Well, a month ago this would have been the scary part. The Nationals were rolling, had a plus-hitter at at least five positions, and frankly were a nightmare to think about for any pitcher. Then Harper got hurt and the rest of the lineup went into the tank the last month of the season. The Nats were 12th in the NL in OBP in September, 10th in runs, and 11th in team wOBA. Perhaps this acts as a restart button for them, or perhaps they’re out of gas. We’d better hope it’s the latter. Let’s run through it as the lineup probably shakes out:
Trea Turner – SS
Turner hasn’t been as good as he was last year, but staying on two feet remains a problem. He hasn’t cracked 100 games in either of his two big-league seasons, and this year he didn’t benefit from a pretty stupid .388 BABIP as he did last year. Turner’s speed is always going to result in a higher BABIP than most, but he hasn’t made nearly the hard contact this year that he did last year, with a paltry 14.8% line-drive rate this year. He’s not quite a slap hitter but it’s pretty damn close. Like any young hitter, Turner has problems with change-ups and sliders, especially changes. Which makes you think Hendricks should be able to handle him. But it’s only one game to start and anything can happen. Keeping Turner off the bases is vital, because Turner stole 46 bases in 98 games. Even Willson isn’t going to be able to gun him down regularly if he’s wreaking havoc on the bases.
Bryce Harper – RF
The question remains how healthy Harper is. He got five games in at the end of the season, though only managed three hits and none for extra bases in those five games. It’s still Bryce Harper, and he still carries danger wherever he goes. Worryingly, he wears Hendricks out, hitting .308 and slugging .538 against him. He’s been awful against Lester, and Arrieta has mostly chosen to pass him by with six walks in 20 plate-appearances. If Harper is only a singles hitter, that changes the whole dynamic of the series. If he’s Bryce Harper, you’ll be watching from behind your couch in the late innings.
Anthony Rendon – 3B
If the MVP vote didn’t have a ton of qualifiers to it with every voter defining it differently and having their own set of parameters, Rendon would take home the NL MVP as he has the best WAR and we could all move on with our lives. Rendon does get value from his defense, but there’s nothing wrong with that and he’s been an offensive terror all year. Rendon’s explosion came as a result of cutting down his strikeouts and upping his walks, giving him a .403 OBP that’s 50 points over his career average. He has benefitted from having golf balls hurled in his direction, but his HR/FB rate hasn’t really ballooned like others. He’s made more contact on pitches in the zone and more contact overall, linking to laying off pitches he can’t get to which he didn’t before. Again, changes and sliders are what tame him to a point, but you have to set those up. Rendon also murders Arrieta, to the tune of a .364 average over 12 PAs.
Daniel Murphy – 2B
Oh great, this motherfucker again. And unlike some of his teammates, he heated up in September in case you need another reason to light your arm-hair on fire when he comes to the plate. There’s no real tried and true method to pitch him. Just grit your teeth and get through it. Like Murphy walking through Boys Town.
Ryan Zimmerman – 1B
The reclamation story of the year. Zimmerman looked like he died last year, hitting .218 and not having a position to play really. He was basically put at first to put him out of his misery at third. He would be the East Coast poster child for benefitting from making contact on Slazengers all season, as Zimmerman’s homer-to-fly-ball rate leapt from 13.2% last year to 26.5% this year, though to be fair to him his hard-contact rate jumped as well. Have to keep the fastballs up and in on Zimmerman, as he crushes anything around the knees.
Jayson Werth – LF
This is where you get a breather. Werth’s value as an offensive player went away three years ago, as he hasn’t had a wRC+ over 101 in the three seasons since. He still walks a lot, but that’s about it. His power has zapped. Give him a steady diet of stuff that moves, as he can still get to fastballs and do something with it which makes you think he’s cheating to get to them, and you can get him out.
Matt Wieters – C
Wieters is basically catcher-only, a good pitch-framer with a decent arm but the bat has simply disappeared. He doesn’t walk much either, but strikes out at a league-average rate. Wieters basically has a slider-speed bat and can be blown off the plate with a good fastball. He only hit .216 against fastballs this year.
Michael Taylor – CF
Taylor is basically Turner Lite at the bottom of the lineup. He missed six weeks in the middle of the season which has curtailed his speed a bit though he did manage five steals in September. He strikes out a ton though, and you can’t steal first if you’re whiffing at the plate. He’s got pop that Turner doesn’t have, as he managed 19 homers in just 118 games. He’s kind of lying in the weeds down here.
Adam Lind is the first weapon off the bench you’ll have to know, as he has four pinch-hit homers this year and batted .303 overall. Wilmer Difo will provide some speed and glove in the late innings. Stephen Drew is a corpse. Howie Kendrick could actually supplant Werth in left field if needed, or be the right-handed Lind off the bench.
It’s pretty daunting, and the Cubs can’t let anyone in the bottom-third of the lineup suddenly become a hero. If Harper or Murphy go off on you, well, that’s going to happen. But if you add a Werth or Taylor revival to that it’s going to be a real problem.