Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wasted opportunities

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Adam Kennedy is tagged out trying to score from second on a fourth-inning error.
MIAMI -- Pick a moment, any moment, from tonight's 2-0 loss to the Marlins. Ian Desmond's dropped popup in the second. Adam Kennedy's out at the plate in the fourth. Ryan Zimmerman's home run-turned-foul ball in the seventh.

Now ask yourself: Had any of those plays gone the other way, would the outcome of this game have been different?

There's certainly reason to believe so. Unfortunately for the Nationals, all of those moments went the wrong way, and that's how you lose a ballgame in which you outhit the opposition, 11-4.

The Nats have experienced plenty of losses more crushing than this one, losses in which they blew a late lead, but this might have been among the most aggravating games of the season. You're not going to rack up 11 hits in a game started by Josh Johnson too often. To do that and still not win? Well, that feels like a golden opportunity slipping right through your fingers.

Livan Hernandez certainly deserved a better fate tonight. He turned in one of his best outings of the season -- one earned run, four hits, six strikeouts in six innings -- and had nothing to show for it at day's end. The big guy now owns a 3.27 ERA and 14 quality starts in 19 outings this season ... yet his record is 6-6. Seven times this year he has allowed two earned runs or fewer and not been rewarded with a victory.

"You feel bad because Livo threw a great game," Kennedy said. "We didn't make a couple of plays for him in that one inning, and that's all they needed."

Let's begin with "that one inning" -- the bottom of the second, when Desmond's 22nd error of the season set the stage for the Marlins to score the game's only runs. Dan Uggla led off with a popup behind second base. Both Desmond and Kennedy went for it, and umpire Tony Randazzo appeared to get in the way as well, but Desmond took the sole blame for dropping the ball.

"I just ran under the ball and took my eye off it," he said. "That's what they tell you to do in Little League: Keep your eye on the ball. I didn't, and unfortunately it cost us a baserunner."

Four batters later, Ronny Paulino singled to right, driving in two runs that would hold up the rest of the night.

Not that the Nationals didn't have plenty of chances to score themselves. Even against Johnson, who may be baseball's best pitcher at the moment, they put men on base, eight in the first five innings alone. But they couldn't come through with the one clutch hit that would have driven someone in, and then they also killed themselves with an aggressive baserunning move that backfired.

With two outs in the fourth, Kennedy stood on second and watched as Desmond hit a grounder up the middle. Uggla moved to his right to try to make the play, and third base coach Pat Listach immediately decided to wave Kennedy around.

Listach's thinking: Either the ball would go through for a single and Kennedy would score, or Uggla would have a long and difficult throw to first. If Desmond was safe, Kennedy would be able to score.

What Listach didn't account for was the possibility of Uggla bobbling the ball.

"I assumed he was going to catch it and make a long throw, or Kennedy would be safe if Desi's safe," the coach said. "But he bobbled it. His bobble actually messed the whole play up."

Listach immediately put up the stop sign, but it was too late for Kennedy to see it.

"I was already halfway down the line," he said. "Hopefully he makes a bad throw or something. But I'm pretty much dead at that point."

So another rally was killed. The Nats had one more really good chance in the seventh, after Johnson had been knocked out. With two on and two out, reliever Jose Veras fell behind in the count to Ryan Zimmerman, 3-0. Zimmerman hardly ever takes a hack in that situation, but he decided to try to "ambush" Veras and cut loose on the 3-0 fastball. The ball soared toward left field, and plenty of people inside the stadium had the same thought.

"I thought for sure that ball was fair," Jim Riggleman said.

"I ran home and I saw Zim standing there, so I thought it was a home run," said Desmond, who was on third base at the time.

The ball, though, hooked left and got caught in a strong crosswind. It landed well foul, denying Zimmerman what briefly looked like a gargantuan, three-run homer.

"Would have been nice if it was fair," he said. "Would have been cool."

Two pitches and one nasty breaking ball from Veras later, the Nationals were back in the field, still trailing 2-0.

That's where things stayed the rest of the night.

On the one hand, the Nationals could look at this game and be encouraged by Hernandez's strong outing and the fact they racked up seven hits against the best pitcher in baseball right now, not to mention 11 in the entire game.

On the other hand, they couldn't help but wonder what might have been had they done just a couple of things better on a night when golden opportunity after golden opportunity stared them in the face.


Anonymous said...

Watching this team has now started to become painful ... with that wincing pain the two 100 loss seasons in a row brought ... watching Willie Harris flail helplessly as a pinch hitter when there are better pinch hitters on the bench who can be called. If 2009 ROY Coghlan is in left instead of Bonafacio Guzman doesn't get a bloop single.

You just can't waste starting pitching + bullpen performances like tonight's. You just can't. That's the hallmark of a 100+ loss team.

bdrube said...

Trade Dunn and they go back to being a potential 100-loss team right now in terms of talent on the field. Imagine how inept this office would be without his presence in the cleanup spot. It might be the "smart" move to unload him but it will make this team virtually unwatchable on any day that SS does not pitch.

Anonymous said...

Rizzo gets more value if Dunn leaves via free agency as a type A. He then can select B->A prospects in the draft. At this point he either re-ups Dunn or he gets the picks. Willingham isn't going anywhere either.

Now Capps? Or if the right deal involving top of the rotation starting pitching comes along for Jordan Zimmermann .... it appears JZimmnn is the most popular topic of trade discussions. And there's the other Zimmerman who's trade value is listed in the top 10 by Fangraphs.

Anonymous said...

Watching this team is extremely painful and beyond that, I have stopped wasting my money going to games. This team deserves to lose it's already meager fan base and that is exactly what is happening. Even with the "Straburg boost" the Nats attendance per game is identical to the hapless Orioles. That speaks volumes. This team is rotten to the core. The starting pitching, except for Strasburg and Livan, is triple A caliber, the defense is pathetic, clutch hitting is non existent, and the base running is an embarrassment.

The Incessant Whiner said...

If we had signed better international players we would have won.

DCJohn said...

It's an unfortunate loss, but look at it this way. The guys who were suppose to be on base when Zim, Dunn, and Hammer came to the plate where there. We can finally say good-bye to Willie Harris and Adam Kennedy and settle on someone, Pete Orr anyone, who can play second and pinch hit. And the arms are coming back. Even the Yankees have games like this one. The real question is can we win today.

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