Trying to work in tandem

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As announcers always say, "The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint." It's a long, grueling, 180-day, 162-game grind that exposes teams and players who are short on the ability to go the distance.

Then, if you go to the playoffs, it's anywhere from one to four more weeks of hard work. If you win the World Series it's forgotten, but only one team gets to have that downtown parade.

With all this in mind, not all departments of a team will work together well at the same time. It's very seldom that a club goes wire-to-wire in first place like Rob Dibble's 1990 World Champion Reds, so there will be bumps in the road - many of them - during the course of this long journey.

The Nationals are in such a time.

Early in the season, the offense was flying high and the pitching was not. On May 1, the Nationals were 13-10 and on their way to a season-best 15-10. The team ERA was 4.54, ranking 11th in the National League, while the offense was hitting .257 (ninth in the NL) and second in runs despite being 14th in home runs with just 16 in 23 games. The defense was solid with just 14 errors, sixth-best in the league. So, the offense and defense were fine, but the pitching wasn't.

The Nats made two errors May 1 at Florida in a 7-1 loss and haven't handled the ball very well since. By the end of May, they were 15th in defense and had made the most errors in the major leagues. The pitching was better at a 4.26 ERA - though still 11th in the league - and the offense was up to .258, eighth-best in the NL.

By June 11, the hitters were really getting it done and only three National League clubs had higher batting averages, as the Nats were at .263, good enough to rank them at fourth-best. On that same day, the pitching was at a season-low 4.09 ERA and I thought they were headed down to the threes, but interleague play got in the way and the ERA shot back up. Even the excellent Matt Capps couldn't contribute much with few save situations.

So, here we are on the verge of the last weekend of AL versus NL play, and the Nats are getting good pitching, but lost 4 of 6 games on the homestand thanks to a sputtering offense, now 12th in the league with a .256 average. The middle-of-the-lineup guys, Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham, are hitting home runs - 65 of them (ninth in the NL), but there's no one on base as 43 of the HRs were solos.

Nyjer Morgan's on-base percentage is heading down to .300, a bad number for a leadoff man, and Cristian Guzman is hitting around .230 for June. Can Roger Bernadina lead off? We may find out soon.

I know this post threw a lot of numbers at you, but they tell a story of how difficult it is to play well in all facets of the game for any reasonable amount of time - unless you're the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Braves, Cardinals or Reds, teams that have good offenses and reliable pitching and defense.

Figure out how to get a middle-of-the-pack team to do all these things consistently, and you would be a Hall of Fame manager!