After a solid start with a series sweep, the Washington Nationals were truly tested by the Atlanta Braves in their home opener yesterday. Sure, the MLB season is still in its proverbial embryonic stage, but starting off on the right foot with division rivals is key, and the Nationals are currently 3-1 in divisional play. Washington played an incredibly competitive game against Atlanta, losing 2-1, with some key plays going against the Nationals. Ian Desmond had what he thought was an inside the park home run, but after a replay, it was overturned to a double.
The Nationals also showed off something we will see pretty often under Matt Williams, which is a newfound aggression on the basepaths. There was a play in the fourth inning where new third base coach Bobby Henley decided to send Adam LaRoche, not exactly fleet of foot, home on a Ryan Zimmerman double. LaRoche was easily thrown out by Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons. The Nationals also had two of their baserunners caught stealing, as both Bryce Harper and Desmond were caught in rundowns and were eventually called out. So, to recap, the Nationals ran into three outs on the basepaths, something that would not have happened under Davey Johnson, needless to say.
Williams has eluded to being more aggressive, forcing their opponents’ hand into making a mistake Washington can capitalize on. That is all well and good, but do not be surprised if there are plenty of other games like last night, where the Nationals run into outs and squander opportunities. This is not to say Washington does not have players who can steal bases, because they do, but if the Nationals coaches are going to be in favor or sending anyone and everyone on the bases to that extra base, it will work to their detriment more than their advantage.
The Nationals’ new aggressive strategy is a good thing, do not get that misconstrued. However, it needs to be a smart variety of aggression. Washington cannot wave around guys like LaRoche everytime they get on base, it just is not smart. Williams and company need to learn and learn fast they can play aggressive, but they need to be smart about it. Otherwise, there will be plenty of games like last night, and that probably is not a good thing.