The Washington Times - June 15, 2012, 11:33AM

As he was wrapping up his postgame press conference Wednesday afternoon, Nationals manager Davey Johnson was asked about the team’s impending series at Nationals Park against the New York Yankees.

“It’s going to be great,” Johnson said. “Big bad Yankees come to town. Arguably the best ballclub, almost every year, forever. A lot of tradition. They’re in first place, we’re in first place. Even with the offday I don’t think I’ll have to get the guys up. It’s going to be exciting.”


This is likely the most anticipated series held in Washington in a while. The Nationals are one of baseball’s best teams, the Yankees, likewise. 

So without further ado, a few thoughts, observations and leftovers…

– The Nationals’ are 9-2 in June and Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse are a combined 19-for-90 (.211). When you stop and think about that, it’s astounding. That the Nationals are balanced enough to withstand two of their biggest bats not producing is another reminder of how this year is different. For years Ryan Zimmerman’s bat was one of the only signs of optimism around these parts. Now he’s afforded the ability to work through his struggles and not see everything fall down around him.

“We have a very well-rounded team,” Zimmerman said Wednesday, the same afternoon Adam LaRoche got his first day off since missing four games May 3-7 and his replacement, Tyler Moore hit two homers, a double and drove in five runs.

“I think we have a lot of guys that can hurt you up and down the lineup and still with Jayson hurt, it shows you what kind of depth we have. Our pitchers, they’ve been there all year. We’re one of those teams that can pitch and as we continue to get healthy and Mike gets back to getting into the swing of things and I get a few hits every now and then, we’ll be even better.”

So about Zimmerman’s struggles at the plate this season. Johnson discussed some of his concerns about his No. 3 hitter on Wednesday. In doing so, he speculated that Zimmerman’s right shoulder, the one in which inflammation of the AC joint cost him a DL stint earlier this season, might still be bothering him. Zimmerman refuses to use that as a reason for why a career .287 hitter who averages 21 homers per season is sitting at .239 with just three home runs halfway through June.

“There’s a bunch of guys in here that are really banged up,” he said. “I’d rather not use that as an excuse.”

“I just can’t stay consistent,” Zimmerman added. “It’s part of the game. I think you can’t be locked in and feeling great all the time. it’s frustrating. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s not. Just got to keep doing what you’ve been doing for your whole career, keep working hard and things will change.

“It’s no fun. But it happens. Our team’s good enough that we have other guys who can pick it up and we’ve pitched so well that we’ve been winning. It makes it a little easier to stomach it when we’re winning, but it’s still frustrating. I want to do better to help the team win more than anyone.”

– I saw an interesting stat the other day that I thought put in perspective just how good the Nationals’ pitching staff has been outside of the usual ERA, strikeouts, etc. Right now, the 2012 Nationals have the sixth-best winning percentage in the last 30 years in games they score three runs or fewer. 

Remember the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies rotation? The one that was drawing praise as possibly the greatest collection of starting pitchers ever? Well those Phillies played 77 games where their offense scored three runs or fewer. They finished the year 30-47 in those games, a .390 winning percentage.

Right now, the Nationals have played 30 of their 61 games scoring three runs or fewer. They are 12-18 in those games. A .400 winning percentage. The best team in this department in the last 30 years was the 1992 Pirates, who played 79 of them and went 33-46, a .418 winning percentage.

It will be interesting, of course, to see how they do in these types of games (or how many they play) as the season goes on. The Nationals’ offense, once their clear weakness, has been picking it up a bit lately. They scored 44 more runs in May than they did in April and are averaging 4.4 runs per game in June. 

– With the Yankees in town this weekend, there’s been some speculation that the New York reporting corps will certainly pose the question to Bryce Harper of joining the Yankees when he becomes a free agent… which won’t happen until after the 2018 season.

To that end, I’ll just say that it seems to be a fairly irrelevant line of thinking right now, if only because of the amount of time before that is even a consideration.

But it also should be noted that Harper has said, both publicly and privately, that he thoroughly enjoys playing in D.C. Right now he’s focused on being a rookie and navigating the waters of his first year in the major leagues and to suggest he give thought to which team he’ll leave the Nationals for after two different presidential elections is lunacy.