BUCKING THE TREND
The Washington Nationals (39-50) begin the second half of the season this evening against the Florida Marlins. The Marlins (42-46) are directly above the Nationals in the National League East Division, and Washington hopes to narrow that gap. The Nationals were playing better baseball heading into the All-Star break having won five of their last ten games (including two against both the Padres and the Mets) and, with the National League getting its first All-Star Game win since 1996 (Washington closer Matt Capps recorded the victory), there seems cause for cautious optimism in the nation's capital.
In order to maintain that feeling, the Nationals will need to reverse a troublesome trend. Only once since the team relocated has the Washington nine won its first game after the break. Fortunately, that sole occurrence was in 2007 against none other than the Florida Marlins. In the same period of time, the Marlins have gone winless in their first game after the midsummer classic. With staff ace and budding star Stephen Strasburg heading to the mound tonight, Washington hopes to continue Florida's streak of futility while ending its own.
Friday, July 16, 2010: Stephen Strasburg (3-2, 2.32) vs. Ricky Nolasco (9-6, 4.55)
Saturday, July 17, 2010: Livan Hernandez (6-5, 3.37) vs. Josh Johnson (9-3, 1.70)
Sunday, July 18, 2010: Craig Stammen (203, 5.79) vs. Alex Sanabia (0-1, 3.09)
SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE
To strikeout or not to strikeout? Marlins' hitters have quite frequently chosen the former, ranking second in the league with 698 Ks. Nationals' pitchers, unfortunately, generally opt for the latter - the Washington pitching staff ranks in the bottom five of baseball in strikeouts and, sans Strasburg, would be dead last. The good news for the Nationals is that the Marlins' strikeout tendencies appear to be deeply engrained and consistent. Over the past four full seasons (2010 excluded), Marlins Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez rank second and sixteenth, respectively, in strikeouts among all major league players. With Gaby Sanchez, Jorge Cantu, Cody Ross, and Chris Coghlan all also striking out between 17 and 24 percent of their at bats this year, perhaps Nationals' pitchers can find a way to miss Marlins' bats.
NOT TOP PLAYS
Not surprisingly, as anyone who has watched the team extensively can attest, the Nationals remain the worst fielding team in baseball. Washington has tallied 75 errors on the season, nearly a third of which (21) have been committed by rookie shortstop Ian Desmond. Not to be outdone, the Marlins are just behind the Nationals - both teams have .978 fielding percentages, but the Marlins have four fewer recorded defensive miscues. The Marlins' errors are more widely dispersed; however, their shortstop also leads the way. Hanley Ramirez has 12 errors on the season (while Jorge Cantu has 11 and Dan Uggla has 9) - the difference is that Ramirez is one of the more prodigious offensive talents in baseball, more than compensating for any defensive shortcomings. While it is certainly rare that Desmond and Ramirez would be mentioned in the same breath, here they share an unenviable distinction - the worst statistical fielders (as measured by errors committed) on the worst fielding teams in baseball.