Washington Nationals: Reasons for fans to keep hope alive

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 24: Michael Taylor
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 24: Michael Taylor /

The Washington Nationals look horrible right now, but things have to turn around eventually. Right? Right??

The Washington Nationals do not look like a championship-caliber baseball team right now. Heck, they don’t even look like a Wild Card contending team. Since jumping out to a 4-0 start, the Nationals have averaged just 3.2 runs per game.

But, there is still hope. It’s easy to say the process is fine and the results will turn around, but that is actually sort of true with the Nationals right now. The process is fine and the results will turn around.

All stats are through Tuesday’s games.

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So far, the Nationals are 1-6 in one-run games, compared to 30-21 last season. Tack on a couple extra-inning L’s, and half of the team’s losses could have easily flipped the other way.

Much of the Nats’ struggles can be attributed to their issues in close, late-game situations. Washington is slashing .183/.298/.308 in late/close at-bats. That’s good for a .606 OPS, which would have ranked dead last in baseball in 2017 by a significant margin. The Nationals will revert to their 2017 levels in clutch situations soon enough.

The Nats’ offense should also tick upwards with runners in scoring position, where they are currently batting just .219/.345/.363. Washington ranks sixth in total at-bats with RISP, but they have only knocked in 72 RBIs in such situations (currently 12th overall).

Walks are part of the issue; the Nats lead baseball in free passes with RISP, and are tied for first in intentional walks. Getting on base is all well and good, but because walks generally don’t drive in any runs, they are ultimately pretty useless in clutch situations if the next batter fails to get a hit. However, it won’t stay that way forever.

Washington is currently stranding 7.42 runners each game, which also would’ve been the worst mark in 2017. That number has to get better. Eventually, the hits will start dropping and all those walks will pay off two- and three-fold.

Of course, the law of averages isn’t the only thing holding this team back. Injuries have sapped this team’s power, but the Nationals will hopefully be acquiring three All-Star level players over the next month: Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon, and Daniel Murphy. If those three come back at full strength or somewhere close, the offense will get a much-needed jolt of energy. Until then, it looks like Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Taylor are coming around at the plate after slow spring trainings. The two righties have combined for 16 base hits and 9 extra-base knocks in their last 7 games.

The Mets will certainly hang in the division race, but they won’t be able to run away and hide by the summer. The NL East crown will still be within reach as long as the Nationals do their part. It looks bad now, but that tune could change in a month.

From May 21 to June 10, the Nationals will face San Diego, Miami, Baltimore, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco. During a similar stretch from May 24 to June 10, the Mets have Milwaukee, Atlanta, the Chicago Cubs, Baltimore, and the New York Yankees.

That’s not a murderers row for the Mets, but its not easy either. Meanwhile, the Nats get one of their easier stretches of the season and should be close to full health by then. That’s the type of three-week stretch that propels Washington up the standings towards New York. And of course the Mets and Nats still have 12 games against each other, all from July onwards. If the Nationals are rolling by the All-Star break, then they could really turn the NL East tides down the stretch.

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Right now, the Nationals simply need to sit tight. When the hits begin to fall and the stars return to the lineup, the wins will follow.