The Washington Nationals have hit the ground running in the 2017 MLB season. At 26-17, they currently sit atop the NL East by 6.5 games. That big, early lead can be credited to their lineup’s ability to produce night-in and night-out. The bats have been lethal, and lead the majors in batting average (.274), runs scored (246), slugging (.471), and OPS (.817), and are tied for second in total hits (415).
Despite their success as a whole, shortstop Trea Turner has struggled immensely at the plate so far. In fact, Trea Turner’s struggles are the one factor preventing the Nationals from achieving pure dominance.
Trea Turner’s Struggles are the One Thing Keeping the Nationals Lineup from Pure Dominance
Nationals Three-Four-Five Punch Has Been Lethal
This year, the Nationals lineup as a whole has produced at an elite level. That play has been sparked by the heroic efforts they’ve gotten from the heart of their order, starting with Bryce Harper. After a sluggish 2016 campaign, Harper has bounced back in 2017. Hitting .349 at the plate, to go along with 13 home runs and 37 RBI, Harper has been a force to be reckoned with in the three-hole.
His cleanup mate has been just as impactful, if not more so. In what has been a resurgent year for the veteran infielder, Ryan Zimmerman has been the most dangerous bat in the Nationals order. Hitting .362, to go along with 13 home runs and a team-high 38 RBI, Zimmerman has been an unstoppable force in the cleanup hole; he’s hitting at a level deemed virtually impossible just a few months ago.
After Zimmerman, second baseman Daniel Murphy has been a presence in the five spot, only adding to the Nationals firepower. After a breakout 2016 season, in which he hit an astonishing .347 at the plate, Murphy has continued to hit at an All-Star level this season. Hitting .327 at the plate, while driving in 33 runs, Murphy has yet again served as a deadly weapon in the middle of the order. With Murphy hitting behind Zimmerman and Harper (who have been hitting at otherworldly levels), the Nationals undeniably possess the best three-four-five punch in baseball. However, the trio hasn’t been the only reason for the early success of the Nats lineup.
In addition to the heart of the order, the Nationals have received productive at-bats from their veterans, including catcher Matt Wieters. The Nationals inked the former Baltimore Orioles catcher to a two year, $21 million deal in the offseason. Ever since his signing, Wieters has excelled not only as the backstop, but at the plate as well. Hitting .283 and driving in 16 runs, Wieters has been a productive bat at the end of the order, helping make them a balanced bunch.
Much like Wieters, veteran outfielder Jayson Werth has swung the bat well so far this year. Hitting .287, Werth has helped round out the Nationals order.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon has also contributed. His historic 6-6 day at the plate, when he hit three home runs and drove in ten runs, was a spectacle, but Rendon also has 23 RBI and has been solid overall. However, despite the success of roughly the entire lineup, Turner has struggled to find his groove at the plate. His inability to do so is puzzling.
Trea Turner’s Struggles
Last year, Turner was a speed demon and a consistent product at the top of the order. Hitting .342 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI, Turner was a well balanced presence at the plate. Turner also wrought havoc on the base paths. Stealing 33 bags in just 73 games, Turner was one of the most aggressive baserunners in baseball.
With the exception of a brief stint on the disabled list with a hamstring injury at the beginning of the year, Turner has been in the Nationals lineup for the majority of the season. Yet, he has produced nowhere near his 2016 heroics. Hitting .236 and stealing just nine bags, Turner has performed at an underwhelming level in 2017. That’s puzzling, given his approach at the plate.
While he does hit for power from time to time, Turner is a contact hitter. That his batting average sits a full point lower than last year’s figure is extremely disturbing, and it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly is wrong with his swing. His inability to figure it out is the one factor preventing the Nationals lineup from dominating.
A Midseason Resurgence from Turner Could Make the Nationals Unstoppable
While they’ve received more than enough production from the rest of their order, Turner’s season-long struggles have held the Nationals lineup back. Going into this year, many expected Turner to get even better, or at least duplicate his 2016 success. He was also viewed as a sparkplug in the leadoff spot, which he has not been.
Because Turner is a leadoff hitter, it is imperative for him to fix his woes at the plate. If he can get out of the funk he’s been in this year and begin to hit at the level the baseball world is accustomed to seeing him at, then the Nationals lineup will become unstoppable.
With Turner hitting like his 2016 self, and the rest of their order producing at an All-Star level, there’s no telling how dominant the Nationals lineup could become. They cannot do so without their leadoff hitter producing at the plate.