Waiting for offense, waiting for Zimmerman

Baseball is a game of subtleties; a moved runner here, a played made there, and you can win some games by doing a lot of little things the right way. The Nationals, with a few exceptions, have done that for the first 18 games of the season and are holding their own against some solid National League clubs like the Phillies, Brewers and Cardinals.

But there's not a lot of offense right now, and there may be a very tangible reason. His name is "Zim."

When Ryan Zimmerman took that ill-advised head-first slide in New York April 9 and strained his left abdominal muscle, his .357 batting average, nearly .500 on-base percentage and presence in the No. 3 hole of the offense went with him. He was off to one of his best starts, and to lose him has been costly.

Back to that subtle thing in baseball. When you lose a front-line player, it may take a while to expose that absence in the lineup as other guys pick up the slack for a while and help generate runs. But, there comes a time after a week or so that you miss that presence; it makes your club easier to pitch to, there are fewer RBI opportunities and the hits which translate into runs are down.

And where would this offense be without Danny Espinosa?

The Nats scored 14 runs in the first two games without Zimmerman, but since, they've been shut out twice and held to four runs or fewer five times in eight games. While most of the individual batting averages started low and stayed there, Jayson Werth's was .259 when Ryan got hurt and is .209 now. Zimmerman, of course, was hitting behind Werth and providing a lively bat behind the No. 2 hitter.

Werth isn't getting that protection from Adam LaRoche, a career slow starter, who was hitting .179 then and just .211 now. The team is hitting .218, better than only San Diego at .217.

With the weather expected to be cold and rainy here in Pittsburgh all weekend, the offense, which we hope is about to explode, may be quiet for a while. But if these middle-of-the-order guys do what they've done throughout their careers, everything should shake out well and the pitchers don't have to be perfect every night.

By the way, how about that staff, especially the starters? The Nats sport a 3.63 staff ERA, seventh-best in the National League. The big three in the bullpen (Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Sean Burnett) have been outstanding and are all young with bright futures.

Now, let's get Ryan Zimmerman back and this club should be able to be even better!