Nats down to 67 percent of opening day offense

With the news the Nationals will be without first baseman Adam LaRoche for what could be until the end of the month of May, the offense is now without three of its top hitters.

It feels like catcher Wilson Ramos just got back from a left hand fracture. Now, LaRoche takes his place on the sidelines, out with a quad injury on the 15-day disabled list.

And it is not like any of the three players will be coming back any time soon. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is likely out until mid-June with a broken thumb. Left fielder Bryce Harper is probably out until after the All-Star Break, that is at least July 18, with ligament damage in his thumb.

That means two thirds of the Nats’ lineup is not available right now. It feels like that has been the case the entire season.

Last season, LaRoche, Harper and Zimmerman combined for 66 home runs and 199 RBIs. Jayson Werth (25) and Ian Desmond (20) were the only other two players on the 2013 offense to hit at least 20 home runs. That is a serious chunk of runs for an offense that has been hampered from being at 100 percent since Ramos went down opening day.

Anthony Rendon and Werth have been the most consistent hitters. Even Danny Espinosa has had his moments. Denard Span (concussion) missed time but returned and had some timely hits.

There was no way Jose Lobaton and Sandy Leon were going to be able to replace Ramos’ production.

Kevin Frandsen, Scott Hairston, Nate McLouth and Tyler Moore are solid substitutes, but can’t be expected to replicate the offensive production of Harper, Zimmerman and LaRoche for 60 games.

The Oakland radio broadcast crew called the Nationals “free swingers” at the plate. It is no secret the Nationals batters are aggressive. As a team, the Nationals have struck out 313 times, sixth most in the National League. They have only nine pinch-hits so far this season, which is ninth out of 15 teams in the senior circuit. One good sign is their OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) with is .711, good for fourth in the National League, trailing Colorado, Miami and the L.A. Dodgers.

But May has been rough at the plate. They scored in just two innings of the Oakland series and were outscored 21-4. In May, their batting average is just .230. In March and April this season, they hit .259.

Last season in a struggling start, they hit .234 in March and April and .230 in May.

Now whether the Oakland radio crew’s assessment was because the Nationals were trailing for most of the series and just had to get something going or not, it is a note that the entire lineup could look to be more patient at the plate. They will need to do that to stay above .500 in May.

The Braves had the benefit of facing the Cubs last weekend. Now let’s see if the Nationals can take advantage of their schedule by facing the 15-win Arizona Diamondbacks for the next three games. If they are going to have some success at the plate, it is going to have to be aided somewhat by a few timely hits from guys like Frandsen, Hairston, McLouth and Moore.

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