The idea that the Nationals can’t hit with runners in scoring position has become the go-to explanation for what ails their offense. The visceral disappointment of seeing base runners skulk off the field makes you think the problem is wasted chances. Actually, it’s generating chances.
Consider: The Nationals have scored 14 percent of their base runners – dead-on league average. As of Sunday morning, they had produced 2,343 base runners – the fewest in the National League.
Also consider: The Nationals are hitting .242 with the bases empty this year. With runners in scoring position, the Nationals are hitting – you guessed it – .242.
If the Nationals are going to resurrect their offense and make anything of their season, they need to start by putting more runners on base. That’s what made this weekend promising for them.
The Nationals scored 23 runs on 36 hits and nine walks – 45 base runners in three games. They stranded 24 runners, which if anything is a sign of progress. The Nationals’ offense isn’t going to improve because they all of a sudden discover a mystical clutchness. It’s going to improve if they have better at-bats and reach base more often.
“It’s just a matter of time before we start scoring some runs,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “The biggest part of scoring runs is getting people on base to drive in runs, whether I’m hitting second or whatever. It doesn’t really matter who hits where. We just need to get on base.”
By itself, three strong showings against the lifeless Phillies and their anemic bullpen does not mean the Nationals’ offense is fixed. But it could be a start. Johnson has pleaded with the Nationals to be more aggressive all season, and lately they have been.
“I sense that overall as a team we’re a little more aggressive, from top to bottom,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “That’s always been the key here. The guy that’s the most aggressive, any time during the count now and who prides himself on taking a lot of pitches, is Jayson Werth. He’s hit first pitches and smoked them. He’s been kind of a shining example of how we need to hit. He’s been very impressive.”
Hitting Wilson Ramos higher in the lineup seems to have helped sparked the Nationals. He’s batting .294 with seven walks and 19 strikeouts in 143 at-bats. Feeling comfortable back at the top of the order, Denard Span did more damage this weekend than he has in a while, knocking two hits two straight days.
“Really, the approach and the atmosphere in the dugout and in the clubhouse has been different,” Werth said. “It’s been better. Hopefully we can build on that. We’re in striking distance. We got a long, hard road ahead of us. We control our own destiny. We’ve got a lot of games in the division. We play a lot of teams we know. We still control our destiny and the season.”
In reality, the Nationals have put themselves in a position where they are at the whim of their competition. They are too far behind the Braves — 14 ½ games — to even concern themselves with the NL East for now. They are still eight games behind the Reds in the race for the second wild card, which gives them awfully long, but not impossible, odds. There’s at least enough time remaining for the Nationals to make September interesting. If they do, it will start not with clutch hits, but with base runners.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Pawtucket 7, Syracuse 1: Ryan Tatusko allowed seven runs, five earned, on seven hits over five innings. Tyler Robertson fired three scoreless innings and Michael Crotta pitched a perfect ninth. Danny Espinosa went 2 for 5. Jeff Kobernus finished 3 for 5, and Josh Johnson smacked three hits.
Harrisburg 5, Altoona 3: A.J. Cole allowed three runs on four hits, walking three and striking out four over six innings. His ERA with the Senators sits at 1.73. Richie Mirowski pitched a scoreless inning and has a 1.17 ERA. Tyler Herron added a hold and Aaron Barrett notched his 23rd save. Jason Martinson hit his third homer. Rick Hague went 2 for 4 with three RBI.
Carolina 5, Potomac 2: Sammy Solis gave up two runs over five innings, walking one and striking out four. Colin Bates and Rafael Martin each tossed two scoreless innings of relief. Robert Benincasa coughed up the deciding three runs. Justin Miller went 1 for 3 with an RBI. Caleb Ramsey finished 2 for 3.
Hagerstown 8, Lexington 2: Brett Mooneyham tossed six scoreless innings, walked one and struck out eight, and has a 2.09 ERA. Christian Meza and Cody Davis each added scoreless innings. Will Piwnica-Worms hit a two-run homer. Khayyan Norfork went 2 for 3 with three RBI. Estarlin Martinez added two hits.
Connecticut 10, Auburn 6: Jake Johansen allowed one run in five innings on three hits and a walk, striking out eight. Isaac Ballou went 2 for 4 with a double. Bryan Lippincott went 2 for 5 with a double and a home run.