- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There were many messages and thoughts that came out of one game — the first game — the Washington Nationals played in the 2015 season.

In case you missed mine, Bartolo Colon outpitched Max Scherzer — for one day, specifically in key moments in the 3-1 loss to the New York Mets.

Beyond that, it meant nothing. I fully expect Scherzer to have an outstanding season as the second pitcher on this roster behind Jordan Zimmermann, who is going to give Nationals fans a Cy Young season as a send off.

But one of the messages for one, single, nine-inning game in a 161-game season was that it’s the same old Nationals — the anemic bats who managed to score just one run against the 41-year-old Colon, the offensively-challenged Nationals who will struggle at the plate again this season.

Nationals manager Matt Williams spoke of missed opportunities after the loss.

“Early on, in the first inning we had a chance and didn’t get it,” Williams said, “But just keep putting pressure like that on the opposing team and we’ll take our chances in that regard.”

That chance Williams referred to was when Michael Taylor singled, Yunel Escobar reached on an error, and then Colon struck out Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman and retired Wilson Ramos on a ground ball. You know, that opportunity. The Mets had a similar opportunity in the sixth, and took advantage of it.

Williams also expressed his belief that the runs will come.

“We just want to keep providing ourselves these opportunities,” he said. “We’ll come through, but keep providing those for us and we’ll take our chances.”

They came through over the course of 162 games last season, contrary to the Opening Day moaning.

If we are talking about the 2014 regular-season Nationals, then, according to FanGraphs, one of the internet bibles of baseball analysis and statistics, Washington was the fifth-best offensive team in all of baseball last year, based on WAR, or wins above replacement.

Washington ranked in the upper half in baseball of nearly every offensive category and managed to do so with three key offensive players ­— Zimmerman, Harper and Ramos — missing a combined 237 games.

Yet some fans came away from the home opener believing the Nationals were an offensive disaster last year, and this year will be more of the same.

Let’s be specific here — we are talking about the memory of the four National League Division Series games against the San Francisco Giants, the series in which the Nationals scored nine runs, the same amount that the Giants did. There may be a problem with the Washington offense, but it’s not collectively over the course of 162 games. It remains an offense that goes in streaks, and yes, has struggled with situational hitting.

For this roster, I’m not sure there is an answer except what general manager Mike Rizzo has done ­— assemble an all-time starting pitching staff to carry them through the down offensive times.

One member of the Nationals organization may have best described the frustration with this team offensively at times last year when he told me, “Individually, we have great hitters in the lineup. Collectively, we sometimes struggle.”

So what’s the solution? Tell me, who would you have gotten rid of from the fifth-best offensive team in baseball last year to solve the problem?

Center fielder Denard Span? He batted .302 last year with 184 hits and 94 runs scored. Third baseman Anthony Rendon? The team’s Most Valuable Player in 2014, batting .287 with 111 runs scored, 21 home runs and 83 RBI? Harper? Zimmerman, who is under contract for at least four more seasons and owed $62 million? Jayson Werth? Ian Desmond, really? The guy who has won three consecutive Silver Slugger Awards as the best-hitting shortstop in the National League? Ramos? Tell me, who goes and who replaces them?

One of the refrains I hear is the Nationals need a “big bat.” You mean like the one the World Series champion Giants had last year? The team that hit 132 home runs in 2014 — 20 less than the big-bat deficient Nationals?

This is your team. It’s a potentially explosive offensively team that can disappear when you need them the most. When that happens, it’s falls on Scherzer, Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez to carry the burden.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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