Manager Davey Martinez has spoken multiple times this season about how offense comes and goes. For the Nationals, that’s certainly been the case.
They’ve scored one run or fewer in 17 games, most in the NL. They’ve also had six games in which they’ve plated 10 or more, tied for the second-most among NL teams. When the Nationals’ offense shows up, it does some serious damage. When it doesn’t, it’s nonexistent.
It’s a trend that’s been on display this week, when the Nationals went 27 1/3 straight innings without scoring a run until Josh Bell hit a solo home run in the seventh during their 8-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday. While they avoided being shut out in three straight games for only the second time in franchise history, their struggles in the batter’s box persisted.
“A swinging bat is a dangerous bat,” Martinez said in his postgame press conference, as aired on MASN. “The only way we’re going to get out of this is by getting good pitches and swinging at good pitches and attacking the strike zone early. That’s what we’re really good at and when we’re going good, we go up there and we’re ready to hit.
“The last few days, I’m watching and we’re taking too many strikes. We really are and putting ourselves in a hole. This game is hard enough and when you’re always up there hitting with two strikes it’s even harder.”
The Nationals entered play Thursday having put 219 balls in play on the first pitch, sixth-most in the majors. They also ranked fifth in contact rate (78%), a big reason why they sit near the top of MLB leaderboards in hits (fourth) and batting average (fifth). Swinging early and often has been their approach all season.
Perhaps the most disturbing trend for Washington, however, has been the lack of production from Juan Soto. The 23-year-old went 0-4 on Thursday to drop his batting average on the season to .222. It’s the lowest his average has been at any point since April 11.
Soto is still drawing his walks, a product of seeing some of the fewest strikes of any hitter in baseball. Yet his recent slump — he’s 16-for-93 (.172) over his last 26 games — has been uncharacteristic for the two-time Silver Slugger.
As Martinez says, offense comes and goes. That time the Nationals did get shut out three straight games in 2018, they responded by scoring 15 the next time out. Both Soto and the Nationals’ offense are better than they’ve shown this week. With a pitching staff that holds the second-highest ERA in the sport, the losses will continue to pile up while they figure things out.