CINCINNATI - The Nationals sure are catching the Reds at the right time.
Cincinnati had won seven of its last nine games going into the All-Star break, sat seven games over .500 and was 1 1/2 games back of the National League Central-leading Brewers.
Now, the Reds have lost six in a row coming out of the break, are just a game over .500 and sit six games back of the Brewers.
Not a bad time for Matt Williams’ squad to swoop into the Great American Ballpark for three games, hoping to push around a struggling, beat-up Reds team. (For more on the Reds, give Josh Land’s series preview a read. Good stuff there.)
Back on May 17, Denard Span went 0-for-4 in a loss to the Mets, a performance that dropped Span’s batting average to .236, his on-base percentage to .288 and his slugging percentage to .326.
Span was struggling, and Williams was getting questions about whether he would consider going with a different leadoff hitter. Williams confidently responded that Span was his leadoff hitter, and would continue to be.
The decision to leave Span atop the Nats’ order has turned out to be a wise one.
Over his last 55 games since that May 17 performance, Span is hitting .311. His on-base percentage is a solid .361. And he’s slugging .434.
Overall, Span is now hitting .282/.333/.393 on the season. He has 35 extra-base hits on the season, most among leadoff hitters. He’s tied for sixth in the majors in doubles with 29, ahead of sluggers like Freddie Freeman and Yasiel Puig. He’s 17-for-19 in stolen base attempts this year.
Among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances in the leadoff spot, Span’s on-base percentage still ranks 11th out of 17 qualifiers. He doesn’t look like he’ll be a .380 OBP guy again, like he was over his first two seasons in the big leagues, because he doesn’t walk much.
Span’s walk rate of 7.3 percent also ranks 11th among those 17 qualified leadoff hitters.
But the last couple of months, Span has really picked things up offensively. He’s reaching base at a better clip, often getting multiple bases at a time. He’s been a threat on the basepaths. And he’s been a catalyst for this team offensively.
Combine that with his defensive play, and you can see how valuable the 30-year-old is.
Span might get some criticism for his on-base percentage, but when he goes, the Nats go. And luckily for this team, Span has been going well for a little while now.