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September 3, 2018 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ August in review: These are tough decisions

August began with the Nationals in third place, 5-1/2 games behind the division-leading Phillies, and having just decided to stand pat before the trade deadline, thinking they still had a good chance to get back into the race. During August they went 14-15 and ended the month with a 67–68 record, 7-1/2 games behind the Braves, who had taken over the division lead. By then the Nats’ probability of reaching the playoffs was down to a real long-shot–3% according to Fangraphs, 5% according to FiveThirtyEight, and 1% according to Baseball Prospectus. And before the month was over, the team had traded off most of the players who would be eligible for free agency at the end of the season, with the notable exception of Bryce Harper, who was retained.

The month began with the Nats at home, playing the second game of a two-game series against the Mets. (They had won the first game–immediately after the deadline–by a score of 25 to 4.) They won the second game, sweeping the series, then took three of four against the Reds. They then faced the Braves in a four-game series, which they split. Their 7–3 record during the home stand allowed them to keep pace in the divisional race, though a series win against the Braves would have helped them move up in the standings.

The next road trip would prove to be pivotal. The Nats were facing the Chicago Cubs, who were holding the lead in the competitive NL Central race, and the Cardinals, who were in third place with a good record. The games were hard fought and exciting, featuring late-inning comebacks or attempted comebacks and a couple of walk-offs, But the Nats were on the losing end of too many of those games, losing the Cubs series two games to one, and the Cardinals series three games to one. With a 2–5 record during the road trip, they started the trip 5-1/2 games behind and finished it 8 games out. Their probability of reaching the playoffs (according to Fangraphs) plummeted from 41% to 20% over the seven-game span.

The Nats’ first series after returning home was against the Marlins, and their fortunes continued to plummet as they lost the series, two games to one. The final game of the series was a blow-out, with the Nats losing 12 to 1. The Nats management decided it was time to throw in the towel. On August 21 Daniel Murphy was traded to the Cubs, and Matt Adams was surrendered to the Cardinals on a waiver claim. The Nats management was now committed to shedding salary. But they decided not to move Bryce Harper, and held onto him for the final six weeks of his contract.

After the trades, the Nats opened a series against the Phillies. They played the first games like they wanted to send a message. They won the first (rain-delayed) game featuring back-to-back home runs by Andrew Stevenon and Wilmer Difo, the players who replaced Adams and Murphy on the roster. They won the second game on a walk-off home run by Ryan Zimmerman. Their fortunes changed in the third game, however, when Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola outdueled Max Scherzer, shutting out the Nationals 2 to 0. The Nats finished the home stand with a 3–3 record.

Their next road trip opened in New York against the Mets. The Nats were shut out in their first two games, making three consecutive shutouts. Then, in a fashion that was typical of their 2018 season, they blew away the Mets in the third game, 15 to 0, but ended the game with an injury to Kelvin Herrera, probably losing him for the rest of the season. In the series they outscored the Mets 15 to 6, yet lost the series two games to one, and ended the series weaker than they started. The road trip finished with a three-game series against the Phillies in Philadelphia, which the Nats won two games to one.

On August 31, the Nats made two more trades, sending Ryan Madson to the Dodgers and long-time National pitcher Gio Gonzalez to the Brewers. The Brewers were in Washington to open a series against the Nationals, and the Nats lost the first game, ending the month a game below .500 and well out of playoff contention.

With most of their hitters healthy, the Nats’ offense performed pretty well during August. Their .330 on-base percentage was 4th of the 15 teams in the NL, and their .431 slugging percentage ranked 5th. Their ballpark-adjusted weighted runs created (wRC+) of 101 ranked 6th.

The Nationals’ starting pitchers, however, continued to disappoint during August. Their ERA, 3.90, ranked 10th in the NL, and they also ranked 10th in the park-adjusted version, ERA–, with 96. And adjusting for fielding didn’t help, as their fielding-independent pitching adjusted for league and ballpark, FIP–, was 111, 12th in the NL.

The Nats’ injury-plagued relief pitchers also disappointed, with an ERA of 4.67 (11th in the NL), and a FIP– of 127 (14th). Their 15 shutdowns ranked last in the NL, whereas their 18 meltdowns was the 4th most. Overall, pitching was a serious team weakness during August.


14–15 (.483)

Pythagorean Record:

16–13 (4.72 R/G – 4.31 RA/G)

August MVP:

Max Scherzer (2–1, 1.89 RA/9, 6 G, 38 IP, 11.6 K/9, .224 opp OBP, 1.7 RA9-WAR) wins the award for the fifth consecutive month. He’s truly been the one player we’ve always been able to rely on this season.

Most valuable position player:

Ryan Zimmerman (.316/.402/.658, 24 G, 6 HR, 10 R, 18 RBI, 178 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR). Honorable mention goes to Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, who each had 1.0 fWAR.

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Greg Holland (0–0, 1 Sv, 0.93 RA/9, 12 G, 9-2/3 IP, 10.2 K/9, .222 opp OBP, 1.74 RE24, 0.4 RA9-WAR, 2 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Gio Gonzalez (1–4, 7.76 RA/9, 6 G, 31-1/3 IP, 6.6 K/9, .399 opp OBP, –0.7 RA9-WAR)

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (August 12, 4–3 loss to the Cubs in Chicago) pitched 7 scoreless innings while giving up 3 hits and 1 walk, striking out 11, for a game score of 81. He left the game with the Nats holding a 1 to 0 lead, but the Nats

Worst start:

Gio Gonzalez (August 19, 12–1 loss to the Marlins at home) gave up 8 runs in 4-2/3 innings, while allowing 10 hits and 4 walks and striking out 5, for a game score of 13.

Tough losses:

  • Max Scherzer (August 23, 2–0 loss to the Phillies at home) gave up 2 runs on 2 hits and 4 walks with 10 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 71).
  • Gio Gonzalez (August 24, 3–0 loss to the Mets in New York) gave up 1 run on 7 hits and no walks with 2 strikeouts in 7 innings (game score 61).
  • Tanner Roark (August 25, 3–0 loss to the Mets in New York) gave up 1 run on 4 hits and no walks with 7 strikeouts in 6 innings (game score 67).

Cheap wins: 

  • Tanner Roark (August 16, 5–4 win over the Cardinals in St. Louis) gave up 4 runs (3 earned) on 5 hits and 3 walks with 1 strikeout in 6 innings (game score 46).

Best shutdown: 

Greg Holland (August 28, 5–4 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia) entered in the bottom of the ninth with one out, a runner on second base, and the Nats leading 5 to 4. The Phillies had just hit a pair of doubles and had cut the Nationals’ lead in half. Holland got Alfaro to fly out to center, and Phillies runner Velasquez was out on appeal after leaving early when tagging on the play, ending the game (win probability added .285).

Worst meltdown:

Ryan Madson (August 12, 4–3 loss to the Cubs in Chicago). Madson came into the game in the bottom of the ninth for the save with the Nats leading 3–0. After getting the first out, he allowed an infield single, then hit a batter. He got Schwarber to foul out for the second out, then hit another batter to load the bases. On a 2–2 count, Cubs pinch hitter David Bote hit a walk-off grand slam home run (WPA –.956) After the game, Madson belatedly told Davey Martinez that he had been dealing with back pain that was preventing him from pushing off the mound and finishing his pitches the way he normally did.

Clutch hit:

Ryan Zimmerman (August 22, 8–7 win over the Phillies at home). There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Juan Soto was at second, and the Nats were trailing 7 to 6 when Zimmerman came to bat. After looking at three sliders–two balls and a strike–Zimmerman hit the first fastball he saw over the right field wall. It barely cleared the wall and was initially called in play, but after video review the call was corrected to a walk-off home run. (WPA .853) It was Zimmerman’s 11th career walk-off home run, only two behind the all-time leader, Jim Thome.


Adam Eaton (August 29, 8–6 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). In the top of the eighth, Eaton came to bat with one out, runners on first and second, and the Nats trailing 7–6. He grounded into an inning-ending double play. (WPA –.213)

Favorite defensive play:

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