Washington Nationals: Apologies To Kyle Schwarber
By Max Rayman
Kyle Schwarber is single handily keeping the Nationals afloat.
During this past off-season, the Nationals were in serious need of offensive upgrades. So when it was announced Washington had signed slugger Kyle Schwarber it was disappointing, to say the least. At the time, D.J. Lemahieu, J.T. Realmuto, and Marcell Ozuna were all still unsigned, while third baseman Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado were available via the trade market. Instead, Washington opted to follow the cheaper route, settling on a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2022.
2020 saw the Nationals finish dead last in DRS, and adding a defensive liability in right was a perplexing move. During his time in Chicago, he posted -8 DRS, with 29 outfield assists. MLB had announced that the NL wouldn’t have a DH for the 2021 season, meaning the Nationals would be forced to use him in the field. At the time, this was a head-scratching move.
Drafted fourth overall in 2014, Schwarber never lived up to his draft billing and became a one-dimensional player. During his six-year tenure in Chicago, he became known for occasionally gunning runners out from the outfield while hitting bombs. At the same time, he would rack up strikeouts and was never able to hit for average.
His best season came in 2019, when he hit .250, with 38 homers, 92 RBIs, and an OPS of .871. All career highs. But like most of the sports world, the slugger struggled during the 2020 COVID season, hitting under the Mendoza line. After his disastrous 2020 campaign, signing the righty as a bounce-back candidate was risky.
Fast forward to the start of the 2021 season and Schwarber was placed on the COVID list, missing the first handful of games. It took Schwarber a while to rediscover his swing, falling flat out of the gate. He was supposed to add protection for Juan Soto, but instead, he was a strikeout machine. In 16 games in April, he struck out 21 times, while only drawing three walks.
A month into the season and Rizzo’s decision began to look worse and worse, as the Cubs Kris Bryant started to rekindle his MVP form. But then came an evening game against the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks on April 16th. With the score tied 0-0 in the ninth, Schwarber uncorked a mammoth walk-off bomb, which was his first homer as a Nat.
The Schwarbomb, a name given to whenever the slugger hits a homer, brought hope to the fanbase. While Schwarber was still inconsistent at the plate, on April 30 he hit his second walk-off bomb, this time against the Marlins.
Similar to the first walk-off, Schwarber was still unable to find consistency at the plate, but started to unleash more and more polarizing homers. Unfortunately, the veteran was still a key issue in the offense unable to capitalize with runners on base.
As the losses piled up, Martinez consistently tweaked the lineup, trying out a plethora of different options at leadoff. Then on June 8th, the Nats skipper shocked the baseball world by moving Schwarber to leadoff. At the time, the slugger was hitting .222, with nine homers, 25 homers, and an OPS of .727.
The move brought on the ire of Nationals fans and the initial results were lackluster, with the slugger going 0-3, with two strikeouts.
But Martinez kept his faith in Schwarber and the slugger rewarded him in kind. On June 12th, Scwarber hit his first leadoff bomb as a Nat, a solo shot that ended up being the winning run. Washington shut out the Giants 2-0. Little did Nationals fans know, this was just the beginning.
The next day, he hit two more against the Giants, both to center in a 5-0 win. When asked about his instant success at the top of the lineup, Schwarber told the media, “It’s just another spot in the order,”. “I think it’s just going up there and trying to take a normal at-bat. It’s not like I hadn’t led off an inning before.”
Over the next five games, Schwarber cooled off, only hitting one homer, before putting on one of the most impressive displays in recent Nationals memory. Against the Mets, Schwarber exploded for two homers in the nightcap of the Saturday doubleheader. He followed this up by blasting three more moonshots on Father’s Day, to help the Nats clinch a much-needed series win.
What did the slugger have to say about his recent explosion? “To be honest with you, I don’t know what’s going on,” Schwarber told reporters in a postgame interview. This was the first three-homer game of his career and he tied the MLB record with five home runs in a two-game stretch.
What was originally seen as a cost-effective move turned out to be Rizzo’s greatest offensive off-season signing since bringing back Howie Kendrick in 2019. Apologies Kyle Schwarber and keep on mashing.