The Players Are the Missing Spark


There are two official state songs for Colorado. One of them doesn’t matter
and the other is John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High. There are
important lyrics in that song that pertain to the Nationals. “He left
yesterday behind him. You might say he was born again. Might say he found the
key for every door.” Last season through April and May the Nationals
averaged 3.84 runs a game. It wasn’t good, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as the
3.48 runs a game the Nationals have averaged so far this season. It was a trip
to Colorado that served as the turning point of the Nationals season. It didn’t
matter that it was around the beginning of June that Michael Morse returned and
Ryan Zimmerman got a cortisone shot. And at the end of the month the Nationals
went to a hitters ballpark and the offense took off.  

From June on, the Nationals had one of
the best offenses in the National League averaging 4.81 runs a game. It was an
impressive offensive turnaround but the Nats essentially added a .291/.321/.470
hitter in Morse and a .294/.352/.518 hitter in post cortisone Zim. The 2013
Nationals have recently done something similar in bringing up Anthony Rendon
who was hitting .307/.452/.575 in the minors this season and in his limited
time in the majors has hit .293/.383/.390. Not exactly the power one wants from
a hitter like Anthony Rendon but he is replacing the combo of Danny Espinosa
and Steve Lombardozzi who have helped to give the Nationals the worst second
base production in the majors with a batting line of .201/.234/.290.

The other big addition to the line-up
is Jayson Werth who isn’t hitting up to his standards this season at
.267/.313/.408 but in his absence Nationals right fielders had a batting line
of .194/.284/.347 and some of that includes Bryce Harper. With him out as well
Nationals left fielders have hit .186/.247/.303. With some combination of
Bernadina and Steve Lombardozzi the Nationals were able to survive the absence
of Werth in 2012, but with two outfielders out it becomes an impossible task
when two bench players are getting exposed at the same time. With both Werth
returning from injury and Anthony Rendon being called up the Nationals line-up
has replaced two weak points with strong ones and the run production can only increase.
Add into the fact that the all-important number two spot in the Nationals
line-up has the second most plate appearances on the team but a batting line of
.198/.241/.315 and Werth’s presence becomes even more important.  

It was after the first game of the
series against the Rockies at Coors Field when the fire Eckstein, this offense
is putrid chants became the loudest. It was starting to become that way heading
into Sunday’s doubleheader, and here the Nationals are again heading into Coors
Field looking for an offensive boost, and as it was Morse and Zimmerman last
season it may be Werth and Rendon this season, and that isn’t to mention that
Harper is still likely to come off the DL before June is out. All of this about
looking for a spark is great, but it is the players that win, and the Nationals
weren’t going to survive thrusting so many back-ups into key roles and having
them fail. The Nationals current line-up has five batters with an over .700
OPS. Two of those are Werth and Rendon, and one of the ones who doesn’t is
Denard Span who is a no-power lead-off hitter. Add in Bryce Harper and Wilson
Ramos and all of a sudden the Nationals have seven of nine spots in the order
with an over .700 OPS with the two others being Span and his under .400 SLG and
the pitchers spot.  

Things can quickly turn around for
this offense but it wasn’t going to happen with Zimmerman, LaRoche, and Desmond
were the only hitters that could muster any kind of production over major
league average. Of the Nats back-ups and Danny Espinosa who were getting
significant playing time with Werth on the DL and Rendon sitting in the minors
not one of them even has an OPS over .600, and Moore, Tracy, and Espinosa have
an OPS under .500. Replacing quality major league bats with below replacement
level production is a quick way to kill any sort of offensive momentum.  

The spark the Nationals are looking
for isn’t a team meeting held by Davey Johnson. He and Rick Eckstein can tell
below average hitters to be more aggressive all they want, but that doesn’t
change the fact that they are below average hitters because they lack the pitch
recognition to know which pitches to be aggressive on and which to lay off of.
Hitters like Rendon, Harper, and Werth have the abilities of plate discipline,
plate coverage, and pitch recognition that makes a good hitter. Having Werth
back and Rendon called-up will make it easier for the Nationals to cope without
Harper, but when they get him back this offense is going to take off and going
to be what people expected. Add in Wilson Ramos and it will do that to an even
greater power.  



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    1. I don’t know that we’ve seen a timeline yet. Last week he was running at 80% but hadn’t done any catching related activities yet. Hopefully not more than another ~2 weeks, but who knows.


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