In the Nationals' ninth-inning rally last night, their two best players - Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman - only played bit parts. In fact, had Justin Smoak been able to field a ball between his legs, it would have been Werth and Zimmerman that combined to end the game.
Werth reached first after Smoak's error, which meant that Zimmerman's double play two batters later - his third of the night - still left the Nationals with one out.
They capitalized on that out with Jerry Hairston Jr., Michael Morse, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos getting hits. Werth scored the first run, but that was the only contribution the Nationals got from their two stars.
And in some ways, that's fitting, because this entire season has been about the team getting by without what they thought they'd get from Werth and Zimmerman.
Zimmerman has scalded the ball at times since he returned from abdominal surgery on June 14, but he's still getting his timing back at the plate, and he's batting .250 in the seven games he's played since coming off the disabled list. And Werth has struggled so mightily that he showed up to the ballpark on Tuesday with only a soul patch left where his beard used to be. He also changed his walkup music, ditching Guns 'n' Roses' "November Rain" for Kanye West's "H.A.M."
The right fielder has been searching for a groove all season, tinkering with swing adjustments and fighting through some bad luck (a .265 BABIP) on his way to a .233 average. He's struck out 62 times in 257 at-bats, and his ability to draw walks (35 so far) and run the bases (he's taken an extra base on 55 percent of his chances) have been his main attributes.
The good news for the Nationals is, while their two cornerstones have been missing or misfiring, they've seen young players growing into bigger roles. Danny Espinosa has a 2.8 WAR this season, just below Rockies All-Star Troy Tulowitzki, and he looks like a favorite for NL Rookie of the Year honors right now. Ramos, who hit the walk-off homer on Tuesday, has a 1.5 WAR (though he hasn't logged enough at-bats to quality among the league leaders). That's third among NL rookies, and it's no stretch to say the Nationals have the best rookie class in the league.
Morse, whose power surge has gone on long enough that it must be called something other than a hot streak, has a 1.6 WAR, which is sixth among NL first basemen. He's hit homers on a staggering 21.7 percent of his fly balls - the same percentage as Prince Fielder - and while he's probably due for a regression (he's got a .352 BABIP,) he's shown he can be a legitimate source of power every day. And Roger Bernadina, another late bloomer, is hitting .282 after going 12-for-27 in his last seven games.
So while the Nationals wait for Werth's numbers to rebound and Zimmerman to take off, they've found other players to help their offense recently. That was the hope all along when they let Adam Dunn go and traded Josh Willingham, and so far, it's working.