New outfield alignment will sacrifice defense for offense

When Michael Morse returns to the Nationals, which should be in mere days, he’ll give the team an offensive jolt.

This is the guy who led the Nats in batting average (.303), home runs (31) and RBIs (95) last season, a guy whose slugging percentage was 99 points higher than anyone else on the Nationals’ roster.

When Morse returns to the Nationals, however, he’ll also give the team an interesting outfield alignment, one no one could have possibly envisioned the Nats would have in early June.

Manager Davey Johnson has made it clear that once Morse is back, he plans to put the slugger in right field, move Bryce Harper over to center and primarily use infielder-turned-utilityman-turned-outfielder Steve Lombardozzi in left.

It’s an alignment which will allow Johnson to milk as much offense as he can out of those three positions.

Lombardozzi settled into the leadoff spot nicely during the road trip, and he leads the Nats in batting average and is tied for the team lead in on-base percentage. Harper has become a major threat near the top of the order, with his .861 OPS ranking second on the team. And we know what Morse can do with the bat when healthy.

That outfield setup makes perfect sense from an offensive perspective, but it will be interesting to monitor from a defensive one.

Michael_Morse_batting-sidebar.jpgIn 343 games played, Michael Morse has started 74 career games in right field and didn’t play there at all last season. Lombardozzi - a lifelong second baseman - hadn’t played a single game in the outfield in his professional career entering this season and still has made just six starts in left. Harper has experience at all three outfield positions, but has spent the least time in center after playing primarily the corner spots in the minor leagues.

That’s not to say this alignment can’t work. Harper has shown he’s skilled enough to play well wherever the Nats put him (I’m convinced they could play the 19-year-old at any of the nine spots on the field and he’d at the very least hold his own), Lombardozzi doesn’t have the strongest arm but has adapted nicely to left field and Morse isn’t a liability in right by any means.

But it’s clear the Nats will sacrifice defense for offense when they pencil these three guys into their outfield. Rick Ankiel will spend most days on the bench, not corralling balls in center and intimidating baserunners with the cannon attached to his left shoulder. Gone will be the days when Harper, Ankiel and Roger Bernadina give the Nats three excellent arms in the outfield at the same time.

Johnson knows he needs more offensive production out of his team, and so when Morse returns, he’ll shuffle things around to make sure he gets it. And in order to boost that offense, he’ll have to sacrifice a little on the defensive side of things.

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