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August 2, 2016 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ July in review: We’ve got to tighten up our game

Playing most of their games at home, the Nats should have widened their divisional lead in July. Instead, they turned in a mixed bag, winning important series against the Mets and Pirates, but losing series to the Brewers, Dodgers, and Padres. With a 13–12 record for the month, the Nats saw their lead over the resurgent Marlins shrink from 6.5 games to 4, even while their lead over the faltering Mets expanded from 6 games to 6.5.

The month began with the Nats at home playing the last three games of a 4-game set against the Reds. The Nats won two of three (and three of the four games in the series). Joe Ross was sent to the DL with shoulder inflammation, even while Stephen Strasburg returned to the active roster. The Nats then faced the Brewers in a series starting on Independence Day. Max Scherzer pitched well in the first game, but he took the loss when he gave up a run while the Nats were shut out with only 2 hits. The Nats lost the second game and won the third, losing the series.

The Nats went to New York to face the Mets in their final series before the All-Star break. Ryan Zimmerman went on the DL and Trea Turner was called up, and before the month was over would play both second base and center field and move into a near-regular role. The Nats lost the first game of the series, but then won the last three to go into the All-Star break with a 6-game lead.

The Nats had five players selected to the All-Star team, four of whom played—Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Wilson Ramos, and Scherzer (who replaced Strasburg). Playing in San Diego, Harper and Murphy each had hits, and Scherzer pitched a scoreless inning.

After the break, the Nats faced the Pirates at home. They won the first two games (giving them 5 in a row), but lost the finale, an 18-inning marathon (the longest in Nats history). They next lost two of three to the Dodgers and 2 of 3 to the Padres. In the final game against the Padres, the Nats were ahead 6–4 after seven innings, but Shawn Kelley gave up 2 runs in the 8th, tying the game, and Jonathan Papelbon surrendered 4 runs in the 9th for a 10–6 loss.

The Nats then went on the road. Playing a 2-game set with the Indians in Cleveland, Papelbon blew a save with a 6–4 lead, failing to get an out and leaving the game with the score tied and the bases loaded. Behind Strasburg, the Nats won the second game, though the bullpen again gave the team a scare in the 9th when Felipe Rivero allowed a run to score and two more batters to reach, before Blake Treinen came in and got a double play to close the game.

The month ended with a 4-game set against the Giants in San Francisco. The Nats took the first two games, but lost the last two. At the trade deadline, Rivero was dealt to the Pirates in exchange for closer Mark Melancon.

The Nats’ batters didn’t hit well during July. Their .309 OBP ranked 12th of 15 NL teams, and their .412 slugging percentage ranked 6th. Harper, in particular, remained in a terrible slump, hitting .176/.303/.319. Ben Revere also remained in a slump (.198/.235/.333) and by the end of the month Turner was starting to find playing time in center field.

The Nationals’ starting pitching, on the other hand, held the team together this month. The starting pitchers’ 3.10 ERA was best in the NL, and Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark all had ERAs below 3.20. Only their rookie starters,  Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez—called up to fill in while Ross was on the DL—disappointed.

The Nats’ relief pitching was a mixed bag. While their earned run average of 2.94 ranked 7th in the league, they ranked 5th in both win probability added (WPA) and in RE24. But their 17 “meltdowns” was 2nd-worst in the NL, while their 22 “shutdowns” ranked only 8th. The bullpen meltdowns were concentrated in the last seven games of the month—the final game of the Padres series, along with the Indians and Giants series.

Record:

13–12 (.520)

Pythagorean Record:

15–10 (4.32 R/G – 3.56 RA/G)

July MVP:

Max Scherzer (2–1, 1.59 RA/9, 5 G, 34 IP, 10.3 K/9, .242 opp OBP, 1.7 RA9-WAR). Honorable mention goes to Stephen Strasburg (4–1, 2.08 RA/9, 1.5 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable position player:

Daniel Murphy (.346/.372/.744, 22 G, 6 HR, 13 R, 23 RBI, 1.1 fWAR). Honorable mention goes to Anthony Rendon (.259/.355/.519, 1.0 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Though traded to the Pirates at the end of the month, the award goes to Felipe Rivero (0–0, 1.32 RA/9, 9 G, 13-2/3 IP, 7.2 K/9, .298 opp OBP, 4.61 RE24, 0.5 RA9-WAR, 2 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Jonathan Papelbon (1–2, 9.00 RA/9, 10 G, 8 IP, 12.4 K/9, .375 opp OBP, –4.48 RE24, –0.5 RA9-WAR, 3 shutdowns, 2 meltdowns) lost his job as closer after a very bad week.

Best start this month:

I usually pick the best start based on game scores, but this month the Nats had 4 starts with game scores of 76, as well as a couple more 75s. Based on quality of opponent and not allowing a run to score, I’m going with Stephen Strasburg (July 27, 4–1 win over the Indians), who got 7 strikeouts in 7 scoreless innings, allowing 3 hits and 2 walks, for a game score of 76.

Worst start:

In his major league debut, Reynaldo Lopez (July 19, 8–4 loss to the Dodgers at home) gave up 6 runs on 10 hits in 4-2/3 innings, with 1 walks and an impressive 9 strikeouts (game score 28).

Tough losses:

  • Max Scherzer (July 4, 1–0 loss to the Brewers at home) gave up 1 run on 4 hits and 3 walks with 7 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 64).
  • Gio Gonzalez (July 31, 3–1 loss to the Giants in San Francisco) gave up 2 runs (1 earned) on 6 hits and 2 walks with 1 strikeout in 6 innings (game score 53).

Cheap wins: 

  • None

Best shutdown: 

Felipe Rivero (July 17, 2–1 loss to the Pirates at home in 18 innings). Rivero pitched the 14th, 15th, and 16 innings, giving up 1 walk and one double, and kept the game tied with the help of a spectacular relay throw to home by Danny Espinosa. (Win probability added .397).

Worst meltdown:

Jonathan Papelbon (July 26, 7–6 loss to the Indians in Cleveland). Called on to pitch the bottom of the 9th with a 6–4 lead, Papelbon faced 5 batters without getting an out. He walked the leadoff hitter, gave up an RBI double, and then the tying run scored on Ryan Zimmerman‘s errant throw to first on a sacrifice bunt attempt. After an intentional walk, he gave up a single to load the bases, still with no outs (WPA –.850). Oliver Perez was then brought in and got one out before giving up the game-winning hit. Papelbon was given one more save opportunity two nights later, but was pulled early and then lost his job.

Clutch hit:

Daniel Murphy (July 17, 2–1 loss to the Pirates at home in 18 innings). With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, with the Nats trailing 1–0, Murphy homered and sent the game to extra innings (WPA .489). Alas, 9 long innings later the Pirates finally broke the tie and held on to beat the Nats.

Choke:

Stephen Drew (July 17, 2–1 loss to the Pirates at home in 18 innings – hey, in an 18 inning game you’re going to get a lot of high leverage plate appearance). In the bottom of the 10th, Drew came to bat with one out, runners on first and second, and the game tied 1–1, and grounded into a rally-ending double play (WPA –.204).

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