The Nationals offense is struggling once again, as it has in stretches this season. Against the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers, two teams who were struggling, the Nats won just two of those six games. The pitching has been stellar overall. In that six game stretch, Nats pitchers have given up more than three runs in a game just one time. On the flip side, the offense has score more than two runs just twice in that stretch.
With 40 games done, or almost exactly one-quarter of the season, it's probably not too early to be concerned about the inconsistent and occasionally dreadful offensive performances. It's not just a feeling that things aren't going well, either. The numbers back it up. Here are just a few examples of their offensive numbers as a team:
-Strikeout %: 22.7% (3rd worst in MLB)
-Slugging %: .370 (3rd worst in MLB)
-Runs scored: 138 (4th worst in MLB)
-Batting average: .231 (3rd worst in MLB)
-Wins Above Replacement: 1.9 (4th worst in MLB)
In most of those categories, the teams that are slotted worse than the Nats include the Marlins, Mets, and Astros. Those aren't exactly powerhouse teams that anyone expects anything from, in stark contrast to the Nationals. That said, the Nats have dealt with significant injuries early this season. Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Wilson Ramos have all spent time on the disabled list. Bryce Harper is in bad shape after crashing into the wall at Dodger Stadium. Denard Span has missed a few games with various ailments. These are five starters that have had injury issues and haven't been in the lineup, some of them for extended stretches.
On the flip side, Danny Espinosa looks as confused and helpless at the plate as he's ever looked in his career. Adam LaRoche went on an extended slump last month before breaking out and starting a 12-game hitting streak.
So, with all of that information, who is to blame?
In all sports, coaches and/or mangers are the ones that get blamed when things go poorly. If a team is losing, and they shouldn't be, it's considered the manager's loss by default. If the pitchers aren't meeting their potential, it's the pitching coach. If a normally potent lineup is struggling, it's the hitting coach. And all of that, for the most part, is a compete cop out.
It's easy to blame the coaches when expectations aren't met, but it's hard to see how it's their fault with this much talent on the roster. The players have to perform, and there isn't much hitting coach Rick Eckstein can do for his hitters. He can try to help them mentally, he can tell him if he sees them doing something weird, but he can't hit the ball for them. He can't stop them from striking out at their astronomical rate.
It is up to the players to figure out what's going on and figure out how to create success for themselves. With the exception of Bryce Harper, who was the Nats best hitter when he got hurt, the lineup is young, but they have enough MLB experience that they shouldn't need much coaching to figure out the problem. I think it is usually making excuses for underperforming players on a good team when coaches are called out, when they actually have very little impact.
If you're looking for something to blame, blame freak injuries to key players. Also, remember that the team is just one game behind the Braves for first place in the division and they are still above the .500 mark, and maybe that'll make you feel a little bit better.