The Nationals defeated the Brewers, 3-0, on Monday thanks to six bounce-back innings from Gio Gonzalez, a typical shutdown performance from the bullpen and three-run home run by Adam LaRoche. For much of the season, the Nationals’ offense has been propelled by LaRoche, the team’s most consistent performer. While others’ offensive production has fluctuated, LaRoche has been even keel, his miserable 2013 becoming a distant memory.
Following his performance Monday, LaRoche’s numbers improved to .310/.424/.495 with nine home runs and 39 RBI, along with an impressive ratio of 41 walks compared to 43 strikeouts. LaRoche’s .310 average and .919 OPS each rank 14th in the majors leagues. His on-base percentage is third best in baseball. At 34, LaRoche is enjoying a career resurgence thanks to an improved offensive approach and swing.
After the game, LaRoche was asked if he thought he should make the NL all-star team and his answer was typical.
“No, I enjoy my three-day break back at the ranch,” deadpanned LaRoche, referring to his home in Fort Scott, Kan.
But there is a legitimate case for LaRoche’s all-star candidacy. In the most recent all-star voting results update on Monday, Bryce Harper was the only Nationals player who had placed, landing the 15th most votes among outfielders. Among NL first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt had a sizable lead in votes, followed by Adrian Gonzalez and then Freddie Freeman. Even Mark Reynolds (first is not his only position) and Matt Adams (missed time on the disabled list) received more votes than LaRoche.
Of the Nationals that could land an the all-star team, pitchers are most likely to represent the team. Stephen Strasburg, Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Tanner Roark each have strong cases to earn a peer vote or manager’s selection. Strasburg and Soriano may be the best bets, however, because of their name recognition and production. (Also, it is harder to make the team as a good set-up man than as a closer.) Anthony Rendon could also be a potential all-star with a strong season at the plate, versatility in the field and admiration for his swing by his peers.
But LaRoche has been the best Nationals hitter since the start of the season. Goldschmidt leads all NL first baseman with a .937 OPS and deservedly should be the NL starter, but LaRoche’s .919 is second. Gonzalez (.778) and Freeman (.877) are good players and outpace LaRoche in the voting even though they haven’t been as good him.
While LaRoche’s rate stats are exceptional, his overall numbers don’t rank highly because he missed two weeks in May with a quad strain. LaRoche has nine home runs while Goldschmidt has 15 home runs, Gonzalez has 13 and Freeman has 12. Goldschmidt has also has 52 RBI and Gonzalez has 46, while LaRoche has racked up only 39 RBI.
“He’s made a great case,” Manager Matt Williams said. “Anytime you miss time, it’s difficult, but he’s made a great case for himself. [Monday night] was another example of him coming through in a big situation. He’s played really well.”
If LaRoche made the all-star team, it would be the first of his career, a heartwarming accomplishment for the 11-year, well-liked and respected veteran. And even though he would love his time at the ranch with family, he would go to the game if selected.
“Don’t get me wrong: that’s a huge honor for anybody to be invited,” he said. “But again, I’d be very happy either way. I’m good.”
FROM THE POST
Bryce Harper starts rehab assignment, Wilson Ramos closes in on return, writes Adam Kilgore.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 7, Durham 4: Aaron Laffey allowed three runs over six innings. Michael Gonzalez notched his sixth save of the season. Will Rhymes and Steven Souza Jr. each had three hits. Souza is hitting .363. Brandon Laird and Jeff Howell drove in two runs each.
Richmond 7, Harrisburg 2: Newly signed Scott McGregor allowed six runs and walked five without recording an out. Colin Bates fired five scoreless innings and Paul Demny added one run over three frames. Cutter Dykstra had three hits. Back from rehab, Drew Vettleson had two hits.
Potomac 5, Salem 2: In his first rehab game, Bryce Harper went 1 for 1 and drew a walk, while playing three innings in left field. Wilson Ramos went 3 for 4 and finished a triple shy of the cycle. Dakota Bacus allowed one run over seven innings and walked none.
Hagerstown 3, Lexington 1: Brett Mooneyham started and allowed one runs over four innings. Andrew Cooper added three scoreless innings. David Napoli had a two-inning save. Isaac Ballou hit his fifth home run. Carlos Lopez and Drew Ward each went 2 for 4.
Auburn 4, Mahoning Valley 3 (10): Jefry Rodriguez allowed two runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings and struck out six. Matthew Page and Raudy Reed each had two hits. Page had a walkoff single.