The Nationals entered the season saying they were going to be more aggressive on the bases. And they have backed it up.
With two stolen bases in the first two innings of tonight’s game, the Nats now have successfully swiped 57 bases this year. That already matches their entire total from 2015, even though they’re playing only their 92nd game tonight.
And the Nationals’ first steal of this game made a difference. Jayson Werth, who drew a one-out walk off Gerrit Cole in the bottom of the first, proceeded to steal second and ultimately score on Anthony Rendon’s RBI single to left.
The Nationals’ aggressiveness on the bases has come back to haunt them at times, as it did tonight when Bryce Harper tried to go first to third on Rendon’s single to left. He was promptly thrown out by Pirates left fielder Starling Marte, who now has 10 outfield assists on the season.
But overall, manager Dusty Baker is willing to live with the occasional out on the bases in exchange for the extra runs that have been created by this aggressive style.
The Nationals lead this game 2-0 after three innings thanks not only to their early offense against Cole (making his first start back from a triceps injury) but some effective pitching from Tanner Roark.
The right-hander has posted three zeros to begin his evening, retiring the side in both the first and third innings while pitching out of a two-on, two-out jam in the second.
Update: The Nationals continue to keep the pressure on, and they continue to benefit from it. They scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to another double by Drew and then some awfully shaky defense from the Pirates infield. Roark battled through a seven-pitch at-bat with the bases loaded, then grounded to the right side, where Josh Harrison threw the ball away, letting two runs score. Espinosa then scored on Ben Revere’s soft grounder to short, with Jordy Mercer’s throw to the plate too late. It’s 5-0 Nats after four.
Update II: Make it 6-0 after five innings, thanks to Rendon’s towering homer into the left field bullpen off reliever A.J. Schugel. That’s Rendon’s 10th homer of the season, giving the Nats seven players who have already reached double digits this season.
Update III: It’s over, and Roark stole the show tonight. He wasn’t able to go the distance, getting pulled after letting two batters reach in the ninth, but he still scattered five singles and a walk in an impressive performance. The right-hander was on cruise control all night, leading the Nationals to a 6-0 victory. They’ve now won five in a row, and with both the Mets and Marlins losing tonight, they’ve opened up a seven-game lead in the NL East.