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Home runs have disappeared from the MLB playoffs, but the Nationals don’t care

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MLB-Game Four of the NLCS between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

This season, the home runs flew at a record pace, leading everyone to the assumption that the baseballs were juiced. Naturally, Major League Baseball has declined to be particularly forthcoming about this issue, for its own interests, as Michael Baumann lays out in this piece from The Ringer:

MLB owns ball manufacturer Rawlings: A substantial change to the baseball would imply either an inability to ensure a consistent equipment-manufacturing process or a deliberate decision to change the conditions of the game without telling anyone.

The popular discussion of this postseason thus far, however, has been the abrupt reversal of whatever was happening in the regular season. Which is not the point of this post, because Eric Stephen already wrote about that here, and you should read his words. But it does set up something that stands out in contrast of all of this.

While many have been bemoaning the lack of dingers lately (oddly enough, even the Cardinals, who barely cracked the top 25 in home runs this season); the Washington Nationals found a way to get to the game’s biggest stage without relying on the long ball.

Though the three home runs hit by Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick in the deciding game of the National League Division Series may be what stand out most to fans about this magical run that the team is on, it hasn’t been their primary offensive strategy.

Washington wasn’t among even the top 10 home run hitting teams this season, even when the ball was allegedly juiced. In ten postseason games, they have hit eight, which is two fewer than the Yankees and Astros have in fewer games.

And yet the Nationals have managed to score more runs than any other team. Part of that is because they have played the most games, true, but they’ve also been very good at getting and capitalizing on scoring opportunities.

Sure, it’s helpful when your pitching staff combines for a 1.25 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in the entire Championship Series. But it’s particularly helpful when you have seven players who played in two or more games who got on base a third or more of the time, as the Nationals did.

Of all the teams in both Championship Series, the Nationals have reached base 20-30 more times than their peers during the course of this year’s playoffs. And not just bloop singles, they also lead the field in non-home run extra base hits, particularly doubles.

Additionally, they seem to thrive in rally situations, especially as of late. Which shouldn’t be a shock. Throughout the 2019 season, the Nationals were effective batters with runners in scoring position, with a team average/on base percentage of .279/.378. When you look at situations where they had runners on first and third, those numbers increase to .305/.366, and with runners on second and third, .362/.466.

For some context, you can compare that to, say, the Astros, who were .276/.304 and .283/.378 in those same situations.

The Nationals have been good at taking advantage of scoring opportunities, which has allowed them to thrive in a dead-ball postseason.