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The Search for Answers

(So I don't want to interrupt anyone from the actual post below, but I think there were some interesting things in Saturday night's loss, which was kind of bizarre for something that should have been routine. Also, a little news in the notebook about the bullpen situation. I said to Brian Schneider before the game Saturday, "You know, if the all-star team was chosen today, you're representative would be ..." and he immediately cut me off and said, "Colome." Sound ridiculous? Crunch some numbers, and come up with someone else. (Not saying that's who it would actually be.) When the podcast is ready, it will appear here.)

How in the world is this happening? The lineup does not include the one guy who can get on base 40 percent of the time, Nick Johnson. The rotation is the following: Matt Chico, Jason Simontacchi, Mike Bacsik, Micah Bowie and Levale Speigner. The bullpen doesn't include two key pieces the club believes in for the future, Ryan Wagner and Luis Ayala.

And while we're talking about it, am I the only one that thought Friday's game was the best of the year? I asked Manny Acta that afterward, and he said he didn't think so. He wanted the Nationals to turn the 1-6-3 double play - ball in the dirt that Young couldn't scoop out in the seventh - and I'm sure he wanted Jon Rauch to pitch better. But as far as compelling baseball - two really nice plays from Lopez, one great one from Kearns, a gutsy two at-bat performance from Colome, a two-out, two-run double from Logan, a 1-2-3 ninth from Cordero - I thought it was pretty darn good, as the gamer relates.

I tried to write a notebook about a rejuvenated Cristian Guzman, but then he went 0 for 4 (though he did drive in a run with a sac fly). Some news on Bergmann in there, too. Here's the podcast as well.

So let's try to break down some numbers and see what we can find. I'll probably let you guys chew on this for the rest of the weekend. Just looking at them here, I'm not sure what they show.

(This entry could also be known as "What Happens When You Leave a Dorky Baseball Writer Alone in a Hotel Room with Full Access to Stats, LLC", but whatever.)

For this purpose, I broke the season down into four sections.

1. The Horrendous Start: This would be the period from April 2-11, when the Nationals started 1-8. That wasn't, at that point, the only reason to think 120 losses were possible. The pitching was unspeakably bad. John Patterson looked to be in disarray. Games seemed over by the fourth inning. Etc.
2. The Steadying Stretch: This was a 17-game period in which the Nationals nearly played .500 baseball (8-9) from April 12-30, when Shawn Hill started to assert himself as Patterson continued to struggle, when the bullpen got itself in order a bit.
3. The Losing Streak: After winning the first game of a nine-game road trip - John Patterson over Jake Peavy in San Diego - the Nationals lost eight straight from May 1-9. It seems funny to say, but they really weren't playing that poorly. Five of the losses were by one or two runs, none was by more than four.
4. The Hot Streak: Don't look now, but from May 11 - when the first 10-game homestand started - through Friday night, the Nationals are 11-4, the best record in baseball over that time. Teams that are historically bad simply don't have stretches like this. The crazy part: During that time, Hill and Jason Bergmann both went on the disabled list and Jerome Williams came off the DL, only to go back on. (Aside: Will we ever see him again?)

Bear with me. This might take a while. And I'm not even sure what it will show when we're done.

HITTING:
Here are the National League averages: .257 batting average/.328 on-base percentage/.400 slugging percentage, .260 batting average with runners in scoring position

Here are the Nationals' numbers: .237 batting average/.311 on-base percentage/.353 slugging percentage, .223 batting average with runners in scoring position. Those numbers aren't only way below the league average, they rank last, next-to-last, last and last in the NL, respectively.

The Horrendous Start:
Totals: .239/.308/.348, 2.04 strikeout/walk ratio, .172 average with runners in scoring position
In wins: .410/.425/.590, 4.00 strikeout/walk ratio, .444 RISP
In losses: .214/.292/.312, 1.96 strikeout/walk ratio, .127 RISP

The Steadying Stretch:
Totals: .231/.318/.324, 1.87 K/BB, .180 RISP
In wins: .261/.341/.380, 2.09 K/BB, .197 RISP
In losses: .201/.296/.271, 1.68 K/BB, .165 RISP

The Losing Streak:
Totals: .204/.276/.309, 2.70 K/BB, .196 RISP

The Hot Streak:
Totals: .259/.324/.413, 2.14 K/BB, .322 RISP
In wins: .286/.342/.450, 2.14 K/BB, .337 RISP
In losses: .187/.276/.313, 2.13 K/BB, .269 RISP

One more category, which encompasses Everything But the Horrendous Start (April 12-May 25, a stretch when the Nationals are 19-21):
Totals: .236/.312/.354, .232 RISP
In wins: .275/.341/.418, .272 RISP
In losses: .199/.285/.293, .191 RISP

Other offensive things to note: Nationals' average of 3.63 runs per game is last in the N.L., though the Cardinals are reachable at 3.64 runs/game. Their average of 0.59 homers/game is 13th in the league, better than just Colorado, St. Louis (both 0.58) and the Dodgers (0.56).

PITCHING
NL averages: 4.11 ERA, .259 opponents' batting average, 1.93 strikeout/walk ratio
(The reason the NL's opponents' average is .259 and the NL's batting average is .257 has to do with interleague play.)

Nationals' numbers: 4.39 ERA, .258 opponents' batting average, 1.47 strikeout/walk ratio.

Notes: Nationals' K/BB ratio is N.L.'s worst. Average of 3.99 BB/9 IP is 15th in N.L. (only Florida is worse). Average of 8.87 hits/9 IP is eighth, however, leaving the team's base runners/9 IP at 13.06, 12th in the N.L. The message: Throw strikes. You might get someone out.

The Horrendous Start:
Totals: 6.15 ERA, 1.33 HR/G, 1.00 K/BB, .287 opponents' average
In wins: 6.00 ERA, 3.00 HR/G, 6.00 K/BB, .286 average
In losses: 6.17 ERA, 1.13 HR/G, 0.89 K/BB, .287 average

The Steadying Stretch:
Totals: 3.83 ERA, 1.06 HR/G, 1.36 K/BB, .240 average
In wins: 2.11 ERA, 0.75 HR/G, 2.04 K/BB, .222 average
In losses: 5.58 ERA, 1.33 HR/G, 0.98 K/BB, .258 average

The Losing Streak:
Totals: 4.96 ERA, 1.00 HR/G, 1.31 K/BB, .262 average

The Hot Streak:
Totals: 3.77 ERA, 0.93 HR/G, 2.21 K/BB, .259 average
In wins: 3.18 ERA, 0.82 HR/G, 2.59 K/BB, .243 average
In losses: 5.35 ERA, 1.25 HR/G, 1.43 K/BB, .301 average

Everything But the Horrendous Start:
Totals: 4.01 ERA, 1.00 HR/G, 1.60 K/BB, .251 average
In wins: 2.70 ERA, 0.79 HR/G, 2.32 K/BB, .233 average (bonus number: 1 unearned run allowed in these wins)
In losses: 5.31 ERA, 1.19 HR/G, 1.15 K/BB, .268 average (bonus number: 8 unearned runs allowed in these losses)

Whew. So what do we know?

First impressions: Don't walk anyone. Get a hit or two with runners in scoring position.

For the pitchers, do you see that 2.32 K/BB number in wins since the horrendous start ended? I think that's key. This team, at one point, was walking more people than it struck out, a sign of just abysmal pitching. It's significantly better than the league average, and a very good indicator of how the Nationals will do.

Offensively, it appears that if the Nationals can even approach the league average - which they have done during the hot streak - they can compete. Look at the totals during that last section, when they went 11-4. That .259/.324/.413 is hardly anything special, yet the Nationals have rolled during that time.

Anything else jump out at you? Chew on it over the entire Memorial Day weekend. I'll check in with you after the holiday (though I suppose it's possible I'll post between now and then).

By Barry Svrluga  |  May 26, 2007; 12:50 PM ET
 
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