The Nationals club that takes the field tonight at PNC Park in Pittsburgh will look mighty different from the one we saw only 36 hours ago on Sunday Night Baseball. Ryan Zimmerman will be back at his familiar third base. Adam LaRoche should be back at his familiar first base. Jayson Werth won't be in right field. But Bryce Harper will.
Rarely does a first-place club experience so much significant turnover from one game to the next, but such is the unusual situation the Nationals find themselves in as they open a six-game road trip to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
The question now becomes how Davey Johnson chooses to arrange his new-look lineup.
If the veteran manager decides to stick with what got him here, he'll probably put Zimmerman back in the No. 3 hole and LaRoche back in the cleanup spot. But what then becomes of Harper, who debuted as the Nationals' seventh hitter but quickly ascended to the third spot while Zimmerman was on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation?
Perhaps Johnson could bump the 19-year-old down to the No. 5 position, behind Zimmerman and LaRoche. But that doesn't seem to take the most advantage of his skill-set. Harper, as we've already seen, isn't just a power hitter. He's an all-around offensive threat, just as likely to beat you with his legs as his bat.
Here's one possible solution: Have Harper bat second. Johnson is probably going to be looking for a new No. 2 hitter with Steve Lombardozzi (who capably filled in for Zimmerman at third base) returning to the bench, and with Danny Espinosa looking more comfortable farther down in the lineup after struggling in the 2-hole to open the season.
Harper as a No. 2 hitter would make sense in a lot of ways. He'd slot in nicely between Ian Desmond and Zimmerman, offering up both the ability to get on base and to drive in guys who get on in front of him. He clearly has a good eye at the plate, works the count and reaches base at a healthy clip (his OBP is .424 right now), all important qualities for a No. 2 hitter. And you probably wouldn't find too many opposing managers wanting to pitch around the kid just to take their chances with Zimmerman.
Here, then, is what tonight's potential lineup could look like...
SS Ian Desmond
RF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
CF Rick Ankiel
2B Danny Espinosa
C Wilson Ramos
LF Roger Bernadina
P Edwin Jackson
OK, it's not a perfect lineup by any stretch of the imagination. And the drop-off in production from the top four spots to the bottom five spots is pretty dramatic.
But given what Johnson has to work with at the moment, it might just make the most sense.
We'll find out for sure later this afternoon once the Nationals report to PNC Park.