Nationals in a familiar spot — another early-season hole

Sports

Washington Nationals right fielder Juan Soto cannot reach a double by Philadelphia Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins during the ninth inning of a baseball game, Friday, June 4, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

For a third straight year, the Washington Nationals have dug themselves an early hole.

Two seasons ago, they recovered and won the World Series. In 2020, they couldn’t overcome their poor start, finishing under .500 in that 60-game season. They have more time to rebound this year, but there aren’t many positive signs at the moment.

The Nationals are in last place in the NL East, and although their mediocrity has company — only one team in that division has a winning record — Washington’s run differential of minus-31 suggests this team has earned its current predicament. The Nationals are 24-32 — the same record they had after 56 games during their championship season. Last year, they were 23-33 at this stage, and the season was almost over.

Only two teams have scored fewer runs than Washington this season. Last year, the Nationals struggled as a team but still got stellar production from Trea Turner and Juan Soto. This year Turner is hitting .311 with 10 homers, but Soto is batting a more pedestrian .278 with seven home runs. With those two slipping slightly from last season’s excellence, Washington needs more than it’s gotten so far from newcomers Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell.

On the pitching side, Max Scherzer remains elite at age 36, but Patrick Corbin has a 6.28 ERA and Stephen Strasburg has made only five starts because of shoulder and neck problems.

SWEPT

Speaking of offensive woes, the New York Yankees have the second-fewest runs in the American League. The Yankees lost three straight games at home to Boston and now trail AL East-leading Tampa Bay by 6 1/2.

While Aaron Judge (14 homers) has hit well, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres each has an OPS under .800. Brett Gardner is hitting .190.

TRIVIA TIME

The Pittsburgh Pirates are one of the two teams that have scored fewer runs than the Nationals this season. Name the other.

LINE OF THE WEEK

Cincinnati’s Jesse Winker hit three home runs in Sunday’s 8-7 victory over St. Louis — the last of which was a tiebreaking shot in the ninth inning. It was the second three-homer game this season for Winker, who is tied for second in the majors with 17 home runs.

COMEBACK OF THE WEEK

Down 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth Saturday, the Pirates rallied for four runs when the Miami Marlins came unglued. Pittsburgh’s runs that inning — all with two out — came on a walk with the bases loaded, a hit batter with the bases loaded, and an error by pitcher Anthony Bender. The Pirates eventually won 8-7 in 12 innings. The Marlins had a win probability of 94.1% in the top of the eighth, according to Statcast.

That was Miami’s eighth straight loss. Earlier in the week, the Marlins dropped a game to Toronto after they had a 94% chance to win. The Blue Jays scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat Miami 6-5 on Wednesday night.

HIGHLIGHT

It wasn’t all bad for the Yankees this week. Michael King pitched an immaculate inning Friday night against Boston, striking out the side on nine pitches.

TRIVIA ANSWER

The New York Mets are dead last in the major leagues with 192 runs. In spite of that, the Jacob deGrom-led Mets have a 3 1/2-game lead atop the NL East. New York has allowed only 181 runs, which is also the fewest in the majors. (Part of the reason for those low totals is that the Mets have played only 52 games. Every other team has played at least 56, and some have played as many as 61.)

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

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More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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