In the big news of the day, Ian Desmond was placed on the DL with a torn oblique. It is not yet known how much time he will miss, but estimates range from the minimum fifteen days to at least a month. Desmond has carried the Nats’ offense this season, hitting .286/.322/.503 with 17 homers and 53 RBI and placing at or near the top of the team in each of those categories. Without him, the Nats’ average-to-below-average offense will likely plummet further in the rankings unless the rest of the lineup can stand up to the challenge. Fortunately for the Nats, it appears that the rest of the team is doing just that.
In the first game of Desmond’s prolonged absence today, the Nationals dropped nine runs on the Braves and won handily. Nine-run outburst aside, the game was an accurate microcosm of how the Nationals’ offense has been heating up recently. Four players had three hits each; coincidentally, they are the four hottest hitters on the team right now.
The hot hitter everyone recognizes is, of course, Ryan Zimmerman. He hit two monster home runs in Sunday’s win over the Braves, and has been absolutely unstoppable during the month of July. His slash line is an unbelievable .414/.481/.886, good for an OPS of 1.367, which is .297 higher than the full season OPS of Andrew McCutchen, who is leading all of baseball with 1.070. He has hit 7 home runs and had 16 RBI during these 17 games; extrapolated over a full season, that would translate to 67 home runs and 152 RBI. Much has been made of the cortisone shot that Zimmerman received on June 24th, and rightfully so. Since receiving the shot, his average has gone up 55 points and his home run total has more than tripled, going from four to fourteen. His resurgence has been huge in the offense’s recent success, and he will need to maintain his torrid pace to keep the lineup from slipping.
The second hottest hitter on the Nats is Michael Morse, who was 3-5 with two runs scored and two RBI in Sunday’s game. He has raised his average 83 points since June 25th, hitting .371/.392/.536 over those 22 games. His average finally reached .300 today after his 3-5 performance. His return from injury has proven to be a huge boon to the offense, and along with Zimmerman’s rise, the two have formed an incredibly potent middle-of-the-order duo. The hot streaks of the next two Nats may not be as well known, but their contributions have been no less important.
The third of our four hot hitters is Roger Bernadina, who was 3-5 with two RBI on Sunday. Bernadina struggled for the past few years as a platoon player in the outfield, but has come on strong after embracing his new role as a bench player. In July, he is hitting .483/.548/.483 despite only starting five games and coming off the bench in eleven. His lack of extra base hits kills his case for the hottest Nat, but he has been a sparkplug off the bench, hitting .600 when he enters the game as a pinch hitter in July. While Bryce Harper has been on a recent cold streak, Bernadina’s tear will help make up for it, as will two upcoming changes: the call-up of AAA CF Corey Brown, who has a .944 OPS, and the return of Jayson Werth, who should be healthy by mid-to-late August.
The final hot Nat is Danny Espinosa, who was 3-4 with two RBI and two runs scored on Sunday. Espinosa has long had a low batting average, but his .354/.389/.569 slash line in July has raised his average to .250, the highest it has been since April of 2011.
Looking at Desmond’s stats for the 2012 season, it is clear that he has had a massive impact on whatever success this offense has had. However, other Nats are heating up, as they showed against Atlanta on Sunday. While the team will definitely miss Desmond, the offense is certainly being left in capable hands with four Nats who are just getting into their offensive grooves.