BALTIMORE — The Washington Nationals have completed the first third of this season — one given a “World Series or bust” slogan by their manager this winter — and they are a .500 baseball team. After Thursday’s 2-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, the offense remains dormant, the pitching about as strong as expected, and the record a dead-even 27-27. An important series in Atlanta against the division-leading Braves looms this weekend and the pressure on the club is starting to build.
After signs of an offensive awakening the past four games, the Nationals were stifled by 36-year-old journeyman Freddy Garcia and his split-finger fastball for eight innings, getting shut out for the seventh time. Dan Haren provided a valiant effort over 71
3 innings against a treacherous lineup but was doomed by a handful of mistakes and no run support.
The Post Sports Live crew discusses what would happen to the Nationals’ lineup if Bryce Harper keeps suffering minor injuries.
The Post Sports Live crew debates which injured player’s return would be the biggest help to the Washington Nationals’ struggling offense.
The Nationals walked off the field here a .500 team with June a day away, an unexpected reality. Nationals Manager Davey Johnson was perhaps the tersest he has been following a game all season, speaking with reporters for 90 seconds, with the loss clearly wearing on him.
“We need to get some guys back that are hurt and some of the young guys are struggling,” Johnson said, without elaborating, when asked if the team needed changes. “We’ll probably make some changes. But that’s for another day.”
The Nationals have dug themselves a hole. If they hope to reach 90 wins, the victory threshold that historically makes a playoff spot in the wild-card format close to a sure bet, they will have to go 63-45 the rest of the way — a .583 winning percentage. One prolonged hot stretch could get them to that mark, but the only thing this team has been able to prolong thus far is its own inconsistency.
“I wish we could go 7-3 every 10 games,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out so far. We just gotta keep grinding and keep working and keep getting better and hopefully in September we’re going to be where we want to be.”
Their record has sat at .500 seven times, a mark they hit only once during their magical 98-win season of 2012. The offense continues to be the biggest weakness, but flaws also appeared in the bullpen and defense early on as well. Injuries, too, have sent five key players to the disabled list and held their best player, Bryce Harper, out since Sunday. Their fortunes can change — but now frustration occupies that space.
“It’s no more complacency,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “It’s time to turn it on. Sometimes a little adversity like this can break teams apart. We’re going to stick together. As a team we’re going to figure it out.”
On Thursday, the conditions were similar to the previous game’s offensive shootout. The Haren-Garcia matchup had the makings of a hitters’ delight. Haren entered with a 5.63 ERA and Garcia, in his sixth start with the Orioles, with a 4.61 ERA. Both pitchers had the propensity to allow home runs. Instead, baseball again proved it could not be predicted.