Span providing Nationals a big boost

The hottest hitter in the Washington Nationals' lineup entering the Sunday Night Baseball matchup with the Atlanta Braves is center fielder Denard Span.

Denard Span

SpanSpan has reached base in 35 straight games, fulfilling the role at the top of the lineup that the Nationals envisioned when they traded for him.

Span is hitting .394 with a .463 on-base percentage, a .905 OPS, 55 hits and 19 walks during this streak.

Span’s streak is tied for the longest in the National League this season with Carlos Gomez, who had a 35-gamer in May and June. He’s two games shy of the longest streak this season, Jose Bautista’s 37-gamer from Opening Day to mid-May.

This is the second-longest streak for the Nationals since they moved to Washington, D.C. Ryan Zimmerman had a 43-game streak in 2009.

The franchise record, dating back to the team’s days as the Montreal Expos, is 46 games by Rusty Staub, the streak spanning the end of the 1969 season and the beginning of the 1970 season.

Span has been good for nearly two hits per game over the latter part of the streak. He’s 32-for-69 (.464 batting average) in his past 17 games. His current hitting streak is at 13 games.

What he’s doing well

Span’s batted-ball profile during the streak is a little different than the norms he established over the past season and a half. His fly-ball and line-drive rates have basically flip-flopped, as noted in the chart on the right.

Denard Span – Batted-Ball Profile

That’s noteworthy for Span, who rarely hits home runs and thus usually has a high percentage of his fly balls caught.

Also of note is that Span is 25-for-61 when hitting a ground ball over his past 35 games. Over the previous season and a half, he got hits on ground balls only 26 percent of the time.

What to Watch for: Span vs. Alex Wood

Span faced Sunday night’s Braves starter, Alex Wood, in one previous game and went 0-for-3 against him (he did reach on an error).

Span has historically been a formidable hitter against left-handed pitching. He’s currently hitting .274 against lefties this season, and .283 during the streak, with 13 hits and eight walks in 54 plate appearances.

Left-handed hitters have been able to hit Wood a bit, though not much recently. They are 5-for-29 with two walks against him in his past four starts.

Span’s weakness isn’t an uncommon one for a lefty hitter against a lefty pitcher -- trying to hit a curveball. Span has seen 44 curveballs from lefties this season, resulting in one hit and 15 outs.

That pitch might be the best plan of attack for Wood, who throws his hook to lefties about 30 percent of the time.