Nationals getting healthy, yet still searching on offense

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After getting Adam LaRoche back from a quad injury on Sunday, the Nationals are getting increasingly close to full strength.

Though Ryan Zimmerman doesn’t have a specific timeline to return, he will begin swinging a bat on Tuesday. Once he takes the field again – as long as no one else goes down in the interim – the Nats will be without only one member of their Opening Day lineup.

All season the theory has been that once the Nats get their guys back, the offense will start clicking. But when, exactly, will that happen?

Wilson Ramos has been back for three weeks and LaRoche for two games, but neither has proven a magical solution to their offensive woes. Even with a nearly complete lineup, the Nationals still can’t score.

In the month of May, Washington has scored 72 runs through 23 games and gone 9-14 during that stretch. As a team they’ve hit just .223 this month, worst in the majors. Their .289 on-base percentage, .334 slugging percentage and .623 OPS in May: all worst in baseball.

Their problems continued on Monday where they mustered just one hit through their first 6 1/3 innings against Nathan Eovaldi. LaRoche hit a two-run homer in the seventh for the Nationals’ only two runs in a 3-2 loss against the Marlins.

It was only LaRoche’s second game back from the disabled list, and he looks to be rounding into the form he exited with. The first baseman was the Nationals’ best hitter in April and could be heating back up. For now, as manager Matt Williams explained, they have to take the good and build on it.

“Some positive signs today, certainly, from [LaRoche]. Back in the lineup and got one today. Some positive signs coming… regarding our health, out of our training room, which is good,” Williams said.

The Nationals have lost five of six with an average of 1.8 runs in those losses. In those six games overall, the Nats’ pitching staff has allowed an average of 2.7 runs per game. Though their rotation hasn’t been as advertised this season, it has not been their fault. The offense simply isn’t giving them a chance to win.

Williams is aware of that and spoke to it after Monday’s game.

“They expect more from themselves. We’ve got to give ourselves a better chance. And everybody knows that. It’s well-documented. Everybody’s been talking about it.”

Tanner Roark was the latest Nationals’ pitcher to take a tough loss on Monday, despite going seven innings with three runs allowed against the sixth best offense in the majors. Afterwards he said the mood in the clubhouse is remaining positive as they continue to search for wins.

“We’re fine. We’re still having more fun than ever and that’s the biggest thing. Morale is up. It will turn around, we just gotta keep plugging away and not dwell on anything.”

As LaRoche continues to play and as Ramos keeps improving, the Nationals should start showing progress on offense. They were the seventh best offensive team in April, so they have proven very recently they are capable of scoring. But at some point very soon, they’ll need to begin showing it.

Video: Albert Almora, Jr. saved by the ivy

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
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The ALCS had a weird play in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but Game 4 of the NLCS did as well. This one involved Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Jr. and his attempt to spark a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning against Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling.

After Alex Avila singled, Almora ripped a double to left field, past a diving Enrique Hernandez. The ball rolled to the ivy in front of the wall. Most outfielders there would’ve put their hands up, which would have alerted the umpires to call an immediate ground-rule double. Hernandez didn’t, instead fishing the ball out and firing it back into the infield. Avila had stopped at third base, but Almora kept running. Much to his surprise, he pulled up into third base to see his teammate standing there, resigned to his fate as a dead duck. Third baseman Justin Turner applied the tag on Almora for what he thought was the first out of the inning.

Almora, however, was then sent back to second base after the umpires correctly called a ground-rule double.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lucky break didn’t help as closer Kenley Jansen came in and took care of business, retiring all three batters he faced without letting an inherited runner score. The Dodgers won 6-1 and now lead the NLCS three games to none. They’ll try to punch their ticket to the World Series on Wednesday.