I grew up in the school of “it should never have come to that.” My dad taught me that in almost any close loss, the play that decided the game shouldn’t be scrutinized while the rest of the things a team did wrong up to that point are neglected.
So in that spirit, I won’t focus (much) on the Sean Burnett-Adam Kennedy pinball play that put Lance Zawadski on base in the 11th inning of the Nationals’ 3-2 loss to the Padres on Sunday, or the decisive single Matt Capps gave up to Nick Hundley after home-plate umpire Bob Davidson called a ball on Capps’ fastball, which replays showed should have been an inning-ending strike three.
Because it should never have come to that.
The Nationals scored both of their runs on Ryan Zimmerman solo homers on Sunday; outside of Zimmerman and Adam Dunn, they had just two hits, neither of those for extra bases and only one from a starter (Nyjer Morgan).
In their last 16 games, the Nationals have scored just 58 runs, winning just five times. They entered Sunday with a .364 slugging percentage in their last 15 games, and only Zimmerman’s homers (the 100th and 101st of his career) went for extra bases.
“I don’t think anyone’s really been scoring runs on that team over there,” Zimmerman said. “We ran into some good pitching. You go to San Francisco, they have a great staff. Obviously, the guys here are good. We haven’t hit our stride yet, but if you look at the numbers, I don’t think they’re terrible. They’re not where they need to be, but we’ll go through our stretch where we get hot and get them back to where we’re supposed to be.”
The Nationals’ top two hitters were 1-for-9, and if either Morgan or Kennedy had gotten on base in front of Zimmerman, Washington could have scored another run. The Nationals are clearly missing Ivan Rodriguez, but even with the catcher, the lineup feels a batter too thin. And as we discussed yesterday, if Morgan is struggling and the Nationals aren’t getting production out of Roger Bernadina (who’s now hitting .241), the lineup starts to look awfully short.
This was a team that was built for pitching and defense first, and the Nationals have done those two things relatively well, even though they made two errors on Sunday. But it will be interesting to see if the Nationals make a run at a full-time right fielder sometime this summer.
Riggleman said this morning that he’s trying to figure out what he has with Bernadina in the outfield, though he’s still committed to getting other players in the lineup against left-handed pitchers. Bernadina had a .586 OPS in his last 11 games entering Sunday, and went 0-for-4 against the Padres in the 11-inning loss.
There may not be a good solution out there in right field, but that would be the easiest way to solve some of the lineup woes. Michael Morse seems to be a forgotten man on the bench, so if Bernadina’s not the answer, it’s either back to Willie Harris or an outside addition.
Though a bat in right is the quickest fix, and the lineup will improve once Rodriguez returns (probably on June 8), those aren’t the only problems. The Nationals’ offense, as a whole, is struggling, and waiting for a reprieve from its long slump - the result of which is again a sub-.500 record. Until that happens, they’ll continue to play close games and, on some nights, wonder if games should have ended the way they did.
“The example I use is, earlier in the year, Atlanta couldn’t score,” Riggleman said. “And I thought (manager) Bobby (Cox) had a great answer. He said, ‘Every night, we’re running into good pitching.’ It’s not that you’re not good hitters. It’s not that you’re not going to get on base. But he was in a period where his ballclub ran into good pitching every night. Right now, Philadelphia’s not scoring. Florida’s not scoring. They’re good hitters. Right now, we’re not scoring, but we’ve got good hitters. It’s the nature of the game. You go through these things. Atlanta’s probably tied for first right now after not getting any hits earlier in the year, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to come out of this.”