With Opening Day just a week away, the Washington Nationals have high hopes for the 2017 season. That’s thanks to a reloaded roster and returning faces, such as second baseman Daniel Murphy. In 2016, Murphy broke out to hit an astonishing .347, drive in 104 runs, and hit 25 home runs. Given that he had never hit for such power in the past, Murphy’s 2016 heroics shocked the MLB world. However, while he was an All-Star and one of the best all-around hitters in baseball just a year ago, the Nationals lineup cannot rely solely on his ability to duplicate his 2016 success.
Nationals Lineup Can’t Rely on Daniel Murphy Duplicating 2016 Success
While Murphy had an incredible 2016 season, the Nationals cannot assume he’ll produce at that level again in 2016. They’ll need contributions from the rest of their lineup, especially Bryce Harper.
Bryce Harper Must Bounce Back
After winning the NL MVP just a year ago, Harper was arguably the best player in baseball, but he struggled to produce at that same level in 2016.
At just .243, Harper hit near a full tenth lower than his .330 mark from 2015. Harper’s inability to hit consistently last season was puzzling, given his past success. Part of that may have been due to a shoulder injury.
Over the course of the season, reports and rumors stated multiple times that Harper was playing with a shoulder injury. Harper, however, insisted he was playing with no such pain. Whatever the reason for his struggles, Harper has to bounce back and hit with more consistency in 2017.
Eaton And Wieters Must Produce
While the Nationals attempts to land a top-tier closer or starter fell through, they were able to make two key moves in regard to their everyday lineup. While some argue that they overpaid to get him, the Nationals acquired Chicago White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton, one of the more underrated players in the league the past few seasons.
Over the course of the last three seasons, Eaton has hit at or above .284, and has shown a knack for wrecking havoc on the base paths from time to time; in the last three years, Eaton has stolen a combined 47 bases. Eaton’s contact bat will be an asset at the top of the Nationals order.
Another player who should provide some help in order is former Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. Just a few weeks ago, the Nationals agreed to a two-year, $21 million deal with Wieters. The switch-hitting catcher helps fill a pressing need behind the plate after longtime catcher Wilson Ramos departed via free agency. Wieters gives Washington a power-hitting backstop.
Wieters has displayed a power bat over the course of his career. From 2011-2013, he hit 22 or more home runs in each season. The issue with Wieters is what has transpired since his power surge.
From 2014-2016, Wieters has been unable to remain on the field due to injury. In 2014, he played just 26 games. In 2015, he played in just 75 games. Last year, Wieters missed 38 games.
While he played far more in 2016, Wieters needs to be healthy enough to get a lot more at-bats in 2017, as he’s potentially a make-or-break piece of the Nationals order. However, Wieters isn’t the only veteran player who needs to stay on the field in 2017.
Ryan Zimmerman’s Health and Consistency are Areas of Concern
Lifelong Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman‘s ability to remain on the field will be crucial as well. Much like Wieters, Zimmerman has been unable to remain healthy the past three seasons. In 2014, he played just 61 games, in 2015, he played just 95 games, and in 2016, he missed 47 games. With injuries plaguing Zimmerman in years past, the question becomes how much does Zimmerman have left in the tank?
There’s no doubting that, when healthy, Zimmerman has been productive at the plate, but that’s a scenario the Nationals haven’t seen lately. If he can remain heathy and consistently start at first base, then he could potentially be a big bat in the Nationals order – which would only help.
Nationals need Output from Others to Make a World Series Run
2016 was a special year for Murphy, but the Nationals cannot bank on him swinging the bat at the same level he did a year ago. While chances are Murphy will play at an All-Star level again, the Nationals cannot rely on him to carry them on his back. They’ll need Harper and a number of others to stay healthy and hit with consistency if they’re to make a World Series run.