Nationals in good position despite uneven play

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Odd as it sounds, this counts as good news for the Nationals: The Nationals have scored 33 runs in May, dead last in all of baseball, with a team slash line of .224/.277/.350. Their position players, per FanGraphs.com, have accounted for -0.2 WAR this month – their pitching staff, with a collective 3.30 ERA and 4.8 WAR, has essentially been dragging a pretty good Class AAA team behind it for the past two weeks.

One spot above them in the May scoring department, having managed 34 runs, are the Braves. And there is the good news – all of the Nationals’ plodding along, all their weathering of injuries, has not hurt them an ounce in the standings. The Nationals came into May two games behind Atlanta. They’ve gone 5-7 since, and now they are 1 ½ games behind the Braves, whose torrid start feels like it happened years ago.

The Nationals have played this month without a third of their starting lineup – the middle third – for all but the two games Adam LaRoche and Wilson Ramos overlapped. When they start welcoming back hitters to the heart of their order, which should start with LaRoche in 10 days, they figure to improve.

The Braves, besieged by pitching injuries in spring, have avoided any long-term injuries to their lineup. They just aren’t scoring, and the cavalry isn’t coming – it’s already there. The Braves could point to their .284 batting average on balls in play as a counterpoint – they don’t need reinforcements, just fairer luck.

(The counterpoint to that: The Braves have a .273 BABIP in May, while the Nationals’ is .264, which partly explains their dreadful offensive showing this month.)

It would be a mistake to assume the Braves’ offense, led by the MVP-caliber Freddie Freeman, will languish all season. The Nationals need to make a push at some point, and in the last portion of May, the schedule offers them an opportunity.

Of their next 19 games, 15 will come at home. Their next six opponents – the Mets, Reds, Pirates, Marlins, Rangers and Phillies – are all hovering around .500 or a little worse. The wheat will start to separate from the chaff, and we’ll start find out more about the Nationals.

What they look like now: a good team that survived a half month of brutal offensive performance and came out in better position than they could have expected. For a team playing hurt and not all that well recently, they’re in good shape.

FROM THE POST

Ballplayers have mastered the art of wasting time, James Wagner writes

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Hagerstown brings heat

Nats through 40 games

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Toledo 3, Syracuse 2: The Chiefs lost on Daniel Stange’s walk-off balk. Taylor Jordan allowed no runs in six innings on five hits and a walk, striking out three. In two starts in Syracuse, Jordan has allowed one run in 11 innings. Ryan Mattheus allowed a hit and struck out one in a scoreless inning. Steven Souza went 2 for 3 with a walk.

Harrisburg was off.

Potomac was postponed

Hagerstown was postponed.

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