Nationals overwhelmed by underwhelming starters

Alex Brandon/AP

Alex Brandon/AP

Their last three games should have provided the Nationals an ideal chance for the offensive breakout they have waited all season for. They were at home, facing underwhelming starters, all of them right-handed. Instead, the three matchups only illustrated the depth of the Nationals’ ongoing ineptitude at the plate.

In their past three games, the Nationals faced Jeremy Hefner, Dillon Gee and Kevin Gorreia. They are established major leaguers, but only Correia could be considered even league average. In 20 2/3 innings against the trio, the Nationals struck out 21 times and scored only five runs. Given a chance to bust loose, they turned marginal starters into aces, a trend that has been present all year.

“Those are the guys you want to do damage against, those four or five starters,” center fielder Denard Span said. “Those top of the line, one-two guys, you’re not supposed to do too much. You hope to squeak out a win. The 4-5 guys, those are guys you really want to get your average up against and score as many runs as you can. We haven’t been doing that.”

Hefner came into his start against the Nationals with a 4.74 ERA, and after he allowed one run in seven innings it had dropped to 4.36. He was striking out 6.6 batters per nine innings, then whiffed seven Nationals in seven innings.

Gee had similar success after a similarly subpar performance against the rest of the league. He came into his start Wednesday at Nationals Park with a 5.68 ERA, striking out 7.7 batters per nine innings. After he struck out seven and allowed one run in seven innings, his ERA had dropped to 5.20.

Correia came with more respectable numbers, including a 100 ERA+ — league average. But he had not allowed less than three runs in a starter since April, and he had not struck out more than five hitters in one game all season. He had struck out 3.7 batters per nine, one of the lowest in the majors. And then he whiffed seven Nationals as he allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings.

The Nationals won Tuesday, and they nearly won today before they lost, 4-3, in 11 innings. But they will not even stay in many games if they continue hitting as they are. They have five walks in  their last seven games. Their team slash line is .230/.286/.372, which is simply dreadful: Collectively, they’re hitting like Brian Dozier, reaching base like Greg Dobbs and slugging like Angel Pagan.

They had a chance to improve against the kind of pitchers most every team can beat, and they turned it into a missed opportunity.

“Yeah, absolutely,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “That makes it even harder. You get a guy that you can get to, and we don’t. We’re letting them go seven innings. You can’t win games doing that. We got to find a way.”

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