Nationals’ offense is struggling of late

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The Nationals begin a two-games series against the Astros on Tuesday with a stiff test in left-handed starter Dallas Keuchel, who is 8-3 with a 2.38 ERA and is one the pleasant surprises of Houston’s season. The Nationals have thrived against left-handed pitching this season, and Keuchel, despite his strong start, is the type of pitcher the Nationals could use after the offense came to a halt in St. Louis. 

Despite being swept by the Cardinals, the Nationals are in the midst of one of their best stretches. They have won 10 of their past 16 games. The Nationals’ offense picked up in earnest beginning with the series in Washington against the Texas Rangers. They are averaging 4.6 runs per game over those 16 games, many of the runs piled up in lopsided wins over the Rangers, Padres and Giants.

The last four games of the 10-game road trip, however, were troublesome. The Nationals haven’t hit right-handers well this season, and they faced three — Tim Hudson, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller — over the past four games and did almost nothing. And when then they faced a left-hander in Jaime Garcia on Sunday, the Nationals did the same.

“It’s the ebbs and flows of the game,” Manager Matt Williams said after Sunday’s loss. “It’s that time of year where heavy legs start to set in a little bit. The offday will come at a good time for us. It’s the way it goes sometimes. The offense on the first two stops was pretty good and this stop wasn’t so good. We’ll regroup and get ready to go.”

To breakdown why that’s the case, here’s a look at how Nationals hitters have fared during the past 16-game span, understanding that the endpoints are arbitrary and small:

– Denard Span: .266/.304/.406, 17 for 64 and four walks in 15 games

– Anthony Rendon: .327/.386/.558, 17 for 52 and four home runs in 13 games

– Jayson Werth: .305/.349/.441, 18 for 59 with one home run and 13 RBI in 15 games

– Adam LaRoche: .255/.415/.451, 13 for 51 with two home runs, 10 RBI and 14 walks in 16 games

– Ryan Zimmerman: .180/.255/.260, 9 for 50 with five RBI and five walks in 13 games

– Ian Desmond: .228/.279/.509, 13 for 57 with four home runs, 13 RBI and 19 strikeouts in 15 games

– Danny Espinosa: .269/.345/.346, 14 for 52 with five RBI and 22 strikeouts in 15 games

– Jose Lobaton: .333/.440/.476, 7 for 21 with one home run and four walks in eight games

Rendon, Espinosa, Desmond and Span haven’t done much in the most recent games. Since hurting his hand on a groundball in San Diego and taking three games off, Rendon is 5 for 23. Desmond has provided a lot of power this season, but bunched up mostly early during the past 16 games. Span is in the midst of a 0 for 19 skid. Espinosa’s two hits on Sunday snapped an 0 for 12 mini-slump.

LaRoche hasn’t had many hits fall recently but is getting on base a lot. Lobaton hits better with more playing time, and he has had more of it since Wilson Ramos hurt his hamstring. Zimmerman had two hits in his return on June 3 from a broken thumb but has don’t much since, but that’s not unexpected since he has come back only recently.

With the Atlanta Braves on deck after the Astros, the Nationals likely need to get the offense back on track, and it begins with many of the names above.

FROM THE POST

Why have the Nationals played better over the past month? The starting rotation’s improvement and historic run.

FROM THE WEEKEND’S JOURNAL

Tony Gwynn was a ‘father figure’ for Stephen Strasburg

Assessing the Nationals after a long road trip

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Norfolk 5, Syracuse 4: James Simmons allowed five runs on six hits over six innings. Matt Grace, recently promoted from Class AA Harrisburg, fired a scoreless inning. Rafael Martin, also promoted, too, had a scoreless inning. Zach Walters hit his eighth home run. Tyler Moore, Jose Lozada and Will Rhymes each had two hits.

Harrisburg was off.

Potomac was off for the all-star break.

Hagerstown was off.

Batavia 4, Auburn 3: Anderson Martinez allowed three runs on four hits over 4 1/3 innings. Deion Williams pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings. Cory Bafidis lost the game in the bottom of the eighth. Raudy Reed went 2 for 4. Brenton Allen drew two walks.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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