The scene, played out again in a 10-1 loss last night, has become stunningly familiar for the Nationals. The fans streamed from the seats in the latter innings. A procession of relievers closed out the loss out of obligation to finish nine innings. On the video board, the Miller High Lites sure looked a lot like routine singles.
The frequency of the Nationals’ losses has left them below .500 at 29-30 and in third place, a half-game behind the Phillies. The nature of many of them has been just as disturbing, if not more so: The Nationals have been blown out at a staggering rate. In 59 games, they have already lost nine times by at least six runs. Last year, they suffered such an indignity on only eight occasions all season.
The Nationals’ on-paper talent and the 98-win joyride produced last year by roughly the same group provide hope the Nationals can right their season over the next 100 games or so. But their results so far offer more signs of worry than promise.
The Nationals have been out-scored by 34 runs and rank 24th in the majors in run differential, behind apparent also-rans such as the Mets, Cubs, Royals and Padres. They have often lost big a lot and seldom won comfortably. Their largest margin of victory is seven, and they have won by at least six runs only three times.
You could put a positive spin on all those blowout losses in relation to the Nationals’ run differential – the total wouldn’t be so crummy if you remove, say, the 15-0 beating they took in Cincinnati. But here’s the thing: The Nationals aspire to be great, and great teams do not get throttled as often as they have been throttled this year.
There is no precise way to pin down how significant blowout losses are as a predictive measure. What constitutes a great team? And what threshold constitutes a blowout?
For the purposes of this post, we’ll use the two pennant winners and the regular season champion from the past seven years. That gives us a grouping of 20 teams. (It’s not 21 because the 2009 Yankees had the best record and won the World Series.) We’ll call six runs the margin for a blowout loss.
The results: The 20 “great teams” from the past seven years averaged 10.8 blowout losses. The least-thumped great teams from the sample was the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, who 102 games, and the 2010 Rangers. Both got beat by at least six only six times. The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals suffered the most blowouts with 18, which is exactly what you would think – that team somehow won the NL Central with 83 wins, then heated up and won the World Series.
We’re not saying this quick-and-dirty is perfect or free of quirks. The 2008 NL champion Phillies, for example, lost by six nine times – but they never lost by more than six. But it does suggest that excellent teams do not get smacked around frequently. Again, those teams averaged 10.8 losses by at least six runs. The Nationals have NINE such losses in the first 59 games this year.
There are still 103 games remaining, and the Nationals still have a stable of accomplished (if partially wounded) players. But the season has reached the point at which reputation and projected talent starts to matter less than the black-and-white results on the field. And for the Nationals, the results on the field portray a dispiriting picture.
>>> I looked up all this (largely useless) information on Baseball Reference, so I might as well share it. Here are how often teams who either reached the World Series or had the best regular season record got blown out by six runs:
Red Sox: 9