Washington Nationals: Game #12 Grapefruit League; Strasburg against Cardinals

Today is the 12th game for the Washington Nationals on the Grapefruit League schedule. Today’s game is in Jupiter, Florida just up the street from West Palm Beach in Palm Beach County, Florida. Today’s starters are Stephen Strasburg for the Nationals and Michael Wacha for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Game time is the standard 1:05pm, and this game is viewable via Cardinals TV as well as audio available on the MLB app. If you need tickets to the game, the best seats available on the MLB site are in the last section of the top section all the way down the 3rd base line in Section 213 for $31 plus fees or on the outfield berm for $17.

The morning discussion lately has been the back-n-forth over Dusty Baker‘s line-up card. Last year, the 12th game line-up was Dusty Baker’s projected opening day line-up (sans CRob), but due to the earlier start this year because of the WBC, game #12 last year was on March 13th.

Dusty Baker had this line-up on game #12 last year:

  1. Ben Revere CF
  2. Jayson Werth LF
  3. Bryce Harper RF
  4. Ryan Zimmerman DH
  5. Daniel Murphy 2B
  6. Anthony Rendon 3B
  7. Clint Robinson 1B
  8. Wilson Ramos C
  9. Danny Espinosa SS

Max Scherzer was the pitcher on that day, and Jayson Werth was the #2 batter which made sense as there was no Adam Eaton or Trea Turner on opening day of 2016. It was a balanced line-up going L-R-L-R-L-R-L-R-S.

After that 12th game last year, ┬áDusty seemed to have tipped his hand that Michael A. Taylor would be his 4th outfielder or as Dusty likened him to the “6th man in basketball” while also saying he expected Taylor to get a lot of playing time. That was 2016, and this is 2017. Dusty Baker has not tipped his hand this year. Chris Heisey is clearly making the bench as an outfielder this year, and the 2017 bench will include the back-up catcher (Derek Norris or Jose Lobaton), Stephen Drew, Adam Lind, Chris Heisey, plus one more. The mystery is who the 5th man will be.

Wilmer Difo and Michael Taylor are both batting an identical .368 in spring training which means little on its own; however, Difo can play infield and has been working also on being the full Zobrist, err, the full Trea Turner and can play every position except 1st base, pitcher, and catcher. There’s value to being able to play the infield and outfield while also being the fastest man on the bench. Michael Taylor has the inside track once again to make the bench, but the race could also include a veteran player like Brandon Snyder or Grant Green or a surprise out of leftfield like Clint Robinson.

Dusty Baker is full of surprises as he looks for his 6th man to get buzzed in. The difference between basketball and baseball bench players is in basketball the player can sub in and out and back in again. In baseball, you need players who thrive in a bench role which includes spot starts, pinch-hitting appearances, and mid-game substitutions.

Michael Taylor was fine off the bench from June to the end of the year as he batted .280. Yes, Taylor was good in that period, but there were underlying issues where he was 0-10 as a pinch-hitter with a horrific 8 strikeouts. As a mid-game replacement, Taylor was not much better going 2-22 (.091). Taylor also reversed his 2015 knack to drive in runners as he was a poor .170 in RISP spots in 2016 while accumulating 47 at-bats. None of these stats are hefty sample sizes, but Taylor was his best as a starter against lefty starters from June 1st to the end of the season, and in those games Taylor was 24-81 and batted .296.

Could Michael Taylor be used to his strengths in 2017 or is it just not possible to pick and choose platoon starts for Taylor? Dusty Baker really needs a lefty outfield bat to take some starts when Jayson Werth sits, and that could be a spot for Adam Lind. Isn’t Heisey the outfield bat who could give Eaton and Harper some days off? Heisey shed 15 pounds in the off-season to return to his quicker form he had in his early years in the Majors when he played for Dusty Baker in 2010 and started more games in centerfield than he did in rightfield that season.

Decisions, decisions. Nothing will be decided today on the final roster. Just think through some of those underlying stats for Michael Taylor. When you pencil in players to their strengths, they have a greater chance of success. Is that enough? Is the risk worth the reward?

Here is Dusty Baker’s line-up for today:

  1. Corban Joseph SS
  2. Stephen Drew 2B
  3. Ryan Zimmerman DH
  4. Clint Robinson 1B
  5. Adam Lind LF
  6. Matt Skole 3B
  7. Michael Taylor CF
  8. Brian Goodwin RF
  9. Luis Severino C

Stephen Strasburg RHP

This line-up as you will see includes one projected opening day starter: Ryan Zimmerman

 

 

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