The Washington Nationals entered the year with the unabashed expectation of being remembered. They would like to forget the completed portion of their schedule — especially their just-finished, often-calamitous 10-game road trip — but through early underachieving they have not panicked. Their series at the San Francisco Giants, the defending champions, gave shortstop Ian Desmond a realization.
“There’s nobody out there that can tell me what the Giants’ record was on May 22 of last year, what [Buster] Posey’s batting average was, what Matt Cain’s ERA was without looking it up on their computer,” Desmond said. “That stuff doesn’t matter. At the end of the year, when you’re fighting for that postseason, the World Series title, nobody remembers any of that stuff. You got to grind through it. At the end of the day, we’re all going to look back and nobody’s going to remember what happened on May 21 or 22.”
For now, though, all we have is what has happened through late May. Nearly two months into a campaign Manager Davey Johnson christened “World Series or Bust,” the Nationals have played below the expectations both they and the baseball world set.
The Nationals are 24-23 and have been outscored by 26 runs, which ranks 10th in the National League. They will return to Nationals Park on Friday night 41
2 games behind the Atlanta Braves and one game ahead of the third-place Philadelphia Phillies, whom the Nationals will face for the first time this year.
“There’s a lot of guys that have higher upsides that they haven’t got to,” Johnson said. “But they will. The future is very bright for this organization and this team. Did I think some guys would be struggling at this time? Yeah, I did. Did I think they’d be struggling this bad? No, I didn’t. But it’s a long season. There’s still a chance to make a few course changes.”
The Nationals can find solace in the course changes they experienced last year. In 2012, during their 98-win magic carpet ride, the Nationals went 27-26 from April 26 through June 25 — nearly a third of the season steeped in mediocrity. That stretch just happened to follow a 14-4 start, and they stood in first place for all but seven days.
“Everybody in the baseball world knows that we’re a good team,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “We’re still the same team now. We’ve battled through injuries and some adversity and some inconsistency, but it’s the same group of guys that we’re very proud of. I see us as a team that’s going to right the ship.”
‘Not making adjustments’
Even at their lowest point, though, the 2012 Nationals never struggled to score runs like the current version. The Nationals have a series of small issues, but hovering over all of them is offensive ineptitude. Not even Bryce Harper, one of the top offensive forces in the league at age 20 with 12 homers and a .994 on-base plus slugging percentage, has pulled them from a team-wide morass. The Nationals have a .225 batting average (29th in the majors), a .289 on-base percentage (29th) and a .365 slugging percentage (28th).