Why The Nationals Are Struggling Out of the Gate, an Unhinged Fanboy Perspective

So, there are pieces that are well written thoughts on what’s going on in baseball and with my team and there are unhinged rants. This is most definitely the latter as I just sat through an exhilarating and very stupid game. Things aren’t’ great with the Nationals at the moment as there really isn’t any way to call 6 lossed in 8 games “good” especially with them just not looking right in key moments and the Mets swearing off losing. This is extra frustrating after burning all our relievers for the second time in 4 days . Since I’ve gotten a shitload of texts/comments/etc from all you asking what’s’ going wrong, here’s my best efforts:

1)Abusing The Bullpen is Coming Back to Bite Us

Yes, there is some awful luck here as we’ve now had two games go twelve innings within the same week. The problem is that in today’s game, Ryan Madson got his teeth kicked in in the 12th inning. Below are some usage patterns for our big two in recent days:

Reliever Times Entering Game Warmed Up But Not Used Total Times Used Or Warmed Up
Sean Doolittle 4 2 6
Ryan Madson 5 1 6

Essentially Doolittle and Madson have seen action nearly every day this week, which is concerning given that they really shouldn’t be pitching in back to back games all that often . In Doolittles case, he was getting ready in the bullpen on April 9 and while he never entered the game(Thanks Max), with his history he suffers dramatically witt this kind of usage, and throwing on Monday is probably the same thing as appearing three straight days. On top of this, he also warmed up before the 9th and 10th innings today, which anecdotally seems to make him less effective . We saw that problem manifest itself today with his command struggling against Atlanta in the 10th and nearly coughing the game up early.

Madson has also been deployed regularly and with extreme prejudice. Not only was Thursday his 5th appearance in 7 days, it was his second straight AND he warmed up ahead of the 8th inning so it’s probably to be expected that he was eventually going to lose some of his stuff, especially with Freddie Freeman and the top of the Braves order coming up.

Also, Shawn Kelley, that dude just sucks now and it’s a shame.

This isn’t to say that Davey had better options, at the time that Madson entered his only reliever left was Trevor Gott, who is , not particularly trustworthy so I understand the temptation to being in your setup man especially after he was looked good undoing Sammy Solis latest mess the night before. The issue here is that that Nats don’t have a true long man who can throw 3-4 innings out of the pen once or twice per week, which is an issue when you can’t goddam score and have to pull your pitcher early. I get that many teams don’t carry a long reliever because of how rarely they really need one but (A) we’ve needed 1 twice in a week and (B) Davey has seemed reluctant to let his non aces get a full third run through the order. With Jeremy Hellickson looking increasingly ready, it’s probably time to think about demoting Gott and having Hellickson or Cole take over the Long Reliever role as that gives some flexibility and the option of running a tandem game.

2) Incredibly Sloppy Baserunning

Let’s recount some of the highlights of our strolls around the paths:

3/31 vs Cincinatti: WIth Turner and Goodwin on, the team calls for a double steal. Turner isn’t paying attention, gets faked out by the pitcher and goodwin is out

4/8 vs Mets: Brian Goodwin thrown out a home on a shallow single to left

4/8 vs Mets: Howie Kendrick drops a double play ball in the same inning the mets score the winning runs

4/9 vs Mets: Michael Turner Singles, but Trea Turner ignores a hold sign and overruns third, ending the 6th inning

4/9 vs Mets: In the bottom of the 8th, with Rendon on and Harper batting, Rendon gets caught napping at third base and ends the inning

4/9 vs Mets: Harper advances to 2B on an E-1, ignores a sign to take third. On the nex play Matt Adams flys out to CF and Harper Tags to 3B. If he’d followed the sign he would have scored to win.

For whatever reason this team seems to lose its composure during critical moments on the basepaths , ignoring signs, not paying attention to the pitcher, and bad sends. I don’t know if Bob Henley has worn on the team but they cannot seem to run the basepaths competently with or without his advice and it’s a problem.

3)Injuries and Hitters Not Showing Up Is a Rough Mix

Michael Taylor and Ryan Zimmerman are approaching the point at which we move from “small sample size” to “just plain hitting poorly”. Taylor is batting .158/200 and has more than twice as many strikeouts (13) as hits (6). He’s also getting back into bad habits that lead to him swinging wildly at everything he sees, including situations where a sac fly wins the game. Zimm isn’t faring much better at .114 but he at least had a triple on Tuesday. That said the fact that the Nat’s seem reluctant to let him play more than 2 days in a row is telling.

Additionally , having Adam Eaton being in a constant state of pseudo injured (recently converting to actually injured) and Daniel Murphy’s recovery from knee surgery has led to the Nats losing some key bats. While Brian Goodwin and Howie Kendrick have played well as fill ins, the Nats bench has suffered dramatically as instead of having strong bench presences to fall back on, those players are starting and leaving critical pinch hit at bats to uninspiring options like Matt Reynolds and Moises Sierra.

Finally, add in some incredibly annoying instances of leaving men on base . In two 1 run losses to the Mets this past week, they left a total of 23 men on base, thats a lot.. To put it in perspective, the Nats have a .200 batting average with runners in scoring position, which makes them the 5th worse in baseball. This hopefully improves.

4) Some Damn Bad Luck

For those not familiar, batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is a pretty good indicator of a teams overall luck. Over the course of a season an average BABIP will be around .300 and those hitting significantly above that are strong candidates for regression. The Nationals current BABIB is .278, which ranks them 24th out of 30 teams and is remarkably bad. Admittedly some aspects of BABIP are related to talent it seems to me that some of the incredibly bad luck (Rendons near grand slam ruined by cold weather on April 9 stands out) should normalize. Hopefully. Maybe. Please?

Is The Season Doomed?

Maybe Not? My hope is that they manage to chain together 2-3 straight days of not using Doolittle and Madson and that maybe they have some batters either get healthy or I don’t know, knock in a hit every now and then? My biggest concern isn’t that the hitting won’t improve or normalize, it’s that the overuse of Doolittle and Madson continues to put games at risk and creates a huge injury risk for both players.

Some Half Baked Solutions

Make Cole or Hellickson to Long Man while Demoting Trevor Gott– Dear god we need one, both because of our recent tendency to have long games and because Davey’s (analytically correct and progressive) distrust of letting lesser pitchers face the order a third time means we probably need some tandem games(that’s where one starter throws five innings and another relieves to throw four. In theory we could be getting some usage out of Trevor Gott but Davey’s displayed preference is to only use him in very low leverage situations, which makes him dead weight at this point.

Move Severino up in the batting order and give him more starts– I recognize his current production is untenable and his bat is much lesser, but Michael A. Taylor is hitting like shit and Severino is actually producing so let Michael A work through his head in the 8 hole. Also I know the pitchers like Matt Wieters game calling better. Get Over it. The only way Severino improves is if he gets to call actual games and it’s not like Matt Wieters bat is getting any better.

Get Doolitle and Madson back to back off days– I don’t care if we have to drop more games because Sammy Solis can’t handle the 9th, the two of them need multiple off days ASAP, this means “no entering a game or throwing in the pen “just in case”. s

Bring Back Adam Lind-Okay so this is a bad idea as the role of very slow lefty 1B is already filled but man it be fun to have both of them mashing righty’s? Nothing could go wrong since other teams totally wouldn’t bring in Lefty’s all day . Nope, this is a good idea(it’s not ).

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