With the second-worst record in the major leagues, the Washington Nationals have made their fair share of blunders through the first six weeks of the season.
But Monday’s loss to the Marlins — specifically a two-error sequence on one play — may have been a new low. A hard-hit ground ball to shortstop allowed three runs to score following two throwing errors that nearly ended with a Little League home run.
The Bad News Bears-esque play in the seventh inning didn’t just put another quarter in the Marlins’ merry-go-round en route to an 8-2 Nationals loss. It also catapulted Washington into first place — er, last place — in the majors with 29 errors through Monday’s action.
No team has committed more errors this spring than the Nationals, who entered Tuesday’s contest against the Marlins with a 12-25 record — only two games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds.
“I’ve seen signs where this team is good, and I really believe we’re gonna be good,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters after the loss, according to MASN. “So we want to refresh now. One, we’re facing some pretty good pitching, and two, we just can’t beat ourselves.”
The two-error play started when Jorge Soler ripped a 113.2 mph grounder with the bases loaded. The ground ball was right at Dee Strange-Gordon, but the Nationals’ backup shortstop didn’t square the ball up and saw it tip off his glove into left field. Strange-Gordon wasn’t charged with an error, but left fielder Lane Thomas was after his throw home was off the mark and couldn’t be corralled by catcher Keibert Ruiz.
Nationals reliever Victor Arano, who gave up four hits and two runs in one inning, then jogged to the ball and errantly fired it past second base when trying to get Soler advancing, allowing a third run to score on the play. Soler moved to third and would’ve had the chance to score, if not for Victor Robles diving to stop the rolling baseball in center field.
“He just rushed,” Martinez said of Arano’s throw, per MASN. “I mean, he’s dead out if he throws it right on the base. But he tried to rush, and the ball just sailed. Those things happen, especially when a pitcher doesn’t really work on those kinds of things. So he had more time than he thought he had. He didn’t gather himself and threw the ball away.”
Thirteen different Nationals players have committed an error through 37 games this season — a surprising weakness for a team that sports former Gold Glove winners Alcides Escobar at shortstop and Cesar Hernandez at second base.
Third baseman Maikel Franco has struggled the most defensively — excluding a few web gems going to his right — with a team-high six errors and a .939 fielding percentage. That’s far from shocking, considering Franco has been a below-average defender for his entire career. Most surprising has been Escobar’s difficulty with the glove. The former Royals shortstop, in his age-35 season, has made five errors with a .950 fielding percentage this spring.
However, errors are far from the only number that matters when assessing a team’s defense. For example, the lowly Reds boast the best fielding percentage in baseball at .991 despite having the worst record in the majors.
But the advanced metrics aren’t much better for Martinez’s club. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Nationals rank 27th in defensive runs saved with negative-10, according to FanGraphs.
Last week, Martinez characterized some of the team’s defensive miscues as “lazy mistakes.”
“Some of these errors that we’re making are just, brutally honest, kind of lazy mistakes,” Martinez said. “I think these guys are more capable of doing that. These are veteran guys. We’re not talking about rookie guys. These are guys that have done it.”