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Close to winning, or are they?

May 29, 2011, 11:08 PM EDT

In a lot of ways, the Nationals are close. Really close, in fact, to playing .500 ball. Just about every game they play seems to be tight, usually decided by one clutch at-bat or one important pitch. Sometimes, it comes down to a break, good or bad.

There is, however, another way to look at this club right now. After an excruciating, 5-4 loss to the Padres on Sunday, the Nationals fell to 5-11 in one-run games this season. Good teams simply don’t lose so many close games. Good teams do the little things it takes to turn one-run losses into one-run victories.

So, which is it? Are the Nationals simply unlucky and poised to enjoy a breakthrough at some point? Or are they simply not a good enough team to deserve breaks?

“It’s not about breaks, it’s about playing baseball the right way,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “I honestly don’t know. It’s not luck. We’re not unlucky. We have runners in scoring position, and we can’t score them. It starts with me. I left runners in scoring position out there. I’ve been leaving runners out there. I’ve got to do something different. We’ve all got to do something different.”

All these agonizing losses are wearing on a clubhouse full of players that has run out of ways to describe their frustration. Some have tried to remain positive all along, insisting good things are bound to happen
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  1. Get Some Players - May 29, 2011 at 11:18 PM

    No discipline. No accountability.

  2. Eugene in Oregon - May 29, 2011 at 11:37 PM

    Nowhere near close to winning. I had high hopes — for a .500 season, nothing more — early on, but at this point I can't see a team that keeps Matt Stairs around as really even trying to win. From a fan's perspective, that's the kind of move that says "we really don't care" about winning, about you (the fan), or about the season. I'm not fond of bashing management or players, and I'm sure Mr. Stairs is a decent fellow, but management needs to understand the symbolism of keeping him around. It's simply a variation on Werth's comments about Teddy and culture of losing. DFA'ing Stairs won't turn the season around, but it will demonstrate that someone cares about performance.

  3. SonnyG10 - May 29, 2011 at 11:37 PM

    The Nats have some problems but I don't think discipline and accountability are among them. I think they're pressing and trying too hard.

  4. Anonymous - May 30, 2011 at 12:12 AM

    First and second, no out….tie game, 7th inning. Do we bunt? No. Flyout….dp grounder. 8th inning…Werth on 2nd, no out. Do we bunt? No. Bouncer to the pitcher and 2 flyouts. We lose. If ever this idiot Riggleman needed to be fired, today is the day. And why isn't this Eckstein guy ever available to anybody? Another thing….why are Slaten and Stairs still on the team?

  5. Ernie - May 30, 2011 at 12:42 AM

    I was at the game today. It felt as bad as that no-effort game against the Cubs last August. As soon as the lethargy set in on Maya in the 4th, the Nats seemed to quit. Bringing in Slaten in the 5th (to face a right-handed batter?!) felt like conceding the game. Wasted scoring opportunities were infuriating, but none more so than the 6th inning which seemed entirely due to management. Why the sacrifice? Was there a play on that led to that strange baserunning mistake where Hairston got picked off?Here is where this offense has sunk in my own mind: I non-ironically cheered for Stairs when he made solid contact for that out. It was one of the highlights of the second half of the game for me. I'm kind of glad Rizzo didn't get an ace this winter. Even if he had picked one up we wouldn't score enough runs to make him worth the money. I would love to say goodbye to Stairs, Slaten and Maya. But for whom? Stammen? Detwiler? Marerro? Those names make my stomach turn.On the walk home my wife commented that it seems like they're not even having fun out there anymore when they do something well. It felt like the team quit today. Is it something going on in the clubhouse that we don't know about?My next tickets aren't until the St. Louis series. We were talking in my section about whether Riggleman will still be here when we return. The consensus seems to be that no one gets fired for incompetence around here so we'll probably see him, along with the rest of the gang.I have no idea at this point why Zimmerman would ever re-sign with this club. If they keep playing like this and I had his talent, I'd want out of town as soon as possible. What are these guys playing for at this point? A #1 draft pick? I'll still be out there rooting for them for the rest of this season and for whatever happens in the next few years. I'm just grumpy after sitting out there in stifling heat for 3 and a half hours to watch a bunch of slop. It makes me feel better to see that even JaneB is getting frustrated. We'll all get over it, I'm sure. Winning will help. That seems a long way off though. Rant over.

  6. Anonymous - May 30, 2011 at 12:46 AM

    I watched the last 6 outs of yesterday's loss to the Padres, and was there for today's pathetic loss. We really suck.Commentators like to say, when a good pitch is hit for a homer, "they just don't miss that pitch at this level."Yesterday 5 of our last 6 batters watched HUGE mistakes go RIGHT by them–especially on first pitches. It is disgusting. I think, when a Nats' batter watches 3 balls and then 3 strikes, the hitting coach says, "great at bat–you saw 6 pitches."The Nats miss that mistake-pitch "at this level" ALL DAY AND EVERY DAY, OR THEY WATCH THAT PITCH.It's time for honesty. We are a terrible baseball team. We have no chance to compete in the NL East.

  7. Drew8 - May 30, 2011 at 1:20 AM

    Saturday's was the first game I attended this year and it probably will be my last. (And I've gone to Spring Training in Viera three times.)The games are closer this year, but the lack of enthusiasm is starting to remind me of those desultory days when the wheels came off and Acta got the boot.Think I'll stay home and bake Riggleman a Bundt cake. Maybe it will encourage him to advance a runner in the 8th freaking inning.

  8. Neal - May 30, 2011 at 1:21 AM

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Rogieshan - May 30, 2011 at 1:29 AM

    Agree with Eugene in Oregon. There's just no way you can justify hanging on to a no-field, unproductive pinch-hitter. As for Riggleman, does Rizzo have the balls to fire his manager who is heading to the all-star game?

  10. Neal - May 30, 2011 at 1:30 AM

    This lose is on Riggleman and some of the calls he made. Why was Nix sent home on the ball hit by Hairston, when it would have been much smarter to hold him at 3rd and let Hairston take the out at 1st. Yes it would have still been 2 outs, but it changed the next at bat totally. But the biggest problem was the decision by Riggleman to allow Maya to pitch with bases loaded after just giving up 2 consecutive two out walks. Riggleman's reasoning, he wanted to allow Maya the opportunity to qualify for the win. Maya had clearly lost command of his pitches at that point, everyone seemed to know that except the one person in charge who is paid to know better. So what happens, yup Maya gives up a 2 run hit and the lead. So to make this situation even better, what was Riggleman's very next move, yup he brings in the 1 reliever in his entire bullpen who has given up the most runs with inherited runners, Slaten. True to form, the very 1st batter Slaten faces, he gives up a run. To an offensively challenged team those decisions by Riggleman were huge. Riggleman single handedly turned a 2 to 1 game in favor of the Nats into a 4 to 2 game in favor of the Padres. That's a 3 run swing in a game that the Nats lost by 1 run all because Riggleman put a pitcher's stat in front of the team win. That's flat out bad coaching, period, especially from someone who should know his pitchers strengths and weakness. This is not the first time this year that Riggleman has done this to preserve a pitcher's stat, with the exact same result every single time, the Nats lost. I really hope Rizzo starts asking some pointed questions about these decisions Riggleman is making. BTW, the right move (IMHO) would have been to remove Maya when the base were loaded, with 2 out and a 2- 1 Nats lead and bring in the other left handed specialist Burnett for the last out to preserve the lead.

  11. bdrube - May 30, 2011 at 1:35 AM

    Close to winning? Not hardly. In fact, if the worst case scenario comes to pass and Zimmerman were not to return this season, 100 losses is in the bag again. Pathetic.

  12. Anonymous - May 30, 2011 at 1:38 AM

    Let's start with Eckstein and replacing him with someone who knows how to teach hitters to be aggressive at the dish. Talk about called strikes. Hey, guys, get the bat off your shoulder. Also, I agree with the other posts in that Father Time has caught up with Matt Stairs. Someday, when the Phillies come to town, it'd be nice to have 80 percent Nats fans and 20 percent Phillies fans, instead of the other way around.

  13. sparky - May 30, 2011 at 2:07 AM

    Rogieshan makes a good point. Riggleman is coaching in the All Star game. No way Rizzo fires him prior to that, or even shortly thereafter. Who will be our lone All-Star game player? I'm guessing Storen. Would be a joke for Werth to go.

  14. Anonymous - May 30, 2011 at 2:31 AM

    AAA Syracuse Chief's Manager Randy Knorr on Yunesky Maya's pitching performance today: (paraphrased)I'm probably going to get fired, (he's always saying he is going to get fired), he didn't lay that bunt down and he stepped on the wrong side of the bag on the double play.

  15. Anonymous - May 30, 2011 at 2:40 AM

    Hot and stifling … cold and rainy … Riggleman is responsible for motivating players …Not creating a country club – like atmosphere on Giggleman's Isle for respected veterans like Pudge, Werth, Stairs … they lose like good gentleman and then adjourn to the tiki hut for the ubiquitous 19th holelibations and celebration.

  16. Anonymous - May 30, 2011 at 2:43 AM

    As for Riggleman, does Rizzo have the balls to fire his manager who is heading to the all-star game?Mike Rizzo? Oh most definitely … in fact I'm sure he has been "chewed out" by Riggleman for expressing his own public disgust at the team's poor play last year. Now, the Lerners? That be an entirely different story.

  17. Nationals "Secret Judgement Day" Shark - May 30, 2011 at 2:46 AM

    Between white cap, trough and salty spray … I spy a slow, sluggish, near-sighted Matty Stairs … and now a bit of a scrawny looking interim Jim in there helping Matty Stairs swim … circling now … circling …

  18. Joe Seamhead - May 30, 2011 at 3:14 AM

    I got yelled at for cheering too hard. I didn't cuss. I wasn't obscene. I wasn't intoxicated. I was loud. I was trying to cheer our team on. The fans are as flat as the team.

  19. Anonymous - May 30, 2011 at 3:15 AM

    This just isnt a good team – far from it.Look at all the deadwood and sub-major leaguers and players beyond retirement age playing — all hitting waay below their prime years:Pudge, Stairs, Cora, Ankiel, La Roche, Bixler? (what's a bixler) Desmond, and so on.Our only real players: Zimmerman (both), Werth and Morse. Ramos and Espinoza are a season or two away from producing consistently; Desmond is an experiment gone too long.This is a bad team. Rizzo is a fool; he needs to go.

  20. Anonymous - May 30, 2011 at 3:35 AM

    Too many fundamentally bad hitters. End of story.

  21. Manassas Nats Fan - May 30, 2011 at 3:36 AM

    Lets shock the world and sweep the Phillies.One thing is I can't believe the team is as passionate about winning as we are or they would do something about their play.

  22. Eeyore - May 30, 2011 at 3:39 AM

    It seems like we're nearing the end of the 7 stages of grief here. Time to accept this team for what it is. I wanted to think it was a matter of slumping hitters. It's not. There's no slump taht lasts 2 months. It's just a bunch of players who can't hit. They can field well and pitch alright, but they can't hit. Once we accept that maybe we all feel better. I guess this is what it's like to be a Pirates fan.

  23. The Perfectionist - May 30, 2011 at 3:39 AM

    I am pretty sure I would get canned if I was as ineffective at my job and showed little enthusiasm about my professional as the Nats do.

  24. Grandstander - May 30, 2011 at 3:44 AM

    Quick editing note since it's on the main site:2nd graph, "good teams simply don't [expletive deleted] so many close games"@JoeSeamheadI would never yell at someone for cheering "too much". But it would become very annoying if someone was just constantly yelling throughout the game and not just during appropriate times (eg 2 strike, 2 out situations, big ABs with runners on, game changing situations). This is what Phillies fans do it and it makes me not go to the games.I'm not saying you were cheering inappropriately because I have no idea who you are or what you were doing, but people just yelling throughout the game are irritating to me. The players can't hear you, but I can.I just hope when Rig is fired (and gods be good he will be) they bring up Randy Knorr. That guy is a ML caliber manager languishing in AAA. @Mark – I read a blurb today about how Jonny Gomes' troubles have led to Dusty Baker stepping in and personally coaching his hitting, as opposed to their hitting coach. He said something along the lines of hearing a different voice helps. Has anything been done like this with any of our hitters? In particular, I'm worried about Desmond, Ramos and Espinosa. They seem unable to adjust to the adjustments made to them and I wonder if perhaps another voice (or some better scouting) might be helpful to help them make adjustments.

  25. Anonymous - May 30, 2011 at 3:51 AM

    This club is lucky to be in these games. Rizzo is no fool but he is never going to be GM of the year either. The guy assembled a roster that was DOA on day 1 (the same way he did in 2010). Midling rotation (which has been fortunate to pitch as well as it has), awkward lineup (no lead-off man, Werth in the 2 hole, no 5 hitter, no true CF, clanky SS and rookie 2B, iffy bench of old men). I listend to Phil Wood post-game today and he's all sunshine and rainbows about how in a couple of years this team will be something. Look how long it took the Mets in the 60's, or the Rays, to get going — why does he enver mention the Marlins and D Bax? Clubs that decided they wanted to compete and actually did sooner than later? This club is no longer new but it is yet again floundering in a Division where the Fish, Braves and Phillies are better in every category for today and for the near future, with only the Mets who will not wait 5 plus years to try to win a la Ted Lerner, in worse shape. This club is not built to win. — dfh21

  26. Manassas Nats Fan - May 30, 2011 at 3:58 AM

    Once Teddy is competitive the Nats will be. He represents the lovable loser, and that is what the team is promoting. Lets promote winning.

  27. Anonymous - May 30, 2011 at 4:51 AM

    @dfh21,Again, you can thank Mr. "smart ball" Riggleman for the bench, for Stairs, and really most of the "marginal" peripheral players and bench. Its a team made for Riggleman's management style. I too would like to see Randy Knorr come up and work with some of the better prospects instead of the decrepit, underachieving bench.Rizzo made one huge mistake this year. He told the world that Harper wouldn't even get a September call-up. Since then his hitting has significantly declined. Here's a case where he should have kept things close to the vest and he didn't. He's still learning.Still, yes there is a potential winner in just what they have now. Even without the upcoming draft. But it will require the right manager to "meld" the prospects with at-the-height of their game veterans. Not also-rans from "smart ball" land which translates to losing more games. Fielding and decent pitching isn't cutting it either. Doing "the little things" isn't cutting it in this division. But, we can look forward (even if Brue won't). You've got Hood, Harper, Lombardozzi, Marerro and Norris on the horizon. Perhaps Eury Perez. Matt Antonelli is hitting pretty well in AAA so far. They have some potential to break out. There's Strasburg, Peacock, and Meyers for starting pitching next year. One can tell Espinosa is going to be a star. Although Desmond looks like a bench/utility guy in the making. (Perhaps Riggleman was right about him all along.) They've still got Zimmerman, Werth, Morse. And Nix looks like a pretty decent outfielder they should keep for awhile. He isn't that old and his offensive stats are still better than Morse's and Werth's at this point. So, I guess they need a.) A new manager who knows how to win. Not a guy who probably belongs inside the "Teddy" racing president's head.b.) Maybe 1 or 2 key players. Can they sign 1 or 2 key players after another season in futility. We saw what happened when players were approached about coming to the Nationals last year. The good ones ALL BALKED!Pujols could change things overnight for this team. As an alternative, Fielder might provide the same guy in the middle of the lineup that Dunn did. They could sign Reyes to play shortstop instead of Desmond. There's lots of possibilities for them. But it will be a huge challenge to convince players to come to the Nats given the status quo. And yet another reason why Riggleman absolutely must go.

  28. Neal - May 30, 2011 at 6:06 AM

    dfh21 – good post; as much as I'd love to see Pujols here, the Cards aren't letting him get away, they will resign him. Fielder is not a Rizzo type player and I think he'll end up with the Cubs. I do think however that they will have better success this year with FA signings than last year. I think the Nats have some really good potential with the up and coming players here and in the minors. About the possible new Manager, here's a thought. There is a very well regarded and highly successful Manager who was not available before. Someone that Mike Rizzo admires greatly and is not now managing a team and is currently available. Joe Torre….would Rizzo ask him and would Torre accept….man would I love to find out!

  29. Rabbit - May 30, 2011 at 10:57 AM

    @Ernie….that wasn't a rant. It all made sense. Particularly about Zimmerman. It is a shame he can't reward himself at this point with a contender. I hate to say it but it would be nice to see him in a Philly, Yankee, or Red Sox uniform. We certainly don't deserve him. Unfortunately I'll be sweating it out at the game today. But, it is my last and only one of the year.

  30. Lets Go Nats - May 30, 2011 at 12:01 PM

    If insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result, what do you call continuing to use Stairs as a pinch hitter?

  31. Anonymous8 - May 30, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    Lets Go Nats, yep, Stairs and before him Justin Maxwell, Slaten and before him Slaten.What makes Stairs worse is he can't even play defense and JMax could.This team held things together for so long and just when Morse and Werth seem to have come out of their slumps, the bullpen slips a little, and the bench play has been bad.Hairston is channeling his best Nyjer Morgan. Stupid plays on the base paths, swinging at 1st pitches, getting thrown out of games.Where is this veteran leadership?

  32. Anonymous - May 30, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    From what sabermetric stuff I have read in the past (I cannot source it), teams tend towards a .500 record in 1-run games, regardless of their won-loss records. There has been some change in that in the last couple decades with the records in 1-run games being correlated to the quality of the bullpens.

  33. Anonymous - May 30, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    Since when is Jerry Hairston, Jr. regarded as a veteran leader? He's old — that's all the qualification he has. This dude is a journeyman, career utility player who is a career .250 hitter. Some veteran leader there, huh?Stairs is done — painfully so. How he can come out to the ballpark and keep his dignity is beyond me. If he has any self-respect, he would move on — so it must be about the paycheck.Werth is grossly overated — enough said.Slaten is a loser — he's got to go.Eckstein is an empty paper bag — so bag him. Is it Eckstein who has everyone taking so many fat pitches. and really, what hitting credential does Eckstein bring to the table?Nats ought to get Long from the Yankees who changed Granderson instantly. Go get him — and pay him.Desmond is a hack — wouldnt be playing for anyone else but the Nats. Do him and us a favor — cut this marginal player loose.We're sitting on four quality catchers: Pudge, Ramos, Flores and Norris. Let's trade two for quality — like soon?Riggs and Rizzo? bye bye. I like Riggs, but his game moves or lack thereof are lacking. e.g. Other night, 8th inning, down by a run: Bernadina sent in to pinch run — he doesnt steal. Batter hits into double play. ??? riggs, you gotta get bernie over to 2nd!!!Rizzo has wheeled and dealed for two years — and has come up Zero. He thinks he's playing Fantasy Baseball. Well, it's not working. That's enough — see ya, Rizz.

  34. Gonat - May 30, 2011 at 3:06 PM

    Well, Anon @10:32, interesting as the bullpen has been unlucky with bloops, bleeders and defensive swings that have fallen for hits but Slaten just hasn't gotten it done and Burnett hasn't done his job either this season. How different would this season had been if the best 25 was put out there? I will tell you, much better. No Stairs, no Slaten, and a real lead-off when all of Nats Nation knew that Nyjer Morgan was not the answer here and Rizzo never replaced him. Riggleman still doesn't have the .340 OBP guy he needs at leadoff. He doesn't have any lefty relievers that have been effective this season. If I had to assess blame, much of it is on the players themselves but Rizzo chooses the players and assembled a team that had little margin for error or injuries. Ryan Zimmerman with his multiple injuries came into the Spring in the same shape he left 2010 and Adam LaRoche with his bad shoulder is still a head-scratcher.Personally, I am surprised this team's record is this good given all the issues. This was the last team in the MLB to even make a DFA and that was Broderick. If Rizzo took a few suggestions in March from some astute commentors here maybe we would have had Bernadina over Stairs, Gonzalez over Hairston, Detwiler over Slaten, Lannan for a real leadoff guy via a trade.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 58 47 --
ATLANTA 58 50 1.5
MIAMI 53 54 6.0
NEW YORK 52 56 7.5
PHILADELPHIA 47 61 12.5
Through Wednesday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
THU: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
FRI: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SUN: Phillies at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Orioles at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
TUE: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Full season schedule

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ON THE RADIO

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TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
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