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September 28, 2020 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ September in review: ‘It was just tough to come to the ballpark and be positive’

The Nats opened September in last place with a 12–20 record, 7 games behind the division-leading Braves. The first three weeks went poorly. By September 13 their record was 17–28 and playoff hopes were gone. By September 19 they had matched that infamous 19–31 record that was the nadir of the team’s 2019 early-season slump. But this year there were only 60 games, so they had guaranteed themselves a losing record for the season. To finish up the schedule they had to play 10 games in 8 days. After losing the first game of a doubleheader, the Nats went 7–2 the rest of the way, dealing a blow to the the Phillies’ playoff hopes that would prove fatal and eliminating the Mets. They ended the season with a 26–34 record, tied with the Mets for fourth place and only three games behind the Brewers, who nabbed the NL’s eighth and final playoff spot.

September opened with the Nats in the middle of a road trip, playing in Philadelphia where they had lost the first game of a four-game series. They were shut out in the next two games, then in the finale surrendered a 5–4 lead in the eighth and were walked off in the tenth. The Phillies had swept the four-game series, and the Nats had lost six straight. Javy Guerra went on the injured list with a hamstring strain and would be out the rest of the season; right-handed reliever Kyle McGowin was called up.

The Nats’ next stop was in Atlanta, and their losing streak went to seven games when they lost the first game of a doubleheader.  They managed to win the second game 10 to 9, a nail biter in which the score see sawed back and forth. They won the third game but lost the fourth, splitting the four game series with the Braves. The game also featured something I had never seen—Nats GM Mike Rizzo was ejected from his luxury suite two levels up from the field. Apparently the umpires could hear him complaining about bad strikezone calls in the otherwise empty stadium! The Nats had gone 3–8 on their road trip. Adding injury to insult, Howie Kendrick went on the injured list with a a hamstring strain, and Dakota Bacus with a flexor strain; both players would be out for the rest of the season. Yadiel Hernandez, a 32-year old Cuban left-handed slugger, was called up and would make his major league debut.

In more positive news, Rizzo received a three-year extension, eliminating some uncertainty about the front office. Three weeks later, manager Davey Martinez would also get a multi-year contract extension.

Back in Washington, the Nats swept a two-game series with the Rays, who were in first place in the AL East with the best record in the junior circuit. The next series was a four-game set against the Braves. The first three games were all one-run contests, with the Nats losing the first 7 to 6, winning the second 8 to 7 on a walk-off single by Michael A. Taylor, and losing the third 2 to 1. The Nats’ loss in the finale was perhaps the most frustrating of all, as Max Scherzer appeared to be gassed after five innings and 104 pitches, with the Nats ahead 4 to 2. But Martinez decided to send Scherzer out again for the sixth, and by the time he was pulled with 119 pitches he had given up four more runs on a pair of two-run homers, and the Nats were trailing 6 to 4. The Braves won 8 to 4, taking the series three games to one and giving the Nats a 3–3 record for the home stand. Two key relief pitchers went on the injured list, both out for the season—Sean Doolittle with an oblique strain, and Tanner Rainey with a flexor strain.

Back on the road, the Nats split two games with the Rays, then faced the Marlins in Miami for five games in a three-day span. They split a pair of doubleheaders on Friday and Sunday, and lost the game on Saturday, losing the series 3 games to 2. The Nats won the finale in the second game of the Sunday doubleheader, 15 to 0, with Ben Braymer allowing only 1 hit in five scoreless innings in his first major league start. Three more players went on the injured list—Adam Eaton with a fractured finger (probably ending his four-year stint with the Nationals), and relief pitchers Aaron Barrett and James Bourque.

Returning home, the Nats ended the season with a pair of four game-series. Against the Phillies, they won the first game, then swept a doubleheader (their third double-bill in five days). To start the second game of the doubleheader, they called up 33-year old minor league journeyman Paolo Espino, making his first major league appearance in three years and only his third major league start. The Nats won the game with a walk-off home run in extra innings, which this year meant the eighth inning. The Phillies came back to win the finale. Carter Kieboom went on the injured list with a wrist contusion.

The Nats faced the Mets in their final series, and the visitors from Queens won the first game. But the Nats swept a Saturday doubleheader and finished the season with a 15 to 5 victory on Sunday the 27th, tying the Metropolitans for fourth place in the division. Juan Soto finished the season leading the majors in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS, and winning the NL batting title. Trea Turner led the majors in hits and tied for the NL lead in triples.

Despite having three outstanding hitters, the Nats’ overall offense this month was only mediocre. Their on-base percentage of .335 ranked sixth in the NL, and their slugging percentage of .408 ranked eighth. The park-adjusted overall offense measure, wRC+, was 97, ranking ninth. And defense was a pretty clear weakness as well.

The Nats continued to struggle with starting pitching this month. The starters had an ERA in September of 5.10, 12th in the NL, and a park-adjusted ERA– of 111, 11th in the league. Their strikeout rate of 21.3% ranked 12th, their walk rate of 8.6% ranked 7th, and they were the worst in the league in home-runs allowed per nine innings at 1.87.

The Nats’ bullpen wasn’t much better. Their ERA for the month was 5.19, 12th in the NL. Their fielding independent pitching (FIP) was 5.41, tied for 13th. And the pen was third worst in home runs allowed per nine innings, with 1.69. On the other hand, in high-leverage situations this month the pen was not bad, recording 27 shutdowns (second in the league), and 15 meltdowns (7th fewest).

Record:

14–14 (.500)

Pythagorean Record:

14–14 (4.93 R/G – 4.96 RA/G)

September MVP:

I’m going to call it a tie between Trea Turner (.282/.348/.515, 27 G, 115 PA, 5 HR, 18 R, 23 RBI, 126 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR) and Juan Soto (.328/.533/.547, 23 G, 92 PA, 2 HR, 18 R, 12 RBI, 174 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR). A huge honorable mention goes to Andrew Stevenson (.417/.488/.833, 12 G, 41 PA, 2 HR, 10 R, 12 RBI, 241 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR), who really impressed everyone in 12 games played over the last 10 days of the season.

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Max Scherzer (2–3, 4.20 RA/9, 5 G, 30 IP, 11.1 K/9, .319 opp OBP, 0.6 RA9-WAR), with honorable mention to Erick Fedde (1–1, 3.74 RA/9, 4 G, 21-2/3 IP, 7.5 K/9, .323 opp OBP, 0.6 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Wander Suero (1–0, 1.69 RA/9, 11 G, 10-2/3 IP, 12.7 K/9, .295 opp OBP, 1.81 RE24, 0.5 RA9-WAR, 6 shutdowns, 2 meltdowns).

Worst month:

I’m calling it a tie between Eric Thames (.182/.280/.273, 14 G, 50 PA, 1 HR, 5 R, 5 RBI, 47 wRC+, –0.4 fWAR). and Wil Crowe (0–1, 17.36 RA/9, 2 G, 4-2/3 IP, 11.6 K/9, 4 HR allowed, .536 opp OBP, –0.4 RA-9 WAR). A dishonorable mention also goes to Victor Robles (.200/.268/.280, 49 wRC+, –0.3 fWAR).

Best start this month:

Erick Fedde (September 18, 5–0 win over the Marlins in Miami in the first game of a doubleheader) pitched scoreless 6 innings, giving up only 1 hit and 2 walks and striking out 6 for a game score of 74.

Worst start:

Patrick Corbin (September 19, 7–3 loss to the Marlins in Miami) gave up 7 runs on 14 hits (but no walks) in 6 innings with 7 strikeouts, for a game score of 23.

Tough losses:

  • Patrick Corbin (September 12, 2–1 loss to the Braves at home) gave up 2 runs on 9 hits and no walks in 7 innings, while striking out 8, for a game score of 59. He was outpitched by the Braves’ Ian Anderson.
  • Max Scherzer (September 20, 2–1 loss to the Marlins in Miami) gave up 2 unearned runs on 5 hits and 2 walks in 5–2/3 innings, while striking out 6, for a game score of 59. It was the second consecutive game where Martinez left Scherzer in too long (119 pitches). Max gave up the go-ahead run while running on fumes.
  • Erick Fedde (September 23, 12–3 loss to the Phillies at home) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk in 7 innings, while striking out 5, for a game score of 59. In the last two innings the bullpen imploded.

Cheap win:

  • Austin Voth (September 27, 15–5 win over the Mets at home, last game of the season) gave up 4 runs on 9 hits and no walks in 5 innings, while striking out  4, for a game score of 37.

Best shutdown:

Kyle Finnegan (September 11, 8–7 win over the Braves at home). With the score tied 7 to 7, Finnegan pitched two scoreless innings in the 10th and 11th, despite starting each inning with an opposing runner on second. In the tenth, he retired all three hitters on a pop fly and two ground outs, while in the 11th he worked around a leadoff bunt single that advanced the runner to third. After a strikeout and a stolen base, he issued an intentional walk to Freeman, loading the bases with one out. He then got a fly ball to short right field and a ground ball to get out of the inning. (win probability added 0.639) Then James Bourque put up another scoreless inning in the top of the 12th before Michael A. Taylor singled in the bottom of the inning to walk off the Braves.

Worst meltdown:

Daniel Hudson (September 11, 8–7 win over the Braves at home). The same game—Hudson came in for the save in the top of the ninth with the Nats ahead 7 to 4. He got a strikeout from Duvall and a fly out from Markakis and needed one more out. Then Albies doubled, and Hudson gave up walks to Inciarte and Freeman, putting the tying run on base. Ozuna and d’Arnaud each singled, and the game was tied. Hudson finally got Swanson to ground out, but after the Nats failed to score in the bottom of the ninth, the game was headed to extra innings. (WPA –0.316)

Clutch hit:

Yadiel Hernandez (September 22, 8–7 win over the Phillies at home, second game of double header). At the end of 7 innings, the score was 6 to 6, and the game went to extra innings. In the top of the eighth, the Phillies scored their runner on a Nats throwing error on a sacrifice bunt attempt, putting the Phils ahead 7 to 6.  In the bottom of the inning, with one out and the runner on second, Hernandez pulled a pitch into the right-field bullpen for a walk-off win. (WPA 0.70) At age 32, Hernandez became the oldest player in history for whom his first MLB home run was a walk-off. A couple of other firsts (due to this year’s rule changes)—it was the Nats’ first eighth inning walk-off, and the first time a Nats DH hit a walk-off.

Choke:

Victor Robles (September 12, 2–1 loss to the Braves at home). It was the bottom of the ninth, the bases were loaded, there were two outs, and the Nats were trailing to 2 to 1. Robles hit the first pitch from Braves closer Mark Melancon and flied out to deep right field (WPA –0.282).

Favorite defensive plays:

 

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