Any breakdown of the Nationals lineup - the majors’ most productive through the season’s first half - usually focuses on the power potential up and down the order, the depth of quality that allows this team to score runs in bunches via a string of extra-base hits.
The Nationals are, believe it or not, more multi-dimensional than that, though. They do have one of the fastest leadoff men in baseball, not to mention speed in several other lineup slots and several hitters capable of grinding out an at-bat and simply putting a ball in play when needed.
That dimension was on full display during tonight’s 6-1 victory over the Cubs. The Nats didn’t win this one with power. They won this one with contact and speed, a good reminder they can also play that card from time to time.
“You have to have different games,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Sometimes you have to win with speed and contact. Sometimes you have to win with power. So it’s nice to know you can call upon both those games whenever you need them.”
The circumstances were prime for a speed/contact approach tonight, with the slow-delivering Jake Arrieta on the mound and the weak-throwing Miguel Montero behind the plate for the Cubs. And boy did the Nationals take advantage of it.
They stole seven total bases, establishing a new club record and matching the high for any major league team this season.
Four of those steals came via the legs of Trea Turner, who matched his own club record (set earlier this month) in the process.
“It’s awesome,” Turner said. “That’s something (first base coach Davey Lopes) and even Dusty is trying to harp on me, (Brian Goodwin), (Michael A. Taylor): Just to be aggressive and not make dumb mistakes, not run into outs, and put pressure on the other team. That’s an example of it right there.”
Turner has been putting himself in position to run more in recent weeks, thanks to his ability to get on base more regularly. After posting a .293 on-base percentage in the season’s first two months, he has reached base at a .347 clip in June. Not surprisingly, he has stolen 19 bases this month after swiping only 13 in April and May combined.
“Run, Trea, run,” Baker said. “I enjoy watching him run. Davey Lopes has really helped him pick his spots, and wind and times and moves and jumps. Davey has been valuable over there, especially, in Trea’s young career.”
Turner stole all four of his bases tonight in the first three innings, taking both second and third in each case. But this wasn’t a solo act. Taylor also stole both second and third in the fourth inning, ultimately scoring when Montero’s throw sailed into left field.
“I think that’s a part of our game, and Trea obviously is a big part of that,” Taylor said. “He sets the table. Every day he’s a threat on the bases and can change the game.”
The Nationals didn’t hide the fact they intended to run tonight, taking advantage of both Arrieta and Montero’s weaknesses. Across the way in the Cubs clubhouse, only one member of the starting battery took blame for the seven successful steals.
“It really sucks, because the stolen bases go on me,” Montero told Chicago reporters. “And when you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. It’s just like: ‘Yeah, OK, Miggy can’t throw nobody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. It’s tough, because it doesn’t matter how much work I put in. ... It always goes to the catcher, and I’m the bad guy there. It really sucks, but it is what it is, and I’ve got to take full responsibility. But in the end, I would like a little help.”
The Cubs, who with the loss fell back to one game over the .500 mark, will have to settle their differences on their own.
In the meantime, the Nationals will continue to try to take advantage of whatever running opportunities they get, showing off a side of their game that often gets overlooked but remains quite valuable in specific moments.
“I love speed,” Baker said. “And when you have it, you gotta use it.”