Nationals: Can Michael A. Taylor Recapture His 2017 Form?

After an impressive two-hit night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, can Michael Taylor help the Nationals by recapturing his 2017 form?

The Washington Nationals’ 7-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Nationals Park on Friday, June 14th featured major contributions from players accustomed to doing the heavy lifting for the Nats. Ace starting pitcher Max Scherzer was on his game once again, allowing the Diamondbacks only two runs on three hits over seven innings pitched while striking out 10 as he earned his fifth win of the year.

Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick continued their hot hitting ways, as both players homered in the bottom of the sixth to give Washington and Scherzer some breathing room. Leadoff man Trea Turner also was key to the win, going 1 for 3 with a pair of runs scored and his 10th steal of the year.

A big contribution to the win also came from an unlikely source. In the Nats’ starting lineup for only the second time in the team’s last 24 games, Michael A. Taylor made the most of his rare opportunity as he went 2 for 4 with a pair of runs scored and two steals.

Both of Taylor’s hits came at the start of innings in which the Nats would score runs. Leading off the bottom of the third, Taylor beat a Diamondbacks’ infield shift by drilling a single to the right of second base. He would later score Washington’s first of three runs in the frame on Turner’s double. In the bottom of the seventh, Taylor showed his speed as he beat out a bunt to start the inning, stole second and third base and came home on a single by Victor Robles.

Even Taylor’s outs in the game were encouraging. He was retired in the fourth on a fly to right and in the eighth on a fly to center, but both balls were hit fairly well and showed the six-year right-handed swinging veteran’s ability to hit the ball the other way with authority.

The results on Friday had to be encouraging for the soft-spoken Taylor, who has struggled over the past year and a half after having what looked to be a possible breakthrough season in 2017. In that campaign, Taylor posted a career-best 104 OPS+ as he hit .271 with 19 homers and 53 RBI and capped the year off with a dramatic grand slam home run at Wrigley in Game Four of the National League Divisional Series against the Cubs.

Unfortunately for Taylor and the Nats, things have not gone well for him since his late-season heroics in that season. His inability to make contact (among players with 1600 or fewer at-bats since 2014, Taylor’s 533 strikeouts are the fourth most in Major League Baseball) and the emergence of young outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles have limited his playing time.

Washington’s outfield defense is clearly better when Taylor is in the game. His tremendous range and excellent arm make him one of baseball’s best defensive center fielders. His elite speed can be a big factor not only on defense but on the bases as well.

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Will Friday’s game be the start of Taylor’s emergence for the Nats, or will he return to the background to be heard from only on rare occasions? If he can make contact at the plate, get on base to use his top-end speed and continue to display Gold Glove level defense in center, perhaps Taylor will emerge as an x-factor, particularly against left-handed starting pitcher, for the Nats in the season’s second half.