Liz Barr: Pitching staff taking the fall for Nats’ stagnant offense

Your pitchers can’t get you a win if you don’t score any runs.

By all means, a starting pitcher that goes at least six innings and only gives up two or three runs should not be an automatic loss. It’s not the greatest start of their life, but they’re keeping the other team in arm’s reach. That’s not a lot of runs for a starter to give up, especially if they’re going long, and in theory the offense should be able to produce enough runs to at least make it a net zero.

But that hasn’t been the case with the Nationals over the last couple of games. It’s been a recurring trend throughout the year, actually.

The Nationals only have three of their five starting pitchers healthy, and two of them pitched quality starts in their last games but earned the loss. On Tuesday against the Yankees, Tanner Roark went six innings, gave up three runs on six hits (two of which were solo home runs by Didi Gregorius) and walked two. Not a horrible start. On Sunday against the Giants, Max Scherzer went seven innings, gave up two runs on four hits, walked three and struck out nine. The only runs he gave up came on a Brandon Crawford home run (Crawford had four of San Francisco’s five hits in that game). Yet both starters earned the loss because the Nats could not muster any sort of offense and have not scored any runs. In fact, they have not scored a run since the seventh inning of Saturday’s game against the Giants, which is 19 innings of scoreless baseball. That is not a recipe for winning.

The starting pitching has given its heart and soul, and is the biggest reason the Nats are in their current position. But so many efforts from the staff have gone to waste because of either a bullpen meltdown (not happening so much anymore) or a struggle to produce offense. Roark, in particular, is stuck with an unlucky bad record because of this. On April 13 against Colorado, he went six innings and gave up two runs (one earned) on three hits. Loss, final score 2-1. On April 18 at the Mets, he went seven innings and gave up two runs on two hits. No-decision, Nats lost 11-5. On May 19 against the Dodgers, he went seven innings and gave up three runs on three hits and struck out eight. Loss, final score 4-1. His record should not be nearly as bad as it is at 3-7, but the team just can’t score any runs. The pitching staff is taking the fall, and the situation is going to get worse with Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson missing time and the starting staff unable to carry as much of the load.

So what’s going on with the offense? Why is it struggling so much? Well, the team average is .233, which is abysmal. They’re only hitting .248 with runners in scoring position, which is not a good way to win games. They’re hitting a good amount of home runs, but every team that lives and dies by the home run is, all in all, not a good team. They’re relying too much on the three outcomes: strikeouts, walks and home runs. They certainly do plenty of that, but it’s not good enough to be successful down the stretch. And frankly, it’s killed the offense.

Sure, you could blame a lot of this on the horrible injury bug that has almost destroyed the team. It has had a big impact. But a lot of those guys are coming back. Adam Eaton and the game he plays should help. Daniel Murphy finally made his debut, and once his legs come back around, his swing should really be a kickstarter. But the Nats can’t use that as an excuse anymore. The big guns aren’t producing, and they need to be hitting better. Bryce Harper is hitting .228, which is awful. Wilmer Difo has slipped to .245, Pedro Severino is under the Mendoza line at .198 and Michael A. Taylor, though much better than he was, is at .220. Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon are a bit more respectable at .254 and .256, respectively, but you’d still like to see that improve.

The Nats need to rethink their hitting strategy. Don’t go for the home run all the time. Hit the ball the other way. Poke it into the outfield. Steal a base. Bunt, especially if there’s literally no third baseman there. Put your dignity aside and just bunt. Clearly, the home runs-or-bust strategy is leading to the latter, and, shockingly, you need to score runs to win. Try something different, maybe something smaller. The offense needs to get better.

Liz Barr blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @RaiseTheBarr1. Her opinions on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s 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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