"They play good defense. We don't, and we lose." —Josh Bard, May 31, 2009.
THE RESULT: The Washington Nationals were not charged with any errors in the scorebook in today's 4-2 loss to Jamie Moyer and the Philadelphia Phillies. But three plays where the Nats could not perform simple defensive tasks proved the difference in a close ball game, and the 46-year-old Moyer registered his 250th career victory.
Philadelphia scored their first run in the first inning against Nats' starter John Lannan (L, 2-5, 4.21). With one out, Lannan gave Shane Victorino a free pass. Three pitches later, Chase Utley hit a ball to the wall in right that Adam Dunn bare-handed on the bounce, hit cut-off man Anderson Hernandez, and the second baseman fired a strike to catcher Josh Bard to nab the speedy Victorino, who was called out by home plate umpire Dana DeMuth.
Unfortunately, Bard dropped the perfect relay, and when DeMuth realized the ball was between Bard's shin protectors and not in his glove, he changed his call to "safe."
Nursing a 2-1 lead, the Phillies got men on first and third with one out in the fourth. Lannan induced the lead-footed third baseman Pedro Feliz to ground into a tailor-made, inning-ending six-four-three double play. Alberto Gonzalez lobbed it to Hernandez to get the force at second, but Hernandez could not get the ball out of his glove to make a throw, allowing Raul Ibanez to walk home with the third Philly run.
The Phillies added an insurance run in the seventh inning against reliever Joe Beimel. The veteran lefty walked Chase Utley with two outs and the next batter, Ryan Howard, belted a ball to straight-away center field. Austin Kearns, playing out of position in center field, took a circuitous route to the catchable ball and, at the last moment, half-heartedly threw up his glove, almost as if to protect himself.
The lumbering first baseman collected his eighth career triple by the time Kearns gathered himself and got the ball back into the infield.
Left fielder Josh Willingham had two of the Nats five hits, both solo home runs.
Lannan actually threw better than the numbers would indicate. He went five innings and allowed four hits and four walks, giving up three earned runs and struck out seven Phillies.
THE TAKEAWAY: They call these things the "Little Things," but are they really little when they continue to add up to losses, day after day?
If any one of the three plays are made, we might be talking about a different outcome.
And it's not like a little extra infield practice is going to make it any better. Except for Hernandez, these guys are veterans. They are what they are. Bard has made multiple mistakes in his few games. It seems like every time he starts, he makes a critical mistake.
Kearns is simply not a center fielder, but nobody on this roster is. At some point, manager Manny Acta's just going to have to put Willie Harris in center and live with whatever offense he can contribute. He has to find somebody that will catch the ball in center.
Dunn's a different story. Unless he—or Willingham—are traded, everyone's just going to have to live with him kicking balls around in the outfield.
But the infield? That's correctable. Gonzalez and Hernandez both have the physical talent, they just need to prepare and concentrate. Who should be responsible for that? The players? The position coaches? The manager? Someone in that line of command has to step up.
THE GOOD: Josh Willingham. 2-for-4 with two home runs. He's finally seeing enough pitches to get into a groove. He's got his average up to .252 after being below .200 for the first month-and-a-half of the season.
THE BAD: Middle of the order. Nick Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman, and Adam Dunn were a combined 0-for-11 with one walk.
THE UGLY: The Nats have lost six in a row, 15 of 17, and 18 of 21. They are now on an even pace to tie the 2003 Detroit Tigers for the worst record in the Major Leagues since the expansion New York Mets lost 120 games in 1969.
NEXT GAME: The Nats are off until Tuesday, when they start a three-game home series with the San Francisco Giants. They will face Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson, and Matt Cain, in order. Oh goody.