SAN FRANCISCO — Trea Turner and Michael A. Taylor have spent the first few weeks of the season in a friendly base-stealing competition. At least Taylor thinks it’s a competition. Turner claims it’s a one-way affair.
“He keeps talking trash to me,” Turner said. “I don’t care that much. We’ll see where it ends up at the end of the year. He’s doing a good job so far.”
Both Washington Nationals entered Monday’s game against the San Francisco Giants 8 for 8 on stolen base attempts, good for tops in the National League. Only the Seattle Mariners’ Dee Gordon, a noted speedster, had more steals, with nine. Seven entire teams had fewer. Washington, as a result, began the day leading baseball with 25 steals — six more than any other club. The early standout results stem from two factors: their base-stealing ability (speed and jumps), and the Nationals coaching staff’s encouragement.
While clubs across the majors have been trending away from swiping bases as they become more analytics-driven, the Nationals, with the most analytics-driven coaching staff in their history, are giving the green light to Turner and Taylor almost all the time. According to Manager Dave Martinez, those two are on their own on the bases unless he specifically signals for them to not steal if he believes the situation warrants staying put.
“For me, it’s just being smart,” Martinez said. “Those two guys are pretty good. We give them a lot of information coming into a series about pitchers they can and can’t steal on. We want them to be aggressive. When they get on base they cause havoc, and we like that. So when they’re on there, they’re on their own until I decide I want the guy to hit and we have a good chance to score a bunch of runs. But they love to get on base and running.”
Perhaps Martinez will shut the green light off more often when Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon return from injury. They are two middle-of-the-order hitters who can be trusted more to drive in or move runners without having to risk running into an out. Continued hot hitting from Ryan Zimmerman, who began the season scuffling, could also factor into a decrease. But, for now, the Nationals must figure out how to produce runs. On Wednesday, for example, both Turner and Taylor scored in a win over the New York Mets after stealing second base to get into scoring position. The two runs were insurance in a three-run victory.
Turner said he is presented information to use on the base paths before each series. The data is displayed in charts, which include the opposing team’s probable starting pitchers and entire bullpens. Turner wouldn’t divulge specifics, though one can assume how fast a pitcher is to the plate and pitch tendencies in different counts are among the data points listed.
Turner said he goes over the information before games and first base coach Tim Bogar has it in the dugout during games, but he is wary of information overload.
“I don’t want to look too much into it,” Turner said. “Because I don’t want to second-guess something. Just because it says he throws this pitch in this count this many times doesn’t mean that he’ll do it, so I try not to look into it too much.”
Turner has made a name for himself as a speedster and base-stealer since breaking into the big leagues full time in 2016. He stole 46 bases in 98 games last season and entered the season with 81 steals in 198 career games.
Taylor, however, has never stolen more than 17 steals in a season and is outpacing his past base-stealing exploits by a substantial margin. Last season, when he set his career high with 17, he also was caught seven times. This season, after stealing two bases on Sunday, one of which required a replay review to overturn an initial out call at second base, he is on pace for more than 50. Turner, of course, is, too. The competition is on. Sort of.
“I’m not worried about it,” Turner said. “We’ll see.”
— While the Nationals are in the Bay Area to close out their nine-game road trip with three against the Giants, Murphy and Brian Goodwin, two members of the Nationals’ long disabled list, are working out in West Palm Beach, Fla. Martinez said Murphy, who is rehabbing from microfracture knee surgery, took Sunday off but was working again Monday.
Goodwin, meanwhile, recently took swings and reported his left wrist was still sore. He hurt the wrist diving for a ball on April 11 but wasn’t placed on the 10-day disabled list until April 17 — after pinch-hitting two days earlier, which only allowed Washington to backdate the stint one day.
“When he’s ready, we’ll welcome him back,” Martinez said. “He’s another guy people don’t talk about, but he’s big for us, big part of the team.”
Trea Turner SS
Howie Kendrick 2B
Bryce Harper RF
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Matt Adams LF
Matt Wieters C
Michael A. Taylor CF
Wilmer Difo 3B
Gio Gonzalez LHP
Joe Panik 2B
Andrew McCutchen RF
Buster Posey C
Evan Longoria 3B
Brandon Belt 1B
Mac Williamson LF
Austin Jackson CF
Brandon Crawford SS
Chris Stratton RHP
Read more on the Nationals: