Weekend in Florida ends with 2 Ls and lots of Ks

Opinions on the detriment of strikeouts, like opinions on most things in baseball, differ between sabermetricians and traditionalists. The former say they’re no less productive than any other out, and in fact provide more value than a first-pitch groundout, while the latter still focus on the pure indignity of going up to hit a baseball and missing it, the letter K becoming the scorebook branding of a job poorly done.

It’s up for debate whether or not the Nationals were blown out in the last two games of their series with the Florida Marlins this weekend because of strikeouts. But an offense that went flat in the last two days spent a good deal of time making hairpin turns for the third-base dugout.

The Nationals struck out 35 times in three games against the Marlins, watching a chance to claim a share of first place in the National League East whiz by. They lost two of three in Florida, falling 7-1 on Saturday and 9-3 on Sunday, as their bats stopped connecting and their record fell back within a game of .500.

Jim Riggleman discusses the Nats 9-3 loss to the Marlins with the Nats Xtra crew

Instead of tying the Mets for first place with a win on Saturday, the Nationals lost to Chris Volstad and followed it with a defeat against Marlins ace Josh Johnson on Sunday. They are now tied for third in the division with the Marlins, faced with righting their offense on a homestand full of imposing starting pitchers.

“That was a pretty tough guy they’re facing today. He’s throwing good, and we put two on the board against him real quick,” manager Jim Riggleman said after Sunday’s loss. “I’m looking at the glass half-full. We can get out there and put some runs on these top pitchers quick.”

The Nationals managed a 3-3 road trip despite scoring more than three runs just once. But they had one of their worst defensive games of the year on Saturday and didn’t pitch well in both weekend losses to the Marlins.

Riggleman has said many times how the Nationals aren’t playing their best baseball yet. That’s both a sign of how good they can be when they hit consistently and how little room for error they have right now.

Saturday was one of the Nationals’ worst defensive games of the year, and neither Craig Stammen nor John Lannan pitched well in their respective outings on Saturday and Sunday. The slipups came when the Nationals had little offense to bail them out.

“(We’re) pissed off, to be honest with you, if I can say that,” outfielder Willie Harris said. “In the past, it’d be, ‘It’s alright, it’s just another game.’ But now, it’s different. We want to win right now, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

This weekend, it wasn’t just that the Nationals’ offense wasn’t putting the ball in play. It was the situations and opportunities they missed when they missed the ball.

Ten of their 16 strikeouts on Friday night came with men on base, and six of those were with less than two outs.

On Saturday, they struck out eight times in Volstad’s complete game, two of them coming with men on base. And Sunday’s 11 strikeouts included six whiffs with runners on base, three of those with less than two outs.

The offensive dropoff comes as the Nationals get Ryan Zimmerman back and get Adam Dunn going. But their right-field-by-committee approach, to this point, has produced a .148 average and a .281 on-base percentage. The Nationals have two starters (Zimmerman and Ivan Rodriguez) hitting over .300, though four of their eight regulars have OBPs over .350.

They’ll have a challenge recharging the offense this week, too. This week, they’ll face the Braves’ Kenshin Kawakami, Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson before getting Volstad, and Johnson again in the first two games of the Marlins series.

The Nationals have already seen Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Cole Hamels (twice), Ricky Nolasco, Volstad and Johnson, and still managed a 13-12 record. That’s why Riggleman and plenty of players feel they’ll get things fixed quickly.

To put together a decent homestand, they’ll have to.

“We’ve been playing alright. The last couple days, the offense just hasn’t gotten going,” second baseman Adam Kennedy said. “(We’ll) take a breather tomorrow, and get ‘em on Tuesday.”