The Nationals Offensive Woes Are Growing

The Nationals did not have the strongest offense on paper to begin the season, but now over 40 games in, the offensive deficiencies are becoming more and more apparent.
Washington Nationals v Chicago White Sox - Game Two
Washington Nationals v Chicago White Sox - Game Two / Nuccio DiNuzzo/GettyImages
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The Washington Nationals were not expected to be a high-powered offensive heading into the 2024 season. Good baseball teams figure out ways to generate runs without hitting the ball out of the ballpark. We've learned 42 games into the season that the Nationals are a bad offensive team. Ranked 24th in MLB with a team OPS of .658, the Nats have struggled in every way to score runs this season.

About every hitter in the Nats' lineup is struggling at the 42-game mark. Of note, Jesse Winker is 0-19 in his last 19 at-bats, Keibert Ruiz's OPS is .393, and Joey Meneses's OPS is .571. The Nats have dropped two games in a row to the Chicago White Sox, combining for just seven hits and ZERO runs in the losses. Just two extra-base hits were recorded in the series with the White Sox, signifying a serious problem with the Nationals' lineup.

Is the problem surrounding the Nats' batters their approach to their at-bats? Is it a coaching problem? Is it just lack of talent? I believe the answer is all of the above.

Tied for 26th in the Majors in home runs, the lineup is not going to hit the ball out of the yard. Joey Meneses is commonly the Nationals' cleanup hitter, who's hit only one home run in his 38 games this season and only 14 in his last 192 games. The Nationals don't have the personnel to rely on home runs as a primary way of scoring runs. It has forced coach Davey Martinez to construct lineups with contact and speed as their catalysts. While it has led to some fun games on the bathpaths, in the current day of Major League Baseball, exit velocity and home runs are more important than stolen bases.

When you look at hitting Coach Darnell Coles' tenure with the Nationals, it has been abysmal. There is really no other word to describe it. Hired in 2021, Coles' first season on the coaching staff was a mixed bag. While the Nats ranked ninth in OPS, the season of the trade deadline sell-off sparked the rebuild and it was difficult to accurate measure the offense. Since the trade deadline of 2021, the Nationals' offense has been among the worst in baseball in all categories. In 2022, Washington ranked 28th in home runs and 22nd in OPS. In 2023, the Nats were 29th and 21st, according to mlb.com. While it is unlikely as long as Martinez is at the helm, a change at hitting coach would be smart for Washington. At the very least bring in a younger, fresh perspective, similar to how the team brought in Sean Doolittle to act as a liason to Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and the Pitching Staff.

MLB has made their Statcast data available to the public on baseballsavant.com. Some of the Nationals hitters' numbers are ugly to read. Keibert Ruiz's average exit velocity is 86.1, Joey Meneses' average launch angle is 6.1 degrees, and Nick Senzel's average exit velocity is 85.4. These numbers are the Nationals' offense in a nut-shell: weak contact that is forced to rely on speed. To that end, the Nationals are currently in a race with the Cincinnati Reds for the most stolen bases across the Major Leagues, tied at 74. They know that is their only option for offense so they are doing their best to use it.

Until real changes are made, the results will be the same for the Washington Nationals. Top prospect James Wood is knocking on the door of an MLB call-up and would provide a much-needed shake-up to the Nats' lineup. The 21-year-old outfielder has a 1.041 OPS for AAA Rochester through 36 games. It is unclear what Wood has left to show Washington's front office. Despite their alleged "plan" they have for Wood, it is time for GM Mike Rizzo to face the reality that players like Joey Meneses are not a part of the future. It is time to bring up James Wood and any player that could potentially help the offense.

Another, albeit down the road, option is Dylan Crews, the Nats' number-one prospect. Crews could make his Major League debut this season along with Wood. Crews' situation is different than Wood's because Dylan has dealt with a few minor injuries this season that have affected his rhythm, but Crews has steadily improved recently and is now hitting .256 with a .816 OPS in AA Harrisburg. The Nationals are certainly in no rush with their top prospects, as Wood played 87 games at AA before his promotion to AAA.

Will change be made in Washington? We will likely have to suffer through a few more months as the trade deadline looms far away. There is no incentive for the front office to rush their moves, as the franchise could be sold anytime. It is rumored Ted Leonsis will make another offer to purchase the Washington Nationals. In the meantime, it is certainly an interesting time to be a fan of the Washington Nationals, as the answer to most of our questions is to "wait".