This offseason sprang hope for fans of the Curly W. Moves were made to make the Nationals pitching staff one of the best in baseball, from starters to relievers. Rookies and young players now had yet another year of experience under their belts. Things were looking way up for this ballclub. The boys were ready to shock the world. Through the first month of the season there is absolutely no question that they have done just that.
Prior to a 4-game losing streak (1 against the Padres and 3 against the Dodgers), the Nationals were the talk of baseball and one of the best teams in the league.
Things, however, haven't been as rosy since the Nationals were 14-4 just 4 games ago. There is really only one reason for that, though it goes a bit deeper than simply the one issue - of course I am referring to the Nationals seemingly abysmal offense.
The pitching staff can allow 1 or 2 runs over the course of a week's worth of games is fantastic, but when the offense can't scratch together 2 or 3 runs to steal the ballgame is where the Nats are running into trouble. In the last 11 games (in which the Nats are 6-5), the Nationals have scored more than 3 runs only twice and won only one of those games. Their total runs scored over those games? 29 runs - or 2.6 runs/game. Any team would struggle to win ballgames when the offense just can't drive in runs.
We know the offense is bad (and that Rick Eckstein deserves to be fired), but the reason why it has been so bad is because of the sheer volume of injuries. We talked about it last week in this post and it has exacerbated since with Ryan Zimmerman actually going to the DL (when he was day-to-day and was expecting to play two days later) and then Mark DeRosa going to the DL with a mysterious Oblique injury. More injuries to some key players is going to negatively affect the offense all the time but with Morse already down? It's just salt in the wound.
To get a sense of how drastic things have gotten for the Nationals I dug back into the Capitol Baseball archive and found this gem from February of this year which included my prediction of the Nats lineup. It went as follows:
Ian Desmond - 6
Jayson Werth - 9
Ryan Zimmerman - 5
Adam LaRoche - 3 (yep, I was ahead of the curve)
Michael Morse - 7
Rick Ankiel - 8
Danny Espinosa - 4
Wilson Ramos - 2
Now for comparison's sake, let's take a look at yesterday afternoon's lineup:
Ian Desmond - 6 (4 for his last 44)
Stephen Lombardozzi - 5 (1 for his last 17)
Danny Espinosa - 4 (Yes, that is a guy with a .213/.308/.280 slashline hitting 3rd)
Adam LaRoche - 3 (Nats MVP thus far)
Xavier Nady - 9 (The Nats 6 hitter has a .140/.173/.220 slashline and a -0.7 WAR which is the worst in the National League) [Oh, by the way, he didn't have a job before two weeks before the season cause he is so bad but he is now starting every game for the Nationals]
Tyler Moore - 7 (Just called up)
Bryce Harper - 8 (19 years old and has a better eye than probably anyone on the team)
Jesus Flores - 2 (Backup Catcher)
Honestly. I'm not kidding at all when I say this. This is a AAA baseball team with Adam LaRoche rehabbing an injury. Are any of these players good enough or ready to be on a major league roster right now?
The answer is no.
How many players did I get right? 2. With a 3rd that is still in the lineup. Werth - out. Zim - out. Morse - out. Ank - not in the lineup. Ramos - struggling. Espinosa hitting 3rd???
Strasburg can lead the NL in WAR all he wants, but if the Nationals are putting out a AAA lineup it isn't going to matter. He can throw a 10 inning No-Hitter but if he can't get any run support it really isn't going to matter.
Thing's aren't going to get any better until the team gets Morse and Zimmerman back healthy. Then, and only then, can we all witness what the Nationals are truly capable of. But for now, hope that the Nats can scratch out two runs before the other team does.
It will get better. It really will. Keep the faith.