Big challenge awaits Suzuki as Braves runners arrive

A key match-up in the Braves series is the running game.

The Nationals must focus on monitoring the progress of Braves speedsters Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward. The two have combined to steal 50 bases.

Bourn has stolen 33 bases this season, which ranks No. 1 in the National League and No. 3 overall in the majors. He has been caught stealing only eight times (an 80.4 percent success rate). So basically, four out of every five times Bourn takes off, he is safe and in scoring position.

Heyward has stolen 17 bases, while Martin Prado has added 14 thefts this season. That is 64 stolen bases between three players.

By comparison, second baseman Danny Espinosa leads the Nationals with 17 stolen bases and Ian Desmond is next with 15.

This will be new acquisition Kurt Suzuki’s first test against the Atlanta running attack. Suzuki arrived in D.C. with a 38.3 percent caught stealing rate.

As a team, The Braves feature the second-best stolen base percentage in the National League, at 81 percent, just behind the Phillies (82 percent). Atlanta has swiped 77 bases and has been caught stealing a league-low 18 times. Only Detroit has been caught less, just 16 times, but the Tigers have only attempted to steal a base 59 times. The Braves have attempted 95 steals.

Atlanta is also second-best in the major leagues in walks, with a whopping 425 free passes, four behind Tampa Bay (429). The Braves have grounded into only 83 double plays, which ranks 21st overall.

The Nationals have played solid defense, surrendering only 69 errors, good for 23rd. Atlanta, though, has been better. The Braves have committed only 61 errors all season, fourth-best in the major leagues.

Which brings us back to the match-up of Suzuki against the Braves running attack. When acquired Aug. 3, Suzuki had a fielding percentage of .996 and was 23-for-60 in caught stealings, good for 38.3 percent.

In 10 games with the Nationals, he is still looking for his first caught runner, and is now 0-for-8.

Meanwhile, Jesus Flores has struggled throwing runners out, just 6-for-51, an 11.8 percent caught stealing rate.

This is not all on the catchers; a lot of depends on the pitchers’ timing to the plate and game situations. But it shows how important it will be in this series, and the rest of the season, for the Nationals to be aware of every baserunner leading off of first.

But the bottom line for the Nationals is they must be more aggressive with the Braves’ runners, call more pitchouts, stall the runners with the look over or force Atlanta to run when they don’t want to.

And it would be a big deal if Suzuki can notch a few caught stealing pelts in this series to put a stamp on his presence behind the plate and maybe make the Braves think twice next time they decide to go after second base.

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