A deeper look into the offensive offense

The Nationals have certainly faced their share of tough pitchers this season.

They got beat by Johnny Cueto, who had a 2.17 ERA prior to landing on the DL. They suffered losses at the hands of Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller, two insanely talented Cardinals hurlers. Mets righty Matt Harvey pushed the Nats around in New York, and they got dominated by Clayton Kershaw out in Los Angeles.

No shame in that. Plenty of teams have been there.

But what’s a bit troubling so far this season - in my mind, at least - is that in addition to getting held in check by those top-notch starters, the Nats have also gotten shut down by a number of pitchers who are much lower on the major league totem pole.

You can afford to get beat by the league’s better starting pitchers as long as you take care of business against the slumping or lower-tier guys. And the Nats aren’t doing that so far.

If anything, they’re making these guys look like they’re Kershaw or Cueto or Wainwright.

Here are a few pitchers the Nats have faced this season, with their current ERAs in parentheses, followed immediately by their stats against the Nationals this year:

* Tim Hudson (4.80 ERA) 2 ER over 21 1/3 IP in three total starts
* Alex Sanabia (4.88 ERA) 2 ER over 6 IP
* Edwin Jackson (6.29 ERA) 2 ER over 5 1/3 IP
* Matt Cain (5.45 ERA) 2 ER over 7 IP
* Jason Hammel (5.43 ERA) 2 ER over 8 IP
* Freddy Garcia (4.70 ERA) 0 ER over 8 IP
* Jeremy Hefner (4.36 ERA) 1 ER over 7 IP
* Dillon Gee (5.20 ERA) 1 ER over 12 2/3 IP in two total starts

Now, one could choose to view Hudson and Cain as elite starters who are having tough years, but the point is that those guys have struggled this season, only the Nats failed to get in on the offensive party.

One could also say that on any given day, any big league pitcher can dominate any lineup. That, of course, is the beauty of sports.

However, it’s the frequency that the Nats have been shut down by starters who have struggled this season that’s a little discouraging. When you’ve gone up against a starter with at least a 4.70 ERA (as of today) in 10 of your 59 games (and that’s just by my rough count), you’d hope the offense would be able to do some more damage than the Nats have in those cases.

Here are some other fun facts on a couple of the pitchers who have held the Nats at bay this season:

* Hudson has a 0.84 ERA against the Nationals this year. Against everyone else, the Braves’ right-hander has a 6.56 ERA.
* Gee has a 0.71 ERA against the Nats and a 6.31 ERA against everyone else.
* Jackson has one win this season. It came against the Nationals. He also owns the fifth-highest ERA of any starting pitcher in Major League Baseball with at least 40 innings pitched this season.
* Garcia allowed just three hits over eight scoreless against the Nats last week. He then gave up six runs (and four homers) in three-plus innings against the Astros yesterday.

“Listen, they’re in the big leagues for a reason,” Kurt Suzuki said, when asked about the Nats failing to capitalize against the less-than-elite starters they’ve faced. “Maybe they had one bad start. That’s why their numbers aren’t as good. They come in and throw strikes.”

Against the Nats, the strikes being delivered by these pitchers simply aren’t being hit, at least not at a high enough frequency. When the Nats get a shot at a struggling pitcher, they need to pounce and pile up the runs, but that hasn’t happened much this season.

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