Nationals Baseball: The Narratives of the Bad Team

Thursday, May 05, 2022

The Narratives of the Bad Team

When you are a good team the narratives are fairly simple. You want to win. You need everyone playing well. So the narratives take a decidedly negative tone.  Here's who is failing. Here's who to try to replace. 

When you are a bad team the tone of stories seem to flip.  There is so much negativity you seek out the positive.  What players are doing unexpectedly well? Are there baseball lifers getting a chance they might not have with a more talented roster? Are there any young guys who we can look to as the next wave and are they getting mentored?

It's all very trite but understandably so. Those ARE the stories. That is what people want to hear. You can't just write "They Stink" 162 times. 

But what happens when you have an undeniably bad story in a bad season? Does that come through at all? 


Alicides Escobar is terrible.  He's one of the worst hitters in baseball with little hope of getting even to slightly below average. His fielding is declining with his age and last night he helped cost the Nats a game. Meanwhile in AAA the Nats have a player of the future who's bat tells you he should be in the majors.  He is not. Obstensibly to learn how to field better to not hurt the team with his glove. Which is exactly what the guy who's holding that spot did last night. 

How is this covered? With kids gloves parroting the company line. Trying to be overly fair in a circumstance that does not call for it.  Garcia wasn't even mentioned in the story for last night's game. There is an obvious right move. To say otherwise is not being fair, but being biased toward the team.


Patrick Corbin has been terrible. Ever since Davey proved unable to handle a pen and Rizzo forced him into a box where he could only use two guys and his starters for everything in order to win a series Corbin has been extremely bad allowing the most runs of any starter in the majors. The turnaround for Corbin has to be complete and near immediate for the Nats not just to have a good starter that allows the pen to rest, but for the Nats to figure out what they are going to do over the next couple of years. Last night Corbin lost. After nearly breaking through, an aggressive Rockies team scored 5 runs in the 4th, 3 earned. They then just kept swinging early.  Corbin would face 14 more batters and 8 would put the ball in play on the first or second pitch. Only 5 would get to two-strike counts. He'd end up with 70 strikes on 94 pitches which is fantastic but 46 of them came from contact. He only struck out 3. The Rockies didn't challenge Corbin to throw strikes. (Unsurprising from a team 2nd to last in the NL in walks). They made this happen as much as he did. At best it was a mixed outing - one where Corbin threw it in there and the Rockies swung and things worked out. Most innings. Where he put up a mixed bag until the later innings when the Rockies were content to watch first pitch strikes go buy then swing because they were up against a hapless team.

How is this covered? With strange optimism that a game where Corbin couldn't miss bats (SIX SWINGING STRIKES!) was seen as a straight positive. A game that was lost in the 4th. 

This is a bad team and it's natural to cling to hope and see the sunny side because you'll have plenty of bad baseball to write about. But that doesn't mean turning negatives into positives. There are some things about the team that are simply bad and can't be turned around or at least demand long sets of proof before buying in. If it's not the beats doing it, and I've said before that's a tough job where you can't really be too negative bc you depend on the team for access, then the opinion guys have to get in there and do it. If the team loses 100 games I don't want the non-game stories in the places like the Post to break even positive and negative. That makes no sense. Cover the bad team as the bad team they are.


Anonymous said...

If holding Garcia in the minors is about service time, when can we expect to see him?

Cautiously Pessimistic said...

@Anon - Somebody else had done the math and I think end of May is what they had calculated. The COVID year makes the math tricky.

On the Garcia front, no writer who wants to stay in the good graces of the team will be willing to state plainly that it's service time manipulation. We all know it is, there's literally no other possible reason for keeping him down, so we should just accept that fact and wait a month or so until they gain that extra year

As for the other negatives, I'm more than happy to complain:

Corbin's season is horrendous seeing as I drafted him to my fantasy team expecting a bounceback...boy was I wrong. Sorry guys.

Cruz really just looks bad, it's not like he's getting unlucky with the ball, he's literally not putting the ball in the air. How bad is he? His wRC+ is literally worse than Escobar's...

Thomas is consistently making weak contact (though that may be lack of playing time)

Franco overall has been a surprise, but heneeds to sit back on pitches, he's super pull happy

Soto is pressing and needs to relax and recognize he's not going to get great pitches to hit this year with no protection. So just take the walks and look to murder mistakes

Anonymous said...

I didn’t get to watch the game but thought the narrative was a little odd looking at Corbin’s box. He’s been worse certainly, but it was odd to act like it was some sort of ace performance.

The thing with Escobar isn’t just that he is awful offensively (he is). That can sort of be hidden a little bit in a lineup of 9 batters on a team that isn’t trying to be good. But when he is making 4 errors in two days that lead to extra runs in an inning…. That kind of thing makes it extraordinarily difficult to justify his continued playing.

SM said...

Interesting point about the beats and their anxiety about losing access to the team.

But if the team evades questions, or minces words into pablum, or prevaricates, or refuses to answer at all, then what's the need--or point--of team access? Why serve as the team's public relations department?

The again, I've been in big league clubhouses and the most striking thing remains how often the beat writers were the first ones at the post-game buffet tables.

Chas R said...

Harper- what kind of stuff did you write about the Nats in the bad early days of 2005 - 2011?

The Ghost of Ole Cole Henry (JDBrew) said...

The positive spin is from the fact that Corbin put 7 innings worth of zeroes on the board. The fielding error Escobar erased a double play opportunity. What should have been inning over with no damage done turned into 1 out with the bases juiced, then 2 big hits turned out to be all the scoring the Rockies would do. Agreed, Corbin didn’t generate swinging strikes. But he did scatter hits over 7 innings of no run ball. And kept the ‘pen on their butts where most of this pen needs to be. Honesty, I viewed it as positive performance. Without terrible fielding and with an offense, that could’ve been a very different game.

Harper said...

Chas R - well 2005 was crazy and took care of itself. 2010 on you had Strasburg and tracking Bryce and Riggleman craziness and such. 2006-2009... usual roster stuff, any kids of interest, abut probably mostly complaints about Bowden and Acta who were a bad GM and a bad manager respectively.

Nattydread said...

Its a bad team, scratching out a difficult year. That part we agree.

* Didn't see Corbin's game. However, if he turns out to be even a marginal #4, we get some value out of his contract. Which is probably best case for PC (It was great to read about a complete game by a Nats starter.)

* We have to hold our noses and watch Escobar errors. This is not about winning. Its about building value. A Garcia that we hold for an extra year is worth much more so a few weeks won't matter. Especially during this wretched year.

* Ruiz, Gray and Robles are looking like legitimate long-term pieces. Not yet a core, but decent pieces.

* Bell, Franco and the Hernandez's look to have value. Bell is banging.

Anonymous said...

I'm with ND on this one.

I didn't see the game or really that much of the coverage, so maybe there was some crazy "Corbin is an ace again!" hype from the beats. But that's not the metric I'm using for Corbin's success or failure.

Missed bats or no, that game was a promising datapoint for Corbin being a useful back of the rotation arm, and not the worst starting pitcher in baseball.

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