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July 1, 2018 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ June in review: We’ve got to start working better at bats

After a tremendous May, the Nationals fell apart in June. Having started the month only a half-game behind the Braves, the Nats briefly took the divisional lead, but then wound up going 10–16* for the month. It was their worst monthly winning percentage since the bad old days of August 2010. The Nats finished the month in third place, five games behind. With the season at the half-way mark, their 42–39 record leaves them in fifth place in the NL wild card race. Although the projections from FanGraphs thought the Nats were still likely to win the division (64% probability), FiveThirtyEight estimated the probability as 30%, and Baseball Prospectus had it at 26%, behind both the Braves and the Phillies.

* NOTE – For all the statistics I’ve reported for June in this post, including the team’s win-loss record, I’m counting whatever occurred during the final three innings of the suspended game played on June 18 against the Yankees. This differs from MLB’s bizarre practice of showing those statistics as having taken place on May 15.

June opened with the Nats in Atlanta, playing the last three games of a four-game set. They won game 3 of the series (a 14-inning marathon), but lost the others. Returning home, they swept a two-game set against the Rays and on June 6 briefly moved into first place, essentially tied with the Braves but with a tiny percentage-point lead. They next faced the Giants and lost two of three, but maintained their pace with the Braves. Stephen Strasburg went on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, but Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy came off the DL.

Next came a road that began with a two-game set against the Yankees in New York. The Nats split the series but dropped a game behind the Braves. After that, they went to Toronto where they were swept in a three-game set against the Blue Jays.

Returning home and now trailing the Braves by 3-1/2 games, Mike Rizzo traded with the Royals to obtain bullpen ace Kelvin Herrera. On the first evening of their home stand, the Nats had to finish the last three innings of a suspended game against the Yankees, then play the second game, which had been postponed due to rain. Juan Soto homered to give the Nats the win in the suspended game, but they lost the other game. The Nats next played three games against the Orioles, and took two of three. The home stand concluded with a three-game series against the Phillies. After losing the first two, they came from behind to win the third game. But it was a Sunday evening, rain-delayed game that ended after midnight, so they were probably exhausted when they landed in Tampa Bay the next morning.

The Nats were blown out, 11 to 0, in the first game against the Rays, then lost the second (and final) game of the series 1 to 0. Then on to Philadelphia, where they finished the month playing the first three games of a four-game set against the Phillies. They lost the first and third games, but the offense finally exploded in the second game, which they won 17 to 7.

The Nats’ offense was pretty awful. A team that had rarely been shut out was shut out seven times during June. Their .239 batting average ranked 12th in the National League, their .308 on-base percentage ranked 11th, and their .373 slugging percentage ranked 12th. Their 21 home runs ranked 13th.

While the Nats’ bats have struggled most of the season, what was really unusual about June was that the pitching also struggled. The starters’ ERA of 5.54 for June ranked last in the National League. Furthermore, the handful of good starts (mostly from Max Scherzer) were wasted due to inadequate run support (see the list of “Tough Losses” below). Nats starting pitchers were credited with only 3 wins all month.

The Nats’ bullpen was a moderately bright point in an overall dismal landscape. The reliever’s ERA of 3.54 ranked fifth in the NL, while their 24 shutdowns ranked seventh and their 12 meltdowns were tied for third fewest.

Record:

10–16 (.385)

Pythagorean Record:

11–15 (4.08 R/G – 4.76 RA/G)

June MVP:

Max Scherzer (1–3, 2.31 RA/9, 5 G, 35 IP, 11.6 K/9, .231 opp OBP, 1.4 RA9-WAR) wins this award for the third consecutive month. Yes, his record was just 1–3, but in his three losses he allowed only 5 runs and received zero runs in offensive support. The reality is that he pitched just as well in June as he did in April and May, and in both of those months he was named NL Pitcher of the Month.

Most valuable position player:

Juan Soto (.321/.441/.643, 25 G, 7 HR, 20 R, 17 RBI), with honorable mention going to Anthony Rendon (.320/.358/.580, 25 G, 5 HR, 20 R, 18 RBI).

Addendum: Soto was named the NL Rookie of the Month.

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Justin Miller (4–0, 2.89 RA/9, 12 G, 18-2/3 IP, 13.0 K/9, .247 opp OBP, 3.96 RE24, 0.4 RA9-WAR, 4 shutdowns, 2 meltdowns). Yes, the award could have gone to Sean Doolittle (1.08 RA/9, 7 shutdowns, 0 meltdowns), but Doolittle pitched only 8-1/3 innings, whereas Miller pitched more than twice that many.

Worst month:

Pedro Severino (.075/.125/.113, 20 G, 0 HR, 0 R, 2 RBI)

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (June 5, 4–2 win over the Rays at home) pitched 8 innings while giving up 2 runs on 5 hits and no walks, striking out 13, for a game score of 77.

Worst start:

Gio Gonzalez (June 25, 11–0 loss to the Rays in Tampa Bay) gave up 6 runs in just 1 inning (and also pitching to 7 batters in the second without getting an out), while allowing 3 hits (including a grand-slam home run) and 5 walks, and striking out 2, for a game score of 20.

Tough losses:

  • Stephen Strasburg (June 1, 4–0 loss to the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 4 runs (3 earned) on 7 hits and no walks with 10 strikeouts in 6-2/3 innings (game score 56).
  • Max Scherzer (June 10, 2–0 loss to the Giants at home) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks with 9 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 67).
  • Tanner Roark (June 11, 3–0 loss to the Yankees in New York) gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks with 5 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 51).
  • Max Scherzer (June 16, 2–0 loss to the Blue Jays in Toronto) gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and 1 walk with 10 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 65).
  • Max Scherzer (June 26, 1–0 loss to the Rays in Tampa Bay) gave up 1 run on 4 hits and 3 walks with 4 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 66).
  • Tanner Roark (June 28, 4–3 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia) gave up 2 runs (1 earned) on 7 hits and 3 walks with 5 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 54).

Cheap wins: 

  • Erick Fedde (June 29, 17–7 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia) gave up 5 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks with 3 strikeouts in 5 innings (game score 31).

Best shutdown: 

Justin Miller (June 2, 5–3 win over the Braves in Atlanta in 14 innings) pitched the 11th, 12th, and 13th innings of a 3–3 tie and retired all nine batters he faced—five of them by strikeout (win probability added .420). In the top of the 14th, Max Scherzer got aboard with a pinch hit, then Wilmer Difo hit a triple to drive him in and give the Nationals the lead.

Worst meltdown:

Tanner Roark (June 3, 4–2 loss to the Braves in Atlanta). Entering in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied 2 to 2, the Nats bullpen was depleted after the previous night’s 14-inning game. So Roark got the call to pitch in relief. He got the first out, then gave up a double followed by a home run, giving the Braves a walk-off win. (WPA –.360).

Clutch hit:

Daniel Murphy (June 24, 8–6 win over the Phillies at home). After an intentional walk was issued to Juan Soto, Murphy came to bat in the bottom of the 8th with two outs, the bases loaded, and the Nats trailing 6–5. He poked a single over the second baseman to drive in two, giving the Nationals the lead (WPA .497). Michael A. Taylor would drive in one more run, after which Sean Doolittle got the save.

Choke:

Pedro Severino (June 24, 8–6 win over the Phillies at home). One inning before Murphy got the clutch hit, Severino choked. In the bottom of the seventh with runners on first and third, one out, and the Nats trailing 6–5, Severino grounded into an inning-ending double play (WPA –.250).

Favorite defensive play:

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