MILWAUKEE - I'm at General Mitchell International Airport this morning, waiting for my flight back to D.C. and a temperature swing of something around 45 degrees or so. It was in the mid-40s and rainy yesterday here, and I'm fairly certain I saw flurries this morning. There are certain aspects of Midwestern weather I will defend, but if there were truly flurries just before Memorial Day, that's inexcusable.
Speaking of things that are long overdue to heat up, the Nationals' offense seems to be crawling out of hibernation - or, at least, some of the Nationals' hitters are. The team has scored 34 runs in its last six games, which is its best run output in a six-game stretch this season. Friday's 17-run outburst against the Orioles obviously helped, but the Nationals scored 13 runs in three games against the Brewers. That's not exceptional, but it should be enough to avoid getting swept.
And that's the problem; as the Nationals start to get some offense from Jayson Werth (.391/.481/.739 with two homers and two doubles in his last six) and Michael Morse (.400/.400/.900 with three homers in that stretch), they're losing games in bunches. They went 1-5 in Baltimore and Milwaukee, allowing 39 runs and giving up 10 homers in those two series. They played in a pair of hitters' parks, which probably contributed to both trends, but all season, when the Nationals have been doing one thing well, they've been doing another thing poorly.
"I don't think there's one specific thing (to fix)," manager Jim Riggleman said. "I think we've just got to find a way to put it all together, put the offense and the pitching together more often on the same day."
That's a hallmark of mediocre teams, and after 49 games, that looks like what the Nationals are destined to be. But they can take some solace in knowing two of their key power hitters are coming out of slumps.
"There's probably only one direction (the numbers) could go," Werth said. "But again, that's why you play 162, and you're judged on a full season, not just 100 at-bats or so. All that's just baseball. A lot of people want to look at what's happening right now or what has happened recently. A lot of that gets buried and never seen again by the end of the season."
For his part, Werth said he's been feeling more comfortable at the plate after working with hitting coach Rick Eckstein to get in a better hitting position. Eckstein has Werth using a small leg kick as part of his swing - he's had several other hitters (like Danny Espinosa in the minors) use that as a move to gather timing and power before a swing's follow through - and while Werth said he's still learning the move, he's feeling as good as he has all year at the plate.
"I kind of switched the setup in my stance a little bit," Werth said. "I guess, really, it's kind of got me into hitting position, which is probably the one thing where I was feeling so inconsistent there for a while."
But as the Nationals' offense starts to approach its average, its starting rotation might be regressing to it. They'll have to hope their pitching sustains long enough for the offense to catch it. At seven games under .500, the Nationals are in bad need of a winning streak - they haven't won more than four in a row since the final seven games of the 2009 season. And to have that happen, they need everything to finally work at the same time.