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Nationals Slump Costly For Eckstein

With the Washington Nationals struggling offensively, hitting instructor Rick Eckstein was fired Monday.

With the Washington Nationals struggling offensively, hitting instructor Rick Eckstein was fired Monday.

With every passing day, the Washington Nationals’ hopes of making a second straight postseason appearance are dwindling away.

The Nationals put together a late rally Monday night but came up short in their series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates, dropping the game by a final score of 6-5.

20130722_NL_EastThe loss marked a fourth straight defeat and ninth in the last 11 games.  The Nationals now sit three games below .500, the club’s low-water mark of the season, and seven games behind the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Phillies – inactive on Monday – sit a full game ahead of the club in the division standings.

Ahead of the game the club’s front office announced that hitting instructor Rick Eckstein had been fired. Eckstein had been in the role since 2008. He will be replaced by Rick Schu, the club’s minor league hitting coordinator.

Manager Davey Johnson didn’t take the news well.

“It was a shocker,” he told the media. “I’ve experienced a lot of things in my career. I’ve been readed. I’ve been released. I’ve been sold. I’ve been fired. But today is arguably the toughest day I’ve had in baseball.

“I think he’s a great coach, one of the best hitting instructors in baseball. He’s just a great gentleman. So it hurts.”

Johnson reportedly asked general manager Mike Rizzo to fire him in place of Eckstein.

“We’re not gonna fire Davey Johnson,” Rizzo explained. “He’s one of the best managers that ever managed.

“It’s a performance game. The offense wasn’t performing. I felt that it was time to get a new voice, a new dynamic, a new energy.”

The Nationals’ offense certainly wasn’t performing.

Having finished in Major League Baseball’s top 10 in hits, runs, home runs, and batting average in 2012, the Nationals have bottomed out this season.

The club currently ranks 21st in home runs (91), 27th in hits (790) and batting average (.240), and 28th in runs (367), RBIs (348), and OBP (.300). Those numbers mean the club is keeping the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins company at the bottom of the stats sheet.

While the benefits of introducing a new hitting instructor at this time of the season are ambiguous at best, something the Washington Post covered well in this article on Tuesday, the Nationals know they must win, and win soon.

At no point this season has the run-shy club looked like it would challenge the Braves for the NL East title. The Nationals have been four or more games behind Atlanta since May 21, and while the Braves have hardly been galloping to victory, the gap between the two doesn’t look like it’s going to close anytime soon, particularly as the Nationals have a 3-7 record against the Braves this season.

Furthermore, Philadelphia has also thrown a spanner in the works, setting itself up between the two clubs. The Nationals have also struggled against the Phillies this season, compiling a 4-6 record.

With nine games against both the Braves and Phillies, there’s room for maneuver, but unfortunately for Johnson and Co., those maneuverings appear to be in the wrong direction.

20130722_NL_WildcardIf the NL East title is out of reach – and it appears to be safe to say it is – that leaves Washington in search of one of the two wild card berths. Things don’t look too good there either.

After Monday’s loss, the Nationals are now eight games back of both the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, the two clubs currently occupying those berths. While the NL Central has plenty of time to beat up on itself, which could help the D.C. cause, there’s still the small matter of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers.  These two are currently embroiled in a battle for the NL West crown, a battle that the Southern Californian side took an advantage in on Monday, but with both at least five games ahead of the Nationals, things continue to look sticky.

As it stands, leading sportsbook Bovada doesn’t like the Nationals’ chances. The club is 17/2 to win the National League pennant and 20/1 to win the World Series. All of the club’s wild card rivals are considered a better bet, and rightfully so.

While the numbers still have the Nationals in it, it would take a miracle to see the side somehow make the postseason. We’re suggesting it’s now time to bail on the team from the nation’s capital, if you haven’t already.

The Nationals (48-51, 27-22 home) host the Pirates (58-39, 26-21 road) in the second game of a four-game series on Tuesday evening (7:05 p.m. ET). Despite their current woes, the Nationals are favored on the moneyline. Full odds for the matchup can be found here.

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