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The Nationals' offensive problems start at the top

Nyjer Morgan and Cristian Guzman have a hold on the first two spots in the Nationals' batting order, which, especially recently, has given them a platform to make lots and lots of outs. The Nationals' leadoff hitters have a .314 on-base percentage this year, 22nd in the majors. Their No. 2 hitters have a combined .320 on-base percentage, also 22nd in the majors.

Guzman has a .321 on-base percentage and Morgan has a .301 OBP. Morgan has a .311 on-base percentage while leading off, which is fourth-lowest in the National League among leadoff hitters with at least 100 at-bats.

The dearth of base runners for the Nationals' formidable 3-4-5 hitters has helped send the Nationals into their recent funk - they are averaging 3.3 runs per game since June 2. Over that 16-game span, Morgan and Guzman have matching .246 on-base percentages, and both have two walks in 63 and 66 plate appearances, respectively.

Riggleman has swapped Guzman and Morgan in the first and second spots, but "that's about the extent of it," Riggleman said. Riggleman does not feel he has other choices on his roster for top two spots.

"I don't really see too many options there," Riggleman said. "We'll run with the way it is. If it doesn't turn itself around in a little while, we'll have to rethink it. For now, I'll leave it the way it is."

The best possibility for hitting in the first two spots is probably Roger Bernadina. With his speed, Bernadina could be an option for leadoff, and he has improved as the year has churned along and he has become more comfortable in his rookie season - Bernadina has a .417 OBP in June.

"I guess we could play around with Bernadina up there, but I kind of like for him to be in a little bit more of an RBI spot," Riggleman said. "I'm not really that anxious to put him in that No. 1 spot. I kind of like him down there where he's at."

So for now, the Nationals will have to hope Morgan and Guzman start reaching base. Guzman is batting .296, but there is less than offensive value in his high average than it suggests. Guzman has walked only eight times in 245 plate appearances, and his OPS+ is 85 - meaning his offensive value is roughly 85 percent of a league-average player.

Guzman could get away without walking much when he lead the league in batting average, a feat helped by also having the highest batting average on balls in play. Guzman still has a .350 batting average on balls in play, well above league average. But without balls dropping like they were, Guzman's batting average has also dropped. With few walks to help him reach base, Guzman's high spot in the order simply gives him more opportunities to make outs.

Morgan's OPS+ is 72, which ranks 161st out of 173 qualifying players in the majors. Unlike Guzman, he's not really hiding anything with his batting average, which is .248. Morgan sparked the Nationals last year, but his lack of production - owed partly to hard luck - has dragged their offense down. His BABIP is .301, which is about league average but 45 points below his career average - his speed should be helping him to more hits than he has gotten. In 212 plate appearances with the Nats last year, Morgan had 10 bunt hits. This year, in 283 plate appearances, he has four.

In Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, the Nationals own one of the best middle portions of an order in the league. All three rank in the NL's top 12 in OPS+, something no other trio of teammates can claim. But Morgan and Guzman have provided scant opportunity for them to hit with runners on base. Until that changes, it's unlikely the Nationals' offensive rut will, either.

"We've got to try to get the whole lineup working together at the same time," Riggleman said. "That hasn't happened recently."

By Adam Kilgore  |  June 20, 2010; 1:24 PM ET
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I know that Guzman is also having problems right now, but I would do the following.

Guzman 2B
Bernadina CF or Desmond SS
Zimmerman 3B
Dunn 1B
Willingham LF
Morse RF
Rodriquez C
Desmond or Bernadina

I think it is time to take Nyger out and put Bernadina in CF and Morse in RF.

Posted by: brothbart | June 20, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Will riggleman make it to October?

Posted by: swanni | June 20, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

this demonstrates a serious lack of imagination/blindness on riggs' part

Posted by: DCguy7 | June 20, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Bobby valentine, get ready

Posted by: swanni | June 20, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Try Bernadina and Desmond in the 1 & 2 slots and play Morse in RF. Give Zimm a rest and let AG play for a while . Let Kennedy bat 7th at 2B . Nyjer needs to sit.

Posted by: aspenbubba | June 20, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

We have a lineup that doesn't get on base enough and strikes out WAYYY too much in crunch time

We need patience at the plate and more consistency across the board

Posted by: Bious | June 20, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

>"I guess we could play around with Bernadina up there, but I kind of like for him to be in a little bit more of an RBI spot," Riggleman said. "I'm not really that anxious to put him in that No. 1 spot. I kind of like him down there where he's at."

He just summed up the difference between the situation they're in, and what a contender could afford to do. If they had a RF, they could move Bernadina to CF and bat him leadoff because the new RF would be able to hit in the RBI spot. Got to find it hard to bash Riggs, he can't invent players, and he's given most of these guys more chances than they deserve.

Posted by: Brue | June 20, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

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