The Washington Nationals were swept yesterday for the first time this season, in a game that was possibly uglier than their 15-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds two weeks ago, considering the circumstances. Sunday’s 9-0 loss was not the message the Nats were hoping to send to their NL East rivals the Atlanta Braves, but fortunately they will get 16 more chances for redemption before the season is over.
The Nationals’ loss advanced the Braves winning streak to nine games, but manager Davey Johnson wasn’t panicking about the underperformance of his Nats on Sunday.
"It was just a tough day, but you are never as bad as you look when you lose, you're never as good as you look when you win. That's the way I look at it," Johnson said, according to MLB.com.
The Nats’ 98-64 record in 2012 showed Major League Baseball that they are definitely not as bad as they looked over the weekend. Sometimes losing a series is a wakeup call, Johnson said, so with any luck, the Nationals will be able to capitalize on that aspect of the loss as they begin a six-game road trip.
Areas in which the Nationals will hopefully wake up soon:
For a team that finished in the bottom third for errors last season (94, 23rd place), the Nationals defense currently leads the majors with 12 errors in 12 games. Ryan Zimmerman continues to struggle making plays from third, and has committed three errors in the last three games. Zimmerman remains unconcerned, but one MLB scout thinks his strength as a third baseman is dwindling. We will have to see what trends emerge as the young season continues, but to remain optimistic, likely in a few more games Zim will have established his rhythm and permanently shaken off the offseason rust.
Gio Gonzalez just didn’t have his stuff yesterday. The double by B.J. Upton on the first pitch of the game was not a good omen, and it continued to get worse from there. Gonzalez threw 98 pitches in five innings, and allowed seven runs to score on three walks and seven hits – two of which were home runs. Though it was his first loss, it was the second time in three starts that he threw almost 100 pitches in just five innings. The last time he allowed seven earned runs in a game was on a Sept. 14, 2010 game in which he threw 55 pitches and lasted only two innings. Allowing two home runs in the same game was also unusual for Gonzalez, who gave up only nine homers all of last season. It’s unrealistic to expect that one of last year’s Cy Young finalists will continue to be that bad throughout the rest of the season. It was just unfortunate that his worst start as a National happened in this non-statement making series against the Braves.
Pitching in general
It wasn’t just Gio who faltered in the series against the Braves. Across the board the Nationals pitching staff has been inconsistent. They have allowed 59 runs to score so far this season, and the Braves outscored them 18-5 in the series.
On Sunday, though Zach Duke did a good job of eating up innings so the rest of the bullpen could rest, he still allowed the Braves to add two more runs to their onslaught in the three innings he pitched. Henry Rodriguez’s performance did not add to the damage, but his pitching continues to be iffy. He used four pitches to get the first two outs in the ninth inning, but then walked the next two batters he faced, threw a wild pitch, and finally got Blake Dewitt to line out.
The Nationals offense has done little to assist its faltering pitching. Yes, Tim Hudson and other pitchers the Nats have faced recently have been dominant, but as a team who posted the best run differential in the majors last season (+137), their current -13 run differential (third worst in the National League) definitely shows that their bats are due to wake up. On Sunday, they only managed to string together four hits through the entire game, struck out seven times, and only had a runner in scoring position twice.
Danny Espinosa was in the wrist by a pitch during his first at bat of the game. He left the game in the fifth inning to have it examined, and it was negative for any fracturing, so he is listed as day-to-day. Davey Johnson said he could miss a day or two. Losing both Espinosa and Wilson Ramos to injury in the same series would be a serious bummer, so if all goes as planned Espinosa will heal quickly.