After the Nationals lose five straight, winning a game shouldn’t seem so easy. But for this offense, it frequently is. And that continues to be the strangest thing about this team, which is 44-80 despite having an offense that’s very solidly among the top six or seven in the National League in most categories.
The Nationals are capable of going in slumps for days at a time, and they’re capable of exploding for eight runs like they did in an 8-3 win over the Brewers on Sunday, ending a five-game losing streak a half-day after they lost 11-9 in a rain-delayed game Saturday night.
“We’re more surprised when we don’t score some runs than we are when we do score them,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “We got a little break, and we took advantage of it.”
That little break came in the first inning, when the Brewers had an opportunity for an easy double play and shorstop Alcides Escobar couldn’t handle a throw at second. Ryan Zimmerman singled after that, and Ronnie Belliard drove in two runs later in the inning with a two-out single to right. Washington was up 3-0, and scored another run on a successful suicide squeeze in the second, with Nyjer Morgan bunting home Mike Morse, before Cristian Guzman’s homer.
Then they got homers from Zimmerman and Adam Dunn. Stammen went 6 2/3, and the bullpen closed off the game. It was that easy.
So why isn’t this offense more consistent? For one thing, it’s baseball; you can’t expect to score six runs every day. That said, the Nationals’ Pythagorean record, which measures expected wins based on a team’s run differential, was eight games better heading into Sunday than their actual record.
They lost quite a few games where their offense was performing well because of a putrid bullpen early this year. But the other factor is, the Nationals have a lot of hitters who are prone to streakiness. Zimmerman has gone through several hot streaks this year mixed with slumps, though his production is more even than it used to be. Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham can be the same way — both of them are having career years in terms of batting average, and they’re at .288 and .296, respectively.
There aren’t a lot of classic, no-doubt-about-it .300 hitters in the lineup, save for Cristian Guzman, so that’s going to lead to big swings in the production department. But the Nationals have grown by leaps and bounds in their ability to work pitchers and get on base (they have a team OBP of .344) and they’ll probably end the year with a 40-, 30- and 20-homer player (Dunn, Zimmerman and Willingham).
Bottom line: This attack is good enough to win more games than it has—especially once Jesus Flores comes back next year. And if the defense continues to be consistent while the Nationals add some pitching, the record should be much better next season.