Nats’ September in review: It’s almost hero time
The Nats began September with a 9-game lead over the Mets in the National League East and, barring a historic collapse, were assured of winning the division. With a 17–12 record during September (and the first two days of October, which for purposes of this article I’m counting as part of September), the Nats didn’t collapse and won the NL East with an 8-game lead and a total of 95 wins. But though the divisional race was a yawner, key injuries this month to Stephen Strasburg and Wilson Ramos would impact the team’s prospects moving into the postseason.
September began with the usual callups onto the expanded roster, giving the Nats a month to take a closer looks at players like Pedro Severino, Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin, Trevor Gott, Sean Burnett, Mat Latos, and Reynaldo Lopez. Severino, Difo, and Lopez would leverage their callups into spots on the postseason roster.
The month began with a 3-game series against the Mets in New York, the end of a short (6-game) divisional road trip. The Nats won the first game, but lost the next two. Returning to Washington, the Nats swept a three game series against the Braves. The third game struck fear into the hearts of all Nat fans, however, as Stephen Strasburg, in his return from the 15-day disabled list, left the game in the third inning after grimacing and then holding his elbow. The next day, (relatively) good news came that Strasburg would not need a second Tommy John surgery, but the diagnosis of flexor mass strain would keep him out for the rest of the season.
The home stand continued with a 4-game set against the Phillies, in which the Nats took three of four, and a 3-game set against the Mets, which the Nats won two games to one.
A 9-game road trip followed. The Nats won the first game in Atlanta, but lost the last two, with the final loss coming in a rain-shortened 7-inning game. Daniel Murphy suffered a muscle strain in the buttocks and would make only three pinch hitting appearances over the remainder of the month. The Nats then played the Marlins in Miami, and lost the first two games, giving them a 4-game losing streak. In their second Miami loss, they were shut down 1 to 0, facing an 8-inning, 3-hit, 12-strikeout performance by opposing pitcher Jose Fernandez. It would also turn out to be the last game pitched by Fernandez, who died five days later in a boating accident. The road trip concluded with the Nats winning two of three against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. In the final game, Bryce Harper had to leave the game early after sliding awkwardly into third when Kang faked a tag. While the injury wasn’t serious, he would miss several games during the last week of the season.
In their concluding home stand, the Nats split four games with the Diamondbacks. They lost the first game in a 14 to 4 blowout, their worst loss of the season. The greater loss in that game, however, was when Wilson Ramos suffered a knee injury. He would have to undergo surgery and was lost for the rest of the season, as well as the postseason. As a probable free agent, this may have been his last game played as a National.
The team’s final series was against the Marlins. Max Scherzer pitched the final game of the season, and though he only lasted five innings and gave up five runs, the team provided enough run support that they were able to hold on to win 10 to 7 and give Scherzer his 20th win of the season. Scherzer is expected to be a strong contender for the Cy Young Award, and Daniel Murphy is a contender for the MVP Award.
For the month, the Nats didn’t hit well – their .321 on-base percentage ranked 8th in the NL and their .399 slugging percentage ranked 11th. The pitching was also mediocre—their 4.18 starter ERA in the month was 8th in the NL, and the relief pitcher ERA of 3.51 also ranked 8th. Their overall record was a little better than how the team was actually playing during the month.
* All statistics in this article include the regular season games played in early October
16–13 (4.24 R/G – 3.90 RA/G)
Trea Turner (.339/.380/.612, 29 G, 8 HR, 19 R, 18 RBI, 15 SB, 1.6 fWAR).
Most valuable starting pitcher:
Tanner Roark (2–3, 2.60 RA/9, 6 G, 34-2/3 IP, 8.6 K/9, .298 opp OBP, 1.2 RA9-WAR) – his W/L record was hurt by poor run support—only 2.2 R/G. Honorable mention goes to Max Scherzer (5–0, 3.29 RA/9, 1.0 RA9-WAR).
Most valuable relief pitcher:
Shawn Kelley (2–0, 0.00 RA/9, 12 G, 10-1/3 IP, 9.6 K/9, .088 opp OBP, 4.71 RE24, 0.7 RA9-WAR, 5 shutdowns, 0 meltdown).
I’ll give this one to Danny Espinosa (.135/.212/.281, –0.4 fWAR), though arguments could also be made for Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, or Yusmeiro Petit.
Best start this month:
Tanner Roark (September 14, 1–0 win over the Mets at home) got 7 strikeouts in 7 scoreless innings, allowing 3 hits and 4 walks, for a game score of 74.
Gio Gonzalez (September 6, 9–7 win over the Braves at home) gave up 6 runs on 8 hits in 3 innings, with no walks and 4 strikeouts (game score 23).
- Tanner Roark (September 3, 3–1 loss to the Mets in New York) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks with 3 strikeouts in 5 innings. With a game score of 50, this one is a borderline “tough loss” (defined as a loss recorded when the pitcher has a game score of 50 or higher).
- Tanner Roark (September 20, 1–0 loss to the Marlins in Miami). This one’s the real deal. Tanner gave up 1 run on 3 hits and 3 walks with 5 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 69). Unfortunately, he was paired against the late Jose Fernandez pitching the last, and one of the best, games of his tragically short life.
- Max Scherzer (October 2, 10–7 win over the Marlins at home) gave up 5 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks with 7 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 34). We were all rooting for Max to get his 20th win, but it wasn’t pretty.
Shawn Kelley (September 23, 6–5 loss to the Pirates in Pittsburgh in 11 innings). Kelley entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, runners at first and second, and the Nats leading 5 to 4. He struck out Freese to get out of the inning, then retired three straight in the eighth (win probability added .222). In the bottom of the ninth, however, Mark Melancon gave up the tying run, and in the eleventh, Yusmeiro Petit gave up the walkoff run.
Koda Glover (September 9, 5–4 win over the Phillies at home). Pitching the top of the eighth with a 4 to 1 lead, Glover hit the leadoff hitter, then issued a walk, before getting a groundout that advanced the runners. The next Phillies hitter, Rupp, homered to tie the game, and Glover was pulled with one out (WPA –.389). For the rest of the story, see the next paragraph.
Trea Turner (September 9, 5–4 win over the Phillies at home). With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, bases empty, and the game tied 4 to 4, Turner hit a walkoff home run (WPA .466).
- Trea Turner (September 7, 5–4 win over the Braves at home). In the bottom of the tenth inning, an Anthony Rendon single had just tied the game after the Braves took the lead in the top of the inning. Turner came to bat with runners on first and second, one out, and the score tied 4 to 4. He grounded into a double play to end the inning (WPA –.204). In the eleventh, the Nats walked off on a Wilson Ramos single with the bases loaded.
- Clint Robinson (September 13, 4–3 loss to the Mets at home). In the bottom of the ninth, Robinson batted with runners on first and second, one out, and the score tied 3 to 3. He lined out to second and Wilmer Difo was doubled off first (WPA –.204). The Mets scored the winning run in the tenth.