The Washington Nationals beat the Braves 7-6 Friday night, but nearly lost the game on a couple of costly errors in the eighth inning.
The 2016 season has been a book of three chapters for Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa. From Opening Day through June 7, Espinosa posted a .196/.289/.348 slash line as the team stressed tirelessly that he was their everyday shortstop.
Just as it seemed Dusty Baker and the Nats’ organization was ready to consider giving Trea Turner shot at the starting job, Espinosa caught fire. In the month of June, he hit nine homers and drove in 21 RBIs on his way to hitting .309/.418/.704. The 29-year old carried his hot hitting into July, smacking two grand slams in a series with the Reds that propelled him to the first Player of the Week Award of his career.
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With the doubters left mouths gaping, Espinosa seemed to be entrenched in the starter role. Since that series, however, he’s gone back to looking lost at the plate. Despite those homers, Espinosa still finished July with a .193 batting average for the month. And so far in August, his .182 mark is the worst on the team.
Defensively, Espi hasn’t done as much as he has in recent years to justify his poor performance at the plate. His eleven errors at short this season, including one that eventually led to the Braves scoring the tying run in the eighth inning of Friday night’s game, are the most he’s had since accruing 13 miscues in 2012. They are also the most errors of anyone on the team, three more than double play partner Daniel Murphy. While he may occasionally make the highlight reel with his superb arm, Espinosa has not had the consistency that most expected him to have.
So what does Espinosa bring to the table? He hits in the No. 8 spot nearly every day, indicating that the Nats clearly don’t expect too much out of him offensively. If he isn’t going to be that anchor at shortstop, what justifies his spot in the everyday lineup?
Ryan Zimmerman is expected to return from the Disabled List this weekend, leaving Baker with the task of deciding who hits the bench. With Ben Revere posting similar numbers to Espinosa at the plate—but providing a significant defensive upgrade over Turner at center—should Espi be the one to watch his playing time take a hit? Revere also provides more speed on the basepaths, something the Nats love to take advantage of.
Espinosa has been a key contributor for the Nats every year since he finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2011. He has played at least 114 games every year since other than 2013, including 118 already this season. Unfortunately, his play has not warranted his continued presence in the everyday lineup, especially for a contending team.