Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos arrived in the major leagues to stay together on the first day of September last year. They are rookies in label only, having played for the Washington Nationals more than a calendar year, and that label will expire in a week. They already know what it is like to help carry their team.
Espinosa and Ramos have each experienced their ups and downs in their rookie season, but they have broadly been two of the more consistent and valuable players on the Nationals. Because Ryan Zimmerman missed two months on the disabled list and Jayson Werth has struggled in his first season in Washington, Espinosa and Ramos carried a larger burden than the Nationals expected.
“It’s tremendously weighing on youngsters, because they want to win ballgames and so they try to do more,” Johnson said. “With those guys out, they’ve had to stand out. I think they’ve had a great year.”
Their combined performance Wednesday night underscored their performance. They each hit homers, giving Espinosa 21, the new Nationals’ rookie record, and Ramos 14.
By the wins above replacement formula used by FanGraphs.com, a catch-all statistic that measures a player’s full contribution to his team, Espinosa and Ramos, a pair of 24-year-old rookies, have been the Nationals’ two most valuable players. Even after a ragged offensive second half, Espinosa entered Wednesday leading the Nationals with a WAR of 3.6.
Ramos checked in at second with 2.9, a tick ahead of Michael Morse thanks to better defense and position scarcity — it’s just as hard to find a catcher who slugs like Ramos as a first baseman who slugs like Morse.
Johnson used the need for Ramos and Espinosa to play such a large role in the offense to demonstrate his opinion that the Nationals need offense more than pitching for next season. For rookies, they did their share on offense – but this was not a good offense. Twenty-three teams have scored more runs than the Nationals this season.
“A lot of them have handled it okay, but it’s a lot easier when you have your established guys around, producing,” Johnson said. “We haven’t had Zimmerman or even Werth doing the things that he can. So a lot of pressure is falling on the young guys. I think we’ve survived and done a decent job. Next year, with the forecast and healthy, them doing the things they’re capable of doing, I think it will show in the offense and make it easier on the younger guys to play up to their ability level. I do think we could use a bat here or there to help move it along.”
Ramos and Espinosa showed promise in different ways this year. Ramos has come on strong, hitting .328/.382/.520 with five homers since July 29 after going 3 for 3 with a walk last night. His season line, for a 24-year-old catcher, makes you stop and think: .267/.334/.443 with 14 homers.
Espinosa struggled after an explosive first half, but he has a 1.152 OPS during an active 10-game hitting streak. For the season, he’s at .238/.324/.420.
“It’s more important how you finish,” Ramos said, “than how you start.”
FROM THE POST
The Nationals clinched no worse than a split of their season series against the Phillies with a 7-5 win Wednesday night, John Lannan’s career-high 10th win.