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September 13, 2021 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ August in review: ‘The boys are playing hard’

The Nationals went 7-20 in August, their worst monthly record since April 2009. Having opened the month in fourth place, 7½ games behind the division-leading Mets, they finished August still in fourth place but now 15 games behind the Braves, who had taken over the divisional lead. We saw quite a bit of bad baseball played by inexperienced players, but there were also some exciting games, interesting stories from players who were given a chance, and continued superb play from one of the finest players of his generation.

Several players debuted with the Nationals this month. Relief pitcher Mason Thompson, age 23, arrived from the San Diego Padres in the Daniel Hudson trade. Catcher Riley Adams, age 25, came from the Blue Jays in the Brad Hand trade. Starting pitcher Sean Nolin, age 31, had last played in the majors in 2015 and spent 2020 playing in Japan before signing a minor league contract with the Nats. Outfielder Lane Thomas, age 25, came from the Cardinals in the Jon Lester trade. Relief pitcher Patrick Murphy, age 26, came from the Blue Jays off waivers. And catcher Keibert Ruiz, age 23, came from the Dodgers as part of the Max Scherzer/Trea Turner deal.

The month began with the Nats at home facing the Cubs in the rubber game of the series, the teams having split the first two. The Nats won it on a walk-off homer from Yadiel Hernandez. Unfortunately, that was the end of winning for quite a while.

The Phillies swept a 4-game series at Nationals Park. Moving to Atlanta, the Nats lost two of three to the Braves, with the Nats showing some sloppy defense. Moving to New York for a three game set against the Mets, the Nats’ coaches finally returned from the Covid injured list. The Mets swept the Nats in a rain-soaked series. The first game was suspended in the second inning due to rain and finished the next afternoon, but the second game couldn’t be played that evening and was finished as part of a doubleheader the next day. Joe Ross suffered a partial tear of his elbow ligament. He opted not to get surgery but was placed on the injured list for the rest of the season.

Returning home, the Braves swept three games from the Nats. At this point the Nationals had lost 7 straight games and 12 of 13. Next came a two-game set against the red-hot Blue Jays, and the Nats won both of them! Then came a road trip that began in Milwaukee. The Nats beat the Brewers in the first game, making it three wins in a row before returning to their losing ways. They lost the final two games against the Brewers, then lost two of three against the Marlins in Miami. They lost two of three against the Mets in New York, and returned to Washington where they lost the final two games of the month against the Phillies. In their last loss, they tied an obscure MLB record by losing six games against a single team (the Phillies) in which they had been ahead by at least three runs. (Two days later, this would happen a seventh time, giving the Nationals this ignominious record for baseball’s modern era.)

The Nats also engaged in some house cleaning before the month ended. Javy Guerra was designated for assignment and elected free agency. Victor Robles was optioned to Rochester as Lane Thomas hit well enough to take over his center field spot. By the end of the month, there were only a handful of players from the 2019 championship squad left on the active roster.

During August, the Nationals’ offense was more or less league average. Their .254 batting average ranked fourth in the National League, their .342 on-base percentage ranked first, and their .406 slugging percentage ranked tenth. The comprehensive offensive metric, weighted runs created (wRC+) was 100, indicating league-average performance and ranking seventh in the NL.

Pitching, however, was a problem. The starters’ ERA in August was 6.01, ranking 14th of the 15 NL teams. The starters’ fielding independent pitching (FIP) was 5.44, which was the worst in the NL. The relief corps was similarly bad. Their ERA was 5.42, ranking 14th in the NL, and their 5.86 FIP ranked last. The relievers had 20 meltdowns (14th in the league) and managed only 16 shutdowns (tied for 13th). Both starting and relief pitching were clearly problems for the team.

Record:

7–20 (.259)

Pythagorean Record:

10–17 (4.56 R/G – 5.96 RA/G)

August MVP:

Juan Soto (.284/.505/.500, 4 HR, 19 R, 13 RBI, 164 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR).  

Most valuable pitcher:

Josiah Gray (0–2, 4.50 RA/9, 6 GS, 32 IP, 9.3 K/9, .316 opp OBP, 0.5 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Andres Machado (1–0, 2.81 RA/9, 16 G. 16 IP, 6.8 K/9, .323 opp OBP, 1.59 RE24, 0.4 RA9-WAR, 3 shutdowns, 2 meltdowns).

Worst month:

Wander Suero (0–0, 27.00 RA/9, 3 G, 2⅔ IP, 10.1 K/9, –8.22 RE24, –0.9 RA-9 WAR, 0 shutdown, 2 meltdowns). And Suero spent most of the month in Rochester! Other players with notably bad performances in August include Patrick Corbin, Paolo Espino, Luis Garcia, Javy Guerra, and Victor Robles.

Best start this month:

Patrick Corbin (August 20, 4–1 win over the Brewers in Milwaukee) pitched 6⅓ innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and no walks and striking out 7 for a game score of 70.

Worst starts:

A tie between Josiah Gray (August 30, 7–4 loss to the Phillies at home) who gave up 6 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks in 4 innings with 4 strikeouts, for a game score of 25, and Patrick Corbin (August 31, 12–6 loss to the Phillies at home) who gave up 6 runs on 9 hits and 4 walks in 5 innings with 4 strikeouts, also for a game score of 25.

Tough losses:

  • Patrick Corbin (August 3, 5–4 loss to the Phillies at home) gave up 4 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk in 7 innings, while striking out 8, for a game score of 56.
  • Josiah Gray (August 13, 4–2 loss to the Braves at home) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 0 walks in 6 innings, while striking out 6, for a game score of 56.

Cheap win:

  • Erick Fedde (August 17, 12–6 win over the Blue Jays at home) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks in 5 innings, while striking out 4, for a game score of 46.

Best shutdown:

Kyle Finnegan (August 7, 3–2 win over the Braves in Atlanta). The Nats had just taken a 3 to 2 lead in the top of the ninth when Finnegan got the call to pitch the bottom of the inning for the save. He got a foul popup, a fly out to left, and a groundout to first to nail down the win. (Win probability added/WPA +.207)

Worst meltdown:

Kyle Finnegan (August 5, 7–6 loss to the Phillies at home). With the Nats ahead 5–3 going into the top of the ninth, Finnegan got the call. Herrera led off with a double, then Torreyes reached on a throwing error by Carter Kieboom. Finnegan struck out Segura and got Jankowski on a grounder, leaving runners on second and third with two outs. Then Realmuto doubled, tying the game. Harper was issued an intentional walk, and Hoskins doubled to deep left-center, driving in both runners and giving the Phillies a 7–5 lead. Finnegan got Gregorious to fly out to end the inning. (WPA –.827) The Nats scored one in the bottom of the ninth, but lost the game.

Clutch hit:

Riley Adams (August 7, 3–2 win over the Braves in Atlanta). In the top of the ninth, Will Smith was attempting to close out a 2–0 win for the Braves. By the time Adams came to bat, Josh Bell had walked and Ryan Zimmerman had doubled, with Bell scoring and Zimmerman advancing to third on a Garcia groundout. There were two outs, Zimmerman was on third, and the Nats were trailing 2 to 1. Adams launched the first pitch down the left field line into the upper deck, putting the Nats ahead 3 to 2. (WPA +.675).  Finnegan got the save in the bottom of the ninth for one the Nats’ few wins this month.

Choke:

Adrian Sanchez (August 15, 6–5 loss to the Braves at home). In the bottom of the eighth with the Nats trailing 6 to 5, Luis Garcia had drawn a walk to lead off the inning. Sanchez grounded into a double play to cut off a potential rally. (WPA –.209)

Favorite defensive plays:

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