The Washington Post

The Nationals’ struggles in close and low-scoring games


The Nationals left Atlanta on Sunday evening dejected after losing another game to their division rival. And while they dropped two of the three games, each loss was by only one run. The lone win, too, was only one run. In fact, eight of the 16 meetings between the two teams have been decided by one run, the Braves going 7-1 in those games.

Overall, the Nationals have played 38 one-run games this season and won only half of them. That .500 record in one-run games is the major league average, and a reason why the Nationals sit at 60-63 in late August and have only a sliver of a chance of making a run for the playoffs. Last season’s Nationals went 27-21 in one-run games.

The causes? A small margin for error created by a sometimes-shaky bullpen and measly offense.

The Nationals underperforming offense has helped produce some odd numbers. They are, understandably, 1-31 in games in which they score one run or less. Push the threshold higher, to games in which they score two run or less, and the Nationals’ record is 6-48. Again, up to three runs or fewer, they are 13-56, a .188 winning percentage.

The benchmark for runs scored in order to win seems to be four, near the major league average for runs scored per game. The Nationals are 47-7 in games in which they score that many runs or more, an .870 winning percentage.

The major league average record in games with three runs or less? A .224 winning percentage. With four runs or more? A .742 winning percentage. In other words, the Nationals are a below-average team in low-scoring games and better than average when they at least score the major league average in runs per game. There is little middle ground.

Conversely, the Nationals are 39-24 in games in which their pitching staff allows three runs or less. That’s a .619 winning percentage. The major league average? A .771 winning percentage. Even when the Nationals allow less than the major league average of runs scored per game, they don’t win as often as they should.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010, wrote about high school sports across the region for two years and has covered the Nationals since the middle of the 2012 season.
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