters Zimmerman, Strasburg and Detwiler have been very good, despite the negative rumblings you may have heard about Strasburg (1.62, 2.83, and 2.76 ERAs respectively). But Gio Gonzalez has seen his control issues resurface after a career year last year. His ERA is 4.01 and has given up 24 walks in 50 1/3 innings, ballooning his WHIP to 1.219. And free agent signee Dan Haren has been abysmal in his nine starts this year, posting a 5.54 ERA with a WHIP of 1.430, mainly due to his 11.4 H/9. He’s already given up 10 home runs this year.
As for the ‘pen, Tuesday night’s blown save aside, Soriano has been pretty good, putting up a 1.89 ERA with 12 saves and a 1.053 WHIP. But Drew Storen (4.67 ERA, 1.558 WHIP) and Mattheus (4.96 ERA, 1.531 WHIP) have given the Nats lots of problems in the middle and later innings.
So, the big question the Nationals have to answer is… was last year a fluke aided by multiple players having career years (LaRoche, Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson) or are they still a deep, dynamic team that is just off to a slow start?
Right now, the performance of the Nationals HAS to be more disappointing – and concerning – to Nats fans than the Phillies’ start is to Phils’ fans. There is WAY more talent in Washington than there is in Philadelphia. As such, expectations for the Nationals were sky high. Almost everyone had them in the World Series. Certainly everyone had them making the playoffs.
The Phils were afforded no such expectations.
The smart money says the Nats will turn it around soon, which means it would behoove the Phillies to start playing better if they want to stay in the NL playoff conversation.
There are not many things Nationals fans and Phillies fans have in common. But this year, there is one…
…a profound frustration and disappointment watching their teams’ offensive struggle for competency.