It’s reached the time of the year when Nationals players in the midst of the best seasons of their careers hit milestones. And few players have shown as much growth and progress that Ian Desmond has this season. When he stole his 20th base of the season in the fifth inning of Monday’s 12-2 rout of the Milwaukee Brewers, the 27-year-old become only the second Nationals player to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in a season.
Alfonso Soriano was the last Nationals player (since 2005) to do so, hitting 46 home runs and stealing 41 bases in 2006. Desmond became the seventh player in the majors to notch 20-20 this season. And thanks to his recent hitting streak, Desmond raised his batting average to a team-high.301, his on-base percentage to .340, slugging percentage to a team-high.526 and a team-high OPS of .866.
Based on Fangraphs.com wins above replacement formula (WAR), Desmond is 19th in the majors with a team-high 5.2 WAR, a high number that takes into account the difficulty of his position. He leads all major league shortstops in home runs (24), RBI (71) and OPS despite missing 25 games in July and August with an oblique injury.
The numbers are both stellar and surprising for a player who struggled at the plate last season and had yet to completely fulfill his prodigious talent. Now Desmond, already a team leader, is perhaps the Nationals most valuable position player, an elite shortstop and an all-star.
“He’s just had a phenomenal year,” National Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s just establishing a benchmark for himself and what he’s capable of doing. He’s still in the learning process.”
Desmond has previously credited Johnson for instilling confidence in him that helped spark his breakout season. And while he only passingly acknowledged his achievement Monday, he again spoke highly about the impact Johnson had on him before his breakout season.
“When Davey came in in spring training and was like, ‘Hey, you’re going to play every single day and I don’t care what you do. You’re out there. You’re my shortstop no matter what,'” Desmond said. “That was, to me, like a multi-year contract. That was all I needed to, someone’s word, to say, ‘Hey, you’re the guy.’
“The audition kind of went away and now it became just go out and play your game. You can do whatever you want and he believes in you. You go out there and perform and play the game the way you know how.”
FROM TODAY’S POST
The Nationals avoided a potential skid, and are playing well at the right time, writes Thomas Boswell.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
Nats’ magic number to win the division: 5
Current NL matchups
Nationals vs. Braves/Cardinals*
Reds vs. Giants
*The Braves lead the Cardinals by 5 1/2 games. The Cardinals lead the Brewers and Dodgers by 3 1/2 games, and the Diamondbacks and Phillies by 5 1/2 games.