Nats’ July in review: It looks more like a bust
The Nationals entered July one game above .500 and 6-1/2 games back of the Braves, needing a strong, winning month in order to remain relevant for the divisional or wild card races. Instead, they stumbled to their worst month since May 2011, back in the Jim Riggleman era. After an especially brutal 2–11 stretch from July 8 through 24, the team’s chances had faded away, and they stood pat at the trade deadline. The Nats went 11–16 in July and ended the month four games below .500 and 11 games back of the Braves. According to coolstandings.com, the Nats’ odds of winning the division had dropped to a miniscule 0.6%, and their odds of making the wild card fell to 3.6%.
The month actually began on a hopeful note, as Bryce Harper was activated from the disabled list on July 1, and Wilson Ramos on July 4. For the first time in months, the position players were all healthy. A trade for Scott Hairston allowed them to option Tyler Moore to Syracuse. Initially, it looked like it was working, as Harper homered in his first at bat from the DL, and Ramos drove in five runs in his first game back. The Nats split a four-game series with the Brewers, then swept a three-game set against the Padres, finishing a 5–2 home stand and closing their gap with the Braves to four games.
A road trip to Philadelphia and Miami followed, and things began to unravel. Former Nat John Lannan pitched the opener in Philly and outpitched his replacement, Dan Haren, for a 3–2 Phillies win. Ross Detwiler missed his next start and would eventually be moved to the disabled list, with Taylor Jordan taking his place in the rotation and taking a 4–2 loss against Cole Hamels. With Gio Gonzalez pitching the third game, the Nats beat Cliff Lee’s Phillies 5–1. But they lost game four 3–1, despite a good performance from Jordan Zimmermann. In Miami, things really started falling apart, as Stephen Strasburg lasted only two innings in the worst start of his career. In the next game, Haren pitched well, but Harper got tossed in the 8th inning of a tie game, which was lost in the 10th when his replacement, Hairston, was unable to get a clutch hit. They managed a win in the last game before the All-Star game, but they were 2–5 on a disappointing road trip.
After the break, they returned home to face the Dodgers in three games, the Pirates in four, and the Mets in four. The Dodgers swept a three-game set, despite good pitching performances from Strasburg and Gonzalez (and an abysmal start from Zimmermann). The Pirates won the next three, giving the Nats a 6-game losing streak, before they finally came back in the final game against the Pirates with a walk-off home run by Harper. They next played a day-night doubleheader against the Mets and were crushed 14–1 in the first game. In the nightcap, however, Ross Ohlendorf made a spot start and was excellent, keeping the game tied against Matt Harvey. Ryan Zimmerman won the game with a walk-off homer in the ninth. The next day, Haren pitched well in a 4–1 win, and in the final game, Jordan got his first major league win as the bats finally came alive in a 14–1 rout.
The month ended with a road trip and two games against Detroit. Although the Nats had Strasburg and Gonzalez pitching, they were clobbered in both games, 5–1 in Strasburg’s start and 11–1 in Gonzalez’s.
Where did the Nats go wrong? Basically everywhere. In batting (measured by wRC+) their index for July was 95, ranking 8th in the National League. Starting pitching, which had supported the weak bats in previous months, was even worse. The starters had a 4.53 ERA in July, ranking 11th in the NL. And the relievers’ ERA was 4.24, 13th in the league. Even their fielding was bad, with the Nats ranking 13th in the measure of fielding runs calculated by fangraphs.com. It was a truly dismal month.
11–16 (3.93 R/G – 4.59 RA/G)
MVP for July:
Jayson Werth (.371/.448/.629, 26 G, 105 PA, 7 HR, 17 R, 21 RBI, 1.3 fWAR, 0.11 WPA, 10.15 RE24).
Most valuable pitcher:
Wow. Until the last day of the month. Gio Gonzalez had this award locked up, but now, I don’t know—I guess I’ll go with Dan Haren (1–2, 3.13 R/9, 4 G, 23 IP, 10.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 2.56 RE24, 0.5 rWAR).
Most valuable reliever:
Tyler Clippard (0–0, 0.00 R/9, 13 G, 13 IP, 11.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 1.4 H/9, 5.95 RE24, 0.87 WPA, 6 shutdowns, 0 meltdown).
Drew Storen (1–1, 13.03 R/9, –8.06 RE24, 12 G, 9-2/3 IP, 15 H, 3 HR, 4 BB, 33.8% LOB%, 4 shutdowns, 4 meltdowns). After a series of notable meltdowns, Storen was optioned to Syracuse on July 27. Dishonorable mention also goes to Adam LaRoche (.163/.236/.288) and Jordan Zimmermann (1–3, 7.18 R/9), who’ve been just awful this month.
Best start this month:
Stephen Strasburg (July 24, 4–2 loss to the Pirates at home). Strasburg pitched 8 innings, gave up 2 hits , no walks, and one run (on a solo home run), and got 12 K with a game score of 86—the best start of his career according to game score. Yet he left with the Nats trailing 1–0, and the bullpen (Storen and Fernando Abad) gave up three more runs in the top of the ninth. Though the Nats’ batters rallied with two runs in the bottom of the ninth, it wasn’t enough, and Strasburg was charged with the loss.
Gio Gonzalez (July 31, 11–1 loss to the Tigers in Detroit). Gonzalez lasted 3-1/3 innings and gave up 11 hits, 10 runs, 1 walk, and 2 home runs, while getting only 3 K with a game score of 0. There was lots of competition for this one though, with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann each pitching the worst game of their careers. Strasburg’s was a 8–3 loss against the Marlins on July 12 (2 innings, 7 runs, game score of 16), and Zimmermann’s was a 9–2 loss to the Dodgers on July 21 (2 innings, 7 runs, game score of 11) could have won this category in most other months.
Stephen Strasburg (July 24, 4–2 loss to the Pirates—see “Best start this month” above).
Jordan Zimmerman (July 1, 10–5 win over the Brewers at home). Zimmermann pitched 6 innings and gave up 9 hits, 4 runs, and 2 home runs, while getting 5 K with a game score of 43.
Rafael Soriano (July 6, 5–4 win over the Padres at home). This was Soriano’s only one-run save this month. Although he allowed a pair of one-out singles, he followed them with two ground outs to get the save. (Win probability added .152).
Drew Storen (July 2, 4–0 loss to the Brewers at home) entered in the top of the 8th in a 0–0 tie. He gave up a single, a stolen base, a pair of doubles, and another single, giving up 4 runs before getting the third out. (Win probability added –.464)
Bryce Harper (July 25, 9–7 win over the Pirates at home). With the score tied 7–7, Roger Bernadina at first, and two outs in the bottom of the 9th, Harper hit his first career walk-off home run. (WPA .440)
Scott Hairston (July 13, 2–1 loss to the Marlins in Miami) came in to replace Bryce Harper, who was ejected in the 8th inning for arguing balls and strikes. Hairston came to bat in the top of the 10th with the score tied 1–1, runners on second and third, and one out. He struck out (WPA –.209). Zimmerman followed with another strikeout for the third out. In the bottom of the inning, Craig Stammen came in, Chad Tracy made an error to let the winning run get on base, and Stammen gave up the winning run.