If the Nationals keep giving themselves opportunities to drive in runs, they will eventually convert at least some of those opportunities, that's what Matt Williams insists.
"It's part of the game, and it is the game," the rookie manager said after watching his team go a staggering 0-for-16 with runners in scoring position during Thursday night's 4-3, 12-inning loss to the Padres. "We'll take our chances with that many guys out there all night."
Perhaps the law of averages suggests Williams will be proven right. It's got to be statistically impossible to be that inept in clutch situations over the course of a full season, right?
Maybe so, but that still didn't ease the sting of Thursday's loss, one in which the Nationals presented themselves with opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to deliver the one hit that would have won this game and left everybody feeling better at the end of a long night at the ballpark.
How bad were the Nationals at situational hitting? Well, this was the first time in Expos/Natsionals franchise history they went 0-for-16 with runners in scoring position. It's only the 19th time since 1976 that any MLB club went 0-for-16 or worse with runners in scoring position. (The record since this stat has been recorded is 0-for-19, accomplished by the 1977 Pirates, 2004 Red Sox and 2013 Mets.)
Adding to the mind-numbing nature of this game: The Nationals, as a whole, were quite productive at the plate. They went 16-for-34 against a good Padres pitching staff when there weren't any runners in scoring position. They just couldn't deliver once in the situations that really mattered.
"Could be some bad luck there," said second baseman Danny Espinosa, who went 3-for-4 without runners in scoring position, 0-for-2 with them. "At the same time, they can make pitches. I don't know. Every guy's got a different approach there, so you can't really tell what everyone is doing. Nobody's trying to get out."
Of course not, but is it fair to question the approach some players took to those situations? For example, three times in the game's final five innings the Nationals had their leadoff man on second base with nobody out. In a tie game late, the next batter's responsibility was simple: Advance the runner to third base by any means necessary.
All three batters (Jose Lobaton in the eighth, Zach Walters in the 10th, Tyler Moore in the 12th) struck out.
"I think we're trying too hard," said Lobaton, who was the victim of genuine back luck when he lined out hard to shortstop to end the game in the bottom of the 12th. "We're trying too hard. We've just got to relax and let the ball drive. It's going to happen. I know we've got a pretty good team. We can do better and better."
Williams was asked if he considered bunting the runner to third in any of those situations.
"Yeah," he said. "Zach's up there looking for a groundball to second base. And [Padres reliever Tim Stauffer] ended up striking out the side, so it wouldn't have mattered anyway, moving him over. And in the last inning, against [closer Huston Street], he's kinda the same guy, too. Real good changeup. And Loby put a nice at-bat on him. Just happened to be right at him. So there was opportunity."
This may have been the most-dramatic overall display of poor situational hitting by the Nationals this season, but it wasn't their first display of it. They're now hitting a collective .250 as a team, but only .206 with runners in scoring position, only .160 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
They've stranded a total of 176 runners on base in 23 games, tops in the National League.
"We want to win," Lobaton said. "We're there to win. I think everybody wants to. We're trying to do the best. I can see in the dugout, everybody wants to. I know it's going to happen. I know the offense is going to be better and better. I know everybody is working for that. We've got to just get past this day and get ready for tomorrow."