Washington Nationals' sloppy play is catching up to them

Wil Nieves and the Nationals get wiped out in Baltimore over the weekend, surrendering leads in each of their three one-run losses.
Wil Nieves and the Nationals get wiped out in Baltimore over the weekend, surrendering leads in each of their three one-run losses. (Rob Carr/associated Press)
By Thomas Boswell
Monday, June 28, 2010

BALTIMORE -- The look-on-the-bright side approach isn't going to wash for the Washington Nationals anymore. The company line that "we're playing hard, but we're just losing" isn't good enough any more, at least not when General Manager Mike Rizzo is in the house. If Manager Jim Riggleman is a natural soothing good cop, then Rizzo must have been born with "bad cop" on his crib.

"We're underachieving. We're playing bad baseball. Defensively, we're giving away far too many outs. We're not situational hitting," Rizzo said after the Nats blew leads of 6-0, 5-0 and 3-0 in consecutive games to get swept by the Orioles, who entered the series with the worst record in baseball. "You can't win major league games by doing that."

On Friday and Saturday, the Nats became the first team since 1971 to blow leads of five or more runs in consecutive games to the same opponent. To do it against their local rivals made their sin against the laws of baseball probability even more deflating. What Ghana is to U.S. soccer, the Orioles are to Nats fans.

After such historic squandering, losing 4-3 on Sunday was mere Nats play.

"This is not and should not be a 10-games-under-.500 team," said Rizzo, whose club, 20-15 in May, has plummeted to 33-43 with weeks of progressively sloppier play. "We have seven guys who've played in the World Series and others who've been in the playoffs. And that doesn't include some of our best players. I can't believe that playing the Orioles in June is the most stressful thing they have ever done."

Add as many drips of sarcasm as your recipe requires.

On Friday, rookie Ian Desmond and veteran Cristian Guzmán combined for four errors, leading to four unearned runs. On Sunday, second baseman Adam Kennedy threw away a ball on a double-play pivot, allowing an unearned run to score in another one-run loss.

The level of Nats blundering in the last 30 days is almost incomprehensible. Four infielders -- Desmond (eight errors), Guzmán (seven), Kennedy (six) and Zimmerman (four) -- have made 25 errors in 28 games. The rest of the Nats have contributed five more errors. How bad is that? In the last 30 days, the Reds' entire team has made only seven errors. And the Yankees only have made 24 errors all season.

In those 28 games, Nats errors have led to 29 unearned runs -- 20 more than the average team in that time. Those extra gift runs are the reason the Nats are now all but an afterthought in the National League East or wild-card race for this season, rather than being at .500.

The unraveling began on May 30 in San Diego when a wild throw in extra innings give the Padres a one-run win. Since then, eight more one-run losses have followed, including the Nats' last four straight defeats. The only Nats infielder that has few errors is Adam Dunn (four all year). But his poor footwork and slow reactions make him so immobile at first base that he saves high or low throws, but seldom the wide ones.

At rough spots in a season, team executives sometimes take opposite approaches to motivation and morale. But, at the moment, the Nats are an extreme example.

"If we play with the same effort and cleanness we did the last two games, we'll win our share of games," Riggleman said. "The glass is half full. There are a lot of good things to build on."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company