Another early miscue gets Strasburg and Nationals off on wrong foot

For the second straight start, a key early fielding miscue allowed an opponent to put up multiple runs against Stephen Strasburg.

Against the Braves on April 13, no score, two outs, top of the third. Atlanta’s Justin Upton reaches on a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman. Evan Gattis crushes a two-run homer. Braves win 3-1.

Then last night, first batter of the game, no outs, top of the first. Mets Jordany Valdespin grounder to shortstop Ian Desmond is booted. The fielding error allows Valdespin to reach. The Mets begin a two-run rally that sets the tone. Mets win 7-1.

Of course, each game also featured outstanding pitching from opposing starters, Tim Hudson and Matt Harvey respectively, but the point is the Nationals’ defense isn’t doing Strasburg enough favors.

In his last two starts, Strasburg has surrendered six runs, but just two have been earned.

The Nationals, as a whole, have had serious issues with fielding to begin the season, allowing opponents extra outs.

The Nationals have committed 15 errors in 16 games, six by Desmond and four by Zimmerman. The 10 errors from the critical left side of the infield, a part of the field that gets a ton of ground balls, makes it difficult to speed up innings defensively.

The 15 errors committed in 16 games is the worst in the National League and worst in the majors. Last season, the Nationals had only 94 errors in 162 games, ranked 22nd out of 30 teams in baseball.

The pitching also has left a bit to be desired with 78 runs allowed, third worst in the National League. Only Philadelphia (80) and Milwaukee (79) have allowed more runs.

The pitching staff has surrendered 20 home runs, one of only four teams in the National League to give up 20 or more round trippers at this point in season. Cincinnati (22), Milwaukee (21) and San Diego (21) are the only other National League squads to allow as many.

The pitchers have to induce more ground balls, but the defense behind them has to make some plays to help out, too.

* Then there is the offense, which has had moments of all or nothing.

The Nationals are 2-0 in one-run games, but are 3-4 in blowout games (five or more runs). The last five games, the Nationals have alternated wins and losses in blowout games: 0-9, 10-3, 2-8, 6-1 and 1-7.

And, how about this gem of a stat:

Records against teams with less than .500 record - 8-2
Records against teams with better than .500 record - 1-5

Take away the White Sox and the Marlins, and the Nationals have been outscored 52-16 by their other opponents (Braves, Reds and Mets).

Admittedly, it is early and it is a small sample size, but the Nationals have to do a better job of playing good baseball against good teams to move up and challenge the red-hot start of the Braves.

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