Thursday, July 25, 2013

Now It's Time to Panic for the Nats

Now that the Nationals have lost six in a row, it is officially time to panic in the nation’s capital. At this point last season, Washington was 20 games above .500, at 60-40. Now through 100 games this season, the Nat’s are four games below .500 with only a 48-52 record.  What happened to the team that was picked to make the World Series?
The Nationals' strength last year was the excellent pitching staff from top to bottom. Last season they were 1st in the NL in ERA, opponent’s batting average, and walks/hits per inning. Now those numbers have slipped to 6th, 7th, and 5th. These numbers are reflected in the bullpen as well, which went from 3rd best to 8th.  Even though the stats declined from last year, the numbers are still respectable, and indicative of a winning ballclub. What about the other factors in baseball?
In DC’s first place season last year, the team finished 4th in batting average, 5th in runs, and 6th in on base percentage.  Now the Nationals’ bats have struggled to 13th, 14th, and 14th out of the 15 NL teams in those respective categories.  They have not fared any better in the field as Washington fell from 4th to 15th in number of fielding errors and 2nd to 15th in fielding percentage.
Despite these numbers, teams find a way to win by cliche sports terms like lucky or clutch. Batters can be clutch when runners are in scoring position or when called to pinch hit. Last season they were 7th and 1st in batting average in those situations, but now 11th and 12th.  In close games, the team has faltered as well. They went from 27-21 in one run games and 13-7 in extra inning games last year to just 16-14 and 5-7 in those situations now.
                The reason the Nationals had such lofty expectations this season was that they either improved or returned each spot of their roster. The team has not seen major injuries, and is healthier overall compared to last season.  How could a team (not full of aging vets, but young rising stars) get worse without major injuries or key player movement?
                The answer? Mojo. Curses. Karma. Whatever you want to call it, but there is definitely something going on in the mental makeup of the players. It started in the last month of the regular season last year when Strasburg was cautiously benched due to his innings limit, starting the Strasburg curse. Then in one of the last home games of the year, winless Racing President Teddy Roosevelt finally won, creating the Teddy curse.  Now a mediocre president, Taft, joined the race, bringing mediocrity to the 4th inning entertainment and possibly another curse.
On a more realistic note, one player change in the offseason might have an unforeseen mental impact as well. Goofball slugger Michael Morse brought humor to the clubhouse and broke up the tension last season with his antics, but was traded away in January. Now the pressure of meeting lofty expectations may be getting to the young team.  Perhaps the Nationals can overcome the statistic and curses to use the remaining 62 games to catch the injury-riddled Braves and win the division again.

1 comment:

  1. Hard to blame anything on Stras. From WaPo's Kilgore this morning, on last night's gut-wrenching, soul-sucking, you've-got-to-be-kidding-me-last-"out" game: “Strasburg became the first pitcher since 1900 to pitch at least eight innings, strike out 12 batters, walk none, allow two hits or fewer and not win.”