- - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — The Nationals are scheduled to hit the midway point of the 162-game season Saturday night in Philadelphia, in the third of a four-game series. And halfway through 2018, the glass looks half empty for a team that began the year with legitimate title hopes.

For now, the two-time defending National League East champions are a contradiction, a team with loads of potential that is not hitting on all cylinders. Washington has lost nine of its last 13 — hard to fathom for a team pegged in the preseason to make the World Series by Sports Illustrated.

“We have to keep battling,” manager Dave Martinez said. “It is going to come.”

The Nationals are 41-37 after losing 1-0 at Tampa Bay on Tuesday afternoon. Here are five reasons the team is struggling:

Suddenly, road woes

The Nationals actually have a better record on the road (22-17) than at home (19-20).

Washington entered Tuesday with the fourth-best road record in the majors. But the Nationals lost for the fifth time in a row away from home, with all the losses coming against American League East teams (Toronto and Tampa) below .500.

Missing players, missing punch

The Nationals have certainly had their share of injuries. They are among the major-league leaders in games lost to players on the disabled list.

Key Opening Day roster players now on the disabled list include first basemen Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Adams, catcher Matt Wieters and pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

That said, some of those players have not performed up to past levels when active.

After Scherzer, who?

Starting pitching has been a strength for years for the Nationals.

But suddenly it is a concern, with Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson on the disabled list and Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez struggling of late. Gonzalez did not retire a batter in the second inning here Monday before he was lifted.

They have Max Scherzer, but the team has been blanked in three of his last four starts — not even Scherzer can win with zero run support.

Bats gone dead

The Nationals had just five hits total in two shutout losses at Tampa Bay. On Monday they did not get a hit until the seventh inning and on Tuesday the no-hit bid was broken by a double by Bryce Harper in the sixth. A few more inches to the left and it would have been a home run and a tie game.

Everyday catcher Pedro Severino is hitting .172 with no homers in 53 games.

Second baseman Wilmer Difo is hitting .243 with an OBP of .289.

Harper has just one homer this month, is hitting less than .190 in his last 30 games and has an average of .219. The team is batting .238 and is 8-16 when a lefty starts on the mound.

Too much Abbott, Costello

The Nationals lead the league in steals but that doesn’t mean they are great at baserunning.

Case in point Tuesday: Adam Eaton was on second and Harper was on first in the fourth inning when Harper broke for second with Juan Soto at the plate and no outs.

Eaton stayed near second and was eventually tagged out. “He false broke” for third, Martinez said of Eaton. End of rally.

“Not on the same page,” Rays television analyst and former big league pitcher Brian Anderson said.

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