During a 162-game season, losing streaks are the norm. Currently, the Washington Nationals are in a slight funk, dropping four games in a row. In a normal campaign, when the team doesn’t hold a nine-game divisional lead in the middle of May, a streak such as this would be a major cause of concern.
Luckily for fans, the Nationals in the past have held such a large lead that the squad had ample time to get some of their many issues in order. Right now, however, the bats have cooled down from their excruciatingly hot April start.
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez throws to Atlanta Braves’ Kurt Suzuki in the first inning of a baseball game in Atlanta, Friday, May 19, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
It’s no coincidence that the bats would inevitably cool off right after the season-ending injury to Adam Eaton. His replacement, Michael Taylor has been solid with a .293 batting average himself but the other sparkplug of the top of the order, Trae Turner, has struggled mightily with just a .178 batting average in May. After he set the majors on fire last year in his rookie campaign, it seems as if opposing managers have placed emphasis on not letting the second-year dynamo wreak havoc on their pitchers.
Bryce Harper is in his first prolonged slump of the season with just one hit in his last 16 at-bats. Unfairly, he has to be great at all times. And although the lineup has six players currently batting over .280, a sustained effort is paramount.
Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper singles in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Atlanta, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Coinciding with a slumping batting order, the starters haven’t been able to give the suspect bullpen a chance to pitch in short stints lately. The Nationals have not had a starter complete six innings since ace Stephen Strasburg did it in Pittsburgh on May 16. That’s also the last game they won. Gio Gonzalez has regressed to the high-pitch-count, multiple-walks pitcher he’s been the last couple of seasons. Tanner Roark is slumping badly and Max Scherzer has not been as solid as needed since he was hit by a line drive on the leg last week.
The bullpen will be an issue all year; that is a fact. Unfortunately the starters must bring better sustained efforts to produce winning results. Six-inning starts may not be enough at this point. There is precious little help available for the team whether through free agency or the trade market. Maybe there are reinforcements down in the minors but those prospects are just that—prospects. No one knows if any of those young players could come up and do the job that’s needed from a first place team.
Until those reinforcements show up (and that will probably be near the trade deadline), the bats and starters carry the weight. The season standings will eventually dictate whether the lineup produced more or less than expected.