The Washington Nationals 2016 success is based on fundamentals. Aside from solid hitting and great pitching, they field the ball very well.
There is an old saying in sports that defense wins championships. For the 2016 Washington Nationals, they hope that is true.
With a .988 fielding percentage, the Nationals are tied with the San Francisco Giants for the highest percentage in the National League. Their 65 errors are also a league best. When they need to turn two, they can. With 137 double plays, the Nats are top in the NL East.
We know how strong the pitching is along with the offense, but measuring how solid the defense is can be tricky. Sometimes, you have to look at the basics such as runs allowed per game. Mixing pitching and defense together, the Nationals allow 3.68. Behind only the Chicago Cubs 3.38, the stingy number is still 4/5ths of a run better than league average.
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If you look at the complicated sabermetric Total Fielding Runs Above Average, again they trail the Cubs, but their 42 is second-best in the NL.
Defensive Efficiency, which measures the percentage of outs made when the ball is in play, has the Nationals second in the league at .704. Again, second behind those Cubs.
All these numbers are a complicated way to say the Washington Nationals defense does their job. Yes, Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner struggle. As a team, they do not. Because of that Washington is poised to win their third divisional championship in five years.
In the field, they are not beating themselves. With such a low error count, the Nats are not making pitchers get four outs in an inning while driving up pitch counts. Having pitchers who trust their defenders behind them to do their Job brings more harmony. As if they are playing as a team.
The bigger factor going forward is that confidence is needed in the playoffs. From the marathon slog of 162 games, the second season turns into every game being the one that either propels you forward or sends you home. It is those little things that determines success.
Whether it is not scoring runners in scoring position or a pitcher who is having a bad day, in a race to win 11 games and a World Series, these things matter.
Because the Washington Nationals have an above-average team defense, the pressure will not be as high to perform. Scouting helps, as you have to know where to play against hitters. So does the infield shift. Make a pure pull hitter beat you.
When you observe the whole picture, solid pitching bolstered by a defense that executes, the Nats are in good shape come October.