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October 8, 2012 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ September in review

In this review, I’m treating the regular season games on October 1–3 as part of the statistical month so I can wrap up the regular season in this post.

In September, the Nats’ young pitchers were showing some signs of fatigue, with exceptionally poor starts from Jordan Zimmermann on the 1st,  from Stephen Strasburg on the 7th,  from Edwin Jackson on the 9th (and again on the 28th), from John Lannan on the 19th, and from Ross Detwiler on the 30th. The bullpen also struggled, with notable meltdowns by Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard. Overall, the Nats’ pitchers had an ERA– for the month of 95, 14th in the majors—their worst month of the season.

The Nats’ hitters, however, took up the slack. Bryce Harper (.330/.400/.643), Adam LaRoche (.324/.390/.667), Ian Desmond (.315/.377/.550), Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, and Kurt Suzuki were all hot. As a team, the Nats led the majors for the month with a .351 wOBA and a 120 wRC+.

The Nats started September with a 6-1/2 game lead, but the Braves were hot and not ready to concede anything. Facing the Cardinals at home, the Nats started the month by splitting the last two games of the series, giving them a 3–1 series win. Next they hosted the Cubs for four games and swept the series, outscoring the hapless Chi-towners 31–9. The homestand concluded against the Marlins, who were able to beat up Strasburg and Jackson to take two of three.

Moving to New York, the Nats were able to sweep the Mets. Their next stop was Atlanta, where they started the series against the Braves with an 8–1/2 game lead and the opportunity to essentially wrap up the division with a win of the three-game series. The Nats’ hitters, however, weren’t able to master the Braves pitchers and were swept, only managing to score six runs.

Returning home, they took two of three against the Dodgers, then split four games against the Brewers.  Back on the road, they took two of three against the Phillies, then lost two of three against the Cardinals. Coming home for their final three-game series against the Phillies, the Nats held a three-game lead over the Braves, giving them a magic number of one. The Nats lost the first game, but the Braves did also, allowing the Nats to celebrate their first divisional championship. For the last two games, the Nats were mostly playing their backups, but were still able to win both games. They finished the season with a 98–64 record, the best in the majors, and with a four-game margin over the Braves.

Record:

18–13 (.581)

Pythagorean Record:

18–13 (4.97 R/G – 4.19 RA/G)

MVP for September:

Bryce Harper (.330/.400/.643, 31 G, 126 PA, 7 HR, 27 R, 14 RBI, 2.0 fWAR, 0.96 WPA, 13.02 RE24). Taking account of Harper’s good fielding and base running, he was able to edge out LaRoche’s 10 home runs and Zimmerman’s 26 RBI.

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Gio Gonzalez (4–1, 2.32 R/9, 5 G, 31 IP, 9.0 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 4.67 RE24, 1.1 rWAR)

Most valuable reliever:

Drew Storen (2–1, 1.17 R/9, 17 G, 15-1/3 IP, 8.2 K/9, 0.0 BB/9, 6.5 H/9, 5.62 RE24, 0.24 WPA, 0 of 4 inherited runners scored, 6 shutdowns, 2 meltdowns)

Best start this month:

Gio Gonzalez (September 5, 9–1 win over the Cubs at home, 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K, game score of 80).

Worst start:

Edwin Jackson (September 28, 12–2 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis, 1-1/3 IP, 6 H, 1 HR, 9 R, 4 BB, 0 K, game score of 4)

Best shutdown:

Christian Garcia (September 11, 5–3 win over the Mets in New York).  Garcia entered in the top of the seventh with responsibility for protecting a 3–2 lead. He retired Valdespin, Tejada, and Murphy, all on strikeouts, then returned to face Wright leading off the eighth, whom he retired on a fly out (Win probability added .162).

Worst meltdown:

Tyler Clippard (September 21, 4–2 loss to the Brewers at home) was called in for the ninth to protect a 2–1 lead. He gave up a leadoff single to Aoki, who advanced to second on a passed ball and to third on a fly out.  Braun singled, tying the game, then promptly stole second. Ramirez doubled, giving the Brewers the lead, and advanced to third on a wild pitch. After another fly out for the second out, Ishikawa singled, scoring the runner and giving the visitors a two-run lead. That knocked Clippard out of the game (WPA –.774), and Davey Johnson brought Craig Stammen in to get the final out. In the bottom of the ninth, Harper, LaRoche, and Morse were set down (with a walk to Zimmerman), giving the Brewers the win. Coming after several rough outings, this was the game that knocked Clippard out of the closer role.

Clutch hit:

Kurt Suzuki (September 29, 6–4 win over the Cardinals in Stl Louis). In the top of the tenth, the game tied 4–4, two outs, and runners on second and third, Suzuki socked a double into center field to give the Nats a two-run lead (WPA .415), and allowing the Nats to hold onto a four-game lead over the Braves with four left to play. Although the official clinch had to wait two days, this was the game that made it virtually inevitable.

Choke:

Danny Espinosa (September 8, 7–6 win over the Marlins at home) came up in the bottom of the eighth with the Nats trailing 6–5, one out, and runners on second and third, and struck out (WPA –.217). Fortunately, Jayson Werth led off the ninth with a game-tying home run (WPA .443; I gave the award to Suzuki even though Werth’s homer had a higher WPA because of its significance to the Nats clinching the division). Singles by LaRoche, Desmond, and Corey Brown in the bottom of the tenth gave the Nats the walk off win.

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