Can the Nationals’ infield defense be matched?

Somehow, I still have power this morning, which is a miracle.

I heard the wind whistling through my windows last night and the rain pounding on my roof. My TV connection went out for a bit, but that’s the only damage which I can legitimately complain about so far. Hope the rest of you are just as lucky.

Yesterday’s announcement that Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond were finalists for Gold Gloves got me thinking about infield defenses around the league.

I can say with relative confidence - at least as much confidence as a tired man can have at 9 a.m. - that I cannot think of an infield in the majors which could match the Nationals’ when it comes to overall defensive play.

It all started with LaRoche, who in my opinion should end up winning the Gold Glove at first base. LaRoche added a swagger of sorts to the Nationals’ infield defense. His defensive play was spectacular, but more than that, he allowed the other three guys in the infield to have confidence making any throw on any difficult play, knowing that LaRoche would be there to scoop it out of the dirt or stretch to bring it in.

zimmerman red throwing sidebar.jpgThat factor cannot be overstated. If the other infielders have that confidence in their first baseman, they’ll be much more willing to go all-out on a play and fire the ball over there, knowing that LaRoche will more than likely end up picking it clean.

At second base, Danny Espinosa offers one of the strongest arms in the majors at that position. He’s got range and agility, and when he ranges far up the middle or deep into the hole on the right side, you know he’s got enough arm to get the ball over there in time to get the runner.

I’m not entirely sure I knew how strong Espinosa’s arm was until he moved to shortstop while Desmond was out injured. Then I learned in a hurry.

Desmond, meanwhile, showed this season that his defensive play has continued to improve to a level which many Nationals fans could not have imagined two seasons ago.

He made just 15 errors this season while managing to turn in a handful of spectacular plays, and while the defensive metrics might say that his range and overall defensive play didn’t match many of his shortstop counterparts, our eyes could tell a different story.

Desmond was a human highlight reel this season, making almost all the plays you’d expect while also wowing you with a sparkling play seemingly every few days. He battled through his oblique and hamstring injuries, and his defensive coverage didn’t seem to be affected in the least.

Over at third base, Ryan Zimmerman showed that his new throwing motion is still not a completely finished product.

While Zimmerman can turn in the spectacular play at times, flipping throws across his body over to first base to gun runners on what looks like easy base hits, he makes simple throwing errors every now and then, making LaRoche work extra hard on plays where an on-target throw would have the runner by 20 feet.

But overall, Zimmerman is still one of the top third basemen in the league. If not for his throwing issues, he’d probably be nominated for a Gold Glove along with LaRoche and Desmond because of his range and propensity to do the remarkable, whether it’s ranging into the hole to snag a grounder or sprinting in and making a play on a dribbler up the line.

The Nationals had success this season not just because their offense heated up down the stretch and their pitching staff was one of the best in the majors. They also had success because their infield defense was almost unmatched, making all the plays that should be made and many which you wouldn’t expect.

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