Dave Nichols: Walk-off wins spur talks of destiny, but Nats are plain old good

The Nationals have been involved in some crazy games the past few days. Like, nuts. Three walk-off wins in a row, back-to-back sweeps and a seven-game winning streak in total. It’s enough for some to start believing in destiny.

But don’t let the gauzy, misty-eyed baseball romantics sucker you in though. This team is good.

How good?

Well for starters, let’s look at the won-loss record. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. The Nats currently have the highest winning percentage in the National League with two games in hand over Milwaukee and three over the Dodgers, as all three teams have 70 wins. The Nats lead the NL East by six games with 43 games left to play. Not too shabby.

They’re fourth in the league in runs scored per game at 4.21, fifth in home runs and, in a remarkable turnaround from last season, fourth in on-base percentage.

On the pitching side, the Nats surrender 3.46 runs per game, second-best in the league. They are sixth in the league in strikeouts, first (by a wide margin) in fewest walks per game and their K/BB rate is historically high. Seriously, no team staff has had this high of a rate in 20 years.

Sometimes a few simple numbers tell you all you need to know. There isn’t any higher math or fancystats involved here. The best predictors of winning baseball are simple: putting runners on base on offense and pitchers keeping them off. And the Nats excel this season at both fundamentals.

Sure, the excitement of Adam LaRoche’s home run in the 11th inning Monday night, the craziness of Sunday’s multiple come-from-behind efforts and eventual win in the 11th on Sunday against Pittsburgh, and Saturday’s three-run eighth and Wilson Ramos’ walk-off double in the bottom of the ninth might lead baseball’s poets to wax about destiny, intestinal fortitude and perhaps, even faith.

There will be tales of clutch veteran play, the grittiness of journeyman role players, maybe even the redemption of tarnished stars.

Sure, walk-off wins have a huge element of luck to them. And they sure are fun for the highlight reel and the building of narratives, especially if you’ve got a story you’re trying to sell. It all makes for good copy.

But the bottom line is this team is just plain old good at baseball. Isn’t that enough?

Dave Nichols is editor-in-chief of District Sports Page and co-hosts the “Nats Nightly” Internet radio show. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. 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.

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