Time to get defensive

Last night’s game was perhaps the sloppiest I’ve ever seen the St. Louis Cardinals look.

And man, did they pick a bad time to kick the ball all over the place.

The Cardinals committed three errors in Game 1 of the World Series last night, but that doesn’t even fully tell the story of how poorly they played defensively.

In total, four unearned runs were allowed by the Cardinals. Nationals-killer Pete Kozma dropped a throw in the first inning that should have started a 4-6-3 double play and instead led to a bases-clearing double by Mike Napoli. Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina let a 50-foot pop-up fall in between them without either player having touched the ball. Kozma made another error on a grounder in the hole. David Freese chucked a ball away.

Keep in mind, this was a team that had committed just 75 errors all regular season, tied for the fourth-fewest in the majors. They had committed just three errors through their previous 11 postseason games.

We’re told over and over again that the Cardinals play the game the way it should be played. They sure didn’t last night, and it cost them big time.

While we’re talking team defense, let’s bring this all back to the Nationals, who committed a whopping 107 errors this season.

Their .982 fielding percentage ranked 24th in the majors, and they threw out just 17.4 percent of runners attempting to steal, by far the lowest total in the bigs. (For the sake of comparison, the Cardinals cut down an even 40 percent of runners attempting to steal.)

Whoever takes over the Nationals’ managerial job (and it apparently won’t be Don Mattingly, who the Dodgers now say they’ll definitely have back as their skipper in 2014) will need to make defense a top priority next season. Fundamentals will need to be stressed. Holding runners will need to be a major area of focus during spring training.

The Nationals have the ability to be a strong defensive group, but for whatever reason, they just weren’t able to put it together in that area this season.

Adam LaRoche regressed defensively after a Gold Glove 2012 campaign. Ryan Zimmerman threw the ball all over the place in the first half of the season as he worked his right shoulder back into form after offseason surgery. Anthony Rendon committed five errors in 15 games at third base, two in four games at shortstop and nine in 82 games at second. You can’t really blame him for the miscues at second base, however, given that was a position he hadn’t really played since Little League.

The good news here is that time should help heal some of these troubles.

Zimmerman’s shoulder will be healthier and stronger in 2014 than it was this year, and we saw down the stretch that he’s still capable of playing high-level defense at third base. Assuming he ends up manning second base again next season, Rendon will have a year of experience at that position under his belt. Denard Span will enter spring training in 2014 feeling much more comfortable working alongside Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth in the outfield than he did entering spring training in 2013.

People might love home runs and they might enjoy watching a starting pitcher mow down the opposition. Team defense might get overlooked at times, but it can definitely affect the course of a ballgame. We saw that last night.

That will need to be a main area of focus for the Nationals in 2014.

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