Back when the Nats were losing in May and June, we at least could take comfort in knowing the reason for their inability to get over the hump.
The Nats front office was fooled by unexpectedly good 2012s into thinking that the bench of Moore, Lombardozzi, Tracy and Bernadina was a strength not a weakness, and that Zach Duke could handle the middle relief role. When injuries inevitably came, the bench was exposed and the offense staggered. When a big bet on Dan Haren came up snake eyes (he not only didn't pitch well, he pitched so poorly the Nats had to rely more on middle relief, not less) Duke was exposed. Add to that a oddly formed bullpen (no lefties, H-Rod) that left the Nats' more traditional manager confused and you had a recipe for a disappointing first half.
It may not be a simple explanation, nor an satisfying one for fans, but it was one that made sense. It was also one that lead to some hope for a late season charge. If the offense just got healthy then the bench issue would be moot. If the Nats could find some bullpen arms, which isn't that difficult, then the pen could be a strength again. If the Nats could find a fifth starter, which is a bit harder and might require a deal, then the staff would be in good shape. If that all happened then there is no reason the Nats couldn't go on a extended run. Maybe it wouldn't be enough for a playoff spot but it would sure be enough for an exciting finish at least.
They haven't found that 5th starter yet, but the pen is formed back up and the offense is healthy, so here come the wins, right? Nope. They are losing now more than ever. 2-8 in their last 10. Their worst ten game stretch by wins and losses for the season.
Why? A bit of it is bad luck obvious to the eye. They are 0-3 in one-run games and 0-3 in two run games over the last 10. Really they should be more like 3-7. But 3-7 still isn't good. What's going on? The offense is still failing despite all hands being on deck.
In the past 2 weeks, Desmond (.684 OPS) and Rendon (.673) have been mediocre. Bryce (.607), Span (.579), & Zimmerman (.566), have been bad. LaRoche has been horrible (.364). Only Ramos (.781) and Werth (1.171) have been hitting and even they have been pretty selective. They are combined 4-24 (5 walks) with men on base. Werth has 4 homers in the last 10 games, all solo. Basically Ramos and Werth are hitting .420 with pop when the bases are empty and are .170 slap-hitters when men are on base.
All these guys (except probably Span and maybe Rendon - hey we don't know for sure!) are good hitters. You shouldn't see 6 of them slump at the same time. Except maybe you should. I know it's been too long and hard a season for Nats fans to just say "fluke of timing" and move on, but that's really what it is. Look at their historical stats. LaRoche (106 OPS+) has these types of years. So does Span (86). Desmond (120) and Zimmerman (121) are still on line with expectations. Rendon (106) is not a surprise. Bryce (141) is still high thanks to that scorching start. Werth (132) and Ramos (121) could actually get worse. That isn't a 2.4 runs a game offense. Except it will be sometimes, that's the way baseball works, and now happens to be that sometime.
Sometimes you hit, sometimes you don't. How you score is based on how it works out timing wise. Earlier the starters were hitting but the team wasn't scoring because half the lineup was the terrible bench. Now they are all here and the starters are not hitting and thus not scoring. It can't and won't last forever. If they all remain healthy they will score more. They will score at a decent clip.
It may not be a good clip though. LaRoche and Span are on the bottom ends of their expectations and could stay there. There is no reason Bryce and Rendon have to break out this year. Zimm and Desmond could just float along at roughly the pace they are hitting now. The bench is still terrible. Last year the Nats scored the 5th most runs in the NL with nearly everything going right. This year they won't have that happen, so what kind of scoring team will it likely be from here on out? Probably average. That wouldn't be enough, not even if the pitching was again best in the league (which it's not. Very good but not best). 5th best pitching and average run scoring is a team that wins 85-88 games from start to finish. That's not a team that can make up the ground necessary in the time left.