SAN FRANCISCO — The Washington Nationals won 96 games and their second National League East title in three years thanks, in large part, to a pair of veteran hitters at the heart of their lineup. Right fielder Jayson Werth and first baseman Adam LaRoche were central to the team’s regular season success. They also played a big part in their postseason failure.
Werth, who led the team during the regular season with a .849 OPS, finished 1 for 17 with three walks and five strikeouts in the four-game National League Division Series loss to the San Francisco Giants. LaRoche, who hit a team-high 26 home runs, managed to go only 1 for 18 with four strikeouts.
“We just didn’t hit,” LaRoche said. “We had a couple guys hitting and it’s hard to win games when you’ve got two of the eight guys swinging the bat. It’s frustrating.”
The two guys LaRoche referred to were Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, who finished the series a combined 12 for 36, with Harper hitting three important home runs. Without those two, the Nationals went 14 for 123 (.114). Denard Span and Wilson Ramos each had two hits; Ian Desmond and Asdrubal Cabrera each only had three hits.
But the meager production from their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters was costly. The Nationals scored nine runs over the 45 innings of the series. In Tuesday’s season-ending 3-2 loss at AT&T Park, both runs came from the bat of Harper, the No. 6 hitter. His fifth-inning double scored Desmond to cut the Nationals’ deficit to 2-1. His mammoth home run in the seventh tied it.
Both Werth and LaRoche had enjoyed success against veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who drew the Game 4 start for the Giants. Vogelsong’s postseason résumé is strong even if his regular season numbers were not. Werth entered the game 3 for 8 with two doubles against Vogelsong in his career. LaRoche was 3 for 10 with two doubles against the right-hander in his career.
Neither managed a hit against Vogelsong. After Werth drew a walk in the first inning, LaRoche hit the ball hard to left field but it was for an out. In the San Francisco chill, however, the ball was not carrying to the opposite field.
Werth hit the ball hard at times during the series with little to show for it. In the sixth inning, Werth crushed a ball, perhaps the hardest-hit ball of the series. As Vogelsong was tiring, Werth pounced on an outside fastball. The ball sliced toward right field with the look of a double off the wall, but right fielder Hunter Pence jumped, slammed into the wall and made the best defensive play of the series.
“They’ve got pitchers,” LaRoche said. “They didn’t get here by not pitching either. But it’s guys that we can get to and we didn’t. Timing was off. A couple bad breaks. I feel like we hit some balls hard and didn’t get a lot out of them. Didn’t get anything out of them.”
Werth, through a team spokesman, declined comment after the game.
Werth, 35, earned a reputation as one the best postseason hitters of his generation with the Philadelphia Phillies. He hit .444 (8 for 18) during the 2008 World Series, which the Phillies won. In the 2009 playoffs, he hit seven home runs in 15 games. Although he hit .238 during the 2012 NLDS with the Nationals, his season-saving home run in Game 4 sent the series to a decisive Game 5.
LaRoche, 34, had a bounce-back season this year. Last season, he had one of the worst non-injured years of his career, hitting .237 with 20 home runs while battling weight loss issues. He fixed his swing and kept his strength up this season, posting a .817 OPS while playing in 140 games.
Tuesday may have been LaRoche’s last game in a Nationals uniform. He holds a $15 million mutual option for the 2015 season that includes a $2 million option. LaRoche has enjoyed his time in Washington and his teammates, but the Nationals will be pressed to find a position for franchise mainstay Ryan Zimmerman next season. Zimmerman’s future may likely be at first base.
The Nationals hold a $9 million team option for Span, a relative bargain for a player who hit .302 with 39 doubles and 31 stolen bases, and plays excellent defense. That would leave little room for Zimmerman in the outfield.
The Nationals stormed through the second half of the season and into the playoffs with Werth and LaRoche as crucial bats in the lineup. Against the Giants, neither hitter could do much to power the Nationals’ hopeful playoff push.
“To win at this level, you’ve got to score some runs,” Desmond said.
Photos: Images from Game 4
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