The Washington Nationals season has started out on the right track, but to stay on the path, the Nats will have to continue to cut down on the mistakes in the field and make their opponents pay for their own.
The first few weeks of the season have been a real roller coaster for Natstown faithful. We have been taken on the highs, lows and the queer perplexity that a young baseball season brings. Who would have thought that this band of baseball misfits and snot-nosed rookies would be 8-7 three weeks into the season and flirting within the top three spots in the division?
I confess: not me. I've spent these past few weeks and all of Spring Training trying to get a bead on general manager Mike Rizzo's Frankenstein monster, a team of fresh meat sewn together with parts laying around the baseball bone yard, and I haven't had much success. The Washington Nationals are a team of mystery. You have no idea where they will take you from one game to the next. They are an unknown, a loose cannon, a wild card of sorts. The 2011 Nats are highly unpredictable.
However, there has been one area of the Nationals game so far where you can call it like you see it. While many factors go into winning and losing a ballgame, there is one stat that everyone, from pants-jacked-up-to-your-chest stat monkeys to the newspaper box score renegade at the morning breakfast table, can both understand and realize its impact on the game itself. That stat: errors. The Washington Nationals' season so far and possibly for the rest of the marathon will come down to what they do or don't do in the error column.
It has been said thousands of times before. It has been one of Rizzo's and manager Jim Riggleman's main talking points in team improvement. On a team such as the 2011 Nationals, it will be imperative they control the amount of errors taking place on the field. The Nationals are not built for or to perfection, not even close to it. Any team that has to depend on an Alex Cora, a Chad Gaudin or a centerfield-playing Rick Ankiel is going to have to play to near perfection to win games. Any team having to "play to perfection" immediately has its back against the wall. It is a pressure cooker playing in those conditions. A decent amount of errors this season will be unavoidable, but the Nats have already started reaping the benefits of having low-error games or going completely error-less.
In the seven games they have lost this season the Nats have racked up nine errors, while their opponents only had two. In the eight Nationals victories, the team only field-farted twice, while their opponents tallied five errors. Again, this is a relatively small sample size, but it is a telling small sample size and it reinforces common, simplistic baseball wisdom: the less errors you have, the higher your rate of success. It is Baseball 101 at its finest.
The Nationals have been sleeping in class, though. They have been slow to learn these lessons in the past. Currently the Nationals are in a three-way tie for the seventh-most errors in the Majors right now with the Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals at 11. Getting out of the top 10 of this notorious statistical column would be huge for D.C. In terms of Nationals team stats, the "error leaders" are:
Immediately looking at those numbers, you can say there isn't a whole lot to worry about -- yet. Jerry Hairston Jr. is not a long term option for the team, and when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman returns from an abdominal strain, Hairston Jr.'s playing time will decrease. Espinosa's errors can be chalked up to rookie mistakes for now, as he is manning the two-bag full-time for the first time in the Majors. Desmond is a little more concerning. He has always been a bit of an error machine (34 E's in 2010) and it still is a little early to tell if he has improved or not. The fact he is already leading the team in the category isn't inspiring, except in some of the nicknames he is beginning to garner among the fans. A personal favorite is "Ian De6mond." The Nats need to work with their young shortstop and second baseman on cutting down those errors. That alone will cause a mass improvement.
The 2011 Washington Nationals season will be a tale of two errors: the errors they make on the field themselves and the errors they take advantage of when their opponents make them. We've seen the results already. So far the Nats are authoring a good story in the standings. Let's hope the last chapter is as good as the first.