The World Series creeps closer and closer for the Washington Nationals, who finally know their opponent after the Houston Astros clinched their spot in the Fall Classic, dispatching the New York Yankees in six games.
These aren’t your father’s Astros though. Now playing in the American League — something that still feels weird to think about — playing a playoff series against Houston means the Nats will play with a DH for at least two games in the World Series.
It’s certainly something that can be filed under “excellent problems to have” trying to reconfigure the lineup for AL rules, even though we all love #PitchersWhoRake.
Though neither manager Dave Martinez or GM Mike Rizzo has spoken publicly about who might be their DH, they will have definitely considered some of the possibilities at this point.
Here are some of the options that could be asked to fill in as the DH in this series...
Perhaps the overwhelming favorite to assume DH duties for the Nats is NLCS MVP, Howie Kendrick.
There’s an argument to be made that Kendrick is the team’s second-best pure hitter behind Anthony Rendon. During the regular season, the veteran slashed .344/.395/.572 with 17 home runs and 62 RBIs in limited action as the team aimed to keep him healthy for this run.
Kendrick’s bat has also been scorching hot lately with a .333/.385/.625 slash line since Game 4 of the NLDS, including the NLDS-winning grand slam at Dodger Stadium.
At 35-years-old and coming off of the Achilles injury he suffered last year, there’s no doubt that his value comes in his presence at the plate and not in the field. This postseason, Kendrick has made three errors, tied for the most in the majors in October with DJ LeMahieu.
If the Nats’ previous lineups using AL rules this season are any indication, expect Kendrick to be the DH. In their 10 interleague games this season, Kendrick was the DH in eight of them.
The only other player to DH for the Nationals was Ryan Zimmerman. However, this was because he had only just been activated from the Injured List for the first time, so the DH was a perfect chance for him to ease his way back into game action.
That means that the smart money is on the Nationals going with Kendrick as the DH to get his bat in the lineup, while either Asdrúbal Cabrera or Brian Dozier handle the keystone.
The only other serious candidate for the DH spot for the Nationals is Matt Adams.
Like Kendrick, Adams also has some defensive shortcomings, though his have been hidden more easily at first. But unlike Kendrick, he doesn’t possess the same skills at the plate.
Adams is coming off a disappointing season at the plate, slashing just .226/.276/.465 with 20 home runs and 56 RBIs in 111 games. That was good for a mere 84 wRC+, the same figure as defensive whiz Jose Iglesias.
However, the case for Adams to DH during this series is something a little deeper.
For most of his career, he has raked against right-handed pitching with a 117 wRC+ against righties compared to a meager 59 wRC+ against southpaws. The splits this season were less drastic — 89 vs 64 — but prove the point that the split is still there.
In the ALCS, the Astros didn’t carry a single left-handed pitcher on their roster. Not one.
That’s where Adams and his favorable splits come into play. If the Nationals want to capitalize on the righty-heavy pitching staff, Adams starting at DH wouldn’t be the worst idea.
Perhaps a slightly out of the box candidate to be the team’s designated hitter could be Juan Soto.
Much like Kendrick, nobody needs to make the case that his bat is one of the team’s best, with a .282/.401/.548 slash line in the regular season, as well as clutch hits in the postseason.
However, despite improvements on the defensive side of the ball this year, Soto still looks like a league-average defensive outfielder., especially with his below-average arm.
In the postseason, where the little things matter the most, it’s not exactly inconceivable that the Nationals could roll with either Michael A. Taylor or Gerardo Parra in Soto’s place in the outfield, providing a huge upgrade on that front.
Taylor and Parra are both Gold Glove caliber, so it could make sense to get them in over Soto for more flyball-prone pitchers such as Max Scherzer to have the best possible outfield.
The argument against this is that there would be just as much, if not more, defensive improvement by letting Kendrick DH, given how poor he has looked at second this year.
It probably also isn’t wise to take a young player who has never been a DH as a pro, not even in the minor leagues and ask him to do something different on the biggest of stages.
Consider this option as highly unlikely, but maybe not one to entirely rule out.
The only other option who would even make an ounce of sense is a player mentioned earlier in Asdrúbal Cabrera, though this one is even more unlikely than Soto.
Make no mistake that Kendrick is easily the most likely player to be the Nationals DH in Houston during the World Series, but it’s not completely unthinkable that management wants to keep Kendrick at second base all series rather than shifting him around.
If the Nats do keep it that way, they could bypass Adams as DH to go with the player who has swung a great bat since signing back in August in Cabrera.
Cabrera owns an impressive .323/.404/.565 slash line for Washington this season and has been able to come through in the clutch several times, posting a 1.243 OPS with runners in scoring position as a member of the Nats.
That’s the case for Cabrera being the DH, but in reality, it doesn’t make too much sense.
An experienced veteran in Kendrick who has been a DH before shouldn’t need to stay in rhythm in the field. He can get out of bed and hit and transition back to second when the team heads back to Nationals Park after the first two games of the series.
Therefore, there’s no reason to take a reasonable downgrade in the field, just for the sake of trying to keep Kendrick at second, which leaves the argument for Cabrera pretty moot.
With the season boiling down to this final series, every single decision the Nationals make from this point on will be placed under the microscope. The DH decision is no different.
Now, please hurry up World Series, we’re quickly running out of content to write about...