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Agressive baserunning pays off in Nats win

Jun 19, 2014, 12:57 AM EDT

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From the day he took over as Nationals manager, Matt Williams preached aggression on the bases. But rarely has this team put that philosophy into practice over the season’s first 2 1/2 months.

Then came Wednesday night’s series finale against the Astros, a 6-5, come-from-behind victory keyed by an Anthony Rendon homer, a Nate McLouth pinch-hit sacrifice fly and some gutsy relief from Aaron Barrett, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano.

Topping all that, though, might well have been a host of heads-up baserunning maneuvers by several Nationals, nearly every one of them helping leading to runs crossing the plate.

“That’s something we do talk about before each series: We preach just being aggressive,” said Denard Span, who stole two bases and scored the game’s first run. “Taking first-to-third opportunities and being ready to run when the ball is in the dirt, just little things like that. That’s what wins games. Those are the little things that good teams do.”

The Nationals have been playing like a very good team for the better part of the last three weeks. They’ve won 12 of their last 18, and in sweeping this abbreviated series from the Astros, they’ve opened up a 1 1/2-game lead in the NL East heading into a huge, 4-game weekend showdown with the Braves.

This latest win can be attributed in no small part to their actions on the basepaths.

It began with the recognition that Houston starter Scott Feldman was particularly slow to the plate. The Nationals managed to steal four bases off Feldman’s first 39 pitches of the night: two by Span, two by Rendon.

“That’s good,” said Williams, who successfully challenged and got a call overturned after Span was initially ruled out in the first inning. “The opportunities have to be there. You can’t just run just to run. But tonight we took advantage of those.”

Perhaps no baserunning maneuver in this game was more impressive, though, than Jayson Werth’s swipe of second base in the bottom of the third. Catcher Jason Castro’s throw had him beat at second base, but Werth somehow managed to stop his slide short, pop up and then elude Jose Altuve’s tag.

How exactly did he pull that move off?

“Not sure,” Werth said. “I think I’ve tried that a couple times and I’ve never been successful with that. It worked out today. Hopefully I don’t ever have to try that again.”

The nifty slide proved more than show. It left Werth in scoring position and ultimately allowed him to come home on Ian Desmond’s 2-out single up the middle.

Werth’s next display of baserunning prowess proved plenty significant, too, helping key the Nationals’ game-winning rally in the seventh. Still trailing 5-4 after Rendon’s leadoff homer, Werth drew a walk, then perfectly read Adam LaRoche’s single up the middle. He never broke stride around second, coasting into third base and leaving himself in position to score the tying run on Ryan Zimmerman’s grounder to second.

“He got a good read on the ball initially hit from Adam, but he was able to turn, and he never thought twice about it,” Williams said. “That set us up, and it’s an important part of our game that we need to do. We ran the bases really well tonight.”

And because of it, the Nationals find themselves in a comforting position heading into a huge weekend against their fiercest rival.

  1. David Proctor - Jun 19, 2014 at 2:42 AM

    Ryan Doumit with a little bulletin board material for the Nats:

    “We’re going to go into D.C. with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. This wasn’t a good series, and it left a bad taste in our mouth, but we’re going to go take it out on the Nationals.”

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:29 AM

      Doumit had a big game for himself in a loss and now he’s acting like that. DBag.

      • rayvil01 - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:01 AM

        The Braves have to chirp. Going into St Louis and having a rough series is one thing. Having the Phils come into your yard and wiping you slick is another.

        Just pitch carefully to Gattis. He is the only one they have that’s dialed in right now.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:12 AM

        All true. How embarrassing for them. They got wiped up.

    • ArVAFan - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:09 AM

      As long as they play clean. Don’t want them getting frustrated and doing something stupid to “take it out on the Nationals” like taking out Lobaton, knowing that we’re short on catchers, or spiking someone, or gratuitous plunking to try to start a brawl.

      Well, OK, they can do something stupid like run into an out at third. That would be fine.

  2. laddieblahblah - Jun 19, 2014 at 4:24 AM

    That slide by Werth into 2nd had to be seen to be believed. That guy has so many ways to beat you.

    • ArVAFan - Jun 19, 2014 at 7:20 AM

      The video is among the MLB highlights, for those who want to see the fancy footwork.

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:28 AM

      Looked really cool. Also, to be honest, looked like he was out.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:50 AM

        +1

      • ArVAFan - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:52 AM

        Not clear–one of the field angles seems to show that he got his foot in before the actual tag. But he definitely gets style points on that one–and Houston didn’t challenge, so they must have decided it wasn’t worth trying to get it overturned.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:00 AM

        If I knew how to post a screen capture, I would. But if you freeze the video at 0:29 of the video linked above, you will see an image where Werth’s foot is clearly off the bag, and Altuve’s glove appears to be on his leg.

        Had NY been called upon, I think there’s a good chance they would have looked at that and called him out.

        But you’re right–Bo didn’t challenge, so it didn’t matter.

      • dcwx61 - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:18 AM

        Did he purposefully stop short ???
        Odd to be sure

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:21 AM

        Did he purposefully stop short?

        Looked like it to me. He did say so after the game, and that he’s tried it before (unsuccessfully).

      • therealjohnc - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:18 PM

        About the tag, and that it “appears to be on [Werth's] leg” – a big drawback with replay is that unless you have the perfect angle, it’s really hard to tell the difference between an inch short and an actual tag. Because the video evidence has to be definitive to overturn the call would likely be “allowed to stand” (as opposed to “confirmed” or “overrulled”).

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:41 PM

        John

        As a general rule, you’re no doubt correct. But did you review the video? Because that’s my point–I think the camera angle at the pt I indicated provides strong enough evidence to overturn the call on the field.

  3. Doc - Jun 19, 2014 at 7:30 AM

    Good base running incorporates speed, but using your head is equally important.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:31 AM

      That is very true. That’s how Nate McLouth does it in his SBs.

    • dcwx61 - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:21 AM

      The speedy designated runner R? Washington of the Go Go Oakland A’s of the early 70s proved your point.
      One of the fastest sprinter on the planet but a less than 50 percent steal ratio i believe

  4. sjm308 - Jun 19, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    Mark is right about this and I hate to bring up a negative, but i was screaming when Span made the last out at 3rd in the 7th inning. On the other hand, you don’t know if Rendon would have jacked one out after that. Still, I will take LaRoch’s hard slide as another key to this win.

    Nice job boys!

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:13 AM

      On McLouth’s RBI sac fly Desmond advance to 3rd also. Ian was very close to getting thrown out before Zimm crossed the plate. Very close! If had been, the run would not have counted.Now I thought that was questionable judgement at the time. Span’s mistake was slowing down out of the box, as he assumed that his ball was going to be caught, but once it went over Springer’s head in right he motored hard but got out at 3rd after Springer made a good throw to the relay guy, Altuve, who threw a perfect pea to 3rd to nail him. It was a terrific defensive play that it’s easy to say afterwards that Span should’ve stopped at 2nd. Now, Desi’s advance to 3rd was unsound baseball, IMHO, but he got away with it.
      Look, MW wants this team to be aggressive on the bases. Even though Span was wrong with the way he slowed up 15 feet from the plate, I think that his trying to get to 3rd is exactly what Williams wants him do, in that he wants him to make the defense make two perfect throws to get him. Of course, sitting in our seats, with the benefit of replay, he looked stupid this time.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:42 AM

        Each of those 2 running plays was baseball-dumb.

        You are still trying to defend Span’s going to 3rd. It does very little for you with 2 outs (wild pitch/passed ball/infield hit/hard smash single right at an OF) which is why you stop at 2nd because you are already in scoring position. You have Rendon up and given his BABIP recently you probably have a 1 in 3 chance of him getting a hit if he puts bat on ball.

        Desi’s play is even worse because that could’ve removed an easy run.

        I don’t get what these guys are thinking. Aggressive baserunning always comes with the disclaimer “Be smart when attempting aggressive baserunning”.

        MASN caught Span on the camera out of the box in that momentary halt near homeplate. Shame on him for that in not hustling out of the box.

        The only good news is neither of these cost the team a W.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:06 AM

        Given the start he got (didn’t get, actually) out of the box, he should have stopped. My impression at the time was that he and the RF were both fooled, and when it wasn’t caught, Span realized something along the lines of “OH S###! If I don’t make it to third on this Matty will have my [allowance]!” and he was just trying to avoid the embarrassment of getting caught not husting. Bad reason to do things, usually, but we’ve all done it.

        Desmond was being too aggressive, but that’s the thing about being aggressive: it’s hard to say in advance exactly how much is too much. Bad time to try it, IMO, but he was safe, so he was right in thinking he could make it.

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:31 AM

      Bottom of the 6th, not 7th, which maybe changes the calculations a bit.

      But yeah, I am happy their aggression didn’t cost them the game, and I hope the players and coaches take note–it’s a double-edged sword.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:26 AM

        That’s the thing about risk: by definition, sometimes you get hurt. It’s a package deal, and taking chances = being dumb, to people who are more risk-averse.

  5. micksback1 - Jun 19, 2014 at 7:50 AM

    i like aggressive, not stupid. Desi almost cost Nats go ahead run in 7th. It is time to win a series verse Braves!!

  6. Hiram Hover - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:48 AM

    To give props to someone who dialed back his usual aggression:

    No Ks for Danny last night. Reached 2x on bunts, another on an IBB, and scored a run.

    Nothing flashy about it, compared to Rendon’s homer or Werth’s pirouette. But it was a crucial contribution.

    • dcwx61 - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:12 AM

      good points…much better than a K

  7. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 19, 2014 at 8:51 AM

    Kershaw was electric last night. Hanley ruined his perfect game but a no-hitter is awesome. He had every pitch working and some nifty defense. Only 11 balls put in play. BABIP still had to work in his favor and it did.

  8. natinalsgo - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    Trying to defend stupid baserunning plays makes the commentor’s ability to analyze baseball questionable.

    I could try to defend Desi in that Grossman in LF that he has a noodle arm and inaccurate and run on him when you can, but what if Grossman in that 1 instance throws a seed? Fact is the extra base wasn’t worth the risk as it’s a timing play. If Desi was tagged out before RZ touches home, the run doesn’t count.

    I could try to defend Span in that it would take a good relay throw to get him at 3rd. Fact is it wasn’t even close at 3rd. Never be the 1st or last out at 3rd.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:20 AM

      Sorry, I’m not as smart as you on my baseball analysis, and that my opinion isn’t worth as much as yours. Come on gonat, why the personal dig?

      • natinalsgo - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:28 AM

        I’m not singling anyone out. Let Span defend himself. I want to know what he was thinking. I see no comments from him in his post-game quotes.

      • natinalsgo - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:33 AM

        Meant to say I saw no comments specifically addressing the play at 3rd. Here’s his quotes:

        “That’s something we do talk about before each series: We preach just being aggressive,” said Denard Span, who stole two bases and scored the game’s first run. “Taking first-to-third opportunities and being ready to run when the ball is in the dirt, just little things like that. That’s what wins games. Those are the little things that good teams do.”

    • Brookstoor - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:22 AM

      That’s a pretty obnoxious thing to say, natinalsgo. I’m not defending those base running gaffes, but the idea behind aggressive base running is forcing the defense to make a perfect play or make a mistake. It took two really good throws to get Span out, who really got himself thrown out by dogging it to first on his way out of the box. You don’t need to call into question people’s abilities to analyze baseball. All that does is stop people from giving their input and there is already enough discouragement on this forum. We can put your comments under a microscope and find some pretty stupid stuff there too.

      • natinalsgo - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:30 AM

        Yes, you force them to make a good play when the situation calls for it like a 1 out play, not a 2 out play that will end the inning.

        Never make the 3rd out at 3rd base. I learned that back in High School.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:40 AM

        All that does is stop people from giving their input

        I don’t think Joe will be dissuaded so easily–hope not, anyway.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:08 AM

        I have in my over 61 years survived too much to get too worked up over faceless internet commentators.This is just a pretty good baseball blog where so many think that they are the most knowledgeable, or they are the best fan. It’s why I like it here. I just really wish people that disagree would cool it with the personal attacks.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:12 AM

        I agree it was unnecessary, but honestly, do people really worry about “their credibility” with a more-or-less anonymous poster on a blog because he disagrees with them?

      • Dave - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:58 AM

        Particularly a poster whose screen name recalls a moment of huge embarrassment for our team.

    • nats128 - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:25 AM

      Yes. That throw from LF was just over 230 feet from 3rd base if my calculations are accurate. Desmond is tagging up and leaving 2nd as soon as it’s caught in LF. A good throw gets him by plenty as 230 feet isn’t far. Lucky for the Nats it was a lousy throw, weak and off-line.

      The video on Span. Doesn’t show him stopping near homeplate to watch the play. Span certainly has his share of bad baserunning in his time with the Nats.

      http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/gameday/index.jsp?gid=2014_06_18_houmlb_wasmlb_1&mode=video&content_id=33841979&tcid=vpp_copy_33841979

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      I don’t think of it as “defending” so much as speculating what he might have been thinking at the time, and under what circumstances it might have been OK–just turning it over and looking at the other side, really, which is a good thing to do.

  9. Doc - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    Speaking of good base running/stealing, the Nats need to trade for that little s.o.b. Altuve.

    Like Veeck’s midget, except he can do it all. Guy’s a sparkplug!

    Maybe Bo’d take a few of our minor league pitchers and a certain 2B guy????

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:59 AM

      They are getting close to being a very competitive team. I see about as much chance of them trading Altuve as there is of the Nats trading Rendon.

    • natszee - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:20 AM

      Wow, imagine the Nat’s with a 2nd baseman that can actually hit (and I mean make contact)! What a concept ..

  10. Joe Seamhead - Jun 19, 2014 at 9:57 AM

    Alright, now that it has been determined that Span and I are both idiots, I’d like to change the subject to one other negative from the past two nights, and that is: is it only my dumb hillbilly ass that saw the Astros expose how weak Ryan Zimmerman’s throws are and that there is no need to stop at 3rd if the ball is in LF? And as was also noted, his throws into 2nd were either on a couple of bounces, or just generally with no zip. 3rd base coach Pat Listach knew Zimm couldn’t make the throw in the 4th when both Springer and Altuve scored on Dominguez’ single. I honestly don’t think the 2nd run scores with Harper in LF.

    • adcwonk - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:10 AM

      It wasn’t only you Joe. Yesterday morning I posted my reflections from the game I was at the night before, and I noted that I saw RZ bounce two throws to the cut off man. And, gee, LF to 3b is not that far a throw, and he bounced them

      • adcwonk - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:12 AM

        To be accurate; one throw was bounced to 3rd, the other throw was bounced to 2d base.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:20 AM

        Allowing that 2nd runner to score certainly didn’t help a struggling Gio. That is an example of what I harp on about mediocre outfielders making life harder for pitchers. If I’m a pitcher I would not like an outfield of Zimmerman, Harper and Werth.

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:44 AM

        Each time he threw yesterday… I was thinking ( I think I typed it too) — My God, that throw…

        I guess he will be doing a lot of side arm when he goes back to 3rd… Hopefully, it will be those plays where he doesn’t have to think about it, as Ryan excels at those…

  11. jd - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    Joe,

    I think you are right. Ultimately Zim ends up at 1st by default. On a full time basis starting next spring training.

    I really wouldn’t get too worked up about comments from people who think they are smarter than any one else. At the end of the day it’s just opinions of fans.

  12. laddieblahblah - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    Let’s not overlook Rendon’s 2 steals yesterday. Neither drew a throw. Somebody has been schooling Tony on what to look for and when to go. He’s fast and he’s quick, but not fast enough and quick enough to steal bases without even drawing a throw.

    My guess is that he has been talking to McClouth, and that Tony is a quick learner. McClouth, Werth, Ryan, are all base stealers who do not get picked off and who do not get caught stealing. I think we can add Rendon to that list of aggressive, but smart Nats base runners.

    No need to list the knuckleheads. We all know who they are.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:26 AM

      As a team the Nats now have 37 SBs and have been caught 6 times.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:35 AM

        …which comes to about 14%. Not bad.

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:58 AM

        There is more to base running than stolen bases, Joe.

        I do not want to list all the knuckle headed running plays that cost the Nats outs, runs, and games, especially earlier in the year. But, just recently, there was Hairston’s lackadaisical base running in St. Louis, where he bounced one off the wall in deep left center, and trotted to 1b and stopped there, instead of hustling out of the box and getting to 2nd for what should have been a stand-up double. When Desi came up next and hit a liner to right center, Hairston could have scored in what was then a tightly contested game, but he only got to 2nd because he misread the ball. He ended the inning stranded at 3rd.

        Then there was Desi’s boneheaded running that could have cost the Nats a run in yesterday’s game against Houston. The Nats have improved, but the same guys seem to be making the same stupid decisions that can cost the team runs, outs and games.

        Where do you fit plays like that in your stats?

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 19, 2014 at 2:13 PM

        jeez, laddie, I responded to your post about stealing bases, nothing more. And yes, there are some knuckleheads on the Nats.

  13. laddieblahblah - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    Yay! The Nats finally beat the Cards!

    http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?gid=2014_06_17_dwarok_dcarok_1&t=g_box&sid=milb

    Look at those batting averages! It’s just a matter to time, 4 – 6 years, and we will own St. Louis!

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:49 AM

      We will beat them in October… and its going to be that much more sweeter…
      :)

  14. Mrsb loves the Nats - Jun 19, 2014 at 10:36 AM

    I actually agree with Sofa on the ‘thought-process’ of Span going from 1st to 3rd… I think once he saw how far the ball was over the RF head, then he was thinking ‘oh sugar honey…’ and then tried to get it moving.. He clearly wasn’t going full speed from 1st to 2nd and tried to make up for it…

    The Nats were aggressive all night… Sometimes it works (look at Rendon’s 2 stolen bases and Werth’s phenomenal base) and sometimes it doesnt (Span’s extenstion)…

    In hindsight, sure it was bad that Span got caught especially given the circumstances…

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 11:01 AM

      His mistake was not hustling out of the box just because he thought it was a routine fly ball out. When it sailed on the RF and he realized it, he compounded the error by trying to recoup what he’d lost, and got burned. If he’d stopped at second, he would be getting ripped (not unfairly) for not going hard out of the box, but not as much.

      The coverup is usually more expensive than the first mistake.

      A thought experiment:
      Suppose he had busted it right out, hustling hard all the way. He probably would have been safe at third, but not standing up, I think.

      So, if he had to slide into third, was that too close to even try with two outs? I don’t think so, but I like risky baserunning by the right players–guys who have the ability to succeed often enough to make it worthwhile, and the smarts to know what the risks actually are. But maybe that’s just me.

  15. Section 222 - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    Dear NI Headline Writer or copy editor — Aggressive is spelled with two “G”s.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:45 PM

      But it was an aggressive mistake.

      badaboom!

  16. Section 222 - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    My favorite recent baserunning coup for Werth was against the Giants, I think. He went first to third not because of a great read on the hit but by slowing up as he came into second on a fairly sharp single to center. As soon as Pagan released a kind of lazy throw to the infield, thinking that Werth was stopping, Werth put on the afterburners and cruised into third without a throw. Classic.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:36 PM

      Somebody else said it already, but the guy just has a million ways to beat you.

  17. Dave - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    I have two scoring questions. Just reconciling my scorebook with the official box score.

    In the bottom of the seventh, Houston used three pitchers. Zeid gave up a homer to Rendon, then walked Werth. Then Downs came in and gave up a single to Laroche. Then Farnsworth came in, got Zim to ground into an FC and score Werth. Desmond’s double moved Zim to third. They intentionally walked Espi, then McLouth got the sac fly to score Zim before getting Dobbs to ground out to end the inning.

    Two questions:

    1. How does the box score give an earned run to Downs and none to Farnsworth? The only runner Downs allowed on base was put out with Zimmy’s fielder’s choice. That is, Downs’s only runner did not score. And Zim, the runner Farnsworth allowed on that FC, did score. In other words, Zim was Farnsworth’s runner. How does Downs get 1 ER and Farnsworth 0?

    2. In light of that, how is Downs the losing pitcher and not Farnsworth? Farnsworth allowed the runner to reach who put the Nats ahead.

    I’ll go study the rule book, but if anybody can explain this to me, I’ll appreciate it.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:43 PM

      The winning run (more precisely, the run that put the Nats ahead for good, which was the same in this case) is credited against Downs, even though the runner in question, Zim, reached against Farnsworth, because Zim reached on a FC, essentially swapping himself for LaRoche, so he counts against Downs, because LaRoche would have, and it was a fielder’s choice, i.e., they could have chosen to throw Zim out at first and leave LaRoche on.

      That’s the logic. Sorry I don’t have chapter and verse of the rule handy.

    • Dave - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:45 PM

      Okay, got it. Rule 10.16(g):

      “When pitchers are changed during an inning, the official scorer shall not charge the relief pitcher with any run (earned or unearned) scored by a runner who was on base at the time such relief pitcher entered the game, nor for runs scored by any runner who reaches base on a fielder’s choice that puts out a runner left on base by any preceding pitcher.”

      I learn something new every season. Never mind.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:46 PM

        Yup, that’s it all right.

    • Dave - Jun 19, 2014 at 12:46 PM

      PS: it is, as are most rules, totally logical. Thanks, Sofa.

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