Washington Nationals Rapid Reaction: With no offense, not even Bryce Harper can save the day


As the Washington Nationals’ slow start to the 2015 season rolls on into the final days of April, it’s beginning to look like the team is following the same script every single night: great starting pitching, virtually no offense and mediocre relief pitching.

Unfortunately, last night’s loss to the Miami Marlins was much of the same for the Nationals. Starter Jordan Zimmermann pitched a solid six innings, allowing two runs on six hits. But the offense was once again dormant, and the Nats lost the game, 3-2. There were some bright spots to the game though, mostly Bryce Harper‘s continued dominance in the field and at the plate.

With that in mind, let’s break down exactly what went wrong—and the few things that went right—in last night’s loss to the Fish.

Start strong, finish…uh…not so much

As has been the case throughout the first few weeks of the season, starting pitching was not the problem in last night’s game. Zimmermann pitched a great game and performed much better than he did in his last start, in which he walked four batters.

When Zimmermann left the game, however, the Nationals’ young bullpen once again failed to keep the game under control in the late innings.

Tanner Roark entered the game in the seventh inning and pitched well, shutting down the Marlins in order. When he came back out for the eight inning, however, things didn’t go quite as smoothly. Adeiny Hechavarria led off the inning with a double, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position for the Marlins. After Roark retired the next batter, manager Matt Williams brought in left-hander Matt Grace, who allowed the runner to advance to third on a single. Williams then brought in Aaron Barrett, who gave up an RBI single and ultimately the winning run for the Marlins later in the inning.

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For the Nationals, it was the same story that has played out several times this season; young relievers coming into the late innings allowing the game to slip away. Whether it’s Barrett, Blake Treinen or any of the team’s other relievers not named Drew Storen, the late innings have been a major problem this season and the inability to get the game to Storen is a big reason why the Nationals have a losing record.

It’s a good thing the Nationals have the best starting rotation in baseball, with all five pitchers capable of pitching deep into the game. Because right now, the bullpen simply isn’t getting the job done—as we saw last night.

If you don’t score, you don’t win

While it’s true that the bullpen is a major concern for the Nationals, it’s not why they lost last night’s game. After all, it really doesn’t matter how good your pitching is if you have no offense. At the end of the day, if you don’t score runs, you can’t win the game.

The Nationals’ offense has had its ups and downs all season. After starting off the year slowly, the bats came to life about two weeks ago as key hitters started coming off the disabled list. Now, however, it looks like the offense is reverting to its dormant ways, and last night was no exception.

The Nationals only managed to score two runs on six hits against Marlins starter Mat Latos, who’s 7.31 ERA doesn’t exactly scream early season dominance. The team faired even worse against the Miami bullpen, which shut the Nationals lineup down over 2 2/3 no-hit innings.

While the Nationals were clearly struggling against Marlins pitchers, they certainly had a bunch of opportunities to do damage. The Nationals had a runner on second with two outs in the fourth and failed to bring him home. Harper was thrown out trying to steal second in the sixth inning, ending the inning and taking the bat out of Ryan Zimmerman‘s hands. They had runners on first and second with two outs in the eighth and failed to score either.

Overall, it was a night of offensive struggles and missed opportunities. Bullpen issues aside, the Nationals have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hep much if the team isn’t hitting the baseball.

On the bright side, Bryce is on a role

One of the few bright spots of last night’s loss was the same player that has been the bright spot of the first few weeks of the season: Bryce Harper. The fiery outfielder has been dominant all season long and appears poised for a huge season, as he showed with yet another solid performance last night.

Harper went 2-for-2 with a walk and two RBIs last night. The Nationals didn’t have much offense, but the offense they did have was created almost single-handedly by Harper.

He also made yet another heads up play in right field, throwing out Dee Gordon at second base when the Marlins’ speedster tried to stretch a single into a double in the fifth inning. The play wasn’t all that important in the end because the Nationals lost anyway, but at the time it was crucial since the Marlins would’ve had two runners in scoring position with two outs. Zimmermann was on the ropes, but Harper’s heads play got him out of the inning and kept the Nationals in the game.

At the end of the day, not even Harper could save the game for the Nationals. But It’s been a great first few weeks of the season for the Nationals outfielder, and he should only get better as the season goes on. The Nationals need to turn things around if they want to repeat as NL East champions, and if they manage to do that, there’s a good chance Bryce Harper will be a big reason why.

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