Losing Efforts: 6/27 - 7/24/2010

Orioles defeat Nationals 4-3 on June 27, 2010 at Camden Yards

What Went Wrong

Luis Atilano pitched seven strong innings and only gave up three runs. The big problem was that all three runs came in the same inning, and the Orioles rally was capped off by an Adam Kennedy error that allowed the tying run to score.

Did it Matter

This was the third game in a row that the Nationals entered the fifth inning with a lead and lost to the Baltimore Orioles. This was one of the most disheartening times of the season. It is hard to say that going seven innings and giving up three runs is a bad job, but failure to avoid the big inning and costly errors was a reoccurring theme for the 2010 Washington Nationals.

Missed Opportunities

The hardest job of any manager is managing the bullpen. Tyler Clippard is as streaky as they come as a reliever. He will be lights out for a couple weeks and then fall off a cliff. Clippard entered a tie game in the bottom of the 8th and ended up allowing the winning run to score after giving up two doubles and a single. The only reason I am even writing about this game right now is that Julio Lugo got picked off at second base. For the most part striking out is just another way to make an out, but there are times when striking out can be costly. In the top of the 8th Adam Kennedy and Ryan Zimmerman hit back to back singles in front of Adam Dunn. Dunn has never been a good hitter with runners on base, and has never been much of a contact hitter in his career. In a way one of Dunn's greatest strengths at times was a great weakness. He approached every at bat in the same manner. The situation of the game mattered little to Adam Dunn. He had one way that he knew how to hit and he wasn't going to give up on his strength to change his approach and possibly cost himself down the road. So Adam Dunn struck out with a runner on second and no outs. To me whenever a team gets a runner on second with no outs that runner is gold, and the batters need to do whatever they can in their power to cash that runner in. A three run homer would have been great in that situation, but sometimes contact is all that is needed. Dunn wasn't and was never going to be that type of hitter. His patient and powerful approach at the plate is his strength, but at times it is a weakness. And the two batters that followed Dunn struck out as well.

Difference Making

Two things that could have made a big difference in this game; first would be cutting down on the errors, and second is a more complete hitter in the four hole. The Nationals should have both in the 2011 campaign. Werth is still a guy that is going to strikeout a fair amount. The days of hitters with under 100 strikeouts are long gone, and every hitter will strikeout too much to truly old school baseball people. Avoiding the strikeout is likely not to happen, but Werth is a more complete hitter than Dunn and can do things like hit the other way and protect the plate with two strikes, but the error was really what cost the Nationals this game. It can't be said for certain that Espinosa will make less errors than Guzman and Kennedy, but in his brief cup of coffee last season he sure looked good defensively at second.

Marlins defeat Nationals 1-0 on July 18, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium

What Went Wrong

The Marlins farm system is truly an amazing thing. They just keep losing players and plugging in new ones and the new ones are always somehow better than the old ones. Alex Sanabia became the latest Marlin to shut down the Nationals.

Did it Matter

It is hard to win baseball games without scoring runs.

Missed Opportunities

The top of the second and top of the third were the two biggest opportunities the Nationals had, and the first one goes to show that even just making contact doesn't guarantee anything. With runners on first and second Roger Bernadina hit a deep fly ball to left field and Josh Willingham was unable to advance to third. Now without seeing video I can't say if Willingham should have advanced to third or not. The throw from left to third is an easy one and I don't know what type of arm Logan Morrison posses. Willingham wasn't the slowest base runner in the world, but he is hardly the fastest, but he did show good instincts all year and I have to give him the benefit of the doubt here and say he most likely would have been out at third and extra outs on the bases are never a good thing. The second opportunity came the very next inning when the Nationals loaded the bases with one out and Adam Dunn at the plate. Once again Dunn's approach at the plate did not pay off and he was struck out, and Josh Willingham ended the inning with a groundout.

Difference Making

As of right now it does not look like the Nationals will have as strong a line-up next season as they did last season. However that could all change. For most of last year the Nationals line-up was 3-4-5 and pray. Next year the 3-4-5 spots might not be as strong but the other spots in the line-up have a chance to be better. The Nationals biggest weakness hitting was the top of the line-up. Offensively Nyjer Morgan was the worst centerfielder in baseball. Combine that with Guzman spending most of his season batting second and things don't look too good for the top of the order. Ian Desmond was much better in the 2 spot than anywhere else in the line-up and that should hopefully continue next season. As for lead-off the Nationals are going to give Nyjer a chance to rebound and if his BABIP can return to career norms he should be better at getting on base. Now staying on base is a different issue entirely.

Reds defeat Nationals 8-7 on July 20, 2010 at Great American Ballpark

What Went Wrong

Luis Atilano did not pitch very well.

Did it Matter

When a team scores seven runs they should win. Starters going four innings and giving up five runs doesn't help.

Missed Opportunities

The Nationals pretty much plated every runner that they should have and then some. Pitching wise they were sort of put in a bad situation by having a bad starting pitcher forced to start due to injuries and lack of depth in the minors.

Difference Making

This is tough at this point. Luis Atilano is still likely an injury or two from being in the rotation. Neither Maya or Detwiler have proven that they can be counted on. If the Nationals sign or trade for someone and Wang can come back healthy that will push Atilano down the depth chart, and he could be passed by guys like Solis, Milone, Rosenbaum, Meyers, and Peacock if they perform in the minors. If Atilano makes an appearance next year I hope it means he has matured as a player, but most likely it is a bad sign of injury and poor performance.

Brewers defeat Nationals 4-3 on July 24, 2010 at Miller Park

What Went Wrong

Drew Storen entered a tie game in the bottom of the ninth struck out the first batter he faced, but gave up two singles around a walk to the next three batters. The last single by Ryan Braun ended the game.

Did it Matter

This series was an all around nightmare for the Nationals. The day before they had blown a five run lead and in this game they gave up a walk-off to Ryan Braun. They would also go on to lose the game on Sunday is disastrous fashion.

Missed Opportunities

This game was one big missed opportunity. Morse got thrown out at first on a Desmond sac fly, JD Martin got injured in the 3rd inning, and the Nationals twice loaded the bases and ended up with a combined one run. All of this led to one of the most frustrating loses and series of the year. The Nationals could have and should have won this series just like they could have and should have won the series against Baltimore. Time and time again last season the little things killed the Nationals. Pitchers failed to get bunts down, batters failed to move a runner, managers called for ill advised bunts, and starting pitchers couldn't even last five innings. This one game is a symbol of everything that was wrong with the 2010 Washington Nationals. Every time an opportunity presented itself the Nationals would find a way to blow it.

Difference Making

Here is something to consider. How much better will Drew Storen be in 2011? The answer is that we just don't know. There is the possibility that Storen regresses instead of progresses. Even if he is better next season he will still blow games. It is the life of a major league closer. The real instance when this game was lost was after a Dunn sac fly in the top of the 9th with the bases loaded scored a run and advanced both runners Wil Neives managed to do nothing. I fully expect that Pudge will become the fulltime back-up by sometime next season, but either way the Nationals bench should be better next season than it was in this game. Matt Stairs, Rick Ankiel, and Michael Morse are true power threats off the bench, and if the back-up catcher has to be used as a pinch hitter it will either be Pudge, Flores, or Ramos. All three of those options are better than Nieves.       

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