Nationals offense continues to struggle in the NLDS

Alex Brandon/AP

Lost in Thursday’s excitement was another lackluster offensive performance by the Nationals‘ offense in the National League Division Series. Over four games, they have stranded 30 runners and gone 3 for 24 with runners in scoring position. And amazingly they still won 2-1 on Thursday with only two home runs and without putting any runners in scoring position.

The Nationals gave away many at-bats to Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse. He had four one-pitch at-bats over seven innings. He threw only 87 pitches, an astounding 25 over the final three innings. In the series, the Nationals have been outscored 23-9.

“Kind of reminded me of the first half, we had good pitching, but our offense was sputtering,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said. “We were missing [Jayson] Werth and missing [Michael] Morse and a lot of the young guys were playing, and we would scratch out a win some way.”

If it weren’t for Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman, and the home runs of Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, the Nationals would have already lost this series. The only hits with runners in scoring position were produced by rookie Tyler Moore in Game 1 and Zimmerman in Game 2. The Nationals, after leading the National League in home runs in the second half, have one player with multiple homers: LaRoche. Zimmerman and Desmond are a combined 13 for 31.

Johnson, however, attributed the Nationals struggles against the Cardinals to its pitching staff. The Nationals starting pitching, with the exception of Ross Detwiler, has been inconsistent.

“Our strength has always been our starting pitching, keeping us in ballgames and then getting key hits to win games,” Johnson said. “… That’s this time of year; when you have good pitching, you hold down good hitting.”

Bryce Harper finished the regular season on a tear but has been able to muster only one hit in the playoffs. He is working counts but is 1 for 18 with six strikeouts.

“When he doesn’t do something spectacular, it’s hard to believe, but he tries harder; and trying harder is not always better,” Johnson said. “And that’s part of learning how you handle situations. That’s part of experience … And he’s going to expand the zone.”

Michael Morse has looked anxious in big spots and has rolled over pitches he is capable of driving. He is 3 for 15 in the series, the most recent hits coming in Game 2 on Monday. Morse’s power was sapped for stretches of the season with injuries to his left wrist and hands.

“He’s fine,” Johnson said. “I mean, everybody goes through the training room. Lee Kuntz, our head trainer, says everybody’s fine I think the ownership and front office people are in worse shape than we are; one’s got a bad foot and the other’s got a bad hip and they are falling apart.”

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.

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James Wagner · October 12, 2012

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