Nats Bats Coming to Life

I’ve said it before, repeated it and repeated it. This team will score some runs. In the last 3 games, including yesterday’s unfinished game, they’ve scored 6 or more runs. And they’ve had at least one big inning – 4 or more runs – in each game. The players who everyone thought would hit, well, they’re hitting. And so is everyone else.

The Ones (Almost) Everyone Expected

The new eyes guy, Cristian Guzman, is doing what he has done all his career – since he’s been able to see. guzman-hrThis season he’s hitting .381/.381/.460, and that slugging is mostly thanks to yesterday’s HR. It shows he hasn’t walked at all, and has shown no power other than that 1 HR. But if he keeps hitting around .350 and takes a few walks, that’s ok. And the power isn’t nonexistent – as I said, he did hit a HR in yesterday afternoon’s match. He’s not going to walk much, so that’s expected, and he has shown that he can keep the average up. He’s gotta keep that average up, but as long as he does, he’s an effective if flawed tablesetter for this team.

The healthy guy, Nick Johnson, is doing what he has done all his career – when he’s healthy. He’s taking walks and hitting the ball well. He hasn’t shown much power yet, and that may be about his hand injury issues. He was never a real slugger, but his power has been down this year. Still, he’s hitting line drives and does have some power (ISO of ~.100). So it’s not an empty average. Besides, he’s getting on base at such a clip that he’s going to be valuable with or without the power. He’s hitting .333/.425/.433, smack dab in the middle of production among National League first baseman. Nothing earth-shattering, unless you compare it to the Nats’ production at that position in 2008.

ryanzimThe face of the franchise guy, in the midst of a 22 23 game hitting streak, Ryan Zimmerman is hitting .333/.393/.588. He’s raised his batting average up .056 points since April 24, when he was hitting .277. He was also hitting .277 way back on April 18, a full 15 games ago. It’s not just the hitting that’s been so nice, he’s been patient at the plate. He’s already walked 10 times, putting slightly above his career high pace. Which means as long as he hits above about .280, he’ll have an OBP around .350, something that at times it didn’t look like he would ever do. He’s also first in the NL among 3rd basemen in OPS, and 4th in the entire majors. And I still think he’s going to hit 30 HRs a year.

The new guy, Adam Dunn, obviously can hit with power and get on base. But he’s hitting the ball better than he ever has. Before yesterday’s game, he wass on pace to strike out 142 times at this point.  That may seem like alot, but it would be a career low for a full season for him, by about 15%. Of course, his 3 Ks yesterday screwed that all up, but he’s still hitting .282. This hasn’t affected his ability to draw walks, which he’s leading the NL in, or his power, as he’s got 7 HRs. It all leads to him hitting .282/.445/.565. He’s either getting very lucky, or improving into a more complete hitter who can hit for average as well as power. Of course, it’s still early, his average before going 0-5 yesterday was .300. I’m guessing he won’t hit .300 when the year is out, but this may end up a career high in that category for him (his previous was .266 in 2004).

The Ones I Thought Could Hit

The troubled guy, Elijah Dukes, showed flashes last year. But any time I asked someone at ESPN about him,blue-dukes there was rarely a serious answer, just a dig about his past. Even if there were serious answers, they were usually seriously saying they didn’t think he had the head to play full time. But he has shown not only that he can behave himself (so far, I admit, and probably under constant supervision), he’s shown that he can hit. He’s batting .309/.385/.543 and while that’s quite good for a corner outfielder, it’s even better for a starting CF. His .928 OPS ranks him third in the NL at that position, behind Beltran and Cameron. Throw in Torii Hunter and Adam Jones, he ranks behind them to be 5th in the entire majors.

The quiet guy, Jesus Flores, seemed to hit the game winning RBI in about 50% of the Nats win last year, which would be about 30 times. And yet, going in to this season, I didn’t see anyone talking about him. Maybe it’s because he finished with unimpressive numbers. But as I’ve mentioned before, I saw that he was a great hitter for about 2/3 of 2008, and may have just been worn down by the long season behind the plate. And he’s delivered so far this season, hitting .293/.365/.467 while playing good defense. He’s a quality player, and while he may not be a star, he’s a better catcher than most teams can ask for. His .831 OPS puts him 6th among all catchers in MLB, 3rd best in the NL.

The Ones Who Have Surprised Me With Their Good Hitting

The not Emilio Bonifacio guy, Anderson Hernandez, is the starting second baseman, in part because the Nats management saw him as a better option than the speedster now on Florida. Despite a scary good opening weekend for the Marlin, their splits reflect that maybe the Nats were right. Bonifacio is hitting .261/.309/.322, while Hernandez is hitting a much better .302/.405/.381. Of course it’s early for Hernandez, and while he is not showing much power, it’s his apparent ability to take a walk that might eventually put him back at the top of the lineup.

Austin Kearns schmacking the ballThe guy we thought should have been given directions to RFK, Austin Kearns, has been hitting great this season. It’s not all star numbers, but for a corner outfielder who hasn’t has an OPS+ over 103 since 2006, and who looked absolutely lost last season, his .9 OPS is incredible. He’s hitting .262/.416/.525, showing great patience (which he never really lost), getting base hits about as well as he’s ever done, and hitting with more power than he ever has. He’s basically hitting the upside of what people thought he could be when he first came to DC. Funny, now that his contract is running up, and so have many fans’ patience. He may be the only current National on a playoff team in October, but for now, his bat is really helping this team.

A Note on the Outfield

With Dunn, Dukes, and Kearns, the outfield has been quite formidable. In fact the three of them rank 5th, 10th, and 11th, respectively in the National League for OPS among qualified players. This is the lowest combined ranking of any NL team’s outfield (5 + 10 + 11 = 26) other than the Dodgers (1 + 4 + 15 = 20). The next closest to those two outfields are Philly (2 + 16 + 17 = 35) and Milwaukee (7 + 9 + 18 = 34). Pretty impressive and light years ahead of what they put out their last season.

8 is Enough

Yeah, that’s 8 players, all in different position. Or, as they call it in the National League, a starting lineup. Sure, not everyone is going to be hitting this great all year, but it shows that this lineup has some potential.  They aren’t gonna lead the league in runs, but they have a few league average players, and a few guys who are better than that. Half of these players are young, and if Zimmerman, Flores, Dukes, and Hernandez can keep it up, that is a much stronger core than people realized this team had even a few months ago. Except for me. I knew this was gonna happen. Except for Hernandez,  I didn’t know about him.

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