Adam LaRoche alone cannot resurrect the Nationals’ slumping offense from its May struggles. Although LaRoche has provided a spark since his return — a towering two-run home run to turn Monday’s deficit into a one-run game — the Nationals will need a collective effort to pull the offense out of the mud it has sunk deep into.
Injuries have undoubtedly hampered this offense. The lack of Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman have been felt. Since Harper hurt his thumb on April 25, the Nationals are hitting .229 and scoring 3.3 runs per game.
A lineup, however, with Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and Denard Span should certainly produce more than that, right? Injuries alone aren’t the reason for the struggles, and the first month of the season is proof.
In April, the Nationals were without Zimmerman for half the month with a broken thumb, Span missed a week in the middle of the month with a concussion and Ramos missed the entire month with hand surgery. Still, the Nationals scored the seventh most runs (117) in baseball in April, averaged 4.3 runs per game and hit .259.
Ramos returned on May 7 and LaRoche returned on Sunday. Instead of improvement, the Nationals offense has endured a handful of coinciding slumps to many of its hitters all at once. After hitting .312 in April, Rendon is .169 in May. Danny Espinosa hit .291 in April and has hit a measly .123 this month.
Werth has endured only a slight drop-off: he hit .283 with 10 extra-base hits in April and is hitting .273 with three extra-base hits this month. Desmond has improved this month, but is still hitting .236 overall with a .704 OPS. The bench has produced little this month, and Nate McLouth continues to struggle.
“I don’t think we have pressure,” Ramos said. “We just need to go out there and be smart. Get a good pitch to hit and see what happens.”
The Nationals have had an easier schedule this month — facing the struggling Reds, Pirates, Phillies, Mets and Diamondbacks — yet are 9-14 largely because of an slumping offense. They have scored fewer runs (72) than all but one team, the Reds.
“Right now, it’s a question of getting that big hit when we need it,” Manager Matt Williams said. “Hasn’t happened, for the most part, anyway. So we’ll keep grinding, keep approaching it the same way. Bunch base-hits together. We’ve got the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, but the key for us is to bunch base-hits.”
While the Nationals have struggled to convert their opportunities, they have had few of them. Their .289 on-base percentage is the worst in baseball this month. Their .310 on-base percentage for the entire season is 19th in baseball, so just near the bottom third in the sport.
With runners on base, LaRoche leads with the Nationals with a .319 average. Span is hitting .286, Ramos hitting .273 and Werth hitting .272 with runners on base. But Desmond (.240), Rendon (.232) and Espinosa (.130) have all struggled with men on base. Desmond leads team with 107 plate appearances with men on base and Rendon just behind him with 97. The issue here may be a matter of lineup construction.
“We’re not hitting well right now,” Ramos said. “We have to work on that. We’ve got a pretty good team. A lot of good hitters. We need to work on that. We need to make to runs. Want to win? We need to make some runs.”
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Rochester 10, Syracuse 5: Taylor Jordan, who left his last start early, allowed sevens runs, six earned, on nine hits and walked two over 3 1/3 innings. He threw 68 pitches. Destin Hood homered twice and is hitting .333. Steven Souza Jr. hit his fifth home run of the season. Brock Peterson went 2 for 5.
Bowie 15, Harrisburg 7: In his first start with the Senators, Sammy Solis allowed nine runs, eight earned, on nine hits over 3 1/3 innings. Sean Nicol had three hits, and Kevin Keyes and Adrian Sanchez added two each. Sanchez and Cutter Dykstra each homered.
Salem 13, Potomac 4: Ian Dickson allowed seven runs on five hits over 1 1/3 innings. Brett Mooneyham and Wander Suero each gave up three runs. Oscar Tejeda went 2 for 5 and drove in his 31st run. Justin Miller added two hits.
Delmarva 7, Hagerstown 6 (7): Reynaldo Lopez allowed three runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings. Jake Walsh blew the save with two runs in the seventh. Wilmer Difo hit his fifth home run. Rafael Bautista went 2 for 3 with two RBI.
Delmarva 2, Hagerstown 1 (7): Andrew Cooper allowed one run on five hits over five innings. Robert Orlan allowed the winning run. Isaac Ballou had a triple and scored the lone run.