The Nationals’ offense overall has been an albatross — if not for the Marlins, they would rank last in the National League in runs per game (3.66), on-base percentage (.299) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.682). Almost every regular player in the lineup has stepped back from last year or produced below his career norm. Steady contributors like Zimmerman (who has his lowest OPS since 2008) and Ian Desmond (whose OPS is down from .845 to .791) may not be disappointments, but their collective regression has chipped away at high expectations.
The Nationals fundamentally changed their offense, moving away from a reliance on thunder in the middle of the lineup when they swapped out Michael Morse for a prototypical leadoff hitter in Span. “The loss of Morse is greater than they will admit,” one NL scout said.
But the greatest lack of production has come from their left-handed hitters. Manager Davey Johnson has frequently pointed to his lefty regulars as primary culprits in the flagging offense. Adam LaRoche and Span, Rizzo’s key offseason re-signing and biggest trade acquisition, have been replacement-level hitters.
Span has been dropped to seventh in the lineup in the middle of his worst offensive season, hitting .258 with a .314 on-base percentage and a .348 slugging percentage. Johnson pushed the Nationals hard to re-sign LaRoche in order to provide more left-handed balance. In the first year of his two-year, $25 million deal, LaRoche is hitting .240/.324/.418.
Bryce Harper could have alleviated the Nationals’ left-handed hitting woes, but since leaping into the outfield wall in Atlanta in late April, his production has flagged. He valiantly played through injury before he landed on the disabled list and has not recaptured his otherworldly start to the season. In 40 games since the crash into the wall, Harper has hit .219/.333/.380.
Collectively, Nationals left-handed batters have been abominable against left-handed pitchers, hitting .168/.235/.231 in 321 plate appearances. As a team, the Nationals have hit .211 against lefties, by far the worst in the majors.
The other offensive scourge has been the Nationals’ bench, which last year was one of the greatest strengths. Like last year, a rash of early injuries led to the Nationals leaning on their reserve players. Unlike last year, they have scuffled.
The Nationals’ seven most frequently used reserves — Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore, Chad Tracy, Jeff Kobernus, Chris Marrero and Scott Hairston — have taken 17.9 percent of the team’s non-pitcher plate appearances. In those 627 plate appearances, they have hit .196 with 36 extra-base hits, 30 walks and 141 strikeouts.
Aside from the trade for Hairston, who effectively replaced Moore, the Nationals’ bench has remained static all season. Rizzo has been steadfast in his belief the group will rise to its prior level, although he intimated Sunday he may try to upgrade. Either way, last year’s excellence from the bench can hardly be counted on.