Times like these, with the Nationals slogging to their fifth straight loss and their offense swinging toothpicks, perspective becomes healthy. The Nationals, at 14-9, are in first place and on pace to win 98 games. They were never going to make it through the season without a rough patch; no team does. They got the breaks in close games to begin the season, and now they are not. It happens.
But they will not keep that pace if they cannot pick up their offense, and they know it. “Obviously, something needs to change,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. The Nationals have scored seven runs during their five-game losing streak, and on the season they are averaging 3.26 runs per game, better than only the Pirates, Athletics and Padres. They lost every game once through the rotation despite a quality start from each pitcher.
“That’s just not going to cut it,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “You go through spells, but I have a lot of confidence in the talent. I keep looking for us to kind of break out. Tomorrow’s another day.”
The Nationals’ offensive woes go up and down the lineup. Only Jayson Werth (.808) and LaRoche (.921) have an OPS better than .700. Danny Espinosa, who has more at-bats than all but two Nationals, sits at .543. Johnson said, “I’d like to see us get a little more aggressive,” but each hitter may have to find his own way out of the slump. And they will have avoid trying too hard to be the hitter who changes things.
“That’s the mental part of this game, not going out and trying to hit a three-run homer with nobody on base,” LaRoche said. “I think a few of us are doing that. I think other guys just aren’t seeing it. I think it’s a combination of a lot of guys not rolling right now. You can only take so many swings, so much early BP before it transfers into the game.”
We can talk about approach or mental outlook, but the personnel matters most. The Nationals have played all year without Michael Morse, their projected cleanup and best slugger. They’ve played the past nine games without Ryan Zimmerman, their third hitter. Their absence not only robs the Nationals of their production, but it alters how pitchers can attack the remaining batters.
“It’s unfortunate those two guys are down at the same time,” LaRoche said. “It definitely changes the whole lineup. Pitches that guys are getting out on, they wouldn’t be seeing. It’s part of it. No excuse. It’ll be great to have them back. We just need to stay afloat.”
The Nationals have been disciplined in crucial situations, but their key hits have dried up. They’ve drawn 40 walks in 224 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, but they’re hitting just .222 and slugging .295.
“We’ve probably left more people on base than anybody in the league,” Johnson said. “We’re just not being aggressive, getting a good strike to hit, hit it hard somewhere. I’ve been looking for it to turn around for the last week and it just doesn’t seem to happen. It looks like we get something going, and they we hit into a double play. But the homestand I look for us to come out of it.”
When asked how the Nationals could improve their offense, Ian Desmond said, “probably hit a couple more homers.” The Nationals have lagged in power, hitting 13 homers, more than only the Pirates and Cubs.
“We just got to get going,” Desmond said. “Sooner or later, we’ve got to get going. I’m not sure if we’re pressing or what it is. We’re just not scoring runs right now. I don’t think anybody by any means has pushed the panic button. It’s definitely apparent we need to score more runs. If there was an answer for that, I think all of us would definitely take it.”
FROM THE POST
The Nationals suffered a listless, 5-1 loss to the Diamondbacks and Harper went hitless, but those at his debut will remember his breathtaking throw.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 8, Buffalo 0: Jason Michaels went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk. Carlos Rivero went 3 for 5 with a double. Zach Duke allowed no runs in seven innings on three hits and three walks, striking out five.
New Britain 6, Harrisburg 1 (12 innings): Jeff Kobernus went 2 for 5 with a double. Robert Gillaim allowed one run in seven innings on three hits and three walks, striking out nine.
Winston-Salem 15, Potomac 6: David Freitas went 3 for 5 with a double and a home run. He’s hitting .354. Rick Hague went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk.
Hagerstown was off.