Everybody keeps talking about the Nationals’ No. 3 and No. 4 hitters as the pair that is the most difficult to stop in the lineup.
But the Nats’ No. 5 and No. 6 hitters are not too shabby, either.
Howie Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman combined to go 5-for-8 (.625) with four doubles, two runs and five RBIs in the Nats’ 8-1 win over the Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series before a sold-out, standing-room-only crowd of 43,675 at Nats Park.
The Nats have a commanding three-games-to-none lead in the NLCS.
The 36-year-old Kendrick is slashing .314/.351/.866 with four doubles a homer and nine RBIs in nine playoff games. He is 11-for-35.
“He’s impressive,” said right fielder Adam Eaton. “He’s been impressive all year. What’d he hit, .320 (.344)? To do it on a stage like he’s been doing is tremendous. He has the experience. He’s my best friend on the team besides Trea (Turner). He’s worked so hard to get back from his Achilles injury, and he’s worked tremendously on his swing with (Nats hitting coach) Kevin Long. And it shows all the hard work pays off. I’m so happy for him, and I’m so happy to be his teammate.”
Kendrick makes his offseason home in Arizona, in the same area as Long. He said he met up with the hitting coach last winter and was surprised at their conversation. Long was ready for his query.
“I’m just trying to get smarter. Making adjustments, I would say, is the biggest thing,” Kendrick said. “Trying to be more efficient with my body and my swing. Kevin Long is a big part of that. Kevin lives out in Phoenix, and I live in Phoenix. It’s funny, because the first time we met, I said to him, ‘Hey, what can I do to get better?’ He had a list, like he had wrote down on a pad of paper. I wasn’t expecting it. This was the first time I had ever hit with him. He had this sheet of paper. He goes, all right, this is what I know about you. This is what you hit with this, this and this. We got to work from there.”
The 35-year-old Zimmerman is slashing .333/.357/.913 with three doubles, one homer and five RBIs in eight playoff games.
“If you don’t like being in these situations, or you don’t play for having something on the line, then it’s time to go home,” Zimmerman said. “You treat it, honestly, like we have since late May or early June. Treat it as another day. I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.”
Even that No. 3 hitter, that guy Rendon, who is slashing .379/.487/1.108 in the postseason, is impressed with Zimmerman. Rendon said he has respected his teammate’s ability to bounce back from a nagging plantar fasciitis injury that forced him to miss 90 games.
“He’s been amazing as well, especially, like you said, dealing with injuries,” Rendon said. “Personally, knowing about dealing with injuries, knowing that it’s definitely a roller coaster ride mentally and you’ve got to stay on top of it. You’re going to have a lot of great days going through your rehab process, but you’re going to have a lot of bad days, as well, where you feel like it’s the end of the world and you’re not ever going to get better, because you stay stagnant.
“He continued to grind. He shows up each and every day trying to get better, and it’s a testament to who he is as a person. It’s been great.”
And for the 29-year-old Rendon to look at his older teammate Kendrick playing so well, does he aspire to reach that apex someday too?
“He’s the greatest ever,” Rendon said. “I mean, you see the man. He’s, what, 36 years old, and he’s still doing it. He’s built like a freakin’ cinderblock. He’s huge. Man, he stays short. He’s strong. So, if he puts that barrel to it and stays behind the ball, you see it. He does damage. He knows how to hit. That’s what he does.”
What will Rendon be doing at 36 years of age?
“Hopefully, not playing baseball,” Rendon joked. “Probably sitting on the couch hanging out with my kids. He’s probably going to play another 20 years.”
Oh, Nats fans don’t want to hear that, with Rendon facing free agency very soon.
There are many reasons why the Nationals are one win away from their first World Series berth. Offensively, Rendon and Soto are important to that success. Turner and Eaton set the table. Bench hitters Michael A. Taylor, Gerardo Parra, Asdrúbal Cabrera and Matt Adams make a big difference too.
But having established veterans Kendrick and Zimmerman in the lineup and making the most of their at-bats has played a major role in the Nats’ 7-2 run this postseason.
“Big. It’s huge for us,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said. “(Kendrick) and Zim are both playing really well, on both sides of the ball. I know Howie’s hitting. He had his struggles in the Dodgers series, and he made a pretty good play the other day at second base. We’re getting professional at-bats from those guys. Everybody says they’re older, and I just look at (them) as just guys who have been around and veteran guys that have stepped up to the moment, and they’re a big reason why we’re here. Having those two guys healthy helps us out a lot.”