It’s hard to believe that the season is nearly two months in, but the numbers don’t lie (as they rarely do). As May begins to come to a close, the Nationals, for the first time in three years, look poised to finish the month atop the NL East. For the past two years, the Nationals have underperformed in the early months of the season, hovering at or below .500, but this year, the offense woke up early enough to provide a meaningful impact, and the Nats sit at an uncharacteristic third in the MLB in runs, with 207, and tied for ninth with the L.A. Dodgers in batting average, with a team average of .260.
None of this could be made possible without Bryce Harper’s early power display (sixteen home runs and counting), which all started on Opening Day against Bartolo Colon, exploded in his three home run game against the Marlins, and sat at a consistent pace after his walk off home run against the Braves in a euphoric afternoon for D.C. Sports (Paul Pierce called game).
The Nationals are on an unprecedented tear, and are in the midsts of a six game winning streak. Harper is finally playing like the player the Nationals expected when they drafted him. But the most exciting part of this team, going down to the wire, isn’t actually Harper.
Last year, dinky singles won the pennant. A base hit, a double and a sacrifice fly. That year, the Nationals relied a lot on the home run, and batted horrifically with RISP (.242 with less than two outs, .198 with two outs). This year, the approach, despite the shocking amounts of home runs, seems to have changed. This year, the Nationals are batting .280 with RISP with less than two outs, and with two outs, are batting .258. What’s changed about the approach that’s made this change?
Less players are swinging for the fences. Less players are trying to hit three run home runs with nobody on. The Nationals not only are on pace to score many more runs than last season, but every player has been much better about not worrying about the home run and hitting singles. Harper has also been much better about his approach at the plate, and has hit 22 singles this year, outnumbering every other category, and if it weren’t for his ridiculous home run total, would outnumber every category combined. With runners in scoring position, the Nationals have just simply been a more relaxed team.
One catalyst for the recent improvement, alongside Bryce Harper, is Yunel Escobar. I’ll admit, that after my scathing article about bringing him to D.C., my opinion concerning him gets better every day. His animation at the plate is almost Hollywood-esque, but more importantly, he’s arguably the king of singles with runners in scoring position, he’s already brought in 12 runs on nine hits.
This is an area that can only really get better for the Nats, as Anthony Rendon is poised to return decently soon. But for now, it’s a pretty good offensive start that fans can only hope continues. Because if it does, it might lead to a better result in October.