The Nationals' Offense Has Already Experienced Both Extremes This Year

The Washington Nationals were easily baseball's top offensive unit in April. So far in May, they've been merely average. What's the key for their offense to continually stay above average?

While the Washington Nationals don't have a perfect roster on their hands, they've played like one of the best teams in baseball since Opening Day. And when looking at their situation -- barring a major collapse -- returning to the postseason for the third time in four years seems like a very strong possibility.

Our metrics currently give them a 92.9% chance of making the playoffs. Since they take up residence in the National League East -- where they're the only team currently above .500 -- there's a 90.8% chance of them reaching October as a division champion.

And even though they've never won a playoff series as an organization, we give the Nats a 13.8% chance of winning the World Series, which are the second-best odds in the league, behind only the Houston Astros (16.9%).

So, the Nationals are good, bullpen issues and all.

Outside of a solid rotation that's anchored by arms like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark, the offense came out swinging during the month of April. However, it's looked quite a bit different so far in May.

Two Very Different Months

Washington still has a week left to try and get close to duplicating what they did throughout the season's first month, but there's a lot of work to do.

The below table shows their wRC+, wOBA, and Isolated Power (ISO) as a team in April and May, along with where those numbers rank with regard to the rest of the league.

Month wRC+ MLB Rank wOBA MLB Rank ISO MLB Rank
April 127 1st .371 1st .215 2nd
May 96 20th .324 19th .184 9th

As we can see, this is a pretty stark difference from one month to the next.

Having a team wRC+ that high gets a little easier when four starters are each above 140. Those players included a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman (242), Bryce Harper (222), Daniel Murphy (146) and Matt Wieters (141).

However, expecting this kind of production -- which was on a historic pace -- moving forward just wouldn't be fair. The Washington offense has clearly come back to reality so far this month, but one big change helped fuel it.

A Change at the Top

The four players just mentioned all have something similar in common: They make up the meat of the Nats' order. A big reason why the offense got off to such a hot start was because the table was being set consistently thanks to Adam Eaton and Trea Turner.

While Turner was limited to just 66 plate appearances due to a stint on the disabled list, he and Eaton were the most common duo in the first and second spots on manager Dusty Baker's lineup card when both were active. The below table shows their production in April, pointing out their on-base percentage (OBP), runs scored, wOBA and wRC+.

Player PA OBP Runs Scored wOBA wRC+
Adam Eaton 107 .393 24 .371 127
Trea Turner 66 .348 15 .381 133

Being productive on offense like the Nats were in April gets a lot easier when runners are constantly on base.

The change that took place, though, has been two-fold.

Eaton unfortunately tore his ACL in a game against the New York Mets on April 28th, effectively ending his season. In the 21 games he's been sidelined thus far, Baker has inserted Turner into the leadoff spot a total of 20 times, while Jayson Werth has manned the two-hole 16 different times.

Werth has been doing his part since the injury, slashing .304/.415/.522 over his last 82 plate appearances, which is good for a .404 wOBA and 144 wRC+. However, Turner hasn't kept up his early-season production.

The young shortstop is hitting just .176/.216/.297 in 97 plate appearances since April 29th, which equates to a .223 wOBA and a paltry 31 wRC+.

Washington's offense as a whole is holding their own, but Turner failing to create havoc at the top has been a big difference between April and May (along with Zimmerman and Harper hitting more like humans).

Moving Forward

The Nationals have already experienced two extremes when it comes to their offensive performance. After easily being the best in the league during April, they've fallen hard back to reality and have been a slightly below-average squad, with regard to wRC+, so far in May (which can change in a hurry if they keep having 10-run outbursts like Tuesday night).

We can say the same goes for Turner, who was fantastic in limited time during April, and not so much during May. While he doesn't have a ton of big-league experience, it's doubtful that he'll continue struggling as much as he has this month. With the number of legitimate threats in this lineup, it's hard to believe the Nationals will have anything other than an above-average offense once the regular season starts winding down in the fall.

What this past month or so has shown us, though, is that they're still adjusting to life without Eaton. And unless Baker changes his mind, it'll be up to Turner to pick up some of the slack.