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September 2, 2022 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ August in review: ‘You’re going to figure it out’

August 2 was the trade deadline, and Nats fans braced themselves to say goodbye to Juan Soto and Josh Bell. There was also a worry on many of our minds—how much worse would this already awful team be after losing one of the greatest players of this generation? It turned out they were not really worse—their 9–18 record for the month was about the same winning percentage (one game in three) that they had had all season.

On August 1, the Nats played the first game of a three-game series against the Mets (who were starting long-time Nats ace, Max Scherzer), and the fans gave Soto and Bell multiple ovations, realizing that this was probably their last game as Nats. The fans were rewarded, as Bell hit a double in the first inning that—with the help of some sloppy Mets fielding—scored Soto with the go-ahead run. In the second inning, Soto’s throw to the plate nailed out a Mets runner attempting to score. And in the fourth inning, Soto hit a solo home run to deep center field. In all, Soto was perfect at the plate in his final game with his home run, three walks, and a stolen base in a game the Nats lost 7 to 3. In five seasons with the Nats, Soto played 565 games, hit .291/.427/.538, hit 119 home runs, 9 triples, and 108 doubles, and stole 38 bases, scoring 399 runs and driving in 358. In two seasons, Bell played 247 games and hit .278/.363/.483 with 41 home runs, 48 doubles, and 145 RBI.

Just before noon on August 2, the news dropped that Soto and Bell were headed to the Padres in exchange for six players—the rookies, CJ Abrams (shortstop, age 21) and Mackenzie Gore (left-handed pitcher, 23, who remained on the injured list throughout August); prospects, Robert Hassell III (outfielder, 20), James Wood (outfielder, 19), and Jarlin Susana (right-handed pitcher, 18); and veteran first baseman, Luke Voit. The only other pre-deadline trade that Mike Rizzo was able to make sent Ehire Adrianza to the Braves. Presumably, none of the other veteran players under contract to the Nats were of interest to contending teams, which was a sad comment on the state of the team’s roster.

What changes did the Nats make to fill in behind the lost players and re-form their roster? Luke Voit, a 31-year-old slugger who was the 2020 home run champion while playing for the Yankees, took over at first base with occasional games as DH. Joey Meneses, a 30-year-old who had played in the minors since 2011 in the Braves, Phillies, and Red Sox systems along with a season in Japan, made his major league debut on August 2 and became a regular playing in right field or at first base. Ildemaro Vargas, a 31-year-old utility infielder who had played for four previous major league teams and had signed a minor league contract with the Nats in May after the Cubs designated him for assignment, took over for Adrianza. He soon became a regular (something he had never really managed to do in five previous seasons), mostly playing third base. Later in the month, Luis Garcia went on the injured list, and Abrams took over at shortstop. When Garcia came off the IL, he moved to second base. Late in the month, the Nats’ top pitching prospect, Cade Cavalli, made his major league debut, though he soon afterward went on the IL. Josh Palacios (a 27-year-old outfielder who the Nats had selected off waivers in April from the Blue Jays) was called up. During August, two additional players were claimed off waivers and joined the team—Alex Call, a 27-year-old outfielder from the Guardians, and Jake McGee, a 36-year-old left-handed relief pitcher from the Brewers—a 13-season veteran with 5 major league teams. Meanwhile several players departed the team, including Tanner Rainey (who underwent Tommy John surgery and will be out for a year), Yadiel Hernandez (who went on the 60-day IL with a left calf strain), Josh Rogers (who was designated for assignment, granted free agency, and signed with the Marlins), Tyler Clippard (who was designated for assignment and granted free agency), and Dee Strange-Gordon, Alcides Escobar, and Maikel Franco (who were all released).

In their first post-Soto game, the Nats managed to beat the Mets, who were starting Jacob DeGrom in his first start after a long stint on the injured list, 5 to 1. The next day, the Mets took the final game to win the series. For the home stand, the Nats were 2–4.

Their road trip began with a four-game series in Philadelphia, which the Phillies swept. The first loss was 5 to 4 loss in a rain-shorted five-inning game, but the later losses came by larger margins, culminating in a 13–1 rout in the final game of the series. That was followed by a three game series against the Cubs in Chicago, which the Nats lost two games to one, giving them a 1–6 record on the road trip.

Returning home, the Nats faced the Padres and welcomed back Soto and Bell. The two former stars helped the visitors beat the Nats two games to one. The Nats next hosted the Cubs, and lost the series to the North Siders two games to one, giving the Nats a 2–4 record for the home stand.

Next came a west coast trip, where the Nats played four games against the Padres followed by two  against the Mariners—both of whom were in playoff contention. The Nats split both series, winning the first two games against the Padres and the second game against the Mariners. In all three victories, the Nats entered the top of the ninth with the game tied and managed to score some runs to give them the win. All of their losses were close games (scores of 2 to 1 in both losses to the Padres, and a score of 4 to 2 in the loss to the Mariners).

Returning home, the Nats finished the month with a three game series against the Reds, followed by the first two of a three-game series against the A’s.  They lost the Reds series, two games to one, and split the first two games of the series against the A’s.

In their victory against the Reds, Patrick Corbin was able to snap a rather ignominious record that was set by the team’s starters. Nationals’ starters had managed to go 43 consecutive games without recording a win—far surpassing the previous record winless streak of 35 games, which was held by the 1949 Senators. Of course, this is the kind of record for which the starters do not bear full responsibility. During the 43 game span running from July 7 to August 27, offensive support was extremely weak, with the Nats averaging only 3.28 runs per game. The Nats scored 5 or more runs in only 11 of the 43 games. Bad relief pitching also contributed, with Nats relievers recording 25 meltdowns during the span. And of course, the team’s starting pitchers were, themselves, pretty awful, recording a 6.74 ERA over the span.  A game score of 50 or better represents a starter performance that merits a win. The Nats’ average game score over the span was 42.2, and it reached 50 in only 11 of the 43 starts.

Despite the awful overall statistics, the Nationals showed some bright spots this month. One might argue that at least for this one month, the substitution of Meneses and Voit for Soto and Bell didn’t hurt the team statistically. Meneses hit .333/.367/.591 with 6 home runs (0.7 fWAR), compared to Soto’s .256/.413/.427 with 3 home runs (0.5 fWAR) with the Padres. And while Voit hitting only .218/.299/.410 with 5 home runs (0.1 fWAR) with the Nats may have been disappointing, it still exceeded Bell’s .185/.318/.293 with 2 home runs (–0.2 fWAR) with the Padres. The addition of Vargas and Abrams vastly improved the Nats’ defense on the left side of the infield. And by the last half of August, the Nats’ starting pitching was getting better, with an average game score of 50.6 from August 15 to 31 and game scores of at least 50 in 8 of those 14 starts.

Record:

9–18 (.333)

Pythagorean Record:

8–19 (3.41 R/G – 5.19 RA/G)

August MVP:

Ildemaro Vargas (.325/.369/.494, 3 HR, 8 R, 8 RBI, 140 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR). His strong defense and clutch hitting gave him the edge over Joey Meneses (.333/.367/.591, 6 HR, 16 R, 11 RBI, 165 wRC+, 0.7 fWAR).

In his second week in the majors, Meneses actually had a good case for winning NL Player of the Week, though the award wound up going to Manny Machado. For the week of August 8 to 14, Meneses led the majors in average (.550), home runs (4), slugging percentage (1.150), wRC+ (373), and fWAR (0.7). But while Machado’s .429 average, 2 home runs, and .821 slugging were well behind Meneses, he led the Nats rookie in RBIs 10 to 6, and in runs 7 to 6, and was able to beat Meneses for the award. 

Pitcher of the month:

Kyle Finnegan (3–0, 1.50 RA/9, 11 G, 12 IP, 9.0 K/9, .298 opp OBP, 5.38 RE24, 0.7 RA9-WAR, 7 shutdowns, 1 meltdown)

Starter of the month:

Anibal Sanchez (1–2, 4.11 RA/9, 6 GS, 30⅔ IP, 5.6 K/9, .328 opp OBP, 0.5 RA9-WAR). While his first three starts weren’t good, over the last three he was looking like the pitcher we remember from 2019.

Worst month:

Shared by Steve Cishek (0–2, 9.90 RA/9, 13 G, 10 IP, 12.6 K/9, .408 opp OBP, –8.33 RE24, –0.5 RA9-WAR, 1 shutdown, 6 meltdowns) and Victor Arano (1–1, 9.22 RA/9, 14 G, 13⅔ IP, 9.9 K/9, .388 opp OBP, –9.13 RE24, –0.6 RA9-WAR, 2 shutdowns, 4 meltdowns).

Best start this month:

Anibal Sanchez (August 31, 5–1 win over the A’s at home) pitched 7 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and 3 walks and striking out 4 for a game score of 68.

Worst start:

Shared by Patrick Corbin (August 6, 11–5 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia), who gave up 6 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks in ⅔ inning, with no strike outs, for a game score of 16; and Cory Abbott (August 7, 13–1 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia), who gave up 7 runs on 7 hits and 5 walks in 3⅔ innings, while striking out 2, for a game score of 16.

Tough losses:

  • Erick Fedde (August 23, 4–2 loss to the Mariners in Seattle) gave up 2 runs on 3 hits and 1 walk in 5 innings, while striking out 6, for a game score of 58.

Cheap wins:

  • None

Biggest shutdown:

Carl Edwards, Jr. (August 9, 6–5 win over the Cubs in Chicago) came into the game in the bottom of the eighth with two outs, a runner on second, and a 6–5 lead. He struck out Willson Contreras to get out of the inning. He came back for the ninth, got a strikeout, then gave up a single to Seiya Suzuki, who was caught stealing. After giving up a walk, he got his third strikeout to end the game. (Win probability added/WPA +.302)

Worst meltdown:

Steve Cishek (August 10, 4–2 loss to the Cubs in Chicago). The Nats were ahead 2–1 in the bottom of the seventh with one out and a runner on first when Cishek got the call to replace Josiah Gray. He gave up a walk, followed by an RBI single and a sacrifice fly. When he was lifted from the game after facing three batters, the Nats were trailing 3–2. (WPA –.416)

Clutch hit:

Joey Meneses (August 9, 6–5 win over the Cubs in Chicago). The Nats were trailing 5–4 in the bottom of the eighth, with two outs and a runner on first. Meneses lofted a home run past the ivy in left field to give the Nats a one-run lead. (WPA +.516)

Choke:

Maikel Franco (August 20, 2–1 loss to the Padres in San Diego). With one out in the top of the ninth, runners on first and second, and the Nats trailing 2 to 1, Franco got the call to pinch hit for Victor Robles. He hit a soft liner toward the first baseman. The runners froze, and first baseman Drury backed up a step to let the ball bounce. Drury then fired to second to get the force out, and the throw then went to third to tag the runner and get the double play. I’m not quite sure why the infield fly rule wasn’t written to cover this case, but the game was over. (WPA –.272) That turned out to be Franco’s last appearance in a game for the Nats, as he was released six days later.

Memorable hits:

Memorable fielding plays:

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