With the Washington Nationals long gone from the playoff race, many people haven’t noticed the fact that their offense has had a surprisingly strong month. The names on manager Manny Acta’s lineup card had been in flux for the better part of the year, going through such veteran players as Austin Kearns, Ryan Langerhans, Wily Mo Pena, Dmitri Young, Rob Mackowiak, and even went so far as to try Paul Lo Duca for a few games in left field.
But since Elijah Dukes became a mainstay in the batting order following an injury to Kearns, the Nats offense has averaged 5.28 runs scored per game, which is a huge improvement over the 3.7 they had been scoring in the 132 games prior.
This isn’t suggesting that Dukes is the sole reason for the turnaround since it’s really impossible for one player to have this much impact. But he sure has been helping. In his last 25 games, his line has been an incredible .286/.370/.614. With Park Factor considered, his Adjusted OPS has been 172. And other players have been turning it up as well in the past 25 games, from Christian Guzman (1.089 OPS) and Ryan Zimmerman (.894 OPS) to Lastings Milledge (.824 OPS in the second half). In addition, they’ve benefited greatly from having Willie Harris’ glove in left (Harris has prevented 19 more runs from scoring than the average LFer).
So what does this mean for Washington in 2009? Not much unless their pitching can stop teams from averaging over 5 runs per game. But with Dukes, Milledge, and Zimmerman, they may have three reliable bats that are 24-years old or younger, which is more than the majority of rebuilding teams can claim.