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Significant moment No. 7: Span’s 29-game streak

Dec 25, 2013, 6:00 AM EST

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As we count down the final days of 2013, we are counting down the 10 most significant moments of the year for the Nationals. These aren’t necessarily positive (or negative) moments, and some didn’t even take place on the field. All, though, were significant in the big picture and defined the Nationals’ year. We continue today with significant moment No. 7: Denard Span’s late-season, 29-game hitting streak…

Few players mirrored the ebb and flow of the Nationals’ season like Denard Span. For four months, he failed to live up to the lofty expectations set for him on Opening Day. And then he finished with a flourish, going on a tear at the plate over the season’s final six weeks, a run that helped somewhat salvage what still proved to be a disappointing year.

The highlight of Span’s late surge, of course, was his 29-game hitting streak, longest in the majors in two years and only one game shy of Ryan Zimmerman’s Nationals record set in 2009.

The streak began on Aug. 16, with Span sporting a .258 batting average and seemingly tapping soft grounders to the right side of the infield every time he stepped to the plate. Over the next 29 games, he hit a robust .371, raising his season batting average 24 points, no small feat at that late stage of the baseball calendar.

There was some drama along the way, too, particularly on Sept. 18 when Span waited until the bottom of the seventh inning before lining a single to right-center to extend his streak.

The end came the following night, with Span striking out in his final at-bat to cap an 0-for-4 evening against the Marlins. As he retreated to the dugout, the crowd of 25,945 rose and gave him a standing ovation, recognizing both the streak and Span’s perseverance throughout a difficult debut season in D.C.

“I’ve gotten a lot of scrutiny this year, with how I started,” he said that night. “For me to do what I’ve done, and give the fans an opportunity to see what I bring to the table, it’s just been good for them to see that I am a good player, and Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals brought me here for a reason. It’s just an unbelievable feeling, I’ll be honest.”

That’s what made Span’s hitting streak significant in the bigger picture. Without it, he likely would have slogged his way through the worst season of his career, and perhaps the Nationals would have entered the winter wondering if they needed to make a change in center field.

Instead, Span proved he could be an elite leadoff man for a prolonged stretch, making key adjustments to his swing and his approach. That late surge allowed the 29-year-old to enter the offseason feeling confident about his performance and allowed the Nationals peace of mind knowing they’re set in center field for at least another year.

  1. sjm308 - Dec 25, 2013 at 7:32 AM

    He might have failed to live up to expectations “offensively” but I will not forget the first time I saw him glide into the alley and make a semi-difficult play look easy. We would come to take the range he covered for granted but he was a joy to watch in the field from day one. Not even close that he is the finest CF in the Washinton era and if he hits to his norm, it wil be a bonus.

    Merry Christmas everyone!!

  2. Joe Seamhead - Dec 25, 2013 at 8:05 AM

    sjm,I second all that you said regarding Span’s defense. I love to watch good outfielders and Denard “tranSpans” good. I got beat up pretty bad by peric and WODL for sticking up for Span. [Then again, I got beat up for sticking up for Jayson Werth a couple of years ago, too]. The catch that Span made to save Raffy Soriano’s butt was the highlight catch of the year, but like you said, he made so many others that weren’t all that routine look easy, unlike the way that Nyjer, Lastings, and Elisha made the routine look spectacular, only because they made up for crappy reads/jumps off the bat to start with. He also reduces the field for Werth with his outstanding range.

  3. Section 222 - Dec 25, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    Span lived up to his billing as a defensive CF from the start. By the end of the year, he showed that he can live up to his billing as a decent hitter. (It’s on Davey that he stuck with him in the leadoff position for so long, which magnified how much his slump hurt the team.) But for me, the biggest question about Span is what happened to his basestealing/baserunning ability. No one seems to have figured that out. Has he?

    • David Proctor - Dec 25, 2013 at 4:20 PM

      Base stealing is one of the biggest adjustment periods from one league to the other because you’re unfamilar with the pitchers and their moves, their times, etc. I’m sure they studied those things, but it’s not the same as being out there in person.

      Also, incredibly, 9 of Span’s 20 stolen bases came in September and he wasn’t caught.

      • Section 222 - Dec 25, 2013 at 11:35 PM

        Well that sure sounds reasonable, but Jose Altuve did pretty well after switching leagues (35 this past year in the AL after 33 in the NL the year before).

        But you’re right, Span’s base stealing took off in September just like his hitting did. Let’s just hope that that month, when the Nats were already out of it, was a precursor and not an outlier.

    • letswin3 - Dec 25, 2013 at 10:04 PM

      Actually his 20 steals this past year were an improvement on each of the two preceding years when he stole 6 and 17. His best year ever was 26, so I think we got pretty much what we bargained for.

      • David Proctor - Dec 25, 2013 at 10:28 PM

        Well he stole 6 in only 70 games and 17 in only 128. I think you could reasonably expect 25 bags from him in a healthy season. And maybe more if he has a coach who emphasizes he run game like Williams seems to. The key is cutting down on the caught stealings. In 2010, he stole 26 and was caught only 4 times. That’s what we need.

      • letswin3 - Dec 25, 2013 at 11:09 PM

        Yeah, David. I think Williams might even encourage several guys to take a few more bags. I think I remember him making a comment about possibly turning Harper loose, so he surely isn’t opposed to the concept.

  4. trochlis318 - Dec 25, 2013 at 2:16 PM

    3.5 WAR Center Fielder also a top 5 defensive center fielder an excellent trade by all means way to go rizzo, and glad we have you have you “spanning” our center field.

  5. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 25, 2013 at 7:42 PM

    Hope everyone is enjoying a pleasant, happy holiday (even if you don’t celebrate it directly). One nice present under my tree this morning was a package of tickets to the Nats series in Oakland in mid-May (and, more importantly, spousal dispensation to be away for the long weekend). If anyone else is going to be there, let me know and perhaps we could share a beer that’s not virtual.





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