Thursday, April 15, 2010

Making sense of the nonsensical

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tonight's ugliness, spelled out in numbers.
PHILADELPHIA -- Inside a mostly silent clubhouse underneath Citizens Bank Park tonight, one Nationals pitcher had a look of pure dumbfoundedness on his face as he tried to dissect his staff's overall performance against the Phillies so far this season.

"It's not like it's just two or three guys who are struggling," the hurler said. "It's every single one of us. None of us can get them out."

There's an understatement. In five games against the Phillies over the last week and a half, Nationals pitchers have allowed 45 runs, 58 hits (23 of them extra-base hits) and 29 walks. Philadelphia's hitters are batting a collective .326 against Washington, with a .420 on-base percentage and a .965 OPS.

Basically, every Phillies batter who steps to the plate against the Nats this season is Ryan Howard (owner of a career .965 OPS).

Tonight's 14-7 thumping was only the latest in a growing list of lopsided performances. The Phillies have scored at least seven runs in four of five games against the Nats, and the only time they failed to do that, they still scored five runs.

"It doesn't look like they're very scared of us out there," said reliever Jason Bergmann, who allowed two more runs tonight and has been scored upon in three of his four appearances this season.

No, it doesn't. And it doesn't matter who Jim Riggleman sends to the mound. Of the seven hurlers who made cameos in this game, only Miguel Batista tossed a clean inning (and that came in the eighth of an already-lopsided game). Even rookie Jesse English, who wasn't charged with a run, still allowed four hits over 2 2/3 innings and surrendered some hard-hit outs.

The primary blame goes to Craig Stammen, who twice was handed three-run leads and twice squandered them during an abysmal 1 1/3-inning start. The right-hander was torched for seven runs and consistently missed catcher Ivan Rodriguez's target by six or more inches.

"I just didn't throw quality strikes," he said. "I left a lot of stuff up in the zone over the plate."

It would be one thing if Stammen's outing was an aberration, but this has been happening to just about every member of a Nationals rotation that has produced one quality start in eight tries (Livan Hernandez's seven shutout innings Saturday in New York). Washington starters are averaging less than 4 1/3 innings per outing and own a collective 8.82 ERA.

Now, it hasn't helped that they've been forced to face the Phillies' vaunted lineup in five of eight games. Still, the manner in which every Washington pitcher who takes the ball gets lit up by this opponent raises some questions.

Is there a domino effect going on here, or are these simply a bunch of poor individual performances that happen to take place in succession?

"Well, it appears to be the former," Riggleman said. "But there's no reason for that. Each guy goes in there as his own individual, [in a] unique situation he's coming into. And how he feels that night and the quality of his pitches has got to take precedence over everything. The domino thing, it does seem like it's happened. But it shouldn't happen."

There may be one underlying factor to this. When your starter is consistently getting knocked out before the fifth inning, your bullpen is being used in a manner no one wanted. Instead of using your three best relievers in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, you're forced to trot out middling long men while the game still hangs in the balance.

As one Nats pitcher put it: "If our starters are going six innings every night, our bullpen will be better."

Then again, it may not matter what kind of pitching performances Riggleman gets if his offense can't figure out how to sustain some momentum over the course of an entire ballgame. In tonight's bang-your-head-against-the-wall stat, Washington has scored 33 runs in innings 1-through-4 this season but only two runs after that. Two runs in innings five-through-nine. How is that possible?

"The more at-bats we have and the more consistent our approach becomes, I think we'll be fine," said leadoff man Nyjer Morgan, one of six regulars sporting batting averages under .220.

Will they? Will this team suddenly start hitting for the full nine innings, start getting six-plus innings every night from its rotation, start getting quality relief work from every member of the bullpen?

It's hard to believe the light switch is suddenly going to turn on for every under-performing player on the roster at once.


hleeo3 said...

To be fair Mark, tonight the blame should rest on Stammen, Bruney, and Bergmann. The hitters may not be able to hit past the 7th inning, but they shouldn't need to hit 10 runs a game to beat a team.

Anonymous said...

Clippard got lit up as well. Only English and Batista survived the onslaught. At least Clippard threw strikes and got people out. He didn't walk them. Three walks, three free rides for Bruney? Mr. Yankee? The bullpen looked bad tonight.

Anonymous said...

One of our pitchers said "It's not like it's just two or three guys who struggling," the hurler said. "It's every single one of us. None of us can get them out." Why is he, and the rest of them, suprised? It's been like this for five years. We keep getting bottom of the line pitchers and the brain trust tries to turn them into aces through talk and playing with statistics. Well, this is what it is. It ain't pretty and until we go out to get real aces, it will remain the same. It isn't just the Phillies. We'll get pounded like this all season. Not every game, but about 100 of them. Oh, there's that number again.

Anonymous said...

This is the difference between being worst and being first! We have a long way to go!!!!!

PDowdy83 said...

Oh please people give it a rest. It is 8 games into the season. Look at the standings and see we are actually AHEAD or tied w/ the Mets, Brewers, Padres, Dodgers & Astros in the NL and have a better record than the Angels, INdians and Orioles.

Lets go ahead and wait to declare this team a failure til AFTER they have played someone other than the best team in the NL 5 times out of 8. We are, afterall, 2 and 1 against the rest of baseball.

Anonymous said...

Has Bergmann ever had a good outing since 2007? Every time I see him, particularly this year, he's getting lit up. I like the guy, but the performance speaks for itself. I'll cut Clippard and Bruney some slack for last night, they've been doing well. English has overall done well too. But the others seem consistent in their inability to get the job done -- like Mock, at some point the performance has to speak for itself.

BowdenBall said...


We're exceptionally lucky to be 3-5. We've been outscored by 25 runs over the course of those nine games. A team playing at that pace over the course of an entire season would likely end up with a record in the neighborhood of 41-121 or thereabouts.

Yeah, it's early, and we've had the misfortune of playing the best team in the NL for 5 of those first 8 games, but you can't turn a blind eye to the fact that this team so far is just as god-awful as previous incarnations.

BowdenBall said...

Correction to the above- 25 runs over 8 games.

Jeff said...

"Clippard got lit up as well. Only English and Batista survived the onslaught. At least Clippard threw strikes and got people out."

Clippard had a strange outing... The shortest hit he gave up was the Victorino triple that scored all of Bruney's base runners. After that, he recorded about 1,200 feet of outs on 3 straight fly balls to the deepest part of the park.

Can we agree, however, that the Phillies have a lineup to behold? They won't see that kind of firepower again until the end of July, which is the next time the Phils are on the schedule. By then, the rotation may very well be a completely different set of pitchers. Small sample sizes, people. Let's get past the Phillies and move forward from there.

K.D. said...

Sweep this one under the rug, learn from your mistakes, get back to work, pick yourself up and go out there with some swagger today!

David said...

The Lerners' dedication to ensuring expense reports are properly filled out, while fielding a bargain basement team is not going to change. Strasburg can't save this sinking ship.

PDowdy83 said...

Actually BowdenBall I can say they aren't as god awful as last year. Matt Capps has actually saved 3 games this year. This was about the time our team was blowing 3 in a row against Florida last year. That equals an improvement. Also, while our pitching is looking about the same as last year, there are more options to throw out there, not the bare cabinet that it was previously.

Sure we have been outscored by 25 runs this year, but that was mostly last night and opening day so not sure that is a very telling stat or not, also against the Phillies. Talk to me after the 10 game homestand and we should be able to tell how good or bad this team really is.

PDowdy83 said...

Oh, and this is from's Tim Dierkes.

"Eleven bullpens currently sport ERAs over 5.00"

That is a 3rd of the league.

David said...

This team could be the first non-expansion team since the '42 Phillies to lose 100 games in 3 straight years

only question is will they get the #1 pick in 2011, or will Houston?

BowdenBall said...

PDowdy83, I like the optimism, and I wish I could just sign on. But it's not "mostly last night and opening day" that have produced the disparity in runs scored to runs allowed. It's all eight games. The data reflects the fact that two of the three wins were close and in some sense lucky, while the losses have all been whuppings.

That said, it is only eight games, the majority of which have been road games and the majority of which have been against the best team in the NL. I'm not as down as some here.

David, it's not really fair to call them a "non-expansion team." While technically that's true, in some sense they were actually worse off than an expansion team coming off the period in which they were owned by the league. They're sort of without precedent in that respect. Of course, that's only a legitimate excuse for so long ...

bumsfan4 said...

Last night I turned on a football game and a baseball game broke out.

TBC said...

This team could be the first non-expansion team since the '42 Phillies to lose 100 games in 3 straight years

They won't lose 100 this year, and even if they do there's this:

KC Royals 2004 58-104 2005 56-106 2006 62-100

(True, the Royals were an expansion team - but that was 41 years ago. And they had been to the postseason seven times, the World Series twice and won it all once over 20 years before this three-peat took place. So they don't count as being expansion-team bad.)

bdrube said...

"They won't lose 100 this year"

More like 110.

CWJ said...

I'm with Pdowdy83. Lets not get carried away with negativity this early in the season. At least we aren't the Orioles, who appear to be what the Nats were last year.

CWJ said...

Sorry, "they" not "we" haha

Anonymous said...

Just remember that at the end August when we're in the running for the first round pick and the Phillies are in the running for the postseason we'll still be there, trying hard to spoil all their fun.

At least that part will be exciting.

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