A Renewed Offensive Approach

Something funny happened after the Nats loss to AJ Burnett. Davey Johnson
decided to hold a team meeting one day after Ryan Zimmerman returned to the
line-up. It should come as no surprise that over the last week Ryan Zimmerman
has been one of the top producing regulars and while his .353 wOBA is well
above league average it isn’t quite up to Ryan Zimmerman standards, but it is
much better than what the Nats were getting from his replacements. The other
good news for the Nats offense is that Adam LaRoche has started to hit, and
even more importantly several Nats have started to get on base.

Everything isn’t going quite like
clockwork. Bryce Harper has fallen into a bit of a mini slump. He is still
getting on base by drawing walks but he isn’t hitting the ball the way he was
in April. That will come around, and hopefully it isn’t when the rest of the
line-up goes back to sleep. There will be a period of time this season where
everyone is clicking all at once on offense and that will be a good week or two
for the Nationals, but most of the time one or two guys will be hot, and that
is where the importance of line-up depth and having all the regulars in the
line-up comes in.  

The Nats are still missing one of their
more important regulars in Jayson Werth. He is a key piece to the top of the
Nationals line-up. While Span is the guy who gets on base Werth is the number
two hitter that will grind out at bats, see a lot of pitches, and can either
drive Span in himself or join him on base. With Werth not in the 2-hole the
Nats have used a collection of under .300 OBP players that neep a GPS to find
first base. Guys like Danny Espinosa, Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina, and
even Ian Desmond have no business batting second. Missing Werth is a big
detriment to how the Nats line-up was built with high OBP at the top, balance
in the middle, and high SLG at the bottom. Without Werth there is a gaping hole
in the two spot and that is not where one should be.

Missing Werth hasn’t stopped the Nats
from having a renewed approach at the plate. The Nats are starting to work the
count better, take walks, not take themselves out of at bats, and make solid
contact. These are all things that were missing earlier in the season, and
while the 2-1 loss to the Cubs wasn’t good the Nats had 10 base runners.
Continue to do that and limit the starting pitcher to six innings and more
games will be won than loss. Approach is more important than results and while
the Nats didn’t get the results they wanted they had a much better approach and
it is the same approach as they had in the last two games against the Pirates
and Tigers. In their last seven games the Nats haven’t allowed an opposing
starting pitcher to see the seventh inning. Keep having that type of offensive
approach and the runs, and wins will come.

It is also important to note that every
game isn’t going to be an offensive showdown. Sometimes Eric Gregg is reborn
and finds himself back behind the plate. The manager has to be able to read the
situation and know that heading into the eighth innings with a 1-0 lead that
this game has become about run prevention and a starter with 86 pitches having
allowed only two hits is the best option for preventing runs. It is
understandable that Johnson wanted to get more runs, but Chad Tracy has a .344
OPS which is well below the 2011 Matt Stairs line of .426 and close enough to
Gio’s career OPS of .304 that it makes no significant difference. The Nats had
a pitcher that looked headed to a complete game shutout and took him out to get
more offense from a player that is hitting marginally better than a pitcher
himself.  

Overall the last week has been good for the
Nationals. They had a two game blip against the Cubs and more than anything
else beat themselves. They need to keep it up with the good offensive approach,
continue to play solid defense, and get good pitching and the winning streaks
will outnumber the losing streaks, and all that will lead to a winning season.
It is unfortunate that the Nats lost the series to the Cubs in the
manner they did, but it is good that they continued to have a better approach
at the plate. The important issue now is to not lose focus and go back to a
poor approach in order to try and force runs to happen

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