PHILADELPHIA - The comparison, on the surface, is ludicrous. Because one of the players involved did this for entire seasons at a time, while the other has merely done it for five weeks.
But the comparison came straight from Dusty Baker’s mouth, and if anyone in the world is qualified to make this statement, it is the only person who has managed both players in question.
After watching Ryan Zimmerman go bananas at the plate once again tonight during the Nationals’ 6-2 victory over the Phillies, Baker was asked if his first baseman’s white-hot start to this season reminds him at all of a certain slugger he used to manage a decade ago in San Francisco.
“That’s what I was thinking in the dugout,” Baker said. “That’s Bonds-like.”
Take a moment to issue every caveat you want. They’re all appropriate. But so is the comparison, because in this context it’s actually quite accurate.
The first 30 games of Zimmerman’s 2017 season do bear a striking resemblance to the first 30 games of Barry Bonds’ most productive seasons.
Zimmerman’s updated stats after he homered, doubled and was robbed of another potential homer by Odúbel Herrera tonight: He’s batting .435 with 13 homers, 34 RBIs and a 1.382 OPS.
Bonds’ stats through the first 30 games of the best season of his career (2004): a .424 batting average with 10 homers, 22 RBIs and a 1.699 OPS. (And that last number was aided mostly by the astounding 48 walks Bonds compiled in those 30 games, which lifted his on-base percentage to a ridiculous .682.)
Now, Bonds sustained it for an entire season; he finished the 2004 campaign with a .362 batting average, 45 homers, 101 RBIs and a 1.422 OPS that has never been topped by anybody in the history of baseball. (Save the debate over what may or may not have helped Bonds compile those numbers for another day.)
It would be foolish to assume Zimmerman can sustain his pace over the final 132 games of this season, given his track record of streakiness and injuries, not to mention the fact he is not as good as Barry Bonds.
But let’s simply do as the Nationals are doing right now and appreciate this remarkable stretch for what it is.
“I’ve never seen a hitter, over an extended period of time like this, be that consistent with barreling the ball,” said Jacob Turner, who pitched the final two innings tonight and has given up two homers to Zimmerman in 12 at-bats while pitching for the Marlins. “I mean, even the outs he’s making are smoked. I’ve never seen anybody that locked in.”
Indeed, one of the two outs Zimmerman made tonight came on a 400-foot drive to the wall in center field that required a leaping catch by Herrera. Would it have been a homer, or would it have been a double had Herrera not made the play? Too close to call. But it would’ve been an extra-base hit, that much is certain.
Zimmerman made sure nobody could rob him his next time at the plate; he launched a 411-foot blast to left-center that landed well into the bleachers, giving the Nationals a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.
He smoked another line drive to right field in the sixth, a 111-mph bullet that looked like it would be caught by Michael Saunders until the Phillies outfielder lost it in the lights and watched it sail over his head for an RBI double.
Zimmerman has been reluctant to go into much detail about his swing this season, attributing his success mostly to good health that had eluded him for several years. What, though, does it feel like to be locked in like this at the plate?
“Obviously, it feels good to be able to get hits every night and continue to kind of keep it rolling,” said the 32-year-old, who - oh, by the way - also has a 13-game hitting streak going. “(Anthony Rendon) has been swinging the bat well, and it’s almost this whole lineup is kind of like ... I don’t want to say competition, but we each push each other. You want to continue to get hits so you can keep up with everyone else.
“Yeah, it’s obviously going really well. Just got to keep coming to the park every day and sticking with my routine and hope it keeps going.”
Zimmerman will get a breather Sunday. As tempting as it is to keep rolling the hottest hitter on the planet out there every day, Baker understands he can’t get greedy right now and needs to make sure his veteran first baseman gets ample rest.
But he’ll be back in the lineup Monday night in Baltimore. And if he does it again, if he tears the cover off the ball multiple times and clears the fence once and drives in several more runs, Zimmerman will move a step closer to making his manager’s comparison sound less hyperbolic and more realistic.
“This is as good a start as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Baker said.
And he’s seen his share of good starts.