Jul 04

Espinosa provides this year’s fireworks in Washington

Friday’s post-game fireworks were canceled due to extra innings, and rain might well wash out many of the Washington area’s July 4 pyrotechnics this year, but Danny Espinosa has been making the Nationals’ offense explode for the past few weeks.

It’s hard to say whether the Nats’ shortstop is the most productive No. 8 hitter in team history, but it’s safe to say not many players have put together a series, a week or even a month like the man who wears No. 8 for the Nats.

Espinosa burned the Reds for seven hits in 18 at-bats, with five home runs — including two grand slams — and 15 RBI. Three days after becoming the first National to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game, Espinosa became the first Nat to do it twice.

All this in just four games. What do you think most major leaguers would give to compile such stats in a whole week? But Espinosa’s week has been even better than that. In the past seven games, he’s hit .423 (11-for-26) with 28 total bases (a 1.076 slugging percentage), and driven in 17. Did we mention that he bats eighth in the order?

Oh, but it gets even better. Since June 6, Espinosa’s line is .341/.431/.768, with eight homers, six doubles and 27 RBI. At the start of that span, his average had dipped to .196. Now’s he’s hitting .241 – sixth on the team – and leads the Nationals in home runs with 18 – one ahead of reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper. He’s also one RBI ahead of Harper with 49 – just seven behind Daniel’s Murphy’s team-leading 56.

Not too shabby for a career .231/.306/.401 hitter. In fact, Espinosa needs just three homers to match his career high of 21 and 17 RBI to tie his career best 66. Both of those came in Espinosa’s first full season in the big leagues in 2011.

Espinosa came into the Nationals organization as a shortstop but was moved to second base in deference to veteran Ian Desmond. After his promising breakout year, he began struggling at the plate, and in 2013 he was sent to the minor leagues for 75 games to work out his issues.

He’s remained at second the past two seasons, but finally got a chance to play short regularly after Desmond left the team as a free agent. And for the first two months of this season, he’s been faced with speculation about whether he’ll be replaced by Trea Turner, the highly touted prospect the Nats traded for before the 2015 season.

But now that he’s found a stroke to match the Gold Glove-caliber defense he’s known for, Espinosa can feel secure, and Nats fans can feel thankful to watch such a productive player every day.