Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond has cooled off dramatically at the plate in the last month.
All of the ire, of course, was directed toward a Nationals lineup that is producing at minuscule levels these days.
Lest anyone need to be reminded, the Nats have now scored a whopping total of 20 runs over their last nine games. They haven't surpassed the four-run mark in any of those instances. During this just-completed, six-game homestand, they managed to twice lose 1-0 and a third time by a 2-1 count.
Pointed questions were asked after this latest loss, and the answers suggested a ballclub trying to convince itself everything is still OK.
"I hate to, and I won't, make excuses for anybody," Jim Riggleman said. "But sometimes you've got to tip your hat to the opposition. I'm not trying to rationalize too much, but we've run into a lot of well-pitched ballgames against us. I know that gets old saying that. I want to score runs more than anybody. But they just held us down."
Among the opposing pitchers who have dominated the Nats over the last week: Gavin Floyd, Freddy Garcia, Bruce Chen and Brian Bannister. We're not talking about Roy Halladay, Ubaldo Jimenez and Stephen Strasburg here.
No, the Nationals' prolonged funk at the plate seems to have more to do with the guys swinging the bat than the guys throwing the baseball. And there are no shortage of players who deserve blame for it.
Let's start at the top of the order, where Nyjer Morgan continues to struggle to get on base. Since June 3, the Nats' leadoff man is batting .197 with an abysmal .250 on-base percentage and a paltry .227 slugging percentage.
"We have a good offense on paper," teammate Josh Willingham said. "We've got to start from the top," Willingham said. "When Nyjer plays well, it helps our offense. We've just been really inconsistent."
No debating that point, but Morgan isn't the lone culprit here.
Over his last 25 games, Cristian Guzman is batting .245 with a .267 on-base percentage.
Ryan Zimmerman had the NL's highest OPS two weeks ago. Since then, he's hitting .167 with a .231 on-base percentage, two extra-base hits, three RBI and 18 strikeouts.
Adam Dunn continues to put up some nice numbers and ranks among the league leaders in homers and slugging percentage. But he also continues to fail miserably in the clutch, with one hit in 30 at-bats this season with two outs and runners in scoring position.
Willingham's production has tailed off some in recent weeks, and during the 1-0 loss he struck out three times while also failing to score from third when the Royals' infield was conceding the run.
"Sometimes you've got to find a way to win the game when you're not hitting," Riggleman said. "We've got to run the bases a little better and do some little things that will help us."
Ian Desmond's rose has lost some of its bloom; the rookie is 0 for his last 14, striking out seven times in that span and now owns a .286 on-base percentage.
And then there's Riggleman's preferred left-handed bat off the bench, Willie Harris, who flied out to left in this game to extend his hitless streak to 20 at-bats. Harris hasn't reached base since June 3 in Houston, a staggering run of offensive futility.
Put it all together, and you've got a recipe for disaster, even if Nationals players are reluctant to admit it.
"At the end of the year, our numbers will probably be the same as they always are," Zimmerman said. "But since we haven't scored in a week or so, that's what everybody asks about. Nobody asks about it when we're scoring six, seven, eight runs a game, and that's how it evens out. It's obviously frustrating. We want to do it all season, but it doesn't work out like that."
Actually, Zim, plenty of people noted it when you guys busted out and scored nine runs in Cleveland earlier this month. That's because it was the rare instance in which this lineup legitimately put up big numbers.
Otherwise, the Nats' offensive production has been putrid for a while now. This team is averaging less than 3.3 runs per game in June. Is it any wonder the club's record this month is 7-14?
Players and coaches are obviously frustrated. They have a right to be, especially after squandering another pitching performance from Strasburg that should have been good enough to win.
But the answer to what ails the Nationals at the plate isn't to convince yourself everything will be OK in the long run. It's time for these guys to admit their flaws and attempt to do something about it.
Strasburg has refused to throw his offensive teammates under the bus for the lack of support he's gotten his last two times on the mound. But if this keeps up, it's going to be more and more difficult for the young right-hander to shoulder the load himself when, in fact, the blame deserves to be spread across the Nats' clubhouse.