Mar 5, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
If you’ve glanced at any boxscores from the Nationals’ five Grapefruit League games to date, you’ve probably paid attention to members of the starting rotation, key lineup regulars and a few top relievers who have appeared so far.
Have you noticed, however, what the Nats have been doing on the bases down in Florida?
Here’s a hint: They’ve been running. A lot.
The Nationals already have eight stolen bases in these first five games, tied for third-most in the NL. And their success rate is a stout 88.9 percent (8-for-9).
Get ready to see a whole lot more of that moving forward. New manager Matt Williams wants his club to be able to manufacture runs, and a big part of that includes taking extra bases when the opportunity presents itself.
“That’s the kind of way we want to go about doing it,” he said last week. “There’ll be times when the ball is flying out of the ballpark, and it’s going to be fun to just sit there and hit. But we’re gonna have to play that way, too. That’s gratifying. Regardless of win or loss, that’s the way we gotta play.”
It’s not like the Nationals never ran under Davey Johnson. They stole 88 bases last season, sixth-most in the NL, and their 76 percent success rate ranked fourth.
And it’s not like their lineup isn’t filled with guys who can make things happen on the basepaths. Denard Span has averaged 22 steals in each of his four full big-league seasons. Ian Desmond has at least 21 stolen bases each of the last three years. Bryce Harper obviously has the ability to win games with his legs. Heck, even Adam LaRoche swiped a career-high four bags last season.
Throw in likely bench players Nate McLouth (30 steals last year with Baltimore) and Danny Espinosa (20 steals in 2012), and Williams should have no shortage of green light options this season.
The key: How and when the rookie manager decides to let his guys run free. Stolen bases are great … until a guy gets thrown out with a power hitter at the plate, negating a golden RBI opportunity.
This is where Williams’ choice of batting order could make a significant difference. We know Span is going to lead off. We don’t yet know who will bat behind him.
Should the Nationals double up on speed and use Desmond or Harper as their No. 2 hitter? Or would that potentially take the bat out of the hands of the big guys in the heart of the lineup: Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth?
Williams still has time to sort that all out, but no matter the order of his lineup, this much we do know: The 2014 Nationals are going to run more than their predecessors.
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