In 16 one-run games this season, the Nationals are 5-11. That’s the worst winning percentage in baseball.
In all other games, they’re 17-19.
If there’s a reason why the team is eight games under .500, staring at a three-game series with the Phillies and an 11-game West Coast road trip that threatens to send its season barreling off course, it’s these close games. Teams that go on winning streaks know how to win them. Since 2005, only six playoff teams have had losing records in one-run games. And in 2011, those games are ruining the Nationals’ season.
“It’s not about breaks,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “It’s about playing the game the right way. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. It’s not luck. We’re not unlucky. We have runners in scoring position, and we can’t score them. It starts with me. I left runners out there. I’ve been leaving runners out there. I’ve got to do something different. We’ve all got to do something different.”
On Sunday, though, it seemed like the Nationals tried about everything they could to generate offense. They played small ball, which helped them in the first inning but might have cost them in the sixth. Manager Jim Riggleman had Wilson Ramos bunt with runners on first and second in no outs in that inning, but in the eighth, when he had him swing away with runners on the same bases and one out, he flew out to left. Michael Morse and Jerry Hairston Jr. tried to take an extra base when a sixth-inning pitch got away from catcher Kyle Phillips, only to have Hairston get picked off when the ball hit home-plate umpire Brian O’Nora’s leg and bounced back to Phillips.
“We pretty much play the game the same way every time. If the game calls for running, we run. If it calls for bunting, we bunt,” Riggleman said. “If it says, ‘Don’t bunt,’ we don’t bunt. There was no thought process of doing anything different.”
Roger Bernadina got thrown out taking a big turn around second base trying to stretch his fifth-inning double into a triple. The Nationals had two hits in the fifth, sixth and seventh, and scored one run. It might be that their offense is only good enough to keep them close on a consistent basis, and not to get them over the top, especially without Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup.
They didn’t get great pitching on Sunday; Yunesky Maya faltered the second time through the lineup after cruising through it the first time, Doug Slaten allowed two more inherited runs to score, and Drew Storen allowed a run in the ninth inning, giving up a run for the third straight outing after not allowing a run for 21 consecutive innings.
But the issue has been, and continues to be, the offense. The Nationals are hitting .229, and with men in scoring position, that average dips to .224. They’re last in the National League in hits, second-to-last in batting average, on-base percentage and doubles, and third-to-last in slugging percentage.
And in one-run games, those deficiencies are even easier to see.
“Nobody’s taking their last at-bat to the plate with them,” Desmond said. “We’re professionals. We’re big-leaguers. That’s why we got here, because we can separate the last at-bat from the last one. It’s just not working right now.”