An underlying theme of the Nationals’ play over the past two months or so has been the dramatically improved defense. At last check a month ago, the Nationals had made great strides to improve on the shaky defense in the first month or so of the season. In July, the same has continued.
The Nationals have even vaulted into the top 10 in some defensive categories. On May 12, the Nationals ranked last in the majors in Fangraphs.com’s defensive runs saved metric at -14. Now, the Nationals rank eighth with 16 defensive runs saved. Early in the season, the Nationals led the majors in errors. Now, their 60-error total is good for 18th in the majors, a staggering turnaround over two months.
“It’s important,” Manager Matt Williams said this weekend. “We’ve talked about it from Day 1 of spring training. If you can pitch and can play defense, you have a chance every day. Offense will kind of go up and down sometimes. Consistency within the pitching staff and the defense gives you a chance.”
Williams believed the Nationals first month or so of shaky defense was anomaly and believed it would change. In April/March, the Nationals committed 26 errors. In May, they made 20. But in June, the Nationals were charged with only eight errors. So far in July, they’ve made only six in 19 games. Since the start of June, the Nationals are 29-18. “It’s no wonder our record has been better,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said.
Since June 7, the Nationals have played errorless baseball in 34 of their past 42 games. In other words, 81 percent of their games over the past seven weeks have been spotless in the field. During that span, the Nationals also pace the majors with a .994 fielding percentage.
When the Nationals don’t make an error in a game, they are 36-23 this season.
“As far as why it’s gotten better, I have no clue,” LaRoche said. “But it’s helped us win a lot of games. There’s no doubt. I don’t know how you compare records when the defense was struggling to now but it’s safe to say we’re a whole lot better off with a solid defense, which is kinda a no-brainer. It’s one of those things that’s overlooked a little bit until you go back at 30 or 60 games and see how good the defense.”
Anthony Rendon’s presence and versatility has solidified a defense that has missed Ryan Zimmerman for stretches of the season. LaRoche has been a reassuring presence at first, a glove capable of vacuuming up bad throws. After a rough start, Ian Desmond hasn’t made only two errors over the past 49 games. The outfield has had been lead by Denard Span and his stellar glove.
“They allow pitchers to go deeper in games,” LaRoche said. “They save the bullpen. There’s a lot of good that comes out of that that gets overlooked sometimes.”