Despite some injury-fueled early season struggles, the Washington Nationals are sitting pretty. With a 91-64 record, they own the best record in the NL, and will rest their starters as they head into the postseason, where they will await the winner of the wild card game, which will likely feature the San Francisco Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Nationals rotation has received a lot of attention, and it features four starters who are having strong seasons in Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark as well as an established veteran in Gio Gonzalez. However, the strength of this team has been their position players.
At first glance, the Nationals cumulative batting line of .252/.319/.393 seems unimpressive. But, much of that can be attributed to the lackluster contributions of injury replacements. While Ryan Zimmerman recovered from injury, 350 plate appearances went to Danny Espinosa, who hit a woeful .219/.283/.356. Jose Lobaton appeared in 64 games, most of them while starting catcher Wilson Ramos was recovering from a hand injury. Kevin Frandsen and Nate McLouth saw nearly 400 plate appearances between them when Bryce Harper was out.
With a lineup that is back to full strength, the Nationals are very formidable. Centerfielder Denard Span is having a fantastic season at the top of the order. He’s reached base at a .352 clip, and has added 31 stolen bases. With his 9.9 percent strikeout rate, he’s a very tough out. Second year player Anthony Rendon is also having a terrific year. The Rice product is batting .286/.347/.471.
Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman compose the middle of the order. Werth is doing his best to make the mega contract he signed back in 2011 sane. He’s been the Nats top offensive threat, and owns a .389 on-base percentage that ranks third in the NL. Desmond has overcome some early season struggles, and is second on the team with 23 home runs. Zimmerman has been hampered with injuries but he remains a solid hitter. Though he has only five home runs to his credit, his .288/.350/.470 slash line is solid, and he’s hammered 19 doubles in only 54 games.
Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos round out the Nats lineup. LaRoche leads the team with 25 home runs, and thanks to a 14.1 percent walk rate that is the second highest mark in the NL, he has a .359 on-base percentage. In the first half Harper struggled with injuries and was unproductive when he did manage to stay on the field. Lately he’s producing numbers that are more in line with his career marks. Since he returned from the disabled list, he owns a .285/.350/.458 batting line. Ramos has dealt with injuries of his own, but he’s managed to accumulate a .271/.305/.411 batting line that is above-average for a catcher.
In addition, the Nationals have Asdrubal Cabrera on the bench, who they acquired from the Cleveland Indians. Cabrera has an above-average career batting line, and has helped to fill in when Zimmerman missed time. He provides needed depth and a veteran bat off the bench. Overall this is a very deep lineup. Besides their good numbers at the plate, they’ve been better than anyone else on the basepaths with +13.3 base running runs and have flashed good team defense. They will be a difficult opponent in October.