Despite having a 37-year-old left fielder, a second baseman with a troubled history in the field and, at times, a host of players learning new positions on the fly, the Nationals have not just been better than expected on defense this season, they have ranked among the top clubs in the majors.
They are third in fielding percentage, sixth in efficiency rating and 10th in double plays. The Nats have committed the third-fewest errors this season and generally a team not known for beating themselves.
Lately, that has not been the case. In Tuesday night's 8-1 loss to the Orioles, the Nats saw Daniel Murphy - the second baseman referenced above - boot a groundball in the third inning that led to two runs.
That blunder wasn't the reason the Nats lost the game. It was, though, a continuation of a trend for the Nationals that has emerged during their road trip.
In their loss on Monday night, Bryce Harper bobbled a ball in right field that helped lead to a run. In Sunday's loss, the Nats committed five errors, their most in a game since July 15, 2011. In their win on Saturday, Wilmer Difo had an error that led to a run. And on Friday, the Nats had two errors lead to a pair of runs in the eighth inning alone.
That's a lot of mistakes in a span of just six games, but manager Dusty Baker isn't ready to worry quite yet.
"It's a matter of timing," Baker said. "You get timing in hitting, timing in defense. Things go in streaks. You score a lot of runs in streaks and don't make errors for a long period of time. Then you make quite a few errors in a short period of time."
Murphy was more succinct in his assessment of the Nats' recent defensive woes.
“I’d say we’re not catching it, probably the easiest way to describe it," he said.
Murphy did, however, explain his own mistake on Tuesday night and how he believes it affected young starter Reynaldo Lopez, who made it only 2 2/3 innings, in part due to two unearned runs on the error.
"If I make that play right there, he gets a chance to go another inning, maybe settle into the ballgame. Unfortunately, I didn’t give him that chance tonight," Murphy said. "A six-run lead compared to a four-run lead is completely different, especially in this ballpark. Unfortunate he didn’t get a chance to go back out there and find his rhythm."
The Nats defensive skid has coincided with a tough time for their pitching staff. Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are on the disabled list, leaving rookies to fill the void. And their bullpen has been beaten up by injuries, rain delays and a heavy workload.
The last thing the Nats need right now is for their play in the field to exacerbate the problems in their pitching staff. Baker, again, is not concerned.
"Hopefully this is the end of it and we've gotten it out of our system," he said.
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