The words like fight and heart are usually part of a bad narrative when it comes to baseball, but anyone who has watched the 2013 Nationals can’t help but complain about a lack of fight and heart, and they may be on to something. It was thought that once the Nationals line-up got healthy they would be just fine, but since Harper returned it has been as punchless as ever. Harper hasn’t performed up to his standard with a .745 OPS but that is a hug improvement over anything Roger Bernadina has done, and yet the Nationals offense continues to manage nothing.
It is hard to find a reason for why the Nats are so bad in high leverage situations, but according to Fangraphs they are the worst hitting team in the majors in such situations with a team .582 OPS. The next worst are the Cubs at .608. That is an over .020 point difference. It is hard to find a reason for why the Nats are so bad, but look at Adam LaRoche’s seventh inning at bat against Luis Avilan. Avalin had given up a two out single, had Zimmerman reach on an E5, and walked Jayson Werth on five pitches. With a 2-0 count LaRoche swung at a pitch in and off the plate to end the threat. LaRoche is a veteran and should know to make a pitcher suffering from sudden lose of control throw him a strike before swinging.
This is an issue that Nats fans have seen all season. Think back to Jayson Werth swinging at a 3-0 pitch in New York. The Nats can’t say they are still playing tight as they have nothing left to play for, but there is something missing when solid veteran hitters are making mistakes so out of character for them. LaRoche is known as a patient veteran hitter with a solid approach at the plate, and not taking the 2-0 pitch with a high likelihood Avilan would have walked in the tying run is alarming to witness.
If this wasn’t Davey Johnson’s last season this type of play would be grounds for dismissal. It isn’t that the Nats should be fired up for high leverage situations. Quite the opposite. Good baseball players treat every situation the same. The hitting approach is to wait for a pitch up and drive it somewhere. When the Nats are in close games and get runners on they swing at any pitch and end up grounding out weakly, striking out, popping out, or any other harmless thing.
Bryce Harper attempted to drag the corpse of the Nationals back to life when after Teheran hit him he started towards the mound. And while the benches and bullpens did clear the players stood around like they were waiting for a bus. It is hard to say it is a lack of fight as we cannot see into the players mind, but the Nats have all the appearance of a team that has accepted their fate and rolled over to die.