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October 24, 2017 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ September in review: The best is yet to come

The Nats won the National League East by 20 games over the second place Marlins and finished with 97 wins. After counting down the magic number early in the month until the division was clinched, much of the rest of the month seemed to resemble spring training, with lots of playing time going to call-ups and most of the concern focused on getting ready for the play-offs. The Nats went 16—13 for the month (counting the season’s final game, which was actually played on October 1).

September began with the Nats on the road in Milwaukee, where they had lost the first game of a 4-game series. The Brewers won two of the remaining three games, taking the series from the Nats three games to one. The Nats next played the Marlins in Miami, where they swept a 3-game series. As the series ended, Hurricane Irma was approaching Florida.

Returning home, the Nats faced the Phillies for four games and had a chance to clinch the division. They took two of the first three games, and had Stephen Strasburg pitching in the finale on Sunday, September 10. Strasburg pitched 8 shutout innings, extending his scoreless innings streak to 34, and the Nats won 3 to 2, leaving their magic number at one. (Strasburg’s streak would end at 35 innings in his next start.) The Braves were playing the Marlins in Atlanta, and the Nats’ title would be clinched if the Marlins lost. Several thousand fans stayed at Nats park to watch the remainder of the Marlins-Braves game on the scoreboard, even doing the Tomahawk Chop as they rooted for the Braves. After an hour and a half, the Braves won on an 11th-inning walk-off homer—and the Nats had clinched. The team came onto the field and tossed t-shirts up to the faithful fans, then retired to the clubhouse for the traditional champagne-drenched celebration.

The home stand continued with the Nats losing two of three to the Braves, followed by losing two of three to the Dodgers.  Next, the played the Braves in Atlanta, where the Nats won two of three. Trea Turner stole his 42nd base, breaking the Washington Nationals team record held by Alfonso Soriano. The Nats went on to win two of three in their next series against the Mets in New York, and then traveled to Philadelphia to conclude their road trip against the Phillies.

In the second game of the Phillies series, Bryce Harper returned from his 6-week stint on the disabled list. Most of the core Nationals team that had started the season was finally back. (The exceptions were outfielder Adam Eaton, starting pitcher Joe Ross, and relief pitcher Koda Glover, who had all suffered season-ending injuries, and relief pitcher Shawn Kelley, who ended the season on the DL with bone spurs.)

The Nats lost two of three against the Phillies, then returned home for their final series against the Pirates. In a four-game set, they won the first two and lost the final two games, splitting the series.

During September, the Nats’ batting remained in the funk it had been in since the All-Star break. The Nats’ .311 on-base percentage for September ranked 12th of the 15 teams in the NL, and their .401 slugging percentage ranked 9th. Their weighted runs created relative to league (wRC+) was 84, or 16% below league average, ranking 12th in the league.

Uncharacteristically, the Nats’ starting pitching also struggled, with an earned run average relative to league (ERA–) of 100 (that is, the same as league average), which ranked 8th in the NL. In particular, Edwin Jackson, with an ERA– of 225, and Gio Gonzalez, with an ERA– of 125, especially struggled. The starters’ fielding independent pitching relative to league (FIP–) was 91, or 6th in in the league. The Nats’ strength in September was in the bullpen, which had an ERA– of 67 (4th in the league), and a FIP– of 75 (2nd in the league). Their RE24 of 14.74 ranked 4th, and they were tied for 2nd-fewest meltdowns (with 10) and for 2nd most shutdowns (with 31).

Record:

16–13 (.552)

Pythagorean Record:

14.5–14.5 (3.97 R/G – 3.97 RA/G)

September MVP:

Stephen Strasburg (4–0, 1.10 RA/9, 5 G, 32-2/3 IP,  11.0 K/9, .228 opp OBP, 2.0 RA9-WAR); he was named National League Pitcher of the Month.

Most valuable position player:

Trea Turner (.290/.361/.505, 27 G, 4 HR, 18 R, 12 RBI, 9 SB, 2 CS, 1.1 fWAR). Honorable mention goes to Michael A. Taylor (.284/.340/.558, 1.0 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Sammy Solis (1–0, 0.00 RA/9, 9 G, 8-1/3 IP, .138 opp OBP, 5.23 RE24, 0.7 RA9-WAR, 3 shutdowns, 0 meltdown). Actually, Sean Doolittle won National League Reliever of the Month with his 8 saves in 9 opportunities, but Solis pitched more effectively.

Worst month:

Shared by Edwin Jackson (0–3, 10.23 RA/9, 5 G, 22 IP, 9.4 K/9, .385 opp OBP, –0.9 RA9-WAR) and Jayson Werth (.139/.222/.236, 20 G, 1 HR, 5 R, 7 RBI, –0.8 fWAR).

Best start this month:

Stephen Strasburg (September 10, 3–2 win over the Phillies at home). Later that afternoon, after the Braves beat the Marlins, the Nats would celebrate clinching the division, but Strasburg’s pitching gem was a necessary precursor. Strasburg pitched 8 shutout innings with 10 strikeouts, allowing 2 hits and 1 walk, for a game score of 87. In the ninth inning, Ryan Madson gave up two runs but still got the save.

Worst start:

Edwin Jackson (September 15, 7–0 loss to the Dodgers at home). Jackson gave up 7 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks with 2 strikeouts in 2-1/3 innings (game score 17).

Tough losses:

  • Tanner Roark (September 1, 1–0 loss to the Brewers in Milwaukee) gave up 1 run on 5 hits and 1 walk with 10 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 72).
  • Tanner Roark (Sepbember 21, 3–2 loss to the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 3 runs on 6 hits with no walks and 7 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 60).

Cheap win: 

  • Max Scherzer (September 8, 11–10 win over the Phillies at home) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks with 7 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 48).

Best shutdown: 

A.J. Cole (September 30, 4–1 loss to the Pirates at home). With a 1–0 lead and one out in the top of the fourth, Max Scherzer had to leave the game with a hamstring injury. Cole pitched 3-2/3 scoreless innings without giving up a hit. He allowed two walks and got two strikeouts (win probability added .312).

Worst meltdown:

Brandon Kintzler (September 30, 4–1 loss to the Pirates at home). It was the same game that saw Cole pitch the best shutdown. In the top of the ninth inning, with the Nats still holding onto their 1–0 lead, Kintzler allowed 4 runs on 3 singles, a walk, and a triple in 2/3 inning, and was charged with the blown save and loss. (WPA –.801).

Clutch hit:

Daniel Murphy (September 23, 4–3 win over the Mets in New York). Leading off the top of the tenth in a game tied 3–3, Murphy hit a home run to deep center field, giving the Nats the lead. (WPA .348).

Choke:

Adam Lind (September 22, 7–6 loss to the Mets in New York). In the top of the ninth, trailing 7 to 6, Lind came to bat with one out and runners on first and third. He flied out to short left field, unable to drive in the tying run (WPA –.213). In the following at bat, Victor Robles struck out to end the game.

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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