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Brilliant defense key in Nats’ victory

Jul 21, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

USA Today Sports Images

There was Yunel Escobar’s backhanded stab of John Mayberry’s smash down the third-base line in the top of the first, perhaps preventing two runs from scoring. There was Michael Taylor’s galloping catch of Eric Campbell’s drive to deep right-center in the top of the fifth, again perhaps preventing two runs from scoring. There was Bryce Harper’s shoestring snag of Wilmer Flores’ sinking liner to right in the top of the eighth. And moments later, there was Jose Lobaton’s sprawling grab of Mayberry’s foul-pop, up against a backstop railing and just shy of the camera well.

The Nationals made so many highlight-reel plays in the field during Monday night’s 7-2 victory over the Mets, one of the game’s primary beneficiaries couldn’t choose just one to celebrate.

“All of them,” Gio Gonzalez said. “Escobar. Danny. The play Mikey T made in right-center. It’s fun to watch when these guys are playing their tails off. And Bryce made some nice sliding plays. It makes it easier for a pitcher when these guys are making some great plays out there.”

For a team that has been known at times to look awfully sloppy in the field, the Nationals sure looked like defensive gurus Monday night. Across the board, this might well have been their best defensive game of the season.

“It takes that to beat a good club,” manager Matt Williams said.

And it might have taken all those plays Monday to beat the Mets, who were denied at least four runs via spectacular plays by Escobar and Taylor.

The game’s entire tenor might have been different had Escobar not made his backhanded snare of Mayberry’s first-inning hot shot to third, then made a perfect throw across the diamond to end the frame without a run scoring. If the ball gets through, New York probably hands Matt Harvey a 2-run lead before he ever takes the mound. Instead, it remained a scoreless affair heading to the bottom of the first, at which point the Nationals pounced on Harvey for two runs.

“He’s been huge over there at third base,” said Clint Robinson, who was the recipient of Escobar’s pinpoint throw across the diamond to complete the play. “From spring training and being moved around from second to third base, he’s been kind of a rock over there for us. He’s been really important to our club, moving around, leading off, hitting cleanup; he’s pretty much just doing it all right now.”

Escobar’s play might well have stood as the gem of the evening, if not for Taylor’s remarkable catch to end the top of the fifth. With two on, two out and the Nationals leading 5-2, Campbell roped a drive to deep right-center. Heads immediately hung in despair.

“As soon as he hit the ball, I thought: ‘Oh, that’s a problem. Oh, my god,'” Lobaton said.

“I thought it was at least off the wall,” Gonzalez said. “Maybe top of the wall.”

Except here was Taylor gliding toward the wall in right-center like a gazelle, long strides allowing him to cover a ton of ground before he reached out and grabbed the ball moments before reaching the chain-link fence that guards the out-of-town scoreboard.

As the crowd of 31,326 roared with approval, Gonzalez raised both arms in celebration, then pointed toward his center fielder to say thanks.

“I couldn’t be happier to see Mikey T making a nice play like that,” the left-hander said. “It’s tough to keep your emotions in check. But when a play like that happens, you gotta show love when love is due.”

It didn’t take more than the naked eye to appreciate Taylor’s effort, but once the official numbers were revealed via MLB’s Statcast system, the catch became even more impressive.

Taylor covered more than 97 feet to make the play, topping out at 19.8 mph. His route to the ball earned an efficiency rating of 98 percent. And his reaction time? Well, it might be more appropriate to refer to it as his anticipation time.

Taylor actually began breaking toward the ball .05 seconds before Campbell made contact. Yes, before. Paying attention to Gonzalez’s pitch and Lobaton’s positioning behind the plate, Taylor anticipated a ball hit to his left and thus took his first step a split-second before bat hit ball.

“It was a perfect read,” Williams said. “Perfect angle, and he was able to run it down.”

The Taylor catch probably was the biggest highlight of the game in the field, but the two plays the Nationals made in the top of the eighth were no less significant. Harper came charging in to make a sliding catch of Flores’ soft liner to right. A few seconds later, Lobaton made his remarkable catch of Mayberry’s popup, evading metal railings, stone walls and a drop down into the camera well next to the visitors’ dugout.

“I wasn’t expecting that play,” Lobaton said. “I was running to the ball, saw the ball. The sky was kind of like dark, kind of weird. It wasn’t easy. It was a deep flyball and I saw it and then at the last second the ball is moving that way. I reached it and I caught it and I’m like, that’s cool. That was big for us at that point.”

It seemed like everything the Nationals did in the field Monday night proved to be big for them.

  1. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 21, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    So much for well-intentioned comments urging the Nats to let Taylor refine his outfielding skills at Syracuse.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jul 21, 2015 at 10:54 AM

      Michael Taylor’s performance and growth has been one of the big stories of this season. Those who suggested that he needed more time in AAA were probably right, and his early-season mistakes and sometimes erratic play (especially in the field, but also in the batter’s box) go to prove that. But what sets him apart is that he’s grown into the role of a full-time major league outfielder. I expect to see him in the Nats’ OF for years to come.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:11 AM

        His baserunning needs work as witnessed by another pickoff and sure, he needs steady at-bats and his slash isn’t great but he has STEPPED up on defense. His arm, hustle, have made up for his reads and now his reads are improving and yesterday he read the ball before bat hit ball.

        Fangraphs loves MAT for his UZR. I like his clutch and if he can learn to bunt for hits like he tried yesterday that’s a big weapon in a speedster’s arsenal.

        All in all he has improved his defense from where he was like a deer in the headlights in Boston. Funny that MW addressed that yesterday in the postgame.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:24 AM

        Defensive growth has been great. You see the talent he has in that play last night. I don’t think the misadventures in CF are entirely over, but his defense is too good to waste in LF and I am confident he figures it out.

        That’s the good news. The offense is still much more of a work in progress. He’s striking out almost 38% of the time in July, and 32% on the year, and slashing .235/.283/.356.

        I think the offense will improve some too, but it’s unlikely that’s ever his primary contribution. But with the kind of defense we saw last night, it doesn’t need to be.

  2. masterfishkeeper - Jul 21, 2015 at 10:46 AM

    Yes, I don’t think Span would have caught that one.

    • Doc - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:07 PM

      I was wondering that. Span, at this point, even with a good read, probably wouldn’t have had the speed.

      • senators5 - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:44 PM

        You both are probably correct BUT this team desperately needs offense if it wants to compete with the other division leaders Given that, we clearly need a healthy Span back and move MAT back to left and keep Werth on the bench or let him share first with the rest of the committee.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 21, 2015 at 1:00 PM

        A desperate need for offense is the reason they would *not* start MAT–his offense is quite poor.

        Even if Werth and Span come back somewhat rusty or otherwise diminished, they almost certainly offer you more on offense than MAT. So whichever comes back first, MAT plays the other position.

        If both are back with any semblance of health, they start, and MAT moves to the bench, and comes in as a late inning defensive sub for Werth.

  3. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 21, 2015 at 10:53 AM

    Are we dumping on Desmond today? I’m keeping quiet. Notwithstanding my frustration this is sorta what I imagined would happen all along — he would somehow snap back and say, “I was working on it all along. Shame on everyone who doubted me.”

    • janebeard - Jul 21, 2015 at 10:57 AM

      I am so happy he got that dinger. I hope he keeps it up. I will never dump on him. Like that’s a secret.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:32 AM

      I hope that’s how it plays out. A hot Desi is good for the Nats. Some people are willing him to fail so they look like they’re right. Lets face it, Desi failed most of the first half.

      • adcwonk - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:01 PM

        Yep.

        BTW, just looked it up: Cal Ripken, after 84 games was sitting at .216 Then then hit .303 the rest of the season.

        Here’s hoping Desi can break out — which would be a win-win situation

        a) we can sure use his hitting (and, if he can get hot, and if Span and Werth can come back and play well, we’d have a really awesome line up)

        b) the better he gets, the more likely that: (i) he’ll fetch something good in trade; or (ii) he’ll reject the QO, and we’ll get a compensatory draft pick, along with the promotion of (presumably, hopefully) ready Trea Turner.

        BTW — has anybody mentioned yet that:

        1. Desi’s career BA before the All Star Break is .250; and it’s .283 after the ASB
        2. Desi’s career BA in Aug and Sept is .301 and .279 respectively?

      • adcwonk - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:01 PM

        (That was Ripken’s 1993 season…)

      • Doc - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:09 PM

        Dang, you’re on it wonk!

  4. janebeard - Jul 21, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    Wow. Wow. Mikey T is so the real deal. I love Denard. But I’m gonna be good with Michael A Taylor playing center. He broke for the play BEFORE the hit. Incrediblly cool.

    • masterfishkeeper - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:11 AM

      According to one of the articles, breaking before the hit isn’t that unusual.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:36 AM

        It’s not unusual, per se. It’s unusual to do it in the right direction on a catch like that, because catches like that don’t happen every day.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jul 21, 2015 at 1:25 PM

        Of course it isn’t. That’s a part of what I refer to as a good outfielder’s natural radar.

  5. adcwonk - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:36 AM

    Right after the all start break, when the Mets announced that coming out of the all-start break they would hold Harvey/deGrom/ Syndergaard for the Nats series, someone here posted something along the lines of: “MW got out-smarted again”.

    My own reply, at the time, was that it’s probably not worth disrupting a rotation in order to play with pitching match-ups when it’s still July, in a weak division, and already have a 2 game lead.

    But, in retrospect — perhaps it is the case that the Nats outsmarted the Mets. Consider the following:

    1. The Mets held back their top three, but then lost 2 of 3 to the Cards.

    2. Harvey was pitching last night on 9 days rest, and some Mets observers were wondering whether that was so smart or not (and/or may have been a factor in not being sharp early last night)

    3. The Nats, in the meantime, don’t really need to use their best pitchers against the team that ranks 30th in MLB in BA and runs scored (three of their eight starting position players were batting under .200) — or, rather, might prefer to use their best (Scherzer and JZ) against better teams — such as: pitching them against the Dodgers last week, and against the Pirates later this week.

    Just thinking out loud here . . .

    • Bruxtun - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:46 AM

      I remember that comment. It was almost objectively stupid. It also came with the comment “this is why everyone is smarter than us”. Like who ever said that penciled us in to get swept before the games were even played.

      • adcwonk - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:50 AM

        Yep — that’s the one. (probably an Oreos fan 😉 )

      • nats128 - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:35 PM

        Winning last night shut up many and deGrom will be tough to matchup with and this is where Ross only has to worry what he can control and throw zeros and you hope the Nats offense can manufacture some runs.

        By winning last night the Nats guarantee that with a 3 game lead they are in 1st place when Wednesdays game is over no matter what happens tonight and tomorrow.

      • fstop1970 - Jul 21, 2015 at 1:28 PM

        Isn’t that the same poster (Legion of Doom Executive) that also proclaimed that the Nats would be out 1st place under 500 with in the next 10 days or so?

    • Hiram Hover - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:53 AM

      Wait a minute – did you just praise MW?

      I think that’s going to get your comment reported….

  6. micksback1 - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:37 AM

    I hope Desi gets it going now, maybe, just maybe the HR will do it.

    We are seeing firsthand the importance of having good back up players. In fact, MLB and the Wash Post needs to do a feature on Clint Robinson, he is the feel good story of MLB in 2015. Four months into the season and he has shown what hard work can do and how to seize opportunity when it presents itself.

    Michael A Taylor, I’ve said it since Spring training is going to be a “special player”

    • adcwonk - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:53 AM

      We are seeing firsthand the importance of having good back up players.

      You can say that again! (which is why I repeated it!)

      Can you imagine the disaster that would be unfolding if, say, neither Clint nor Espi were capable of hitting .200 this year?

      • micksback1 - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:57 AM

        great point so let me add, both Espi and Clint are 2 great stories this season, not just for Nats fans but MLB in general.

        also, Michael A has to be in that mix as well. man, I love this kid!!

      • adcwonk - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:10 PM

        also, Michael A has to be in that mix as well

        True, that — but we all knew MAT had potential.

        For that matter, what Escobar is doing is ridiculous, too. In the last three years, the highest he hit was .258 — right now he’s .323, 4th highest in NL.

        Nobody saw _that_ coming!

      • therealjohnc - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:35 PM

        I love what Escobar is doing, but don’t assume going forward that it’s sustainable. He’s living a lot of good fortune on batted ball results right now. His BABIP (.363) is nearly 60 points higher than his career (.305) and is actually 81 points higher than it’s been since 2011. His batted ball profile isn’t really much better, and it’s not like at age 32 he’s suddenly become a speedster. Sooner or later (hopefully not until next season) he’s going to go back to being the .270/.325/.355 ish, solid defensive middle infielder that Rizzo thought he was getting. And there’s nothing wrong with that as a placeholder until Turner and/or Difo is ready. But they call them “career years” for a reason – it’s a one off.

        But even though it’s not sustainable, it’s sure a lot of fun!

      • nats128 - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:43 PM

        This is why JayB doesnt comment much. This is also why you play the games. Nobody knew what Uggla and Clint Robinson or Espi were going to be and MW looks like a genius now a long with Mike Rizzo. Add to that what den Dekker did Saturday afternoon in the 8th inning with the 2 run HR to beat the Dodgers. Add to that how MAT is now playing Gold Glove defense and while his BA isnt great hes been one of the best in RISP. Tyler Moore before the All Star break came thru in the clutch.

        Each player mentioned has stepped up in late innings this year to win games for the Nats. Could the Nats bench be better, yes, they are 23rd in the Majors in PH OPS, but thats still alot better than last season.

  7. adcwonk - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:39 AM

    MZ wrote:

    A few seconds later, Lobaton made his remarkable catch of Mayberry’s popup, evading metal railings, stone walls and a drop down into the camera well next to the visitors’ dugout.

    Lobaton also evaded a guy in the front row leaning out to try to catch the ball. (It’s very clear on one of the replays they were showing last night — no idea if it’s at MLB.com). The guy reaches out, but Lobaton’s glove is higher than the fan’s hand. I’m sure Lobaton must have seen it out of the corner of his eye, making yet one more distraction for him.

    • therealjohnc - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:38 PM

      Another thing I liked about Lobaton’s play – when you watch the replay, check out Janssen. He got there, and was in perfect position, on the balls of his feet with his glove open and at the ready in case the ball came out. He didn’t have to, but if the ball had come free while Lobaton was tripping over the railing padding there Janssen was right where he was supposed to be.

  8. micksback1 - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:51 AM

    Nats may be on pace to draw 3 million fans! I just looked at the MLB home attendance, Nats have played 45 home games and are at abouy 1.6 million so far. The Nats are 5th in the NL, 9th overall in MLB. The myth that DC could not support baseball was always a farce. This once and for all puts a nail in that coffin. Oh and the best part, O’s are 16th overall…what say you Angelos…hee hee??

    • nats128 - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:44 PM

      As Charlie Sheen says WINNING

    • npb99 - Jul 21, 2015 at 1:48 PM

      +3,000,000!

  9. Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 21, 2015 at 11:52 AM

    Michael A will get plenty more days here, I’m sure.

    Which reminds me: Back in the day, we had the Willie Harris meme.

    Section 3 my sofa – Feb 28, 2010 at 3:15 AM
    Willie Harris once caught a fly ball before it was even hit.
    All your base are belong to Willie Harris.

    JMW4th – Feb 28, 2010 at 3:21 AM
    Chuck Norris went to go put Baby in a corner…but Willie Harris had already put her there.

    • adcwonk - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:04 PM

      How in the world do you find those?!?!

      Only tangentially related, I always loved Satchel Paige’s comment on Cool Papa Bell, whom he claimed was the fastest player he ever saw. “He’s so fast that he could turn the light out and get into bed before it got dark”

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:23 PM

        If you know a phrase that will narrow it down more than just “Willie Harris” (I used the second “all your base” quote), and you know the website (add site:natsinsider.com to your search), that one came right up. Someone (Halfstreet?) compiled most of them at some point, but I didn’t look that hard.

      • zmunchkin - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:25 PM

        +1

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:37 PM

        Ah. It was on Chico Harlan’s version of Nats Journal.

        http://voices.washingtonpost.com/nationalsjournal/2008/07/light_travels_at_the_speed_of.html

        (NB Chico misattributes the “all your base” line.)

      • natsfan1a - Jul 21, 2015 at 1:20 PM

        Oh, and that was me on the lineup (hat tip to Baseball Bugs). 😉

  10. micksback1 - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:05 PM

    I wonder if the Nats have thought about this for not just the post season but for the 2018 All Star game in DC., maybe Mark can run with this:

    I talked to Hank Thomas (Walter Johnson’s grandson) about a year ago and as many of you know, his mother is alive, well and kicking. I asked him if the Nats thought about having a commeoration for her before a game and he told me that if the Nats got to the WS, that they would have her throw out a first pitch. So, I was wondering why wait until then, maybe have her do this sometime this season as well as have some of the former Senator icons still around, Howard, Bozman, Unser, hell, Camillo Pascal (still alive), etc.. throw out first pitches to home games in September and October and most definitely have Mrs. Thomas do this as well now and in 2018, God willing.

    any thoughts?

    • therealjohnc - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:40 PM

      That would be kind of awesome! Make it happen, Nats!

      • nats128 - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:49 PM

        Hank was a regular at RFK near the 3rd base dugout. I would see him often. I hope hes doing well and his mother.

        Julia Ruth Stevens is still involved with Babe Ruth activities and it would be nice to bring some Senators back!

    • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:53 PM

      Camilo Pascal doesn’t handle pressure, he definespressure.

  11. adcwonk - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:14 PM

    As the trading deadline looms . . . .

    To quote FP:

    How about a three player deal — we get Span, Rendon, and Werth, and we don’t give up anything.

    • zmunchkin - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:28 PM

      +2
      +6
      +28

      • nats128 - Jul 21, 2015 at 12:58 PM

        Very true on position players. Still doesnt solve the bullpen. Storen last night was hit hard by the left-handed batters and if Storen is ever going to be the total shutdown closer he has to find a way to get those lefties.

  12. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 21, 2015 at 1:09 PM

    Wonk and FP are on the beam. The Nats actually have a surplus of position players. The question is, could they improve? MLBTR says Lucroy is on the market. That’s a deal that could significantly improve the present situation and, in terms of salary, wouldn’t cause much discomfort. Thinking that Severino will be ready in a couple of years requires more insight than I have at the moment.

    • nats128 - Jul 21, 2015 at 1:43 PM

      “That’s a deal that could significantly improve the present situation”

      Really, what is that going to upgrade? Ramos has a .656 OPS and Lucroy has a .645 OPS. Are you suggesting that Rizzo downgrade?

      Lucroy is struggling this year and its not shocking when a catcher logs in 655 plate appearances the year before.

      The Twins are looking to replace Kurt Suzuki (.585 OPS) who is struggling at the plate and has no power and they are rumored to want to look at Lucroy. The Brewers would be selling low on Lucroy and that doesnt make sense.

      What other suggestions do you have?

      • natsjackinfl - Jul 21, 2015 at 2:21 PM

        Totally agree. If Lucroy could be obtained at a resonable cost, his team friendly contract would be a bonus.

        I’d take him over the Buffalo every time.

      • natsjackinfl - Jul 21, 2015 at 2:23 PM

        And that’s totally agree with Theo. Lucroy played hurt before going on the DL.

      • nats128 - Jul 21, 2015 at 3:09 PM

        Still think your slightly upgrading a position that isnt a problem. Suprized at you that you would want your pitchers to have to acclamate to a new catcher. That aint broke so dont fix it.

        Im with Wonk that with Rendon and Span its like a huge deadline trade.

        Not sure how Werth will be when he gets back. Time will tell there.

      • nats128 - Jul 21, 2015 at 3:21 PM

        http://reviewingthebrew.com/2015/07/21/milwaukee-brewers-rumors-twins-watching-jonathan-lucroy/

        “if the Brewers were to ever move Lucroy it would take significant pieces like that in return.”

        Significant pieces. They arent selling low for Lucroy. Hes had a good last 30 games. Still not back to where he was in 2014.

        The pieces the Nats need are the bullpen.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 21, 2015 at 3:39 PM

        Lucroy had a slow start then broke his toe and didn’t play the entire month of May. He’s had a good June and July and is close to career number but certainly off his career year numbers from last year.

        While he’d be a nice upgrade to any team except SFG and KC and NYY, I don’t see why the Nats would jump into a scurry for him.

        If you’re going to plug a hole, the bullpen and 1st base and LF are the biggest laggards in terms of under performing positions but let’s face it the Robinson/TyMo platoon has been admirable and when Span is back and MAT in LF it’s an overall upgrade.

        Stick to the bullpen, it needs a stud in there. His initials are AC. He made the Cubs first baseman Rizzo look silly last night to end the game.

      • nats128 - Jul 21, 2015 at 3:42 PM

        Its like Fantasy baseball. A name becomes available and the fantasy owner wants that player if they can upgrade. Then another player becomes available and so on and so on. Its a never ending cycle on Fantasy but in real life you have to trade your farm for these players.

        Lucroy doesnt put you over the top.

      • Soul Possession, My Sofa - Jul 21, 2015 at 4:00 PM

        It’s like Fantasy baseball.

        It’s called GM Gin Rummy. And it’s not a compliment.

      • nats128 - Jul 21, 2015 at 4:03 PM

        The only players you wouldnt replace are Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer.

    • nats128 - Jul 21, 2015 at 1:57 PM

      http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/batting/_/position/c/sort/WARBR/order/true/minpa/50

      Just checking Catcher value and the stats have Ramos in the Top 10 at #9

      • jd - Jul 21, 2015 at 2:14 PM

        Yeah Ramos is 8th on fangraphs but with only a 0.6 WAR. He’s really not having a great year but there aren’t many great catchers around and Ramos is an above average catcher most of the time plus we have a very good prospect who is already at AA so I don’t think catching is a major area to be concerned with. I think we are very thin in outfield prospects and if Span leaves there really is quite a void there.

      • nats128 - Jul 21, 2015 at 3:07 PM

        Jay Bruce with the lefty bat would be the only one I would think of adding.

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