There are losses, and then there are losses so painful, so indigestible that they have fans calling for wholesale changes before they're over. The Nationals' 5-0 loss to the Braves last night was of the second variety. In our live chat last night, our little corner of NatsTown was as hopping mad as I've ever seen it.
Well, I didn't bring the sticks of dynamite to this party that everybody's hoping for, and I'm not here to suggest blowing up the team. But I understand your frustration, NatsTown. I really do. The Nationals gave reason to think this season would be a step forward from the last two years, and it still could be. But they've won 13 of their last 42, playing for about a quarter of the season like they're no different than the 2009 team.
We'll get into the typical Second Look format here, and I'll toss out a couple questions at the end of it:
Stephen Strasburg: Yes, he took his second big-league loss, and yes, he got himself in trouble by putting a couple of baserunners on to start the seventh inning. But he did what you were supposed to do after that, getting an easy ground ball to Ian Desmond that should've started a double play. If Desmond makes the play, the ensuing sacrifice fly from Eric Hinske becomes a harmless inning-ending flyout, and Strasburg leaves with seven shutout innings. Instead, he left after 6 1/3 innings and was charged with three earned runs. Things changed just that quick. Fault Strasburg for putting himself in danger to start the seventh, but realize he did what he was supposed to do to get out of it, if only his defense had cooperated.
Roger Bernadina: The Nationals were shut out for the third time in nine games, but Bernadina did plenty to make sure that didn't happen. He went 2-for-3 with a walk, and got to third with one out in the top of the seventh. He did get picked off first base in the second inning, but advanced to second when Tim Hudson threw the ball away. He's turning into a solid offensive player, if not a dynamic one yet, and a capable defender.
Josh Willingham: He was 0-for-2 at the plate, but Willingham walked twice, and saved a run in the first inning with a beautiful throw to home plate to retire Melky Cabrera at home plate and end the inning.
Ian Desmond: There's not much else to say about the grounder Desmond juggled in the seventh inning. It's a play that had to be made. Desmond has 19 errors in 73 games now, and his average has dropped to .250. The Nationals are committed to seeing if he can play every day, and there's little denying his talent or the self-assuredness he already has on the field. But his defensive gifts are too often blotted out by plays like last night.
Nyjer Morgan: Just an all-around bad night for the center fielder, who went 0-for-4, got picked off first base after reaching on an error in the first inning and missed the cutoff man in the seventh inning, allowing two Braves runners to move up on Hinske's sacrifice fly and taking away the possibility of a double play. In addition to his .248 average, he's made 21 outs on the basepaths this year (seven pickoffs, 11 times caught stealing and three times thrown out trying to advance).
Sean Burnett: Relieving Strasburg in the seventh, Burnett couldn't get a handle on Gregor Blanco's bunt in time to throw out any one of three runners, and gave up a single to Omar Infante (though that was ball deflected by Ryan Zimmerman). Burnett's biggest mistake was the bobbled bunt, and he certainly didn't help clean up the mess in the seventh.
In Case You Missed It:
--Replays of Morgan's pickoff in the first inning showed he was probably safe, and both Morgan and first-base coach Dan Radison had words with first-base umpire Tim Tichenor before manager Jim Riggleman intervened. Morgan, though, has been picked off seven times this season, and there's a point where you wonder if he's not going to get the benefit of the doubt on those calls because umpires are watching for him to get picked off.
--Ivan Rodriguez also tried to steal a base, getting thrown out with Ryan Zimmerman at the plate in the fourth inning. Zimmerman swung on the pitch, trying to punch it to right field, so odds are that Rodriguez missed a sign on a hit-and-run, taking off too soon before the pitch and getting thrown out on what wound up looking like a straight steal of second.
1. Which aspect of the loss bugged you the most last night - the baserunning mistakes, the defensive issues in the seventh inning or the Nationals' inability to get something going against Tim Hudson. To me, the fact that the Nationals lost three runners on the basepaths against a pitcher who's owned them acquits the offense somewhat. But you can make a case that the offense cost the team as much as the other two facets of the game. Let me know what you think.
2. What should the response be to a game like this? Jim Riggleman already played the team meeting card yesterday, so there's not much else he can say. What's the appropriate response, then, and from whom should it come (a player speaking up, a roster move or two, etc.)?
Leave your answers to the Talking Points in the comments section, as usual, and we can discuss those for the rest of the morning.