"When sorrows comes, they come not single spies, but in battalions."
- Hamlet (Act IV, Scene V)
No other quote in literary history can best captivate the 2009 campaign thus far for the Washington Nationals. Stricken with poor defense, embarrassing relief pitching, and sheer bad luck, the Nationals after 11 games have the worst record in Major League Baseball, losing all but 1 game.
This begs the question: How did they manage to win that 1 game? Hahaha.
Anyhow, the recent three-game sweep by the Florida Marlins over the Nationals this past weekend best exemplified the team's downward spiral thus far. On Friday April 17, Saturday April 18, and Sunday April 19, the Nationals took a lead into the ninth inning. They had three opportunities to close all three games for three wins.
Instead, Washington's closers blew all three leads in the ninth inning in all three games and the bullpen eventually succumbed to the Marlin hitters for three consecutive heartbreaking losses. It's unprecedented in baseball history for a team to blow three ninth inning saves in a row at home!
A bad combination of poor relief pitching and horrible defense allowed this to happen. Joel Hanrahan blew the saves for the Friday and Saturday games. Saul Rivera blew the save for the Sunday game. In the ninth inning alone during this three game series against the Florida Marlins, the Nats allowed 8 runs to score off of 7 hits and 3 walks!
When evaluating the performances of the Nats' closers, you can see how they managed to blow the games. Hanrahan, to his credit at least, threw strikes and challenged hitters, which is precisely what a closer should do.
However, his strikes were bad strikes, strikes that caught too much of the plate and were sent out of the yard upon contact. Hanrahan in his two save opportunities allowed two game-tying home runs, but at least he escaped those ninth innings without further damage and gave the team a chance to win on their own at-bat.
On the other hand, Saul Rivera did not know where home plate was. It was not a case where Rivera was being hosed by a petite strike zone.
It was a case where Rivera was hurling curveballs that did not curve at all. So bad was Rivera's curveball in one delivery that it forced Flores to jump out of his stance to snare it before it flew to the backstop.
In one of the most painful ninth-inning performances I have ever seen, I watched Rivera grind 42 pitches on Sunday afternoon. Out of those 42 pitches, at least 25 of them were balls.
He walked 3 batters including the lead-off hitter Emilio Bonifacio to start the inning. Bonifacio ended up stealing second base and scored the tying run off a John Baker double.
Bonifacio, who in his career has only hit two home runs--only one of which actually left a ballpark-- apparently intimidated Rivera to the point of pitching around his blatantly obvious power, or Rivera just plain sucks at pitching. I am thinking it is the latter.
Rivera was so erratic that he actually threw a pitch that caught the strike zone and the home plate umpire ruled it a ball. Nats TV color commentator Rob Dibble said, "That was not a ball!"
Even K-Zone showed the pitch tucked neatly inside the strike zone square; however, as Dibble later explained, pitchers that erratic do not get good strike calls. Thus, Rivera's own doing cost him the good calls when he actually hurled a good pitch.
After 42 pitches, 3 walks, and a broken ego, Rivera finally completed the ninth inning on Sunday allowing only 4 runs to score. Pathetic! Utterly pathetic!
Just as bad as the pitching has been is the defense. Shortstop Alberto Gonzalez committed 4 errors in a span of 18 innings during this three game series with the Marlins.
A telling moment came in the top of the 11th inning on Saturday when Gonzalez fielded a routine groundball and, calmly and casually--I said, calmly and casually--, threw the ball into right field! Right Field!
He was trying to aim a throw to first, but it kinda did not land in the vicinity of the base or the line! It is one thing to commit a throwing error when rushed or hurried. However, when an infielder is misfiring with a casual throwing motion, then that tells me something about that infielder; he just sucks!
If that is not bad enough, how about the infamous at-bat by Jesus Flores on Friday night? With the Nats down a run in the bottom of the 10th, Elijiah Dukes led off the inning with a double.
One out later, Jesus Flores works a 3-0 count and proceeds to take three consecutive fastball strikes. FASTBALL STRIKES...THREE OF THEM! Some may say that Flores was looking for a walk but, why is that a good excuse?
Flores is a veteran catcher representing the winning run and hitting with the tying run in scoring position. He proceeds to surrender the at-bat? Was he thinking of a walk?
Or, rather, did Flores not have any confidence in his own ability? If the latter, then I have to question his manhood. Even if you doubt your own ability, is the appropriate response to lay down and die like a dog? Come on!
I know, I know, I know. The Nationals have had sheer bad luck. Cristian Guzman who was batting .515 before tearing his hamstring was out of action over the weekend and will remain so until the end of the month. This prompted Alberto Gonzalez to play in his place.
It is still no excuse for an infielder to play so whimsically that even he has doubts where his own throw is going to go.
Yes, I am outraged. I express frustration, not from hate, but rather from a sense of passion. I can tolerate losing. After all, I am a DC sports fan thus, losing is as much a part of life in the nation's capital as crooked congressmen. What I do not tolerate is sheer laziness, stupidity, and ineffectiveness.
Hamlet was onto something with that spectacular quote I alluded to earlier. The misery in DC right now is striking in battalions. Rekindle your passion to play the game, Nationals, or risk losing what is left of your dying fan base. We are not the Chicago Cubs, we will not carry on as "lovable losers." Enough!