In as little as one day Michael Morse could be returning to the Washington Nationals outfield and more importantly, much more importantly, the line-up. In some ways Morse is returning at the perfect time. The Nationals offense has already improved from a unit that scored 3.36 runs a game in April to one that scored 4.21 in May.
Much of that improvement has to do with the emergence of Bryce Harper as not just one of the best rookies this season, but perhaps one of the best 19 year old rookies to have played the game of baseball. In 30 games Bryce Harper has hit .274/.357/.504. Compare those numbers with what the Nats were getting from Xavier Nady as an everyday outfielder and it is obvious that Harper isn’t just an upgrade but a vast improvement.
Another reason for the May uptick in runs scored is that the Nats may have finally found a bat that belongs at the top of the order in Steve Lombardozzi. Lombardozzi’s sparkling .381 OBP is a much needed addition and improvement at the top of the Nats line-up. Lombo’s new home in left field and at the top of the order has allowed for Ian Desmond to use his power for good driving in the middle of the order and kept Danny Espinosa on the field.
Espinosa is another reason the Nationals scored more runs in May than in April. In April Espinosa hit for a very bad .205/.300/.269 but improved that in May to much more Danny Espinosa type numbers by hitting .232/.318/.441. Espinosa isn’t the type of player who will ever hit for a high average and if that is the part of his game people want to focus on then they are missing the point of Danny Espinosa. Espinosa is a batter with tremendous power and the patience to take a walk when given to him. He will struggle to make contact but when he does make contact the ball will travel a goodly distance.
All of these improvements to the Nationals offense and they are still missing two of their key producers in Michael Morse and Jayson Werth. Morse is right now playing right field tonight for the Potomac Nationals and could come off the DL as soon as tomorrow. There are no words to express just how much the mere presence of Michael Morse will alter the Nats line-up. Of course he also has to play in the field somewhere and that might be where the problem comes in.
As previously mentioned one of the reasons for the Nats offensive improvement in May was because of Steve Lombardozzi’s presence at the top of the order. That bat has to stay, and Lombo doesn’t have the arm to move across the diamond to right field. Morse has played right field but he also doesn’t have the arm and throwing is what bothered him and led to his injury. Of course with a bat like Morse any defensive value he gives is a bonus, and with a pitching staff that strikes out nearly 25% of the batters that step into the box defense might be far secondary to the offense that can be provided.
The most logical move is to have Morse in RF with Lombo in LF and Harper in CF. That keeps Lombo’s bat at the top of the order and allows Danny Espinosa to continue his re-emergence. Now to consider the impact Michael Morse is going to have on the batting order. The first thing it does is it will push Ian Desmond down to sixth in the order and Rick Ankiel to the bench. Ankiel is a player that at any moment can get blazing hot for a 10 game stretch and make you forget the fact that he is indeed Rick Ankiel, but that hasn’t happened yet this season and the swing hard at everything and miss more often than not Rick Ankiel has been the only Rick Ankiel who has been on the field.
Michael Morse isn’t going to swing at everything. For his career Morse has a batting line of .296/.356/.499 and as a Washington National a batting line of .295/.353/.536. Morse is that rare combination of player that not only gets on base but also hits with power, a true middle of the order bat. The Nationals are going to more than likely ease Morse back into the line-up and bat him behind Adam LaRoche who has had a fantastic season thus far.
Morse’s presence will accomplish two things. It will add another middle of the order bat to the line-up and when an opportunity rolls around for that spot in the order or even the spots after it a better batter will be standing at the plate than there would have been without Morse in the line-up. The second and morse important impact Morse will have is he will help to drive up the pitch count of opposing pitches. Morse is going to make less outs and see more pitches than Rick Ankiel would have.
The opposing pitcher will now also have to navigate a line-up that starts off with the slap hitting Lombardozzi, the phenom with the mature approach in Bryce Harper, Zimmerman who is Zimmerman, LaRoche who has been surprisingly hot this season and a patient hitter in his own right, and then Michael Morse. After a pitcher gets through all of that he might just chuck a first pitch get me over fastball to Ian Desmond who has feasted on first pitch fastballs this season.
The presence of Michael Morse is going to vastly change the dynamic of the Washington Nationals line-up and batting order. There may be times when the defense isn’t pretty to watch, but there will be times when it won’t matter and the Nationals are pounding out hit after hit and making the opposing team beg for mercy. Before the season started the Nationals looked to have a 70 win offense and a 90 win pitching staff, but in the month of May they had an 80 win offense, and that is about to get better with the return of Michael Morse.