There are certain cliches heard time and time again by baseball fans, but many of these cliches exist because they are true. One such cliche is that good teams win the close games, and in the 2010 baseball season good teams won the close games. Of the eight playoff teams the Reds finished with the worst winning percentage in one run games at .500 (27-27). The other playoff teams fared well in one run games as well with the Phillies leading the way at 29-17, followed by the Twins at 31-23, the Rangers at 30-23, the Giants at 28-24, the Rays at 29-27, the Braves at 23-22, and the Yankees at 20-19.
Teams that didn't have good records didn't fare so well in one run games except for the Orioles who were a surprising 29-21, but all other last place teams had a losing record in one run games with the Nationals being the worst at 20-28. The worst in all of baseball were the Tigers (16-26) and Cubs (22-32). In order for the Nationals to get better they have to improve how they play in close games.
Every Thursday from now until I run out of games to talk about I am going to breakdown the Nationals one run losses. I will pinpoint the moment when the game was lost and see what could have been done to correct it. I will also look back and see if the Nationals had any missed opportunities during the course of the game. Without further delay I present to you the first one run loss of the year.
Dodgers defeat Nationals 4-3 on April, 24 2010 at Nationals Park
What Went Wrong
In the bottom of the 6th Nyjer Morgan attempted to stretch a double into a triple and was thrown out at third before Craig Stammen could score the go ahead run. This was labeled an aggressive mistake, but for the first time as a National Nyjer found himself the target of fans ire.
Did it Matter
Maybe. That is debatable. From my vantage point it looked like Stammen would have been thrown out at the plate if Morgan had settled for a double. If Stammen had scored and the game played out like it did then the Nationals would have won, but Morgan drove in the tying run in the bottom of the 8th inning, and it is questionable if this opportunity would have presented itself if Stammen had scored. That might not have matter however as Casey Blake would hit his second homer of the day in the 7th inning and Stammen might not have been facing him had the Nationals had the lead at that point.
Removing Stammen in the second inning when he was about to face Casey Blake again. At this point in time the game was tied and Casey Blake had been the Dodgers sole offense with a 2 run homer back in the 2nd, and in his second at bat hit a fly ball to deep left field. It was obvious that Stammen was having trouble with Blake that day and most likely shouldn't have faced him a third time. Offensively the Nationals got a lead-off double from Desmond in the bottom of the 7th and he advanced to third with no outs when Guzman reached on error. Dunn struck out, Willingham grounded into a fielder's choice with Desmond thrown out at home, and pinch hitter Willie Harris then grounded out to end the inning.
It is hard to say that Nyjer trying to stretch the double into a triple is as boneheaded as decisions he would make later on in the year. Looking back I think of this as more of the moment when Nyjer started to try too hard to please the fans. I don't think he liked being blamed for the loss and at this point in time the Nationals looked like a bit of a surprise team. This game was lost more with the decision to leave Craig Stammen in to face Casey Blake for a third time. Stammen hadn't looked good against Blake all day giving up one homerun and a long fly ball up to that point. If this game had happened later in the year with the way Clippard, Burnett, and Peralta had performed I don't think Stammen would have faced Blake a third time.
Cubs defeat Nationals 4-3 April, 26 2010 at Wrigley Field
What Went Wrong
Brian Bruney, remember him? Probably best that you don't. After pitching a scoreless 9th inning to keep the game tied he returned in the bottom of the 10th to give up two singles and two walks. The final walk walking in a run and losing the game for the Nationals.
Did it Matter
It was a terrible pitching perfomance and not the last Nats fans would see from Brian Bruney. It was a walk-off walk and the exact moment the game was lost. There is no debating this one.
There really weren't that many missed opportunities offensively as the Nationals never got a runner in scoring position with less than two outs that they didn't plate. The closest would be when Desmond reached 3rd in the top of the 5th with 2 outs and failed to score when Guzman popped up to the short stop. Pitching wise John Lannan commited the Cardinal Sin of Cardinal Sins. Not only did he walk the pitcher. He did it with the bases loaded. After the 2nd inning Lannan settled down and was able to finish the 6th, but the damage had been done with those three straight walks in the 2nd.
A few things stand out about this game. This was during the period of time when Ryan Zimmerman was injured. If he had played the entire game it is hard to think that that wouldn't have made a difference. The most important thing is that Brian Bruney is no longer a National. Walking in the winning run is flat out terrible, and Bruney never found his rhythm as a member of the Nationals. The Nationals bullpen looks to be stronger as of right now than it did when this game took place, and if Burnett or Clippard struggle in 2011 there are pitchers in the minors ready to take their place. The final thing that stands out is Lannan. He was downright awful in the early half of 2010. He struggled with control and at one point completely lost his cutter. Lannan was a different pitcher in the second half of the season. After posting a 5.76 ERA and an abysmal 0.69 K/BB Lannan finished out the year by posting a 3.42 ERA and 3.37 K/BB.
Braves defeat Nationals 7-6 May, 5 2010 at Nationals Park
What Went Wrong
Starting pitching. When a team scores six runs they should win. It is as simple as that. Luis Atilano pitched to a line of 5.1 IP 7 H 6 R 6 ER 5 BB 4 K and 1 HR. With those five walks it is a miracle the Braves didn't have even more runs.
Did it Matter
As bad as the starting pitching was the game was tied entering the 10th inning, but it shouldn't have been. With even half decent starting pitching the Nationals win this game. Matt Capps did end up taking the loss, but his performance was nowhere near as bad as Brian Bruney's in the Cubs game. He had to come in for an extra inning when the Nationals failed to score in the bottom of the 9th and gave up the winning run on a Matt Diaz single that scored Brandon Hicks.
Aside from finding a new starting pitcher, not really. Morgan got caught stealing with two outs in the bottom of the 4th, but the big missed opportunity might have come in the first inning. Nyjer Morgan led off the Nationals half of the inning with a ground rule double and then was promptly bunted to third by Adam Kennedy and then scored on a Zimmerman sac fly. This was followed by a Dunn walk and a Pudge double. Kennedy might not have been able to get a hit, and at this time he was only batting .219, but it would have been nice if the Nationals had taken a shot. Of course the opposite is true as well seeing as how Morgan did score the run, and the Nationals at this point in time had no idea that Tommy Hanson would have an off day. Hanson was coming off a stellar rookie year and at this point in the season had a miserly 2.83 ERA. Riggleman might have been thinking this was going to be one of the few shots the Nationals would get at a run. Bunting in the first inning isn't the best idea in the world and things could have worked out even better if Kennedy's out wasn't given away.
This one is easy. Better starting pitching. As of this moment right now I think Atilano is two to three injuries from being in the starting rotation. Right now I would say the Nationals depth chart for starting pitchers should read like this: Zimmermann, Lannan, Hernandez, Marquis, Detwiler, Maya, and then a collection of guys that includes Atilano. It would be better if the Nationals do end up signing a starting pitcher just so they don't end up in the position once again of having to rely on pitchers that shouldn't even be in the Major Leagues.