Let’s dispense with the pretense and cut to the chase. The Braves that roared out to a great start fueled by ‘tact and grit in early April already seem to be miles away. Dropping two of three to the Phillies is exceedingly depressing, and if not for the fact that we headed into the season expecting to be absolutely dreadful, those feelings would be compounded by the team’s play of late. Things don’t seem to be getting better, and darker days await on the horizon, as the pitching staff has outperformed their FIP by over half a run and the offense is entirely dependent upon BABIP and RISP luck. The Nationals, on the other hand, were and are expected to run away with the division behind a fairly formidable lineup and a starting rotation that could reasonably claim five aces.
If there is good news, it is that the Nationals have arguably been worse than the Braves so far in 2015, not only in terms of record, but also in the underlying statistics. 19 games in, the Nats have amassed 18 errors and a stunning -14 DRS, with a fair amount of those miscues coming at costly times in games. All-Star caliber shortstop Ian Desmond is responsible for eight of those errors, and with a 3.7% walk rate and .132 ISO, he’s not making up for his shortcomings in the field with the bat.
The state of the Washington defense has been written about in multiple places, but it’s actively undermining what is a truly incredible pitching staff. Strasburg, Scherzer, Gio, Fister, and Zimmermann is as formidable a starting five as you’ll find, even considering the early ’10’s Phils with Halladay, Hamels, Lee, and Oswalt. The starting five have combined to put up a 3.14 FIP, led by the former Tiger Max Scherzer who has pitched to a wafer-thin 1.55 FIP in his four starts. The pitching staff’s depth continues beyond the starting five, as they carry four relievers that sport FIP’s south of 3 in Aaron Barrett, Blake Treinen, Matt Thornton, and closer Drew Storen.
Offensively, Yunel Escobar and former top ‘spect Michael Taylor have been pleasant surprises, but outside of those two and legendary hair-flipper Bryce Harper, the Nats have seriously underperformed, either driven by BABIP luck (Ryan Zimmerman, Denard Span) or a sudden lack of plate discipline early on (Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond). Given regression to career norms, this should be a lineup that doesn’t feature too many easy outs, and when Anthony Rendon returns, will no longer regularly feature perennial NL East black hole and old friend Dan Uggla, as well. All told, the pitching match-ups aren’t particularly favorable, the Braves struggle to hit, period, and the Nationals are due some offensive and defensive regression, leading the robots to give the Braves faint hopes of pulling out a series win. As such–and because it’s 6 AM as I write this and I’ve been drinking moderately for a few hours (which made the writing this much easier)–we move along to your series infographic, in which we highlight just how screwed we are.