The Nationals have an up-and-down week on the west coast as they get ready to take on the World Champions.
I’m normally a glass-half-full kind of person. I always try to find the positive in everything, like when our moving truck broke down in New Jersey and it took us 3 days to get from Massachusetts to Maryland with all our belongings many years ago. The weather was perfect, the baby was well-behaved, and the dog didn’t have any accidents during the long trip. Similarly, when my Nationals aren’t playing particularly well, I try to focus on something positive – the pitching was pretty good despite the lack of run support, no one was injured, Ian Desmond has a nice rear end – anything to offset a losing outcome.
This past week, it’s been hard to remain upbeat when the Nationals haven’t been hitting. With Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth out of the lineup, everyone else (except for Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche) has been asleep. Harper is still banged up after running into the outfield wall at Dosger Stadium last week, and Werth is on the Disabled List with a pulled hamstring. Also on the DL is catcher Wilson Ramos, but Kurt Suzuki has been doing a decent job behind the plate, so that’s not as much of an issue.
So if LaRoche and Zimmerman are hitting (LaRoche has a 16-game streak going into Monday’s game), why are they losing? Unlike last year, the starting pitching has not been very dominant. Yes, Jordan Zimmermann is having a great year, but Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren pretty much suck, and the bullpen has not been nearly as strong as it was last year. In Sunday’s game against the San Diego Padres, Haren allowed seven runs in five innings, and the Nats' relievers weren't much better. Henry Rodriguez, Ryan Mattheus and Drew Storen combined to allow six runs in three frames for a 13-4 loss.
What to do to stay competitive and win more games? Fire the hitting coach, for one thing. I have not been a fan of Rick Eckstein for a long time, and my dislike for him continues. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but he doesn’t seem to address the individual issues and struggles that each player is having. Second baseman Danny Espinosa hasn’t been a consistent hitter for the past 2 years, and his problems at the plate seem to be getting worse. What good is it to have a switch hitter if he can’t hit from either side? And why do most Nationals betters swing at the first pitch? If you’re trying to come across as “aggressive at the plate,” it doesn’t work when batters are swinging just to swing. Opposing pitchers already know that Ian Desmond is a first-pitch swinger, so they pitch to him accordingly. They need to stop hacking and start taking more pitches. Other teams have no problem taking Nationals’ pitchers to high pitch counts – why can’t the Nats do the same thing?
And what about all the journalists and broadcasters who cover the Nationals? They’re all like “It’s OK; as soon as the regular lineup is back together, everything will click;” and “Just wait – as soon as so-and-so finds his groove, the bats will respond.” Well how long is it going to take “so-and-so” to find that groove? It’s almost June already – how long do we wait for the Nationals’ bats to explode before it’s too late? And don’t even get me started about their defense – leading the Majors in errors is not something about which to brag!
Those of us who stood by our Nationals when they were 59-103 and were told to be patient during their “rebuilding” years were very happy last season. Despite injuries and setbacks, the team played well enough to make it to the playoffs. We liked that feeling, and we’re not ready to give it up. We don’t want to go back to mediocre seasons and half-empty ball parks. We want a winning team with no excuses.