Ian Desmond remembers the last time the Nationals were playing .500 baseball this early in a season.
Through 20 games in 2011, the Nationals had fans buzzing as the team gave them a glimpse of the future.
“We were sitting at 10-10 and people were kind of excited,” Desmond said.
On Wednesday, the reigning NL East champs fell below .500 for the first time since finishing the 2011 season 80-81 and were booed after getting swept by St. Louis at home. A city still learning to become a baseball town wants its team to remain at the top. But early-season struggles indicate the Nationals have a lot of work to do to prove they’re still among the best in the National League.
Making matters worse is Atlanta’s hot start. The Nationals’ NL East foe began the season 12-1 and now sits at 15-6 — the best record in the majors. The Cardinals, winners of three in a row over Washington, are 13-8, with the Reds and Rockies off to hot starts as well.
Conversely, Washington has been unable to put together a complete game. When the bats are hot, pitching is a problem. When pitchers are performing well, the bats are stagnant. Starter Ross Detwiler had a solid outing against St. Louis on Tuesday in a 2-0 loss, yet Washington’s Nos. 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 batters went a combined 0-for-18.
Second baseman Danny Espinosa has had a frustrating start, heading into Thursday’s game hitting .155. Though he’s cut down on his strikeouts (he had an NL-high 198 last year), it hasn’t equated to hits.
“I don’t think there are too many happy faces in this locker room,” Espinosa said. “Things aren’t going our way right now.”
Manager Davey Johnson promised change on more than one occasion this week, tinkering with the lineup to try to provide a spark. The mood in Washington’s locker room has been quiet, signifying the need for the organization to reel off a few wins against a tough Cincinnati squad this weekend.
“Someone was talking about [former NBA coach] Phil Jackson the other day,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “We need to call him up and have him burn some sage or something. We’re not very feng shui right now.”
The Nationals still believe they’re among the National League’s best, even though they’ve posted a 1-8 record against the Braves, Reds and Cardinals prior to Thursday.
“We’re getting a chance to see where we are,” center fielder Denard Span said. “It’s going to help us later on in the season.”