Runs early in games still hard to come by

NEW YORK - Hello from Queens, where it's a breezy but warm 58 degrees.

We've been incredibly lucky with the weather so far this season, in two cities where warmth and sunshine is not always found in early April.

And I just jinxed it.

For whatever reason, the first the first seven innings of all three games in Chicago were not kind to the Nationals. Davey Johnson's boys just couldn't get into a groove during the early and middle frames, and trailed each of their first three games entering the eighth.

Luckily, the Nats pulled it together offensively late in each game and were able to rally for two victories and come away with a series win. But as I wrote yesterday, this whole "we need a comeback" thing is becoming a tired act already.

Is there anything the Nats' hitters can do to try and produce some more offense in the early innings?

"Some homers would be nice," shortstop Ian Desmond joked. "I mean, it's the third game. We all had great springs. We've been swinging the bats well. We just got to keep doing what we're doing."

If you add up the number of runs the Nationals scored during innings 1-7 in each of the three games at Wrigley Field, you'll find they failed to hit a home run and crossed home plate a total of just three times, or an average of 0.14 runs per inning.

In the eighth and ninth inning, the Nats hit three homers and scored nine total runs over the three-game span, or 1.5 runs per frame.

Could the reason for the vast discrepancy be that the Cubs' starters just pitched very well while Chicago's bullpen was terrible?

Yeah, that's certainly possible. Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol sure were shaky as all heck over the last handful of days, while Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija combined to allow just four earned runs and record 23 strikeouts over 22 1/3 innings.

"Our guys have actually been swinging pretty good," manager Davey Johnson said. "It was just a heck of well-pitched ballgames on their side. Three guys threw great games against us. You've got to give credit where credit's due."

Obviously, the flip side of all the early-game struggles is that the Nats have proven that they can put up runs in the late innings and battle back from tough deficits. That's a quality that's nice to find early in a season.

"It'd be nice to score some more early, give our pitchers a little cushion," Adam LaRoche said. "Those guys have been doing a great a job coming in, so I don't think anybody's looking at it saying we need to press early in the game. Keep doing what we're doing. It's nice to have the confidence late in games that we can hang in there, get some runners out and make some things happen."

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