With losses in four of their last five games after Friday night's 11-1 loss to Atlanta, Washington dropped back a game below .500 at 46-47. When Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson took over, the Nationals had just won 13 of 15 to raise their record from 28-36 on June 10th to 40-38 following a 1-0 June 23rd win over the Mariners after which former Nationals' manager Jim Riggleman resigned. With the 68-year-old Johnson running things, after three games under John McLaren (2-1), Washington is 6-9. The one-time Mets, Reds, O's and Dodgers' skipper was asked before the break if it meant anything to finish the first-half of the 2011 season with a .500 record. "Not to me it doesn't," Johnson responded.
"We're a young club coming up and trying to establish ourselves as someone to be reckoned with and I guess," Johnson said, "I haven't been holding up since I've been here, I'm under .500. I'm not really proud of that. I like the direction we're headed in, I think everybody in the organization is proud of where we're going. Every game we play you can tell we can play with just about everybody."
The Nationals have remained around the .500 mark in spite of an offense that currently ranks next-to-last in the NL in team average (.235), OBP (.305) and average w/ RISP (.219) (which is well below the league average - .251). The Nats are 11th of 16 NL teams in SLG (.368) and 14th of 16 in team BABIP (.280). The Nats have won with better-than-expected pitching from the starters, a strong first-half by the bullpen (or at least the A-pen) and improved defense around the infield.
Last night's 5-error game did, however, make the Nats, as @Stats_MLB noted on the Twitter last night, "the first team to commit at least five errors in two games in a season since the 2007 Marlins." Even with those 10 errors though, the Nats have just 58 on the season, 9th of 16 in the NL, and their .984 fld% is exactly league-average after 93 games.
"We looked like were a little rusty out there," Johnson said of the first game of the second-half. "Some balls [were] hit pretty hard, some tough hops out there. We didn't play too good, we didn't pitch too good. It's just one game, so, tomorrow's another day." Johnson didn't seem to think the bad defensive showing was a sign of a trend, however. "They were all physical errors," the manager said, "I don't worry about those things, those things can happen. We've been outstanding defensively all year, and this was just one of those games."
It was also another game against an top-of-the-rotation arm, the Braves' Tim Hudson, in which they struggled to hit with runners in scoring position, going 0 for 5 on the night with nine runners total left on base and also saw a stretch of twelve-straight batters retired after they collected the fifth of eight hits total in the third inning.
The Nationals' only run of the night Friday scored when Roger Bernadina sprinted home from third as Ryan Zimmerman grounded into a force at second following back-to-back singles to start the game. In the second, a rare hard-hit liner by Jayson Werth was erased by a double play grounder off Wilson Ramos' bat, and after making two errors in the field, Michael Morse K'd swinging on three pitches from Hudson with two on and one out in the third.
After that, the Nats were hitless till the seventh when they were already down 9-1. After Roger Bernadina's 2 on, 2 out groundout ended any threat in the top of the seventh, the Braves made it 11-1 when Atlanta's rookie first baseman hit a two-run double with 2 on and 2 out in the bottom of the frame. The 2011 Trade Deadline is just 15 days away. Can D.C. GM Mike Rizzo find the offense the Nats need, or will the wait for the bats to get hot continue into the last two months of the season?