For the Washington Nationals to earn a wild card spot, manager Davey Martinez must ensure that his best available players are on the field.
If the MLB season ended today, the Washington Nationals would host the 2019 NL Wild Card Game on October 1 at Nationals Park. To reach that sudden death play-in game, the Nats must approach each remaining regular season contest with the utmost urgency.
To be blunt, Davey Martinez can no longer concern himself with getting guys playing time or making concessions to veterans who haven’t consistently produced this year. From here on out, the best available players have to be on the field every single day.
Here is the best Nationals lineup vs. right-handed pitching.
- Trea Turner SS (R)
- Adam Eaton RF (L)
- Anthony Rendon 3B (R)
- Juan Soto LF (L)
- Matt Adams 1B (L)
- Asdrubal Cabrera 2B (S)
- Gerardo Parra CF (L)
- Kurt Suzuki C (R)
To his credit, Martinez used this lineup on Sunday in New York. It wound up being Washington’s only win of the Mets series, with Cabrera getting the game-winning hit.
While this lineup’s weakness is the resulting all right-handed bench, a key strength is Victor Robles becoming a late-inning pinch-runner and defensive replacement. With Michael A. Taylor in the minors, presumably, until September, the Nationals have no bench speed. Using Robles in that role against righties could prove crucial down the stretch.
Here is the optimal Nationals lineup when facing left-handers.
- Turner SS (R)
- Eaton RF (L)
- Rendon 3B (R)
- Soto LF (L)
- Howie Kendrick 1B (R)
- Suzuki C (R)
- Brian Dozier 2B (R)
- Robles CF (R)
Kendrick, Suzuki and Dozier are all crushing left-handed pitching this season, which makes this lineup formidable against the likes of Max Fried, Dallas Keuchel and Steven Matz. Adams, Parra and Cabrera being available off the bench would also strike fear in the hearts of opposing managers who usually turn to right-handed setup men or closers to preserve leads.
The elephant in the room is Ryan Zimmerman, who should return soon from his latest injured list stint. Zimmerman is a Nats icon who belongs on the active roster when healthy. Still, the time has come for Zim to realize that his most effective 2019 role is as a pinch-hitter. While Zimmerman could certainly start a few games against lefties if Kendrick needs rest, he should never start over Adams vs. righties.
Despite recent signs of improvement, Yan Gomes is hitting .185 against righties and 100 points lower than Suzuki vs. lefties. He should not start unless it’s to give Suzuki ample rest.
When healthy, the Nationals have a deep and dangerous collection of position players that stacks up favorably with any contender. Parlayed with elite starting pitching (especially after the return of Max Scherzer) and a revamped bullpen that can only improve, the Nats have a golden opportunity to host at least one 2019 postseason game.
The first step toward October is making sure that each player is in the best possible position to contribute. With a clubhouse full of veterans who want to win, Martinez should have no problem fielding the best possible lineups in August and September.