Nationals’ aggressive baserunning has a few costs

When Alex Cora got caught in a rundown yesterday, going on contact and trying to score from third on Rick Ankiel’s grounder back to the pitcher in the seventh inning, it effectively killed the Nationals’ last scoring threat in a 5-4 loss to the Phillies.

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Cora and manager Jim Riggleman both said the infielder had to run on the ball, because it would have turned into a 1-6-3 double play, retiring Ian Desmond and Ankiel, if Cora had stayed at third. Pitcher Roy Halladay had trouble fielding the ball, so it’s hard to say if he could have actually turned two, but both the player and manager said the strategy was sound.

That aside, the Nationals have had their fair share of outs on the basepaths lately.

In their last eight games, they’ve been caught stealing five times, stealing only seven bases. They’ve had two runners thrown out at home on fielder’s choices, including Cora yesterday. And Jerry Hairston Jr. got picked off first base on Saturday when a wild pitch hit home plate umpire Ed Rapuano in the leg and bounced back to catcher Kyle Phillips.

They’ve been caught stealing 15 times this year, tied for third-most in the National League, and their eight pickoffs are tied for second-most, though they’ve made the fifth-fewest other outs on the basepaths in the NL (getting thrown out at home, doubled off on line drives, etc.).

Overall, they’ve been solid in their aggressive approach on the basepaths - they’re stealing at a 75 percent clip while taking the fourth-most bases in the NL. They’re not taking extra bases as efficiently as they were earlier in the year (they’ve done it on 40 percent of their opportunities, slightly below the league average), but there aren’t as many glaring weaknesses in their running game as there have been in the past.

Lately, though, the Nationals have had some big outs on the basepaths. And when they’re losing one-run games, those look even larger.