All hail the Nationals' incredible offense

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Tuesday May 2nd, 2017

The end of one month and beginning of another may be arbitrary endpoints within a six-month baseball season, but it’s also a convenient time to put down a marker and take stock of what we’ve seen thus far. Eric Thames is setting the league on fire. The Yankees might be for real, and the Orioles continue to find a way no matter who is in their starting rotation. The Astros are as good as we thought they were. The Cubs’ first month as defending World Series Champions was fine, but unspectacular. The Rockies and Diamondbacks could rewrite the script in the NL West. The Giants, Mets, Royals and Blue Jays are all in serious trouble.

None of that is what we’re here to discuss in this week’s Hitting Report. Instead, we’re here to talk about this.

And also this.

This, too.

The Nationals offense is an unstoppable force. It put an exclamation point on a standout April by scoring 23 runs in a win over the Mets on Sunday that featured a 6-for-6, three-homer, 10-RBI day from Anthony Rendon, who has been no better than the team’s eighth-best hitter this season. The wrecking ball that is the Nationals offense has yet to find something it cannot destroy.

The team did suffer a big blow over the weekend when Adam Eaton tore his ACL, knocking him out for the rest of the season. Eaton had been everything the Nationals could have hoped when they sent a package of prospects headlined by Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez to the White Sox for the 28-year-old outfielder this winter. Eaton posted a .297/.393/.462 slash line before the injury, setting the table for Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman. There’s a reason why they’re the top three in the majors in RBI, and it’s not only because they’ve combined for 25 homers. Eaton scored 24 runs and stole three bases, giving a powerful heart of a batting order the perfect complement at the top. There’s no doubt that the Nats will miss Eaton in a big way.

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And yet, the offense should still be machine.

It all starts with Harper. Find the league’s best offenses, and you will invariably find one hitter in the middle of it all. That hitter almost certainly has a ton of power, and his presence makes things easier for everyone else in the lineup. The players who hit in front of him get more fastballs because pitchers don’t want walk hitters before facing him. Those who hit behind him get ample RBI opportunities, and he does plenty of work for them in softening up the pitcher. For a recent example, just ask the 2017 Red Sox how much more challenging life is at the plate without David Ortiz in the middle of the order. The remaining faces this season are all the same, but their production isn’t quite there without Ortiz.

That hitter for Washington is, of course, Harper. He finished April hitting .391/.509/.772 with nine homers, eight doubles, 26 RBI and more walks (22) than strikeouts (20). With Harper back to his MVP ways of two seasons ago, the Nationals can’t help but be among the best offenses in the league. It’s the other parts that have helped push them over the hump.

Remember in the 2015 postseason when Daniel Murphy turned into Babe Ruth and carried the Mets to the National League pennant? That Murphy is clearly here to stay. After finishing second in NL MVP voting last year, Murphy hasn’t slowed down a bit in 2017. He’s slashing .343/.378/.590 with five homers, nine doubles and 26 RBI. In the rare instance that a pitcher gets Bryce Harper out, which, to emphasize the point, has happened less often than he has gotten on base thus far this season, he then has to deal with Murphy. Getting through those two would be hard enough, but there’s a third player in the middle of this lineup who’s back from the dead and on pace for the best season of his career.

Ryan Zimmerman leads the majors in batting average, slugging percentage, hits, homers and RBI. This is a guy who, in 467 plate appearances last season, hit .218/.272/.370. He hadn’t played more than 115 games since 2013, and there was little reason to expect him to find the fountain of youth in his age-32 season. But here’s Zimmerman, doing things that he only could have dreamed of 10 years ago, when it seemed he might develop into a perennial All-Star. Zimmerman kicks off May hitting .420/.458/.886 with 11 jacks, eight doubles and 29 RBI.

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Finally, there’s Trea Turner. His sophomore season was interrupted by a hamstring injury, but he’s providing a worthy encore to his rookie year since his return. Turner hit .317/.348/.556 with two homers, seven doubles and four steals in 63 plate appearances in April. Had he been healthy all month, he’d almost certainly be the fourth player on the team already with 20 runs scored, but he’s proving that those who believed in him as a late-first or early-second-round fantasy pick were not too optimistic.

The Nationals scored 170 runs in 25 games, good for 6.8 per game. They likely won’t keep that pace all season, but it does have the modern record of 1,062 runs, owned by the 1931 Yankees, within reach. At the very least, they could make a run at the 1999 Indians who scored 1,009 runs, the last team to cross the 1,000-run mark.

 

Hitters to watch this week

Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Reds

Suarez continues to hit everything in sight. His slash line for the season sits at .325/.411/.602 with five homers, six doubles and 13 RBI. Suarez has had runs of fantasy relevance before, but he has never had a heater quite like this. He got a day of rest Monday, but he’ll be in the lineup mostly every day this season. Suarez is well worth your attention, regardless of your fantasy league’s format.

Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees

Judge just turned in the best week of his young career, going 6-for-15 with four homers and seven RBI. The slugger is now hitting .300/.404/.725 with 10 homers and 20 RBI this season, and is one of the main reasons why the Yankees began May in a first-place tie with the Orioles in the AL East. When Gary Sanchez returns, it will be fun to watch and see which one of them is able to club the farthest dingers at Yankee Stadium.

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Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs

Bryant’s 12-game hitting streak came on an end in the Cubs 10-2 loss to the Phillies on Monday, but the run was just what he needed after a slow start to the season. He went 17-for-45 with two homers and seven RBI during the streak, raising his slash line to .283/.390/.505 from .212/.328/.404 in that span. That shows not only how quickly life can change this early in the season, but what a player like Bryant can do when he gets hot. The Cubs are off to a slow start as a team, going 13–12 in their first 25 games, but it’s likely just a matter of time before they start to put more distance between the wins and losses in their record. Bryant’s bat will undoubtedly be a big part of that effort.

Miguel Sano, 3B/OF, Twins

In case you were still in doubt, Sano has comfortably put his ugly 2016 season behind him. He’s slashing .316/.443/.684 with seven homers and 25 RBI this season. While he’s still striking out a ton, 32 times in 97 plate appearances, he also has 18 walks, which is tops in the AL. This is what Sano is like at his best. He hits a bunch of homers, he strikes out a lot, he takes his walks, and the good significantly outweighs the bad. That’s what we saw from him as a rookie in 2015, and that’s what we’re seeing this season.

Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox

Abreu had a mostly terrible April, but he finally started to turn things around in the final week of the month. He went 10-for-18 with two homers and five RBI over the last week of April, raising his slash line to .280/.344/.439. The homers were his first two of the season, but there’s little reason to think Abreu won’t give his owners his typical 25 to 30 homers and 100-plus RBI, along with solid rates, when it is all said and done this season. His mini-hot streak came to an end with an 0-for-4 night and two strikeouts against the Royals on Monday, but he’s in better shape than he has been at any point this season.

Prospect Watch

Cody Bellinger, OF, Dodgers

By now, you likely know plenty about Bellinger. Even if you aren’t a prospect hound, you likely knew about him coming into the season. He was the first big prospect to earn a promotion and make a splash this season, and we’ve all had the pleasure of watching him in the majors for 28 plate appearances. You don’t need me to tell you how good he is, or that he’s an immediate-impact player in all fantasy formats.

What is confounding about Bellinger, though, is what those owners who snagged him off waivers last week should do with him in the days ahead. Bellinger’s first stint in the majors is about to come to an end. Joc Pederson, Franklin Gutierrez and Logan Forsythe all due back from the DL in the near future, and their returns will send Bellinger back to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Never mind that he has held his own in the majors, going 8-for-25 with a pair of homers. When those three are back on the active roster, Bellinger will head to a level of baseball for which he’s likely already too good.

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The last part of the above paragraph is important and instructive. Bellinger doesn’t have much left to prove in the minors. In 77 plate appearances before his promotion to the Dodgers, he hit .343/.429/.627 with five homers, four doubles, 15 RBI and seven steals. There’s little else for him to do in the minors, other than stay in the rhythm of playing every day. Still, at some point the Dodgers are going to need their best 25-man roster available in the majors, and that, without question, includes Bellinger.

We know that Bellinger will likely be back in the majors at some point this season. We don’t, however, know when that point will arrive. While it can be a pain in many fantasy formats to stash players who are in the majors, Bellinger is too good to let go if you’ve already secured his services. It may not be ideal, but you have to stash a player as good as he is, unless your roster is stretched too thin. If you can stomach burning a roster spot, Bellinger is well worth it.

GIF of the Week

This is, admittedly, not the most graceful home run rob you’ll ever see in your life. No one is comparing this Josh Reddick play to when Mike Trout soared over the fence at Angels Stadium years ago in a play that looked like it could have easily transferred over to an NBA court or NFL field. Still, this play, on which Reddick steals a homer away from Jason Kipnis, is worth admiring. Keep in mind that the center field wall at Progressive Field is nine feet high, and Reddick easily skies over it to make the play, despite little momentum going into his leap.

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