You can choose to look at the Nationals’ recent slump in one of two ways.
No. 1: Of the Nats’ last six losses, five have been by a single run, indicating that they’re very much in these ballgames.
No. 2: That the Nats have now dropped five of their last six contests, and it’s largely because their offense has struggled mightily of late.
I have a feeling most fans currently have the second mindset, given that the Nats have now dropped back below .500 and sit in third place in the National League East, a game and a half behind the second-place Marlins.
The Nats are in a rut at the moment, there’s no doubt about it. Yes, it’s true that the starting rotation isn’t pitching quite to the level that it did back in 2012, but the main cause of the recent struggles has been the lack of runs pushed across by the Nats’ hitters.
In May, the Nats rank last in the majors in team batting average (.223) and slugging percentage (.334), and are second-to-last in on-base percentage (.288), just a single point above the Padres, who are in the cellar in that category.
The Nats feel like the talent is there, but the results sure haven’t been lately.
Why the inability to push runs across? There’s no real easy answer.
“That’s very difficult,” Wilson Ramos said. “We’re not hitting well right now. We have to work on that. We’ve got a pretty good team. A lot of good hitters. We need to work on that. We need to make to runs. Want to win? We need to make some runs.”
Of the eight guys in the Nats’ starting lineup yesterday afternoon, only one - Adam LaRoche - finished the day batting above .276. Three of the eight - Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa and Nate McLouth - are batting below .210.
“For whatever reason when guys are rolling, things are going good and everybody’s hitting and you’re putting up a ton of runs,” LaRoche said. “And for whatever reason, I’ve watched it for years, as a team when guys struggle, it has a tendency to be contagious at times. Whether it’s pressing and trying too hard or just running into some really good pitchers - I’ve got a feeling it’s a little bit of both. Not putting a big inning together today. We should have done better than that.”
LaRoche homered yesterday, indicating that the hot streak that he was in prior to landing on the DL with a quad injury might not have passed. Ian Desmond has been heating up a bit lately, Anthony Rendon and Denard Span have been reaching base at a more consistent clip, and Ramos and Jayson Werth have been hitting the ball hard.
But the big hits aren’t falling for the most part, and the knocks aren’t coming in bunches.
The starting pitching has been average, with the rotation’s ERA ranking 16th in the majors. The bullpen has been exceptional.
It’s now time for the offense to come around.