For all the numbers and records and factoids that have come tumbling out of the Nationals’ recent offensive outburst, the most telling detail might be Danny Espinosa’s placement in the lineup. He bats seventh. That does not make him a seventh hitter. How many seventh hitters can destroy a ball like his homer last night, which he hit left-handed and landed in the red seats in left-center field?
“It just shows the depth of our lineup,” Espinosa said. “When everyone is locked in, we can do that.”
As the entire lineup has caught fire, Espinosa’s surge has probably been overlooked. He hit one of six homers Wednesday night. All year, though, he has been a vital cog. As he slumped in the first half, the Nationals’ offense stagnated. As he has broken out in the second half, it has exploded. His performance was not the only factor, of course, but it was key. When he’s going good, his power makes the lineup far more dangerous and his presence makes it deeper.
Even before he went 2 for 5 with a double and a homer last night, Espinosa was hitting .294/.344/.475 since the all-star break. He seems to have solved the mystifying problem he had with his left-handed swing from the early portion of the season. He has put his first half behind him and become one of the top second basemen in the league.
“The way I look at it is, the first month of the season everybody gets excited if you’re hitting .400 or whatever,” Espinosa said. “The first is just as important as the last, because in the end it’s going to be the same amount to your average. I fell into a little bit of looking too much at my numbers in the first half, and I’ve just gone out and played since.”
In his second season, Espinosa has followed a pattern similar to Ian Desmond’s. Last year, in his second season, Desmond overcame a dismal first half to finish strong.
“I didn’t expect him to struggle the whole year,” Desmond said. “Danny is one of the better young players coming up. I think he’s just bouncing back. He’s just responding to his own failures in the beginning. He definitely he didn’t play up to his potential, I don’t think. He didn’t let it get him down. He’s been persistent, and you’re seeing the results of that right now.”
Espinosa rebounded by learning a lesson from his rookie season. He was not so hard on himself. He became a prisoner of the Nationals’ film room last year, examining every negative at-bat for what had gone wrong. He took endless batting practice to get himself out of rough patches, straying from the routine he refined in the minors.
This year, “I’ve basically stayed out of the video room,” Espinosa said. “If I go in to look at videos, I go in to look at the positives. I only want to look at good, positive at-bats, just to refresh my memory that if I am struggling, I’m capable of doing great things.”
In a season filled with constant injury for the Nationals, Espinosa has been their most durable player. He has played in 135 of 136 games and is the only regular to not miss time with even a minor injury. When Desmond went on the disabled list, Espinosa moved to short and played excellent defense. At second base, he has to be considered a top-three Gold Glove candidate.
“I enjoy playing every single day,” Espinosa said. “I’ve said it before, whether I’m hitting or not, I feel I can go out there and contribute in other ways. I can play defense, I can turn a double play that maybe keeps them from scoring. I just enjoy being out there. I don’t like sitting around and just watching the game. I know it’s good sometimes, but until my body doesn’t feel good, I want to be in there every day.”
FROM THE POST
The Nationals crushed the Cubs behind Gio Gonzalez’s gem and another home run binge, James Wagner writes.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Greensboro 3, Hagerstown 1: The Suns fell behind, 1-0, in their playoff series. Billy Burns went 2 for 4 with. Bryce Ortega went 2 for 2 with a walk. Blake Schwartz allowed one run in five innings on seven hits and no walks, striking out none.
Williamsport 8, Auburn 4: Mike McQuillan went 2 for 3 with a triple. Bryan Harper, Bryce’s brother, allowed no earned runs in one inning of relief on two hits and no walks, striking out one. The Doubledays will begin their playoff series Friday.