Nats’ June in review: Thankful to be home
June was punctuated by winning streaks and losing streaks as the Nats went 16–11 for the month and expanded their lead in the division over the slumping Mets to 6 games. With two long road trips, they played 17 of their 27 games on the road, and the second trip included a 7-game losing streak. But they turned things around and finished the month with 5 consecutive wins, including a sweep of the Mets.
As the month began, the Nats were in Philadelphia playing their third game against the Phillies. They won the game, giving them a sweep of the series, and traveled next to Cincinnati to face the Reds. Shortstop prospect Trea Turner was called up and would play two games while Ryan Zimmerman was on paternity leave. They lost the first two games against the Reds, but in game three they came back from a 5–0 deficit to win 10–9. Jonathan Papelbon had an unusual save, as he entered in the bottom of the ninth with a 2-run lead and allowed the first four batters to reach on a single, a double, and two walks (one intentional), allowing one run to score and loading the bases with no outs. He then proceeded to get out of the jam on an infield fly, a strikeout, and a fly ball.
The Nats next stop was in Chicago, where they won their first two games against the White Sox by scores of 10–5 and 11–4, matching a Nationals club record with three consecutive games scoring 10 or more runs. They lost the third game against the White Sox 3 to 1, and finished the road trip with a 6–3 record.
On June 9 in the MLB draft, the Nats selected shortstop Carter Kieboom and pitcher Dane Dunning in the first (compensatory) round. The Nats returned to Washington to face the Phillies, who had swept them in Washington in April, though the Nats had recently repaid with a sweep in Philadelphia. In this series, the Nats swept again. In the third game, Papelbon was called on to pitch the top of ninth with the score tied and allowed a lead-off home run, putting the Phils ahead. In the bottom of the inning, however, the Nats rallied and and with two outs Jayson Werth drove in the tying and go-ahead runs.
Next came a much-anticipated series against the Chicago Cubs, who in May had swept the Nats in Chicago. In the first game, Max Scherzer pitched one of his best games in a 4–1 Nats win. The Cubs won the second game 5 to 4. The finale began as a pitching duel between Stephen Strasburg and Jason Hammel, with each pitcher allowing 1 run in 7 innings. Then began a seesaw of clutch hits by both sides, and the game went to extra innings with the score tied at 3 apiece. In the top of the 12th, the Cubs scored to take the lead, but the Nats responded with two in the bottom of the inning to walk off. The Nats announced that Papelbon was going on the DL with an intercostal strain. After some initial indecision, Shawn Kelley would soon take over the closer role.
The Nats next began their first west coast trip with a four-game series with the Padres. They took the first two games, reaching 18 games above .500 and giving them a 6-game lead in the NL East. But they then lost the last two games with San Diego to split the series. Next they faced the Dodgers and were swept in three games. Proceeding to Milwaukee, they lost the first two games with the Brewers, giving them a 7-game losing streak and shrinking their divisional lead to two games.
The Nats really didn’t play poorly during their 7-game losing streak. They hit .256/.314/.407, which should have been worth more than 20 runs, but they hit poorly in clutch situations. They found a variety of ways to lose. In their first loss, with a 3–1 lead in the eighth, reliever Felipe Rivero gave up 6 runs without recording an out. Their next loss came because Gio Gonzalez was ineffective. In the first game against the Dodgers, they were facing Clayton Kershaw (enough said). Strasburg had been scheduled to start, but was scratched (and would later go on the DL with an upper back strain), and while long-man Yusmeiro Petit gave them a quality start, he was no match for the best pitcher in baseball. In the next game, the Nats were unable to get timely hits and Dusty Baker left Tanner Roark in for one too many batters, as Grandal hit a 3-run home run in the bottom of the eighth to give the Dodgers a 3–2 margin. The next night, the Nats took a one-run lead into the ninth, but Michael A. Taylor let a routine ground ball from Puig slip by, turning a single into a two-run walk-off little league home run. In Milwaukee, Scherzer gave up only 5 hits, but they were bunched together and included two home runs, as the Nats were unable to string together their 9 hits in their 5 to 3 loss. In their seventh loss, Gonzalez was again ineffective.
In their third game in Milwaukee, Jayson Werth gave Nats fans a scare when he lost a ninth inning fly ball in the afternoon sun, resulting in a two-out triple threatening the Nats one-run lead. But he caught the next one, allowing the Nats to hold on and win 3 to 2. Returning home, the Nats faced the Mets. In the first game, Joe Ross gave up 4 runs before getting the first out in the third inning, and the Nats appeared to be facing a loss. But after a trip to the mound by Baker, Ross settled down and Syndegard gave up 5 runs in the bottom of the third, with the Nats going on to win 11 to 4. The next game was the major league debut of Nats rookie pitcher Lucas Giolito. He pitched well, and the Nats won 5 to 0, though a rain delay prevented Giolito from being credited with a victory. In the third game Scherzer was lights out, and the Nats won 4 to 2 giving them a sweep. In their final game of the month, the first game of a series against the Reds, the Nats won 13 to 4.
The Nats’ offense excelled in June, with the Nats ranking 2nd in the NL in runs with 149 and first in weighted runs created (wRC+) with 113. They were 2nd in slugging percentage (.465), 3rd in home runs (38), and 3rd in on-base percentage (.346). Their offense was led by Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, and Jayson Werth, as Daniel Murphy cooled off from his first two months and Bryce Harper continued to hit at a relatively disappointing (albeit, above average) pace.
During June, the Nats starters led the NL with park-adjusted fielding independent pitching (or FIP–) of 87, but their adjusted ERA– was 99, which was only sixth in the league. A relatively high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .314 and a mediocre left-on-base percentage of 71.9% help explain the gap between their strong fielding independent performance and their less stellar ability to keep runs off the board. In particular, Gio’s BABIP of .409 helped explain his poor ERA for the month of 6.95.
The Nats’ relief pitching slipped from the strong position it had maintained in the first two months of the season. The Nats relievers ranked ninth in the NL in June in both ERA (4.11) and in ERA– (98), fifth in RE24 (–0.67), sixth in FIP (3.79), and fifth in FIP– (93). Their 11 meltdowns was tied for the third lowest total in the NL.
17–10 (5.52 R/G – 4.15 RA/G)
Max Scherzer (4–1, 1.96 RA/9, 6 G, 41-1/3 IP, 12.6 K/9, .196 opp OBP, 1.9 RA9-WAR).
Most valuable position player:
Danny Espinosa (.309/.418/.704, 26 G, 9 HR, 21 R, 21 RBI, 1.7 fWAR). Honorable mention goes to Wilson Ramos (.364/.414/.636, 1.3 fWAR).
Most valuable relief pitcher:
Sammy Solis (1–1, 0.71 RA/9, 9 G, 12-2/3 IP, 12.1 K/9, .250 opp OBP, 4.92 RE24, 0.5 RA9-WAR, 3 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).
Felipe Rivero (0–2, 11.45 RA/9, 11 G, 11 IP, 8.2 K/9, .442 opp OBP, –5.93 RE24, –0.8 RA9-WAR, 2 shutdowns, 2 meltdowns).
Best start this month:
Max Scherzer (June 29, 4–2 win over the Mets) got 10 strikeouts in 7-1/3 scoreless innings, allowing 2 hits and 1 walk, for a game score of 83.
Tie: Tanner Roark (June 5, 10–9 win over the Reds in Cincinnati) gave up 5 runs on 7 hits in 3 innings, with 1 walks and 3 strikeouts (game score 27). Gio Gonzalez (June 25, 6–5 loss to the Brewers in Milwaukee) gave up 6 runs on 6 hits and a walk in 3 innings, getting 5 strikeouts (game score 27).
- Gio Gonzalez (June 9, 3–1 loss to the White Sox in Chicago) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks with 10 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 63).
- Yusmeiro Petit (June 20, 4–1 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk with 5 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 54) in an emergency start facing Kershaw.
- Tanner Roark (June 21, 3–2 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles) gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk with 5 strikeouts in 7-1/3 innings (game score 58).
- Tanner Roark (June 16, 8–5 win over the Padres in San Diego) gave up 4 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks with 5 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 45).
- Joe Ross (June 27, 11–4 win over the Mets at home) gave up 4 runs on 10 hits and 1 walk, getting 7 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 42). Ross did have one of the best recoveries I’ve seen—after allowing 9 hits and a walk from the first 16 batters he faced, he got outs from 11 of the last 12 (and the one runner he allowed was erased on a double play).
- Gio Gonzalez (June 30, 13–4 win over the Reds at home) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks with 9 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 49).
Oliver Perez (June 22, 4–3 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles). Perez relieved Ross in the bottom of the seventh with a 2–2 tie, one out, and runners on second and third. He got a strikeout from Hernandez and a fly ball from Seager to get out of the jam without giving up a run. (Win probability added .235). This is the game that was lost in the ninth on Taylor’s error in fielding Puig’s ground ball single.
Felipe Rivero (June 18, 7–3 loss to the Padres in San Diego). With the Nats leading 3–1, Rivero came in for the bottom of the eighth. He gave up two singles and a walk, loading the bases. Wil Myers then hit a double, tying the game. Rivero then issued an intentional walk to load the bases and set up a double play. Wallace then hit a ground ball back to Rivero, and when he went home with the throw he hurled it past Ramos, giving the Padres the lead. After failing to retire any of the 6 batters he faced, he left with the bases loaded, still no outs, and the Nats trailing 4–3 (WPA –.819). Blake Treinen subsequently allowed all three baserunners to score, causing Rivero to be charged with a total of 6 runs allowed.
Jayson Werth (June 12, 5–4 win over the Phillies at home). In the bottom of the ninth, Werth came to bat with two outs, the bases loaded, and the Nats trailing 4 to 3. He smacked a ground ball up the middle, driving in two runs and giving the Nats a walk-off win (WPA .734).
Wilson Ramos (June 25, 6–5 loss to the Brewers in Milwaukee). Ramos came to bat in the top of the ninth with a runner on first, one out, and the Nats trailing 6–5, and grounded into a game-ending double play (WPA –.172).