It seems like every time I sit down to write about the Washington Nationals, they are coming off a successful long road trip. In this case, a 7-2 trip out west just after the All-Star Break.
However, despite their third successful long road trip, the Nationals return home with more questions than answers. Stephen Strasburg left Sunday’s game (terrifying). So did Enny Romero. Injuries have mounted and the 2-hole in the lineup has a bench player nearly every night.
Still, even without their stars, Washington has managed to win 8 of 10 and cruised to a 59-39 record.
With the depth tested early and often, Washington has had to rely on one part of their team consistently and it is not what you may expect. For as good as Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Gio Gonzalez have been, the bats have carried this team to the tune of a +103 run differential. That is the fourth best in the MLB. Not only that, but their team OPS is second in the league at .817.
That is a crazy stat. The Nats, as a team, hit better than an average Major League Player. The middle of the order has been special all year. There are eight players in the National League hitting over .300 with 60+ RBIs. Four of them are here in the district, and they hit 3-6 in the lineup.
Best part? They do not seem to be slowing down. Bryce Harper leads the league in batting average for the month of July (.426), Daniel Murphy may be the most consistent hitter in baseball, and Anthony Rendon might be the best player in the league (1.001 OPS).
Want proof? Per The Ringer:
“Rendon’s 2017 season hasn’t garnered the recognition that it deserves. So, we’ll say it: He’s one of the best players in baseball”.
The fourth player in that list is first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Everyone knows #11 is far and away my favorite all time Nat, but the stats are telling.
Zimm is still hitting .318 and driving in runs, but he has finally slumped and it is eerily similar to last year. For the first three months of the season, Zimm was fantastic. However, the month of July has not been kind to him. The All-Star has hit to the tune of .211 with an OPS of .547.
Zimmerman all year said he was healthy, but the reality is he was hitting the ball in the air. Per The Nats blog: “Up until May 6th Zimmerman had a GB/FB rate of 0.97, meaning he was hitting more fly balls than ground balls. After May 6th, his grounders have skyrocketed to the tune of a GB/FB rate of 1.61”.
Knowing all this, there are two takeaways. The first is Zimmerman was not going to hit .375 all season. The second is baseball is a game of stats and Zimm’s track record suggested this was going to happen. He is that streaky. Pitchers have adjusted this month and it is up to Zimm to adjust.
Harper, on the other hand, is making another case for MVP. Admittedly, I have been critical of Harp in the past. He struggled last year and seemed to be slumping again this season. Despite the mini-slump, Bryce seems to have found his groove. When he is quiet at the plate and does not pull off the outside pitch, he is worth every penny he wants. Just look at his stats the last seven days!
With two months left in the season, Washington owns a 11.5-game lead in the NL East. If — and this is a big IF — the Nats can get healthy, then they will compete in October. Still, other questions remain. Will the new additions hold up in the bullpen? Can Strasburg make it through the season?
With the playoffs square in their sights, the Nationals have a chance to do something special. Answer the questions above and we will soon know just how special.
The bats have answered enough.