The Nationals lost Tuesday night. Hold your vitriol for a moment, though, there is at least one positive to take out of the game. Before getting to the positive, let’s start with a few caveats. “Optimal” batting orders can mean something like 10-20 extra runs per season, one to two wins at best. The Nationals are on the road against the Indians, meaning the pitcher doesn’t hit and the Nationals get some extra lineup flexibility with a DH in the lineup. Finally, Dusty won’t commit to Tuesday night’s lineup long term.
But man, I loved the Tuesday night lineup. Here is why, on a position-by-position review:
1st – Trea Turner, CF
One of the biggest holes in the Nationals line up this year has been the combo of center field and lead off, since Dusty Baker seems tied to the idea of the center fielder also hitting leadoff. That mantra didn’t change last night, but the rookie Turner finally got his shot in the outfield. While Turner technically went only 1-4 on the night, he got on once with a walk and once via error that could be attributed to his speed as the Indian’s first baseman Mike Napoli had to hurry to field a ball to his right. On top of that, he stole his fifth base of the year to help manufacture an early run in the top of the first. The ideal leadoff hitter gets on base a lo,t and while the jury is still out on Turner’s big-league future, he’s clearly getting on base more than Ben Revere at the moment.
2nd – Bryce Harper, RF
Bryce had another rough day at the dish, going 0-for-5 to drop his batting average down to .240. But his OBP is still a stellar .380 and he’s got 20 home runs to boot. The Book says to put your best hitter second — the hitter that can also get on base consistently and hit for power. Even in his current funk, Harper fits the bill for an ideal second hitter. If the Harper of 2015, or something close to it, breaks out, he’s even more of an ideal second hitter.
3rd – Daniel Murphy, 2B
Not much to say about Murphy, he’s been the best hitter on the team for the season and shows no sign of letting up. The top of the first against the Indians shows how an optimally selected lineup can pay off. Turner walked, then stole second on the very next pitch. Harper just missed a pitch, but still got it to the warning track to move Turner third. Then Murphy drove him in. Lather, rinse, repeat.
4th – Wilson Ramos, C
The cleanup hitter is actually the best spot for your second best hitter. The fourth spot comes up with runners on base more than any other position in the lineup. You want a number four hitter who can hit with power, and the no longer blind Wilson Ramos is doing just that with a 2-for-4 night and a solo home run on Tuesday becoming more the norm than the exception. The days of Ramos hitting sixth or lower should be long gone.
5th – Jayson Werth, DH
He’s not the player he used to be, but with the bat Werth is at least an average big league hitter. He’s clearly lost a step or three in the outfield but that’s not a concern with the flexibility the DH offers in an American League ballpark. Werth can still hit for power when the time is right, he can work the count and take a walk when the time is right or move the runner over when the time is right. That’s a good skill set for a number five hitter who could find himself with runners in scoring position or be faced with the task of leading off an inning.
6th – Anthony Rendon, 3B
You could really flip flop Rendon and Werth; look closely and Rendon’s and Werth’s batting lines start looking eerily similar. Despite a slow start, Rendon has come on strong. When he’s up, he’s going to have a good at bat, likely hit the ball on a line somewhere, and maybe even hit a ball out like he did Tuesday night. Rendon has bounced around the lineup this season but sixth seems like a home for him.
7th – Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
Possibly the biggest hole in the lineup. Zimmerman is having one of the worst offensive seasons in baseball, and that looks even worse when compared with other first baseman who are usually known for their bats and not their gloves. It’s hard not to root for Zimmerman, even when he’s hitting under .220. I’m inclined to believe he’s playing at less than 100% thanks to a bum foot. Regardless of the reason, though, Zimmerman’s spot is my only quibble with Dusty’s new lineup. He should probably be hitting 8th. But Dusty defers to his veterans nine times out of 10 and that philosophy appears to pay bigger dividends in the clubhouse than we can measure, so I’ll live with it.
8th – Danny Espinosa, SS
The Danny Espinosa renaissance has cooled a bit of late. But he’s still got an OBP over .320 and is close to the team lead in home runs with 18 on the season. His glove keeps him in the field but his bat has secured his position in the lineup. No one will mistake Espinosa for a leadoff hitter, but he’s perfectly suited for an 8th hitter and has been thriving there this season.
9th – Ben Revere, LF
Oh Ben. He’s been terrible at the plate. His one hit in four at bats actually raised his batting average to .216. Revere is probably an average defensive center fielder, but can be a stellar corner outfielder. With the flexibility offered by the DH position in the AL park, Dusty made the right decision to go with defense in the outfield and put Revere in left and DH Werth. Although Revere has struggled with the bat, he could be an important piece of the puzzle down the stretch if he could right the ship. He can only right the ship by playing regularly. Turner hasn’t really earned the chance to play in center field every day as much as Revere has lost that chance, but that’s what it has come to. I hate seeing Revere at the top of the lineup day in and day out, but I can live with him at the bottom of the lineup instead.
So, give credit to Dusty. It took him nearly 2/3 of the season to put together a lineup close to optimal, but he got there eventually. It didn’t work out on Tuesday night, but the offense did their part by putting up four runs against one of the best pitchers in the game in Danny Salazar and forcing him from the game after only four innings. Here’s to seeing the same lineup going forward.
You may now resume your bitching about the bullpen.Tags: Anthony Rendon, Ben Revere, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Danny Espinosa, Dusty Baker, Jayson Werth, Nationals, Nats, Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Washington Nationals, Wilson Ramos