Returning home still searching for some answers

Leading into this week’s sets of games against the Cardinals and Reds, two tough, talented playoff teams from a year ago, the Nationals went on the road last week to face the two National League East teams everyone expects to finish at the bottom of the division for a second straight season.

Six games against the Marlins and Mets? That’ll be the remedy for whatever has been ailing this Nationals team early on this season, right?

Not really.

Instead of getting things back on track in Miami and New York, picking up some lopsided wins and regaining their mojo, the Nats come home still looking for answers.

Davey Johnson’s bunch earned just three victories on a six-game road trip, adding to the overall frustration over the way their highly-anticipated 2013 season has begun.

Through the season’s first 18 games, the Nats haven’t looked much like the balanced, loaded team they thought they’d be fielding this season, one that many predicted would bring a World Series title to D.C.

The Nats currently rank 19th in the league in batting average, 20th in team ERA and dead last in fielding percentage.

A few key hitters (Danny Espinosa and Adam LaRoche among them) have not really gotten going yet, a handful of hurlers (Dan Haren, Gio Gonzalez and Drew Storen jump to mind) are off to rocky starts and the defense has just been sloppy, plain and simple.

The Nats have now made 18 errors in 18 games, the most in the major leagues.

Ian Desmond now has seven errors after his throwing miscue on the first play of the bottom of the first inning yesterday, this after the Nats shortstop only committed 15 errors all of last season. Ryan Zimmerman - on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain - has four errors. Bryce Harper now has two after he lost track of a ball that bounced out of his glove yesterday.

Defense was supposed to be one of this team’s strengths this season; instead, it might be the area that has frustrated Johnson the most.

We can continue to look at the talent that general manager Mike Rizzo has assembled on this roster and say that it’s only a matter of time before the Nationals snap out of this rough stretch.

There are just too many guys with proven track records on this team for the Nats to continue playing at this level. You look at guys like Zimmerman, LaRoche and Storen and say that they’re bound to turn things around, and when everyone starts playing to their potential, the Nats will be right back on track.

All we know right now, however, is that the Nationals aren’t playing great baseball. They’ve been rather fortunate, actually, to post 10 wins in their first 18 games given their level of play, but if their mediocre hitting, inconsistent pitching and sloppy defense keeps up, the frustration level could rise quickly.

Johnson and the guys in the Nats clubhouse are surely still confident. Eighteen games does not a season make.

This week, facing the Cardinals and Reds at Nats Park, it’ll be interesting to see if the guys in the home dugout can start turning things around and putting this troubling start behind them.

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