Through four games of this National League Division Series, the Nationals have scored a grand total of 12 runs on 16 hits. For the arithmetically challenged, that’s an average of three runs on four hits per game. That’s not good.
Throughout it all, though, Dusty Baker has stuck with the same eight batters in his starting lineup. The order changed for Game 4, but the names remained the same.
And they’ll remain the same for tonight’s do-or-die Game 5. Which means Jayson Werth is again starting in left field, and again batting in the No. 2 spot of Baker’s lineup.
Nobody in the regular lineup has consistently been productive in the series, but Werth has come under particular fire, having gone 1-for-14 with two walks and three strikeouts. And the situation seemed to come to a head Wednesday in Game 4, when the veteran went 0-for-4 and twice struck out looking with a man in scoring position (one of those coming with the bases loaded and two outs).
Baker did sub Werth out for defense in the bottom of the seventh, with Brian Goodwin and later Howie Kendrick taking over in left field. And given the track records for both Kendrick and Adam Lind, it wasn’t unreasonable to wonder whether there would be a new left fielder for tonight’s game.
“Well, I considered it,” Baker acknowledged. “But, you know, Jayson has been a big-game guy most of his career. So not being sentimental or anything, but trying to be a realist. Again, law of averages is on Jayson’s side, big-time.”
Werth has delivered in big games before. He famously hit the walk-off homer that won Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS against the Cardinals, and he also hit a robust .389 with two doubles, a homer and an 1.188 OPS in last year’s NLDS against the Dodgers. But in the Nationals’ Game 5 loss to Los Angeles, he went 0-for-3 with two walks and twice struck out with runners in scoring position, killer outs during a nip-and-tuck game.
The decision on Werth, of course, is far more than a pure baseball decision. He is the elder statesman of the clubhouse, one of only a few members of the roster to own a World Series ring, and this might well be the last game he ever plays for the Nationals, with his seven-year, $126 million contract set to expire at season’s end.
All of that brings a significant amount of clout to Werth within this organization. And the ramifications of benching him would not be insignificant, something his manager knows too well.
“You know, I’ve been Jayson,” Baker said. “And so I might have had a fit if I wasn’t playing tonight.”