Inbox: How will Nats address offense woes?

June 27th, 2018
Washington Nationals third base coach Bob Henley, left, talks with Bryce Harper (34) and Juan Soto (22) during a pitching change in a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, June 26, 2018, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)Steve Nesius/AP

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals began Wednesday in third place in the National League East, four games back of Atlanta. And with a crucial four-game weekend series in Philadelphia approaching, it is time for an Inbox.
Questions from fans addressed the offense, baserunning miscues, acquiring another starting pitcher and more. Let's dive in.

Using the metric weighted runs created plus (wRc+), which is like a cumulative offensive statistic, the Nationals have been the worst offensive team in the National League in June, with a 72 wRc+ at the start of the day Wednesday. They are just ahead of the Pirates for last in the NL in weighted on-base percentage. The Nats have hit just 12 home runs this month, which is last in the league. In 2018, an offense needs to hit home runs to be successful.
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There are a few reasons for these struggles. The most obvious and most cited has been health. Yes, the return of Matt Adams, and Matt Wieters would greatly improve this lineup. And is back in the lineup, but he is still working on his timing after missing eight months following a knee surgery.
But there are players who are in the lineup who are simply underperforming. Most notably, has been mired in perhaps the worst slump of his career. He has shown signs that a breakout is near during the past week, but a .623 OPS and one home run has left a huge hole in middle of the Nats' lineup. Harper is not alone, with , , and struggling at times.
So I'm not 100 percent sure the only thing wrong is a change in approach, but I am still optimistic that this can be one of the best offenses in the NL. There are several good hitters (Harper, Rendon, Turner) due for a huge bounce back to their usual production, and combined with improved health from others, the Nats should get clicking once again.

Manager Dave Martinez has talked about baserunning a lot this season, urging the Nationals to be aggressive -- or "aggressively smart," as he has called it -- while also lamenting some of the mistakes that have come with that.
According to Baseball-Reference, the Nationals had run into 32 outs on the bases, which entered Wednesday as tied with the Rockies for the most in the NL. A year ago, the Nats finished with 48 outs on the bases, two below the league average of 50. These baserunning mistakes do not always come from being overly aggressive, as Baseball-Reference also reveals that the Nats take the extra base just 39 percent of the time, when the league average is 42 percent. So if anything, Washington is being too conservative -- and deciding to go at the wrong time.
Baseball Prospectus is much less kind. They keep a statistic called Baserunning Runs, which measures the number of runs contributed by a player's advancement on the bases, above or below what would be expected by an average baserunner. As a team, the Nationals are last in all of baseball with -9.2 BRR.
Fangraphs is more kind to Washington, but it does show a dip from last season. By the Ultimate Base Running statistic, which measures non-stolen-base-related plays on the basepaths, the Nats are 11th in MLB (1.4 UBR) after finishing seventh (4.1 UBR) last season.

Starting pitching was the unquestioned strength of the Nationals through the first two months of the season, so it's a surprising reality that they could probably use another starting pitcher. But this problem is heightened with two-fifths of their rotation on the DL ( and , who is due back Saturday) and two-fifths of their rotation struggling this month ( and ), leaving NL Cy Young Award candidate Max Scherzer without much help. At this point, I'd be surprised to see the Nationals make a major play for one of the starting pitchers available because of the cost in prospects. This team still believes its rotation is one of its biggest strengths.

Gonzalez has an 8.44 ERA in five starts this month, which has seen his ERA rise to 3.68. Honestly, I don't think there are any major problems here if he's being truthful when he said after his last start that he is physically healthy. He seems to be just regressing back to his career ERA of 3.64.
Looking at his breakdown by start, he has only had two duds: against the Giants on June 9 (four runs in 3 1/3 innings) and Monday against the Rays (six runs in one inning). Otherwise, he pitched well on June 2 against the Braves (seven innings of three-run ball). On June 15, Gonzalez got charged for two runs in seventh inning against the Blue Jays after he arguably should have been out of the game having already thrown 100 pitches and then lost a fly ball in the lights. And on June 20, Gonzalez had been pitching well, if not for a hanging curveball to for a two-run homer; then rain shortened his outing to four innings.

It seems as if Harper is going to be the primary center fielder on days Michael A. Taylor is out the lineup. Harper feels comfortable there, and Martinez prefers him there instead of Eaton, who feels more comfortable on the corners anyway. So I expect Harper will continue to get a lot of playing time in center field.

The Nationals have not provided much information on the recovery of and his hyperextended elbow. He had been in an arm brace after the injury, but recently he has been posting videos of himself hitting in a cage to his Instagram account. So for now, Robles is working out and rehabbing at the team's complex in West Palm Beach, Fla. The club still expects him to return this season, perhaps to be ready in time as a potential September callup.