Throughout Danny Espinosa’s rollercoaster 2016 season, Dusty Baker has staunchly stood by his shortstop’s side at every turn. That loyalty has been rewarded in spurts, most notably by Espinosa's nine home run, 21 RBI June.
But the 29-year-old's second half swoon, one in which he slashed .172/.272/.280, carried over into Game 1 of the NL Division Series. Against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the switch-hitting Espinosa was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, stranding six base runners.
So is Baker willing to consider other options?
“Well, who else do I have? That’s my answer,” the manager said Saturday.
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. Baker has stuck with Espinosa all season, primarily because of his defense and occasional pop. After all, he’s tied for fourth among major league shortstops with 24 home runs. That said, his propensity to strikeout — he tied for fourth in the majors with 174 whiffs — has hurt the Nats offense, and did so again in Game 1.
“I mean, you can give me somebody better, then I can play somebody instead of him," Baker continued. "You know, certain times you have certain people on your team and that’s what you’ve got. My job is to hopefully get the most out of them and make them better.”
Espinosa is starting again in Game 2 against Dodgers lefty Rich Hill. If he struggles again, it’s fair to wonder if Baker would consider starting utility infielder Stephen Drew for Game 3. Los Angeles will be going with right hander Kenta Maeda, so putting an extra left-handed bat in the lineup appears logical.
“Stephen’s done a great job for us,” Baker said. “I played Stephen as much as I could [in the regular season] on my bench…he’s going to be a big guy in these playoffs, too.”
Espinosa isn’t a stranger to calls for his job. Prior to his monster June, some fans wanted to see then-shortstop prospect Trea Turner called up from Triple-A to take over in the six-hole. But after Espinosa’s big month, the Nats moved Turner was moved to center field to get both of their bats in the order.
A few months later, Espinosa is again facing questions about his place in the lineup. But with the season on the line the time around, the Nats have to hope he can respond as he did before.