In their 2-0 win over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday afternoon, the Nationals scored both of their runs in the first inning. It was all they needed on this particular day with Tanner Roark striking out 15 batters in the game of his life.
The two runs - which both came on an RBI single by Ryan Zimmerman - continued what has been an early season trend so far for the 2016 Nationals. They are really, really good at getting on the board early in games.
The Nats have now scored 24 runs in the first inning of their games. They have played 17 games, which gives them an average of more than a run per first inning they have played. Their 24 runs in the first are more than any other team in baseball has scored in any single inning.
When a team just happens to score a lot in the fifth inning, for example, there may not be much to read into. But scoring a lot in the first speaks to the Nats' ability to get to starting pitchers the first time they see them.
Hitters generally improve as they go throughout a game and see a pitcher several times. That has not necessarily been true for the Nats, but they have certainly benefitted from getting off to good starts more often than not.
"It has a heck of an effect," manager Dusty Baker said. "In spring training, we were always talking, at least I was always talking about jump 'em early and come out of the clubhouse ready to play. We’ve done that most games and hopefully we can continue to do that."
Baker made a really good point on the matter in that they have been doing this without a very important part of the equation.
"We don’t even really have our igniter in Ben Revere," Baker said.
That's right, this is all without the guy the Nats traded for this winter to be their leadoff hitter. With Revere sidelined with an oblique strain, the Nats have seen very little production from their leadoff spot, most notably with Michael Taylor who is batting just .161. Players hitting in the leadoff spot for the Nats collectively have batted just .160 and reached base at a .192 clip.
To keep starting off games well despite that fact is impressive, but there is one part of the dynamic as a whole that Zimmerman himself has honed in on. He wants the Nats to get better at sustaining that momentum. For example, the Nats have yet to score a run in the second inning this year and have a combined four runs in the eighth and ninth innings.
"It’s good. But we need to keep going," Zimmerman said. "We’ve scored some runs in the first inning and then kinda let the pitcher hang around when we had chances. I’m not going to complain about scoring first-inning runs but we need to capitalize on some more opportunities that we’ve had and score some more runs in the other innings as well."