Desmond feels Nats not playing loose enough (we're under way)

PHILADELPHIA - The radar for the Philly area doesn't look great for the next couple hours, but it sounds like the teams are hoping that things might clear up around 8 p.m., allowing us to get this game in. It does appear clear, however, that we're going to start in a delay.

After yesterday's tough 5-4 walk-off loss, the Nationals have no interest in having tonight's game postponed. They want to get right back out there as soon as possible and give it another go.

"I'd like to get this taste out of my mouth," manager Davey Johnson said. "Let's play."

At this time last year, through the season's first 69 games, the Nationals were 13 games above .500 at 41-28, and held a 3 1/2 game lead in the National League East.

This year, the Nats are one-game under .500 at 34-35 through the season's first 69 games. They sit 7 1/2 games back of the Braves in the division and are struggling to get going.

The issues are well-documented. The offense has had massive trouble scoring runs and getting on base. The bench players haven't played up to their 2012 levels. The bullpen, while solid for the most part, has been somewhat inconsistent.

But shortstop Ian Desmond had a chat with Johnson recently, and he noted another difference, as well.

"He felt like the club is not as loose as it was last year," Johnson said. "It's trying to be loose. I said, 'Well, we're young. We're awfully young.' We've got some young guys on the bench and ... they just have to go through the experience. It's part of it. But I think we'll be fine. Just learn to play loose. Free and easy. The offense will pick up. We've shown signs where we're getting close. It'll be good to get Harp (Bryce Harper) back pretty soon. But I like the talent level. Just one of those things sometimes it's establishing and trying to do too much and that's what we're going through. ...

"I talk to Ian a lot. I just told him we've struggled but there's a whole lot of season ahead of us. I look at things that they happen for a reason. And I think this is good. Struggling, learn how to come back."

The whole idea of looseness is an interesting one. It could even be viewed as something of a chicken-and-the-egg situation. Does a team win because it's loose, or is a team loose because it wins?

Last season, the Nats had a couple veterans in Michael Morse and Mark DeRosa who were key components inside the clubhouse. They blasted music, played funny videos, cracked jokes on the clubhouse karaoke machine and kept the mood light. The Nats won 98 games during the regular season, so that, of course, made it a lot easier for everyone to stay loose.

This year, Morse and DeRosa are gone. The team still has plenty of quality clubhouse guys, but it could certainly be argued that some of the goofiness is absent. But does that mean anything once the game is started? Does it affect anything between the lines?

Desmond seems to think that it might be. The Nats might be feeling the pressure of being under .500 this far into the season, and they're trying to do too much instead of just staying calm and chipping away at the deficit within the division.

"I don't think I'm putting too much pressure on them," Johnson said. "I know they've got the talent. It's just part of experience. When you get to the top of the hill, it's a lot of times tougher to stay there. And you have to go through struggles. And that's what they're going through. But as a group, I think we'll be fine."

Update: We've got a rain delay, but the Phillies have announced that the estimated start time is set for 8:10 p.m.

Looks like we'll get this one in, or at least the start of it.

Update II: After a delay of 70 minutes, we're underway in Philly.

There's still a decently-heavy rain falling and the radar doesn't look great the rest of the way out, but here we go. The Nats look to get back to .500 tonight.

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