For a team that has struggled to produce offense, winning three of the first six games of a 10-game West Coast trip might be a success—but not by the standards held by the championship-hopeful Washington Nationals.

The Nats are in an offensive funk of epic proportions, ranking 28th in the league in runs scored, 29th in batting average, and 28th in slugging percentage. The only teams that match this level of futility are the two expected to lead the league in losses this season: the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros.

Despite their power problems, the Nats sit only 1.5 games out of first place in the National League East behind the Atlanta Braves, thanks to a pitching staff that overcame a sluggish start to post a 3.20 ERA, second-best in the league, with 27 quality starts. Washington’s bats should start to warm as soon as the weather breaks, but this team cannot wait much longer.

(May 13-15): Dodgers Get the Best of Nats in Three-Game Series

As good as the Nats’ starters have been collectively, they’ve also had some bad luck that has cost the team winnable games. That wasn’t the case in the first game of the series as starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann continued his stellar season, pitching 7.2 innings while only surrendering two runs, pushing his ERA for the season to 1.69. Zimmerman defeated Josh Beckett as Washington beat the Dodgers, 6-2.

Unfortunately, Nationals star Bryce Harper was on the rough end of an awful crash, running full speed into the right field wall and suffering a gash that needed 11 stitches and knocked him out of the next two games with concussion-like symptoms.

The next two games saw the Dodgers unleash their two big guns, as defending Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw and offseason free agent acquisition Zach Greinke took the mound. Kershaw scattered five hits, struck out 11 and pitched 8 2/3 innings in the Dodgers 2-0 victory in the second game of the series, and Greinke pitched 5 1/3 strong innings in his first start since April 11 as the Dodgers defeated the Nats, 3-1, in the final game of the series.

To compound the latter loss, Nats catcher Wilson Ramos aggravated the hamstring injury that placed him on the disabled list earlier this season.

(May 16-18): Nats Take Two of Three from San Diego Padres

Taking a two-game losing skid into San Diego, the Nationals looked for ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg to step up and end the streak. But with Strasburg mired in his longest losing streak since Little League and a sputtering offense, nothing was guaranteed.

Fortunately for Washington, Strasburg was outstanding, pitching in his hometown in front of about 50 family members and friends. He lasted a career-high eight innings to snap a seven-start winless streak, and Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche homered to spearhead a 6-2 victory against San Diego in the series opener. In Harper’s first game since crashing into the wall, he absolutely demolished a pitch to dead centerfield that traveled an estimated 435 feet.

In the second game, Chad Tracy slammed a game-winning home run in the 10th inning to give the Nats a 6-5 victory. Tracy’s heroics at Petco Park salvaged a blown save by Nationals closer Rafael Soriano, who gave up two runs with two outs in the ninth.

The Nats received a quality start from ace pitcher Gio Gonzalez, and a two-homerun night from first baseman Adam LaRoche helped Washington reclaim a victory that seemed so certain early on.

The Nationals looked to sweep the series in the third game, but an error by starter Jordan Zimmermann in the eighth inning ended that possibility as 31-year-old Padres journeyman Eric Stultz won the pitchers’ duel and claimed a 2-1 win.

Player of the Week: Adam LaRoche – With a .308 batting average, four homeruns, nine RBIs and eight total hits, LaRoche has finally gotten out of his early season slump. Hopefully for the Nats, the rest of the lineup will soon warm up as well.

Next Week:
The Nats conclude their long road trip with three games against the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants on May 20-22, and will then return home for three games against divisional rivals the Philadelphia Phillies on May 24-26.


Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO