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At least the offense is back on track, sort of

The Washington Nationals began this three-game series against Baltimore struggling at the plate in the wake of their most recent homestand in which they scored 10 runs in six games. That's an average of just 1.7 runs a game, but players remained positive despite that lack of production given the opportunity to feast on Orioles pitching on the horizon.

The Nationals have done just that, amassing 11 runs in two games. That's the most runs in consecutive games since they scored 13 combined against Cleveland and Detroit on June 13 and 14.

In their two games against Baltimore at Camden Yards, Washington has scored all 11 times over the first four innings, which would have been fine had the Nationals not lost both games. On Friday they squandered a 6-0 lead before losing in the ninth, 7-6, on a throwing error. Saturday Washington had a 5-0 cushion, but starter Liván Hernández couldn't make it stand, and a wild pitch by reliever Drew Storen allowed Luke Scott to come home in the seventh with what would be the winning run in a 6-5 loss.

"When you're up early and you don't add on, it can come back to bite you, and that's what happened," Manager Jim Riggleman said of the Nationals' recent penchant of scoring in the first handful of innings. "You'd like to think five is going to be enough, but today it wasn't."

The Nationals had grown accustomed to losing close games lately, including 1-0 twice and 2-1 in 11 innings during their last homestand when they went 2-4. In one of those victories, Washington scored two runs and won largely because Hernández had his way with the Kansas City Royals.

Now that the Nationals have made strides at the plate, pitching and defense have betrayed them. Yesterday Hernández was strong over the first four innings before giving up four runs in the fifth. On Friday, starter J.D. Martin held Baltimore in check before Riggleman pulled him, and the bullpen failed to hold a comfortable lead. After Baltimore tied the game in the eighth with three runs, Cristian Guzmán's throwing error allowed pinch runner Jake Fox to score and end the game.

"If we're not hitting, we're pitching great, and if we're pitching great, we're not hitting," said first baseman Adam Dunn, who has six RBI over the past two games.

It's been especially difficult on the road, where Washington has lost 19 of 23 since May 15, including all three games of the series at the Detroit Tigers. The Nationals then lost all three games of their home series against the Chicago White Sox.

In interleague play since June 11, the Nationals are 3-11. The only series they have won during that time was taking two of three from the Royals before coming to Baltimore and enduring two of the more improbable losses of the season.

"Anytime you've got a nice lead, you certainly hate to give it up, but the other team is coming at you," Riggleman said. "They kept getting hits. It's the way we're going."

By Gene Wang  |  June 27, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Adam Dunn , Cristian Guzman , Drew Storen , Jim Riggleman , Livan Hernandez  
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Next: Today's lineups: Nationals at Orioles


Well that makes me feel a whole lot better about the state of this team. We scored a few runs in losing efforts against the worst team in the league. Thanks for putting a positive spin on things.

Hey everyone, no errors yesterday, our defense is fixed!

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | June 27, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

This season is basically made or broken in the next week with The Braves and Mets. Need a win today to get some momentum.

Any momentum. Really need Atilano to have a good start today, and then hopefully Strasburg can handle the braves in Game 1.

Have to wonder about the team's pysche...Have to also wonder how long Dunn will be here now. Hope we can get rid of Guzman first though...

Posted by: CJArlington | June 27, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

The Nats have been among MLB's lowest budget teams in one of MLB's largest and most affluent markets. Doesn't make sense.

To me, this is OK, if we can assume the following: The Nats are first adding their young pieces through the draft. When the Nats get a critical core of talent, they will increase their budgets to MLB levels. Is this The Plan?

I hope so. It seems like the Nats have avoided collecting players that could have been turned into prospects and extra draft picks. They have never under the Lerners (in all the years) traded for even one player who makes MLB-average salary or higher. The major-dollar free agent signings are rare and not all that expensive. There have only been two of those in the Lerner years. These kinds of moves could have yielded draft picks when their contracts expired or prospects in trade. But they would have cost money. Also, the Nats do not sign the more expensive international guys. Every year's list reveals that.

The Nats did sign Zim long term and SS. However, every club in MLB would have done the same if given the opportunity. So it is hard to "brag" about that.

I am more than willing to trade the short term difficulties for long term success. I do think we need a better understanding of The Plan. Some of us are convinced we are on the right track, while others or not. I am confused about this. I would like some explanation of the path the Nats are choosing to success.

Posted by: EdDC | June 27, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

I would emphasize the "sort of" in this post's title. OK, the pitching and defense blew some leads, but the offense continues to roll over and play dead. Where are the runs that turn a late game deficit into a lead? Where is the competitive spark that gives hope that this team could score when it is really needed?

Posted by: KenNat | June 27, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

These last several games have been awful to watch. I really thought that the Nats had turned around this year, but am now tending more towards the view that this isn't a good team suffering a bad streak, but rather a bad team that had a good streak earlier. Sadness.

Blowing 6 and 5 run leads to the worst team in baseball (at the moment, though we are working to snatch that dubious honor yet again) was especially disheartening. To add the proverbial insult to injury, Angelos' MASN required me to share these debacles with the Baltimoron broadcasters, who crowed (in a restrained fashion in deference to the loan National guy in the booth) at the ridiculous outcomes of the games and repeatedly noted that Dunn (for reasons unknown but likely related to CHEAPNESS)is going to be a free agent at the end of the season. That was really special.

Posted by: NatsFly | June 27, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Re: trading for higher-salaried players
The only issue I take with pointing this out is, when a team trades for a higher-salaried player, what is it that they are usually trading to get him? Either another higher-salaried player, or prospects. Both of these groups have been in short supply for the Nationals (especially the prospects), and in any case teams usually only make trades like that to add pieces to already competitive clubs.
To that end, I wouldn't take the fact that Washington hasn't traded for anyone making decent money as proof positive that the front office is cheap. Perhaps money is reason 3 on the list, after A. We don't have the minor leaguers to get anyone that fits that category (thank you Bud Selig) and 2. Those trades don't make much baseball sense given where the club is in the standings.

Posted by: mjhoya12 | June 27, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

The plan is, play young talent where available: Desmond, Bernadina, Zimmerman of course and pitchers. Try to find serviceable free agents where young talent is not on the roster:Dunn, Pudge, Marquis, Livo, Kennedy.

A lot of call for more spending assumes it is available. You can argue O Hudson, bot otherwise what would you have done. Garland refused an offer higher than what he took to play in CA. You can't just overpay (see Snyder, Dan for an example of success).

That being said I'm not sure that poor play is handled correctly. Desmond has been fun to watch but if he sits 1-2 games for Alberto after some of his more egregious gaffes does that provide a more suitable long term message? I think so but the short term results may suffer.

Strasberg, Storen, Clippard, both Zimms, Harper and a few more prospects are keepers. It's only been one year post Bowden, I keep telling myself that, tough as it is after these two games.

Posted by: sjt1455 | June 27, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

It is a popular misconception that you have to trade away your good players and prospects to get average-or-higher-salaried players. If you patiently comb the market, you won't have to do that.

Many clubs are trying to trim their payrolls. The Nats could take advantage of that by swooping in and taking players off the other teams' hands. If you are willing to take on salary, you often get much more than you give away. And when the players you get perform well, then you can get an extra first round and a compensation round pick in the draft when they sign elsewhere. Or the wealthy clubs may give you their prospects when they trade for your player.

There is no question that you limit your growth potential if you only trade for bargains. Of course, if you are happy with Willie Harris as your corner OF, the bargains are not really much of a problem!

Many of those deals are business deals. It strikes me as odd that the Nats have never, under the Lerners, traded for a player that makes average MLB salary or higher. The closest thay have ever come is Willingam, who was just a couple hundred thousand dollars under MLB-average-salary when the Nats traded for him.

Soriano is an example of what I am talking about. He had a good year, and yieled two high draft picks when he signed with the Cubs. Of course, his salary while as a Nats was high too--$10 million for the one year. Soriano was pre-Lerners, when the MLB ownership was more flexible on these things than the current Nats' ownership has been (thus far).

Posted by: EdDC | June 27, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

The fact that Mike Rizzo has been trying to pry Edwin Jackson and Dan Heren loose from the Diamondbacks should say something? These aren't small salary guys? He wouldn't even bother if there were salary limitations? He would instead continue developing talent exclusively through the draft and the F/A International arena such as it is.

I tend to think that mjhoya12 is correct in thinking that the Nationals do not have neither the quality prospects necessary nor the top salaried player ... at least not that they are willing to trade. A Ryan Zimmerman could only be pried from this GM with 3-5 top 20 MLB prospects. I am sure Mike has even made Dunn and Willingham seem a bit pricey to potential suitors.

If the Lerners were truly that cheap as opposed to careful or frugal I do not believe the above would be true. [At this juncture.] In fact I think Mike Rizzo has done a fair job in convincing them that he is careful, prudent, and competent with Lerner assets. Let's hope he gets Stan, Mark but especially to trust him completely and implicitly.

Posted by: periculum | June 27, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse


"Let's hope he gets Stan, Mark but especially to trust him completely and implicitly."

Let's hope he gets Stan, Mark but especially Ted to trust him completely and implicitly.

Posted by: periculum | June 27, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

It would be a great sign if, for the first time under the Lerners, the Nats traded for someone who had an average salary or higher. It would show a potentially new direction for the team. We can probably hold praise for such an action until they actually trade for someone who makes an average MLB salary or higher--since that has not happened yet under the Lerners. I do acknowledge that "trying" is probably a good thing too, next best to actually doing it.

I don't want to do all the research, but you can get some fine players if you are willing to take on salary, while giving up very little. Olson and Willingham are recent examples for the Nats, even though these two guys did not make an average MLB salary at the time they were traded for. They were salary dumps. Teams like the Marlins, Pirates, A's and others often find themselves in position to dump salary, and are glad for takers.

Posted by: EdDC | June 27, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

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