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Nationals season wrap-up
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BY RICH CAMPBELL
WASHINGTON--The Washington Nationals quietly filed into the visitor's clubhouse at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park last Friday night and shook their heads at another woeful offensive performance.
The ensuing scene was painfully familiar.
They told reporters for the umpteenth time in 2007 how the opposing pitcher--in this case Philadelphia ace Cole Hamels--overmatched them. They would pick themselves up and try again tomorrow, they said, without convincing evidence for optimism. In reality, concrete solutions to their seasonlong slump eluded them.
So as the Nationals' decision-makers enter the offseason with that scenario repeatedly burned into their memories, they acknowledge two things: the offense was bad, and it must be upgraded for the team to finish above .500.
"Obviously, we know that we need to improve our offense," manager Manny Acta lamented last week. "We need to score more runs, and we're aware of it."
Coming into the season, the Nationals hoped to rely on their bats to compensate for an unproven pitching staff. Instead, the pitchers overachieved while a lethargic offense slowed the team's progress.
Washington finished last in the majors in runs (4.15 per game). Of the 16 teams in the National League, they ranked last in homers and near the bottom in hits (13th), on-base percentage (12th) and slugging percentage (15th).NO EASY ANSWERS
There are several reasons why the offense failed, but Acta put it best.
"It's not a secret that we had five or six guys in our lineup that underachieved this year, in a way," he said.
While there were plenty of underachievers, the Nationals' lack of a power hitter in the middle of the lineup was among the most glaring shortcomings.
First baseman Dmitri Young hit a career-best .320 in the cleanup spot, but had only 13 home runs and 74 RBIs.
Acta and general manager Jim Bowden want someone capable of at least 35 homers and 100 RBIs to protect No. 3 hitter Ryan Zimmerman. How they can acquire such a player, though, remains a mystery.
Sluggers who can put up such gaudy numbers don't come cheaply on the free-agent market, and team president Stan Kasten said last month that he is averse to expensive free-agent deals.