A team doesn't end up in the position of the Nationals without more than one problem, and while most of the focus has been on an offense that has scored the second-fewest runs in the National League, there are other problems. For the month of July, the Nats offense was what most expected it to be: an offense full of streaky hitters that scored the sixth-most runs in the NL, scoring five or more runs nine times and two or fewer 12.
The Nationals have been prone to these strange inconsistencies all season long, but July was the month people were waiting for. All season long, the mantra has been, "If this team only had a league-average offense." Well, in July they had a better than league-average offense, but with one game left in the month have managed a record of 11-15. The reason is that the Nationals, a team built around pitching, allowed the fourth-most runs of any NL team in July.
This is the dichotomy of the Nationals. When the offense is right about where it was expected to be, the pitching falls apart, and there is no one culprit. One cannot say that at least the starters are good, as they allowed the fourth most runs in the NL and the bullpen the fifth. Breaking it down on an individual level and the inconsistencies become even more dramatic.
Among the five relievers that made more than 10 appearances, three of them have ERAs over 5.00, with Drew Storen being the worst at 13.03, Craig Stammen second-worst at 5.40, followed by closer Rafael Soriano at 5.23. The ERAs of Stammen and Soriano point to them simply going through a rough patch, but the ERA of Storen is alarming to such a degree that it highlights a further issue with the 2013 Nationals, the usage of the bullpen.
The Nationals in 2013 are 17-14 in one-run games, and from that, one could reason they play close games well. But too many of those one-run wins are in blowout games that the bullpen lets the other team back in. In close, low-scoring games, games with a combined score of five and a run differential no greater than two, the Nationals are 11-20, and 5-7 in extra-inning games with the bullpen having a 6.28 ERA in those extra frames.
While the bullpen's issues and mismanagement have been a season-long issue, the starting pitching failing in July is a bit of a surprise, especially when the only two starters with ERAs north of 4.00 are Jordan Zimmermann at 7.18 and Stephen Strasburg at 4.62. Those are supposed to be two of the horses of the rotation. Starters that not only give the team a chance to win, but can dominate to a degree that a team can win those 3-2, 2-1, 1-0 ballgames. But for July, they haven't done that.
Of the 11 games that the Nationals have won in July, they did so by scoring less than five runs twice. That was not how this team was built. The Nationals were built to be able to win the close, low-scoring games and they haven't done that all season long. The fact that they have played 31 such games is on the offense, but the fact that they haven't fared well in such games is on the pitching (mostly relief pitching), defense and management July was the month everyone was waiting for. The Nats offense scored runs at the pace that was expected, but they do so just in time for the pitching to fall flat on its face.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals for Citizens of Natstown, and offers his viewpoints 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.