Washington’s seventh walk-off win of the first-half took place last Friday night against the Atlanta Braves. Down 4-1 after eighth and a half, Bryce Harper got things rolling in the bottom of the ninth with a ground ball single off Jim Johnson, which was followed by a Ryan Zimmerman walk, back-to-back RBI singles by Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, and a game-tying sac fly by Matt Wieters.
That rally sent it to extras before Murphy’s RBI line drive to left won it and sent the crowd in Nationals Park home happy.
The late rally provided a perfect example of just how tough opposing pitchers have it trying to get through the middle of the Nationals’ batting order.
“That’s why they’re batting where they are and that’s why they’re left/right/left/right,” Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker told reporters last week when asked about the heart of the Nationals’ lineup.
‘‘They’re not called the ‘heart of the order’ for nothing, cause that’s the life source for you, is your heart,” he added.
Harper, 24, and back in 2015 NL MVP form, finished the first half of the 2017 campaign with an impressive .325/.431/.590 line, 21 doubles, 20 home runs, a .422 wOBA, and 161 wRC+ in 81 games and 364 plate appearances, over which he worth 3.8 fWAR.
Zimmerman, 32, put up career-best type numbers in the first half of his 13th major league season, heading into the break with a .330/.373/.596 line, 22 doubles, 19 HRs, a .402 wOBA, and 148 wRC+ in 80 games and 324 PAs, over which he was worth 2.1 fWAR.
Murphy, 32, following up on his NL MVP-ish first season in D.C., (in which he finished second in NL MVP voting), put up a .342/.393/.572 line, 29 doubles, 14 HRs, a .399 wOBA, and 145 wRC+ in 82 games and 356 PAs, over which he was worth 2.5 fWAR.
Rendon, 27, and the one member of the “heart” of the Nationals’ order who didn’t make the All-Star Game, posted a .304/.407/.552 line, 21 doubles and 16 HRs, with a .403 wOBA, and 148 wRC+ in 81 games and 339 PAs, finishing the first half at an NL-best 4.1 fWAR.
Friday night’s late-game rally, Baker said, was a perfect example of what Washington’s middle-of-the-order bats can do for the Nationals, who rarely feel a deficit is too big to overcome.
“That’s primo right there,” Baker said, “because you feel like you’re not out of a game or you’re looking for a break — even if it’s not a break — like a walk, or an error, or a bad hop or something, you’re like, ‘Oh, boy there’s our break,’ and then hopefully the flood gates open up after that.”
“When you have that amount of hitters together,” Baker said at another point last week, reaching back into his own playing days for an applicable anecdote, “you know that — I remember Enos Cabell telling us when were playing the Astros, he says, ‘If we can keep you in the park, we can beat you.’
“But the thing about it is, it’s hard to keep you in the park as a unit, and then on the day where all of them get you, then you’ve got a blowout.
“And so you’re never out of a game, you feel very comfortable wherever you hit in the lineup, the opposition knows when they come in here that we’re capable of exploding for a lot of runs in a short period of time.”
Washington Post writer Neil Greenberg, citing info from the Elias Sports Bureau, noted this morning that Murphy (.342), Zimmerman (.330), and Harper (.325), are the first teammates to finish 1-2-3 in their league in batting average at the All-Star Break since 1972.
Baker was asked last month, what he thought was more impressive, having four players potentially finish the season with 100 RBIs or having four players finish with close to a .400 OBP on the year? All four of the Nationals’ middle of the order bats (Harper - 65; Murphy - 64; Zimmerman - 63; Rendon - 54), are in the Top 20 in the NL in both categories at the Break (and Zimmerman was closer to a .400 OBP at .382 when the Nationals’ skipper was asked).
“Which is more important the chicken or the egg?” Baker asked rhetorically.
“.400 on-base percentage ... I’ll bet a lot of those guys are back-to-back-to-back in the order. So therefore, if you don’t get on base, you don’t have nobody to drive in, you know what I mean, so both are important to me, not only on-base percentage, but I would like to see what you hit with runners in scoring position - I think which is more important. Because see, when you drive in runs, a lot of it has to do with chances.”
For what it’s worth:
Murphy - .405 AVG w/ RISP; 2nd in the NL; Harper - .358 AVG; 10th; Rendon - .342; 15th; Zimmerman - .293; 36th.
“What if you drive in 100 runs but you got 500 chances? Then another guy drives in 80 and he has 250 chances,” Baker continued.
“So which one is more important to your team? Somebody is leaving a bunch of guys out there, you know, so what I’d like to see is not only your batting average with runners in scoring position, but also that’s only part of it, some guys hit a ball to second base and drive a run in or a sacrifice fly - those are as important as batting average, getting runs across the plate. I think that RBIs are something we don’t put enough importance on.
“We put a whole bunch of importance on on-base percentage, but what good is on-base percentage can’t nobody drive him in? Right? That’s some just — some simple stuff. Maybe it’s too simple for people to understand.”