Through the first three and half weeks of the season, the Nationals sit at 12-11. Their season has been filled with starts and stops, wins more often than not followed by losses. Two days ago, Manager Matt Williams said the Nationals just haven’t found their groove.
After Thursday’s 4-3, 12-inning loss to the Padres, which was an exercise in hitting futility with runners on base, that still held true. It is still early, but the Nationals need to find a middle ground of consistency. Too often, they have wavered nightly from good to bad.
“I don’t think we’ve played well yet,” Williams said before Wednesday’s game. “That’s what I see. There’s been spots of good. There’s been spots of great. We’ve seen big comebacks and things like that. But over the course of a number of games, I don’t think we’ve put it together. Yet. I do believe we will, but as of now, that just hasn’t happened quite yet.”
>>> The Nationals opened the season with three wins, then lost two, then won four and then got swept by the Braves in Atlanta. Since then, the Nationals have not won or lost more than two straight. They have a negative-2 run differential. Eight National League teams have a better run differential, including the Braves (+26) and the Miami Marlins (+10).
>>> Against teams that won their division last season — the St. Louis Cardinals and Braves — the Nationals are 3-7. Against teams that finished under .500 last season — the New York Mets, Los Angeles Angels, Marlins and Padres — the Nationals are 9-4. Of the Nationals’ 12 wins, eight were against the Mets and Marlins. Facing good teams, the Nationals have played poorly. Against bad teams, they have played better. Against middle-of-the-pack teams, they have been the same.
>>> The Nationals’ offense has improved over last season. They have scored 98 runs, tied for the ninth most in baseball. They are averaging 4.26 runs per game while the league average so far is 4.2 runs per game. At this point last season, the offense was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses and struggled to even get runners on base.
But somehow, the Nationals have struggled to drive in runners when they are in scoring position. They have created a lot of opportunities — they are seventh in the majors with 564 total base runners — but cannot consistently get them home. They are hitting .206 with runners in scoring position, better than only the Padres (.190) and the Houston Astros (.160).
>>> Starting pitching failed the Nationals through the first two weeks of the season and has improved since. But even over the past week of improvement, the bullpen has carried the pitching staff. Nationals starters have a 4.40 ERA, 24th in the majors, while the bullpen has a 2.03 ERA, the second-best mark in baseball.
On Thursday, Jordan Zimmermann’s stuff was strong and his pitch count low, and he looked capable of pitching deep into the game. But after two mistakes in the sixth inning that led to two runs, the Nationals needed offense and pinch hit for him in the bottom of the frame. The bullpen was forced again to carry the load.
“I had really good stuff and everything was working,.” Zimmermann said. “It’s just unacceptable going six innings with the stuff I had. Just frustrating. You throw 90-some pitches and two of them aren’t where you wanted them to be.”
Nationals relievers have thrown 79 2/3 innings — only the Dodgers and Diamondbacks bullpens have logged more innings. Nationals starters have thrown only 129 innings — the 10th lowest total in baseball.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 5, Louisville 2: Taylor Hill allowed one run on six hits over seven innings and struck out six. Xavier Cedeno fired a scoreless inning, striking out two, and Ryan Mattheus allowed one unearned run. Jhonatan Solano went 4 for 4 with a two run home run and scored three runs. Eury Perez, Brandon Laird and Jose Lozada each had two hits.
Altoona 6, Harrisburg 1: Matt Purke allowed four runs on three hits and four walks over four innings. Caleb Ramsey went 1 for 2 with two walks. Michael Taylor also drew two walks.
Potomac 8, Winston-Salem 2: Nick Lee allowed one run and struck out seven over four innings. Robert Benincasa blew the two-inning save but still got the win when Potomac scored six in the bottom of the sixth. Stephen Perez went 1 for 3 with two RBI. Adrian Sanchez finished 3 for 4. Mike McQuillan, Randolph Oduber and Khayyan Norfork each had a triple.
Hagerstown 7, West Virginia 5: Dixon Anderson allowed five runs on 10 hits over five innings but still earned the win. John Simms fired four scoreless relief innings. Drew Ward went 2 for 5 with three RBI. Isaac Ballou and Rafael Bautista added two hits each.