If one could coalesce the 2013 Nats season into one player that player would be Dan Haren. Haren in 2013 has a 4.83 K/BB ratio. Higher than his career average of 4.04, and Haren is in the top five all time in that stat along with pitchers like Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Mariano Rivero. Yet Haren has his career worse ERA and has given up a league leading 21 homeruns. At the same time Dan Haren is pitching better than his career numbers, and yet having the worst season of his career. It is oddity one could only find on the 2013 Nats.
Describe the Nats to a stranger in this way. A team with three starting pitchers with a 3.01 ERA or lower, a set-up man and closer with sub-3.00 ERAs, and seven of eight position players with higher than league average OPS and five of those seven higher than .800. Those are real Washington Nationals stats, but the picture painted in ones mind is not of a team three games under .500, or of a team that has lost eight of its last ten and hasn’t won a game since the all-star break.
In many ways everything one expected to go right for the Washington Nationals has. The core of Harper, Werth, Zimmerman have all hit, Anthony Rendon has come up and performed well, and Strasburg, Gio, and Zimmermann have been great. Describing the Nats in this way makes the 2013 all that more confusing, but then one digs a little deeper. The Nats bench has been putrid and it hurt them tonight. After falling behind 5-0 early the Nationals fought back and once had the number nine spot come up with Chad Tracy pinch hitting representing the tying run, and again in the ninth inning with Steve Lombardozzi representing the winning run.
Both times the pinch hitter made an out. For the season Nats pinch hitters are hitting .208/.237/.346 compared to the NL average of .230/.292/.340. There isn’t a high standard to be an average bench player, and the Washington Nationals bench has fallen well short. It ended up costing the team tonight. Figure the bench gets and average of two and a half plate appearances a night and then look at who the Nationals have been giving it to, and their struggles start to become a little more clear.
The Nationals didn’t entirely lose this game because they had to come back. The lost it because they had to come back at all. It is hard to make anything out of Dan Haren’s start tonight. He gave up five runs in five innings, a perfect 9.00 ERA, but four of those runs came on Andrew McCutchen homeruns. The same Andrew McCutchen who now has 13 career homeruns against the Nationals and is up there with Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, and David Wright as hitters that enjoy hitting against anyone wearing a curly W. On the other hand this is what Dan Haren has done all season long. He looks great one inning striking out two and allowing only soft contact, and then in the very next inning he get hit hard with many of those hard hits leaving the park.
Still the Nationals showed fight. They showed life. Something they haven’t done all season long. When trailing the Washington Nationals have a .612 OPS. That is more than .100 points lower than their .722 OPS when the game is tied and .720 OPS when ahead. The Nationals do not come back. There have been 137 walk-offs in baseball this season. The Washington Nationals have one. This is a team full of oddities. A team with many, and many important pieces, performing as expected, and yet they just can’t put it together. In more than a few ways the 2013 Washington Nationals are Dan Haren and Dan Haren is the 2013 Washington Nationals. All the major things are going right, but even more minor ones have gone way, way wrong.