Talking on-base percentage at the top of the order

VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals will travel nearly two hours south down Interstate 95 today to take on the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla., their first of three straight road games.

Some quality miles will be put on the team bus over this three-day stretch, as the Nats will be in Kissimmee to play the Astros tomorrow and then will head all the way across the state to face the Orioles in Sarasota on Saturday.

Given that I need to fill up my rental car (a Jeep Patriot) about every 15 minutes, I should get to know the gas stations throughout the region pretty, pretty, pretty well over the next few days.

The other day, I wrote about manager Davey Johnson’s decision to put Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa at the top of his lineup to start the season, and it would be fair to say that the bulk of those who commented in weren’t fans of the decision.

Many of you, it seems, are of the mind that Johnson should be plugging guys with higher on-base percentages into the first and second spots in his lineup, given that Desmond (.304 career OBP) and Espinosa (.316 career OBP) don’t exactly dominate in that area.

But Johnson isn’t concerned about those numbers for a couple reasons - he believes with time, the on-base percentage numbers from Desmond and Espinosa will rise, and he feels he needs a little bit more pop at the top of his order.

“It’s a luxury when you have (a) one and two that can drive in runs,” Johnson said. “A lot of times, a guy can get on, but he has a hard time driving somebody in. So I may sacrifice a little bit in on-base percentage, but during the course of the game, they’ll be in situations where you bunt a guy over and you’ve got a run producer there.

“So as much as I look at on-base percentage, I also look at the fact that they can produce runs.”

Espinosa drove in 66 runs last year during his rookie season, fourth-most among National League second basemen, while Desmond added 49 RBIs while spending the vast majority of his season either leading off or hitting in the two-spot.

With the Nationals unlikely to put up huge run totals this year, they’ll need to capitalize on the run-scoring chances that they have, and in Johnson’s mind, if they can get a runner in scoring position at the bottom of the lineup, he wants someone at the top of the order who’s able to bring him in.

Johnson also believes that if Desmond and Espinosa start swinging the way that he feels they should, those on-base percentages will continue to rise.

“The more you start playing up to your talent, the more you’ll walk, because they’ll be careful with you and they’ll get behind more,” Johnson said. “So it all works hand-in-hand.”

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