In their 44 wins this season, there have probably been only a handful where the Nationals did fewer things right than they did on Tuesday. They stranded 10 runners, going 2-for-11 with men in scoring position, and got enough runs to win largely because Cubs second baseman Jeff Baker had back spasms on what should have been an easy throw in the first inning.
Generally, that’s not the kind of thing you’d like to count on to build a rally.
“We hit some balls hard tonight. That was great,” manager Davey Johnson said. “But a wild throw to second gives us two runs. I know we’re a lot better than that. I can’t wait for us to break out.”
The biggest difference between this Nationals team and the ones that have preceded it, though, is that this one is built to survive stretches of offensive futility - maybe not for months, but certainly for long enough to post some wins in spite of its offense.
WIth all of their problems scoring runs Tuesday - and the Nationals had many of them centered around their biggest offseason acquisition - they still managed a 3-2 win over the Cubs, moving back to a game over .500.
Their last five wins have all come by a run. Their last nine have come either by a run or in extra innings. And they’ve won 17 of the 32 one-run games they’ve played this year, getting back to the same point they were when manager Jim Riggleman resigned on June 23.
“We’re the type of team where, at any given moment, somebody’s going to pick somebody else up and we’re going to get the job done,” reliever Tyler Clippard said. “It takes a lot of pressure off certain guys when they’re not having their best night.
The player at the top of that list right now has to be Jayson Werth, who went 0-for-4 on Tuesday night, struck out twice, grounded into a double play and left six men on base, again drawing boos from the crowd of 19,181.
He’s hitting .161 since June 1, has homered just twice in that time and has struck out 32 times in 31 games. For any player, that’d be an absymal month; for a player making $18 million, it’s almost incomprehensible. Werth has run into some bad luck - he has a batting average on balls in play of .158 in that time - but he’s also not hitting many balls hard right now, and even Johnson thought things couldn’t get much worse for the right fielder after Tuesday.
“I think he’s bottomed out,” Johnson said. “I thought he was in a good frame of mind the last three or four days. I think earlier in the year, he was playing mentor a little more than he needed to. But he’s a heck of a ballplayer, and I know he’s going to start doing the things he’s capable of doing.”
Until he does - and until the rest of the Nationals’ offense gets going - they’ll have to win like this. And they’ve shown the wares to do it; their starting staff has the sixth-best ERA in the National League, and their bullpen has stranded the fifth-highest percentage of runners in baseball.
Those are pretty good credentials to win one-run games, and though luck will likely catch up to them eventually, they’ve shown they can survive for now.
“A couple years ago, I don’t think people came here not to win, but it just wasn’t in the atmosphere, because there was a lot of losing going on,” said starter Ross Detwiler, who pitched 5 1/3 innings for a win in a spot start. “There’s been a complete turnaround here.”