As the Nationals continue to own the best record in the National League and maintain a 2 1/2-game lead in the NL East, injured catcher Wilson Ramos seems like a forgotten man. Unnoticed though he may be, Washington's baseball club misses Ramos more than most fans think.
Jesus Flores, himself healthy for the first time in four years after overcoming a myriad of injuries, has filled in capably for the injured starter. Flores has excelled defensively and capably handled the Nationals excellent pitching staff. Back-up Jhonatan Solano's play (.323/.344/.613) has exceeded all reasonable expectations.
Ramos, in his 25-game 2012 cameo, uncharacteristically struggled to block pitches and throw out runners. Even his season-ending knee injury occurred when a ball he usually catches with ease ticked off the top of his glove for a passed ball. Despite his struggles in the field, his hitting remained solid, building on his great rookie season in 2011.
Ramos' hitting ability is what the Nationals, who still struggle to score runs at times, miss most. At the time of his injury, Ramos' slash line was .265/.354/.398 for a fine .752 OPS. By way of comparison, Baltimore Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters' slash line is .254/.333/.436 for a .770 OPS, albeit for a full season compared to Ramos' 25 games. NL All-Star starter Buster Posey has better hitting statistics, (.290/.366/.466, .832 OPS), but the gap between Posey and Ramos is not huge. Combining his 2010-12 stats with the Nationals, Ramos looks like this: .267/.334/.433 with a .767 OPS.
While these may not be All-Star numbers, they are top-tier for a catcher. Also, one can only think Ramos would have improved with experience.
By contrast, Flores has struggled at the plate, especially in the two areas of Ramos' strengths - getting on base and power hitting. His numbers (.238/.278/.354, .632 OPS) pale in comparison to Ramos' stats. Even with Solano's contribution added, the tandem comes nowhere near Ramos in hitting prowess.
Without getting too much into geeky advanced math and statistics, the wide gap between Ramos' offense and his replacements' performance translates into fewer runs scored over the course of the season. Fewer runs means fewer wins. Maybe Ramos' absence will cost the Nationals just two or three victories, but with eight teams (Nationals, Braves, Mets, Reds, Pirates, Cardinals, Giants and Dodgers) currently fighting for five playoff spots - and don't count the Phillies out yet, either - those lost wins could prove crucial by October.
The Nationals have had a wonderful season so far. It is sad that Ramos - kidnapped at gunpoint, rescued in a firefight and sidelined by a cruel injury for the rest of the 2012 season - cannot be part of it. By October, his absence may make the Nationals and their fans glum as well.
Stephen Walker blogs about the Nationals at District on Deck and is the author of "A Whole New Ballgame: The 1969 Washington Senators" (Pocol Press, 2009). His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com's effort to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of the Internet. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.