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October 3, 2018 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ September in review: Not the season we wanted

September began with the Nationals in third place in the NL East, 7-1/2 games behind the Braves, and one game below .500. With the exception of Bryce Harper, management had traded off most of their tradable players and had turned their attention to 2019 and beyond. During September the Nats went 15–12 and salvaged a winning record for the year, ending the season with an 82–80 record and in second place in the division, 8 games behind the division champion Braves.

At the beginning of the month, the Nats were in a home stand facing the top three teams in the NL Central. They had lost the first game of a three-game set against the Brewers and proceeded to split the last to games, losing the series two games to one. Next came the Cardinals, and the Nats also lost that series two games to one. The final series in the home stand was to be a four-game series against the Cubs. The Cubs won the first game in extra innings. After that, the rains came.

In what was planned as his first game since Tommy John surgery, Joe Ross was scheduled to start the second game on Friday night. He got five scoreless outs before a rain delay, and when the rains didn’t stop until midnight, the game was called and rescheduled as part of a doubleheader the next day. There was a two hour, 10-minute rain delay to start the first game, and another rain delay before the ninth inning of the second, but the Nats eventually swept the doubleheader, winning 10 to 3 and 6 to 5. An iconic image was Sean Doolittle leaning back, arms outstretched, tasting the pouring rain after he got the final out in the eighth inning—his first appearance off the disabled list. The next day, Sunday, there was yet more rain, so the final game was postponed, and would require the teams to return to Washington on Thursday after the Nats’ next series in Philadelphia.

The first game in Philadelphia also had to be postponed because the gounds, soaked from several days of rain, were unplayable. A doubleheader was played the next day, and the Nats won both games, with the second win coming in extra innings. They also won the final game the next day to sweep the series and quash the hopes of the second-place Phillies.

At that point there was still a remote chance of the Nats making a late-season surge to catch the division-leading Braves. If they could beat the Cubs in the postponed game and then sweep the Braves in Atlanta, the Nats would move to 4-1/2 games of the lead. At that point, with 12 games remaining, the Nats appeared to have a much easier schedule than the Braves for the rest of the season, with 5 games against the Marlins and 4 against the Mets. But it wasn’t to be—the Cubs beat the Nats 4 to 3 in 10 innings, and in the first game in Atlanta, Max Scherzer had his worst outing of the season, as the Nats fell 10 to 5. Even though the Nats won the final two games of the Atlanta series, they stood 7-1/2 games behind with 12 to play.

After that, the Nats’ elimination came quickly. They split a two-game series against the Marlins in Miami, and on September 21, after losing the first two games against the Mets at home, the Nats were officially eliminated from the NL East race. The next day they were also eliminated from the wild card race. They split the last two games of the four-game series against the Mets, losing the series three games to one. Their final home series of the season was a three-game set against the Marlins, which they swept. Their last home game of the season was called after 7 innings due to rain—a fitting end to a rain-drenched month.

Their last series was a three-game set against the Rockies in Colorado. The Rockies were leading the NL West by one game, and when they beat the Nats in the first game, they also clinched a post-season slot. The Nats won the second game 12 to 2, dropping the Rockies to a tie with the Dodgers for the NL West lead. On the final game of the Nats’ season, the Rockies clobbered them 12 to 0. It was the 15th time the Nats were shutout and their worst blowout loss of the season—perhaps a fitting end to a disappointing season. The Rockies would have to play one more game against the Dodgers to decide the NL West championship, with the loser (the Rockies) going to the Wild Card game.

The Nats’ batters had a good month. Their .267 batting average for the month was third in the NL, while their .369 on-base percentage led the league and their .434 slugging percentage was fourth. The overall batting metric, weighted runs created plus (wRC+) was 116, or 16% better than average, which ranked second behind the Dodgers in the NL.

Starting pitching continued to be a weakness. Their 4.54 ERA during September ranked 11th in the NL. Their park-adjusted ERA relative to league (ERA–) of 111 also ranked 11th in the NL (11% worse than average), while their fielding-independent pitching relative to league (FIP–) of 97 ranked 9th. Scherzer, who had been the Nats’ most valuable player during the first five months of the season, had an off-month, and Tanner Roark also struggled. Nine different pitchers started a game for the Nats during September.

The Nats’ relief pitching was mediocre during September. The relievers ERA– of 117 ranked 8th in the NL, and their RE24 of –1.41 ranked 7th. They were fifth in shutdowns with 29, but also had the fifth most meltdowns with 20.

Record:

15–12 (.555)

Pythagorean Record:

15–12 (5.14 R/G – 4.52 RA/G)

September MVP:

Anthony Rendon (.352/.439/.657, 27 G, 6 HR, 24 R, 26 RBI, 189 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR). He had a fantastic month that was only overshadowed by Christian Yelich. During September Rendon ranked 2nd in the NL in both wRC+ and fWAR.

NL Rookie of the Month:

Juan Soto (.283/.383/.525, 26 G, 6 HR, 15 R, 20 RBI, 139 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR) won this award for the third time in the last four months.

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Stephen Strasburg (3–0, 2.86 RA/9, 6 G, 34-2/3 IP, 11.7 K/9, .309 opp OBP, 1.1 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Greg Holland (2–0, 2 Sv, 0.77 RA/9, 12 G, 11-2/3 IP, 10.8 K/9, .273 opp OBP, 6.03 RE24, 0.8 RA9-WAR, 7 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Jefry Rodriguez (1–2, 8.27 RA/9, 6 G, 2 GS, 16-1/3 IP, 7.2 K/9, .390 opp OBP, –0.4 RA9-WAR)

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (September 25, 9–4 win over the Marlins at home) pitched 7 innings, giving up 1 run on 5 hits and no walks, striking out 10, for a game score of 73. His final strikeout was his 300th for season.

Worst start:

Jefry Rodriguez (September 2, 9–4 loss to the Brewers at home) gave up 7 runs in 4-2/3 innings, allowing 7 hits and 7 walks and striking out 2, for a game score of 17.

Tough losses:

None

Cheap wins:

None

Best shutdown: 

Greg Holland (September 13, 4–3 loss to the Cubs at home) entered in the top of the eighth with one out, the bases loaded. and the game tied 3 to 3. Holland struck out Willson Contreras and Ben Zobrist to get out of the inning unscathed (win probability added .288). The Nats would lose the game in the 10th inning on an RBI bunt single by Javy Baez.

Worst meltdown:

Wander Suero (September 23, 8–6 loss to the Mets at home). Suero replaced starter Erick Fedde with one out in the top of the fourth inning, runners on first and third, and the Nats leading 3 to 1. He allowed a walk to load the bases, followed by an RBI single and a 3-run triple, before getting the final two outs. He stayed on to start the fifth and gave up two more runs on two doubles and two singles before leaving the game with two outs, runners on first and third, and the Nats trailing 7 to 3 (WPA –.482)

Clutch hit:

Juan Soto (September 1, 5–4 win over the Brewers at home). There were two outs in the bottom of the eighth when Soto came to bat with the bases loaded and the Nats trailing 3 to 2. He hit a ground ball single up the middle that drove in two runs and gave the Nats the lead (WPA .497).

Choke: (tie)

  1. Ryan Zimmerman (September 5, 7–6 loss to the Cardinals at home). In the bottom of the ninth with the Nats trailing 7 to 6, no outs, and runners on first and second, Zim came to bat  and struck out. (WPA –.186)
  2. Mark Reynolds (September 20, 5–4 loss to the Mets in 12 innings at home). In the bottom of the 11th with one out, runners on first and third, and the score tied 4 to 4, Reynolds came to bat and struck out. (WPA –.186)

Least favorite managerial move:

Davey Martinez (September 8, 10–3 win over the Cubs in first game of doubleheader at home). With a 10 to 1 lead, Martinez left Max Scherzer in to pitch the ninth inning, facing the heart of the Cubs order for the fourth time. He would give up 2 runs on 4 hits to get a complete game—a game that the relief staff should have finished. More importantly, I suspect that fatigue from this game contributed to Max’s poor performance in his next outing against the Braves, when he lasted only 4 innings and gave up 6 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks.

Favorite defensive plays:

 

 

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