The Washington Nationals entered 2015 as a threat to finish as Major League Baseball’s first 100-win team since 2011, largely because their pitching just looks too darn good.

To this end, here’s the latest from the front: It’s not going so well, mainly because of what’s happening on the other side of the ball. Washington’s lineup is not at full strength, and it’s showing.

The Nationals played their fourth game of the season Friday in Philadelphia, and it resulted in their third loss. They mustered only six hits against Jerome Williams and three Phillies relievers, and lost 4-1.

And with that one run, the Nationals have now scored a grand total of…[drum roll]…seven runs.

In fairness, poor offense isn’t the only thing afflicting the Nationals. They’ve also played some poor defense, rendering their pitching staff—which has lived up to its billing with a 2.06 ERA—two different kinds of helpless.

But it’s the offensive woes that really stand out. As hard as it is to win games with bad defense, it’s even harder to win games when the eight regulars in your lineup are doing this:

Michael Taylor has been solid out of the leadoff spot. A couple spots below him, Bryce Harper is rewarding Matt Williams’ decision to move him up to the No. 3 spot.

But everyone else? Their production amounts to a pile of “meh” about the size of the Washington Monument.

Before you ask, the answer is no. Williams isn’t about to push the panic button.

“You just have to keep running them out there,” said the second-year skipper, via Bill Ladson of “Guys in our lineup have been there before. They have had success, they’ve done it. So, we are not worried about it. Just keep going with it. There are no excuses of not scoring enough runs, but we believe in our guys. We believe in their abilities and we’ll just keep going.”

Williams isn’t entirely right about one thing here, though. He says there aren’t excuses for not scoring enough runs, but his team has one.

Or three, if you want to get technical. If anything is obvious right now, it’s how much the Nationals need Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon and Denard Span back.

Werth, Rendon and Span account for only a fraction of the early-season injuries the Nationals are dealing with, but they’re undoubtedly the players the Nationals miss the most. In light of what the three of them did last year, it’s no wonder the Nationals are struggling to put runs on the board.

Werth, who is recovering from offseason surgery on his right shoulder, hit .292 with 16 home runs and an .849 OPS in 2014. That OPS was the highest of any Nationals regular.

As for Rendon, who is recovering from an MCL sprain in his left knee, he was Washington’s most dynamic offensive threat in 2014. The 24-year-old third baseman hit .287 with an .824 OPS and showed off a surprising power/speed combination with 21 home runs and 17 stolen bases.

Span, who is recovering from offseason core muscle surgery, was not steady all year. But he was money in the second half, hitting .346 with an .862 OPS. In the end, the 31-year-old center fielder finished with a .302 average and a .771 OPS.

Put these three guys together with names like Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond, and you’re looking at a pretty good offense. Hence why FanGraphs projected the Nationals to be the second-best run-scoring team in the National League this season.

But without these three guys, perhaps Washington’s biggest weakness is being exposed: depth.

Cliff Corcoran of warned this would be a problem back in March even before Rendon joined Werth and Span among the walking wounded. Taylor, one of Washington’s top prospects, has done fine in place of Span, but Tyler Moore, Clint Robinson and Dan Uggla have filled in for Werth and Rendon about as poorly as anyone could have anticipated.

Fortunately for the Nationals, Werth isn’t far from returning. According to Ladson, he’s aiming to make his 2015 debut on Monday against the Boston Red Sox. Once he’s back, Williams will be gaining either an excellent No. 2 hitter or an excellent cleanup hitter.

The news on Rendon and Span, however, is less encouraging.

According to Ladson, Rendon is still having problems with his left knee when moving side to side. There’s no timetable for his return, making it unlikely that he’ll be seen back in the lineup before May.

As for Span, Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post reports that he played three innings in an extended spring training game on Friday. He still needs some extended spring training action before going on a rehab assignment, so he is also a dicey candidate to return before the end of April.

If the Nationals have one advantage while they await Werth’s near-return and the not-so-near returns of Rendon and Span, it’s that they don’t have the toughest schedule for the time being. As’s Buster Olney noted in March:

Sure, some of the teams that the Nationals play early in the season have upgradedthe Marlins, the Padres, the Mets bringing back Matt Harveybut the Nationals have just one series against a 2014 playoff team among the first 67 games of their season, when they meet the Cardinals in April. Washington faces Pittsburgh June 19. In other words, the Nationals are primed for launch.

These should be comforting words…but the trouble is they’re only comforting to a degree. As the Nationals have shown in their first four games, an easy schedule is only good for so much when you’re missing three of your best players.

Here’s guessing they’re probably not going to stay on their current pace, as that would involve them joining the 1962 New York Mets in the 120-loss club. Nothing is going to make the Nationals that bad.

But they definitely need their missing pieces back if they want to be as good as everyone expects them to be. The sooner Werth, Rendon and Span are back, the sooner the Nats can get on with chasing 100.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted/linked.

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