Marty Niland: In era of parity, Nats put disparity on display

Parity seems to be a buzzword in the major leagues these days. Much has been written about how the low-budget, small-market teams like the Oakland A’s are competitive with big-spending clubs.

It was disparity, however, that best described last weekend’s series between Nationals and the A’s. It played out like a three-day infomercial for “Moneyball,” the 2003 book that chronicled Oakland general manager Billy Beane’s tactics in assembling a ball club that is not only the two-time defending American League West champion, but now has the top record in the AL and a legitimate claim as the best team in baseball.

In the first head-to-head meetings between the two teams since the Nats’ inaugural season, the A’s outscored Washington 21-4. Several key players in Oakland’s two blowout wins during the three-game sweep were in the 2011 trade that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington. Let’s use some “Moneyball” metrics to evaluate the performance of players involved in that deal:

Derek Norris, sent from the Nats to the A’s, racked up a .556 on-base percentage for the series and slugged 1.111 for an OPS of 1.667. Tommy Milone, also traded from the Nats to the A’s, allowed a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .105, while Gio Gonzalez, the Nats’ haul in the deal, yielded a .438 BABIP.

No one is discussing the details of Gonzalez’s dugout tirade following Norris’ second three-run homer of the game. But considering a defensive lapse on a play that might have gotten him out of the inning with no runs allowed, could anyone blame him if he were caught on camera demanding to be traded back to Oakland?

OK, so that’s probably not what Gonzalez was saying, and it’s certainly it’s not fair to evaluate a trade based the players’ performance in three games between the two teams, advanced metrics aside. Comparing the players’ performances is, however, a fine illustration of the Nats’ continued failure to measure up to the best teams in baseball.

Fans might have thought the Nats were on the right track when they took two of three from the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s more likely that the Dodgers’ road weariness and other problems might have masked the Nationals’ own issues, which were exposed in great detail by the deep, talented A’s.

But as manager Matt Williams put it when discussing Adam LaRoche’s placement on the disabled list with a quad strain, nobody’s going to feel sorry for the Nats. If they can put the past few games behind them, they have a perfect opportunity to right the ship.

Disparity can work just as well for the Nationals as it does against them. As bad as they have been against the best teams, they have been just as dominant against the worst ones, and that’s who they will be playing for the next three weeks.

The Nats are 8-4 in the past two seasons against Arizona, 26-11 against the Mets and 9-5 against Cincinnati, including 6-0 at home against the Reds. The Nats have a losing record in each of the last two seasons against Pittsburgh, but the Pirates are struggling this season at 16-21. And, of course, the only way to stop looking up at the Miami Marlins in the standings is to beat them, which is exactly what the Nats have done 13 of the last 14 times they’ve played the Marlins at Nationals Park.

The disparity between the Nationals and the top teams in baseball is certainly frustrating and may very well be the Nats’ undoing this season. But there’s nothing they can do now about games that have gotten out of hand or slipped away for various reasons.

The Nats need to make hay against the teams they are supposed to beat until injured stars LaRoche, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman can return to the lineup and bring them back to full strength. Then they can try again to measure up to the best teams in the game, and the expectations of their fans.

Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. Follow him on Twitter: @martyball98. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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