In diagnosing Washington's issues at the end of the Nationals' last homestand, Davey Johnson acknowledged that the offense had struggled to produce as expected this season, but also noted that the pitching wasn't as strong as it was in 2012. He still believed then, however, that this was a team capable of playing with the best in baseball.
"The talent is there," Johnson said, "I've never given up on the talent, it's just we need to start expressing it more often. And it hasn't just been the hitting. The pitching has been -- everything goes from the pitching, but our pitching hasn't been near as consistent from jump street as it was last year."
"Everything rolls off of pitching," the Nationals' 70-year-old manager said, "If you're getting a good pitched game, your offense is always more active, but when you're giving up runs early, it kind of puts a stifle on it. Everybody tries to be too fine. And I think the pitching is coming around and obviously the hitting is coming with it."
• Nationals' Sunday lineup vs PHI:
Today's lineup vs. PHI: Span 8, Zimmerman 5, Harper 7, Werth 9, Desmond 6, LaRoche 3, Ramos 2, Lombardozzi 4, Strasburg 1— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) August 11, 2013
As the Nationals point out in their pregame notes this afternoon, as Stephen Strasburg prepares to take on Philadelphia in the third game of three with the Phillies in D.C., the starting pitching has been strong so far in the month of August:
"Steve McCatty’s starting staff is 3-1 with a 2.98 ERA (16 ER/48.1 IP) in 8 August contests to date...in those 8 games, the starting staff has yielded just one homer while posting a stingy .230 batting average against and admirable walk (2.4/9.0) and strikeout (7.8/9.0) rates per 9.0 innings."
The Nationals, with Strasburg on the mound, try to make it three straight against the Phillies in the three-game weekend set, after winning the sixth series in the last seven with Philadelphia with last night's comeback win. Strasburg's (4-4) in 12 home starts in 2013, with a 1.76 ERA, 2.37 FIP, 14 walks (1.54 BB/9) and 90 Ks (9.88 K/9) in 82 IP, over which he's held opposing hitters to a .195/.247/.270 line. The 25-year-old right-hander, "... has allowed one earned run or less in 7 of 12 DC starts, including 4 starts allowing no earned runs." When he gets support, however, as the Nationals note, he usually wins:
"In 29 career starts when provided with 3 or more runs of offensive support while in the game, [Strasburg] is 21-2 with a 3.02 ERA (56 ER/167.0 IP)."
Strasburg faces the Phillies for just the second time this season. Last time out against Philadelphia on May 26th, he held Philly hitters to one run on five hits in eight innings of work in a 6-1 win in the nation's capital. Strasburg's trying to break a three-game losing streak and a five-start winless streak this afternoon. Over his last 31 IP, the '09 no.1 overall pick has a 4.94 ERA, though he's held the opposition to a .212/.268/.347 line. The Nationals have been outscored 17-11 over his last five outings.