Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo was asked by a caller on a late-season edition of the "The Mike Rizzo Show" with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier last September, if he could identify three areas of weakness for the 2013 Nats?
"I think offensive efficiency is 1.1 in my book," Rizzo responded. "We have to do a better job of scoring those guys from third base with less than two outs and moving guys over from second to third. You know, that type of baseball. Doing efficient offensive plays and doing the little things offensively to score more runs. I think we have to certainly be more effective in the bridges to our back end of the bullpen guys and our bench needs to produce more and those are kind of three in a nutshell off the top of my head that we would try to address in the offseason."
When Rizzo talked to MASN's FP Santangelo before the start of the final series of the 2013 season, he once again mentioned offensive efficiency, or the lack of it as one of the reasons the Nationals failed to return to the postseason.
"I think if you had to put it in a nutshell," Rizzo said, "and this is a very in-depth question I think that we're going to analyze after the season is over when we look back and we do our final analysis on what we're going to do in the offseason. But if I had to put my finger on one particular characteristic of the ballclub, it was offensive efficiency. We weren't very efficient early on in the season. We didn't hit with runners in scoring position very well. We didn't do the little things to create runs and to generate runs without hitting home runs."
The Nationals' .245 AVG with runners in scoring position ranked 9th of 15 National League teams on the year. They were 10th in the NL in RBIs with RISP.
It's worse this season.
"We have to be more efficient offensively," Rizzo told MLB Network Radio hosts Casey Stern and Jim Bowden last week. "Especially the lineup that we're -- until we get all our guys healthy -- you can hopefully, then you can mash a little bit more and have confidence you're going to score some runs. You have to be more efficient offensively. I think that's the point where we have to be. We have to manufacture some runs here. When there's a man on third, less than two outs, we have to drive him in at a much greater rate than we are right now."
"Right now it's a question of getting that big hit when we need it," Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters this week. "It hasn't happened. For the most part anyway. So, keep grinding. Keep approaching it the same way. Bunch base hits together and we've got the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, but the key for us is to bunch base hits."
"Off the top of my head I think that's it," Rizzo continued. "If there is another thing, I think we need to play cleaner games defensively, because these teams here, you can't give extra outs. When you're trying to manufacture runs and your lineup is a little depleted, you have to play good baseball because the games are going to probably be low scoring and you're going to have to play good solid defense in order to allow your pitchers to do their thing."
The Nationals' 44 errors are the most committed by any NL team so far this season. Their .977 fielding percentage is the NL's worst. The Nats are currently 12th among National League teams in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), at -8, ahead of only the Dodgers and Diamondbacks (-10) and the Phillies (-23).
Though they're capable of identifying the areas of weakness, the Nationals have thus far been unable to address them. Wilson Ramos returned recently. Ryan Zimmerman has been cleared to start swinging, but is still a few weeks away. Bryce Harper? Will it be different when/if the Nationals have their full lineup back on the field? Or more of the same from the underachieving Nats?