After the first two weeks of the 2017 campaign, the Washington Nationals have already had a major lineup shakeup because of a hamstring injury to one of their key players, leadoff hitter and sparkplug Trae Turner.
A dynamic, speedy player, Turner’s presence will be missed as long as he is on the disabled list. Turner’s leadoff spot has been taken by free agent acquisition Adam Eaton and backup shortstop Wilmer Difo, to mixed results.
Turner is a speed demon whose participation is paramount for the team to reach the heights fans expect this season. Washington’s inability to develop a true leadoff hitter since the days of a healthy Denard Span are seemingly over with the emergence of Turner, and missing out on his dynamic play really hurts the lineup. Remember, Turner stole 33 bases in only 73 games last year, second in the entire National League.
Also there is another underlying issue that has stymied the Nationals’ early season success: the bullpen. Relief pitching issues have hindered the Nationals from having a record better than anticipated. A blown save and a propensity to give up the long ball hasn’t helped manager Dusty Baker’s team, and fans alike, gain any early confidence. The bullpen has given up a major-league high 10 homers this season. Currently there are only two members in the bullpen with an ERA under 5.06, Koda Glover and Matt Albers. That just can’t continue going forward.
In much better news, it looks like Ryan Zimmerman has turned things around on the offensive end. A notoriously slow starter even in his heyday, Zimmerman has been outstanding so far, including a pinch-hit three-run home run he had in Philadelphia last Sunday. With 14 hits and a .341 batting average as of April 16, this is a welcomed sight for all involved. Maybe the addition of Adam Lind put pressure on him, but something has worked.
Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy continue to rake and wreak havoc on opposing pitchers. On April 14—Murphy provided dramatics with an opposite-field double to score Harper from first base in the bottom of the 10th inning, helping the Nationals hold off the Phillies, 3-2. Murphy extended his hitting streak to 10 games, capping a 2-for-5 day at the plate. Murphy is hitting at a robust .408 batting clip, while Harper sits at .300 with two homers so far. Matt Wieters has also provided quality production with a .355 batting average with 11 hits.
It’s still very early in the season, but Dusty Baker has a conundrum that needs to be fixed ASAP. This bullpen is not pulling its weight, a disheartening fact for the rest of the players on the roster who have played well enough to win and are not seeing the results they deserve.