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October 24, 2017 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ August in review: What’s best for this organization

August opened with the Nats holding a 14-game lead over the second-place Marlins. It would have taken an epic collapse for the Nats to lose the division, and by mid-August it was clear that no collapse would occur. The team went 18–11 in August and finished the month 15 games ahead of the Marlins and with a “magic number” of 15.

The month’s first series was in Miami. The Nats had won the series’ first game on the last day of July, but then lost the last two games of the series. In one of the them, Max Scherzer hit his first career home run, but then had to leave the game with a pinched nerve in his neck after a single inning pitched. The Nats then played the Cubs in Chicago, where they took two of three. Returning home, they won three of four against the Marlins and two of three against the Giants.

The first game against the Giants started late on a wet Saturday night—Friday night’s game had been rained out and Saturday’s game had been delayed three hours. In the first inning, everyone shuddered when Bryce Harper tried to beat out a grounder and slipped on the wet base, twisting and falling in pain. Initially it looked like it might be as bad as Adam Eaton‘s season-ending injury in April. We later learned that nothing was torn or broken—Harper had suffered a bone bruise and calf strain, but was expected to return in time for the playoffs.

At this point, the Nationals disabled list had gotten to be somewhat ridiculous. In a tweet, Dan Kolko of MASN listed the Nats players on the DL in mid-August:

Nats DL: 3 SP (Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross), 5 OF (Harper, Werth, Eaton, Goodwin, Raburn), 2 INF (Turner, Drew), 3 RP (Madson, Glover, Romero)

This is almost an entire team right here. And a damn good one

Games were being played by bench players and minor league call-ups like Adrian Sanchez, Andrew Stevenson, and Alejandro de Aza. But then, players gradually started returning from the DL and the team started to retake its form. Stephen Strasburg returned on August 19, Scherzer and Jayson Werth returned on August 28, and Trea Turner returned on August 29.

Sadly, during August we also learned that Nats co-owner Mark Lerner was battling cancer.

After the Giants series, the Nats concluded their home stand by splitting a two-game inter-league series with the Angels. Next, they were on to San Diego, where they took three of four against the Padres. They then won two of three against the Astros in Houston. Returning home, the Nats split a four-game series against the Mets, then swept a three-game series against the Marlins. The month ended with the Nats losing the first game of a road series against the Brewers in Milwaukee.

During August, the Nats’ offense slowed, with their hitters having an on-base percentage of .322 (ranking 8th of the 15 NL teams), and a slugging percentage of .402 (12th in the league). Their weighted runs created relative to league and adjusted for park effects (wRC+) was 85, or 15% below average, which ranked 13th in the league. Most of their regulars hit below their season average, with Matt Wieters (wRC+ of 63) and Michael A. Taylor (49) having especially disappointing months.

Pitching kept the team winning during August. The Nats’ starters had an ERA relative to league and adjusted for park effects (ERA–) of 70, which was 30% better than the league average and ranked first in the NL and second (to the Indians) in MLB. Their fielding independent pitching relative to league (FIP–) of 96 ranked third in the NL, behind only the Cubs and Diamondbacks. And after the acquisition of a trio of elite bullpen arms before the trade deadline, the Nats’ bullpen started to look good. The bullpen’s ERA– of 87 ranked fourth in the NL, their FIP– of 87 ranked third, and their 9 meltdowns were tied for second fewest.

Record:

18–11 (.621)

Pythagorean Record:

18–11 (4.45 R/G – 3.38 RA/G)

August MVP:

Stephen Strasburg (1–1, 0.86 RA/9, 3 G, 21 IP,  9.9 K/9, .211 opp OBP, 1.4 RA9-WAR). Honorable mention to Gio Gonzalez (4–1, 2.51 RA/9, 5 G, 32-1/3 IP, 7.5 K/9, .292 opp OBP, 1.3 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable position player:

A tie between Howie Kendrick (.357/.396/.619, 26 G, 5 HR, 12 R, 21 RBI, 0.8 fWAR) and Wilmer Difo (.324/.357/.438, 29 G, 1 HR, 15 R, 4 RBI, 0.8 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Sean Doolittle (0–0, 1.38 RA/9, 13 G, 13 IP, .245 opp OBP, 4.42 RE24, 0.7 RA9-WAR, 9 shutdowns, 0 meltdown).

Worst month:

Alejandro de Aza (.125/.143/.219, 12 G, 36 PA, –0.4 fWAR).

Best start this month:

Stephen Strasburg (August 30, 4–0 win over the Marlins at home). Strasburg pitched a 9-inning shutout, the second of his career, with 8 strikeouts, allowing 6 hits and 1 walk, for a game score of 82.

Worst start:

A.J. Cole (August 2, 7–0 loss to the Marlins in Miami). Cole gave up 5 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks with 5 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 36).

Tough losses:

  • A.J. Cole (August 13, 4–2 loss to the Giants at home in first game of a doubleheader) gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks with 6 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 51).  
  • Tanner Roark (August 16, 3–2 loss to the Angels at home) gave up 3 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks with 3 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 58).
  • Stephen Strasburg (August 19, 3–1 loss to the Padres in San Diego) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and 1 walk with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 63).
  • Edwin Jackson (August 23, 6–1 loss to the Astros in Houston) gave up 2 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks with 1 strikeout in 6 innings  (game score 50).
  • A.J. Cole (August 25, 4–2 loss to the Mets at home) gave up 1 run on 4 hits and 4 walks with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 64).

Cheap win: 

  • None

Best shutdown: 

Matt Albers (August 13, 6–2 win over the Giants at home in second game of doubleheader). Albers entered in the top of the tenth, with game tied 2–2. He pitched two scoreless innings, getting two strikeouts and allowing only a walk (win probability added .277).  Albers got the win when, in the bottom of the 11th inning, Howie Kendrick hit a walk-off grand-slam home run.

Worst meltdown:

Matt Albers (August 1, 7–6 loss to the Marlins in Miami). This was the game where Max Scherzer had to leave after one inning. Albers entered in the bottom of the fifth with runners on first and second, one out, and the Nats leading 6 to 3. The first batter he faced, Ozuna, hit a three-run homer to tie the game. He then gave up a single to Realmuto and a triple to Dietrich, making it 7 to 6, before retiring the next two batters and getting out of the inning (WPA –.436). Albers would be charged with the loss.

Clutch hit:

Ryan Zimmerman (August 17, 2–1 win over the Padres in San Diego). With two outs in the top of the 8th, the score tied 1 to 1, Zimmerman hit a solo home run to deep right field that would prove to be decisive (WPA .301).

Choke:

Matt Wieters (August 27, 6–5 loss to the Mets at home). In the bottom of the eighth, trailing 6 to 5, Wieters came to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. He grounded out to short (WPA –.198).

Favorite defensive play:

Andrew Stevenson, with the tying run on third base, made a diving, game-ending catch near the left-field foul line on a line drive from Gordon. Off the bat, I was sure that Gordon had tied the game, but Stevenson was perfectly positioned and made an amazing catch to end this 3–2 victory over the Marlins at home on August 10.

Note: Due to travel, I wasn’t able to finish this post at the usual time shortly after the end of the month. I’m trying to “catch up” by posting this older material.

 

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