PHILADELPHIA - On Wednesday night, the Nationals lost another game where they struggled offensively. And worst of all, there might not be a concrete, mechanical reason for it any more. They might simply be struggling because they've been struggling in the past.
Call it pressing, trying to do too much or whatever your favorite term might be. But the wonderful, mystical thing about hitting a baseball is it's such an elusive art. And when it leaves, it gets in your head.
After they lost 7-4 to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, in a game that looked closer than it was because of Danny Espinosa's ninth-inning homer, it wasn't too hard to find Nationals players who would admit that the mental weight of failing in the past was becoming the reason they were failing now.
"I'm sure there are some guys that (are pressing). Myself, I was pressing," said Espinosa, who snapped a 3-for-35 slump with his homer. "I want to get on base. I'm sure I'm not the only guy that's like that. Everyone wants to get on base. We know if we get on base, we're going to give ourselves an opportunity to get an inning going and drive runs in, and that's how you win ballgames."
That's something the Nationals have done all too rarely this year. They entered Wednesday's game with the third-fewest runs in the National League, and had been completely stymied by Phillies rookie Vance Worley before Espinosa hit his blast to right off Danys Baez.
The loss included an uncharacteristic show of emotion from LaRoche, who turned to argue with home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez in the fourth inning after his second called strikeout of the night. Manager Jim Riggleman came out to back the first baseman, and eventually got thrown out of the game.
"It's just some frustration," LaRoche said. "It's nothing against those guys. They do what they can. I disagree sometimes, and usually I don't show it out on the field. That was a little combination of things."
Their only way out of the abyss, though, is to hit. In that sense, Espinosa's homer brought a little more than window dressing to the final score; he had been working with hitting coach Rick Eckstein on shortening his swing and getting his hands inside the ball. He turned on Baez fastball for his third homer of the year - all of which have been three-run shots - and if he can get hot at the top of the lineup, it could spark the Nationals' offense.
The Nationals certainly need something to get them going, if for no other reason than their own state of mind.
"If they do (get discouraged), it's self-imposed," Riggleman said. "You just try to keep letting them go. You keep trying to play hard, play clean baseball and hopefully come out of this. And we will come out of it. But in the meantime, you've got to try and find a way to win the game. You can't just wait to start hitting to win the game. And we've done a great job of that. Our pitchers have done a great job. But at some point, you're going to lose ballgames if you don't hit."