Thursday’s 6-4 loss to the Houston Astros was the second heartbreaking loss in three days. The Nationals are now 26-29 through 55 games, which is still better than many baseball speculators predicted at the beginning of the year. Losing 3 of 4 games to the Astros certainly does hurt, but the Nationals should have come out of the series having learned a few lessons.
First and foremost is that teams cannot stick anyone in the outfield. This isn’t little league baseball in which the hitters barely hit the ball out of the infield. This holds especially true in right field, to which most in-play fly balls are hit. Jim Riggleman incorrectly believes that Cristian Guzman’s speed can make up for his lack of experience playing outfield. There is a clear distinction between outfielders and infielders, and there is a reason for that. Outfielders play in the outfield every day and gain experience that other players do not have. For example, playing sinking line drives. Lance Berkman’s line drive in the 9th inning may have been a hard play for even the best outfielder in baseball, but I am certain that a true outfielder would have caught the ball.
It’s time for Riggleman to pull the plug on the Guzman in right field experiment. It has thus far failed. His bat is not good enough to put a defensive liability in the field. Guzman sports a .321 wOBA, backed by a .316/.341/.397 slash line. There is simply no reason to hurt the team’s defense in order to get his mediocre bat in the lineup. Guzman has played short stop his entire professional career. He belongs in the infield or on the bench.
Secondly, the team should not underestimate Ivan Rodriguez’s value. Besides the tangible batting statistics quickly show Pudge’s early season hitting prowess, he has 20 years of experience in the Major Leagues. By all means, Wil Nieves has been serviceable behind the plate, as the team has averaged only 3.91 runs against per game when he catches. However, it is impossible to numerically measure the impact that Rodriguez has on pitchers, both young and old.
Lesson number three refers again to the right field situation. Roger Bernadina is not the right fielder of the future for the Nationals. Neither is Justin Maxwell or Willie Harris or Cristian Guzman or Mike Morse. Bernadina reached base four times during the Nationals 10-game road trip. He currently is hitting .244 with a .696 OPS. It’s possible that Bernadina is going through a slump and the small amount of plate appearances affects his numbers greatly. However, watching Bernadina attempt to pull every breaking ball on the outer half of the plate is growing tiresome. If the Nationals are serious about contending this year, which is beginning to feel like a pipe dream, the team will need to find a plausible right field solution.
Four of the next six series come against teams with records under .500. The rest of June could very well determine whether or not the Nationals are a serious contender for the 2010 postseason.
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Written by Sam Diament