Baseball: The Amazing Shrinking Nationals

by Suzie Raven

After playing only eleven games in 2009, the Washington Nationals managed to fall nine and a half games out of first place. It’s not that shocking for them to be that far out of first place in the National League East. After all, they finished the 2008 season at 32.5 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s just that it normally takes them a little longer to fall behind by 9.5 games.

Normally, the Nationals don’t lose their first seven games. They didn’t win a single game until last week (April 16), when the Phillies' struggling starting pitching gave them a little help. Joe Blanton gave up a three-run homerun in the first inning of that game. Normally, the Florida Marlins, also an NL East team, don’t go undefeated longer than any other Major League Baseball (MLB) team. The Marlins won their first four games before losing to the New York Mets. Their current seven-game winning streak gives them an MLB best record of 11-1.

The on-fire Marlins aside, what has pushed the Nationals so quickly into the major league basement? It’s their drastic lack of pitchers that has been killing them. They don’t have any stars in their bullpen and Shairon Martis is the only starting pitcher with a good outing so far in 2009. Martis got the Nationals their only victory in the first eleven games of 2009 and their last win of 2008, on September 23rd.

The Nationals offense has been impressive. Adam Dunn’s three-run first inning home run against the Phillies last week was his third this season. Josh Willingham, Elijah Dukes and Alberto Gonzalez also homered that night that the Nationals won. Earlier in the week against the Phillies, Cristian Guzman hit 5-for-5, with 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored and Dukes hit a homerun and an RBI double. It wasn’t enough, as they lost 9-8 to the Phillies.

The Nationals' offense averaged 4.9 runs scored per game in the team's first seven losses, which means the team wouldn’t be in bad shape if they had any support from their pitching staff. Being swept by the offensively impressive Marlins this weekend certainly didn’t help the Nationals standings. If their pitching doesn’t step up, this is going to be a long summer for Washington, D.C.'s team.

(The photo is by cruffo via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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