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Michael Morse has struck out in a whopping 28.6 percent of his plate appearances.
The Nationals have turned the strikeout into a rite of passage. Through 34 games, they've totaled 270 strikeouts, an average of 7.94 per game. Amazingly, they don't rank dead-last in the NL in this category. Both the Pirates and Padres have whiffed more, though not in the last week, when things have really taken a downward turn.
Over their last five games, the Nats have struck out 61 times, a stunning average of 12.2 per game. Three of the last four opposing starters they've faced (Roy Halladay, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez) have reached double digits in K's.
Why have the Nationals struggled so much this season to produce runs? More than anything, it's been their inability to put the ball in play.
As a team, the Nats are striking out in 21.6 percent of their plate appearances. That's the second-worst rate in baseball (ahead of only the Pirates) and far above the major-league average rate of 18.6 percent.
Some managers and general managers don't mind high strikeout totals. "An out's an out," some might say. Frank Robinson, though, used to abhor strikeouts. "Absolutely nothing productive comes from striking out," the Hall of Famer and former Nationals managed would say.
It's hard to argue with that logic, especially when you've got a lineup built not for the three-run homer but to manufacture runs one at a time.
We've seen Jim Riggleman play for one run on numerous occasions this season, bunting a runner over to second or third base in an attempt to get him 90 feet closer to the plate. (The Nationals rank second in the majors with 20 sacrifice bunts.)
All too often, though, that runner has been stranded in scoring position because the guy at the plate couldn't even make contact.
Unfortunately, it wasn't difficult to see this coming. The Nationals' lineup and bench are loaded with players known to swing and miss at a high rate. Check out these guys' strikeout rates in 2011 and over their careers (stats represent the percentage of a player's plate appearances in which he strikes out)...
|PLAYER||2011 K RATE||CAREER K RATE|
Two things immediately stand out: 1) Most of these players posted high strikeout totals prior to this season, and 2) Several key players (like Werth, LaRoche and Ankiel) are actually striking out at a lower rate this year than they have in the past.
Neither conclusion should give you reason to smile. The Nationals, as currently constructed, are going to strike out a lot this season.
Which means runs are going to continue to be at a premium.
Which means these guys better hope they continue to get quality pitching and defense on a nightly basis to at least give themselves a chance of winning in spite of their swing-and-miss lineup.