Could the playoff fate of the Nationals hinge on one player's shoulder? We'll find out today what's up with Espinosa and if he misses a lot of time, or doesn't take to the cortisone like Zimmerman did, that is a big blow to the Nats.
Is it a huge blow offensively? Well, on one hand you can say Danny is who he is. A low average guy with some patience and some pop. I don't think it's quite fair to just say "well if you take out his cold start he has hit X" and use X as a reference point to how he'll do going foward. Those early games count. His current line of .250 / .315 / .407 is fair. But I do personally think that while the average and OBP is right on line, that was an unusually low power period for him. I think he is more in the .420+ range which takes him from being a slightly below average hitter to a slightly above average one. As much as we may like Lombardozzi and his decent average, he has no power and overall is an below average hitter. Losing Danny will matter at least a little
But more than that, Danny is one more bat at the bottom of the lineup that can work the pitcher and get on base without a hit. The Nats have their share of free swingers. Desmond, Morse, whoever is catching, they don't attack the pitcher in the same way that the top of the order does. That may sound dumb but just because you are in the bottom half of the lineup doesn't mean you have to swing away. Espinosa is a good example of that. He's 3rd out of qualified Nats in P/PA (Werth would be #1 by far). He doesn't walk a ton, but he does find his way to first through free passes and the more than occasional HBP (league leading 13). Lombardozzi is not like this at all. He hangs out near Desmond, seeing the fewest amount of pitcher per plate appearance in the league. Morse - Desmond - Lombardozzi - Suzuki - pitcher; that's a bottom of a lineup an opposing hurler can fly through if he's on his game.
But Danny is more than his bat, he's an excellent fielder as well. The scouts think it and the fancy stats back it up. Danny's range is 4th among all 2nd basemen this year, and he's had continuously good fielding stats in his brief career. Lombardozzi is ok but he's not in Danny's league. And while Danny is not the fastest baserunner, a stolen base is not out of the question (19 SB, 6CS). Lombardozzi feels a step slower (5 SB, 3 CS)
Power is lost, patience is lost, the bottom of the lineup becomes nothing but free-swingers, the defense is diminished, speed is lost. While offensively the gain in average might make the loss in power and patience a smaller step back than it normally would be, the total combination is a harsh reality for the Nats. They get worse in nearly every way with Danny replaced by Steve. (if you think I'm ignoring DeRosa, I am and so should Davey and Rizzo)
The one consolation I can think of, light hitting MIs have a way of becoming hitting heroes in the postseason. In fact in 1987 one such nobody hit .267 with a .353 OBP in the ALCS, followed by a .412 / .474 / .647 World Series performance. That guy? Steve Lombardozzi Sr.
Hey, if it is bad news you might as well grab onto whatever you got, right?