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September 1, 2014 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ August in review: I want another ring

In August the Nationals finally played like the championship-caliber team that we’ve been looking for all season. Entering the month with a 1-1/2 game lead over the Braves in the NL East, the Nats went 19–10 and finished the month with a 6-game lead. The month featured a lot of wild games, including a 10-game winning streak that featured five walk-off wins. The Nats’ success was more than just  winning close games on luck, as demonstrated by their run differential of +40 in August.

The month began with the Nationals at home playing the last three games of a 4-game series against the Phillies (they had lost the first game on July 31). After taking another loss, they won the last two games to split the series. They then lost to the Orioles in a make-up game for an earlier rain-out.

Next, the Mets came to Washington for a 3-game series. After losing the first game to New York, the Nats were in a bit of a slump, having dropped six of their last nine games. Matt Williams kicked up a bit of a media kerfuffle when he responded to a question on a radio talk show about whether slumping Bryce Harper should be sent to  But that night, they beat the Mets 7 to 1, and the following afternoon they finished a 13-inning, 4 hour and 34 minute marathon when Harper launched a walk-off home run into the left-field stands.

The team’s roster also evolved during August. Asdrubal Cabrera, acquired in a deadline deal, played his first game on August 1 and took over the main responsibilities at second base. On August 4, Nate McLouth, who hadn’t reached base in his last 17 plate appearances dating from late June, went to the disabled list for shoulder inflammation (and later to season-ending surgery). At about the same time, the Nats claimed relief pitcher Matt Thornton from the Yankees on waivers. McLouth was first replaced by Steven Souza Jr. until he injured his shoulder, when Michael Taylor was called up. Taylor hit a home run in his debut game. Late in the month, Nate Schierholtz was signed and took over as the Nats’ extra outfielder.

On August 8, a short road trip began with three games in Atlanta. Stephen Strasburg lost the first game, continuing his struggles in Atlanta, but behind Tanner Roark the Nats were able to win the second game, though they lost the finale with Gio Gonzalez on the mound. Next came a 3 game set against the Mets in New York, and the Nats swept the series. The Nats were 4–2 on the road trip.

Returning to Washington, the Nats faced the Pirates and won all three games by one run, with the last two featuring walk-off victories. In a four-game set against the Diamondbacks, the Nats again swept, winning the first game and the last two with walk offs, giving them five walk offs in six games and their first 10-game winning streak since 2005.

The home stand concluded with a three-game set against the Giants. The Giants won the first game, but the Nats won the last two. In the third game, Strasburg was shelled early and the Nats were behind 5–0 after the top of the fourth and 6–2 after the top of the sixth. But beginning in the 6th inning, the Nats scored 12 runs to clobber the Giants 14 to 6. Overall, the Nats were 9–2 on the home stand.

The last six games in August were on the road. The Nats went to Philadelphia and were swept, though two of the losses were decided by a single run. The concluding series was against the Mariners in Seattle. In the opener, they faced “King” Felix Hernandez and belted him for 4 home runs (6 total) in an 8 to 3 victory. They also won the second game, but lost the finale.

The Nats’ offense was working well in August, ranking 4th in the National League in on-base percentage (.327), tied for first in slugging percentage (.435), and led the league in home runs (40). In park-adjusted weighted runs created (wRC+) they ranked 2nd behind the Giants with 112, or 12% better than the average team.

Their starting pitchers led the league in ERA– with 80 (or 20% better than the average team)—this is a measure of ERA that is park-adjusted and measured relative to the league. The Nats were tied for first with the Reds in the version of pitching WAR that is based on runs allowed (RA9-WAR). In the fielding-independent metric, FIP–, the Nats’ starters ranked third with 99. For relievers, my preferred metric is RE24, which takes account of game situations, such as inherited runners. The Nats relievers ranked 5th in the NL with an RE24 of 5.52. Although it may have seemed like there were a lot of meltdowns during August, the relievers actually had the second lowest number of meltdowns in the league, with 9.

The Nats finished the month 6 games ahead of the Braves and well-positioned for an NL East title. The attention of Nats fans is beginning to turn to the post-season.

 

Record:

19-10 (.655)

Pythagorean Record:

19-10 (4.66 R/G – 3.28 RA/G)

Playoff odds at the end of the month:

Baseball Prospectus:  95.9% for Division championship, 99.2% for playoffs

FanGraphs (projection mode): 98.0% for Division, 99.6% for playoffs

FanGraphs (season-to-date mode): 96.6% for Division, 99.4% for playoffs

 

August MVP:

Jordan Zimmermann (4-0, 2.43 RA/9, 6 G, 40-2/3 IP, 7.7 K/9, .255 opp OBP, 1.3 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable position player:

Anthony Rendon (.287/.344/.496, 29 G, 5 HR, 22 R, 15 RBI, 1.2 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Matt Thornton (1-0, 0.00 RA/9, 10 G, 8 IP, 5.6 K/9, .214 opp OBP, 3.49 RE24, 0.5 RA9-WAR).

Worst month:

Ross Detwiler (1–0, 6.97 RA/9, 8 G,10-1/3 IP, 5.2 K/9, .388 opp OBP,  –5.01 RE24, –0.3 RA9-WAR).

 

Best start this month:

Stephen Strasburg (August 3, 4–0 win over the Phillies in Washington) pitched 7 scoreless innings, giving up 3 hits and 1 walk while striking out 10, for a game score of 80.

Worst start:

Stephen Strasburg (August 24, 14–6 win over the Giants in Washington) gave up 8 hits, 5 runs, 2 home runs, and 2 walks in 4 innings, while getting 4 K and a game score of 28. Starting in the 6th inning, however, the Nats scored 12 runs to overcome a 6–2 deficit and win the game.

Tough losses:

  • Doug Fister (August 1, 2–1 loss to the Phillies in Washington) gave up 2 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks with 5 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 60).
  • Tanner Roark (August 25, 3–2 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia) gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk with 2 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 55).

Cheap win: 

  • Tanner Roark (August 15, 5–4 win over the Pirates in Washington) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks with 4 strikeouts in 5-2/3 innings (game score 49).

Best shutdown:

Craig Stammen (August 7, 5–3 win over the Mets in Washington) entered a game tied 3–3 in the top of the 11th and pitched 3 scoreless innings, giving up 1 hit and 2 walks (Win probability added .383). In the bottom of the 13th, Bryce Harper hit a walk-off homer for the win.

Worst meltdown:

Rafael Soriano (August 17, 6–5 win over the Pirates in Washington). Soriano entered the top of the 9th with a 4–2 lead. Marte led off and Soriano hit him, then gave up a single to Snider. A wild pitch scored Marte and moved Snider to 2nd, and Davis walked. Soriano got the first out when Sanchez hit into a fielder’s choice, but Polanco then doubled to drive in both base runners and giving the Pirates a 5–4 lead (WPA –.798). Matt Thornton got the last two outs in the top of the 9th, and the Nats tied it in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera, before coming back to win it in the 11th on a Scott Hairston sacrifice fly.

Clutch hit:

Wilson Ramos (August 18, 5–4 win over the Diamondbacks in Washington). With 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th, Desmond on first, and the Nats trailing, 1–0, Ramos hit a home run to give the Nats a 2–1 lead (WPA .482). Later in the same game, Anthony Rendon hit a triple to tie the game 3–3 (WPA .397) and Adam LaRoche hit a walk-off solo home run in the 11th (WPA .468). LaRoche hit another notably clutch home run on the 16th against the Pirates, a two-run shot in the bottom 8th to tie the game 3–3 (WPA .407).

Choke:

Anthony Rendon (August 16, 4–3 win over the Pirates in Washington). Trailing 3–1 in the bottom of the 8th, no outs, Kevin Frandsen on first, and Denard Span on second, Rendon grounded into a potentially rally-killing double play (WPA –.227). Fortunately, Adam LaRoche followed Rendon with the clutch 2-out, 2-run, game-tying home run that was mentioned in the last paragraph, and the Nats won in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the 9th on a Wilson Ramos RBI double.

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