It seems to be a good time to be a sports fan in the DC area – the Capitals are on their way to the second round of the NHL playoffs; the Redskins just drafted a promising quarterback named RG3 (he has a real name, but if you don’t know him as RG3, you’re just not cool!); the Wizards won their last 6 regular-season games (way too little way too late!); and the Nationals are in first place atop the NL East with a record of 14-5. Life is good!
But wait! Things are not all rosy in NatsTown, where the Nationals are #20 in the Majors in batting with a not-so-great .238 batting average. No one on the team is hitting, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman may be placed on the Disabled List if his shoulder inflammation doesn’t improve (not that Zim was hitting much to begin with, but his presence is definitely missed in the lineup and in the clubhouse).
So how is it that the Nationals are in first place in their division? They are fortunate to have some terrific pitching. The Nationals lead the Majors with a 2.20 ERA, and three of their starters have ERAs below 2 (Strasburg is #4 with a 1.08 ERA, Jordan Zimmermann is #8 with a 1.33, and Gio Gonzalez is #12 with a 1.52). They say good pitching stops good hitting, but if your pitchers don’t get any run support, what’s the use of having strong arms?
It also makes us Nats fans a bit nervous not knowing when left fielder Michael Morse will be returning to the lineup. Morse led the Nationals last season with 31 home runs but has been on the Disabled List since injuring a lat muscle during Spring Training. Without Morse or Zimmerman in the lineup, their best hitter has been first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is 22 in the Majors with a .324 batting average. Desmond, Espinosa, Werth, and Ramos need to kick it up a notch – these 2-0 and 1-0 games are killing me!
Also, I’m normally of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, but I think it’s time to fire Nationals’ hitting coach Rick Eckstein. Eckstein has been with the team since 2008, and I have not seen overwhelming offensive results since he’s been there. They need some fresh blood in the dugout, like, say, recently-retired and future Hall-of-Fame-er Iván Rodriguez or Jorge Posada or even Magglio Ordoñez – they’re not doing anything right now and I’m sure could contribute greatly to a contending team like the Nationals!
So the Nats will be in LA this weekend for a 3-game series against the NL West-leading Dodgers. Manager Don Mattingly is having a whole lot of fun managing this Magic Johnson-owned team, and this weekend will be the true test of whether the Nationals’ hitters are ready for post-season-type play. Let’s just hope the pitchers (Detwiler on Friday, Strasburg on Saturday and Gonzalez on Sunday) can shut out the Dodgers – the Nats need all the help they can get!