The Players Are the Missing Spark

 

There are two official state songs for Colorado. One of them doesn't matter and the other is John Denver's Rocky Mountain High. There are important lyrics in that song that pertain to the Nationals. "He left yesterday behind him. You might say he was born again. Might say he found the key for every door." Last season through April and May the Nationals averaged 3.84 runs a game. It wasn't good, and it wasn't nearly as bad as the 3.48 runs a game the Nationals have averaged so far this season. It was a trip to Colorado that served as the turning point of the Nationals season. It didn't matter that it was around the beginning of June that Michael Morse returned and Ryan Zimmerman got a cortisone shot. And at the end of the month the Nationals went to a hitters ballpark and the offense took off.  

From June on, the Nationals had one of the best offenses in the National League averaging 4.81 runs a game. It was an impressive offensive turnaround but the Nats essentially added a .291/.321/.470 hitter in Morse and a .294/.352/.518 hitter in post cortisone Zim. The 2013 Nationals have recently done something similar in bringing up Anthony Rendon who was hitting .307/.452/.575 in the minors this season and in his limited time in the majors has hit .293/.383/.390. Not exactly the power one wants from a hitter like Anthony Rendon but he is replacing the combo of Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi who have helped to give the Nationals the worst second base production in the majors with a batting line of .201/.234/.290.   

The other big addition to the line-up is Jayson Werth who isn't hitting up to his standards this season at .267/.313/.408 but in his absence Nationals right fielders had a batting line of .194/.284/.347 and some of that includes Bryce Harper. With him out as well Nationals left fielders have hit .186/.247/.303. With some combination of Bernadina and Steve Lombardozzi the Nationals were able to survive the absence of Werth in 2012, but with two outfielders out it becomes an impossible task when two bench players are getting exposed at the same time. With both Werth returning from injury and Anthony Rendon being called up the Nationals line-up has replaced two weak points with strong ones and the run production can only increase. Add into the fact that the all-important number two spot in the Nationals line-up has the second most plate appearances on the team but a batting line of .198/.241/.315 and Werth's presence becomes even more important.  

It was after the first game of the series against the Rockies at Coors Field when the fire Eckstein, this offense is putrid chants became the loudest. It was starting to become that way heading into Sunday's doubleheader, and here the Nationals are again heading into Coors Field looking for an offensive boost, and as it was Morse and Zimmerman last season it may be Werth and Rendon this season, and that isn't to mention that Harper is still likely to come off the DL before June is out. All of this about looking for a spark is great, but it is the players that win, and the Nationals weren't going to survive thrusting so many back-ups into key roles and having them fail. The Nationals current line-up has five batters with an over .700 OPS. Two of those are Werth and Rendon, and one of the ones who doesn't is Denard Span who is a no-power lead-off hitter. Add in Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos and all of a sudden the Nationals have seven of nine spots in the order with an over .700 OPS with the two others being Span and his under .400 SLG and the pitchers spot.  

Things can quickly turn around for this offense but it wasn't going to happen with Zimmerman, LaRoche, and Desmond were the only hitters that could muster any kind of production over major league average. Of the Nats back-ups and Danny Espinosa who were getting significant playing time with Werth on the DL and Rendon sitting in the minors not one of them even has an OPS over .600, and Moore, Tracy, and Espinosa have an OPS under .500. Replacing quality major league bats with below replacement level production is a quick way to kill any sort of offensive momentum.  

The spark the Nationals are looking for isn't a team meeting held by Davey Johnson. He and Rick Eckstein can tell below average hitters to be more aggressive all they want, but that doesn't change the fact that they are below average hitters because they lack the pitch recognition to know which pitches to be aggressive on and which to lay off of. Hitters like Rendon, Harper, and Werth have the abilities of plate discipline, plate coverage, and pitch recognition that makes a good hitter. Having Werth back and Rendon called-up will make it easier for the Nationals to cope without Harper, but when they get him back this offense is going to take off and going to be what people expected. Add in Wilson Ramos and it will do that to an even greater power.  

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