Nationals

Nationals

WASHINGTON -- For three more days -- then three more games next week -- two of the best offensive duos in the major leagues will be head-to-head.

Maybe they are the best pairings, not just among them. Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto have an argument as the best offensive coupling in the sport this season. Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr. can fight for the same claim. The four will play out a series between the Nationals and Braves in Atlanta the rest of the weekend, giving viewers a direct view of their multifaceted talents.

Start with the Washington pair. Rendon from the right side is in the MVP race. Soto from the left side has become even better in his second year in the major leagues. They are currently third and fourth, respectively, in OPS among National League players. Only one other set of teammates is also in the top 10: Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon of Colorado.

They, like Rendon and Soto, cover both sides of the plate. However, their home park has done its typical work to bloat their numbers. The gap between them and Washington’s duo is significant when OPS-plus, which accounts for a player’s ballpark, is brought in to consideration:

Rendon: 160

Soto: 144

Arenado: 125

Blackmon: 123

Advantage, Nationals.

There’s another set of teammates just outside the top 10 in OPS: Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell and Bryan Reynolds. Bell was an All-Star this season. Reynolds will finish second to Pete Alonso in the Rookie of the Year race. He’s quietly had an outstanding offensive season. Both carry a 141 OPS-plus -- better than Arenado and Blackmon.

In Los Angeles, Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy combine to produce one of the league’s best offensive pairings. Bellinger is second in OPS -- one of three NL players over 1.000. His OPS-plus is a whopping and league-leading 175. He also leads the league in total bases. He’s second in wRC+ (weighted runs created adjusted for external factors like the park, etc.). Muncy’s 135 OPS-plus helps make a case for him. However, his OPS is just .899. Far behind either Soto or Rendon.

Which brings us back to Atlanta. Freeman is having a standard year for him. A 142 OPS-plus, .968 OPS, a clean .300 average, plus a career-best 38 home runs. He’s seventh in the NL in wRC+. 

A recent slump for Acuña preceded his two-hit night in the series opener Thursday. It also dragged down his overall numbers. His OPS-plus is 122, OPS .885 (20th in the NL) and wRC+ 16th. 

So, Miami manager Don Mattingly may be on to something. When the Marlins were in Nationals Park last weekend, he suggested Rendon and Soto were the league’s best offensive duo. What does Rendon think?

“Well if I agree with him then we're being boastful and we're arrogant, but then if I deflect it then we're just being nice,” Rendon said. “I just think we’re trying to win ballgames here, we're not trying to do too much, we both have a great passion for the game but we understand what we're trying to do as hitters up there at the plate. The situation’s going to dictate how we're going to handle the [at-bat]. So we don’t want to let any moment get too big for us.

Soto?

“I don’t know,” Soto said. “I can’t say that. But we’ve been feeling really good. We’ve been doing a lot of good things helping the team. It’s amazing what we’ve been doing so far.”

They can be hesitant in their answers because the numbers speak for themselves. One of the great questions coming into the season was how the Nationals’ offense would operate without Bryce Harper. It’s third in runs and second in OPS in the league. Look directly in the middle, where the National League’s best offensive duo works, to understand why.

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