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August 1, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ July in review: They’re beatable

July began with the Nats 3.5 games ahead in the NL East race with a 43–34 record. They also had lost Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth, and Ryan Zimmerman to the disabled list. After exiting early from a July 4 start, Stephen Strasburg joined them on the DL, as did Denard Span a couple of days later. With a roster that sometimes seemed more like a spring training squad than the regular team, the Nats went 11–13, ending the month with a 54–47 record and only a 2 game lead over the Mets. According to FanGraphs, the Nats’ odds of winning the division fell from 92.3% at the end of June to 83.1% at the end of July.

The month began with the Nats playing the last two games of a series against the Braves in Atlanta, having won the opener. They lost both games, with Scherzer pitching a complete game in the finale, but losing 2–1 in the 9th inning on an infield single, a bunt, and a chopper down the third field line that was ruled fair.

Returning home, they faced the Giants over the Independence Day weekend. They won all three games behind fine pitching, but Strasburg had to leave the second game during the 4th inning and was soon on the DL with a left oblique strain. Tanner Roark went 4-1/3 innings in relief, as the Nats got to Bumgarner and won 9 to 3.  Next, the Nats hosted the Reds and lost two games, with the third game rained out.

The Nats’ final series before the all-star break was against the Orioles in Baltimore. After losing the first game, they beat the O’s 7 to 4, then Scherzer—giving up the opportunity to start the All-Star Game by pitching the Sunday before the break—went 8-2/3 innings to get the 3 to 2 win to take the series. The Nats were represented on the NL All-Star Team by Bryce Harper, who started, and by Scherzer, who didn’t appear.

After the break, the Nats opened a home stand against the Dodgers. They won the first game, a bizarre two-day affair that couldn’t be completed on Friday night because of repeated failures of the lighting system. In the next two games, though, their hitters were unable to master Kershaw and Greinke, losing both games. They next played three games against the division rival Mets and won the first and third games, coming from behind in the finale to take the lead in the 8th inning.

Next came a road trip that began in Pittsburgh against the Pirates, where they lost three of four games at PNC.  The good news was that Rendon, returning from the DL, appeared in the last two games of the series. For the next series against the Marlins in Miami, Werth and Zimmerman also rejoined the team, and the Nats finally started to look like the team they had been planning to field this season. Also, before the trade deadline they picked up Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies, who replaced Drew Storen as the closer. After losing the first game to the Marlins, the Nats beat them in the last two. The month ended in New York, where the Nats played the first game of a three-game set against the Mets. Facing Matt Harvey, they took a 1 to 1 tie into the 12th inning before losing on a walk-off homer.

The weak month reflected the team’s unusually anemic offense. With a .214/.284/.344 batting line this month, they ranked last in the majors in average, 29th in OBP, 28th in slugging, and 29th in weighted runs created (wRC+) at 74. Among players with at least 20 plate appearances, only Harper (wRC+ of 176) and Clint Robinson (wRC+ of 111) were above the league average. Of 12 players with at least 20 plate appearances, 6 had OBP below .260.

The starters ranked 8th in the NL in ERA (3.44), though their fielding-independent pitching, or FIP (3.59) ranked 5th. The relievers, who had struggled all season, were actually an area of strength this month. Their RE24 of 8.67 ranked 3rd in the NL, and they recorded 20 shutdowns versus 8 meltdowns. The relief staff’s FIP of 2.97 ranked 6th.

Record:

11–13 (.458)

Pythagorean Record:

12–12 (3.25 R/G – 3.33 RA/G)

July MVP:

Bryce Harper (.300/.440/.575, 24 G, 5 HR, 15 R, 10 RBI, 1.2 fWAR—also, 1 ejection, his 3rd this season). So far he’s won all four monthly MVP awards.

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Gio Gonzalez (3–0, 2.51 RA/9, 5 G, 28-2/3 IP, 8.2 K/9, .305 opp OBP, 0.9 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Drew Storen (0–0, 0.00 RA/9, 9 G, 8-1/3 IP, 13.0 K/9, .219 opp OBP, 3.61 RE24, 0.6 RA9-WAR). His good work was rewarded with a demotion from closer to set-up man with the acquisition of Papelbon.

Worst month:

Wilson Ramos (.149/.171/.239, 70 PA, –0.5 fWAR). The runner-up is Dan Uggla (.074/.194/.074, 31 PA, –0.4 fWAR).

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (July 12, 3–2 win over the Orioles in Baltimore) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits with no walks and 7 strikeouts in 8-2/3 innings. His game score was 75.

Worst start:

Doug Fister (July 18, 4–2 loss to the Dodgers at home) gave up 4 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks in 5 innings, with 1 strikeout. His game score was 32.

Tough losses:

  • Max Scherzer (July 2, 2–1 loss to the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 2 runs on 5 hits with no walks with 9 strikeouts in an 8-1/3 inning complete game (game score 74).
  • Max Scherzer (July 19, 5–0 loss to the Dodgers at home) gave up 1 run on 7 hits and 1 walk with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 61).
  • Joe Ross (July 21, 7–2 loss to the Mets at home) gave up 3 runs (2 earned) on 4 hits and no walks with 4 strikeouts in 6-1/3 innings (game score 59).
  • Joe Ross (July 26, 3–1 loss to the Pirates in Pittsburgh) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk with 7 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 56).

Cheap win: 

  • Jordan Zimmermann (July 11, 7–4 win over the Orioles in Baltimore) gave up 4 runs on 9 hits (though no walks) in 5 innings with 4 strikeouts (game score 37).

Best shutdown: 

Aaron Barrett (July 31, 2–1 loss to the Mets in New York). He entered in the bottom of the 8th of a 1–1 tie and pitched two innings, allowing 1 hit and striking out 2 (win probability added .207). The Nats lost in the 12th when Felipe Rivero, starting his third inning of work, gave up a home run to Wilmer Flores.

Worst meltdown:

Tanner Roark (July 10, 3–2 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore). He came in to pitch the bottom of the 9th of a game that was tied 2–2. After striking out the first two batters, Jonathan Schoop hit a walk-off home run. (WPA –.377)

Clutch hit:

Matt den Dekker (July 17/18—the game that had to be finished the next day because of problems with the light— 5–3 win over the Dodgers at home). In the bottom of the 8th, with the game tied 3–3, two outs, and Michael A. Taylor on first base, den Dekker entered as a pinch hitter and hit his first home run at home as a National, putting the Nats ahead 5 to 3. Storen shut down the Dodgers in the 9th to get the save. (WPA .392)

Choke:

Wilson Ramos (July 26, 3–1 loss to the Pirates in Pittsburgh). In the top of the seventh, the Nats, who were trailing 3 to 1, finally looked like they might be able to get to Gerrit Cole when Robinson doubled with one out, and Ian Desmond followed with a single to place runners at first and third with one out. Ramos then grounded into a double play to end the inning. (WPA –.163)

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