The Nationals are having a hard time against left-handed pitching

(Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

(Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

The Nationals are 11-9 this season against left-handed starting pitchers, which is 11th in the majors and better than the Cardinals, who are leading the universe in just about every other category. They can take heart in that the next two days, when they’ll face Arizona lefties Wade Miley and Patrick Corbin.

By statistical measures, the Nationals’ relative success against lefty starters seems baffling. They have collectively hit worse against left-handed pitching than any team in the majors. They’re last in average (.214), on-base percentage (.279) and slugging percentage (.332).

In two of the past three games the Nationals faced a lefty starter, Manager Davey Johnson actually sat stalwarts Denard Span and Adam LaRoche. The Nationals’ left-handed hitters have collectively batted .174/.246/.275 against left-handed pitchers. Here’s a breakdown, in order of plate appearances:

Denard Span: .137/.222/.151

Adam LaRoche: .212/.264/.394

Bryce Harper: .174/.269/.348

Roger Bernadia: .125/.176/.125

Chad Tracy: .333/.333/.333

For the Nationals, and for Span and LaRoche especially, the struggle against lefties seems to be an aberration. Overall, the Nationals’ left-handed batters have a .209 BABIP against left-handed pitchers, which is surprisingly low and seems bound to improve.

Span has 11 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances and has a .161 BABIP, which is crazy for a player as fast as he is. In his career, including this year, Span has hit .279/.361/.375 against lefties – he’s reached base at a better clip against left-handed pitchers than right-handers.  LaRoche is better against right-handers, but he’s hit a playable .248/.303/.441 against left-handers in his career.

“This has been kind of a strange year,” Johnson said. “Rochie and Span, their whole careers have hit left-handers pretty good. This year, they’ve had some problems against them. When you go through that, you give some other guys a chance to help the club and also establish that they belong up here. Certainly, we’ve got the talent to get on more normal footing.”

As an aside, LaRoche, a classic streak hitter, overall seems to be heating up. He’s 11 for his last 22 with two walks, three strikeouts and last night’s three-run homer.

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