Since he took over in June 2011, Manager Davey Johnson looked at the Nats and saw more than just a respectable lineup when healthy. Johnson saw an elite attack, reminiscent of his 1980s New York Mets and 1990s Baltimore Orioles, which was just waiting to jell.
Oh, Davey, you old con man, you’re just trying to pump up your young players. You can’t really believe that. Yet every time he has been pressed, he maintained he saw a deep lineup with power in every spot, enough speed to complement that thump and right-left balance that should raise unholy hell.
And it looks like he was right again. For the past three months, the Nats have averaged 5.24 runs per game. Before that, they averaged just 3.73 in their first 71 games. Which is closer to reality? We know what Johnson believes. When are we going to believe him?
The Nats roused when Michael Morse returned after missing 50 games because of injury. Then they ignited in late June when Ryan Zimmerman got a cortisone shot in his aching shoulder and went on a tear. Finally, in August, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond returned from the disabled list. Davey had all his pieces, but what was the proper batting order sequence to unlock their synergies?
Werth suggested he become baseball’s only 6-foot-5 leadoff hitter. His left wrist might not get its full power back until next season, but he could still get on base (.410 on-base percentage since returning), wear out pitchers and run.
Johnson, who loves to think outside the box, realized that a lineup that began with Werth and 19-year-old Bryce Harper, would make a statement about the Nats’ hostile, aggressive intentions. The best lineups set a tone and even induce some fear. Werth and Harper embody a type of unapologetic power-plus-speed swagger. If the faux-hawk teen and the werewolf were not a matched pair of cold stares, who would be?
Behind them comes a pair of polished proven RBI men in Zimmerman and smooth Adam LaRoche. Neither is as good as the best 3-4 hitters. But they are comfortable with the pressure of those spots. LaRoche has been so at ease that he usually hits fourth now, even against left-handers.
The real trick of the thing, however, was that the Nats’ four best on-base-percentage men, and their most patient hitters, now batted 1-2-3-4. They functioned as a unit, forcing pitchers to work hard while they observed the pitcher’s patterns. As a group, they were both threatening and annoying. All four can hit the ball through the right side, opening up first-to-third chances.