As we’ve been saying, the offense is the problem

The Washington Nationals have a problem. A big problem. And the first key step in admitting you have a problem is: acceptance. How’s about we start with a fact that the Nationals are fourth from last in baseball in runs scored per game at 3.50. That is only ahead of the White Sox, A’s, and Marlins, and nothing to brag about. While the team has a few players performing well, most are hanging near or under Mendoza. It begs the question, is the problem the teacher or the students?

It is not all about the lack of scoring runs — it is also about stepping into the batter’s box with a plan. Working counts. Waiting for your pitch instead of going after the first pitch you see. There are too many predictable patterns forming that the opposing team can capitalize on. We always say walks are fine because that means a batter worked the count and took what the game gave them instead of constantly being in a 2-0 count and swinging at the next pitch because you think you’re getting a meatball. Predictable patterns must change by having a plan. Defenses have been positioned perfectly in these predictable patterns.

The fingers can get pointed in all sorts of directions when assessing the blame — but hitters have to hit. When Lane Thomas was injured on Tuesday, he was batting .184 with a .503 OPS. Instead of bringing up a “hot bat” like top prospect James Wood, who is batting .310 with a .908 OPS, they went to Trey Lipscomb on that same Rochester Triple-A team. Let’s face it — Trey doesn’t have Wood’s thump.

This team needs a jolt from some power bats. They have Jacob Young who brings it with energy, and his glove, his speed, and a developing bat. They need more players who can drive in RBIs. Instead, we get to see veteran players on one-year deals biding their time, and collecting a paycheck while not hitting their weight.

We understand that you can’t fire a bunch of players, but send a message that it won’t be tolerated. Every game in that Los Angeles series was winnable. On Tuesday, Patrick Corbin exited in the sixth inning with a 1-0 lead, Jake Irvin in the fifth inning was working in a game that was within reach at 4-2 until Lipscomb couldn’t glove a simple bounce in the dirt, and MacKenzie Gore gave 5.0 innings in a 1-0 deficit. But you’re usually not going to win against the Dodgers scoring 2-runs or less — and that was the case in a disappointing sweep.

The Nationals are 25th in RISP batting average at .222. So what can hitting coach Darnell Coles do to improve his batters? Or is it that you cannot improve flawed batters like Joey Gallo? Why is he batting in the middle of the order? Isn’t that on manager Dave Martinez? Then you have Eddie Rosario batting .107 with a .346 OPS, and his whole game just screams, “Ya no quiero estar aquí.” Of course he’s not happy when you’re the worst batter in the league. But come on, Rosario was a World Series star less than three years ago. He’s only 32 years old and batted .255 with a .755 OPS last year with Atlanta. What’s happened to him? Probably nothing, and he will starting hitting.

There is more of the Mendozians like Keibert Ruiz who is batting .171 with a .494 OPS. Why was he activated after only two rehab games? What was the rush to get him back after we were told last week that he had lost 18-20 pounds of body weight. Joey Meneses has only two XBH so far and his .621 OPS is below the team average of .675, but he is showing signs of life this week.

The in-zone swing & miss is mind-boggling that Nats’ batters are missing middle of the zone fastballs. The Dodgers are so good at scouting that the Nats barely had a chance. They had Luis Garcia Jr. played in the opposite field where the left fielder was practically playing him on the foul line — and that is no exaggeration. He smoked a line drive that looked like a stand-up double off the bat — only to see the left fielder take a couple of steps to his right and catch the ball with ease. Part of the problem is predictability on hitting spray charts, and most of it was pitching to zones for strikes. This is why the Dodgers win games — because they execute and are coached up. Shohei Ohtani made the comment that his manager, Dave Roberts, coaches him up, and that he appreciated that. Even stars can learn.

The Nats best chance of winning is putting their best defense out there to support their pitchers which seemed to be the case yesterday. What a defensive performance by the Nats yesterday, and the polar opposite on Wednesday. It isn’t necessarily about making errors — because the Nats are making few — it is about making plays like you saw with Young running into the gap and catching a ball that turned into a double play as Freddie Freeman assumed it was a sure-thing double. Defense matters, and so does the offense where the team has to have the best balance of both.

If Ildemaro Vargas is your best defensive third baseman who can hit (.293 BA/.786 OPS), why isn’t he playing more? If Jacob Young is your best defensive center fielder who can hit (.271 BA/.647 OPS with 6-for-6 in steals), why isn’t he playing every day? If Gallo is your best defensive right fielder, and can’t hit, why don’t you at least push him back in the batting order?

“The big boys in the middle of the lineup have to start driving in runs for us,” Martinez said.

Simple to say that they need to do what they are paid to do — but clearly harder to do. Gallo is “the big boy in the middle of the lineup” but clearly doesn’t belong there. So part of the problem is lineup construction, and the other part is analytics. Acceptance. You must accept the problem in order to change. Wednesday’s starting players and their positions was trying to be too clever, and it backfired. At least on Tuesday and Thursday, the Nats were within striking distance to win and just came up short. In key spots, Gallo struck out going 0-3 with 3 Ks and batting 6th in the order.

The Washington Nationals reached 200 strikeouts yesterday and Gallo owns 40 of them. That is 20 percent of the entire total! He is on a pace for 270 Ks and would shatter the previous record. Truth be told, those K kings were actually hitting home runs by the dozens. Gallo’s glove is the only reason to keep him in the lineup, but again, bat him eighth or ninth.

So maybe the Nats aren’t ready to beat the best teams consistently, and that’s fine. That is now. You have players like CJ Abrams, Jesse Winker, Riley Adams, Garcia, and Young who are bringing it, and the current starting pitchers can succeed when getting great defense. We are probably within six weeks of seeing Wood called up. If Meneses bat can heat up, and Thomas returns from the IL with a hot bat, maybe we can see this Nationals team move that 3.5 runs per game to something above 4.0 in the near-term. We will see, there is work to be done.

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