They spend hours before each series preparing for the upcoming opponent, studying the pitchers they'll face, going over each outfielder's strengths and weaknesses. Oftentimes, all the preparation is for naught. But sometimes, the perfect situation presents itself to use all that advanced scouting and apply it with the game on the line.
That situation came late Sunday afternoon, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of a tie ballgame. And thanks in part not only to Jayson Werth's bat and Anthony Rendon's legs, but also to advance coach Mark Weidemaier's scouting report and third base coach Bob Henley's read of the play at hand, the Nationals were able to pull off a 5-4 victory over the Brewers that for the moment left them owning the NL's best record.
"That's what it's all about, right?" said Werth, whose double down the left-field line brought home Rendon and set off a mad celebration among his teammates and the crowd of 36,373. "That's why we do this, I think. If you find yourself in that situation and you don't want to be there, I think you're in the wrong line of work."
Werth has thrived in this spot many times before, and he got himself into an advantageous situation when Milwaukee right-hander Rob Wooten fell behind in the count 3-1. With Rendon on first base and two outs in a tie game, Werth knew a simple single wouldn't be good enough. He needed to look for a good pitch to hit, and then he needed to drive it somewhere to the outfield.
"It's about hitting off the fastball and being ready for a pitch to hit," he said. "Sometimes when you get in a hitter's count, the pitcher is in trouble. So you've got to take advantage of those opportunities, and we were able to do that today."
Werth got the fastball from Wooten he was looking for, 91 mph and over the inside part of the plate. He turned on it and sent the ball careening on a line into the left-field corner.
As soon as the ball landed, all eyes turned toward Rendon, who had taken off on contact and was now rounding second, and then toward left fielder Khris Davis. Davis retrieved the ball and started his throwing motion before Rendon reached third base, but Henley didn't waver in waving him around.
That's where the Nationals' scouting report came into play. Weidemaier had told everyone on Friday afternoon that it was worth running on Davis. Henley knew this and thus made up his mind early during the play to send Rendon.
"I think the situation of the game dictated to be aggressive right there," the rookie third base coach said. "Then when the ball went to the wall, and knowing that Tony can really turn it on and run the bases and is going to be going on the crack of the bat, as soon as I saw the ball go to the wall, then I knew we were going to be aggressive right there in that situation."
Rendon put his faith in his coach.
"Once I turned," he said, "I got to third base and the play is behind me, so I trust him."
Werth, who at this point had rounded first and was heading for second, knew the scouting report himself and expected to see Rendon making his way toward the plate.
"We always talk about taking advantage of defenders, and that was one of the guys we knew we could maybe take an extra base on," he said. "When I hit it, I knew Rendon was running, so I figured old 'No Stop Sign' Henley over there at third base, he's just always waving guys around. So I assumed he was gonna send him. So I thought we had a chance."
They had more than a chance. Davis' throw missed cutoff man Jean Segura, and Rendon wound up crossing the plate standing up, greeted by Adam LaRoche with a high-five.
Back at second base, Werth was mobbed by the rest of his teammates, grateful to have pulled out a victory on a day in which plenty of things went wrong. Ryan Zimmerman committed a throwing error. Gio Gonzalez lasted only 3 1/3 innings. Bryce Harper made two outs on the bases. Rafael Soriano blew the save in the top of the ninth.
And yet, at that moment as they piled on Werth in the center of the diamond, the Nationals had improved to 53-43, tops in the NL by percentage points over the Braves, Cardinals and Giants.
"We've been playing good ball, doing the little things: Baserunning, defense," Werth said. "That's what it's going to take. If we want to play into the end of October, we're gonna have to continue to do that and continue to win games and pitch and hit and do all the things that it takes."