(Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports)

The Washington Nationals can’t seem to beat the Atlanta Braves, losing again to their rival, 3-0, on Thursday night.

I’m not so sure that’s it. Instead, I would look at why the Nats can’t put any runs on the board. In the seven games against Atlanta this season, starting with Thursday night’s loss and working backward, the Nats have scored 0, 2, 3, 6, 2, 2 and 1 run. The one game where they put six runs on the board ended up as a 7-6 loss in the 10th inning.

Of the 11 at-bats against Atlanta with runners in scoring position that ended in grounders, five were hit to the shortstop by five Washington batters: Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman. But Washington has had a challenge putting the ball in play against the Braves in these situations all season long.

Among the Nats’ eight position players, only Danny Espinosa has had any success putting the ball in play against Atlanta with runners in scoring position (5 for 16). As a whole, they are 32 for 215 with just 12 extra-base hits — all home runs. Small-sample-size caveats apply, but if you can’t move runners over you won’t be able to score many runs.

There does seem to be a subtle change in the way Atlanta pitches the Nationals with runners in scoring position, focusing more on the bottom third of the strike zone (zones seven, eight and nine) than they do the upper third (zones one, two and three) .

There are also a higher percentage of pitches that would be low and inside to right-handed batters (zones four, seven, eight and 13).

Cather's POV (Source: Baseball Savant)
Catcher’s POV (Source: Baseball Savant)

When there are no runners in scoring position, 32.2 percent of Atlanta’s pitches have been in these zones, but when runners are in scoring position that bumps up to 38.9 percent. The result? More swinging strikes.

Over 16 percent of pitches in those zones with runners in scoring position end up being swinging strikes as opposed to 8.9 percent without runners in scoring position. And Nats’ hitters have put the ball in play just once against Atlanta in 121 tries with zero outs. Without: 17 times out of 203 pitches.

Forget how Atlanta is playing the Nats defensively. Instead, the team should lay off the pitches down and in.

Data provided by Daren Willman of Baseball Savant