With all the focus on the blazing starts for Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy at the plate, and with the Nationals' 14-6 first-place record, it has perhaps gone overlooked exactly how badly the rest of their lineup has struggled.
That wasn't clear, at least, until Wednesday night when Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson made his 5.21 season ERA look like a typo with his best start of the season so far. It was a confounding but convincing display of dominance and the Nationals just couldn't buy a run in their 3-0 loss.
Sure, Hellickson was good and deserves credit for his seven scoreless innings, two hits allowed and season-high eight strikeouts. But the Nats' lineup as a whole has gone almost completely cold. Harper walked twice and Murphy doubled, but the rest of their lineup? Just one hit and a walk.
Both of those were by Danny Espinosa and the hit was a bunt single. It was his 500th hit, actually, which is a nice honor and one he would have preferred to enjoy with a win.
The Nationals have scored just 2.75 runs per game over their last four outings, two of those losses. That's not good, but manager Dusty Baker is not ready to adjust his lineup.
"We're 14-6. You don't start moving guys yet," he said. "And if you shake up the basket and there isn't nothing happening in the basket, when you shake it up, there still ain't nothing happening. It don't really matter where you're hitting if you're not hitting. And everybody can't hit in front of Harper. And some of the guys hitting in front of Harper still aren't hitting."
Baker does have a point. The Nats' starting lineup on Wednesday night outside of Harper and Murphy, their usual group minus Wilson Ramos, is batting just .202. Leadoff hitter Michael Taylor is hitting .192, Jayson Werth is at .180 and Espinosa's at .182. Anthony Rendon's got a .566 OPS and Ryan Zimmerman is not much better at .624.
Would moving them around make a significant difference? Should they play more small-ball? Baker believes patience is the real answer.
"It's hard to manufacture when you're not getting product. You can't manufacture on two hits," he said. "We hit some balls hard. We hit some balls on the nose. But we need some balls to fall."
Ultimately, Baker believes these things come in waves. The Nats are having trouble scoring right now, but that can all change soon.
"Believe it or not, hitting is not that easy," he said. "This is what kills me. People say hitting is the hardest thing in the world to do, right? And then when you don't do it, people ask what happened? That doesn't make sense. Sometimes you can hit the ball hard and you can hit the ball better than them sometimes. Sometimes you can't buy a run and then other times you can just get runs whenever you want to. When you figure that out, then please come tell me because I can't figure it out."
For the Nationals and their offense, timing is a concern. They are slumping right before they head to St. Louis to face the Cardinals on Friday. And after that it's the Royals and Cubs. They may have to fight through this recent skid against some of the best teams in baseball and that is not ideal.