But one of Rizzo’s primary objectives has been met, if not exceeded. The Nationals, it’s safe to say 66 games into the season, have turned from one of the worst defensive teams in the majors to an excellent one. An enormous liability in 2010 has become a strength in 2011.
Errors only tell part of the story defensively. But the Nationals, after leading the majors in errors two years running, have made 33 so far this season, tied for seventh best. And that’s with a pitching staff that ranks 24th in the majors in strikeouts. Nationals starters have been excellent, but they allow the ball to be put in play a lot depend on the defense to catch it. This season, it is.
“When we started out the season, this team wanted to play better defense and play clean baseball,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “We’ve been doing that. We’re playing good baseball. That was one of the goals of this team.”
The Nationals have played their best defense lately. They did not make an error during the entirety of their 11-game West Coast trip, which set a new franchise record for most errorless games in a row. Since May 1, the Nationals have made 11 errors in 40 games, the best in the league over that span.
The Nationals’ pitching and defense have worked in concert. Starters have worked quickly and efficiently, keeping the defense alert. And the defense has rewarded them by making play after play.
By advanced measures, the Nationals rank closer to the middle of the pack. The UZR/150 measurement used by FanGraphs.com is generally regarded as best advanced defensive metric, but it also becomes more accurate sample sizes larger than one season, and certainly larger than less than half a season.
With that caveat, the Nationals have a 0.3 UZR/150, which ranks 15th. They are rated highly for not making errors and for having strong arms, but they lose points for a lack of range, particularly in the outfield – the Nationals, according to FanGraphs, have the worst outfield range in the majors, mainly because of left field and center field.
But there is no question the Nationals’ lack of errors has had an effect. Starting pitchers have consistently praised their defense and insisted it’s given them more confidence. It is difficult to know or measure the actual impact of that. But is easy to see how much better the Nationals are on defense this season.
FROM THE POST
The Nationals still couldn’t find their offense, but Jordan Zimmermann lifted them to a 2-0 win over the Padres and to a rare winning road trip.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 5, Syracuse 4: Ryan Zimmerman went 0 for 5 and played all nine innings. Matt Antonelli went 3 for 5 and is hitting .364/.430/.535 in 21 games at Syracuse.
Akron 5, Harrisburg 4: Stephen Lombardozzi went 2 for 3 with a walk. Chris Rahl went 2 for 4 with two doubles. Brad Peacock allowed two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings on six hits and a walk, striking out 10.
Potomac 5, Salem 2: Eury Perez went 2 for 4. Sandy Leon went 2 for 3.
Lakewood 5, Hagerstown 4: Bryce Harper went 0 for 2 with a walk and two runs. Robbie Ray allowed three runs in five innings on five hits and three walks, striking out three. David Freitas went 3 for 4 with a double and a home run.