Editor’s Note: HTTD contributor Patrick Rice provides his latest thoughts, after the Washington Nationals series win against the Chicago Cubs, in his ongoing “Zimm’s Corner” monthly report on the hometown Nats.
Nationals Defense Makes A Statement
Record: 41-25 (5 games ahead of the Mets for the NL East lead)
Well, that was fun!
What a series for the Nationals and Cubs. It had a little bit of everything, as the Nats pulled out the series victory over the best team in baseball.
To be clear, Washington should feel good about themselves. They just came back twice against the Cubs to win the series clincher. For those who say the Nationals did not face Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, Jason Werth has a message for you: “Kiss My Ass”.
How can you not want these two teams to play in the NLCS?
Washington is 16 games above .500 as of June 16th for the first time since the strike year of 1994 (when they were still the Montreal Expos). They have a little bit of everything, but what separates them is their defense.
Today there seems to be a metric for every facet of the game. But, one of the old stats that still remains important is team fielding percentage. Does it take into account how much ground a player can cover? No. But it does account for if you have a chance to make a play, are you going to?
Through the first 66 games of the year the Washington Nationals have the best defense in baseball. As a team they are fielding the ball at a .990 clip. Why is this significant? The reason is twofold.
First, it’s just pretty to watch. In the 8th inning of last night’s win over the Cubs, the Nats made two great plays. Anthony Rendon made a charging play at third look rudimentary and Ryan Zimmerman made a stellar back handed pick at first base to save Espinosa from a fielding error.
The second and more important factor is the pitching. The Nationals already have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. That is well documented here and by much better writers.
With the exception of Max Scherzer (if someone hits him, ball go far), Washington’s pitchers know they have a stellar defense behind them. It allows them to attack hitters whether they are winning by seven or in a tie-game late.
Racking up strikeouts is great and something DC has become accustomed too. But what happens when you need a ground ball Double Play in October? What happens when a team is trying to steal second late in the game to put the pressure on?
So far, the Nats have answered this question time and again. With the lone exception of Daniel Murphey (it’s alright Dan, you mash), the Nationals have plus defenders almost everywhere.
October baseball has the same simple recipe every year: Pitching and Defense. Offenses go quiet as the temperatures drop and teams need to find ways to win. So far, the Nationals have the ingredients to contend.