Rachel Levitin: Can Goon Squad affect turnaround for Nats?

Three weeks into the 2013 season and the Nationals are struggling to get their 2012 groove back. Fact is, though, it’s only April and there are months of baseball still to be played. The biggest factor haunting the Nats in present day is high expectations associated with coming off a successful run last year.

“We’ve been pressing,” outfielder Jayson Werth told MASNsports.com’s Dan Kolko. “We’ve been trying to do too much. That’s a common side effect. It’s just one of those things. It’s early. It’s not as bad as it seems. Somebody said last night it feels like we’re 0-20, but it’s not that bad. We’re only one game under .500 and it’s April. We’ll be all right.”

And he’s right. Then again, this type of story is typical of teams in the Nats’ situation. What we’ve got here is a team that, after years of posting poor records, had a winning season, a season that raised the bar to which people expect them to perform. But it’s like Bill Caudill of the Oakland A’s once said, “Even Betty Crocker burns a cake now and then.” If the Nats are going to burn one, now might be the most ideal of times.

Sitting on a 10-11 record, the Nats are under .500 for the first time since the 2011 season. This is mostly due in part to a slumping offensive lineup. After Tuesday night’s 2-0 loss to St. Louis, Manager Davey Johnson acknowledged that fact.

“I’m usually pretty patient, but I’m getting to my rope’s end,” Johnson said. “The effort’s there, but we’re just not getting it done. We’ve got the players who can get it done, we’re just not getting it done. It’s time to get a little mad.”

Time to get mad? Sure, why not? Maybe shaking things up a bit will wake up those Washington bats. Johnson made a few minor alterations to his established lineup Wednesday, before the Nats fell 4-2 and got swept by St. Louis, but today he’s ready to juggle a little extra to help try and change his guys’ mindsets.

The concern for Johnson is how everybody’s playing. According to him, the Nats just aren’t doing the things they’re capable of doing right now.

What might be a nice change of pace, especially this early in the season, could be putting the non-starters in the starters’ slots, at least for a few days. You never know. There’s a number of guys on that bench who could help the Nats find their positive mojo and help string together an offensive assault. It’s time to call upon that Goon Squad, move around the batting order, and see if that can help the Nats do what they so desperately want to do: forget expectations and win ballgames.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love DC, and will be sharing her observations about baseball in the nation’s capital as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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