Saturday, June 26, 2010

No defense for this defense

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Thanks to the Nats' gaffes, the Orioles were the ones celebrating at night's end.
BALTIMORE -- Ian Desmond stood before his locker in an otherwise silent Nationals clubhouse, the kind of silence that only accompanies the kind of crushing loss like tonight's debacle at Camden Yards, and tried to sum it up.

"We had 10 different ways to win that game," the rookie shortstop said. "And we lost it 10 different ways."

There's no way to sugarcoat this, no silver lining to make everyone feel better. The Nationals absolutely blew this ballgame, turning a 6-run lead after four innings into an embarrassing 7-6 loss to the Orioles that could have been prevented on any number of fronts.

It starts, of course, with the defense, which committed four more errors tonight resulting in four unearned runs, including the game-winner. But there were plenty other mistakes. The lineup completely let up after taking that 6-0 lead. Tyler Clippard imploded unlike he had at any previous point this season. And Jim Riggleman overmanaged this one to the point it cost his team victory, making pitching changes left and right in the fifth and sixth innings like this was Game 7 of the World Series, not Game 74 of a sub.-500 season.

"We put ourselves in some situations where we didn't bury them, and that's what really hurts out of that loss," said Nyjer Morgan, whose brilliant performance at the plate and in the field was wasted by night's end.

The defensive gaffes were the Nationals' final undoing, but let's talk first about the way Riggleman managed this game. His team up 6-2 with one out in the fifth, he decided to pull starter J.D. Martin, who wasn't exactly tossing a gem but wasn't awful either.

Riggleman then proceeded to play match-ups like his job depended on it. In came Doug Slaten to face one batter in the fifth. In came Sean Burnett to face one batter (Corey Patterson!) in the sixth. By the time Drew Storen emerged from the bullpen to pitch the seventh, Riggleman had already used five hurlers. It was already clear he was playing with fire, counting on Storen, Clippard and Matt Capps to finish this one off with no fail-safe backup plan.

"I tell our pitchers that all the time: I've got to manage to the situation, not how we got there," the manager said.

Well, the situation that emerged in the eighth was this: Clippard clearly didn't have it, but Riggleman couldn't afford to pull him and try someone else. Even worse, he let the set-up man return to the mound for the ninth despite having already thrown 35 pitches.

"I felt good," said Clippard, who wound up allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits and three walks (one intentional). "I felt like I settled down toward the end of the [eighth] and wanted the ball, wanted to go back out there and get us back in the dugout. I wasn't able to do that. It's frustrating. I felt like I let us down in a big way tonight. It's tough. It's tough to swallow."

By the time this game ended, Capps was on the mound, having been summoned by Riggleman to pitch out of a two-on, one-out jam created by Clippard. The closer nearly did it, getting Julio Lugo to hit a tailor-made, double-play grounder to short. But Cristian Guzman's turn was atrocious, and his throw sailed low and wide of Adam Dunn at first base. The winning run crossed the plate as Camden Yards erupted and the Nationals trudged off the field.

That was the fourth error of the night for the Nats, two a piece for Desmond and Guzman. Between the two of them, they've now combined for 27 errors, with Desmond's 18 leading the majors by leaps and bounds. (Adrian Beltre is closest with 13.)

So the Nationals' season error total is up to 67, most in the majors. They're on pace to match last year's ghastly total of 149, and no one is happy about it.

"It's the major leagues," Riggleman said, "and we've just got to play more major-league defense."

The manager is shouldering some of the blame himself, saying he's "got to do a better job in preparation for them." Truth be told, there's not much more the coaching staff can do for a club that already does as much pregame defensive work as anyone in baseball.

At some point, this comes down to a cold, hard truth: The Nationals have some very poor defensive players out there on a regular basis. Ryan Zimmerman, obviously, is among the best in the game. Ivan Rodriguez, while not the same catcher he was a decade ago, still brings it. Roger Bernadina has been impressive in right field. Josh Willingham has made strides in left field but won't challenge for a Gold Glove anytime soon.

Adam Dunn simply isn't a good defensive player. The Nats know it. A good first baseman saves errors from his infielders. Dunn can't do that. The Nats, though, are willing to live with it because of Dunn's bat (he did drive in four runs tonight).

Nyjer Morgan can be cringe-inducing in center field, but he can also be among the best in baseball, as he showed tonight in robbing Corey Patterson of a home run on what Patterson ranked alongside Gary Matthews' circus catch from a couple years ago.

"Gary, it was probably the best catch I've ever seen," Patterson said. "But his was right behind it."

Desmond, obviously, is on pace to commit about 40 errors by season's end. But the Nats knew what they were getting when they made him their starting shortstop. He's going to make mistakes, but he's also going to make plenty of plays no one else on the roster will. You just have to hope he progresses as this season goes on and makes major strides next year.

If nothing else, Desmond remains confident in his abilities.

"I want the ball hit to me every time, every pitch, regardless," he said. "I don't care if I make 20 errors in a row. I want the ball to come to me. I'm not scared to field the ball."

Guzman, then, is the real problem. He's not a natural second baseman, was never a good shortstop and has never thrown the ball well. Perhaps it's time to reduce his playing time, making him the No. 3 infielder he was supposed to be when the season began. Adam Kennedy hasn't exactly shown he deserves more playing time, but over the long haul he's less likely to hurt you defensively and can be an adequate bat at the bottom of the lineup.

Would one change at second base cure the Nationals of all that ails them in the field? No. But Riggleman and Co. realize they've got to try something in an attempt to fix a major problem.

"That's the thing we've got to come up with. Myself and the coaches have got to say, 'What can we do different?'" Riggleman said. "Because the work is being put in, and there's a good level of concentration when they're doing it. But something happens in the game, maybe they're feeling the pressure, I don't know. But the number of errors is just not acceptable."

On a night like this, after a gut-wrenching loss like that, nothing seems acceptable.


Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Great summation, Mark, and you nailed it. We're a horse-bleep defensive team. Our inner defense can turn any routine groundball into a two-base adventure. Dunn is Dunn. It's like living with an active alcoholic: you know what you're getting going into it. But Goozie and Desmond, you never know with those two. Any play can be botched.

Have said all that, Tony Plush turned in the play of the year going over the center field wall. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Anonymous said...

Bottom line: Its Guzman and Dunn ... they have to go. They don't belong in the National league both are DH's. Its unfortunate ... Dunn is a great hitter but he is no Lou Gehrig at first and not Babe Ruth in right field. Trade Dunn for Mark Reynolds, trade Guzman to whomever will take him and move on, move on ... Willie Harris et all for no-hit Edwin Jackson YES!!!! Do It, today!

Anonymous said...

I bet Desmond and Espinosa would work ... bet on it. Both competing for the shortstop position ... one mistake and you get shifted to 2nd base or out of the lineup. DO IT! Pull the trigger, yank the rip cord!!!!

Anonymous said...

Mark, I think you were much too harsh on Dunn. In total, he's an slightly above average first baseman. On offense, he's above average. On defense...he's not. He, generally, makes the routine plays and that's significant because most plays are routine. He just won't make the exceptional play but few plays at first require exceptional ability. So you live with him.

The play at first that ended the game certainly wasn't routine because it was a terrible throw.

...and you do realize Dunn drove in four of the six runs in the game, don't you? That's why you learn to live with his ability to only make the routine plays on defense.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't believe that Riggleman went to pitchers facing one hitter as early as the fifth. I've never seen this before in a mid-season meaningless game. And with a comfortable lead. Mark, what's the talk around the league? Can Riggleman manage major leaguers?

Anonymous said...


You nailed it with the Riggleman overmanaging. It's not so much that it's a meaningless game--no, you want to win the game, but you have to trust your relievers working with what was for us a big lead. The Batista move in particular surprised me: I thought this was the kind of game where you could turn him loose for two or three innings so that you could spare the "A team" of relievers for the next two games. Jim, you can use your "long reliever" for a long time when you have a big lead too--not just when you're way behind.
The O's (and certainly their fans--I was at the game) seemed dead in the water at that time, resigning themselves to another abysmal loss. Rigs' overmanaging (nice word for panicking?) helped bring them back into the game. Shame that it ruined Nyjer's best game of year (and maybe career?).

JayB said...

Riggleman is the perfect .450 manager for any team. He could take the Yanks down to that level.

Morgan was outstanding. Just great last night. I am not ready to give him a pass on the first half of the year but it was fun to watch!

I cut Harris today and move Guz to pinch hitting and play Alberto a lot more....a whole lot more. Oh and start the search for a new manager. If Riggs comes back they will sell no seasons tickets. He has to go to keep sales above the 3000 they are at. Only a full season ticket will make sure you see SS games. Anyone else will just pick and choose games next year.

natscan reduxit said...

... my first reaction this morning ( same as far too many mornings this year)is to say the season is, for all intents and purposes, toast, so let's just play the guys who need the experience and get them better.

... that said, if we want to rescue some of this season, we might try this (I can't recall if it was a ST combo or not): put Guz back to short (bad glove, great bat), and try Dez at 2nd (can he do it?). Then to add some extra trial-&-error to the mix, put Dunn in RF (glove just as good there as at 1st) and Mike Morse at first (can't argue with his bat).

... if that's way off the mark, let me know. I'm not exactly Casey Stengel when it comes to management, but I've got a thick skin and I can take the abuse.

Go Nats!! (Please?)

Big Cat said...

Does Riggs ever smile? He stands there and has the most serious look on his face. He looks soooooo tight. Loosen up Riggsie baby!

Dunn should of had that throw at the end. Any hard play he boots. The same with Zimmermans throw a couple nights ago when we lost. Yes, Adam has a lot of homers, but most are solo. Marrero is hitting very well in AA. I say you trade Dunn, he is killing us in the field

JayB said...

Marrero would make Dunn look like a gold glove winner. He has rock hands and lead feet

Anonymous said...

Marrero already has 10 errors and he isn't playing shortstop like Espinosa. This in AA. His bat is coming around now but Marerro is a DH you never put that guy at first base. NEVER!

Richard said...

Frist, before you say Dunn isn't at least an average fielding first baseman, why don't you look at the statistics?! His fielding percentage is .994, which is better than a lot of first baseman who aren't criticized for their defense. MLB conveniently provides the stats if you care to look. Maybe you'd argue he misses errant throws more than some, but not from what I've seen. He picks up the many Nats throws in the dirt as well as most.

Second, I watched the movie "The Awakening" again the other day where Robert De Niro's character is in a mental hospital in a semi-vegetative state and Robin William's character, a doctor, administers el dopa and suddenly De Niro's character revives and enjoys life for a while but then the symptoms return despite increasing amounts of el dopa and back he goes into the abyss. Very sad.

Section 222 said...

Your posts have been better than ever during this slide Mark. Thanks for telling it like it is. As bad as the defense was last night, the real key to the game, as you note, was Riggleman's poor bullpen management. He should have been able to take Clippard out after the first two batters in the 8th. Everything was way up in the zone. Instead, he stuck with him, even in the 9th, because he had already burned through the other options in the pen. Why do that in the first game of a series? Crazy.

I do disagree with you about Dunn. No one could have saved that last error. And he does save other ones, particularly on bad throws. He's consistently done it for Zim (catching throws that are down the line and tagging the runner), and he did it last night for Guzman on a play to his left where he made a lazy and wide throw. He's never going to be Pujols or Texiera, but he's average or better. Our defensive woes are in the middle infield, not at the corners.

"But Riggleman and Co. realize they've got to try something in an attempt to fix a major problem."
Do they? That's the real question. That and will Riggleman return to his bullpen mgmt style of last year when he let a hot pitcher pitch 2 innings, and pulled a cold one. Now he's got his formula which relies on a good outing from Store, Clipp & Save every night, and it's not going to work out every time. And will he give Kennedy and Gonzo some real playing time at 2nd? Kennedy hasn't been good in the field recently, but he should get a shot. But Riggleman inexplicably loves Guzzie's bat(OPB be damned), so I doubt he will make this move.

Anonymous said...

This was the worst game this team has played since moving to Washington. And I've seen all of them.

You nailed everything but I agree you were too hard on Dunn. No one gets that throw. Everytime the ball is in the hands of Guzman with the game on the line we lose. 8 million a year or not, he has to go. But the problem is that Adam Kennedy has not shown the ability to field a routine ground ball (take a look at some tape from Cleveland). Rizzo needs to get a second baseman. And re-sign Dunn.

This team is better than last year. I keep telling myself that. But its hard to remember that this morning after watching that last night.

OlneyTerp said...

Here is something maybe a lot of folks did not see but bothered me some. In the pregame show Debbie asked Willingham about the rivalry with Baltimore. Willingham said it was just another game and maybe it would turn into a rivalry in the future or if the teams had better records. Wrong sir. These games are MORE important to many native Washingtonians that grew up HATING Baltimore. Even if that is how Josh feels, he should have answered by saying, "Yes, this is an important series because it is very important to our fans. We have to realize that." How about that? Playing the game for your fans. Novel concept, huh?

LoveDaNats said...

Good analysis, Mark. You speak the hard truths. Our new and improved Nats are reverting to form. Last night's loss was ugly.... even harder to bear than the first inning, 10 run debacle from Marquis (for me).
I must admit I did cringe when you called the O's an "inferior opponent". Those are exactly the games the Nats tend to lose. The O's got a big break last night. They are no doubt pumped up and will bring it the rest of the series.

Anonymous said...

Adam Dunn is not the problem. Desmond has to stay at shortstop and gain experience for the future. This is Guzmans last year with the team, period. A second baseman should be the teams number one off season priority. Rizzo needs to take a hard look at how the team is being managed and decide if the way it is is the way its going to be. JTinSC

JayB said...

"A second baseman should be the teams number one off season priority." ----AGAIN!

Rizzo really blew the off season with his low budget Kennedy choice.

Riggs is not going to be here next year so why not fire him now? Shake up things and promote Foli.....NATS needs some fire...someone to get in there face and wake them up. Someone not afraid to ruffle some Vet feathers and play the guys who show they want fight....NOT GUZMAN, NOT KENNEDY, NOT HARRIS, NOT WIL N.......FOLI would be the perfect guy to finish the year with and then go out and REALLY SPEND this off season on Catching, RF, 2B and a manager who has a winning track record.

Anonymous said...

On defense, the key here is Guzman pure and simple. I have wanted Kennedy at second since we got him, the difference between him and Guzman is Kennedy gets better on defense with more playing time, Guzman the opposite. Desmond has the excuse of youth, Guzman does not.

Anonymous said...

Sorry OlneyTerp... but busting on Willingham is misplaced anger. He was just telling it like it is. I am native to the DC area... was never an O's fan... and still don't feel the "Battle of the Beltways" has any meaning. I guessing that Oriole haters are few and far between. Now Angelos haters... that's another story. And BTW... Willingham has been awesome for the Nats and has, IMO, been under appreciated. Lighten up on the guy (and the O's who have been terrible for at least a decade - what's to hate?)

Trade Dunn? Do you people even know baseball? Have you pulled his defensive stats? He's as good as a LOT of other 1Bs many of which do not produce 40 HRs and 75-100 RBIs. Do a little homework and you'll see that is the truth. Is he a great fielder? No. But he certainly isn't the worst. I'll take Dunn over most anyone likely to be available at this time of the season (or in the foreseeable future). e needs to be resigned ASAP.

And Riggleman... now he's the one to get rid of. Jeez... what the heck was he doing out there last night? He looked like an idiot.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Just to clarify something about Dunn: I wasn't suggesting he should have made the play on Guzman's final throw last night. That was a horrible throw, and Guzman gets all of the blame. I was just saying that Dunn, overall, is not a good defensive player. Yes, he's worked hard to improve. And yes, he has improved. But he remains a below-average defensive player. As I said, the Nats can live with it because of what he does at the plate (he had a fantastic offensive game last night).

Anonymous said...

One fix is obvious with AL rules, DH Guzman and put Alberto Gonzalez at second. If Kennedy needs to play put Gonzalez at short. Why aren't they using him more?

slopitchtom said...

Fire Riggleman. Now!

JayB said...

Fire Riggleman is right decision. He has made some very poor decisions and you can not fire the whole team. Fire Riggs and DFA Kennedy, Harris, Wil N. Guzman. DO that and watch the change in the sense of urgency with the laid back boys.

Anonymous said...

It's a valid question, why have Gonzales on the roster at all if you're not going to use him? It's not like he's hitting .155 with only a six foot single to show for the last 20+ games - that's a guy you want to get in there every day if you can. If the Nats have so little faith in Gonzales, then cut him loose and bring in a player you're willing to unleash on the field every once in a while.

FIRE RIGGLEMAN! An always mediocre manager who simply doesn't have the skill set to make the best use of his admittedly scarce resources.

K.D. said...

Riggleman gets some of the blame, especially for this last one. That being said, could any of us have expected Tyler to give us that poor of a performance? Not me. The guys started the game playing with a purpose, they need to do the same today. Too many games left to give up yet.

Anonymous said...

"A second baseman should be the teams number one off season priority." Where are all you 'Slow Dog' haters now? Come out of the woodwork. Own up to your foolishness. I've been tired of watching Guzman play 2B, SS and RF for quite some time; whether they won or lost. A budget choice was made this off-season (which is OK). But the old adage holds true; you get what you pay for. And another thing, Riggleman comes from the school of LaRusa; over-managing. He's never been loved for it, and he rides his vets with track records too much, but overall he'll manage away 10 games and win an extra 5 of them.

Anonymous said...

No one ever accused Manny Acta of over-managing...You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.
Anyone know what Frank Robinson is up to these days? I think he was the last manager to have a .500 team in DC at the end of the season.

Anonymous said...

Dude I love Riggleman, his quotes from Seattle when an anonymous player was bashing Ichiro are pure GOLD!

"Rats are the first one of the ship. When the ship is sinking the rats are the first ones off. They're the ones scavenging everything on the ship when it's floating good and going good, but when it's sinking the rats are the first ones to abandon the ship."


"Out of 14 teams, we're 11th in pitching. And I'll guarantee some of those people pointing fingers are pitchers … I'd keep my mouth shut if I was somebody saying something and part of that staff. 11th in the league in pitching, I don't think I'd be saying too much.”

Anonymous said...

They already HAVE a second baseman ... actually 2 good young second basemen and 2 good young shortstops. Their names are Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Then there's Jeff Kobernus ... they really don't need to look for a second baseman in the offseason. They already have Kennedy for another year, plus Gonzalez, and Morse can also play 2nd, 3rd, and short in a pinch.

The problem is Riggleman INSISTS on playing Cristian Guzman as an everyday player after he was overruled by Rizzo in ST about starting him at shortstop over Desmond. Again, both Guzman and Harris (really a utility infielder) are gone after this season. They aren't coming back. Are they playing to make them more attractive trade bait? If so they need to pull the trigger on these trades soon before they end up with a Manny Acta debacle.

If they are playing because of veteran's preference over prospects and developing players? Over guys who are better hitters? Then Riggleman needs to go.

Defensively they do need help at first base. Dunn really should be traded to an American league team where his "below average" defense won't affect the team as much within a strong 9 hitter lineup. Plus he can DH. He just is not a National League player. But, then, neither is Marerro that's for certain!

Mr Baseball said...

When the Nationals drafted Bryce Harper they stated they were going to make him an outfielder. Why not a 1st baseman? Most catchers can become 3rd and 1st baseman. Sign him and start developing him. Everyone says it will be three years until he reaches the bigs. By then he should be an accomplished 1st baseman.


Anonymous said...

For a measly $1-2M more on their payroll they could have had Hudson. That was a big mistake that has cost this team dearly. The Nats had one window where free agents like O-Dog actually wanted to come play for a last place team, sure he wanted a lot of money but the Nats offer was insulting. Dumb dumb dumb and cheap cheap cheap. I'm not saying fixing one position fixes it all but it would have made a big difference. Now they have no way to fix it, it's not like they can trade to fix it, who are they going to trade? Free agents will be much less interested in coming here next year. Espinosa and Kobernus are years away and our farm system is the pits for position players. The one thing they could have done easily was spend just a tiny bit more payroll for a quality second baseman, who was not even type A, who actually wanted to come here, dumb dumb dumb.

Wombat-socho said...

Get Art Howe in here or some other manager that will play the kids and keep the marginal vets on the bench, but in any case FIRE JIM RIGGLEMAN! One Tony La Russa in the senior circuit is more than enough already!

Olney Terp: Like you, I remember the '69 season when Ted Williams' Senators would get on a roll, win a few games, and then the Orioles would come to down and turn them into dog food. Put me down as another grudge-holding Birds hater.

Post linked at Beltway Baseball.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous above who said free agents will be much less interested in coming here next year. Are you kidding??? Let's face it, we are not playing well now, but we have a kid named Strasburg that excites baseball fans everywhere when he pitches. Next year, if not later this year, he will be joined by another very promising pitcher in Jordan Zimmermann. Hopefully, at least 2 of the following 3 will make it back strong: Detwiler, Marquis and Wang. Despite last night's game, the bullpen is solid. Why wouldn't someone want to join this team as a free agent??? The ballplayers aren't stupid. They know MLB is responsible for the mess that we've been experiencing the past few years, but Rizzo has this team on the right track & next year could be very exciting!

sjm105 said...

I have resisted posting but after tonight I have to think that Foli might be a decent move. Can't believe we have had two big leads and lost to the worst team in baseball - not sure what the answer is but it has been painful to watch this - Harris= dfa Guzman, dh for the rest of the AL circuit and then pinch hit or trade - play Gonzalez and Desmond and see where we are with them and bring Espinosa up in Sept. - I am ready to cancel my 40 game package after 5 years - I can get tickets just walking down 1/2 street

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