The Washington Nationals, of course, would prefer that Bryce Harper was in their lineup tonight, rather than that of the division-rival Philadelphia Phillies. But there was a feeling even after Harper left in free-agency last month, that the Nationals would be OK. Heck, many thought they maybe still had the best overall roster in the National League East.
Even without Harper, there’s some thought that the Nationals outfield possesses a National League MVP candidate in Juan Soto, who finished runner-up in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2018. Victor Robles, the Nationals center fielder, is the early favorite to win this year’s National League Rookie of the Year Award. Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon are among the five best players at their respective positions. Ryan Zimmerman is the most accomplished National ever.
The Nationals may have lost Harper, but they still have a very deep lineup, one that added Brian Dozier and Yan Gomes this past offseason. And yet, their closer appears to think it’s the Phillies who possess maybe the best lineup in the sport.
“It’s not just him [Bryce Harper],” Doolittle told the collective media, which included Corey Seidman of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “One thing that I think is lost in this is that we’re talking a lot about Bryce, rightfully so, but look at the other guys in that lineup.”
“This is probably the deepest lineup in the league and it was on full display in that first series, the kind of damage they can do and the different ways they can burn you. There are a lot of other guys in this lineup you have to take seriously. There aren’t many holes.”
Though it may be somewhat surprising to hear Doolittle – the closer of another team with a deep lineup – say this about a divisional rival, it’s hard to argue with his assessment.
Harper, still just 26, has already launched two home runs as a Phillie. He’s also walked four times in three games. One of those walks came on Opening Day, with Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker electing to intentionally walk Harper with runners on second and third base already. His decision proved to be a poor one, as Rhys Hoskins, the next batter up, hit a grand slam that put the game out of reach. Hoskins hit 34 home runs in 2018 – his first full major league season – and figures to become an All-Star hitting behind Harper.
Those two hit in front of J.T. Realmuto, who was a National League All-Star in 2018. Realmuto hit his first home run in a Phillies jersey Saturday afternoon, a few innings before Harper would launch a 465-foot shot of his own.
Meanwhile, as everyone was waiting for Harper’s first at-bat on Opening Day, Andrew McCutchen stole the show in the top of the first inning. The former National League MVP led off the bottom of the first inning with a 428-foot home run. McCutchen, a five-time All-Star, added his second home run of the year on Sunday Night Baseball.
Maikel Franco, once thought to be a potential cleanup hitter for the Phillies, appeared destined to be replaced and traded at the outset of this past offseason. The Phillies were considered serious contenders for Manny Machado, before Machado ultimately signed with the San Diego Padres. There was some thought that they still viewed Mike Moustakas, also a free-agent, as an upgrade over Franco. But Moustakas re-signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, paving the way for Franco to be the Phillies Opening Day third baseman for the fourth consecutive season. Franco, 26, hit a home run in each of the first two games, while hitting out of the No. 8 hole in the lineup. He added another one early in Tuesday’s night game.
All of this comes without mentioning Jean Segura, a two-time All-Star shortstop, who has hit .300 or better in three consecutive seasons. Odubel Herrera, for whatever flaws he may possess, was an All-Star in 2016 and has the potential to carry a lineup when he’s locked in. And Cesar Hernandez, quietly, is an on-base machine that’s now hitting seventh, after leading off for the better part of the last two seasons.
The Nationals, even post Harper, have an excellent lineup. So do the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, among others. But the Phillies may have the very best starting lineup in the sport, and the league has noticed that quickly.
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