The Nationals have the best record in the National League and one of the best pitching staffs in recent memory. But when the all-star teams are announced Sunday, only two Nationals players can be sure they’ll be flying to Kansas City. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez are slam dunks. Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett have cases. Adam LaRoche has a fringy argument.
But if the Nationals get an all-star outside of their top two starters, the best bet is shortstop Ian Desmond. Entering this season, many Nationals fans were trying to figure which team would trade for him so the Nats could move Danny Espinosa to shortstop. In a season in which just about every player has been injured or in an extended slump, Desmond has been the one constant.
“As a kid, I always dreamed about playing in the World Series,” Desmond said. “That’s No. 1 on my list. Whatever it takes to get there, if the All-Star Game happened to fall in the middle of that, that would be great. But I’m ready for the second half and what the future brings. I’m not necessarily looking for any future accolades.”
Last night, Desmond went 2 for 5 with a home run and a double, raising his tripe-slash line to .274/.302/.472. Compare him to the other shortstops in the National League, and he has a compelling case.
“I voted for him,” Johnson said. “I might be a little prejudiced, but he’s certainly to date had a great season. He does everything above board. I don’t know any shortstop in the league that I’d trade him for.”
Entering Wednesday night, Jed Lowrie was leading National League shortstops with 2.7 Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs.com. Starlin Castro (2.2), Desmond (2.1) and Jimmy Rollins (2.0) were in a virtual tie for second.
It is hard to get around his .302 on-base percentage, which ranks seventh among NL shortstops. (“He still thinks he can hit every pitch as long as he can reach it,” Johnson said.) But he brings enough value elsewhere to counteract not reaching base. Desmond ranks fourth in average (.274) and second in slugging (.472) among NL shortstops. His .744 OPS is second, as are his 12 homers. His 21 doubles are best, and his 39 RBIs are tied for the best.
Here is a quick, visual and highly unscientific way to compare Desmond to the rest of the contending shortstops. This is where each ranks in average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, home runs and RBIs:
Jed Lowrie: 7 1 1 1 1 3
Ian Desmond: 4 7 2 2 2 1
Starlin Castro: 1 6 3 3 6 1
Jimmy Rollins: 6 5 4 4 3 5
Rafael Furcal: 3 2 7 5 8 4
Jose Reyes: 5 3 7 6 12 9
Lowrie is pretty clearly the best choice, but Desmond has as good of a case as any another, based solely on offense. He also plays outstanding defense, having improved on the routine plays while making stops few other shortstops can.
Desmond’s teammates frequently refer to him as a leader, the player who calms down the starter and stands in front of his locker after every game. He plays for the team with the best record in the National League. You can say those kind of intangibles should not matter when it comes to an all-star case, but it is part of the full picture.
At this time last year, Desmond’s on-base percentage hovered around .250. He was legitimately one of the least productive everyday players in the major leagues. This year, at age 26 and in his third full season, Desmond might just be an all-star.
FROM THE POST
The Nationals’ bats erupted again in an 11-5 win over the Rockies, led by mashing rookie Tyler Moore.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Durham 4, Syracuse 3: Corey Brown went 2 for 5 with a double. Mark Teahen went 4 for 5. Tanner Roark allowed three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings on six hits and three walks, striking out five.
Harrisburg 5, Altoona 2: Henry Rodriguez allowed one run in one inning on three hits and no walks, striking out one. Eury Perez went 3 for 4. Manny Mayorson went 1 for 3 with a triple. Paul Demny allowed one run in seven innings on five hits and a walk, striking out nine.
Potomac 7, Wilmington 4: Rick Hague went 2 for 4 with a double and a home run. Michael Taylor went 2 for 4. Trevor Holder allowed two earned runs in 7 2/3 innings on five hits and no walks, striking out six.
Hagerstown 8, Delmarva 4: Justin Miller went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk. Brian Goodwin went 1 for 3 with two walks.
Auburn 7, Jamestown 0: On rehab, Sandy Leon went 0 for 3 with a walk. Wander Ramos went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk. Spencer Kieboom went 2 for 3 with a walk. Pedro Encarnacion allowed no runs in six innings on three hits and a walk, striking out five. Brian Rauh allowed no runs in three innings on two hits and no walks, striking out two.