Quick Links

Nats' lineup deserves praise

844005.png

Nats' lineup deserves praise

The phrase "one of the best" has been used to describe various aspects of the Nationals all season. They've got one of the best rotations in baseball. They've got one of the best bullpens. They've got one of the best farm systems in the sport, helping them overcome a slew of injuries.

And, of course, they've got the best record in the majors at the moment.

Maybe it's time to start using that designation on another aspect of this organization: The Nationals have one of the best lineups in baseball.

That notion would have sounded ludicrous a few months ago, back when four runs was considered an offensive explosion and everyone accepted the idea this team would win on the strength of its pitching staff and only its pitching staff.

Not anymore. Just look at what the Nationals lineup has done lately, not only during last night's 14-2 shellacking of the Giants but over a longer stretch of games.

As a matter of fact, did you know the Nationals have scored 170 runs since the All-Star break, most in the majors? Yes, you read that correctly. The Nationals have scored more times than any other team over the last month, an average of 5.2 runs per game. They've hit a collective .278 during that span while slugging .421.

And what's most impressive is that the production has come from nearly everyone in that lineup.

Sure, Ryan Zimmerman has been on an absolute tear for the last seven weeks. And Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche have been consistent run producers during that time as well.

But there's also Danny Espinosa, hitting .301 with a .496 slugging percentage over his last 30 games. And there's Steve Lombardozzi, who has 11 hits in his last 22 at-bats. And there's Roger Bernadina, hitting a ridiculous .383 since July 21.

The contributions of all those players, plus many more, have allowed the Nationals to overcome Ian Desmond's oblique tear, Bryce Harper's prolonged slump and fairly tepid production from their catchers (that was, until Kurt Suzuki went 3-for-6 with four RBI last night).

Which also makes you wonder just how much more productive this lineup could actually become once Desmond returns from the DL and Harper gets back on track. It could be a frightening proposition for opposing pitchers.

Just consider the lineup the Nationals could field come October, with their current offensive splits (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) included...

1. Jayson Werth (.308.406.459)
2. Bryce Harper (.251.328.405)
3. Ryan Zimmerman (.282.350.468)
4. Michael Morse (.301.324.477)
5. Adam LaRoche (.264.339.500)
6. Ian Desmond (.286.322.503)
7. Danny Espinosa (.250.317.406)
8. Kurt Suzuki (.218.252.287)

Look at the depth of that lineup and the power capabilities 1 through 7. Only three other teams in baseball have seven regular position players with slugging percentages over .400: the Yankees, Rangers and Rockies. That's some select company.

Is this a perfect lineup? Not at all. The Nationals strike out too much, they're getting no significant production from their catchers and they don't boast anything resembling a true leadoff hitter.

But they've still got a lineup capable of exploding at any given moment (just ask the Giants). And they've got a lineup that -- as has been the case all season with their pitching staff -- deserves to be praised as one of baseball's best.

Quick Links

Nationals honor Jose Fernandez before series opener against Marlins

gonzalezfernandez930.jpg
Twitter: @MiamiHerald

Nationals honor Jose Fernandez before series opener against Marlins

The first game of the Nationals series against the Marlins started late after a nearly two-hour-long rain delay. However, before the first pitch, the Nats played a tribute to Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, whose recent death has left the entire MLB community in shock.

A video tweeted by @masnNationals shows both teams standing on the field, while the clips of Fernandez play on the video board in center field. 

The Marlins twitter also shared a video of the pre-game tribute.

Gio Gonzalez, who was good friends with Fernandez and attended his funeral on Thursday, is seen with tears in his eyes, waving his hat toward the sky. Gonzalez also hung a Fernandez jersey in the Nationals' dugout prior to the game. 

The Diamondbacks left a message for the Marlins in the visitor's clubhouse at Nationals Park before leaving town Thursday. 

Fernandez's death is reaching even further than baseball. The Miami Hurricanes tweeted a picture of decals they added to their helmets for their game tomorrow against Georgia Tech.

It is clear that although Jose may be gone, he will always be rememered by the entire sports community. 

Quick Links

Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Though Dusty Baker isn’t a doctor, he apparently isn’t averse to using an old school method or two to diagnose his players’ injuries.

So when Bryce Harper, ailing with a jammed left thumb, recently told his manager he was ready to return to the lineup, Baker responded by giving it a little pinch.

“He said 'Ow, what'd you do that for?' and I said 'Okay, I got my answer,'" the Nationals’ manager said with a laugh.

Baker must be comfortable with how Harper is feeling lately, as the 23-year-old right fielder is back in the lineup after four days off.

"He might have been ready to go [on Thursday],” Baker said. “So if a guy tells me he's ready, if I have a luxury, I like to give them one more day off. I just noticed that a lot of guys say they're ready and you bring them back and they're really not ready. I would prefer that you be champing at the bit to get back [instead] of a person to just say that you're ready.

Prior to the injury, the reigning NL MVP had hits in five of his previous seven games. So with three games left, the Nats are hoping the reigning Harper can get back in a groove before the postseason begins next week.

Zimmerman a platoon bat? It’s a question that seemed unfathomable on Opening Day, but the veteran first baseman’s 2016 inconsistency-filled odyssey has some wondering if Baker might consider other options come October. The answer, for now, is no.  

“That hasn’t crossed my mind,” the skipper said.

Clint Robinson is starting at first in Friday night’s game against the Miami Marlins, but the move doesn’t appear to be a sign of things to come. Baker said the decision was merely to keep Zimmerman healthy and afford Robinson some at-bats while he can get them. Still, for an offense will be without Wilson Ramos (and a fully-healthy Daniel Murphy), the lineup will need a boost where it can get it.

“I don’t really believe in platoon, platoon," Baker said. "There’s certain guys that I feel that Clint may have a better chance of being successful against. But that’s not a platoon for me.”

In other words, Baker is staunchly in Zimmerman’s corner. And slowly but surely, the 31-year-old has been rewarding his manager's faith. Zimmerman has hits in six out of his last nine games, including a trio of two-hit efforts. It might be too late to salvage his career-worst .219 average, but the Nats still believe the one-time face of the franchise will show up when it counts the most. 

"I just keep in mind with Zim that ‘hey, man, you can be the man for a long period of time like we know that you’ve done,’" Baker said. "We’ve seen him do it before. So we need Zim. We need him badly.”