Nats' inability to drive in runs getting exposed

It’s easy to look at the Nationals’ offensive woes right now and lament their lack of power. This is a team that has hit only 21 home runs in 24 games, the fifth-lowest total in the majors.

Davey Martinez would love more homers from this team, no doubt. But he also knows this lineup wasn’t built with home runs in mind. What the Nats manager really wants, more than anything else, are any hits that score runs, whether singles, doubles, triples or homers. Or even a non-hit that still scores a run.

“We had a chance today to score a run, just by moving a guy over (and) the next guy hit a fly ball,” Martinez said following Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Dodgers. “Those are the little things that matter. If we do that, it’s a tie game right now. We have to get back to that.”

Indeed, the Nationals, for all their issues, have consistently given themselves a chance to win games this month by putting runners in scoring position. They just haven’t consistently shown an ability to get those runners home.

Consider Thursday’s loss, when they went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Or Tuesday’s loss, when they went 3-for-9 but drove in only one run in the process.

That’s how you lose games in which Patrick Corbin and MacKenzie Gore combined to surrender just one run in 11 1/3 innings.

“Our pitchers are doing a great job on the mound and battling and pitching well,” first baseman Joey Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “And not being able to help them on the offensive side, obviously it’s very, very frustrating.”

Meneses was actually one of the few members of the lineup who did deliver this week. After a woeful start to his season, he now has nine hits in his last 19 at-bats, driving in five runs in the process. His teammates were less fortunate.

Here’s the telling stat: The Nationals rank in the middle of the pack in the majors with 243 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. But they rank near the bottom with a .222 batting average, .314 on-base percentage and .320 slugging percentage in those situations. They’ve totaled only 60 RBIs with runners in scoring position, fewest in the National League.

They’re giving themselves enough chances to score runs. They’re just not making enough out of those chances.

“It’s hard,” said catcher Keibert Ruiz, who along with Meneses was one of the best hitters in the league with runners in scoring position last year. “It’s a long season. We just have to keep our heads up and keep fighting.”

The Nationals were counting all along on Meneses and Ruiz to continue to produce in clutch situations. They were also counting on some veteran additions to the lineup to make an impact. Which hasn’t happened yet.

“The big boys in the middle of the lineup have to start driving in runs for us,” Martinez said.

The main culprits are Joey Gallo and Eddie Rosario. With runners in scoring position, Gallo is 2-for-19 with five walks and 10 strikeouts. Rosario is 0-for-13 with one walk and four strikeouts.

The Nats knew they were getting a streaky hitter in Gallo, famous for producing one of the three “true outcomes” (walk, strikeout, homer) in a majority of his plate appearances. Problem is, he’s only hit three homers to date, two of them were solo shots, two of them came with the team trailing by multiple runs and all came prior to the fourth inning.

“He gets on. He walks. That’s part of who he is,” Martinez said of Gallo, who is tied for 10th in the majors with 15 bases on balls. “And I’ve said this before: When he does get hot, he can carry a team for a little while. We’ve got to work through it. … Once he gets going, he’s going to help us.”

Rosario, meanwhile, is a notoriously slow starter. His career .630 OPS in April is more than 100 points worse than his mark in any other month of the season. And in the last two days, he did make outs on two line drives with exit velocities over 100 mph while also driving another ball to the warning track that was caught.

But in the meantime, the Nationals are suffering because of the lack of production from Gallo, Rosario and countless others.

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