In their third NLDS appearance in the last five years, the Nats lost again, giving up the lead in the seventh inning as the bullpen collapsed. I don’t feel as crushed as I did in 2012—the lead was only one run, and when you’ve watched Max Scherzer pitch for two seasons, you’re always half expecting the solo home run to happen. Simply as a baseball game, this was a great one, and in fact the whole series has been pretty great. It’s kind of sad that this will be remembered as the game of Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Joc Pederson, when really Scherzer, Mark Melancon, and Chris Heisey were just as good. But there were too many instances where the Nats were unable to deliver, so it’s Los Angeles that’s going on to face the Cubs.
Here are a few miscellaneous comments about the series.
The Nationals played well—well enough to have won the series. Over the series, the Nats outscored the Dodgers 24 to 19, had a .716 OPS compared with the Dodgers .696, and their pitchers had a 1.25 WHIP compared to 1.45 for the Dodgers. The Dodgers took all three victories in one-run games.
Even though I’m going to talk about some of Dusty Baker‘s decisions, Baker didn’t lose the series. I can’t think of any of his decisions that were obviously wrong, though several may have been debatable. By and large, though, the outcome was about the players’ performance, and about taking gambles that worked and gambles that didn’t work.
It was a bit surprising when the Nats used their extra roster position (coming from only having to use four starting pitcher) for an extra position player rather than an extra bullpen arm. In retrospect, I think it’s pretty clear that Sean Burnett or Matt Belisle would have been more useful than Michael A. Taylor. The Dodgers had a deep bench, and the way to respond to a deep bench is with a deep bullpen.
The Dodgers didn’t win because their manager is a genius and Kershaw is a bulldog. They won because their lineup is deeper, with a deeper bench and bullpen. The Nats actually did pretty well against Kershaw all series – his ERA during the series was 5.86 and his WHIP was just 1.46. While Roberts bringing in Jansen with no outs in the seventh was a gutsy move, it also very easily could have backfired—Jansen had a 6.75 ERA and 1.69 WHIP during the series, and one more hit in either the seventh or ninth inning could have turned Jansen, and Roberts, into goats rather than heroes. But while it almost didn’t work, it did work and Kershaw, Jansen, and Roberts will be remembered for the move.
As everyone has said, the Jayson Werth send by Bob Henley at the end of the sixth inning was just awful — Werth was out by about 40 feet. The worst thing about the play is how out of position Henley was — instead of coming up the line toward home so he could send Werth back if he saw the throw beating him, he was way past third base toward the outfield. It’s past time for the Nats to part ways with “Bob Sendley.” While it’s not likely that this misplay cost the Nats the game (Urias was pitching well and Espinosa was one deck), it did seem like a momentum changer.
In terms of Baker’s decisions that are worth discussing, here are my takes:
- There were relatively few questionable decisions in the first four games. In game 4, I probably would have pulled Blake Treinen in the bottom of the eighth just before Utley got the game-winning single, just because Treinen hadn’t looked sharp. But I doubt that bringing in Sammy Solis then would have gotten them the platoon advantage—at least in the next game in a similar situation, the Dodgers sent in Ruiz to pinch hit for Utley when Baker replaced Treinen with Solis.
- In game 5, the most controversy has been about pulling Scherzer after he gave up the home run to Pederson leading off the ninth. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs makes the argument that this was the right move to make, analytically, based on the fact that Scherzer would have been facing a number of left handers for the third time if he had stayed in the games. I agree—at the time I thought Baker was making the right move, and even though it didn’t work out as planned, I can’t fault Dusty.
- I do question Baker bringing in Marc Rzepczynski as the first replacement for Scherzer (independent of the fact that Rzepcynski would then walk Grandal on four pitches). We know that with a left-handed Nats reliever, the Dodgers were going to use their right-handed bench players for the bottom of the lineup, so Rzepczynski was probably going to face only a single batter. I’d have saved him for someone other than Grandal, and would have brought on Treinen immediately.
- If pulled about three more inches toward the line, Ruiz’s go-ahead single easily could have been an inning-ending double play, and the game would have had an entirely narrative. I assume that Shawn Kelley was already experiencing discomfort when he gave up the triple to Turner. Kelley is normally exactly the pitcher we wanted to have in there in that situation.
- In the bottom of the seventh, after Clint Robinson singled (following Heisey’s home run) it seems weird that Baker waited until Trea Turner‘s plate appearance was over before replacing Robinson with a pinch runner (and that the pinch runner was Joe Ross instead of Taylor). Several times this season I’ve seen Baker wait to send in a pinch runner, and I’ve always wondered about it.
- In the eighth, asking Danny Espinosa to bunt after Stephen Drew reached seemed like a questionable call, especially since Pedro Severino and Taylor were the next two batters. I’m sure Espinosa was hoping to bunt for a hit, but with the second baseman in at double play depth, it didn’t seem like a good risk.
I wound up watching the games on television. (I had planned to go to game 2, and was only about a mile from the stadium when I heard the game was postponed. I had a conflict on Sunday, though, so I wound up selling my tickets to that game.) I thought the broadcasters on Fox Sports were actually pretty good. Tom Verducci always had something interesting to say, and while Harold Reynolds can be obnoxious at times, he’s also a keen observer of the games. All in all, I felt like I was learning from them, which is what I’m looking for from an analyst. On the other hand, the broadcast of game 2 on MLB network with Bob Costas and Jim Kaat was just awful… all reminiscing about players from 20, 30, or 50 years ago. I’ve seen the networks really vary with their broadcast teams, but the Fox Sports team was really quite good.
I have to end with a comment about the length of the games. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed the games, and all four hours and 32 minutes of Game 5 was pretty wonderful. But baseball really isn’t going to be able to grow its fan base if it asks its fans to stay up past midnight to watch its yearly playoff series. Maybe that would work if they were all scheduled on weekends, but they’ve got to figure out a way to cut back the length of postseason games. Four hours for a 9-inning game just isn’t going to work.
The Nats began September with a 9-game lead over the Mets in the National League East and, barring a historic collapse, were assured of winning the division. With a 17–12 record during September (and the first two days of October, which for purposes of this article I’m counting as part of September), the Nats didn’t collapse and won the NL East with an 8-game lead and a total of 95 wins. But though the divisional race was a yawner, key injuries this month to Stephen Strasburg and Wilson Ramos would impact the team’s prospects moving into the postseason.
September began with the usual callups onto the expanded roster, giving the Nats a month to take a closer looks at players like Pedro Severino, Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin, Trevor Gott, Sean Burnett, Mat Latos, and Reynaldo Lopez. Severino, Difo, and Lopez would leverage their callups into spots on the postseason roster.
The month began with a 3-game series against the Mets in New York, the end of a short (6-game) divisional road trip. The Nats won the first game, but lost the next two. Returning to Washington, the Nats swept a three game series against the Braves. The third game struck fear into the hearts of all Nat fans, however, as Stephen Strasburg, in his return from the 15-day disabled list, left the game in the third inning after grimacing and then holding his elbow. The next day, (relatively) good news came that Strasburg would not need a second Tommy John surgery, but the diagnosis of flexor mass strain would keep him out for the rest of the season.
The home stand continued with a 4-game set against the Phillies, in which the Nats took three of four, and a 3-game set against the Mets, which the Nats won two games to one.
A 9-game road trip followed. The Nats won the first game in Atlanta, but lost the last two, with the final loss coming in a rain-shortened 7-inning game. Daniel Murphy suffered a muscle strain in the buttocks and would make only three pinch hitting appearances over the remainder of the month. The Nats then played the Marlins in Miami, and lost the first two games, giving them a 4-game losing streak. In their second Miami loss, they were shut down 1 to 0, facing an 8-inning, 3-hit, 12-strikeout performance by opposing pitcher Jose Fernandez. It would also turn out to be the last game pitched by Fernandez, who died five days later in a boating accident. The road trip concluded with the Nats winning two of three against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. In the final game, Bryce Harper had to leave the game early after sliding awkwardly into third when Kang faked a tag. While the injury wasn’t serious, he would miss several games during the last week of the season.
In their concluding home stand, the Nats split four games with the Diamondbacks. They lost the first game in a 14 to 4 blowout, their worst loss of the season. The greater loss in that game, however, was when Wilson Ramos suffered a knee injury. He would have to undergo surgery and was lost for the rest of the season, as well as the postseason. As a probable free agent, this may have been his last game played as a National.
The team’s final series was against the Marlins. Max Scherzer pitched the final game of the season, and though he only lasted five innings and gave up five runs, the team provided enough run support that they were able to hold on to win 10 to 7 and give Scherzer his 20th win of the season. Scherzer is expected to be a strong contender for the Cy Young Award, and Daniel Murphy is a contender for the MVP Award.
For the month, the Nats didn’t hit well – their .321 on-base percentage ranked 8th in the NL and their .399 slugging percentage ranked 11th. The pitching was also mediocre—their 4.18 starter ERA in the month was 8th in the NL, and the relief pitcher ERA of 3.51 also ranked 8th. Their overall record was a little better than how the team was actually playing during the month.
* All statistics in this article include the regular season games played in early October
16–13 (4.24 R/G – 3.90 RA/G)
Trea Turner (.339/.380/.612, 29 G, 8 HR, 19 R, 18 RBI, 15 SB, 1.6 fWAR).
Most valuable starting pitcher:
Tanner Roark (2–3, 2.60 RA/9, 6 G, 34-2/3 IP, 8.6 K/9, .298 opp OBP, 1.2 RA9-WAR) – his W/L record was hurt by poor run support—only 2.2 R/G. Honorable mention goes to Max Scherzer (5–0, 3.29 RA/9, 1.0 RA9-WAR).
Most valuable relief pitcher:
Shawn Kelley (2–0, 0.00 RA/9, 12 G, 10-1/3 IP, 9.6 K/9, .088 opp OBP, 4.71 RE24, 0.7 RA9-WAR, 5 shutdowns, 0 meltdown).
I’ll give this one to Danny Espinosa (.135/.212/.281, –0.4 fWAR), though arguments could also be made for Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, or Yusmeiro Petit.
Best start this month:
Tanner Roark (September 14, 1–0 win over the Mets at home) got 7 strikeouts in 7 scoreless innings, allowing 3 hits and 4 walks, for a game score of 74.
Gio Gonzalez (September 6, 9–7 win over the Braves at home) gave up 6 runs on 8 hits in 3 innings, with no walks and 4 strikeouts (game score 23).
- Tanner Roark (September 3, 3–1 loss to the Mets in New York) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks with 3 strikeouts in 5 innings. With a game score of 50, this one is a borderline “tough loss” (defined as a loss recorded when the pitcher has a game score of 50 or higher).
- Tanner Roark (September 20, 1–0 loss to the Marlins in Miami). This one’s the real deal. Tanner gave up 1 run on 3 hits and 3 walks with 5 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 69). Unfortunately, he was paired against the late Jose Fernandez pitching the last, and one of the best, games of his tragically short life.
- Max Scherzer (October 2, 10–7 win over the Marlins at home) gave up 5 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks with 7 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 34). We were all rooting for Max to get his 20th win, but it wasn’t pretty.
Shawn Kelley (September 23, 6–5 loss to the Pirates in Pittsburgh in 11 innings). Kelley entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, runners at first and second, and the Nats leading 5 to 4. He struck out Freese to get out of the inning, then retired three straight in the eighth (win probability added .222). In the bottom of the ninth, however, Mark Melancon gave up the tying run, and in the eleventh, Yusmeiro Petit gave up the walkoff run.
Koda Glover (September 9, 5–4 win over the Phillies at home). Pitching the top of the eighth with a 4 to 1 lead, Glover hit the leadoff hitter, then issued a walk, before getting a groundout that advanced the runners. The next Phillies hitter, Rupp, homered to tie the game, and Glover was pulled with one out (WPA –.389). For the rest of the story, see the next paragraph.
Trea Turner (September 9, 5–4 win over the Phillies at home). With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, bases empty, and the game tied 4 to 4, Turner hit a walkoff home run (WPA .466).
- Trea Turner (September 7, 5–4 win over the Braves at home). In the bottom of the tenth inning, an Anthony Rendon single had just tied the game after the Braves took the lead in the top of the inning. Turner came to bat with runners on first and second, one out, and the score tied 4 to 4. He grounded into a double play to end the inning (WPA –.204). In the eleventh, the Nats walked off on a Wilson Ramos single with the bases loaded.
- Clint Robinson (September 13, 4–3 loss to the Mets at home). In the bottom of the ninth, Robinson batted with runners on first and second, one out, and the score tied 3 to 3. He lined out to second and Wilmer Difo was doubled off first (WPA –.204). The Mets scored the winning run in the tenth.
Most of us are familiar with “win probability added” (WPA) – a metric which lets you identify which play in a game most contributed to a victory or loss, based on the difference between the probability of winning the game before and after the play takes place. In a close game, the biggest play usually comes late in the game, when a lead is taken or the win is assured. In a blowout, on the other hand, the biggest play may occur much earlier when the team takes an early lead that is never given up.
The same concept can apply to games played—we can look at all of the games played in the season and see how the probability of winning the pennant changes with each game played. In a tight pennant race, the biggest game usually takes place near the end of the season when a crucial game shifts the odds decisively in favor of the winning team. On the other hand, for a race that isn’t so close, such as this year’s NL East race, the biggest game may take place weeks before the end of the season.
I’ve been tracking the probability of the Nats winning the division on the Fangraphs site (though several other sites offer alternative sets of probabilities). Unlike WPA, however, the game-by-game change in the probability of winning the division is not necessarily the most appropriate guide to the biggest games of the season because the change in probability is affected not only by what happens in the game the Nats were playing, but also by what happened in the game played by their rival. (In contrast, for WPA every positive change in probability is matched by a negative change in probability for your opponent).
So I used game-by-game changes in probability to help find some candidates for biggest game of the season, but I combined it with some judgment rather than simply taking the numbers by themselves. I’m pretty confident, though, that the game I’ve identified was clearly the Nats’ “biggest” single game of the season in terms of moving them toward their divisional championship.
On July 7, the Nats began a 4-game series against the Mets in New York. When the series began, the Nats were 4 games ahead of the Mets, and their probability of winning the division, according to Fangraphs, was 77%. If the Mets won the series, they would be right in the race with the Nats, whereas if the Nats won the series, the Mets would be at least 6 games behind. The Mets won the first game, narrowing the margin to 3 games and reducing the Nats division probability to 74.5%.
On July 8, Stephen Strasburg faced “Thor,” Noah Syndergaard, in a matchup of aces. Although Syndergaard had recently been diagnosed with bone spurs, he had pitched brilliantly in his previous start.
Strasburg pitched a superb game, striking out 9 and allowing only two hits and one run in 7 innings, giving up the run on a homer by Asdrubal Cabrera. For the Nats, Clint Robinson hit a two-run homer and Daniel Murphy added an RBI double. Syndergaard had to leave the game in the fifth as his velocity dropped, and Cespedes also left with an injury. The Nats won 3 to 1, and the Nats lead returned to 4 games, with a division winning probability of 83%. Their lead would never again drop below 4 games. It was their biggest win of the season.
The Nats went on to win games 3 and 4 of the series and went into the All-Star break with a 6-game lead. While it isn’t clear whether Strasburg will be able to contribute to the Nationals this post-season, he deserves credit for winning their biggest game of the regular season.
I apologize for posting this so late. I had it mostly finished before the end of August, but then I was traveling in early September and didn’t get it finished, and haven’t been motivated to finally finish it up. I hope a few readers still find it interesting.
August began with the Nats 17 games over .500, holding a 4 game lead in their division over the Marlins. Fangraphs showed their probability of winning their division at 88.4%. After going 17–11 in August, the Nats finished the month 23 games over .500 and with a 9-game lead over the Mets (and an 11-game lead over the faltering Marlins). Their probability of winning the division had soared to 99.8%. By mid-month, Harper Gordek of the Nationals Baseball blog had alteready called the division for the Nats.
The month began auspiciously with the Nats finishing a western road trip with a series against the Diamondbacks, which they swept. Returning home, they took two of three against the Giants. Ryan Zimmerman went on the disabled list with a wrist contusion suffered when he was hit by a pitch on the last day of July. Continuing the home stand, the Nats split two games with the Indians, then took two of three against the Braves. Bryce Harper was out of the lineup for a week with a stiff neck during the latter part of the home stand, following a stretch of very poor hitting. Near the end of the home stand, the Nats released former closer Jonathan Papelbon.
With three days off during the first 11 days of the month, the Nats schedule seemed pretty easy, but the remainder of the month would feature a 20-day stretch without a day off.
The Nats’ next road trip began with three games against the Rockies in Colorado. The Nats scored 17 runs but gave up 22 in the series, and lost two of the three games. Needless to say, the bullpen got used a lot, and Sammy Solis went on the DL. Next came a 4-game set against Braves, which the Nats won three games to one. Zimmerman and Jose Lobaton returned from their DL stints. The road trip finished near home with two games in Baltimore, and the Orioles won both games. Stephen Strasburg went on the DL with “right elbow soreness,” though the front office hinted that it was more a chance for him to rest after some rough starts.
These were followed by two games against the Orioles in Washington, which the Nats split. In a trade with the Oakland A’s, the Nats acquired left-handed relief pitcher Marc Rzepczynski. The Nats then hosted the Rockies for three games, winning the first game and losing the last two. The month ended in Philadelphia, where the Nats swept a three-game series with the Phillies.
The Nats’ offense excelled in August. Their 157 runs scored ranked second in the National League, and their weighted runs created (wRC+) of 109 ranked third. Led by Trea Turner, they ranked second in the league in FanGraph’s measure of baserunning (BsR).
The starting pitching also did well, ranking third in the National League in ERA adjusted for ballpark (ERA–) with 98 and second in adjusted fielding independent pitching (FIP–) with 95. The relief pitching was the problem area; the Nats’ relievers ranked seventh in RE24 (–2.73), seventh in ERA– (100), and ninth in FIP– (99).
17–11 (5.64 R/G – 4.61 RA/G)
Trea Turner (.357/.366/.571, 27 G, 5 HR, 27 R, 15 RBI, 11 SB, 1.4 fWAR). Honorable mention goes to Anthony Rendon (.324/.390/.539, 1.3 fWAR).
Most valuable starting pitcher:
Tanner Roark (4–1, 2.79 RA/9, 6 G, 38-2/3 IP, 6.1 K/9, .325 opp OBP, 1.3 RA9-WAR). Honorable mention goes to Max Scherzer (4–1, 3.27 RA/9, 1.1 RA9-WAR).
Most valuable relief pitcher:
Mark Melancon (0–0, 0.66 RA/9, 15 G, 13-2/3 IP, 9.2 K/9, .204 opp OBP, 3.00 RE24, 0.7 RA9-WAR, 6 shutdowns, 0 meltdown).
Stephen Strasburg (1–3, 10.19 RA/9, 4 G, 17-2/3 IP, 12.2 K/9, .402 opp OBP, –0.7 RA9-WAR) went on the disabled list after three consecutive poor performances.
Best start this month:
Max Scherzer (August 25, 4–0 win over the Orioles at home) got 10 strikeouts in 8 scoreless innings, allowing 2 hits and no walks, for a game score of 88.
Stephen Strasburg (August 17, 12–10 loss to the Rockies in Colorado) gave up 9 runs on 9 hits in 1-2/3 innings, with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts (game score 1).
- Max Scherzer (August 9, 3–1 loss to the Indians at home) gave up 2 runs (of which only 1 was earned) on 3 hits and 1 walk with 10 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 74).
- AJ Cole (August 22, 4–3 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore) gave up 4 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks with 8 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 57).
- Gio Gonzalez (August 10, 7–4 win over the Indians at home) gave up 4 runs on 7 hits and 1 walk with 5 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 41).
- Max Scherzer (August 20, 11–9 win over the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks with 6 strikeouts in 6-1/3 innings (game score 48).
Blake Treinen (August 21, 7–6 loss to the Braves in Atlanta in 10 innings). Treinen pitched the eighth and ninth innings without giving up a run or a hit, allowing one walk. (Win probability added .334).
Yusmeiro Petit (August 27, 9–4 loss to the Rockies at home). Asked to pitch in the top of the 11th inning of a tie game, and with no one available in the bullpen to bail him out, Petit gave up 5 runs on 7 hits including 2 homers.
Jayson Werth (August 27, 9–4 loss to the Rockies at home in 11 innings). With two out in the bottom of the 9th, with the Nats trailing 4–3, Werth homered to send the game to extra innings.(WPA .466). Unfortunately, Petit allowed five Rockies runs in the 11th.
Ryan Zimmerman (August 24, 10–8 loss to the Orioles at home. The Nats entered the bottom of the 9th trailing 10–3. But after a grand slam by Daniel Murphy and an RBI double by Anthony Rendon, the Nats had runners on first and second with only one out, and an impossible comeback now seemed possible. But Zimmerman grounded into a game ending double play, ending the hope for a most remarkable comeback (WPA –.191).
Playing most of their games at home, the Nats should have widened their divisional lead in July. Instead, they turned in a mixed bag, winning important series against the Mets and Pirates, but losing series to the Brewers, Dodgers, and Padres. With a 13–12 record for the month, the Nats saw their lead over the resurgent Marlins shrink from 6.5 games to 4, even while their lead over the faltering Mets expanded from 6 games to 6.5.
The month began with the Nats at home playing the last three games of a 4-game set against the Reds. The Nats won two of three (and three of the four games in the series). Joe Ross was sent to the DL with shoulder inflammation, even while Stephen Strasburg returned to the active roster. The Nats then faced the Brewers in a series starting on Independence Day. Max Scherzer pitched well in the first game, but he took the loss when he gave up a run while the Nats were shut out with only 2 hits. The Nats lost the second game and won the third, losing the series.
The Nats went to New York to face the Mets in their final series before the All-Star break. Ryan Zimmerman went on the DL and Trea Turner was called up, and before the month was over would play both second base and center field and move into a near-regular role. The Nats lost the first game of the series, but then won the last three to go into the All-Star break with a 6-game lead.
The Nats had five players selected to the All-Star team, four of whom played—Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Wilson Ramos, and Scherzer (who replaced Strasburg). Playing in San Diego, Harper and Murphy each had hits, and Scherzer pitched a scoreless inning.
After the break, the Nats faced the Pirates at home. They won the first two games (giving them 5 in a row), but lost the finale, an 18-inning marathon (the longest in Nats history). They next lost two of three to the Dodgers and 2 of 3 to the Padres. In the final game against the Padres, the Nats were ahead 6–4 after seven innings, but Shawn Kelley gave up 2 runs in the 8th, tying the game, and Jonathan Papelbon surrendered 4 runs in the 9th for a 10–6 loss.
The Nats then went on the road. Playing a 2-game set with the Indians in Cleveland, Papelbon blew a save with a 6–4 lead, failing to get an out and leaving the game with the score tied and the bases loaded. Behind Strasburg, the Nats won the second game, though the bullpen again gave the team a scare in the 9th when Felipe Rivero allowed a run to score and two more batters to reach, before Blake Treinen came in and got a double play to close the game.
The month ended with a 4-game set against the Giants in San Francisco. The Nats took the first two games, but lost the last two. At the trade deadline, Rivero was dealt to the Pirates in exchange for closer Mark Melancon.
The Nats’ batters didn’t hit well during July. Their .309 OBP ranked 12th of 15 NL teams, and their .412 slugging percentage ranked 6th. Harper, in particular, remained in a terrible slump, hitting .176/.303/.319. Ben Revere also remained in a slump (.198/.235/.333) and by the end of the month Turner was starting to find playing time in center field.
The Nationals’ starting pitching, on the other hand, held the team together this month. The starting pitchers’ 3.10 ERA was best in the NL, and Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark all had ERAs below 3.20. Only their rookie starters, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez—called up to fill in while Ross was on the DL—disappointed.
The Nats’ relief pitching was a mixed bag. While their earned run average of 2.94 ranked 7th in the league, they ranked 5th in both win probability added (WPA) and in RE24. But their 17 “meltdowns” was 2nd-worst in the NL, while their 22 “shutdowns” ranked only 8th. The bullpen meltdowns were concentrated in the last seven games of the month—the final game of the Padres series, along with the Indians and Giants series.
15–10 (4.32 R/G – 3.56 RA/G)
Max Scherzer (2–1, 1.59 RA/9, 5 G, 34 IP, 10.3 K/9, .242 opp OBP, 1.7 RA9-WAR). Honorable mention goes to Stephen Strasburg (4–1, 2.08 RA/9, 1.5 RA9-WAR).
Most valuable position player:
Daniel Murphy (.346/.372/.744, 22 G, 6 HR, 13 R, 23 RBI, 1.1 fWAR). Honorable mention goes to Anthony Rendon (.259/.355/.519, 1.0 fWAR).
Most valuable relief pitcher:
Though traded to the Pirates at the end of the month, the award goes to Felipe Rivero (0–0, 1.32 RA/9, 9 G, 13-2/3 IP, 7.2 K/9, .298 opp OBP, 4.61 RE24, 0.5 RA9-WAR, 2 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).
Jonathan Papelbon (1–2, 9.00 RA/9, 10 G, 8 IP, 12.4 K/9, .375 opp OBP, –4.48 RE24, –0.5 RA9-WAR, 3 shutdowns, 2 meltdowns) lost his job as closer after a very bad week.
Best start this month:
I usually pick the best start based on game scores, but this month the Nats had 4 starts with game scores of 76, as well as a couple more 75s. Based on quality of opponent and not allowing a run to score, I’m going with Stephen Strasburg (July 27, 4–1 win over the Indians), who got 7 strikeouts in 7 scoreless innings, allowing 3 hits and 2 walks, for a game score of 76.
In his major league debut, Reynaldo Lopez (July 19, 8–4 loss to the Dodgers at home) gave up 6 runs on 10 hits in 4-2/3 innings, with 1 walks and an impressive 9 strikeouts (game score 28).
- Max Scherzer (July 4, 1–0 loss to the Brewers at home) gave up 1 run on 4 hits and 3 walks with 7 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 64).
- Gio Gonzalez (July 31, 3–1 loss to the Giants in San Francisco) gave up 2 runs (1 earned) on 6 hits and 2 walks with 1 strikeout in 6 innings (game score 53).
Felipe Rivero (July 17, 2–1 loss to the Pirates at home in 18 innings). Rivero pitched the 14th, 15th, and 16 innings, giving up 1 walk and one double, and kept the game tied with the help of a spectacular relay throw to home by Danny Espinosa. (Win probability added .397).
Jonathan Papelbon (July 26, 7–6 loss to the Indians in Cleveland). Called on to pitch the bottom of the 9th with a 6–4 lead, Papelbon faced 5 batters without getting an out. He walked the leadoff hitter, gave up an RBI double, and then the tying run scored on Ryan Zimmerman‘s errant throw to first on a sacrifice bunt attempt. After an intentional walk, he gave up a single to load the bases, still with no outs (WPA –.850). Oliver Perez was then brought in and got one out before giving up the game-winning hit. Papelbon was given one more save opportunity two nights later, but was pulled early and then lost his job.
Daniel Murphy (July 17, 2–1 loss to the Pirates at home in 18 innings). With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, with the Nats trailing 1–0, Murphy homered and sent the game to extra innings (WPA .489). Alas, 9 long innings later the Pirates finally broke the tie and held on to beat the Nats.
Stephen Drew (July 17, 2–1 loss to the Pirates at home in 18 innings – hey, in an 18 inning game you’re going to get a lot of high leverage plate appearance). In the bottom of the 10th, Drew came to bat with one out, runners on first and second, and the game tied 1–1, and grounded into a rally-ending double play (WPA –.204).
June was punctuated by winning streaks and losing streaks as the Nats went 16–11 for the month and expanded their lead in the division over the slumping Mets to 6 games. With two long road trips, they played 17 of their 27 games on the road, and the second trip included a 7-game losing streak. But they turned things around and finished the month with 5 consecutive wins, including a sweep of the Mets.
As the month began, the Nats were in Philadelphia playing their third game against the Phillies. They won the game, giving them a sweep of the series, and traveled next to Cincinnati to face the Reds. Shortstop prospect Trea Turner was called up and would play two games while Ryan Zimmerman was on paternity leave. They lost the first two games against the Reds, but in game three they came back from a 5–0 deficit to win 10–9. Jonathan Papelbon had an unusual save, as he entered in the bottom of the ninth with a 2-run lead and allowed the first four batters to reach on a single, a double, and two walks (one intentional), allowing one run to score and loading the bases with no outs. He then proceeded to get out of the jam on an infield fly, a strikeout, and a fly ball.
The Nats next stop was in Chicago, where they won their first two games against the White Sox by scores of 10–5 and 11–4, matching a Nationals club record with three consecutive games scoring 10 or more runs. They lost the third game against the White Sox 3 to 1, and finished the road trip with a 6–3 record.
On June 9 in the MLB draft, the Nats selected shortstop Carter Kieboom and pitcher Dane Dunning in the first (compensatory) round. The Nats returned to Washington to face the Phillies, who had swept them in Washington in April, though the Nats had recently repaid with a sweep in Philadelphia. In this series, the Nats swept again. In the third game, Papelbon was called on to pitch the top of ninth with the score tied and allowed a lead-off home run, putting the Phils ahead. In the bottom of the inning, however, the Nats rallied and and with two outs Jayson Werth drove in the tying and go-ahead runs.
Next came a much-anticipated series against the Chicago Cubs, who in May had swept the Nats in Chicago. In the first game, Max Scherzer pitched one of his best games in a 4–1 Nats win. The Cubs won the second game 5 to 4. The finale began as a pitching duel between Stephen Strasburg and Jason Hammel, with each pitcher allowing 1 run in 7 innings. Then began a seesaw of clutch hits by both sides, and the game went to extra innings with the score tied at 3 apiece. In the top of the 12th, the Cubs scored to take the lead, but the Nats responded with two in the bottom of the inning to walk off. The Nats announced that Papelbon was going on the DL with an intercostal strain. After some initial indecision, Shawn Kelley would soon take over the closer role.
The Nats next began their first west coast trip with a four-game series with the Padres. They took the first two games, reaching 18 games above .500 and giving them a 6-game lead in the NL East. But they then lost the last two games with San Diego to split the series. Next they faced the Dodgers and were swept in three games. Proceeding to Milwaukee, they lost the first two games with the Brewers, giving them a 7-game losing streak and shrinking their divisional lead to two games.
The Nats really didn’t play poorly during their 7-game losing streak. They hit .256/.314/.407, which should have been worth more than 20 runs, but they hit poorly in clutch situations. They found a variety of ways to lose. In their first loss, with a 3–1 lead in the eighth, reliever Felipe Rivero gave up 6 runs without recording an out. Their next loss came because Gio Gonzalez was ineffective. In the first game against the Dodgers, they were facing Clayton Kershaw (enough said). Strasburg had been scheduled to start, but was scratched (and would later go on the DL with an upper back strain), and while long-man Yusmeiro Petit gave them a quality start, he was no match for the best pitcher in baseball. In the next game, the Nats were unable to get timely hits and Dusty Baker left Tanner Roark in for one too many batters, as Grandal hit a 3-run home run in the bottom of the eighth to give the Dodgers a 3–2 margin. The next night, the Nats took a one-run lead into the ninth, but Michael A. Taylor let a routine ground ball from Puig slip by, turning a single into a two-run walk-off little league home run. In Milwaukee, Scherzer gave up only 5 hits, but they were bunched together and included two home runs, as the Nats were unable to string together their 9 hits in their 5 to 3 loss. In their seventh loss, Gonzalez was again ineffective.
In their third game in Milwaukee, Jayson Werth gave Nats fans a scare when he lost a ninth inning fly ball in the afternoon sun, resulting in a two-out triple threatening the Nats one-run lead. But he caught the next one, allowing the Nats to hold on and win 3 to 2. Returning home, the Nats faced the Mets. In the first game, Joe Ross gave up 4 runs before getting the first out in the third inning, and the Nats appeared to be facing a loss. But after a trip to the mound by Baker, Ross settled down and Syndegard gave up 5 runs in the bottom of the third, with the Nats going on to win 11 to 4. The next game was the major league debut of Nats rookie pitcher Lucas Giolito. He pitched well, and the Nats won 5 to 0, though a rain delay prevented Giolito from being credited with a victory. In the third game Scherzer was lights out, and the Nats won 4 to 2 giving them a sweep. In their final game of the month, the first game of a series against the Reds, the Nats won 13 to 4.
The Nats’ offense excelled in June, with the Nats ranking 2nd in the NL in runs with 149 and first in weighted runs created (wRC+) with 113. They were 2nd in slugging percentage (.465), 3rd in home runs (38), and 3rd in on-base percentage (.346). Their offense was led by Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, and Jayson Werth, as Daniel Murphy cooled off from his first two months and Bryce Harper continued to hit at a relatively disappointing (albeit, above average) pace.
During June, the Nats starters led the NL with park-adjusted fielding independent pitching (or FIP–) of 87, but their adjusted ERA– was 99, which was only sixth in the league. A relatively high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .314 and a mediocre left-on-base percentage of 71.9% help explain the gap between their strong fielding independent performance and their less stellar ability to keep runs off the board. In particular, Gio’s BABIP of .409 helped explain his poor ERA for the month of 6.95.
The Nats’ relief pitching slipped from the strong position it had maintained in the first two months of the season. The Nats relievers ranked ninth in the NL in June in both ERA (4.11) and in ERA– (98), fifth in RE24 (–0.67), sixth in FIP (3.79), and fifth in FIP– (93). Their 11 meltdowns was tied for the third lowest total in the NL.
17–10 (5.52 R/G – 4.15 RA/G)
Max Scherzer (4–1, 1.96 RA/9, 6 G, 41-1/3 IP, 12.6 K/9, .196 opp OBP, 1.9 RA9-WAR).
Most valuable position player:
Danny Espinosa (.309/.418/.704, 26 G, 9 HR, 21 R, 21 RBI, 1.7 fWAR). Honorable mention goes to Wilson Ramos (.364/.414/.636, 1.3 fWAR).
Most valuable relief pitcher:
Sammy Solis (1–1, 0.71 RA/9, 9 G, 12-2/3 IP, 12.1 K/9, .250 opp OBP, 4.92 RE24, 0.5 RA9-WAR, 3 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).
Felipe Rivero (0–2, 11.45 RA/9, 11 G, 11 IP, 8.2 K/9, .442 opp OBP, –5.93 RE24, –0.8 RA9-WAR, 2 shutdowns, 2 meltdowns).
Best start this month:
Max Scherzer (June 29, 4–2 win over the Mets) got 10 strikeouts in 7-1/3 scoreless innings, allowing 2 hits and 1 walk, for a game score of 83.
Tie: Tanner Roark (June 5, 10–9 win over the Reds in Cincinnati) gave up 5 runs on 7 hits in 3 innings, with 1 walks and 3 strikeouts (game score 27). Gio Gonzalez (June 25, 6–5 loss to the Brewers in Milwaukee) gave up 6 runs on 6 hits and a walk in 3 innings, getting 5 strikeouts (game score 27).
- Gio Gonzalez (June 9, 3–1 loss to the White Sox in Chicago) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks with 10 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 63).
- Yusmeiro Petit (June 20, 4–1 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk with 5 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 54) in an emergency start facing Kershaw.
- Tanner Roark (June 21, 3–2 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles) gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk with 5 strikeouts in 7-1/3 innings (game score 58).
- Tanner Roark (June 16, 8–5 win over the Padres in San Diego) gave up 4 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks with 5 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 45).
- Joe Ross (June 27, 11–4 win over the Mets at home) gave up 4 runs on 10 hits and 1 walk, getting 7 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 42). Ross did have one of the best recoveries I’ve seen—after allowing 9 hits and a walk from the first 16 batters he faced, he got outs from 11 of the last 12 (and the one runner he allowed was erased on a double play).
- Gio Gonzalez (June 30, 13–4 win over the Reds at home) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks with 9 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 49).
Oliver Perez (June 22, 4–3 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles). Perez relieved Ross in the bottom of the seventh with a 2–2 tie, one out, and runners on second and third. He got a strikeout from Hernandez and a fly ball from Seager to get out of the jam without giving up a run. (Win probability added .235). This is the game that was lost in the ninth on Taylor’s error in fielding Puig’s ground ball single.
Felipe Rivero (June 18, 7–3 loss to the Padres in San Diego). With the Nats leading 3–1, Rivero came in for the bottom of the eighth. He gave up two singles and a walk, loading the bases. Wil Myers then hit a double, tying the game. Rivero then issued an intentional walk to load the bases and set up a double play. Wallace then hit a ground ball back to Rivero, and when he went home with the throw he hurled it past Ramos, giving the Padres the lead. After failing to retire any of the 6 batters he faced, he left with the bases loaded, still no outs, and the Nats trailing 4–3 (WPA –.819). Blake Treinen subsequently allowed all three baserunners to score, causing Rivero to be charged with a total of 6 runs allowed.
Jayson Werth (June 12, 5–4 win over the Phillies at home). In the bottom of the ninth, Werth came to bat with two outs, the bases loaded, and the Nats trailing 4 to 3. He smacked a ground ball up the middle, driving in two runs and giving the Nats a walk-off win (WPA .734).
Wilson Ramos (June 25, 6–5 loss to the Brewers in Milwaukee). Ramos came to bat in the top of the ninth with a runner on first, one out, and the Nats trailing 6–5, and grounded into a game-ending double play (WPA –.172).
Once again, we’re up to the deadline for all-star voting. Each year I put together an NL all-star team. For the last few years, I’ve used a systematic statistical method.
I won’t go through all the details of my methodology here (you can read another article if you’re interested), but the main idea is that I give weight to both this season and last season’s performance, plus a little bit of weight to career performance. I want to avoid selecting players who just hit a hot streak for three months. “Performance” includes defense. My method does allow an occasional exceptional player with limited playing time (for example, Corey Seager makes my team), but for the most part I’m looking for excellent play over the last year and a half.
Here’s my 2016 all-star team:
National League – Starters
C – Buster Posey – Giants
1B – Paul Goldschmidt – Diamondbacks
2B – Daniel Murphy – Nationals
3B – Nolan Arenado – Rockies
SS – Brandon Crawford – Giants
LF – Kris Bryant – Cubs
CF – Yoenis Cespedes – Mets
RF – Bryce Harper – Nationals
SP – Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers
C – Jonathan Lucroy – Brewers
C – Wilson Ramos – Nationals
1B – Anthony Rizzo – Cubs
1B – Joey Votto – Reds
1B – Freddie Freeman – Braves
2B – Ben Zobrist – Cubs
3B – Matt Carpenter – Cardinals
SS – Corey Seager – Dodgers
OF – Marcell Ozuna – Marlins
OF – Jason Heyward – Cubs
OF – Dexter Fowler – Cubs – on DL, replaced by:
OF – Starling Marte – Pirates
OF – Gregory Polanco – Pirates
OF – Odubel Herrera – Phillies
SP – Jake Arrieta – Cubs
SP – Zack Greinke – Diamondbacks
SP – Johnny Cueto – Giants
SP – Jon Lester – Cubs
SP – Madison Bumgarner – Giants
SP – Max Scherzer – Nationals
SP – John Lackey – Cubs
RP – Kenley Jansen – Dodgers
RP – Jeurys Familia – Mets
RP – Hector Rondon – Cubs
RP – Fernando Rodney – Padres
RP – A.J. Ramos – Marlins
Freddie Freeman and Odubel Herrera make my team because of the requirement that every team be represented; my statistical system would have picked Brandon Belt and Andrew McCutchen ahead of them.
In terms of Nationals who were near misses, Stephen Strasburg came closest to making my team, though my system still would have picked Noah Syndergaard and Jose Fernandez ahead of him.