The Goon Squad’s Sticky Situation
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.
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.
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.