Nationals starting to sing those road blues again

SOMEWHERE ABOVE PENNSYLVANIA - Hello from AirTran flight 262 to Milwaukee, where the Nationals start a three-game series with the Brewers at Miller Park tonight. And thanks to the magic of in-flight wi-fi, I’m able to start this post with the goofiest dateline I’ve ever used.

The Nationals left Camden Yards on Sunday to begin the final leg of their second three-city road trip of the month. They’ve played just six games at home this month, and they’ve only got five more on the schedule at Nationals Park. And June will bring more grueling travel, with more games on the West Coast (14) than in Washington (11).

It’s a bad time, then, for the Nationals to be falling into the same kind of road woes they had last year. They started well enough, splitting a road trip with the Marlins and Mets in April. But since then, they’re 7-12 on the road, and their skid away from home is starting to blot out the fact they’ve won 11 of their first 20 at Nationals Park.

The pattern is all too similar to last year, when the Nationals went 41-40 at home but posted a putrid 28-53 record on the road. Last year, too, they started off with a split of the first road trip in New York and Philadelphia, and actually went 3-3 on the next trip. But a pair of three-city swings after that proved to be the breaking point; the Nationals went .500 on just one road trip the rest of the year.

This year, they’ll have to pull it together soon, because the layout of the road schedule is more grueling than it was last year. The Nationals’ next trip is an 11-game swing to Arizona, San Francisco, and San Diego, and they have two more three-city road trips after that. Especially when an offense isn’t clicking, those long trips can be a drain, and it’s likely the Nationals won’t get Ryan Zimmerman back until they return from the West Coast in June.

The main issue road issue, though, has been run prevention - the same as it was last year. The Nationals scored 327 runs at home last year and 328 on the road, but they allowed 24 more (383) away from home than they did at Nationals Park (359). This year, they’ve given up an average of 4.61 runs per game on the road, compared to 3.35 at home. That’s an extreme difference, and the numbers show the Nationals have pitched sloppily on the road, too; they’ve given an average of 3.42 unintentional walks a game on the road. At home, that average is 1.9.

Put simply, the Nationals are trying to win games by playing clean games and preventing runs, and once again, they’re seeing a big drop-off in that standard when they go on the road. And they’re going into a park where they’ve won just two of their last 11, facing a hitter (Ryan Braun) who has proven himself to be especially good at tormenting both the Nationals and tonight’s starter, Tom Gorzelanny. He has a 1.559 lifetime OPS against Gorzelanny, and has four homers in his last 17 games against Washington.

Well, as I check the in-flight status again, it now says I’m somewhere over Michigan, not Pennsylvania. Talk to you again from Milwaukee.