Thom Loverro: Nationals walking a tightrope of a season -- without a net

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There is a scene in the film "Wyatt Earp" where Kevin Costner, as Wyatt, asks Dennis Quaid -- Doc Holliday -- "What's wrong with you?"

Doc replies, "What is wrong with me? What have you got?"

That might be the collective reply to the question of what's gone wrong with the Washington Nationals.

They can't hit, and two of their best hitters, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, are passing each other on the disabled list.

They have a second baseman in Danny Espinosa who is so banged up with injuries that he reminds you of the Black Knight in "Monty Python and The Holy Grail" when, while fighting King Arthur with his arms and legs cut off, declares, "It's just a flesh wound."

They have good starting pitching, but right now 40 percent of the rotation -- Stephen Strasburg and Ross Detwiler -- is uncertain because of injury. They have a shaky bullpen.

They can't catch. The third baseman has so much trouble sometimes finding first base that somewhere, Chuck Knoblauch is hoping he will be replaced as the poster boy for bad throws.

Oh, and did I mention Henry Rodriguez?

But, like Doc Holliday managed to live through the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral while he was coughing up a lung from tuberculosis, the Nationals have actually managed to survive with a 28-29 record to date and enter Monday only 6? games out of first place in the N.L. East.

What can I say? I'm a sunny side of the street kind of guy.

If I had to pin the tail on the Nationals' donkey, I would say defense. It is their fielding that has betrayed them the most and kept them from doing a better job of surviving all the other ills.

The offense has been offensive to watch. They are batting .229, ranked 27th in baseball, and have a .287 on base percentage, which is ranked dead last (both rankings entering Monday).

But this is just a slightly worse reflection of the 2012 Nationals at this point in the season.

After 54 games last year, the Nationals had scored 202 runs. After 54 games this year, 190 runs crossed the plate. That's a 12-run total differential, hardly enough of a difference maker. They are in essence the same bats they were at this point last year.

But after 54 games in 2012, the Nationals had only given up 184 runs. This year: 211 runs. And of those, 21 were unearned.

Washington is second-worst in all of baseball with 41 errors. Last year, they didn't give away outs and they walked the tightrope of those close, low-scoring games their starting pitching gave them. This year, they've needed a net to walk that high-wire and the offense hasn't provided it.

They can't afford to play without a net much longer.

Examiner

columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Thom Loverro

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The Washington Examiner