Apr 4, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (34) grimaces after a scoring a run against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Losing by Fifteen: What Went Wrong?

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There’s no two ways about it: the Nationals got absolutely massacred last night. If you didn’t hear it enough during all the game recaps, it was the worst loss since the franchise moved to D.C. 15-0 is a score that makes you say “Oof.” When the Nats lose, you’re sad because your team lost. When the Nats lose by 15, you feel bad for the players because they just lost by 15. Losing by such a staggering amount isn’t simply a loss, it’s a body blow to a team that entered the game with swagger as baseball’s only undefeated team.

So what happened?

First, let me say one thing: this game is in no way indicative of the rest of the Nats’ season. It’s an aberration and nothing more. In fact, it was simply a massive confluence of bad outings that, on their own, wouldn’t be so bad.

Mar 26, 2013; Jupiter, FL, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Dan Haren (15) throws against the Miami Marlins during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to pin the blame on starter Dan Haren. Haren had a poor spring training and there were concerns about his health after he struggled with injuries in 2012. He pitched four innings, allowing six runs (including four home runs) on nine hits. Obviously, that is not good. However, it’s not catastrophically bad, like the final score of the game was, and does not mean Haren is messed up and will fail as a National. In a strikingly similar situation, Gio Gonzalez‘s first start as a National was on the road against an NL Central opponent, the Cubs. He pitched even less than Haren did, going just 3.2 innings while allowing four runs. Gonzalez’s ensuing 21-win season was wildly successful by any standard, meaning that a bad first start certainly does not portend a poor season. And as proof that a poor start cannot be blamed for a crushing loss: the Nationals won Gonzalez’s first start, 7-4. Additionally, both of Cozart’s home runs barely made it over the fence, and Great American Ballpark is very homer-friendly. Not to make excuses, but those balls might not have made it out at Nats Park, so it’s not as though Haren was allowing monster bombs. A pitcher’s home run to fly ball ratio is often a function of luck, something Haren apparently had little of. Haren’s unlucky and poor, but not atrocious, start was simply one of many bad things that happened to converge last night.

Another contributor to the blowout was the lack of offense. Danny Espinosa broke out of his slump with two hits, but that unfortunately composed 40% of the team’s hits. Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman, the 2-3-4 hitters, combined to go 0-11. Reds starter Homer Baileywas dealing, with six strikeouts and two hits in six innings. There isn’t really a lot to say about this. The offense had an off night, and that happens. On any given night, if the Nats get shut out, it isn’t the end of the world. Like Haren’s start, it’s bad but not a nightmare. It was just unfortunate that their off night and the pitchers’ off nights were simultaneous.

If you want a scapegoat for the final score, look no further than Zach Duke. In long relief, he was hammered for six runs (five earned) while recording just eight outs. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a 16.88 ERA. Among everyone who played poorly, Duke’s is the only line that is truly terrible. Henry Rodriguez was not much better, allowing two earned runs and recording one out. He entered in relief of Duke with two outs and runners on first and second. He promptly walked the first batter he faced and let up a grand slam to the next. As if that weren’t enough, he allowed a hit to the third batter he faced before retiring the fourth. These guys were definitely quite awful, but again, an isolated meltdown by either would not be disastrous or fatal. Duke’s stat line may have been a bit extreme, but he and Rodriguez are the worst two pitchers in the bullpen. No one should ever be surprised to hear that either allowed a run or two. On a day as awful as this, we can also give Ryan Mattheus a pass for allowing just one run. Unfortunately, his was by far the best pitching performance of the day.

In conclusion, last night was the perfect storm. It would not have been a shock for one or two of the following things to happen: Haren blows up, Duke blows up, Rodriguez blows up, Mattheus allows a run, and the offense fizzles.  Instead of some happening, they all did. It is extremely rare that almost every single player on the roster has a bad day, but when it does, you lose by 15. It is unfortunate that the Nats lost, and in such embarrassing fashion, but do not fear for the health of the season. At least the players are getting their bad games out of the way.

Hopefully.

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Tags: Dan Haren Washington Nationals Zach Duke

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