The Goon Squad’s Sticky Situation

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This article is not about pitching. We swear. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t get a couple things out of the way before we get to the meat and potatoes of this piece, which we promise is really about hitting. Thankfully, though, the pitching has been nails. That’s especially good, since here at Curly W Live, we don’t have any nails left after biting them off over the course of the season’s first 17 games, 14 of which have been decided by three runs or less.

Gio Gonzalez is two scoreless innings away from a franchise record.

It is said, around the game, that good starting pitching can be contagious. One starter feeds off another, and if everyone is throwing well, there is a pressure to keep up, not to be the one to let the rest of the guys down. We have seen plenty of that dynamic through the first three weeks of the season, but Gio Gonzalez may have taken the concept to new heights.

After an uninspiring first start of the year, the Nationals new lefty has been nearly unhittable in his last three outings. In addition to not allowing a single run over that span, Gonzalez has allowed just 10 batters to reach base over 20 innings (six hits, four walks), while striking out 21. That 20-inning scoreless streak sits just one frame shy of the franchise record since the team returned to D.C. in ’05. John Lannan and Drew Storen share the mark of 21.0 innings, with the former setting the mark in 2008 and the latter matching it in 2011.

Anyway, back to the offense, and to the rather remarkable statistic the bats managed to produce Tuesday night. The Nationals scored three runs against the Padres at Petco Park. All three were driven in by pinch-hitters, specifically, left-handed pinch-hitters. And even more specifically, left-handed pinch-hitters facing left-handed pitching, something you rarely see.

Chad Tracy keeps swinging his way into Nats fans' hearts.

Late-game scenarios, especially in close games, where pinch-hitters are often used, create situational opportunities. For Chad Tracy, who singled home a pair of runs to put Washington ahead for good in the seventh inning, the at-bat marked his first off the bench against a left-handed pitcher this year. Rick Ankiel, who had the night off due to the lefty starter, had to fight off a tough pitch, serving it up the middle on a broken bat single to add the final insurance run with two outs in the top of the ninth.

While the Nationals will no doubt look for more production out of their starting lineup, the story of the year so far on offense has been the deep bench and its clutch, late-game production. If Washington plays another couple of tight, low-scoring games in San Diego this series (and really, does anyone think they won’t?), look for the Goon Squad – the affectionate nickname for this year’s offensive support staff – to play a big role in the outcome.

2 Comments

I am happy to see a piece on Nationals hitting and I am glad to see at least some of our hitters are successful. In terms of everything else, you have to believe the Mike Rizzo and company are hitting on all 8 cylinders. Still there is one fly in the ointment that somebody should take some steel spring tweezers to. For the last 3 years the one area that has not shown improvement and continues to be remarked on by even the amateur observers on all the sports talk show stations (when you have an NFL obsession, how can you understand anything else) is our consistent lack of offense. And who as a supposed Hitting Coach has been present (you have to give him credit as he does show up) all that time? Mike Rizzo’s good buddy Rick Ekstein, that’s who. Ted Williams and Charlie Lau this guy is not, so please Mr. Lerner take action on this nothing coach because Mr. Rizzo seems to like the way this guy makes coffee (or something other than coaching hitting) too much. Other than that this team is being handled beautifully and I mean that. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if the Nationals hitting matched their pitching and defense by playoff time. There is no limit to what they could accomplish if that could happen.

Harold G. Pavel

Eventually our pitching staff will falter, and once it does our ‘cinderella story’ will be over. If this team finishes at or above .500 this year i’ll be shocked. We make every opposing pitcher look like a Cy Young candidate. Our offensive chemistry is just not working, it barely got by last year, and it won’t get by this year. Patrick

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