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Span’s career night leads Nats’ takedown of Cueto

May 21, 2014, 12:28 AM EDT

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What’s a good leadoff man worth? How much difference does it make if the guy atop a team’s lineup is productive or not?

For the Nationals, it appears to mean everything. Put simply: When Denard Span does well, the Nats do well. When he doesn’t, they don’t.

“It sets up everything,” teammate Jayson Werth said. “When you get your leadoff guy on base and having good at-bats and grinding out at-bats, working the pitcher … when he’s going good, he doesn’t give an at-bat away. If that’s your leadoff guy, that just sets up the rest of the lineup.”

Never was that more obvious than Tuesday, when the Nationals rode Span’s career-best, 5-for-5 night to a stunning takedown of the previously indomitable Johnny Cueto in a 9-4 victory over the Reds.

Span was all over the place making contributions, in all sorts of ways. He singled three times (once via bunt), doubled twice, scored two runs, drove in two more, stole a base and helped force two errors by Cincinnati’s defense.

“For me, that’s how I have to take over a game,” he said. “I can’t take over a game by just driving in runs all the time. I can sometimes. But my way of taking over a game is by letting my athleticism do the talking for me.”

Span hasn’t been able to take over as many games as he — or the Nationals — would have liked so far this season. He entered Tuesday with a .239 batting average and .287 on-base percentage, the latter number the worst among all qualifying MLB leadoff hitters.

Before the game, manager Matt Williams offered up a strong defense of Span remaining as his leadoff man, citing not the overall numbers but his ability on any given night to do something that makes a difference.

Then the 30-year-old went out and delivered with his best performance in two seasons with the Nationals, one the club hopes is a precursor of things to come.

“He started a really good streak in the second half of last year, so certainly it can get him going,” Williams said. “It really doesn’t mean much other than tonight, though. He’s still got to prepare and do all the things that he does every day to go out and play. But sure, it’s a special night for him.”

How special? Well, over the course of 3 hours and 3 minutes, Span raised his batting average 24 points and his on-base percentage 21 points. At .263 and .308, he’s still not producing as well as you’d like a leadoff hitter to produce long-term, but he believes he has turned a corner in recent days.

“This is what I bring to the table,” Span said. “I haven’t shown it a lot, but this is what I can do. Now it’s just about being consistent with it, doing it on a more-consistent basis.”

There’s no disputing how much the Nationals need Span to start doing this on a day-in, day-out basis. Consider this: Span’s offensive slash line in Nats wins this season is .369/.413/.560. In their losses, it’s .145/.188/.145.

Point is, a good leadoff hitter can make all the difference.

  1. veejh - May 21, 2014 at 12:47 AM

    There’s no disputing how much the Nationals need Span to start doing this on a day-in, day-out basis.

    If Span can do this every game, we win the series.

    Just get your BA to .280/.290 and that OBP around .350, where it should be for a leadoff guy, and I’ll be ecstatic.

    • bowdenball - May 21, 2014 at 8:44 AM

      OBP around .350 is where it should be for a leadoff guy? I think you might be trapped in 1999. It’s a much more low-scoring, pitching-dominated game these days, a lot harder to reach base safely. Last year only 21 qualified National League hitters had OBPs of .350 or higher, and only two of them were leadoff guys (Aoki and Scutaro).

      .325 with plus defense and baserunning would be plenty.

      • jd - May 21, 2014 at 9:17 AM

        Choo led off for the Reds – OBP .423.

        I think a goal of .350 for the leadoff hitter is still reasonable. You have to take some walks to get there though.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 21, 2014 at 9:49 AM

        Bowdenball is correct that offensive numbers have decreased and .340 is where you would like to see him and no less than .320

        That 1st AB of the game to be a tablesetter would also be helpful.

      • bowdenball - May 21, 2014 at 10:01 AM

        Good call, I missed Choo.

        I stand by what I said about .325 with his defense and baserunning being adequate, though. If he gets to and stays at that level for the season the Nats will be happy, and if the middle of the order guys return relatively soon and stay healthy the offense will be more than enough to get them to the postseason.

      • Hiram Hover - May 21, 2014 at 10:24 AM

        Maybe folks mean different things about the slash lines of lead off hitters–are we talking about the performance of those guys only when they are the first batter of a game and/or an inning, or the overall performance of #1 guys in the batting order, whenever their PAs occur in the game?

        If the latter–if you go on fangraphs or espn.com (or whatever), and select splits for “Batting #1,” you’ll get a list of 28 guys with at least 100 PAs in 2014. Highest OBP is Choo at .431. Median is .337. Span now ranks 19. (If you go back to 2013 and set a higher threshhold for PA, the overall #s are the same.)

        In any event–given Span’s other contributions, as bowdenball and Ghost point out, I’m ok with an OBP of .325, and happier the higher it climbs above that.

  2. Section 222 - May 21, 2014 at 12:57 AM

    Those huge jumps in BA and OBP from one good game show that it’s still very early in the season. Clearly, the Nats can’t win with a leadoff hitter who has the lowest OBP in baseball among leadoff hitters. Let’s hope tonight is the start of his returning to ability he showed in the second half of last season.

  3. TimDz - May 21, 2014 at 7:24 AM

    Not to take away from D. Span, but Tyler Moore has been outstanding at first base in Adam LaRoche’s place.

    • Doc - May 21, 2014 at 8:40 AM

      Darn Tootin’!

      TyMo’s been good.

      Don’t know what the splits are for him, but I he seems to have handled his own against RH pitchers lately.

    • knoxvillenat - May 21, 2014 at 9:07 AM

      What I said last night:

      “knoxvillenat – May 20, 2014 at 9:28 PM
      I realize it has been a small sample size with ALR being on the DL, but I am becoming quite comfortable seeing TyMo in at first base. He has been solid if not spectacular on defense and he seems to get a hit or an RBI almost every other game anyway.

      Keep him out of the outfield ( that will make Seamhead happy) and let Hairston be the primary RH bat off the bench. Give Tyler some starts at first base to spell LaRoche and I think the Nationals will be be quite happy with the results.”

  4. edshelton2013 - May 21, 2014 at 7:38 AM

    This is the “contract” year for both Span and Laroche. If they post mediocre numbers, we can let them both walk and look at Souza/Goodwin/Taylor in CF and Moore at 1B. Or let Rizzo work his magic in the FA/trade market.

  5. Doc - May 21, 2014 at 8:46 AM

    Nobody deserved the 5 hit night more that Denard.

    Interesting about the previous Nats that have had 5 hit nights,i.e, Nook Logan, Dukes, Flores, Guzman, they all had abreviated careers.

    Span is in his own class with that group, but I doubt that it is predictive of a great career.

  6. natsfan1a - May 21, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    Span is the man. Got away from watching the game last night (husband came home and wanted to watch something else. Sheesh. :-)). When I turned it back on in the 6th, it took me a few minutes to process what I was seeing in the box. What? The Reds scored six runs?? Dang. Waitaminnit. That’s *Nats* six, and Cueto is leaving the game. And he does not look happy. Wow. Like FP said (if memory serves), “Raise your hand if you had that happening.” I certainly did not. I like it, though. Very much. Anyhoo, it’s back to fun with remodelers for me. Hope to watch this afternoon’s game from the first pitch. We’ll see. Later, folks.

    • natsfan1a - May 21, 2014 at 9:19 AM

      Meant to throw an “atta way” in Fister’s direction as well. Missed his first start, when perhaps he was still a bit rusty (and, if memory serves, I was asleep), but he’s been fun to watch when I’ve been awake. :-)

  7. markinarlington - May 21, 2014 at 9:11 AM

    The Nats played last night in the way that Rizzo must have hoped that the team would when he put them together: good hitting, terrific pitching and fine defense. Sunday’s win against the Mets also showed the team playing at near their best, albeit with a different set of contributors. It’s a long season, but it’s nice to see the Nationals looking so good, and to have hope that even better is yet to come.

  8. Sam - May 21, 2014 at 9:13 AM

    At .263 and .308, he’s still not producing as well as you’d like a leadoff hitter to produce long-term, but he believes he has turned a corner in recent days.

    I take offense to this statement. Perhaps I am arguing semantics here, but there is a fundamental difference between what he “has produced” and how he “is producing.” Batting average, on base percentage – really, every statistic – is a measure of what he has produced to this point in the season. So, the proper wording here would have been: “…he has not produced as well as you’d like…” The reason that this is important – in my opinion, of course – is to elucidate the fact that what Span has produced to this point this season is not a useful predictor of what he will do on any given night or for the rest of the year.

  9. Ghost of Steve M. - May 21, 2014 at 9:16 AM

    That hit pushed Span above Mendoza in his leadoff the game ABs.

    His slash .206/.250/.294/.544

    That leadoff hit against Cueto kind of unsettled him. He went 3-0 to Rendon and then the 3-0 to Werth that he turned on and just missed. The 2nd time through the order the Nats were all over him.

    Nice game Denard!

  10. natsfan1a - May 21, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    Speaking of unsettling Cueto, early in the game I was musing to myself that perhaps it might be helpful if fans were to serenade him as happened in the wild card game at Pittsburgh last year. This one worked out okay without that, though, so never mind. Maybe we keep that one in our back pockets. :-)

    • 3on2out - May 21, 2014 at 9:32 AM

      My wife and I went to the wildcard game in Pittsburgh last fall and were doing the KWAY-TOE KWAY-TOE chant from our couch last night. We couldn’t make him actually drop the ball while on the mound (as he did in Pittsburgh) but we obviously rattled his cage. ;-)

      • natsfan1a - May 21, 2014 at 9:42 AM

        Keep up the good work, you two. That WC game must have been awesome in person. The crowd looked and sounded great on tv. I was rooting for the Pirates from my couch. :-)

  11. Doc - May 21, 2014 at 9:35 AM

    In spite of ugly stats in Syracuse, Ryan Mattheus has done well on his latest return here.

    He’s taken the ball and put out the fire. He’s also throwing a 95 mph FB across the plate.

    i’m surprised, but happy for his success. We’ll probably see again this season, if he’s sent down for Trieinen.

  12. richardp6 - May 21, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    I guess all I needed to do was rant about Span yesterday (maybe he read this blog LOL.)

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 21, 2014 at 10:11 AM

      I think most of the rants that kept it objective were needed. The beat writers started to ask Matt Williams if a change needed to be made at leadoff. He had the lowest OBP of any leadoff man in baseball and that’s not good. Now we have to see if last night is a beginning to him coming out of this funk. I want to see more walks. I can live with the BA.

      Also, I want to see him patrol CF more aggressively in road games. If it takes extra fungo then he needs to do it. His range ratings have been steadily falling as I have pointed out here several times and the latest FanGraphs now has him in a Negative Range Rating and his UZR is now 38th amongst all CFers with at least 75 innings.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=cf&stats=fld&lg=all&qual=70&type=1&season=2014&month=0&season1=2014&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0

      • nats128 - May 21, 2014 at 10:32 AM

        I thought you werent a big fan of UZR. Span has dropped quickly in UZR. 2 weeks ago he was 10th in the Majors and now 38th. Crazy.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 21, 2014 at 10:35 AM

        I would never rely totally on UZR but I used the eye test on the recent West Coast swing and he did not look good. He was not going back on the ball aggressively.

        I said I felt there was a large divide between Span’s defense in Nats Park and on the road. He gets almost every ball in Nats Park and goes back to the wall aggressively.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 21, 2014 at 10:37 AM

        And when I made those observations Span was 9th in the Majors in UZR and not surprised his UZR has plummeted. It’s still early in the season and they will probably improve here with the homestand defense.

  13. Ghost of Steve M. - May 21, 2014 at 9:59 AM

    I brought up after Frandsen made those remarks about Rendon on the radio that I was hoping it wouldn’t get in his head.

    Before the interview Rendon was slashing .304/.340/.533/.874

    and now he is slashing .267/.315/.444/.759

    Rendon and Ian Desmond are now tied for the team lead in RBIs with 25 each.

    • David Proctor - May 21, 2014 at 10:15 AM

      I’d bet the house that’s more coincidence than it is going to Rendon’s head.

      • tcostant - May 21, 2014 at 10:17 AM

        I agree with David.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 21, 2014 at 10:21 AM

        I will say it again, this game weighs on you mentally. The Frandsen comments immediately started a clubhouse issue. I saw a change in his swing. Almost a drag on his quick bat.

        The last 2 games ARen has been swinging better so hopefully he is coming out of the mini-funk. His defense has been excellent.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 21, 2014 at 10:29 AM

        You don’t need to bet the house because we will never know. “Stress” events have always been a common cause of a player going into a funk or a slump.

      • jd - May 21, 2014 at 10:47 AM

        Ghost,

        There is no question that external pressures affect a player’s performance but since we don’t know what goes on in a player’s life or in a player’s mind it’s just pure speculation and I for one don’t like to speculate on things where I don’t know the full story.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 21, 2014 at 11:06 AM

        JD, i commented after the May 7th game that he looked sluggish. He just came off of that amazing 3 hit game against the Dodgers.

        We will never know but it certainly played out to that game and it was prolonged.

        I just wish Frandsen kept his mouth shut.

  14. Candide - May 21, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    I’m going to take credit for Span’s big night.

    Just before the first pitch, I told Cunegonde that Span hasn’t been doing his job at leadoff. “He needs to get on base more – that’s the leadoff hitter’s job.”

    So he then takes the first pitch for a single.

    Cunegonde turned to me and said, “Now aren’t you sorry you’re talking so mean about Denard?”

    “If that’s what it takes to get him to hit, I’ll talk mean about him all night long. And in any case, saying he’s not getting on base often enough isn’t talking mean; it’s a simple fact.”

    “Stop being mean to Denard.”

    After he got his third hit of the night – at that point the ONLY hits the Nats had – she tells me, “See? You were mean to Denard and he gets all the hits!”

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 21, 2014 at 10:45 AM

      To quote the great David Proctor “I’d bet the house that’s more coincidence” :)

    • adcwonk - May 21, 2014 at 10:58 AM

      I had the opposite thing going with Cueto. For 24 hours I was attempting to explain to Mrs Wonk just how good, historically good, Cueto is.

      Of course, I did end it with: “hey, he’s gotta mess up one time in ten starts, right?”

      • Candide - May 21, 2014 at 11:31 AM

        The classic reverse lock. How could we expect to beat The Best Pitcher in Baseball (TM)?

  15. jd - May 21, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    I am surprised by Rendon’s struggles a bit. I thought his game was somewhat slump proof but at the same time he has hit the ball well and into bad luck on several occasions and his BABIP is .291 so there may be a couple of hits coming real soon.

    • adcwonk - May 21, 2014 at 11:01 AM

      yeah — recall his _almost_ walk off two nights ago; his sac fly the night before, 3 BB’s and a hit the day before that…. and from May 10 to May 14 he went 1-for-4 in five straight games — granted, just .250, but not exactly a slump either.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 21, 2014 at 11:19 AM

        It’s more a funk. Not a slump. Theres also some o-fers since May 7. He had missed pitches he had been crushing.

    • Hiram Hover - May 21, 2014 at 11:22 AM

      Can’t say I’m too worried yet–his fundamentals are strong–as wonk says, a sac fly when it was needed, some good near hits, taking the BB when he can.

      Also, let’s not put it all on Rendon himself (or his getting rattled by Frandsen or whatever). Opposing pitchers are recognizing him for the good hitter he is and making adjustments.

      Remember that fangraphs piece about how Rendon was getting treated like a light hitter and served too many pitches in the heart of the strike zone that he was driving for XBH? If the writers at FG figured it out, I guarantee pitching staffs and coaches did too.

      I don’t have time to go look at the pitchfx data, but I will bet you David Proctor’s house that if you do, you will see some differences in how Rendon has been pitched in the last 2-3 weeks, vs the first 2-3 weeks of the season.

      Now, Rendon has to adjust to the adjustments. That’s what good hitters do, and he will.

    • raleighnat - May 21, 2014 at 11:27 AM

      I agree that Rendon’s approach seems slump proof, but this isn’t the first time…seems like it happened last year too. Anyway, he’s young, learning and I’m sure he will be rebounding soon.

      • texnat1 - May 21, 2014 at 12:41 PM

        Rendon is still learning. One area for improvement is taking more walks. He has too good an eye for his OBP to be so close to his average.

  16. adcwonk - May 21, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    Wonk’s Wednesday’s Widbits

    (But first, this interjection: Before yesterday, what would you have guessed the odds of ever reading a statement like this: “Espi’s RBI single knocks Cueto out of the game in the sixth inning” ?)

    How good is Cueto:
    – after allowing 6 ER in 5.1 innings, his ERA “skyrocketed” to 1.86
    — his streak of 9 straight starts of 7 IP, 2 R or fewer is the longest streak in over 100 years
    — he hasn’t allowed this many runs since 2010
    —- he allowed 10 runs combined in his first 9 starts; then 8 last night

    Reds fielding:
    – before the series with the Nats, they committed only 13 errors in 42 games
    — in the two games with the Nats, they made 6 errors
    — they still lead all of MLB in fewest errors with 19; next closest in NL are Cards and Mets with 24 (Nats are the worst in NL with 40; Indians have 45)

    – Chris Davis had 3 HR’s all season, and added 3 last night (off of three different pitchers)
    Trivia Question: who are the only other three Orioles to have multilpe 3 HR games?

    – Edwin Encarnacion has nine HR’s in May, and still 10 days left

    – Cano reached base again — now 27 consecutive games

    – Masahiro Tanaka lost his first reglar season game (if you include the Japan league) since 2012 — 42 starts.

    – Wainright threw a complete game one-hit shutout, facing just 28 batters. 9 K’s 0 BB. Just a fourth inning double, otherwise a perfect game.

    – Kurt Suzuki hit an inside the park HR. And is batting .310
    — Derek Norris OBA .452

    • nats106 - May 21, 2014 at 11:27 AM

      Reds defense also benefited by a very generous scorer in Monday nights game. There were at least two fielding opportunities that were ruled hits, rather than errors. Nice to see someone else playing tight for a change.

    • Candide - May 21, 2014 at 11:28 AM

      Trivia Question: who are the only other three Orioles to have multilpe 3 HR games?

      I’m going to go with:
      Frank Robinson
      Boog Powell
      Eddie Murray

      • adcwonk - May 21, 2014 at 11:44 AM

        Boog and Murray. Correct. Good call.

        The other one, according to the article, was Goose Goslin — but he played for the Senators not the O’s!

        So, I don’t know if there are any others. I could go check F Robby game by game — not sure if I’m up for it ;-)

      • adcwonk - May 21, 2014 at 11:47 AM

        Nope — Frank Robinson only did it once in his career.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - May 21, 2014 at 12:32 PM

        Shot in the dark, but Brady Anderson did have that *anomolous* season. Unless it’s Cal.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - May 21, 2014 at 12:35 PM

        Pretty sure it wasn’t Albert Belle. Or Sammy Sosa.

      • texnat1 - May 21, 2014 at 12:42 PM

        I guess Brady Anderson as well.

      • DaveB - May 21, 2014 at 1:10 PM

        You can go to baseball ref “HR Log” tag to verify someone (Boog & Eddie) each had 3, but I didn’t see an easy way to search on it …. None of the other names mentioned here had 3, so I’m guessing it was just those 2

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