The Washington Nationals are starting to have a few bumps and stumbles on their way through the 2014 season.
Thursday, those may have hit their peak in a 4-3 12-inning loss to the San Diego Padres.
The Nationals tied a season high with 16 hits, but only managed three runs, the first time they put up such a combination since the 1979 season as the Montreal Expos.
The reason for that: they went 0 for 16 with runners in scoring position, their worst-ever performance in that situation in any game in franchise history.
Since their 7-2 start, the Nationals have lost 9 of 14 games. In their last seven games, they are hitting .215, with a .297 on-base percentage and a .305 slugging percentage. In those eight games, they don’t have any players who have multiple hits with runners in scoring position, with the team being a combined 7 for 63 in that situation.
Three of their best hitters are currently in funks. Ian Desmond is 5 for32 with 11 strikeouts in his last eight games. Jayson Werth is 6 for 31 in that same span. Bryce Harper is 5 for 31 and got caught off second base on Thursday’s game-ending double play.
Though he did go 2 for 5 in this game, Harper’s struggles seem to warrant a closer examination.
Inside the funk
Harper has one home run and five RBI in 76 at-bats this season.
He has apparently cured one of the things that ailed him the last two seasons, as he’s started 7 for 16 against left-handed pitching. But he’s a meager 13 for 60 with three extra-base hits against righthanders.
Righthanders are getting Harper out in bulk on pitches outside of the strike zone. He’s 3 for 28 in at-bats against righties ending on pitches out of the zone. That is a pace of about one such out per game, which would give him upwards of 150 such outs this season. His totals the last two seasons: 90 and 79.
Thus far, Harper’s ability to hit the ball hard has been limited. He’s registered what our hit-tracking system classifies as “hard-hit balls” about half as often against righties as he did in 2013.