PHILADELPHIA - Through the first 30 games of the 2011 season, the Nationals' offense has settled into a deep and consistent funk, remaining there for so long it's starting to test some of baseball's offensive norms. They've been both unlucky (a .266 batting average on balls in play, well below the league average of around .300) and inefficient (their 15.4 percent line drive rate is the lowest in baseball).
Conventional logic says they'll come out of it before Ryan Zimmerman returns in mid-June. And they'll have to, because it wouldn't appear there are many places where they can beef up the roster.
Of the Nationals' eight starting positions, there are six where they've either made multi-year commitments (first base, third base, right field) or are starting a young player they expect to be in that role for years (catcher, second base, shortstop). The only places where the Nationals wouldn't seem to have long-term plans are center field and left field, and eventually, Bryce Harper is going to have to play in one of those places - or Jayson Werth will move there if Harper ends up in right field.
So far, the Nationals have stood by Rick Ankiel and Michael Morse in center and left, respectively, though Morse would have to take off to lock down a spot in the Nationals' future outfield. Center field seems like the most likely spot for the Nationals to make a trade - they've been linked to Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton, and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp and the Astros' Michael Bourn are also logical options. But it's unlikely they'd be able to swing a deal until teams start falling out of the race. The Nationals have been willing to add pieces, even if they're not in contention, as long as those players give them an option for the future.
(MLB Trade Rumors put together a good list of possible trade targets for the Nationals in center field here.)
Short of making a change there, though, the Nationals don't have much flexibility. This roster is built to stay afloat in 2011 and move forward in 2012, once Stephen Strasburg is back and Harper continues his move toward the majors (and with what he's been doing at Single-A Hagerstown lately, he seems to be on the right track). It seems unlikely the Nationals would do much to sacrifice future options for a respectable lineup now, especially when they're probably not set up to contend this year anyway.
In the meantime, their best hope is for those averages to bounce up.