By adding aggression on the bases, the Washington Nationals are attempting to add another dimension on offense. One which is designed for October success.
So, now you know how Bob Henley kept his job as third-base coach.
Seriously, Washington the last two seasons has transitioned away from a team reliant on power to score runs into one that creates them through speed and intelligence. With a full year expected from Adam Eaton, it might be the difference getting the Nats over the hump.
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Speed is an old concept. Perfected by teams who knew offense was a liability, they carried strong pitching and legs who could swipe bases and push home an extra run. The 1960s version of the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980s fit this mold. Combined, they won three championships and three more National League pennants.
The modern Milwaukee Brewers are a throwback to that era. In 2016, they swiped 181 bags. However, as a team, they hit a collective .244 and finished fourth in the NL Central.
Behind Trea Turner, Washington stole 108 bases on their way to another NL East crown. Yes, Milwaukee led the NL with 128 during their Cinderella bid to make the playoffs. But, the Nats scored 819 runs while hitting .266. The Brewers plated 732 hitting .249.
Milwaukee’s strong pitching carried them into the later parts of the year. They, with delight, overachieved. Washington’s offense was already among the top of the NL.
Yet, the approach to not rely on power makes sense.
Martinez, as the Chicago Cubs bench coach, saw how disruptive the Brewers were on the base paths. Washington constructed a roster with healthy speed. Pair the two and see what happens.
A healthy Turner can steal 60 to 70 bases on his own. Michael Taylor, Wilmer Difo and Eaton might combine for 40 to 50 depending on the situation. Bryce Harper has speed too, perhaps 10 steals is not out of the question.
When you add their baseball instincts, the Nats will leg out an extra base or attempt to challenge outfielders with plays at the plate. It may not work always but planting those seeds of doubt are important.
Again, as with the possibility of signing another starting pitcher, the aim is winning in October. If Washington can slow the tempo down and grind out games one pitch at a time, then it benefits them. The more another team thinks and goes away from instinct, the better chances for a mistake.
Yes, runners picked off in March is frustrating to watch. But, this is about the playoffs. No pain, no gain.