The Nationals still rank next to last in the NL in runs per game, but it was known weeks ago that all the bad from April and May would take a long time to correct. The Nationals however are on the way to correcting it, and when analyzing the current team that is on the field it is important to look at the team that is currently taking the field. Since inserting Anthony Rendon at second base the Nats offense has scored 72 runs in 18 games, an average of four runs a game. That is much better than the overall season average of 3.55 and much better than the average with Espinosa at second of 3.40.
Not surprisingly replacing a .158/.193/.272 hitter with a .354/.402/.485 one has had a marketable difference. The Nats offense hasn’t yet turned the corner, but in June Nationals left fielders have hit .228/.293/.323. Surprisingly that isn’t the worst in baseball but it is pretty darn close. Soon the Nationals are going to replace those paltry numbers with the numbers of Bryce Harper who at the time he was placed on the DL was hitting .287/.386/.587. That is going to create another massive improvement in the Nationals offense and lost in all the talk about Harper and Rendon is the fact that Kurt Suzuki since May 15 has hit .189/.243/.226. Replacing the struggling Suzuki with the power hitting Wilson Ramos isn’t going to have as big a difference as replacing Bernadina with Harper or Espinosa with Rendon but it is going to make a difference.
Think about the Nats line-up for a second and then think about it with three under .600 OPS players removed and Rendon, Harper, and Ramos inserted. Without those three in the line-up the Nationals were running out an offense that featured three below replacement level hitters. Factor in injuries to Werth and it was even worse for a time period. In fact from the time Harper ran into the wall in LA and Werth came off the DL the Nationals offense averaged 3.15 runs a game.
If it isn’t clear yet just how much not having their best players playing together has effected the Nationals then you should seek medical advise. With Rendon in the line-up the Nationals are averaging four runs a game. Jayson Werth has something to do with that but he hasn’t had near the impact that Rendon has over Espinosa. When Harper returns his impact is going to be even bigger, and if the Nats can ever get Denard Span going like he was in April again then suddenly we aren’t looking at one of the worst offenses in the league but one of the best, and when considering that it is important to look at how the Nats have played with everyone they expected to be on the field on the field.
Good news for us is we have a sampling of that. The bad news is it is extremely small. The last time the Nationals had anything close to their regular line-up on the field was April 15. That means the regular expected line-up played a grand total of 13 games together, and in those games they happened to average 4.3 runs a game, and that was with Adam LaRoche off to a slow start and Danny Espinosa still at second base. It is near impossible to make much of anything out of a 13 game sampling, but asking the Nationals to scored 4.5 runs a game once Harper returns doesn’t seem out of the question. Perhaps the mark the Nationals should aim for should be a bit lower, but with their pitching somewhere between the 4.0 and 4.5 mark is enough to play over .500 baseball from now until the end of the season, and when you consider that the Nationals have more home games than road games left on the schedule (are a .595 team at home) and the tough part of the schedule is out of the way.
The Nats have 25 of their remaining 85 against teams that are currently over .500 and nine of those are against the Braves. The Nats recently jettisoned Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke, who had allowed a third of the bullpen’s runs, the have placed Dan Haren on the DL, who allowed nearly a third of the starters runs, and are getting key players healthy. Add all of this together with more games at Nats Park than on the road, and the soft part of the schedule and the Nats are poised for a big second half. It is up to them whether they take advantage of it or not, but if they do then they may not be as out of this thing as it is thought.