The Nationals’ offense struggled against an inept Orioles pitching staff for the second-straight night Saturday, falling 5-3 in Baltimore to drop their third game in a row.
Washington has gone 3-5 so far in the second half and 5-14 since the calendar turned to July. The stretch of losing has dropped the Nationals deep into the NL East standings, a fact that looms large with the trade deadline only six days away. However, manager Davey Martinez hasn’t abandoned his sense of optimism yet.
“We came in hoping to win two out of three [against the Orioles],” Martinez told reporters after the game. “Now, I turn to try to win a game tomorrow and go from there. Like I said, we still got a lot of baseball left. We really do. Our offense needs to get it going again. We were swinging the bats so well and now all of a sudden, we’re not. So we gotta get back to staying in the middle of the field, getting ready early and just trying not to do too much.”
The Nationals do have 65 games left to gain seven games on the New York Mets in the division. Yet, more importantly, they have five games until the trade deadline, when Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo must decide whether to add or subtract pieces from the roster. Rizzo told reporters Tuesday that the team was preparing for both scenarios depending on how it played this week.
Despite a light schedule that included three games each against the Orioles and Marlins, the Nationals have struggled — particularly on offense. Since exploding for 18 runs against Miami on Monday, the Nationals have averaged just two runs per game over four contests. On Saturday, they faced Orioles starter Matt Harvey — who entered the game with a 7.14 ERA in 19 starts — and managed just one hit in six innings.
“He just mixed pitches up,” Martinez said. “We missed some balls I thought we should’ve hit but he just mixed up a bunch of pitches, threw a lot of breaking balls when he was behind in the count. Like I said, we gotta get back to what we were doing four days ago and that’s hitting the ball hard, putting the ball in play and taking our chances that way."
Injuries have been a common theme for the Nationals this season. Scherzer hopes to avoid joining fellow starters Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross on the IL. The offense is without Kyle Schwarber, Yan Gomes, Alex Avila and Jordy Mercer, forcing players such as Gerardo Parra, Alcides Escobar and Tres Barrera into everyday roles. Starlin Castro has also left the team indefinitely after being placed on administrative leave following a domestic violence allegation.
The Nationals hoped that this week’s light schedule would vault them back into the NL East race, but their lack of offense and injuries to the pitching staff have proved too big of hurdles to overcome.
“I think everybody goes through it, all the teams across the league go through injuries,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “That’s why you gotta have people step up and contribute…You go back and you make the postseason and you’re talking about shares and who’s on the team and you get a roster of how many people actually played for you and you realize how many people it takes to win a championship and get to the postseason.
“We just have to have guys step up and it stinks that it’s happening at once but, like I said, it’s happening to other people and we gotta deal with it.”
With less than a week before the trade deadline, the Nationals don’t have time to wait for their injured players to return. Martinez believes many hitters are “pressing” and trying too hard to carry the load given the team’s overall struggles. He wants to see the lineup take more pitches and focus on waiting for hittable balls to meet them in the zone.
After wrapping up their series with the Orioles, the Nationals will have four games against the Phillies to convince Rizzo and Co. to believe in their roster. If not, Washington will be playing out the rest of the season with a shell of their roster.