Bryce Harper hit just .249 and was nearly traded at the Major League Baseball trade deadline in a walk year; Max Scherzer had another Cy Young Award caliber season; Juan Soto took the league by storm after being called up from Double-A in May; the Washington Nationals, as a whole, missed the playoffs in 2018. The lost storyline in their 82-win, playoff-deprived season? Anthony Rendon‘s production from all aspects of the game.
It’s no secret that Harper has been the face of the Nationals for the better half of the current decade, but over the last three years, Rendon has established himself as one of the best third basemen in MLB. In 2018, he furthered that notion.
Hitting a career-best .308 to go along with 24 home runs, 92 RBIs, and 44 doubles (another career-high), Rendon was the Nationals most consistent and reliable hitter in 2018. In the field, he was just as prolific. Committing just six errors (which was second in MLB among qualified third basemen), he was a vacuum at the corner infield position.
Rendon is a contact hitter. He hits for line drives, has quick hands, is hard to strikeout, and one of the best all-around hitters in the sport. The 2018 season marked the second consecutive season that Rendon hit over .300 and drove in at least 90 runs. Still just 28, the third baseman is just sniffing the prime of his career, and that should mean steady production at the plate for the foreseeable future.Through a disastrous season in Washington, third baseman @Anthonyrendon_6 shined brighter than ever before, writes @RPStratakos.Click To Tweet
Whether it be his ability to field groundballs off-balance with ease, utilize his canon for an arm, or get behind flyballs, Rendon resembles the qualities of an elite third baseman. Couple Rendon’s defensive capabilities with his offense production, and the case could be made that he’s the most irreplaceable player, or, at least, positional player on the Nationals.
But Rendon’s success took a back seat in a season full of chaos and headlines for the Nationals — which began in Spring Training. Harper struggled throughout the majority of the season and is one of, if not the biggest free agent on the open market this offseason. Scherzer was a potent force on the rubber every fifth day and was a finalist to win the NL Cy Young Award for a third consecutive season. Soto was the runner-up for the NL Rookie of the Year Award, after hitting .292 to go along with 22 home runs and 70 RBIs. And many questioned whether first-year manager Dave Martinez was equipped to be an MLB manager after countless mind-boggling decisions in the dugout.
The event that took the Nationals off the map last season was trading All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy and first baseman Matt Adams in mid-August. The two trades were viewed as the Nationals conceding the season after falling out of the playoff picture, and it only made people focus on Harper’s production and free agency even more. But it’s not the first time Rendon’s production was overlooked.
In 2017, the Nationals had four heavy swingers in their lineup who hit above .300 and had All-Star caliber seasons: Ryan Zimmerman, Rendon, Harper, Murphy. While it was, at the time, his most productive season at the plate, Rendon was the fourth most discussed player of the quartet. Why? Zimmerman stayed healthy and had a career-year after three consecutive seasons of inconsistency and injury; Harper bounced back from a season in which he hit a career-worst .243; Murphy had been viewed as the Nationals best pure hitter.
The future is a bit of an unknown for the Nationals. In all likelihood, Harper won’t be back, and, as a result, Soto and Victor Robles will be favored to get starting nods in the outfield. With that said, the two youngsters are well-thought-of players, and the Nationals have some other notable bats in place such as Rendon, Zimmerman, Trea Turner, and Adam Eaton. On the rubber, the Nationals still have, when healthy, one of the best starting pitching duos in the sport in Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
All in all, the Nationals should be able to, at the very least, compete for an NL Wild Card seeding in 2019. If and when Harper officially departs, the torch will be passed to Rendon. He’s the Nationals most complete, proven, and consistent player. Perhaps Turner gets on base more and Soto lowers his strikeouts in 2019. In time, they could have one of the most productive lineups in the sport, and Rendon will be the driving force of their offensive attack.
Rendon has always been viewed as an established and well-rounded player, but he was always in Harper and Murphy’s shadow. It may not be the dawn of a new era, but times are changing in the nation’s capital. And it won’t be possible to disregard or push Rendon’s play to the side. You can only be overlooked for so long.