The phrase “the little things” in regard to baseball might be nebulous, but no matter how you choose to define it, the Nationals do “the little things” well. They’ve stolen more bases than 21 teams. Only one team has more than their 11 bunt hits. Their 30 errors rank 13th least, and no team has made fewer errors in May than their eight. Only four teams have gone first-to-third more with greater frequency. Five teams have more sacrifice bunts.
After most games, even the losses Manager Jim Riggleman compliments the Nationals on playing well, and he really does have a point. The Nationals play crisp, clean games. But they also lose most of the time. Their 22-31 record is third-worst in the majors, good enough to put them 11.5 games out of first – and three games out of fourth – in the NL East.
“All that stuff about ‘You guys are playing great and staying in the game,’ at the end it doesn’t add up,” Alex Cora said. “You just want to win.”
The Nationals’ ability to execute bunt play and steal bases and especially play sharp defense are all excellent, positive strides for them. But those things must come in tandem with “the big things.” And right now, they aren’t.
When the season ends, this Nationals team may serve as the indictment of the kind of baseball fan who prefers “the little things” brand of baseball. Major league teams win less because of Emanski-level fundamentals and strategy and more because they get on base, drive extra base hits and get dominant starting pitching.
The Nationals have been breaking out with their power, having moved to 15th in home runs with 44 after drilling 15 homers in their past 10 games. Still, it’s hard to generate offense with a .299 on-base percentage (28th), a .360 slugging percentage (24th) and a .229 batting average (29th).
After an excellent beginning to the season, Nationals starters have a 4.17 ERA, 21st in the majors, and a 2.1 strikeout-to-walk rate, which is 19th. Their pitching staff overall ranks 24th in strikeouts.
Their attention to detail has helped the Nationals play competitive games. Only nine of their losses have been by more than three runs, and 12 have come by one run, including six during their current 2-10 skid.
Their close calls seem like poor luck. Their Pythagorean winning percentage would give them a 24-29 record, two games better than their actual record. That would still put them in last place. It’s hard to win when you don’t do the big things, no matter how well you do the little things.
FROM THE POST
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NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Louisville 9, Syracuse 4: Ross Detwiler allowed four runs in six innings on seven hits and three walks, striking out five. Michael Aubrey went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk. Jesus Flores went 2 for 4.
Harrisburg 7, Bowie 6: Tyler Moore went 2 for 2 with a home run and a walk. Bill Rhinehart went 1 for 2 with a home run and two walks. Tanner Roark allowed four runs in six innings on seven hits and three walks, striking out two.
Winston-Salem 7, Potomac 1: The P-Nats managed one hit. Steven Souza went 0 for 0 with four walks. Danny Rosenbaum allowed three earned runs in 7 2/3 innings on 13 hits and two walks, striking out five.
Kannapolis 3, Hagerstown 0 (Game 1): Bryce Harper went 0 for 3 with a strikeout. A.J.Cole allowed one run in five innings on two hits and a walk, striking out six.
Kannapolis 4, Hagersotnw 3 (Game 2): Bryce Harper went 2 for 3 with a walk. He’s hitting .326/.412/.584. Sammy Solis allowed three runs in 4 2/3 innings on four hits and three walks, striking out seven.