At times during the Nationals’ 2-1 loss to the O’s last night, it almost seemed like there was a hint of desperation coming from Washington’s offense.
After getting nothing done offensively through the first four innings, Davey Johnson called for a hit-and-run with one out in the fifth. Nothing wrong with that, except the hit-and-run came with the pitcher - Edwin Jackson - at the plate and perhaps the Nats’ slowest baserunner - catcher Jesus Flores - on first.
With Bryce Harper on first after a leadoff single in the seventh, Danny Espinosa tried to lay down a bunt with two strikes, only to send the bunt foul for a third straight time. That resulted in the Nats’ second baseman going down on strikes, and two batters later, the inning was over with Harper still standing on first base.
In the 11th, with leadoff hitter Steve Lombardozzi aboard at first, Ian Desmond tried to sacrifice, but squared at two straight pitches well out of the strike zone and fouled both off. One pitch later, Desmond grounded into a double play.
As they’re constructed right now, the Nationals are not going to consistently score enough runs by swinging for the fences and mashing their way to victories. Without Michael Morse and Jayson Werth in the middle of the lineup, and with certain guys struggling in the bottom half of the order, the Nats will need to find other ways to win.
That’s why you see the hit-and-run with the rare pitcher/catcher combo and the bunt attempts (even those with two strikes) in the late innings. Johnson knows he needs to try and make stuff happen to manufacture runs, but right now, it just isn’t working.
Given the injuries to key position players and the lack of runs the offense has been able to push across thus far, it’s clear the Nationals’ situational hitting has to improve.
The Nats are batting just .220 with runners in scoring position this season, sixth-worst in the majors. Even worse, with a runner at third and less than two outs, the Nats have plated only 35 runs, which is better than just two other teams - the Pirates and the Athletics.
We all know the old saying: “Get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in.”
Lately, the Nats haven’t had many issues putting runners on base. They got 11 runners on last night, and while their .314 team on-base percentage isn’t going to wow anyone, it fits into the middle of the pack league-wide. But for much of this season, the Nats haven’t done the little things to move runners over and get runs across the plate.
There have been too many monster swings in situations when a single or a simple, lazy fly ball will do the trick and too few times when the hitter has purposely moved a runner up a station by hitting a ball to the right side or getting a bunt down.
With the pitching this team possesses, three or four runs will win them games more often than not. But as Johnson is aware, if those runs aren’t coming by racking up extra-base hits, they’ll need to come by improving the situational hitting and doing the little things.
That hasn’t happened thus far this season.