What would you rather have first, the good news or the bad news?
Let’s start with the positive stuff, just to kick the morning off right.
Making his third rehab start since suffering a left hamstring injury back in spring training, Chien-Ming Wang went seven innings yesterday for Triple-A Syracuse, allowing two runs on eight hits and earning the win.
Wang walked one, struck out one and threw 89 pitches, 61 for strikes.
The good news ends there. Here comes the bad.
The Nationals struck out 11 times in yesterday’s loss to the Pirates, marking the ninth time this season they’ve struck out double-digit times in a game. They went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position last night, left 10 men on base and blew great chances to knot the game in both the eighth and ninth innings.
Davey Johnson’s group dropped their third straight game yesterday, and yet again, the defeat can largely be put at the feet of the offense. Unlike other times this season, the problem yesterday wasn’t that Nationals hitters didn’t have chances to drive in runs. Washington only recorded five hits, but still had opportunities, putting runners in scoring position in the fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
But right now, the approach with runners on base appears to be flawed.
A lineup that’s missing a couple of its top power hitters and has scored the second fewest runs in the majors has to be able to move runners over and get guys in from third with less than two outs. Players can’t constantly be swinging for the fences, trying to crush a fastball above the letters 400 feet when a simple fly ball or grounder to the other side will do.
As a team, the Nats have struck out 7.93 times per game this season. That’s fifth-worst in the majors.
Danny Espinosa added two more Ks to his season total, giving him 39 on the year, most in the National League. His strikeout with runners at second and third with one out in the eighth (when the Nats trailed by a single run) was a killer, as was Rick Ankiel’s, which came one batter later and ended the threat. Even Ryan Zimmerman struck out three times yesterday, the last of which ended the game with the potential tying run standing on second base.
The Nats don’t have enough big boppers in their lineup right now to be aiming for three-run homers every time runners reach base. That’s just not a winning formula.
Twice last night, Adam LaRoche was intentionally walked because Pirates pitchers were eager to get to whoever was occupying the No. 5 spot in the Nats’ order. In the sixth, it was Xavier Nady, who grounded out to end the inning. In the eighth, it was pinch hitter Roger Bernadina, who battled to draw a walk which loaded the bases, only to watch Espinosa and Ankiel strike out behind him.
Believe it or not, there is enough talent in this batting order to score runs and win ballgames. The Nats have done it more often than not this season.
But the strikeouts need to decrease, and the approach and situational hitting need to improve.