There are nights when the Nationals' lineup looks capable of posting big numbers, no matter how many regulars find themselves shelved due to injury. And then there are nights like Wednesday.
The Nationals looked feeble at the plate during their 4-1 loss to the Braves, held to a measly four hits by rookie right-hander Matt Wisler and five Atlanta relievers.
The irony, of course, is that there were no injury concerns entering this game, with the Nats' three recently banged-up regulars (Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Yunel Escobar) able to play. That group, though, couldn't duplicate the efforts of this lineup for much of the last week-and-a-half.
Despite the on-and-off status of those three key players and the longer-term loss of Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth to the disabled list, the Nationals had scored 50 runs over its previous 10 games, nine of those ending in victory. Not so on this night, not with Wisler keeping the opposition off-balance through 5 1/3 innings, surrendering only one hit along the way.
Which isn't to say the Nationals didn't have their chances. Five walks issued by Wisler left him pitching out of the stretch most of the night. The Nats simply couldn't take advantage.
Wilson Ramos struck out with two on and two out in the first. Escobar grounded into a double play with runners on the corners and one out in the third. Ramos grounded into a double play with two on and one out in the sixth. Danny Espinosa struck out with two on and two out in the seventh.
The Escobar and Ramos double plays were especially damaging to a Nationals lineup that can't afford for the men hitting in front of and behind Harper to go cold at the plate. Escobar has now grounded into 12 double plays this season, five in his last seven games alone, leaving Harper to lead off a bunch of innings instead of having opportunities to drive in runners from scoring position.
Ramos, meanwhile, has seen his batting average fall to .258, his on-base percentage to .285. The Nationals can maybe live with that from their No. 7 or No. 8 hitter, but they can't live with that from their No. 5 hitter, not the guy hitting directly behind Harper (who reached base twice Wednesday but never scored.
The whole situation should get better, of course, once the likes of Zimmerman, Rendon and Werth return and the Nats aren't forced to rely on less-proven hitters to protect Harper in the lineup.
But until then, they'll have to keep hoping the rest of the bunch can provide enough quality at-bats to bring enough runs home.