The Nationals’ offense is in such a long and undeniable funk right now, there’s not much to say about it. Fresh insights can be piled on old ones, and statistics can paint an updated picture, but the problem remains the same: With an offense that’s making average pitchers look like good ones and good pitchers look untouchable, they aren’t going to win. And their season is quickly slipping out of their grasp.
They lost 1-0 to the White Sox on Saturday, wasting another impressive pitching performance (six strikeouts and one run in six innings) from a more unlikely source than Stephen Strasburg (J.D. Martin, who became a hard-luck loser a day after Strasburg’s no-decision). Their losing streak stretched to five games, and they’ve dropped seven of eight. Their record now sits at 31-38.
And they’ve scored one run in 20 innings.
“Depending on who you’re facing, you’ve got to step your game up, come through with some hits and support our pitchers,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who struck out four times in as many at-bats on Saturday. “They’ve been throwing the ball well. It’s not good to waste performances like that. We need to work a little bit harder and come through in the clutch a little bit more.”
If the Nationals could come through at all in the clutch right now, it’d be a welcome sight. They managed three hits and five total baserunners (one on an intentional walk) off White Sox starter Jake Peavy, the former Cy Young winner who threw a complete game shutout in what might have been his best game since coming to Chicago from San Diego last year.
The Nationals struck out seven times and walked twice. They made Peavy throw just 107 pitches on Saturday. Part of that was the right-hander’s ability to start the ball off the plate and work it back across the corners for strikes.
“A lot of the pitches he was throwing early were good pitches,” Zimmerman said. “You’re looking for one spot and one zone early, if you’re going to swing at those pitches that are on the outer half, it’s hard to drive those balls. If he’s going to make those pitches early in the count, it’s going to be a long day.”
And the Nationals, again, were frustrated by the strike zone; manager Jim Riggleman was ejected during an eighth-inning pitching change for arguing balls and strikes with home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook.
But the problem continues to be bigger than one pitcher; the Nationals have struck out 47 times against just seven walks in the last five games. They’ve gotten little production out of the top of their lineup, though Nyjer Morgan and Cristian Guzman each had a hit today, and Zimmerman is in a 4-for-30 funk.
Manager Jim Riggleman said he doesn’t plan to make any changes to the lineup; “I don’t think there’s some options. We’re trying to get established there, where we send our same seven or eight guys out there,” he said.
And short of some minor tinkering, there’s probably not much Riggleman can do. The Nationals need to summon some life from their offense, or the focus of their season could quickly shift from the present to the future.