What is so different about this 2017 line-up? #Nats take top spot in MLB Power Rankings!

Ryan Zimmerman from the @Nationals Twitter

In the most recent MLB Power Rankings on Tuesday morning after the Nationals were just beat the night before by the Rockies, the Nats were ranked #1 in the MLB rankings of best teams. How could that be with the beleaguered bullpen? As a matter of fact, here is the USA Today rankings and the Sports Illustrated rankings. They all have the Nats. The bandwagon has loaded up for the Nats!

Evidently, the fans are worried more than the evaluators. Those rankings by MLB.com were also done before the Nationals scored 42 runs combined on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The Nationals starting pitchers are identical to last years with Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Joe Ross. Much of the bullpen is the same with Oliver Perez, Blake Treinen, Shawn Kelley, Sammy Solis, and Koda Glover. Even the bench looks the same except for Adam Lind.

While the six of the eight positional players in the line-up are the same personnel compared to last year, the two differences made by general manager Mike Rizzo was the acquisition of Adam Eaton via a blockbuster trade, and Rizzo signed Matt Wieters as a free agent. The Nationals, however, didn’t retain opening day lead-off man Ben Revere or All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos who was injured at the end of the season and left via free agency. Do the additions and subtractions in the line-up balance out from last year to this year?

Clearly, Adam Eaton is a sizeable upgrade over Ben Revere. But just as clearly, Matt Wieters has been a sizeable downgrade so far from Wilson Ramos in offense and defense. Yes, Adam Eaton combined with Trea Turner at the top of the Nationals batting order are the Wreakers of Havoc (sidenote: Mike Rizzo’s pronunciation of “havoc” is worth a listen). Trea Turner wasn’t with the Nationals last April, and he replaces Danny Espinosa who was traded to the Angels. Because of Trea’s DL stint, he only has 49 at-bats, but his impact has been felt combining for the best 1-2 punch in baseball atop the Nationals line-up.

The singular greatest point of impact we could find between April of last year and this year has to be in the first baseman’s spot where the Nationals ranked last in the MLB for 2016 in offensive production. Ryan Zimmerman is ranked Top 3 right now. That top three ranking is due to Eric Thames has been the hottest hitter in baseball and is even ranked in front of Bryce Harper in OPS, and of course Freddie Freeman is Freddie Freeman. Ryan Zimmerman is slashing .387/.439/.800/1.239. Last year through this same point in the season at game twenty-two in the Nationals’ schedule, Zimmerman was slashing .225/ .291/ .310/ .601. That is an increase of 638 points of OPS over last year.

If it’s not Zimmerman, his back-up, Adam Lind already won a game for the Nats all the way back to Opening Day! It is certainly a team effort, and right now Dusty Baker can feel confident about plugging Lind in there for a “spot” start at 1st base to rest Zimmerman.

The team offensive statistics won’t look this way on the final day of the season so just enjoy them for what they are in their sample size of 22 games of production. Bryce Harper hopes to join Ted Williams as a .400 hitter, and Ryan Zimmerman hopes to hit 8 home runs every 3 weeks this season. On the other hand, Anthony Rendon just wants to join the party, and get his OPS above .750.

The Nationals are having a blazing hot start with their 16-6 record which is the best in baseball, and also the best start in Washington, D.C. baseball history going back to 1932. In sports, it will always be “what have you done for me lately”. Dusty Baker knows that, Mike Rizzo knows that, and certainly Ryan Zimmerman knows that. The MLB Power Rankings matter most at the end of the season.

Chart from FanGraphs.com

If you’re looking for guarantees, you won’t find them in baseball. Just enjoy the ride.

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