Looking at potential lineup combinations

At the end, when they were playing for all the marbles in late October, the Nationals lineup was consistent. Consistently productive. And consistently featuring the same hitters in the same spots in the order.

As things stand today, five weeks before pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach to begin their title defense, that lineup looks quite different. And if there’s one word to describe it in its current form, it might well be: inconsistent.

With Anthony Rendon off to Anaheim to play alongside Mike Trout and take his family to Disneyland on off-days, the Nationals are missing a critical part of their championship lineup. And at this point they haven’t been able to adequately replace him, certainly not with one big bat that could come close to matching his MVP-caliber production.

It’s still possible they’ll acquire someone to fill those big shoes, whether Josh Donaldson via free agency or Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado via trade. But at this point, the odds of a major transaction like that appear to be dwindling by the hour.

What, then, might the Nationals’ 2020 lineup look like without any of those guys? Davey Martinez has no shortage of options, and that might end up being the defining characteristic of the new lineup, with a bunch of interchangeable parts that could slide in and out of the order on a daily basis.

Here’s one possible arrangement:

SS Trea Turner
RF Adam Eaton
LF Juan Soto
1B Howie Kendrick
3B Asdrúbal Cabrera
2B Starlin Castro
C Kurt Suzuki
CF Victor Robles

That’s as close as you’ll get to a 2019 lineup, with Castro the only newcomer but Soto, Kendrick and Cabrera each moving up a slot to account for Rendon’s absence. It’s not a bad lineup, but it does put pressure on Kendrick to recapture his career-best form from last season. And it asks Cabrera and Castro to drive in runs.

There are plenty of other configurations, though, and plenty of other names who could be thrown into the mix. Like this potential lineup:

SS Trea Turner
RF Adam Eaton
LF Juan Soto
2B Howie Kendrick
1B Eric Thames
C Kurt Suzuki
3B Carter Kieboom
CF Victor Robles

This lineup adds another left-handed bat the just-acquired Thames. It moves Kendrick to second base. And it includes Kieboom, who is a major unknown but certainly has the potential to blossom into a productive big league hitter if given the opportunity.

It’s still, however, missing that big bat in the heart of the lineup, with Soto forced to bat third and Kendrick fourth. So how about this less conventional batting order:

CF Victor Robles
RF Adam Eaton
SS Trea Turner
LF Juan Soto
1B Howie Kendrick
3B Asdrúbal Cabrera
2B Starlin Castro
C Kurt Suzuki

Yes, you read that correctly. Turner is the No. 3 hitter in this lineup. Is that a crazy idea? Not as crazy as you might think at first glance.

Turner-Batting-White-Day-Sidebar.jpgThough he remains one of the fastest players in baseball, Turner doesn’t actually fit the profile of the classic leadoff man. He’s not a guy who goes out of his way to work the count, though he’s gotten better. But he does hit for power. In fact, his .497 slugging percentage last season ranked 30th among all qualifying National League hitters. He had 61 extra-base hits, more than Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Ryan Braun and Manny Machado.

Turner has often pointed out that he batted third a lot in college and the low minor leagues. He’s comfortable doing it.

This lineup does put a lot of added responsibility on Robles, who didn’t face that as a rookie when he mostly batted at the bottom of the order. But the 22-year-old has always been touted as a top-of-the-order hitter. He would need to improve his .326 on-base percentage, but it’s not unreasonable to expect improvement in that area from a guy who reached base at a healthy .392 clip in five minor league seasons.

Who knows if this is an option Martinez would actually use come March 26. But it is an option, and it’s one of several the Nationals manager has at his disposal right now.

Barring another major acquisition this month, the Nats are going to enter the 2020 season trying to figure out how to make up for the loss of Rendon. Somebody - or, more likely, multiple somebodies - is going to have to pick up the slack. And Turner and Robles might just be the guys to do it.

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