By: Chris Larson
Typically, when the World Series rolls around at the end of October, it brings about plenty of excitement and that was certainly the case for both the Houston Astros and especially for the Washington Nationals, who haven't played a World Series game in the nation's capital, since 1933. While you would think the three games in Washington DC were all fun and games celebrating our American freedom and the past traditions of our country, that certainly wasn't the case for the Washington Nationals lineup.
If the Washington Nationals want to take home the World Series Championship this year, then they need to start hitting and clicking on all cylinders in their lineup. During the previous three games of the World Series at home in Nationals Park, the Nationals went 1-for-33 and scored a total of three runs between the three games. It doesn't matter who you have on the mound or the level of talent that encompasses a team's 25-man roster, when you don't score runs and can't get anything going offensively, you simply won't win.
Heading into tomorrow's Game Six of the World Series, the Nationals currently are behind in the series (3-2), but they did do quite well at the plate in Minute Maid Park during Games One and Two to kick off the series last week. For the Washington Nationals, that could be promising news because it could mean that they are back to playing in an environment where they are comfortable and away from the home crowd where there could have been added pressure put on them to perform.
When you look at the Washington Nationals starting lineup, there are plenty of different qualities to like about it and the potential is definitely there for a few of their hitters to go off in the final two games of the World Series. For starters, at the top of the lineup is shortstop Trea Turner who is a tremendous leadoff hitter and has terrific instinctive abilities on the base paths. So far this postseason, Turner only has (1) stolen base, but during the course of the 2019 regular season he recorded a total of (35) and had an overall Baserunning score of (6.5) Among other shortstops around the game, Turner ranked second in his overall Baserunning abilities behind only Jonathan Villar of the Baltimore Orioles.
So for the Washington Nationals to be able to generate anything impactful offensively at the plate during Game Six tomorrow and potentially Game Seven on Wednesday, everything starts at the top with Trea Turner. If Turner is able to get a base hit or hit a double and get on base, it helps the Nationals because the potential is there for him to steal second base or even third base and help generate some action on the base paths. Eventually, after enough stolen bases, it ends up paying off by helping the team to score more runs offensively. During the 2019 regular season, Turner had (92) singles meaning that theres more than likely a chance that he will at least generate a single to get on base tomorrow night and potentially on Wednesday.
After Turner comes rightfielder Adam Eaton who is yet another powerful threat for the Washington Nationals against the Houston Astros. So far in the World Series, Eaton is batting: .316/.381/.474 over 22 plate appearances with (6) hits, (1) home run, (3) RBI, (2) walks, and (2) strikeouts. When you look at Adam Eaton's overall stats from the 2019 regular season, a lot of his offensive action came outside of the shadow area of the strike zone. For more on that, refer to the graphic below courtesy of Baseball Savant with data on just that.
So from this chart, it's easy to gather that a majority of the pitches that Adam Eaton saw during the 2019 regular season came outside of the aforementioned shadow area of the strike zone. Furthermore, it was an area that gave Eaton a bit of a struggle and kept him guessing as to what type of pitch he could see more. When the opposing team forces Adam Eaton to swing, the best area to throw the ball is right in the heart of the strike zone where he has a swing percentage of (71%) compared to the league average percentage of (27%). Therefore, if you are Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke or any other member of the Houston Astros pitching staff developing your game plan for tomorrow night and potentially Game Seven on Wednesday, you know exactly where you want to attack Eaton in the box.
While the talents of Trea Turner and Adam Eaton are both impressive and necessary for the Washington Nationals to generate plenty of offense in the remainder of the World Series, their talents and offensive abilities don't necessarily matchup with the Washington Nationals third hitter in third baseman, Anthony Rendon. Rendon, who is a pending free agent, continues to prove how potent he is at the plate this postseason and seems to always find a way to show off his offensive abilities every time he steps into the box.
One key thing to look for in Game Six tomorrow night and potentially during Game Seven on Wednesday is how Anthony Rendon does against breaking pitches such as curveballs, sliders, and knuckle curveballs. Specifically, it could pose a challenge for Justin Verlander who relied heavily on both the curveball and slider in his pitch repertoire during the 2019 regular season. Over that span, Verlander threw approximately (607) curveballs and (929) sliders in the total (3,289) pitches that he recorded against opponents during the 2019 regular season. Therefore, it's extremely likely that Verlander will once again rely on both of those pitches come Game Six tomorrow.
Against breaking pitches during the 2019 regular season, Washington Nationals third baseman, Anthony Rendon, saw a total of (806) pitches that fall into that category which came over the span of (161) plate appearances. In that span, Rendon had a Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) of (.367), a cumulative Swinging Percentage of (37.0%), and an Average Exit Velocity of (86.9) miles per hour. While Rendon did strike out (14.9%) of the time against those three pitches, he can definitely do damage when he sees them in the box and that could ultimately be the deciding factor of how much offense the Washington Nationals are able to produce in the remainder of the World Series as Anthony Rendon is in a key spot of the lineup especially if the aforementioned Trea Turner and Adam Eaton are on the base paths ahead of him.
Moving onto the next part of the Washington Nationals lineup, it consists of a batter who just turned 21-years old this past week in leftfielder, Juan Soto. As Soto has shown all postseason long, he is a tremendously talented player at such a young age and the sky is really the limit for what he can do from an offensive perspective. So far during the World Series alone, Soto is batting: .333/.455/.778 over 22 plate appearances with (6) hits, (2) doubles, (2) home runs, (5) RBI, (4) walks, and (7) strikeouts. A majority of those strikeouts came during the previous three games at home in Nationals Park and it will be interesting to see if Soto is able to revert back to the player he was during the first two games of the series in Houston.
In order for Juan Soto to be successful in Game Six tomorrow night and potentially Game Seven on Wednesday, he is going to need to exercise a tremendous amount of plate discipline and ensure that he doesn't get himself in trouble in certain areas of the strike zone. For more on that, take a look at the chart below courtesy of Baseball Savant, which indicates Juan Sotos swing percentage in different areas around home plate and the strike zone compared to the rest of the league.
As you can see, there were moments during the 2019 regular season where Juan Soto found himself striking out at an above-league average rate within the strike zone especially in the upper right portion and right in the heart of the zone. In addition, Soto had trouble recognizing which pitches to swing at that were both above and below the strike zone and that could be a key for how the Houston Astros get Soto out over the remainder of the World Series. A lot of times, members of the Houston Astros pitching staff start on the outer corners of the strike zone and then get the opposing team's batter to swing at stuff low and away. That very well could come into play when Juan Soto is in the box.
Beyond the four names mentioned above, another integral part of the Washington Nationals lineup that will need to contribute at a high level over the remainder of the World Series is second baseman, Howie Kendrick. Over his career, Kendrick has developed the reputation of being a terrific veteran inside any team's clubhouse and certainly has had his moments to shine so far this postseason. For the Washington Nationals to be able to take home a World Series Championship, Kendrick is going to have to produce and keep the lineup moving after the first four batters. So far to this point in the World Series, Kendrick has recorded (4) strikeouts over (18) plate appearances, but doesn't seem to be recognizing many pitches like he was in the National League Division or Championship Series.
During the 2019 regular season, Howie Kendrick had really good splits against both lefties and righties, but as noted before, the Houston Astros do not possess a single left-handed pitcher on their pitching staff. Therefore, there's a really good chance that Kendrick is able to find himself again and start producing given his splits during the regular season against righties. Over 244 plate appearances against righties, Kendrick batted: .327/.381/.548 with (71) hits, (13) doubles, (1) triple, (11) home runs, (36) RBI, (19) walks, and (31) strikeouts. Furthermore, against righties, Kendrick had (427) swings, (78) misses, a cumulative Swinging Percentage of (47.7%), and a Whiff Rate of (18.3%).
Beyond trying to formulate a pitching plan against Howie Kendrick for a right-handed pitcher, it is also a challenge from a fielding and shifting standpoint as well. Against right-handed batters, the Houston Astros executed a total of (860) shifts, which put them fifth in all of baseball. Given how Howie Kendrick has performed against righties, it's a challenge to try and get Kendrick out relying on the shift. For more on that, refer to yet another graphic courtesy of Baseball Savant.
As you can see, there's a higher chance of Howie Kendrick hitting a ball that is caught on the right side of the field, but even on the left side there's still a chance of damage being done or the ball being hit out of the ballpark, as indicated by all of the dark red spots outside of the outfield wall. Depending on how well Howie Kendrick is seeing the ball will depend on how much offense he ends up producing and the damage that he does on the base paths. Howie Kendrick might be 36-years old, but this is still a player that had a Hard Hit Rate of (48.3%) during the regular season along with a (7.3%) walk rate which was the highest walk rate of his career since the 2016 regular season.
Regardless of all of the numbers, metrics, and batting statistics, one thing is for sure and that's the fact that the Washington Nationals will need to be clicking on all cylinders during the remainder of the World Series, if they want to take a World Series Championship back home to Washington DC. If the Nationals fail to overcome their struggles from the previous three games of the World Series at Nationals Park, then the Houston Astros are going to find a way to beat them and end this series tomorrow night during Game Six. As any baseball fan knows, the Houston Astros know how to pitch, score runs, and play defense - all three of which are keys to being a World Series Championship caliber baseball team. The Washington Nationals possess the ability to excel in all three of those areas, but the offense has to do a better job if the Nationals want to end the World Series the way they envision.