Nationals take 4-1 lead over Phillies

The Nationals’ three-run fourth inning tonight was a mix of extra-base hits (Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos started the rally with doubles), smart at-bats (Danny Espinosa worked a walk) and successful small ball (Matt Stairs moved Werth to third with a groundout, and Livan Hernandez dropped the Nationals’ third squeeze bunt in 10 games).

And at the end of four innings, their lineup - which is missing its third, fourth and fifth hitters - has a 4-1 lead over the Phillies.

A couple points on the inning: The fact that the Nationals have been able to bunt successfully, both with their pitchers and several of their position players, shouldn’t be overlooked. This has historically been a bad bunting team, and the Nationals’ pitchers had just 31 sacrifice bunts last year, 11th in the National League. It was a big emphasis for the team in spring training, and it’s worked so far this year; that sac bunt moved the pitching staff into the NL lead with six. You can argue about whether small ball is worth it for position players, but for pitchers, it’s necessary, and the Nationals have been able to get some production out of their pitchers early this year.

Also, Espinosa now has a .406 on-base percentage for the season. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for him to wind up in the second spot, especially when the Nationals will have some reason to play around with the lineup in Ryan Zimmerman’s absence.

Tonight, without Zimmerman, they could be on the way to an impressive win.