It's no coincidence that the savior of the Washington Nationals is named Jesus.
The one man to rescue the Nationals during this journey full of pitfalls and obstacles is not named Bryce, Stephen, Gio, Ryan, Ian or Tyler. In a season marked by an ungodly number of injuries to all portions of the team, Jesus Flores has been the rock the team has built upon.
Jesus Flores. The once-promising young catcher who began this season behind Wilson Ramos on the depth chart before taking over on May 12th. The 27-year-old from Venezuela who finally completed his comeback from a major shoulder injury he suffered three years ago. The lifetime .251 hitter who currently has a microscopic 0.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
Yes, I am aware that Bryce Harper is doing his best Buster Posey impersonation by igniting the team's offense while still a rookie. I have watched as Stephen Strasburg has lived up to the pressure of being the Opening Day starter, and Gio Gonzalez has validated the blockbuster trade that brought him here.
I know that Ryan Zimmerman is the heart of this team and has built a strong case for another Gold Glove at third base and that Ian Desmond has become one of the best defensive short stops in the NL while also terrorizing pitchers at the plate. And I have seen Tyler Clippard become even more valuable to this team, stepping effortlessly into the role of closer while Drew Storen sits on the shelf until July.
But none of these players mean as much to the Washington Nationals as Jesus Flores. On a team whose greatest weapon is the pitching staff, Flores' importance is painfully obvious. Jesus is excellent at managing the ball game, but is even better at managing the staff, both the starting rotation and the bullpen. He has no qualms about marching out to the mound to tell any of his pitchers how and why they are veering off course, and how to quickly get back on track. His direct approach lets his pitchers know that he is the boss, but Flores does so without showing them up.
Who has been the most important player on the Washington Nationals this season?
Jesus Flores is also a great defensive catcher, a significant upgrade from Wilson Ramos. Flores has thrown out four of 12 runners in 31 games for a 25-percent efficiency, compared to Ramos throwing out four of 19 runners in 24 games for 17 percent. The league-wide efficiency rate is 28p percent. Also, Flores is averaging one passed ball for every 15.5 games, whereas Ramos was averaging one per 12 games.
With the inherent value of Jesus Flores, the Washington Nationals' coaching staff becomes visibly nervous anytime there is an injury scare. There was a mild hamstring strain on May 27th, which could have been much worse, but he didn't even miss a game. And there was another scare on Sunday, when Jesus took a foul ball off of his throwing hand. The game was stopped for a few minutes as Flores and the training staff checked his hand. He played catch with Ian Desmond to further check out his hand before resuming play, much to the relief of Davey Johnson and company.
True, the Washington Nationals have organizational depth at catcher, as evidenced by the major league debuts of both Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano this season.
But no catcher in this organization—not even Wilson Ramos—has the combination of skills, experience and authority to control a baseball game from the crouch position like Jesus Flores. The Nationals cannot lose him under any circumstances.
If the Washington Nationals continue this sacred pilgrimage toward the postseason without the presence of Jesus, they will truly need a miracle to reach the Promised Land.