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October 7, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ September/October in review: We’re all disappointed in the outcome

At the beginning of September, the Nats were trailing the Mets by 6-1/2 games, though with two 3-game series remaining against the leaders, Nats fans still held out hope. During September and the final four games played in early October, the Nats went 17–15 and ended the season with an 83–79 record, 7 games behind the division champion Mets.

The month began with the Nats in St. Louis playing the Cardinals, having lost the first game of the series. They went into the bottom of the 8th ahead 5 to 3, but then experienced the first of several catastrophic bullpen meltdowns during the month. In the 8th inning, Drew Storen gave up two runs to tie the game, and in the 9th Casey Janssen gave up a 3-run walk-off home run. Closer Jonathan Papelbon was not called on to pitch because it wasn’t a save situation. The Nats won the next game 4 to 3, avoiding a sweep.

Returning home, the Nats swept a 4-game set against the Braves, outscoring them 36 to 9. When the Mets arrived for the critical series of the home stand, the Mets lead was down to 4 games. If the Nats could win the series, they appeared to still have an excellent chance at making up enough ground to take the division.

In the first game, Max Scherzer faced Niese. Although Scherzer gave up 3 solo home runs to fall behind, the Nats came back with a grand slam by Wilson Ramos and held a 5 to 3 lead after 4. Scherzer gave up two more runs, though, leaving the game tied 5 to 5 after 6. In the seventh inning, however, Blake Treinen, Felipe Rivero, Casey Janssen, and Matt Thornton combined to give up 3 runs, and the Nats lost 8 to 5. In game two, the Nats took a 7 to 1 lead into the seventh, but with one on and two outs the bullpen suddenly couldn’t get anyone out. Treinen, Rivero, and Storen combined to give up 6 walks, a single, and a double, with Storen walking in the tying run.  Papelbon was called on to pitch the eighth and gave up a home run, and the Mets won 8 to 7. In game three, Stephen Strasburg came into the 8th inning ahead 2 to 1, then gave up a solo home run to Kelly Johnson, tying the game. Storen came on in relief and gave up a 2-run homer to Cespedes, putting the Nats behind 4 to 2. They lost the game 5 to 3, and it would be Storen’s last appearance of the season as he angrily broke his thumb on his locker after the game. The series ended with the Nats trailing by 7 games and with their playoff chances essentially dashed.

A road trip followed, and the Nats lost two of three to the Marlins, then swept three against the Phillies. Returning home, they took three of four against the Marlins and were 6 games behind with 13 left to play. But they next hosted the Orioles and  were swept. In the second game, Papelbon was ejected for intentionally hitting Machado, who had hit the go-ahead home run off Scherzer. After the game, Bryce Harper called Papelbon’s throw “pretty tired” and said “I’ll probably get drilled tomorrow.” The final series of the homestand was against the Phillies, who beat the Nats two games to one. On the 26th, the Mets clinched the division by beating the Reds, while Strasburg won against the Phillies. But the next day, in a game that was tied 4 to 4 in the eighth, Harper paused in disgust after hitting a pop flyball to left before jogging down to first. Papelbon hollered at Harper about running it out. Harper responded angrily and Papelbon attacked him, grabbing him by the throat. Amazingly, manager Matt Williams was oblivious to the brawl and sent Papelbon out to pitch the ninth. Papelbon surrendered 5 runs and the Nats lost 12 to 5. Papelbon was suspended for the rest of the season for the intentional hit batsman in the Orioles series and for the attack on Harper.

The Nats finished their homestand by winning a make-up game against the Reds. On their final road trip they lost two of three against the Braves in Atlanta, but then swept a doubleheader against the Mets in New York. In the first game, Harper hit a two-run go-ahead home run—his 42nd of the season (tying for the league lead)—in the 8th inning for a 3–1 win. In the second game, Scherzer pitched a 17-strikeout no-hitter, his second no-hitter of the season, with only an error by Yunel Escobar keeping him from having a perfect game. The next day the Nats lost their final game of the season 1 to 0, and ended 7 games behind the Mets. The following day, Williams and the entire coaching staff were fired.

The Nats’ hitting for the month was just average, with a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 101, 7th in the National League. Their starting pitching was pretty good, with an ERA relative to league (ERA–) of 79, or 21% better than average, 2nd best in the NL; their fielding independent pitching relative to league (FIP–) was 86, 4th best in the league. The relief pitching was more problematic, with an RE24 of 0.24, 7th in the league. Their 24 bullpen meltdowns were tied for 2nd worst in the league, but their 31 shutdowns were 4th best. One of their biggest problems, however, was luck. Scoring 4.63 runs per game and allowing only 3.44, the Pythagorean formula suggested that they should have won 4 more games this month than they actually won. Poor performance in clutch situations led to a worse record than should have been expected from their run scoring and prevention.

Record:

17–15 (.531)

Pythagorean Record:

21–11 (4.63 R/G – 3.44 RA/G)

September MVP:

Again, as in all five previous months, the monthly team award goes to Bryce Harper (.333/.469/.747, 30 G, 11 HR, 26 R, 22 RBI, 2.2 fWAR). In a few weeks I’m expecting him to also win the National League MVP Award.

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Stephen Strasburg (3–1, 1.49 RA/9, 5 G, 36-1/3 IP, 14.1 K/9, .197 opp OBP, 1.8 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

This one is debatable, and I considered going with someone like Doug Fister who pitched very well, albeit for relatively few innings in low leverage situations. However, I’ve decided to select Felipe Rivero despite the fact that he pitched poorly in several critical games, such as allowing three walks to the three batters he faced in the early September Mets series. Nevertheless, he pitched in quite a few high leverage situations and pitched well more often than not (1–0, 2.40 RA/9, 17 G, 15 IP, 8.4 K/9, .154 opp OBP, 4.20 RE24, 0.4 RA9-WAR, 1 of 6 inherited runners scored). He also earned his first two MLB saves this month.

Worst month:

Drew Storen (0–0, 9.00 RA/9, 6 G, 5 IP, –6.05 RE24, 1 shutdown, 4 meltdowns, –0.4 RA9-WAR, and a self-inflicted broken thumb). Dishonorable mention goes to several runner ups: Jonathan Papelbon (5 meltdowns, –0.4 RA9-WAR), Casey Janssen (4 meltdowns, –0.4 RA9-WAR), Wilson Ramos (.189/.206/.305, –0.3 fWAR), and Michael A. Taylor (.180/.255/.236, –0.3 fWAR).

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (October 3, 2–0 win over the Mets in New York) with a 17-strikeout no hitter with no walks (the most strikeouts ever in a no-hitter with no walks), where the only runner reached on an error. His game score of 104 is the highest in Nationals’ history and the second highest ever in a 9-inning game after Kerry Wood’s 1998 20-K one-hitter. Honorable mention goes to Stephen Strasburg (September 15, 4–0 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia) who pitched 8 shutout innings, giving up 1 hit and 1 walk with 14 strikeouts (Game score of 93 – the highest of Strasburg’s career).

Worst start:

Tanner Roark (September 17, 6–4 loss to the Marlins at home) gave up 6 runs on 8 hits in 5 innings, with 4 strikeouts. His game score was 31.

Tough losses:

  • Stephen Strasburg (September 9, 5–3 loss to the Mets at home) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk with 13 strikeouts in 7-1/3 innings (game score 61). He left the game in the top of the 8th with the score tied at 2, one out, and a runner on first. Storen gave up a home run to Cespedes on his second pitch in relief.
  • Max Scherzer (September 23, 4–3 loss to the Orioles at home) gave up 4 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks with 12 strikeouts in 6-2/3 innings (game score 54).
  • Tanner Roark (September 29, 2–1 loss to the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk with 4 strikeouts in 6-2/3 innings (game score 59).
  • Jordan Zimmermann (September 30, 2–0 loss to the Braves in Atlanta), in his final start as a National, gave up 2 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk with 1 strikeout in 6 innings (game score 52).

Cheap wins: 

  • None

Best shutdown: 

Blake Treinen (September 1, 8–5 loss to the Cardinals in St. Louis). He entered in the bottom of the sixth with the Nats ahead 4–3, one out, and runners on first and third. He got a double play to get out of the inning without a run scoring (win probability added .211). In the eighth inning, however, Storen gave up two runs to tie the game, and in the ninth Janssen allowed a walk-off home run.

Worst meltdown:

Although we had several worse collective bullpen meltdowns (such as the September 8 game against the Mets when the bullpen gave up a 6-run lead), this one goes to the worst meltdown attributable to a single relief pitcher. It goes to Blake Treinen (September 24, 5–4 loss to the Orioles at home). Asked to pitch the top of the eighth with a 4–3 lead, Treinen gave up a leadoff single to Pearce followed by a home run to the switch-hitting Wieters. Of course, as everyone except Matt Williams seems to know, Treinen is absolutely terrible against lefties (.934 OPS this season; .871 career). Treinen did manage to get the last three outs, but ended the inning with Nats trailing 5–4. (WPA –.488)

Clutch hit:

Bryce Harper (October 3, 3–1 win over the Mets in New York). In the top of the eighth, with the score tied 1–1, two outs, and Yunel Escobar on first, Harper hit a 2-run home run to give the Nats a 3–1 lead (WPA .426).

Choke:

Ian Desmond (September 29, 2–1 loss to the Braves in Atlanta). In the top of the ninth, the Nats were trailing 2 to 1 and had runners on first and second with no outs. As on several previous occasions that also led to failure, Williams asked one of his better hitters to bunt and advance the runners. Desmond’s bunt landed directly in front of the plate, resulting in a double play that erased the lead runner (WPA –.319). The next batter, Matt den Dekker, struck out to end the game.

 

P.S. Hiatus – Please note that I’m not planning to post during the post-season and will be waiting for the hot stove league to heat up. I’ll shut down comments for a while to avoid spam.

 

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