April baseball can be a peculiar thing. The Nationals today displayed that peculiarity in all of its ugliness before a crowd of 22,210, surrendering 11 runs to the Braves,
Despite a month of Spring Training ball, both the Braves and Nationals made some ugly miscues in the field this afternoon. In the bottom of the first, Braves’ veteran Chipper Jones crossed in front of Jayson Werth on the basepath, inciting a collision that threw Werth off his balance and cost him a few steps. He turned 3rd and headed for home to be thrown out, but awarded the run on obstruction.
Twice the Nationals’ outfielders ran into trouble with balls in the right-center gap, with Werth and Ankiel having some miscommunication over who was playing lead. The biggest defensive trouble came from Danny Espinosa today, whose efforts in the fifth formally cost him an error and the Nationals a run, but that was just one of four plays on the day that hurt the Nationals in the field.
Just yesterday, we were talking about improved defense from the Nationals, but today it was back to 2010 form, with mental mistakes costing the Nationals. Defense is the hardest place to measure, from a statistics perspective, even if companies like field f/x are hard at work to create better motion capture data that could create a real stat like UZR that can be measured accurately.
Defense, though, wasn’t the land mine of the day. That honor belongs to the Nationals’ bullpen, who took a game that was within reach and turned it into the sort of game that causes fans to question the existence of a merciful god, but for the weather. After Zimmermann’s respectable six innings, Coffey, Slaten, Broderick and Gaudin combined for 2 IP, 8H, 8ER, 3 BB, and a balk. What had been a 3-1 game with some fire turned quickly into a debacle.
The worst of the four today was Brian Broderick in his major league debut, who found the bases loaded facing Eric Hinske, when he wound up to deliver a fastball and failed to release the ball, which is a balk. He’d give up a sacrifice fly and a double before getting the hook after 2/3 IP, with an ERA of 54.00.
After the game, manager Jim Riggleman called the game “sloppy,” and he was right. Though the board showed just one error, there were several situations that the Nationals found themselves in that hurt. ”Danny ws getting the balls, but just a step away, an in-between hop, and took a relay throw on one hop…. We weren’t able to make plays,” he continued.
The baserunning today, when the Nats managed to have any runners, was particularly good. Bo Porter sending Werth after the collision with Jones ensured that he’d get the run on the interference call, as you can’t advance to a base you haven’t run for, and that gave the Nats their first equalizer. Couple that with LaRoche stretching it to third on Morse’s single-and-a-turn, and you’ve got some solid aggressive base running. Now, let’s not talk about how little of it there was….
Another thumbs up to Jordan Zimmermann, who had a pretty solid outing in 6IP, giving up 3 runs (2 earned) and striking out two, while walking three. That’s the kind of outing the Nationals need more of this season as they work through the rough patches. Riggleman gave Zimmermann credit afterwards for his effort, despite the fact that the game was falling apart around him.
I know this sounds crazy, but can we talk about the scoreboard for a second? Whomever is doing the design for the Nationals is doing terrific work. The alterations to the giant CF scoreboard have always been good, and this year’s iteration in design is nothing short of stellar. Everything is crisp and readable, even the things in smaller
Ankiel/Werth in the gap today were pretty rough. There were a few balls that dropped and had some serious miscommunication over who was supposed to cover for whom, and while it only cost them a single run, that’s the sort of thing they’ll have to fix in short order.
Espinosa got out ahead of the play a few times today, trying to make plays he should’ve passed on. As athletic as Espinosa is, he’s going to get to more balls than he can make the play on, and learning which ones to hold, and which to throw, will be part of his maturation process.
Ian Desmond just isn’t working in the lead-off slot. In three games, he’s 0-13 with 3 strikeouts in three games in the #1 slot. He’s got Tuesday off against Florida, with Hairston Jr taking the shortstop position, but he’ll have to start producing soon before he finds himself in a different slot.
One thing Riggleman said roiled me a little today, in calling the Quality Start an “obscure stat,” which gives me a perfectly good reason to link to Joe Posnanski’s Chinese Jibberish, which is excellent shorthand for advanced baseball statistics as misunderstood.
The Nationals head off to Florida for three after a rest day Monday, then three in New York, before returning Tuesday next against Philadelphia (please, for the love of God, DC, don’t let the Phillies fans take the place over?) and then three more against the brew crew and the return of Nyjer Morgan!