It was almost going too well for the Washington Nationals. Scratch that, it obviously was.
Coming off of a four-game set in which they had scored 46 runs, the Nats were in the midst of mounting a ninth inning comeback down 7-5 against the New York Mets, a team struggling to tread water. Adam Eaton hit a slow chopper to shortstop, running to first and beating it out for a single to load the bases.
The jubilee in Nationals Park didn’t last long; seconds later, Eaton crumpled to the ground in agony, clutching his left leg.
Unable to walk off the field himself, Nationals trainers carried him off.
Later that night, unable to drive himself due to the pain, Eaton had to be driven home.
On Saturday evening, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal revealed that Eaton had torn the ACL in his left knee, and would not return this season.
The Nationals offense, only hours before having been described as the best in the majors, was crippled for the rest of the year, subtracting Eaton, one of the most important variables, from a complex equation.
Well, anyways, that’s what we’re supposed to think.
Eaton will be replaced. So far, his job has fallen to Michael A. Taylor, who hasn’t been half-bad, recording two multi-hit games in his first two games in the starting lineup.
If Taylor falters, the job will go to Rafael Bautista or potentially even Andrew Stevenson.
That replacement, barring the resurgence of Michael A. Taylor or an incredible run from either Bautista or Stevenson that neither are likely to put up, will leave a hole in the lineup.
However, a hole in the Nationals’ lineup means something very different in 2017 than it did in 2016.
Last season, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Danny Espinosa all struggled in a big way; Harper hit a mere .243 last season, followed by Ryan Zimmerman’s .218 and Danny Espinosa’s .209. Ben Revere, while still in the lineup, hit .217.
Having someone like Daniel Murphy or Wilson Ramos suddenly drop off in 2016 would have meant death for the team’s offense.
Luckily, they squeaked by offensively and let their pitching do the work.
But 2017 has been a different story. The pitching has been just okay—but the offense is miles above and beyond what we’ve ever seen.
Every single player from top to bottom not named Anthony Rendon, is—well, was—putting up career numbers or close to it, and Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman have gone from weak spots in the lineup to players to pitch around.
Because of that, having a hole in the lineup this year isn’t good news, but it certainly isn’t the end of the world.
With Eaton gone, the lineup will be less of a fine-tuned machine than before—Eaton combined with Trea Turner at the top of the lineup was a deadly 1-2 punch most teams can’t compete with.
Here’s the kicker, though: When the Nats had Turner and Eaton at the top, Anthony Rendon was hitting in the low .200s. Now, it looks like Rendon has figured out how to hit again.
No, he won’t be going 6 for 6 with 10 RBI every game. Most likely, his daily production will be more along the lines of one or two hits every game, with a few RBI here or there. But if he continues to hit, then the offense is suddenly back where it was a few days ago, the only difference being the absence of offense would reside in center field, instead of at third base.
In fact, Rendon could hypothetically be slotted in to the two slot where Eaton formerly resided, giving the Nationals a similar 1-2 punch they had earlier.
And when Rendon does falls back to earth (it will eventually happen, if only just a bit), it’ll be okay. He doesn’t need to hit .300 to do what the Nats need him to do—totals like he posted last year, with an average in the .270s, will do just fine.
With that said, a season like he had in 2014—.287 average, 83 RBI and 21 home runs—is completely plausible and would do wonders for the team’s offense.
It’s also completely possible that Rendon is just okay this year, and that too will be just fine.
With Zimmerman and Harper hitting the living daylight out of the ball, a lot is forgivable this year.
However, the previous scenario doesn’t seem so likely; Anthony Rendon’s career numbers (.274 average, .345 OBP, .432 slugging percentage) would suggest he can and will hit well.
It would have been nice to see a Nationals’ lineup that included a non-struggling Anthony Rendon and a hot Adam Eaton.
Hypothetically, you always want to see your team’s lineup with the best possible players playing as well as humanly possible.
That can wait until next year. Until then, it looks like things will be just fine.