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June 2, 2017 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ May in review: A baseball is a weapon

May was a streaky month, with attention focused on bullpen problems early in the month and on a brawl between Hunter Strickland and Bryce Harper as the month closed. But the Nats managed to play solidly with a 16–11 record, finishing the month ahead of the second place Mets by 9½ games. By month’s end, the Nats’ odds of winning the division were reported as 90% by FiveThirtyEight, 93% by Baseball Prospectus, and 96% by FanGraphs.

May began with a 3-game set against the Diamondbacks at home. After losing the first game, the Nats won the next two. The next series was on the road against the Phillies. They won the first game, with Matt Albers getting his first major league save because Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover were both on the disabled list. Joe Ross, who had struggled in April, had been optioned to Syracuse, so A.J. Cole pitched the second game, which the Nats also won. The third game featured a bullpen meltdown, as the Nats failed to hold a 5 to 2 lead going into the bottom of the 8th inning and wound up losing 6 to 5 in 10 innings.

The Nats then played two games in Baltimore and lost both of them, with another bullpen meltdown occurring in the second game. Max Scherzer had given up 2 runs in 8 innings, and the Nats had a 4 to 2 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. The Orioles tied it, then won in the 12th inning. The next night Nats faced the Orioles at home and staged their own late inning heroics to come back from a 6 to 2 deficit through seven innings to walk off the O’s in the ninth. Then came two rain-outs—the second home game against the O’s, as well as the opener of a 3-game home series against the Phillies. The Phillies game would be made up with a Sunday doubleheader.

The Nats took the first game against the Phillies with a Harper walk-off home run. They then split the doubleheader to win the series. Although Glover and Kelley had returned from the DL, the team’s bullpen woes, however, weren’t over. The loss in the afternoon game featured yet another bullpen meltdown, while in the nightcap the bullpen also gave up a lead in the top of the 8th, but the game was salvaged by a Michael A. Taylor home run in the bottom of the 8th. From May 7 to 14, the Nats bullpen had given up leads in the 8th inning or later in four of seven games, with the team losing three of them.

The Nats woes continued on their next road trip. They lost two of three against the Pirates in Pittsburgh and two of three against the Braves in Atlanta, as both the offense and the starting pitching sputtered.

Then the Nats returned home, and everything seemed to turn around. In the opener of a series against the Mariners, Ross returned from Syracuse and pitched well for 8 innings, as the Nats won 10 to 1. At this point Ross had received 62 runs in support of his first four starts of the season, a major league record. The Nats split the last two games and won the series. They next faced the Padres, and with Dusty Baker away attending his son’s high school graduation, bench coach Chris Speier took the helm for the weekend. The Nats won the first two games behind superb pitching performances from Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, but in the finale Ross pitched poorly and took the loss.

The month ended with a road trip to the west coast, where the Nats played three against the Giants. In the first game, played on Memorial Day, Tanner Roark pitched well, Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run, and the Nats won 3 to 0. But their fine play was overshadowed by the fight that occurred when Giants reliever, Hunter Strickland, nursing a nearly three-year-old grudge from the 2014 playoffs when Harper twice took him deep, faced Bryce for the first time since that series. Strickland drilled Harper on his first pitch with a 98-mile-per-hour fastball. Harper charged the mound and the two players briefly engaged in fisticuffs until they were pulled apart as the benches cleared. For 24 hours their fight was the baseball talk of the Internet, and Harper received a three-game suspension.

The Nats went on to win the final two games against the Giants for a sweep, with Scherzer pitching a complete-game, 11-strikeout, 3 to 1 gem in the finale.

In contrast to April, when offense had driven the Nats’ success, the team’s offensive production was subdued in May. Their 116 runs scored ranked 11th in the NL for the month, their 34 home runs was tied for 5th, and their weighted runs created (wRC+) was 96, ranking 7th among the 15 NL teams.

The Nats’ starting pitching played a bigger role. Their ERA of 3.39 ranked 2nd among NL starting staffs, and their ERA– of 79, which is adjusted for park and is relative to league average, ranked 3rd. The starters’ strikeout rate of 26.2% led the league, and their adjusted fielding-independent pitching (FIP–) of 92 ranked 4th.

While the bullpen improved in the last half of the month, for the month as a whole it was nevertheless mediocre. The bullpen’s RE24 (a measure of runs allowed relative to average, which accounts for the situation when a pitcher is brought into or leaves the game) was –1.82, which ranked 9th in the NL. Their 15 meltdowns was 4th in the league, whereas their 20 shutdowns was tied for 9th. Turning to more traditional statistics, the relief corps ERA of 3.93 ranked 9th, and their 5 blown saves was tied for 3rd most.Their FIP– of 94, ranking 9th best, suggests that their mediocre performance can’t be attributed to poor fielding.

Record:

16–11 (.593)

Pythagorean Record:

16–11 (4.30 R/G – 3.67 RA/G)

May MVP:

Max Scherzer (3–1, 2.27 RA/9, 6 G, 43-2/3 IP,  12.4 K/9, .235 opp OBP, 1.8 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable position player:

Anthony Rendon (.308/.422/.615, 27 G, 6 HR, 15 R, 17 RBI, 1.5 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Koda Glover (0–0, 0.00 RA/9, 9 G, 8-2/3 IP, .194 opp OBP, 4.72 RE24, 0.6 RA9-WAR, 5 saves, 2 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Chris Heisey went (.080/.115/.080, 26 PA, –0.4 fWAR), only to finish the month on the DL with a bicep rupture.

Best start this month:

On consecutive nights, I’m calling it a tie between Max Scherzer (May 26, 5–1 win over the Padres at home) got 13 strikeouts in 8-2/3 innings, allowing 3 hits, 2 walks, and 1 run, for a game score of 85, and Stephen Strasburg (May 27, 3–0 win over the Padres at home) with 15 strikeouts in 7 innings, allowing 3 hits, 1 walk, and no runs, also with a game score of 85. Honorable mention goes to Scherzer’s 3–1, 11 strikeout, complete game win over the Giants in San Francisco on May 31 (game score 84).

Worst start:

Joe Ross (May 28, 5–3 loss to the Padres at home). He gave up 5 runs on 12 hits and 1 walk in 4 innings (game score 21).

Tough losses:

  • Tanner Roark (May 2, 6–3 loss to the Diamondbacks at home) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 50). 
  • Max Scherzer (May 20, 5–2 loss to the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 3 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks with 6 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 50).

Cheap win: 

  • Gio Gonzalez (May 30, 6–3 win over the Giants in San Francisco) gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks with 6 strikeouts in 6-1/3 innings (game score 48).

Best shutdown: 

Jacob Turner (May 3, 2–1 win over the Diamondbacks at home). Gio Gonzalez had allowed 1 run in 5 innings when he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth. Turner entered in the top of the sixth with the game tied 1 to 1 and pitched 4 shutout innings, allowing 2 hits and no walks, and striking out 4. The Nats scored a run in the bottom of the sixth to give the Nats a 2 to 1 victory and Turner the win (win probability added .457).

Worst meltdown:

Matt Albers (May 7, 6–5 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). Albers entered with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, runners on first and second, and the Nats leading 5 to 2. Albers gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Aaron Altherr, tying the game. He got an out to end the inning, but then gave up a walk and a single to the first two batters he faced in the ninth, when he was lifted for Enny Romero (WPA –.598). Romero got out of the inning, but the Nats lost the game in the tenth.

Clutch hit:

Michael A. Taylor (May 14, 2nd game of doubleheader, 6–5 win over the Phillies at home). With one out in the bottom of the 8th, a runner on first, and the Nats trailing 5 to 4, Taylor hit a two-run home run to give the Nats the lead. (WPA .542).

Choke:

Brian Goodwin, Trea Turner, and Adam Lind (May 8, 6–4 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore). Blame for this strange play needs to be shared. With one out in the top of the ninth, the Nats trailing 6 to 4, and Turner on second and Lind on third, Goodwin hit a grounder to first base. The first baseman stepped on the base. Turner, however, had taken off toward third, but Lind had not broken for home. Turner tried to make his way back to second, but was caught off base when the ball was tossed to the shortstop. Lind then broke for home and was tagged out for the game-ending double play. Poor communication and execution all around (WPA –.238).

Favorite Defensive Play:

My favorite play was Bryce Harper gunning down J.J. Hardy at home in the 11th inning of the May 9 game against the Orioles that the Nationals would eventually lose 5 to 4 in the 12th.

 

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