PHILADELPHIA - The good news for Jayson Werth - and the bad news for everyone else in the Philadelphia area - is that Werth’s team slump-busting strategy of showing up today ready to “eat somebody’s face” jives with his gluten-free eating habits.
If you’re planning on attending tonight’s game at Citizens Bank Park, be alert. A man with an incredibly long beard is talking about eating faces later on.
I don’t know much about cannibalism, but I do know that the Nationals will need more than a good old-fashioned face-eating to turn their season around. The Nats are a season-worst two games under .500 at 34-36, are tied with the Phillies in the National League East and are 6 1/2 games back of the Braves.
They have the second-lowest on-base percentage in the majors, have scored the third-fewest runs and have the fourth-worst OPS. They’ve scored three or fewer runs in 41 games and two or fewer runs in 31 games.
Manager Davey Johnson mentioned before yesterday’s game that shortstop Ian Desmond - who has quietly become a clubhouse leader on this team - approached him and mentioned that he thinks the Nats aren’t playing loose enough this season. Following last night’s 4-2 loss to the Phillies, Desmond expanded on that, saying that it isn’t just that he thinks the Nats are pressing, but more that they’re lacking a certain feeling, a certain vibe throughout the clubhouse.
“When you have such success last year, it’s so hard to let go of the things that you did last year,” Desmond explained. “This is a new team. We have probably a better team, a better squad roster-wise. But we’re trying to force the things on ourselves that we did last year instead of going out and playing the game that we know how to play this year.
“We’re not giving ourselves a chance to become the 2013 Nats. We’re playing as 2012. We’ve got to give ourselves a little bit of time to breathe and start new.”
The issue doesn’t appear to be clubhouse chemistry. The players in the Nats clubhouse seem to get along well, even if some of the goofiness from last year’s team is gone with the departures of Mark DeRosa and Michael Morse.
The bigger problem seems to be more on the field. The Nats insist they’re getting closer to putting things together and meshing as a group between the lines, even if the results don’t indicate as much so far.
“What (reporters) and what the fans see as a consistent effort or a consistent (sub-par) performance on the field is different than the way we see it,” Desmond said. “We’re playing better, we’re giving better at-bats. Right now, it’s not resulting in wins, but we’re taking steps in the right direction. I’ve been saying it for weeks. We’re continuing to get better. We’re moving in the right direction. Eventually the wins will come, but we’ve got to give ourselves a chance to come into our own this year and kind of forget about last year.
“I think if we continue to play clean games like we are, not making mistakes, not giving away outs, not giving away at-bats, it’ll all start to kind of unfold. We’re searching for the secret. We’re waiting for Superman. But we have a good enough team. We have a very good team, with the pieces we have right now. We’re totally capable of winning. We just have to do it.”
Not only did Desmond have this conversation about the Nats lacking an identity with Johnson, he also had it before yesterday’s game with Werth, who concurred with what his teammate was saying. Werth saw the same loose, fun, free-swinging Nats team last season that Desmond did, and he agreed that this group might be trying to recreate what it was last year.
But he feels that all can change if the Nats string together a few wins and get some momentum going.
“I think (Desmond’s) onto something there,” Werth said. “Maybe we’ve kind of lacked an identity as a team. But you know, I think as you start winning games and you start playing and you go on a roll or you rally or whatever it is you do, you kind of create an identity. We just haven’t hit stride as far as that goes. How many times have we rallied this year? How many winning streaks have we gone on? We just haven’t hit stride yet. Hopefully soon.”
Desmond’s point about the Nats lacking a group mentality or personality might have some truth to it. Only the Nats know for sure. Guys might not yet have an idea of whether this team should be battling deep into at-bats or swinging early in counts. They might not know whether this is the type of team that will live by the three-run homer or the type of team that needs to play more situational type ball to push runs across.
The bottom line, however, is that there are certain simple things that all successful teams do well from an offensive perspective: They find a way to get on base and score runs. You don’t need an identity to work a walk or smack a two-out double to the gap or score a run with a ground ball. You just need to produce.
The Nats haven’t done enough producing when in the batter’s box this season. Finding an identity might help solve that problem. It might help in a big way. But on top of that, it’s also on each guy to perform to his own level and push this team to more wins.