A month ago, the Nationals’ offense was struggling. Manager Davey Johnson spoke out in defense of hitting coach Rick Eckstein. Ryan Zimmerman was just slowly starting to show signs of shedding the worst slump of his career thanks to a cortisone shot for his hurting shoulder. Cleanup hitter Michael Morse was performing well under his ability. A 4-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies on June 25 against a starter with an 8.00-plus ERA may have been the offense’s lowest point of the season.
Given the run-scoring explosions since, those meager offensive days seem so long ago. Slowly, they’ve climbed out of the depths with a more consistent Morse and an incredibly hot-hitting Zimmerman. Danny Espinosa and Roger Bernadina have recently found a groove. In June, they scored five runs or more in 12 games. They’ve already matched that total in July — with seven more games left. They’ve posted their largest run differential of the season in July, outscoring opponents 99 to 71 so far. Consider the following comparisons to see how far they’ve come.
The Nationals’ offense following that woeful day in Colorado:
■They weren’t scoring enough: Ranked 27th of 30 teams with 3.73 runs per game — well below the then-major league average of 4.3 runs per game.
■They struck out too much: Ranked fourth in the majors in most punchouts with 590. And, Nationals hitters had the second-highest strikeout percentage per plate appearance at 22 percent, behind the Pittsburgh Pirates at 22.7 percent. (The major league average was 19.6 percent).
■They weren’t getting on base enough: Ranked 26th in on-base percentage (.304; the average was .319). They weren’t working counts as much to draw walks or get into a better hitting counts, ranking 21st in pitches seen per plate appearance (3.77; the average then was 3.82).
Here’s how the offense stands now:
■They’re scoring more: Rank 15th with 4.28 runs scores per game — just below the current major league average of 4.33 runs per game.
■They’re striking out less: Have the sixth most strikeouts in the majors with 778. It’s not a huge jump but, with time, it has evened out some. Nationals hitters have the 25th highest strikeout percentage at 21.4 percent.
■They’re getting on base more: Rank 17th in on-base percentage at .318. In terms of pitches seen per plate appearance, the Nationals are almost exactly the same as they were before (an average of 3.76 pitches). But they’re clearly being more selective with what pitches they’re swinging at and putting them in the right spots for hits, or getting a little luckier.
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