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September 30, 2014 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ September in review: We have promises to keep

The Nationals entered September with a 6-game lead over the Braves. By September 16, they clinched the division with a victory in Atlanta. As the Nationals cruised through the month, going 19–8, the Braves collapsed, going 7–18 for the month. The Nationals finished the season 30 games above .500 and 17 games ahead of the Braves and the Mets, who were tied for second place. The season ended on an especially high note, with Jordan Zimmermann pitching the first no-hitter in Washington Nationals history in the final game of the regular season.

The month began with the Nationals finishing up a west coast road trip with a 3-game series against the Dodgers, which many commentators described as a possible preview of the National League Championship Series. The Nats won the first game and lost the second. The third game was one of the most remarkable ball games of the season, a 14-inning affair that lasted a record 5-1/2 hours and featured multiple shifts in momentum and three blown saves, which the Nats finally won 8 to 5.

Returning to Washington, the Nats started the home stand with a series against the Phillies. The Nats lost the first game in 11 innings, with the bullpen and shoddy defense blowing a 5–1 lead. This game was Rafael Soriano‘s fifth blown save (in 13 opportunities) since July 20, and two games later Drew Storen took over the closer role. The Nationals also lost the second game of the Phillies series, but avoided a sweep by winning the finale. They then hosted the Braves in a series that the visitors needed to sweep if they were to keep their fading hopes for a divisional championship alive. The Nats took the first two games before losing the third, and now it was just a matter of time before the Nats were expected to clinch.

Playing in New York, the Nats took 3 games of 4 against the Mets. Their next series was in Atlanta, and their “magic number” was down to 4, which meant that two victories over the Braves would clinch the division. With Stephen Strasburg on the mound, they won the first game, and Tanner Roark started game 2, helping shut out the Braves in a 3–0 victory to clinch the championship. For the series finale the next night, the Nats fielded a team of backup players and September call-ups, giving the regulars a rest, and lost the game.

The September call-ups provided playing opportunities to players like Tyler Moore, Michael Taylor, Steven Souza, Jeff Kobernus, Sandy Leon, Blake Treinen, Taylor Hill, Xavier Cedeno, and Ryan Mattheus. Also, on September 20, Ryan Zimmerman returned to the active roster after nearly two months on the disabled list for a torn hamstring.

The Nats finished their road trip in Miami with a 4-game seies against the Marlins. They swept the series, winning the last three games by one-run margins. For the final week of the season they returned to Washington, facing the Mets in three games followed by four games against the Marlins. They beat the Mets in the first game. The second game was rained out, requiring them to finish the series with a Thursday double header, which they split. The next day, they played another double header, this time against the Marlins, and again split it, with Doug Fister pitching a 3-hit shutout in the first game. On Saturday, Strasburg pitched his third consecutive scoreless start, going 6 innings in a 5–1 victory.

In Sunday’s finale, Zimmermann took the mound, with Williams expecting him also to go perhaps 6 innings in a meaningless game to prep them for the playoffs. A second inning home run by Ian Desmond put the Nationals ahead. Zimmermann pitched quickly and didn’t allow a base runner until the fifth inning, when he walked Justin Bour. Meanwhile, Matt Williams was pulling out all of the regulars and bringing in the bench players and call ups to finish the game. By the 8th inning, it was becoming apparent that Zimmermann had a real chance to pitch a no-hitter. The last regular (other than Zimmermann and Ramos) left in the lineup was Ryan Zimmerman—Williams left him in to get his fourth plate appearance in the bottom of the 8th, but then sent in Steven Souza for the top of the ninth as a defensive replacement. The first Marlins batter in the ninth, Hechevarria, grounded out to Kobernus at second. The second batter, pinch hitter Saltalamacchia, hit a long fly ball to center that Michael Taylor was able to catch. The last hitter was Yelich, and he hit a line drive to the gap. Jordan dropped his shoulders and walked slowly off the mound, convinced that he had just given up a double. But Souza was sprinting toward the wall, and like a football receiver, leaped with both hands extended and corralled the ball, dropping to the grass, then coming up with the ball in glove. Jordan, as well as just about everyone else as National Park, lifted their arms in triumph and the Nats raced to the mound to celebrate the no hitter. It was a beautiful culmination to the season.

In September, the Nationals success was again led by their starting pitchers, who led MLB in ERA– with 61 (or 39% better than the average team)—this is a measure of ERA that is park-adjusted and measured relative to the league. The Nats starters were also first in the majors in the version of pitching wins above replace (WAR) that is based on runs allowed (RA9-WAR) with 5.5. In the fielding-independent metric, FIP–, the Nats’ starters ranked first in the National League and second in the majors with 75.

For relievers, my preferred metric is RE24, which takes account of game situations, such as inherited runners. The Nats relievers ranked 9th in the NL in September with an RE24 of –2.35. They were 2nd in the league in shutdowns, with 27, but also tied for 2nd in meltdowns, with 12.

The Nats’ offense was above average in September—the team ranked 4th in the National League in on-base percentage (.330), 5th in slugging percentage (.395), and 4th in home runs (26). In park-adjusted weighted runs created (wRC+) they ranked 5th with 103, or 3% better than the average team.

 

Record:

19-8 (.704)

Pythagorean Record:

17-10 (4.04 R/G – 3.11 RA/G)

 

September MVP:

Stephen Strasburg (3-1, 1.13 RA/9, 5 G, 32 IP, 9.0 K/9, .223 opp OBP, 1.7 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable position player:

Anthony Rendon (.337/.429/.506, 22 G, 3 HR, 14 R, 11 RBI, 1.3 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Drew Storen (0-0, 0.73 RA/9, 14 G, 12-1/3 IP, 7.3 K/9, .213 opp OBP, 3.20 RE24, 0.7 RA9-WAR).

Worst month:

Craig Stammen (0–1, 11.12 RA/9, 9 G, 5-2/3 IP, 4.8 K/9, .448 opp OBP,  –4.26 RE24, –0.6 RA9-WAR).

 

Best start this month:

Jordan Zimmermann (of course! September 28, 1–0 win over the Marlins in Washington) pitched the Nationals’ first ever no-hitter, giving up 1 walk while striking out 10, for a game score of 96. An honorable mention goes to Doug Fister for pitching a 3-hit, complete-game shutout against the Fish two days earlier, striking out 9 and walking none in the first game of a double header (game score 90).

Worst start:

Taylor Hill (September 26, 15–7 loss to the Marlins in Washington in the second game of the Fister double header) gave up 10 hits, 7 runs, and 2 walks in 4-2/3 innings, while getting 4 K and a game score of 18.

Tough losses:

  • Tanner Roark (September 6, 3–1 loss to the Phillies in Washington) gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 55).
  • Stephen Strasburg (September 10, 6–2 loss to the Braves in Washington) gave up 3 runs on 7 hits with no walks and 8 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 54).
  • Gio Gonzalez (September 12, 4–3 loss to the Mets in New York) gave up 4 runs (3 earned) on 6 hits and 1 walk with 7 strikeouts in 6-2/3 innings (game score 54).

Cheap wins: 

  • none

Best shutdown:

Xavier Cedeno (September 3, 8–5 win over the Dodgers in Los Angeles in 14 innings) entered the game in the bottom of the 10th with the bases loaded, one out, and the score tied 3–3. Facing the Dodgers’ best left-handed hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, Cedeno struck him out (Win probability added .175). Aaron Barrett then came in and struck out Uribe, getting the Nats out of their jam.

Worst meltdown:

Ross Detwiler (September 17, 3–1 loss to the Braves in Atlanta). Ok, the Nats were essentially conceding the game by playing a lineup of bench players the night after clinching the pennant. Nevertheless, Blake Treinen had pitched 5 shutout innings and the Nats possessed a 1–0 lead when Detwiler came into the game in the bottom of the 6th. Detwiler gave up 3 singles, a walk, and a hit by pitch, which along with an error by Sandy Leon allowed 3 runs to score before the third out was recorded (WPA –.478).

Clutch hit:

Adam LaRoche (September 3, 8–5 win over the Dodgers in Los Angeles—see “Best shutdown”). In a 14-inning game that contained a week’s worth of clutch hits, shutdowns, meltdowns, and defensive miscues, LaRoche was nursing a sore back and wasn’t expecting to play. He was called on to pinch hit in the top of the 9th with Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on the mound, Bryce Harper on first, no outs, and the Nats trailing 2–0. On a 2–1 count, he blasted a home run over the left field fence to tie the game (WPA .372). LaRoche went on to drive in two more runs in the 12th and the game-winning run in the 14th, for 5 total RBIs.

Choke:

Bryce Harper (September 5, 9–8 loss to the Phillies in Washington). In the bottom of the 11th, runners on first and second, and two outs, trailing 9–8, Harper lined out to left to end the game (WPA –.161). In the top of the inning, Harper’s fielding error in a collision with Denard Span had contributed to the Phillies taking a 2-run lead.

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