Despite recent woes on bases, Nats insist they will keep running

DENVER – The 2024 Nationals established their offensive identity way back in April. Knowing they couldn’t match most other clubs in the power department, they decided to take advantage of their above-average speed and try to become the majors’ best baserunning team.

And for eight good weeks, they delivered in that department. The Nats racked up an astounding 77 stolen bases through their first 47 games, getting caught only 14 times for an impressive 84.6 percent success rate.

Since then, the numbers have plummeted and left the Nationals as the majors’ least effective baserunners. Over their last 29 games, they’ve stolen 27 bases but have been thrown out 24 times, a hard-to-believe 52.9 percent success rate that ranks far and away at the bottom of the league during the last month.

And it perhaps reached a low point Saturday night during an agonizing 8-7 loss to the Rockies that garnered attention for Kyle Finnegan’s walk-off pitch-clock violation in the bottom of the ninth but featured plenty more miscues along the way.

The Nats attempted four stolen bases in the game and were thrown out three times, including CJ Abrams and Lane Thomas in back-to-back plate appearances in the top of the seventh, just as the team was taking a 7-5 lead.

Manager Davey Martinez defended the decisions by Abrams, Thomas, Jacob Young (who was thrown out in the fourth) and Jesse Winker (who was successful on his attempt in the first).

“Winker went out and stole a base. The other guys, it was close,” Martinez said. “It’s going to happen. We’ve got to run. We don’t have guys that hit home runs all the time, so we’ve got to get on base, and we’ve got to get in scoring position. Today, we got thrown out a couple times, but we’ve been pretty good at it.”

These outs perhaps felt more damaging because they happened on a night in which the team racked up 11 hits, including two homers. This one night after a season-high 19-hit explosion during an 11-5 victory.

Martinez was asked if there was any consideration to reining in his runners when playing at Coors Field.

“None,” he replied. “Why would it? It’s who we are. We talk about it all the time. We’re going to try to get into scoring position. Even though we’re playing at Coors Field, we’ve still got to take chances.”

What has led to the Nationals’ dramatic drop-off on the bases? It’s pretty clear opposing teams took notice of their aggressive approach at some point and have made adjustments to make it tougher to run. Pickoff attempts have become crisper and more frequent. And during the fourth inning Saturday, Colorado manager Bud Black called for a pitchout with an 0-2 count on Abrams and Young taking off from first. Catcher Jacob Stallings fired a perfect strike to second to nab Young and end the inning.

“Teams are starting to catch on,” Martinez acknowledged. “They’re paying a lot more attention to us running. With that being said, I tell the hitters all the time: When teams are worried about us running, they make mistakes pitching to you. Honestly, you’re going to get more fastballs. So be ready to hit. It’s kind of like a tangent thing; it works both ways.”

Martinez also noted his baserunners seem to be taking shorter leads and aren’t getting good jumps as the pitcher begins his delivery. Several guys have looked hesitant to run at the first step, and that has doomed their chances right from the get-go.

But for all their recent woes on the bases, the Nationals insist they aren’t giving up their identity. They aren’t satisfied with their current success rate, but they don’t believe that means they should run less. They believe it means they need to get better at running.

“For me, it’s about the process,” Martinez said. “These guys are still young and developing. They’re still learning. We teach them. Our job is to teach. And if something doesn’t go right, I don’t want them to get negative or feel any negativity. We’re going to try it again. So it’s a teaching moment with these guys. I’d rather be aggressive than not aggressive.”

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