The capital issue in Washington this season? Why are the Nationals not hitting they way did last season, explains Gregg Patton.
Nationals find out it don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing
Last year they were the beasts of the East. This year the Washington Nationals are just another disappointment emanating from the US capital.
The Nationals won more games, 98, than any team in Major League Baseball in 2012 and entered this season as a fashionable World Series favourite. They have responded to the expectations with limp bats and a losing record.
Through Saturday, they trailed the first-place Atlanta Braves by 8.5 games in the National League East and were in similar straits in the wild-card race - eight games out of a play-off spot.
Their formerly dangerous line-up has turned mousy, scoring fewer runs than all but three of 30 teams.
Only the stripped-down Miami Marlins and Houston Astros have a lower on-base percentage (OBP) than the Nationals' collective .300.
"I'm not going to get into the gloom-and-doom stuff," the outfielder Jayson Werth said after the team lost five consecutive games coming out of the All-Star break.
"At any moment, this team could take off."
It is a thought that may sustain the players, but it will not help Rick Eckstein, the batting coach who was fired last week.
Werth is having a respectable season, with 15 home runs, 41 runs batted in and a .369 OBP. The third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (12 homers, 53 RBI, a .349 OBP) is doing OK, and so is shortstop Ian Desmond (16, 51, .325). But those are the team leaders and being just "OK" makes them a non-contender.
Last year's teen sensation, Bryce Harper, has been this year's bit of porcelain, missing 40 games with injuries. He is thought to be playing at less than 100 per cent
The first baseman Adam LaRoche will not come close to the 33 homers and 100 RBI he posted last season.
The Nationals' strength is still their pitching, but the woeful scoring has wasted some excellent work, especially by Stephen Strasburg, 25.
The right-hander has a 5-8 record, despite a 2.85 earned-run average (ERA). Last week against Pittsburgh, he pitched eight innings, gave up just two hits and one run, while striking out 12 - and lost.
Veterans Gio Gonzalez (2.97 ERA) and Jordan Zimmerman (3.01) should be part of a pennant-chasing rotation, too, but the inexplicably feeble attack has dragged them into group mediocrity.
After the tough loss to Pittsburgh last week, Strasburg said of his paltry run support, "when things get tough, your true colours come out. Are you the type that's going to look in the mirror and do everything you can to get better? Or are you going to start pointing fingers?"
He answered his own question, expressing confidence in his teammates, none of whom, unfortunately for the Nationals, are being mistaken for MVP candidates.
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