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Ian Desmond led the Nats in sacrifice flies ... with five.
His rationale: Shannon didn't believe batters were intentionally sacrificing their at-bats in order to drive in the run. They simply happened to hit a flyball with a man on third and less than two outs, even if they were trying to record a clean hit.
I was thinking about Shannon, who tragically was killed in a house fire last year, while watching the gripping ninth inning of Game 2 of the World Series last night. The Rangers, trailing 1-0 and on the verge of falling two games behind the Cardinals in the series, managed to scrape together both the tying and winning runs via two singles, a stolen base, some adept baserunning and -- most importantly -- two sacrifice flies via their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters: Josh Hamilton and Michael Young.
Were those two sluggers intentionally trying to sacrifice themselves to get those runners home? You better believe it.
"I don't care how we scored them," Young told reporters following the game. "In that situation, sacrifice flies are what we needed."
Indeed, the sac fly can be an important weapon for teams trying to squeeze out one run in a close ballgame. Not everyone would agree, particularly those who subscribe to the belief that you should never give away outs in any situation, but it's worth noting that the Rangers were fairly adept at this during the course of the season -- they ranked sixth in the majors with 49 sacrifice flies.
Which brings me to the Nationals, who weren't exactly masters of the sac fly in 2011. In fact, they recorded only 32 of them this year, the third-fewest in baseball (ahead of only the Braves and Twins).
The Nats' leader in sac flies? Ian Desmond, who notched a mere five of them (tied for 56th in the majors). Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse and Jayson Werth each had four. Ryan Zimmerman, Laynce Nix and Chris Marrero (who appeared in only 31 games) each had three.
The obvious conclusion to draw here is that the Nationals were terrible when it came to situational hitting. Except that's not entirely true. They scored 49.8 percent of their runners who reached third base with less than two outs, just a tick below the MLB average. And they actually ranked 10th in the majors in advancing 57.3 percent of their runners who reached second base with no outs.
For whatever reason, the Nats simply weren't adept at hitting sacrifice flies. Is that a skill that can be honed and improved? Perhaps. Certainly one of the club's offensive goals in 2012 should be to cut down on its ridiculously high strikeout rate (21.7 percent, second-worst in the sport). Fewer strikeouts means more balls put into play, some of which are likely to be flyballs deep enough to score runners from third.
Is this a glaring problem? Probably not. There are only so many opportunities for sac flies during the course of a game. Then again, a staggering 54 of the Nationals' 162 games this season (exactly 33 percent) were decided by one run. They went 27-27 in those games.
How many of those 1-run losses might have tilted the other way had the Nationals simply been able to loft one fly ball to the outfield with a man on third and less than two outs?
Sometimes, one sacrifice fly makes all the difference. And sometimes, two of them are enough to win a World Series game.