The Washington Nationals have a sizable lead in the National League East, but it’s not as great as it appears to be in the nation’s capital.
The Nationals have one of the most deadly lineups in all of baseball. They’re top five in just about every major offensive category in the league. There might be a cause for concern in that lineup though. It may go unnoticed because the team cranks out runs like it’s nobodies business but Bryce Harper is struggling at the plate.
The following is from Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.
Both concurred strongly with the initial evaluator’s assessment — that Harper was rushing to the ball, moving his head forward and pulling off with his shoulder, leaving himself vulnerable by opening up.
Harper has also been described as a “collider” by some within the organization. If you watch Harper swing the bat you’d have a hard time disagreeing with that assessment of the former MVP. He hit his 17th home run on Thursday that left the bat at 116.3 MPH, which was quite the collision.
The home run was nice to see but it doesn’t change the fact that since May 2nd Harper is only hitting .258, and he’s struck out 33 times. He’s on pace to strike out 127 times this year which would be the second most in his six year career.
Since May 2nd the Nationals are 19-15. If you’re wondering how one of the best offensive teams in baseball can only be four games above .500 in the last two months your answer can be found in the bullpen.
On Monday the Nationals lost to the Atlanta Braves 11-10 a game in which they lead 9-6 after the fourth inning. When Stephen Strasburg left after five innings the wheels fell off. Jacob Turner gave up two runs in 2 1/3 innings and Matt Albers gave up three runs in just 2/3 of an inning.
The following is from the Washington Post.
The Nationals have lost 10 games with their starter exiting the game on record as the would-be winning pitcher; only their division rival, the New York Mets, have more (13).
In the 7th-9th innings the Nats bullpen has a league worst .270 batting average against and league worst .798 OPS against. They also have a league worst 5.20 bullpen ERA. This is a long fall from having the third best bullpen ERA in all of baseball last year.
As Ken Rosenthal said, the Nationals came about as close as you can come to getting elite closer Kenley Jansen after they let Mark Melancon walk. There aren’t many options internally for the Nats and because elite closers are few and far between both Dusty Baker and GM Mike Rizzo kind of have their hands tied at this point.
When guys in the clubhouse are saying things like “we feel like we have to win the game three times” there’s cause for concern.
Offensively the Nats are going to be fine even with Harper’s struggles so long as he still collides with a pitch about 35 times this season. Top to bottom the whole lineup is a good as it gets.
Their starting pitchers average a major league best 6 2/3 innings per start, but if their bullpen can’t get it together then the Nats are going to have to make a decision at the deadline.