The Washington Nationals’ early struggles have left them with the major leagues’ worst record. A large reason has been their problems against the team with the league’s cheapest payroll.
The visiting Nationals will try to avoid losing their fifth straight series overall and sixth straight series in Miami on Sunday when they face the Florida Marlins and starter Scott Olsen, who has already beaten them once this season.
Washington’s 5-13 record is even more dismal considering the Nationals started 3-0, as they’ve dropped 13 of their last 15 games, a skid that includes a nine-game losing streak.
They opened this weekend’s series in Miami with a 6-4 win on Friday, and erased a two-run deficit in the ninth inning Saturday, but made three errors in a 6-5 defeat. Nationals reliever Saul Rivera walked the leadoff man in the bottom of the ninth before allowing a game-winning RBI single to Florida’s Wes Helms.
“We were making some mistakes and it’s costing us,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “For us to get out of this funk we have to start playing better baseball.”
Washington has been equally bad against Florida, which has by far the league’s smallest payroll at $21.8 million. The Nationals won 10 of 18 games against the Marlins (10-7) last season, but they have started the 2008 series with four losses in their first five games, getting swept in three games by Florida at home earlier this month.
A loss Sunday would give them their sixth consecutive series defeat at Dolphins Stadium, as they’ve gone just 5-12 there since taking two of three in April 2006. The Nationals opened each series in Miami in 2007 with a win - as they did this weekend - but lost all three series.
In hopes of avoiding a similar fate, they’ll try to hand Olsen (2-0, 3.05 ERA) his first loss of the season. The left-hander allowed three earned runs on four hits in 7 2-3 innings of a 10-4 win over the Nationals on April 9.
He was even better in his last start, tossing seven shutout innings and allowing five hits and no walks in a 4-0 win over Atlanta on Tuesday. Olsen needed only 84 pitches to get through his outing, and was removed only for a pinch-hitter.
“His tempo is good. You can probably see that right away,” Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “And he’s throwing strikes. I just thought he did his job.”
While Olsen hasn’t lost, Odalis Perez (0-3, 4.35) is still looking for his first win. Perez, who started on opening day after being signed to a minor-league contract in February, has kept the Nationals in games, allowing two or fewer runs in three of his four starts.
But Washington’s offense hasn’t given him much of a chance, scoring just four total runs of support.
“No one is perfect,” Perez told his team’s official Web site. “We are struggling right now, and that’s going to change. We have great talent. (The struggles) will not be forever.”
For the Nationals’ bats to contribute, they may need the middle of their order to finally hit against Olsen. Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson, the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters Saturday, are a combined 3-for-27 career against Olsen, with just one RBI.