Aptitude, not (N)at(t)itude.

As I write this, the Washington Nationals have won 61 games and lost 40 and enjoy a four-game lead in the National League Eastern Division above the Atlanta Braves.

These are heady times in Nats town. The last time a baseball team from Washington was this good, Franklin Roosevelt was President.

Naturally, folks have wanted to attribute the team’s success to something special:

The stat-heads can debate this one for all eternity, arguing whether or not such nebulous concepts make any difference in a team’s won-loss record. All that matters is this important fact: The men who wear Nationals uniforms and help create their roster universally believe they are winning right now not only because of their physical abilities but because of their camaraderie and fortitude.

This is more Natitude than I am prepared to swallow.

The players may believe that it’s their “winning attitude” that’s making them win. I’m not in the clubhouse, so I don’t know. It’s tough for me to gauge a player’s (N)at(t)itude from Section 315. Here’s what I do know: The 2012 Nats are a pretty good baseball team.

As of this writing, the 2012 Nats score an average of 4.4 runs per game–just above the NL. East’s average of 4.3 runs per game. If the standings were based purely on average runs scored per game, they’d look like this: ATL (4.6), NYM (4.5), WAS (4.4), PHI (4.2), MIA (3.7).

The story–and it’s the same story we’ve been telling all year–is that it is extremely difficult to score runs against the Nats. They allow only 3.5 runs per game on average. As of this writing, no other team in all baseball allows fewer runs than the Nationals.

Behind the “K Street” rotation of Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson, and Detwiler, the Nationals pitching staff dominates. They are tied with Cincinnati (another first-place team) for the lowest ERA (3.26) in the National League. They are third in strikeouts. They have the lowest FIP (3.52) in the big leagues.

The Nats aren’t winning because they have a winning attitude. They are winning because they are performing in a way that sets them up to win, night after night. Their offense is only average, but their superlative pitching prevents so many runs that the end result is spectacular.

When you’re on a team like that, why wouldn’t you be happy? Why wouldn’t you think that you had a chance to win every time you went to the ballpark?

Everybody is busy praising Nats GM Mike Rizzo about his careful attention to clubhouse intangibles. That does these Nats a great disservice. They are performing in very tangible ways, and reaping the intangible benefits. Nothing fosters a winning attitude like winning.

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