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August 3, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ July in review: Some of us could use some reinforcements

As the Nationals players enjoyed dancing in the dugout after home runs and they and the crowd got into the Baby Shark phenomenon, the team was playing crucial games that were starting to determine their playoff prospects. In July the Nats went 15–10, solidifying their wild card chances but failing to close the gap with the division-leading Braves.

June began with the Nats in third place in the NL East, one game above .500 and trailing the division-leading Braves by 7 games. They opened a homestand with a three-game series against the Marlins, followed by three games against the Royals. They swept the Marlins and took two of three against the Royals for a 5–1 record on the homestand. They went into the All-Star break with a 47–42 record, now in second place and trailing the Braves by 6 games. Ryan Zimmerman drove in his 1,000th career RBI and the franchise celebrated its 50th anniversary by wearing throwback Expos uniforms.

Two Nationals players were selected for the All-Star team, Anthony Rendon and Max Scherzer, but both opted out of the game due to nagging injuries and were replaced by players from other teams. While Rendon was able to return to the lineup after the break, Scherzer wound up on the injured list with mid-back strain and an inflamed bursa sac.

After the break, the Nats’ schedule became more demanding as they faced divisional rivals and other good teams. Their road trip began in Philadelphia, where they topped the Phillies in two of three games. Next was a two-game series against the Orioles in Baltimore, which they split. The road trip concluded with a four-game series against the Braves in Atlanta, which also ended with a split. The second game was especially heart-breaking, with Victor Robles hitting a game-tying home run in the top of the ninth, only to have 42-year-old Fernando Rodney fell apart and gave up the walk-off run when Davey Martinez tried to get him to go two innings for the first time in six years. After the series, Zimmerman went onto the injured list with a recurrence of plantar fasciitis.  The Nats went 5–4 on the road trip.

Returning home, the Nats had a four-game series against the Rockies. The first game was postponed, resulting in a day-night doubleheader in the middle of the series. The Nats won the first game of the series decisively, with Trea Turner hitting for the cycle for the second time in his career (one of only 26 players to have done so). The next day the Nats swept the doubleheader. For the fourth game, Scherzer came back from the injured list, and although he pitched alright, the injury was clearly still bothering him. Ultimately, Rodney gave up the Nats’ lead in the ninth inning for another loss, and Scherzer went back on the IL.

The Nats next faced the Dodgers, who had the best record in the National League. The Dodgers took the series two games to one. The homestand ended with three games against the Braves. Trailing the Braves by 5-1/2 games, the Nats had a chance to make up significant ground by sweeping, or at least winning, the series. After splitting the first two games, the Nats lost the finale in the tenth inning as Sean Doolittle gave up a go-ahead home run. The finale was also the trade deadline, and Mike Rizzo acquired three relief pitchers—Roenis Elias, Daniel Hudson, and Hunter Strickland. To make space, Javy Guerra, Michael Blazek, and Tony Sipp were designated for assignment.

At the beginning of July, according to Fangraphs the Nats had a 60% chance of making the playoffs and a 19% chance of winning the division. By the end of the month, the probability of making the playoffs had gone up to 75%, but the probability of winning the division had slipped to 15% as the Braves’ 14–10 record for the month nearly matched the Nats’ 15–10 record. Other prognosticators were less optimistic about the Nationals’ chances. At the end of July, Fivethirtyeight gave them a 51% chance of making the playoffs, and Baseball Prospectus estimated their chance of making the playoffs at 58%.

The Nationals’ hitters had a very successful month. Their .273 batting average for the month was second in the NL to the Reds. Their .361 on-base percentage led the league, and their .452 slugging ranked fourth. Their overall weighted runs-created (wRC+) was 110, or 10% better than average, and led the NL.

Their starting pitchers led all of MLB in ERA for July, with 2.94, and in relative park-adjusted ERA (ERA–) with 66, or 34% better than average. They also led MLB in fielding-independent pitching (FIP) with 2.97, and in the relative adjusted measure (FIP–) with 67. Behind Scherzer (when healthy), Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez, the Nats enjoyed excellent starting pitching with occasional off days from whoever was their fifth starter at the time.

While the relief pitching was not as atrocious as it had been the first two months of the season, it remained an area of weakness. The relief staff’s July ERA of 4.86 ranked 11th in the NL, and their relative park-adjusted ERA– of 109 was 9% worse than average, ranking ninth in the NL. They ranked 11th in RE24 with –9.11, and 13th in win probability added with –1.74. Had the Nats had an “average” relief staff, they would have won one or two more games this month.

Record:

15–10 (.600)

Pythagorean Record:

16–9 (5.04 R/G – 3.84 RA/G)

July MVP:

Stephen Strasburg (5–0, 1.14 RA/9, 5 G, 31-2/3 IP, 12.5 K/9, .513 opp OPS, 2.0 RA9-WAR). Strasburg was named NL Pitcher of the Month for July. Patrick Corbin (1.95 RA/9, 1.8 RA9-WAR) was the runner up.

Most valuable position player:

Anthony Rendon (.333/.420/.552, 25 G, 4 HR, 14 R, 22 RBI, 148 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Tanner Rainey (0–0, 1.08 RA/9, 10 G, 8-1/3 IP, 13.0 K/9, .619 opp OPS, 3.11 RE24, 0.3 RA9-WAR, 1 shutdown, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Javy Guerra (0–0, 8.18 RA/9, 8 G, 11 IP, 5.7 K/9, .838 opp OPS, –0.4 RA9-WAR, –6.01 RE24, 2 shutdowns, 1 meltdown) was designated for assignment at the end of a disappointing month.

Best start this month:

Stephen Strasburg (July 3, 3–1 win over the Marlins in Miami) pitched 7-1/3 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks and striking out 14, for a game score of 86.

Worst start:

Erick Fedde (July 30, 11–8 loss to the Braves at home) gave up 9 runs on 9 hits and 4 walks in 3-2/3 innings, while striking out 4, for a game score of 7.

Tough losses:

  • None (Nats starters recorded only two losses in July)

Cheap wins:

  • Stephen Strasburg (July 18, 13–4 win over the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks with 7 strikeouts in 5-1/3 innings, for a game score of 45.
  • Anibal Sanchez (July 20, 5–3 win over the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks with 4 strikeouts in 5 innings, for a game score of 44.

Best shutdown: 

Sean Doolittle (July 20, 5–3 win over the Braves in Atlanta). Doolittle entered the game with one out in the bottom of the eighth, a runner on first, and the Nats guarding a 4–3 lead. He retired Culberson on a fly ball and Acuna on a strikeout to get out of the inning. The Nats added a run in the top of the ninth, then Doolittle returned in the bottom of the inning to retire all three batters he faced—Swanson, Freeman, and Donaldson (win probability added .238).

Worst meltdown:

Fernando Rodney (July 25, 8–7 loss to the Rockies at home). Rodney, who had pitched both games of the previous day’s doubleheader, was assigned the ninth inning with the Nats holding 7–6 lead. The first batter he faced, former Nat Ian Desmond, drove the ball over the center field wall to tie the game. He then walked Blackmon, struck out Story for the first out, and gave up a single to Dahl that advanced Blackmon to third. Former Nat Daniel Murphy then hit a grounder that was too slow for the Nats to turn a double play and Blackmon scored the go-ahead run (WPA –.816). The Nats then failed to score in the bottom of the ninth and failed in their bid to sweep the Rockies.

Clutch hit:

Juan Soto (July 13, 4–3 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia). The Nats were down to their last out, trailing 3 to 2 with two outs in the top of the ninth. Anthony Rendon then singled, and Soto hit the first pitch he saw, a splitter from closer Hector Neris, over the left-center fence to give the Nats the lead (WPA .740).

Choke: 

Ryan Zimmerman (July 5, 7–4 loss to the Royals at home in 11 innings). In the bottom of the tenth with the score tied 4 to 4, the Nats had runners on first and third with one out. Zimmerman hit a pop fly for the second out (WPA –.186). Victor Robles then grounded out to end the Nationals’ bid for a walk-off win.

Favorite defensive play:

 

 

 

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