PHILADELPHIA - The good news about the Nationals lineup so far this season: They’ve hit six home runs in three games, third-most in the majors.
The bad news about the Nationals lineup so far this season: They’ve scored 13 total runs in those three games, tied for 12th in the majors.
That’s in only three games, of course, so be careful not to read too much into it. But manager Dusty Baker already is harping on the importance of hitting with runners in scoring position, a skill he believes is more important than the ability to hit the ball out of the park.
“I like RBIs. That’s what I like,” Baker said, surely causing modern baseball aficionados to bang their heads against the wall. ” ‘Cause he who touches home plate the most wins. I wasn’t satisfied yesterday, ‘cause we had a runner on second base with nobody out in a couple innings, and we didn’t advance him. We didn’t get him. We ended up losing by one run.”
Indeed, during their 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Marlins on Thursday night, the Nationals went just 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Twice their leadoff man reached second base with nobody out, only to be stranded.
The Nationals scored all three of their runs via solo homers (hit by Adam Eaton, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman). The Marlins, on the other hand, scored all four of their runs on two-out hits (J.T. Realmuto’s two-run homer, Tyler Moore’s RBI single and Justin Bour’s RBI double).
Overall this season, the Nationals are 7-for-20 with fewer than two outs and runners in scoring position, but 0-for-8 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
“You’ve got to get those two-out knocks,” Baker said. “That’s the secret to winning: two-out RBIs. ‘Cause the pitcher, you don’t know how good he feels when you only have to get one more out. I’ll watch it in modern baseball: How many times are the bases loaded, and the guys ain’t even worried on the other side. You’re lucky to get one. Or the runner on third and nobody out, and you may not get any.”
Not that anybody is completely dismissing the Nationals’ early season power surge. This is a lineup that typically has been slow to produce in April and May and only starts to heat up when the temperatures also heat up. So the fact several players already are driving the ball despite cold temperatures and the adjustments always associated with the transition from spring training to the regular season is encouraging.
Baker wouldn’t mind a few of those long bombs coming in situations where they have a bit more impact, though.
“Homers are fine,” he said. “But multi-run homers are better. Solos are cool, but that’s one run.”