The Nationals score many of their runs via the home run. They lead the National League with 132 of them, and are on pace for 225 by season’s end, which would destroy the club’s previous record of 194 in 2014.
So the fact they hit four homers tonight during an 8-1 thumping of the Dodgers should not come as much of a surprise. This is what they do.
But here’s what they’re also trying to do on a more regular basis: Score runs not with power, but with speed. Just like they did during a three-run sixth inning in this game.
No baseballs left the yard during that frame, but a couple of players did find themselves flying around the bases.
First it was Bryce Harper, who earlier in the evening took a leisurely stroll after launching a 451-foot homer into the third deck, but now raced from first base to the plate to score on Wilson Ramos’ double.
Then it was Trea Turner legging out his second triple in as many nights, this one bringing Ramos home.
And then, after Danny Espinosa was hit by pitch, it was Turner bolting for the plate as part of a double steal that produced a roar from the crowd just as loud as the ones that greeted every home run. Including the manager.
“Hey, man, I’m used to speed,” Dusty Baker said. “I love speed. You heard me say that in spring training. Speed (kills). It does a lot of things. It creates a lot of mistakes. Myself, I signed on speed. I had fast cars and a lot of tickets. I love speed.”
Not that Baker doesn’t still dig the longball. He did, after all, play with Hank Aaron and manage Barry Bonds. So he wasn’t complaining about the four homers his team hit tonight, most notably Harper’s moonshot to a portion of Nationals Park that had never played a role in such a feat.
With his most powerful swing of the season to date, Harper sent Bud Norris’ 3-1 fastball in the bottom of the first down the right field line. It kept climbing and climbing until it landed halfway up the third deck in Sec. 236, some 451 feet away according to Major League Baseball’s Statcast system.
They’ll be changing the color of that seat from navy blue to bright red, just as they did with three other seats in that portion of the stadium for previous third deck homers (two by Harper, one by Adam LaRoche). Except this one will sit a good five rows up from the previous highest seat, evidence of the gargantuan nature of this particular blast.
“Just trying to impress the scouts,” Harper said with a smirk. “Trying to do everything possible to do that. Nah, just trying to go up there and have good at-bats, and I have been. Just trying to square some pitches up and not miss the ones that are over the plate. They gave me a pitch to handle tonight, and I did some damage on it. If I can keep doing that, we’ll be fine.”
The Nationals’ three other homers in this game weren’t nearly as jaw-dropping, though Ben Revere did connect for only the sixth time in his career. Anthony Rendon cleared the left field bullpen by a healthy margin and Jayson Werth cleared the fence to extend his streak of games reaching base to 24.
That, however, has been the Nationals’ typical path to offensive success in 2016. They would very much like to establish an ability to manufacture runs on a consistent basis, and tonight provided an example of how they might be able to pull that off.
Turner is a big part of the equation, because few in baseball possess the 22-year-old’s raw speed. It manifested itself the last two nights in triples, each time Turner’s top speed on the bases registering in excess of 22 mph.
It also manifested itself in his heady yet aggressive bolt for the plate during the sixth-inning double steal. The play wasn’t formally called by Baker, but third base coach Bob Henley did tell Turner to keep an eye on Luis Avilan and be ready to take off if the Dodgers lefty made a pickoff attempt to first base.
Avilan did just that, and Espinosa did the smart thing in getting himself into a rundown, giving Turner the opportunity to perfectly time his dash to the plate. He slid in ahead of the throw.
“As a shortstop, you know kind of when they’re going to throw the ball to the first baseman,” Turner. “You know how many looks they’re going to give you. He looked at me, and as soon as he turned his head back, I felt like that was my shot to go. And it worked out.”
It was only the third time a Nationals player has stolen home in the club’s 12 seasons in town, joining Ian Desmond (who did it in 2011) and Harper (who famously did it as a rookie against the Phillies’ Cole Hamels in 2012).
“That’s pretty unbelievable,” Harper said. “That shows a lot about how he is. He’s a team guy, a lot of fun to watch. I enjoy it.”