The Nationals have played 34 games this year, and they've been shut out four times. And in each one of those shutouts, they've looked a little more helpless.
When they lost 2-0 to the Braves on opening day, they got five hits and at least forced Derek Lowe out of the game after 5 2/3 innings. The next shutout, against Cliff Lee and the Phillies, was a three-hitter. And the Cardinals' Kyle Lohse followed that with a two-hit shutout a week later.
But they might not have looked as hapless at the plate in any of those games as they did on Sunday. They let Marlins starter Anibal Sanchez come within nine outs of a no-hitter and struck out 11 times against the right-hander. They eventually tallied four hits, but lost 8-0 to the Marlins. It doesn't take much away from a solid series in Florida, where the Nationals took two out of three and reversed some of their poor history at Sun Life Stadium. It showed again, though, how capable this offense is of freezing completely. It wouldn't be surprising to see them get no-hit at some point this year.
Jim Riggleman comments on the performance of Marlins starter Anibal Sanchez
The Nationals are hitting .220 as a team, and entered the day with the third-worst strikeout rate in the major leagues, at 24.1 percent of their at-bats. They struck out 13 more times on Sunday. They have a lineup full of starters who are likely to approach 100 strikeouts this season, and while you can live with those totals if hitters are drawing walks, the Nationals continue to struggle there, too. Their .298 on-base percentage was the worst in the National League before Sunday, and they got just one on Sunday.
And next up on the gauntlet of tough NL East pitchers is the Braves' Tim Hudson, who might dominate the Nationals more than any other pitcher in the game. Hudson is 11-2 with a 1.88 ERA against Washington in his career, and he'll get the ball for Atlanta in the series opener at Turner Field on Tuesday. Hudson has enough variations of his fastball that when he gets ahead in the count, he becomes exponentially tougher to hit. The Nationals might need to jump on pitches earlier in counts, or hope Hudson makes some mistakes. They've got a lineup full of hitters who like to take pitches, but they might need to find a happy medium with that approach.
After another shutout, it's clear something still isn't working. And a trip to Atlanta all but ensures the Nationals won't get things turned around by chance.