After career year, Denard Span must once again deliver for Nationals in 2015


Oct 6, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; Washington Nationals center fielder

Denard Span

(2) hits a single during the third inning against the San Francisco Giants in game three of the 2014 NLDS baseball playoff game at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals had a year to remember in 2014. From Walk-Off City, to a no-hitter on the last game of the season, to winning their second NL East title in three years, the list of accomplishments is long and impressive.

While 2014 brought a lot of good things for the Nationals, perhaps the most impressive part of the season was the emergence of center fielder Denard Span as one of the best outfielders in the game, both defensively and offensively.

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Don’t get me wrong, Span has always been an elite center fielder and, in my opinion, the best defensive center fielder in the National League. But in 2014, Span was finally able to showcase his excellent defensive skills while also dominating in the batter’s box.

In 147 games, Span hit .302 while scoring a team-leading 94 runs and setting a Nationals record and career-high with an NL-best 184 hits.  Span’s offensive dominance culminated in an impressive 36-game on-base streak, during which he posted a .396/.463/.458 line with 19 walks and 16 strikeouts in 164 plate appearances.

Needless to say, 2014 was a fantastic year with the bat for Span. Along with leading the league in hits, Span was also fifth in runs, fourth in doubles (39), fifth in steals and seventh in triples (8). The 30-year-old also placed among the top-five center fielders in all of baseball in plate appearances (668), runs, stolen bases and batting average.

While Span was arguably the team’s worst hitter in the postseason – hitting just .105 in 20 plate appearances – his regular season success was one of the biggest reasons the Nationals were able to accomplish what they did last season. In fact, most of 2014 was a case of “as goes Span, so go the Nationals.”

When the offense struggled mightily during the team’s 42-38 first half, Span struggled as well, batting .269 with a .319 on base percentage and a .385 slugging percentage. Not surprisingly, when the Nationals posted an impressive 54-28 second half record, Span was one of the best hitters on the planet, batting .346 with a .403 on base percentage and a .459 slugging percentage in 257 plate appearances after the All-Star break.

For Span, 2014 was a giant leap forward – one he must follow up with an equally-impressive performance next season.

Span was a the catalyst for the Nationals’ offense all season long in 2014, and there’s no doubt he’ll have to play that role again in 2015. The Nationals have one of the deepest, most talented lineups in the game, but for the guys behind him to succeed, the Nationals will need Span to be the reliable table-setter he was all of last season.

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Not only will Span be a crucial part of the Nationals’ lineup, but he’ll also be playing knowing full well that 2015 is likely his final season in a Nationals uniform. Barring an (unlikely) contract extension this year, Span is scheduled to become a free agent next winter. And with Michael Taylor and Brian Goodwin – both of whom have been considered the Nationals’ “center fielder of the future” – on the cusp of making an impact at the big league level, it looks like Span is likely on his way out.

Not only will Span face the pressure of performing well in a contract season, but he’ll also be trying to win a World Series before his time with the Nationals is up. Coincidentally, many fans and analysts alike have dubbed 2015 as the final chance the Nationals have to win the World Series before the so-called “window” closes when several of the team’s core players become free agents next winter.

Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen. One thing’s for certain, Span and the Nationals have a common goal in 2015, and neither one of them can accomplish that goal with out the other.

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