15 down, 147 to go
It is only 15 games into the season—just under 1/10th of the way through—and the Nationals moved over the .500 mark for the first time on Sunday. Granted, it is early and trying to predict future success on current records is senseless. At that same time, the current record isn’t meaningless and it is always better to be 10-5 then 5-10 even if neither record predicts future success. We don’t know what the future holds but we do know how the past 15 games have unfolded. The Nats are 8-7 and here are four things that probably flew under the radar:
On Friday night, the Nats won the game playing a brand of old-school, small ball baseball. The play is the epitome of who Jayson Werth is as a person, a hard-nose player willing to win at all costs and he doesn’t care if it is pretty. In the bottom of the 10th inning with the game tied 3-3, Werth reached on a throwing error by Yunesky Betancourt and immediately took second on the passed ball. It is tough to say how many runners would have remained at first base but Werth and all quality base runners look over their right shoulder when they get to first base in case there is a passed ball—it allows them to pick up the ball right away. Adam LaRoche stepped to the plate and on a 1-1 count, Werth stole third. “We’re having a hard time getting the bats going,” Werth said. “When that’s the case, you have to do something extra a little bit.”
LaRoche worked the count full and chopped a hard grounder to Prince Fielder at first base. Werth was running on contact and easily beat Fielder’s high throw to home. The ball didn’t leave the infield that inning and the Nats didn’t record a hit but they got their run. That’s all that mattered. It’s a brand of baseball that you will see more often.
There was an interesting three up, three down inning for the Nats on Sunday in the second game of the doubleheader. Michael Morse tried to stretch a single into a double but was gunned out by Ryan Braun’s right arm at second. LaRoche singled to right the next at-bat and then Wilson Ramos ground into a 5-4-3 double play. The Nats recorded two hits and only sent three players to the plate. Does anyone know of an instance in which three hits were recorded in an inning and only three hitters batted? I can think of many scenarios in which this could happen, all of which seem rather unrealistic, but conventional wisdom always seems to be turned on its head in baseball. The most obvious scenario is three straight batters trying to stretch a single into a double. It is the most obvious scenario and you would think the least likely. You can only assume after watching two teammates getting gunned out at second, the third batter would do everything in his control not to be that guy. That being said, I am sure it has happened.
Speaking of conventional wisdom, the common belief entering the season was that the Nationals starting rotation was their biggest shortcoming. That hasn’t been the case. The eclectic starting staff has strutted their stuff in the first 15 games, recording 10 quality starts (tied for second in the Majors) and pitching at least 5.0 innings in each game. They are the only team that can say that. The starters have a 3.30 ERA, good for fifth in the Majors, and have walked just 21 batters, good for 28th. That is a recipe for success.
Manager Jim Riggleman has shown that he will rely on three arms when the Nats are up by a run: Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Sean Burnett—it has been in that order so far this season. The big three have a collective ERA of 1.55 (29.0 IP/ 5 ER) with 27 strikeouts. We don’t quite know who will be the closer in September though. The Nats haven’t officially named Burnett the closer but he has been given every opportunity in the ninth so far this season, so it is tough to call it a closer by committee. “I’ve got the chances so far,” Burnett said. “But I understand that Drew was drafted for it with the kind of arm he has. I kind of feel that it’s more my job right now to do as well as I can, but to also help him potentially take over.” Drew Storen did pick up the save on Sunday in the night cap but it wasn’t a save situation entering the ninth inning.