The Washington Nationals have played 46 games this season. In 24 of those, Washington has scored three runs or less. Let that sink in for a second. That’s more than half, (52%) of the games they have played so far this year.
Washington is 6-18 in games they score less than three runs and 15-7 in games they score four or more. Yes, the Nationals pitching staff ERA may look high. Patrick Corbin, Joe Ross, and Jon Lester have all had rollercoaster starts to the season. Some members of the bullpen, like Tanner Rainey, have inflated ERAs, but make no mistake about it, the Nationals offense is the reason they aren’t winning games.
The Nationals are coming off scoring just six runs in a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds, who just so happen to have the third-worst team ERA in baseball at 4.98. If you take away their five runs in game two of the series, Washington pushed across one run in 18 innings in games one and three.
It’s clear the Nationals have an offense problem, but why is the real question. Josh Bell has suddenly found a recent hot streak, Kyle Schwarber is hitting for a low average but good power, pretty much what was expected out of him, and Josh Harrison has been one of the biggest offensive surprises in baseball. So with all that, why are the Nationals so poor offensively? Well, it may have more to do with the production of their superstar Juan Soto than you think.
Before we get into the negative, I’ll start by saying Soto is having an All-Star caliber season by a normal player’s standards. In 36 games he’s slashing .286/.401/.413 with four doubles, four home runs, and 16 RBIs.
Soto’s still taking his walks, shown by his OBP being over 100 points higher than his batting average, but he isn’t hitting for power like we’ve become accustomed to seeing him do. Since returning from the IL, Soto’s hitting .268 with just four extra-base hits in 21 games. 15 of Soto’s 19 hits since coming off the IL have been singles.
If this was the 2017,2018, or 2019 Nationals lineup, they could get by for a while with Soto hitting for a high average, getting on base, but lacking power. The problem is, this team can’t. Coming into this year, for the Nationals to have any chance at contending they needed Trea Turner and Juan Soto to be not just All-Stars, but superstars. 46 game into 2021, Soto’s been good, but nowhere near as good as they need him to be.
The Nationals are at their best when Soto is going well. This season, they are 8-4 in games Soto has driven in a run. There’s a good chance Soto’s lack of power may be due to his shoulder injury he suffered back in April, but there’s real concern if this Nats offense can tread water until he’s fully healthy. Soto at even 50% if better than any other option the Nationals have, but ultimately if this team is going to be a real contender to win the N.L. East, they need Soto to perform like the superstar he is.
It’s just a matter of time before we see Juan Soto breakout in a big way, he’s just too good of a player not to. But as time ticks away during the 2021 regular season, the Nationals continue to dig themselves deeper and deeper into a hole. Will Soto come back soon enough to put them on his back and dig them out, or will the deficit be too large to overcome? Only time will tell.