Matt Adams is Hitting the Nationals Into an Awkward Situation

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Ryan Zimmerman is Washington Nationals’ royalty. He’s been with the team since 2005 and is the franchise’s longest tenured player. But no matter how awkward diminishing Zimmerman’s role may be, the Nationals cannot afford to take Matt Adams‘ bat out of the order — meaning Zimmerman would be out of the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.

The Nationals underwent an incredibly quiet offseason. Their two biggest signings were bringing back reliever Brandon Kintzler and adding first baseman Matt Adams to replace Adam Lind as Zimmerman’s backup. And, so far, Adams has been above and beyond what the Nationals could’ve hoped and asked for. He’s split time in the three and cleanup hole and answered the call offensively.

Going into Tuesday night, Adams was hitting an astonishing .307 to go along with 10 home runs, 23 RBIs, and a .422 on-base percentage. Playing both first base and left field in the wake of the injuries that have hit the Nationals (Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton, Brian Goodwin, Anthony Rendon), he’s been a versatile asset for manager Dave Martinez.

Monday night, Adams continued his power surge in San Diego. Demolishing two home runs, he upped his home run total to 10. Him putting forth that production in just 29 games adds onto its significance.

On the other hand, the player who Adams was supposed to shadow (Zimmerman) has endured a discouraging start to the 2018 season. Hitting just .194 with a .256 on-base percentage going into Tuesday night, Zimmerman has been a liability in the middle of the Nationals’ order. Teams are intentionally walking and pitching around batters to face Zimmerman, and the results show why.

Last season, Zimmerman had a career year at the plate. Hitting .303 to go along with 36 home runs and 108 RBIs, he was a critical piece in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup. At the same time, when you take into account Zimmerman’s age (he’s 33) and the fact that he hadn’t driven in 100-plus runs since 2009, or hit anywhere near such a high level since 2013, expecting the homegrown product to duplicate his success from last season was unrealistic from the get-go. Sure, he was an All-Star but Zimmerman has struggled to: 1) Stay healthy and 2) be consistent at the plate over the course of his career. A little over a month into this season, Zimmerman has struggled to do both of those things, and Adams is making a legitimate case to take his place once the Nats get to full strength.

If and when Murphy and Eaton return from injury, the expectation is that they’ll assume their normal everyday positions — that being second base and left field. With the two of them back in the fold, that leaves Adams and Zimmerman with only one position to play (first base). They’ve each played left field from time-to-time over the last few years, but if Eaton is healthy, it would be hard to envision him riding the bench. The Nationals have to be about winning and not hand-feeding their veterans starting jobs. Doing the latter was something that hurt them last season when manager Dusty Baker went with longtime outfielder Jayson Werth over the recently-acquired Howie Kendrick despite Werth hitting just .226 and Kendrick hitting over .300 in 2017.

First baseman Matt Adams is killing it this season, meaning veteran and fan-favorite Ryan Zimmerman could ride the bench. It's an inner dilemma with only awkward solutions.Click To Tweet

The Nationals have caught fire and are beginning to play like the team baseball is accustomed to. Winning nine of their last 10 games, they’ve improved to 20-17 and have jumped to third in the National League East; Adams’ bat has contributed a great deal to that run. Plus, outside of Bryce Harper — who has been vastly struggling at the plate, hitting .237 going into Tuesday night — the Nationals don’t have another left-handed hitter in their everyday order. Eaton’s return is in doubt and there isn’t a set date on when Murphy will make his season debut which makes the Nationals’ lineup extremely righty-heavy; Adams helps balance out their order.

Before coming to the nation’s capital, Adams was known for being a power hitter. Hitting a combined 36 home runs from 2016-17 and recording four 15-plus home run seasons, he’s showcased the ability to provide a power presence in the middle of a team’s order. This year though, Adams is also hitting for average and holding his own in the field — which is an added bonus for the Nationals.

It’s still only May meaning that Adams could get into a drastic slump and Zimmerman could begin to figure it out at the plate. But until the two of them are on those trends simultaneously, Adams should remain the Nationals’ starting first baseman; he’s been the better player.

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