The numbers tell an interesting story.
Dating back to the beginning of the 2013 season, the Nationals are 8-30 (a .211 winning percentage) against the Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers. Against everyone else, the Nats are 87-53 (a .621 winning percentage).
Is it fair to question why the Nats struggle against the top teams in the National League but dominate the rest of the competition?
“Of course,” Ian Desmond said last night. “Of course.”
OK, so let’s discuss it.
While keeping in mind that it’s still incredibly early in the season and this is a very small sample size - important qualifiers - there seem to be a few common themes when the Nats have played the Braves and Cardinals so far this year.
In the seven games against those two teams, the Nats are averaging 2.29 runs scored per game, have allowed an average of 5.71 runs per game and have made 14 errors.
Now compare those numbers to the ones the Nats have put up in their other nine games this season (against the Mets and Marlins), in which the Nats are averaging 6.78 runs scored per game, have allowed 3.78 runs per game and have made six errors.
The rationale there could easily be that the Braves and Cardinals are much better teams than the Mets and Marlins. But that might be a bit too simple, given the dramatically different statistics across the board. And it doesn’t explain the errors.
Manager Matt Williams has already noted a couple of times this season that he thought his team was pressing a bit against the Braves, trying to do a bit too much. Whether or not players feel like they’re pressing, it sure looks like they are, especially defensively.
Is it time to get concerned about these issues against the quality teams? Many fans might be, but Williams isn’t.
“I’m not alarmed,” Williams said. “I’m alarmed, if anything, about us. If we take care of things, then we’ve got a chance every day. But there’s been some games when we haven’t done that. That’s what we’ll strive to do.”
Williams said something to his team behind closed doors after last night’s loss. He declined to publicly reveal what that was, playing the it’s-none-of-your-business card, which is certainly understandable.
What’s clear going forward, however, is that the Nats must play better against the top teams if they’re going to achieve their goals. There’s plenty of talent in the Nationals’ clubhouse, and they feel they can compete with anyone.
Now they just need to do it.
“I mean, the numbers are what they are,” Desmond said. “It doesn’t worry me because I believe in this team, I believe in what we can do. But believing in yourself only goes so far. You’ve got to go out and execute and if we don’t start doing it soon, we’re gonna end up in the bottom. That’s not acceptable for any of us in here. So we’re gonna fix it.”
Adam LaRoche agreed.
“I think it’s frustrating,” LaRoche said. “We’ve had a couple of guys in our rotation that are really good every time they go out and have had some bad luck, they just haven’t had their stuff that day, especially against those guys (the Braves and Cardinals). It’s nice to beat the good teams, it kind of reinforces how good a team we are. Everyone still believes that, it’s just time to start showing it.”
They’ll get a chance these next few days, as three more games with the Cardinals await.