Former National League Most Valuable Player and franchise cornerstone Bryce Harper is hitting .211, and the Washington Nationals lineup is suffering because of it. But, if infielders Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon begin to produce at a higher level offensively, the Nats could potentially right the ship.
The 2018 season has been bizarre for the Nats, to put it kindly. They’re currently 44-43 and in third place in the National League East behind the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. Sure, they’ve been hit by the injury bug with some key members such as Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton, and, at times, Rendon missing extended periods of times, but this is a Nats team that was built to withstand injury. Thursday night, their lineup broke out and performed like the high-octane bunch the league is accustomed to.
After trailing 9-0 in the fourth inning, the Nats mounted a monumental comeback where they scored 14 straight runs. The comeback was sparked by Turner — who finished the night with two home runs, one of them being a grand slam, and a total of eight RBIs; Juan Soto accounted for three RBIs. Despite surrendering three runs in the eighth inning, the Nats bullpen didn’t break, allowing them to break a five-game losing streak, defeating the Miami Marlins 14-12. The question now becomes can the Nats sustain that level of production offensively after being subpar beforehand?
Going into Friday night, the Nats were just 19th in runs scored (369), 22nd in hits (699), and 20th in team batting average (.241). They haven’t been getting production from some key members of their order, Harper most notably. The 2015 National League Most Valuable Player has struggled to make contact, hit for average, and hasn’t been much more than a home run-hitting threat on occasion. Outfielder Michael Taylor is hitting just .247, while Murphy continues to struggle to get into a groove at the plate, as he’s hit just one home run and is batting .188. Wilmer Difo is also hitting just .249, while Pedro Severino slumps .170.The @Nationals still have time to right the ship, but not without increased offensive production from star infielders Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon.Click To Tweet
The one thing that first-year manager Dave Martinez has going for him in his everyday order is Soto. Hitting a team-high .305 to go along with eight home runs and 21 RBIs, the 19-year-old has been a spectacle and one of the reasons why the Nats have remained, at the very least, competitive for a reasonable chunk of the season. After Soto, Turner and Rendon have been productive, but in spurts.
Currently owning a .282 batting average, Turner continues to be a reliable force at the top of the Nats order, but he’s not getting on base as much as he has in years past (Turner is a career .297 hitter). What the leadoff/number two hitter does have going for himself is his underrated power and speed. When you look at Turner, you don’t envision him being a power-hitting threat. But in his near-two years on the scene, the shortstop has been able to provide such a presence, on occasion.
Recording 11 home runs and driving in 37 runs, he’s been a versatile presence in the Nats order this season. He’s also stolen 22 bases in 2018 and 101 in his last 257 games played. At the same time, the Nats are going to need Turner to hit with more consistency. Yes, his Thursday night power surge could be looked back on as the turning point of the season for the Nats if they are able to climb back into the playoff picture, but for their lineup to prosper, Turner has to get on base more often. The same goes for Rendon.
Rendon got off to a slow start to the 2018 season, but he is beginning to turn a corner and hit like the player the Nats are used to seeing. Currently hitting .281 to go along with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs, he’s been a productive product, but the third baseman’s career has been tarnished by inconsistency. There are times when Rendon is in a slump where he grounds out often, if not strikes out multiple times in games. When that transpires, power struggles commence, and the Nats can’t afford for that version of Rendon to make a return again this season.
The Nats lineup isn’t all doom and gloom. Soto is excelling in his rookie season, Eaton, when healthy, has been hitting near .300, and first baseman Matt Adams has been a power plug in the middle of the order. But Harper’s struggles are clearly taking a toll on this team. He’s the franchise player, the Nats heavily rely on his offensive output, and the fact that they’re playing near .500 baseball with Harper struggling speaks volumes as to how severe that notion is. But the reality of the situation is that while Harper is regarded as one of the best hitters in baseball, the Nats can’t rely on him to figure things out and begin hitting at an All-Star level. They need others to step up, and Turner and Rendon are capable of doing as such. If the two infielders begin to play up to expectations and finally fulfill their full potential, the Nats lineup will return to prominence.
The Nats have the talent to string together a significant winning streak, and/or get back into the playoff mix; it’s just a matter of some key bats waking up and producing on a more consistent basis — Turner and Rendon in particular.