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October 12, 2021 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ September in review: ‘They battled all year long’

The Nationals finished the season that none of us anticipated, going 10-21 in September and the first three days of October to end the season in last place in the National League East with a 65–97 record. (In the rest of this article, I will refer to the “month of September” as including all of the regular season games played in September and the first three days of October.)

While I can’t say that the Nats were playing quality baseball, the month did have its high points. Juan Soto led the majors in monthly WAR (Fangraphs version) with 2.2. His .545 monthly on-base percentage was the highest by any MLB player since July 2016, when Votto had a .549 OBP. Beyond that, the Nats played an unusual number of exciting, closely fought games. Five games went to extra innings; six were decided with walk-off runs. Eleven games were determined by a margin of a single run. And in 18 of the 31 games, the win or loss was assigned to a relief pitcher, mostly indicating games where the lead changed after the starter left the game. Unfortunately for the Nats, most of these walk-offs and bullpen games were won by their opponents, but at least the Nats’ offense kept things competitive.

While the new limits on roster size have cut back on September call-ups, several players debuted with the Nationals this month. Relief pitcher Alberto Baldonado, age 28, was a minor league free agent who made his major league debut on September 2 and pitched 14 games by the end of the season. Starting pitcher Josh Rogers, age 27, was signed by the Nats in June after the Orioles had released him. He moved directly into the rotation beginning September 4 and made six starts for the Nats. Finally, starting pitcher Joan Adon, age 23, made his MLB debut on October 3, the last day of the season. Adon has been with the Nats’ organization since signing in the Dominican Republic in 2016.

September began with the Nats at home playing the final game of a three-game set against the Phillies—they had lost the first two. It was rained out on the first, but the teams played it on the second. The Nats led 6 to 0 after five innings and 6 to 3 after seven, but the bullpen and sloppy defense gave up the lead for a 7 to 6 loss, giving the Phillies a sweep.

Next came five games in four days against the Mets. In the opener, the Nats scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie it, but lost the game in the tenth. The next day there was a doubleheader. In the first game, the Nats came all the way back from a 9–0 deficit to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh and send it to extra innings, but ultimately lost 11–9. Behind newcomer Rogers, they came back to win the second game and split the doubleheader. The next game was tied 6–6 going into the eighth when the bullpen fell apart for a 13–6 loss. In the final game, the Nats were trailing 3–2 going into the bottom of ninth, but scored the tying and winning runs on singles by Andrew Stevenson and Carter Kieboom, ending the series with the Mets taking three of five. The Nats were 2–6 on the home stand.

The next road trip began in Atlanta. In the first game, the Nats rallied in the seventh, scoring four runs to tie the game 5 to 5, only to see the bullpen give up the go-ahead runs in an 8 to 5 loss. In the ninth inning, Braves’ closer Will Smith hit Soto with a pitch that the Nats players thought was intentional. So in the second game, Nats’ starter Sean Nolin was ejected after retaliating against Freddie Freeman, leaving it to the bullpen to get 26 outs. The bullpen held up and the Nats got a 4 to 2 win, but the next night the extra work caught up with them when they lost 7 to 6 in 10 innings.

The next stop was a three game series in Pittsburgh. In the first game, the bullpen failed again, getting walked off after the Nats went into the bottom of the ninth with a 3 to 2 lead. They split the next two games with the Pirates and ended the road trip with a 2–4 record.

In the next home stand, the Nats lost two of three to the Marlins. In the third game, the Nats took a 6 to 4 lead into the ninth but gave up four runs to lose 8 to 6. They then lost two of three to the Rockies. In the first game, they took an 8 to 7 lead into the ninth but gave up two runs for the loss in the game that officially eliminated them from any post-season possibility.

Their final road trip began with a three-game series in Miami. In the first game, the bullpen gave up a three run lead, sending the game into the 10th inning with the score tied 7 to 7. In the top of the 10th, a couple of base running errors kept the Nats from scoring. Luis Garcia was the designed runner and Lane Thomas led off with a double to right field. But Garcia went back to second to tag and thus failed to score the go-ahead run. I’ll describe the other basepath blunder below in the section entitled “Choke.” In the bottom of the inning, the Marlins got a walk-off win after scoring their designated runner on a stolen base and a wild pitch. The Nats won the next two games to win the series.

The next stop was Cincinnati, where the Nats won the first game, then dropped three in a row, with the losses in games two and three coming as walk offs. The road trip ended with three games in Colorado. The Nats won the first game, then dropped the next two, with the final game a six-hour marathon (four hours of playing time interrupted by a two-hour rain delay). They were 4–6 on the road trip.

The final three game series came at home against the Red Sox, who were desperately fighting for a playoff spot. Nationals Park was packed with some of the largest crowds of the season. The Red Sox mostly pitched around Juan Soto and won the first game and were leading the Nats 1 to 0 in the second game going into the bottom of the eighth. But then the Nats managed to load the bases, bringing Soto up with one out and the Sox needing to throw him strikes. The crowd cheered when Soto sent a fly into deep center field, but he didn’t get all of it and the Nats had to settle for a game-tying sacrifice fly. In the top of the ninth, though, the Nats’ bullpen gave up four runs, and the Nats’ two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth fell short in their 5 to 3 loss. After battling all month with the Marlins for fourth place, the Nats slipped into last place in the division.

Next came the final game of the season. Adon pitched well in his major league debut, and the Nats took a 5 to 2 lead into the seventh inning. Then the bullpen failed again, allowing the Sox to tie it in the seventh and take a 7 to 5 lead in the ninth. Davey Martinez started Alex Avila (who had previously announced his retirement) and Ryan Zimmerman (who hasn’t announced his plans for next season). He lifted the players late in the game, giving the capacity crowd an opportunity to give each of them a heartfelt standing ovation. The Red Sox clinched their wild card spot while the Nats headed into the hot stove league.

During September/October, the Nationals continued to hit well. Their .260 batting average ranked fourth in the National League, their .352 on-base percentage ranked second, and their .422 slugging percentage ranked seventh. The comprehensive offensive metric, weighted runs created (wRC+) was 107, ranking fifth in the NL. Base running, however, was a problem—according to Fangraphs they were 5.1 base-running runs below average in the month, which was last in the NL.

Pitching—especially relief pitching—was the Nats’ big problem. The starters’ ERA in August was 4.66, ranking 8th of the 15 NL teams. The starters’ fielding independent pitching (FIP) was 5.11, which ranked 11th. The relievers were worse. Their ERA was 6.27, ranking last in the NL, as was their 5.64 FIP. The relief corps was charged with 16 losses and 12 blown saves, with both totals leading all of MLB. The relievers had 37 meltdowns—by far the most in the majors—and managed 26 shutdowns (12th in the NL). The starting pitching was mediocre, but the relief pitching was awful.


10–21 (.323)

Pythagorean Record:

13–18 (4.74 R/G – 5.71 RA/G)

September MVP:

Juan Soto (.373/.545/.637, 7 HR, 23 R, 24 RBI, 203 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR).  With a strong final month, Soto ended the year as a solid MVP candidate, leading the National League position players in Baseball-Reference WAR for the year while tied for second in the FanGraphs version of WAR. As of September 23, Soto looked like he was headed for a truly historic month (and possibly winning the batting championship) with a slash line in the month’s first 22 games of .473/.608/.838. But his batting fell to earth during his last nine games (.107/.395/.107), which might turn out to cost him the MVP award.

Most valuable pitcher:

Josh Rogers (2–2, 3.28 RA/9, 6 GS, 35⅔ IP, 5.6 K/9, .320 opp OBP, 1.1 RA9-WAR). I’m kind of skeptical that Rogers will be able to maintain his effectiveness as the league adjusts, but at least for this month his work was a pleasant surprise.

Most valuable relief pitcher:

This month figuring out the best relief pitcher seems like an intractable problem, but I’ll go with Tanner Rainey (0–1, 6.35 RA/9, 6 G. 5⅔ IP, 17.5 K/9, .292 opp OBP, 0.17 RE24, –0.1 RA9-WAR, 2 shutdowns, 1 meltdown). I’ll admit the statistics don’t really support this award, but when he started striking out a lot of opposing batters after missing the first half of the month, it seemed to me that he had regained some of his promise.

Worst month:

Carter Kieboom (.175/.254/.204, 0 HR, 9 R, 4 RBI, 27 G, 24 wRC+, –1.0 fWAR). He seems to be rapidly playing himself out of a job. Several pitchers also had really bad months—Alberto Baldonado (8.44 RA/9, 6 meltdowns, 4 blown saves), Erick Fedde (1–0, 8.88 RA/9), Kyle Finnegan (1–4, 7.71 RA/9, 4 meltdowns, 2 blown saves), and Austin Voth (9.53 RA/9, 3 meldowns, 2 blown saves).

Best start this month:

Josh Rogers (September 15, 8–6 loss to the Marlins at home) pitched 5 scoreless innings on 1 hit and 1 walk and striking out 6 for a game score of 70.

Worst starts:

A tie between Erick Fedde (September 4, 11–9 loss to the Mets at home) who gave up 7 runs on 9 hits and 1 walk in 3 innings with 2 strikeouts, for a game score of 20, and Patrick Corbin (September 18, 6–0 loss to the Rockies at home) who gave up 6 runs on 10 hits and 3 walks in 4 innings with 5 strikeouts, also for a game score of 20.

Tough losses:

  • Paolo Espino (September 13, 3–0 loss to the Marlins at home) gave up 1 run on 6 hits and 3 walks in 6 innings, while striking out 6, for a game score of 59.
  • Patrick Corbin (September 28, 3–1 loss to the Rockies in Denver) gave up 2 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks in 6 innings, while striking out 9, for a game score of 58.

Cheap win:

  • Josiah Gray (September 27, 5–4 win over the Rockies in Denver) gave up 3 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks in 5⅓ innings, while striking out 4, for a game score of 49.

Best shutdown:

Alberto Baldonado (September 4, 11–9 win over the Mets at home). It was the first game of a double header when Baldonado got the call to pitch in the top of the seventh, the Nats trailing 9 to 7. It was Baldonado’s second major league appearance. He retired the side, and the Nats scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to send it to extra innings. In the eighth, the Mets of course had a designated runner at second. Baldonado got a fly ball to left, a strikeout, and a pop fly to keep the Mets scoreless (Win probability added/WPA +.325). In the ninth Kyle Finnegan gave up a leadoff two-run home run, and the Nats remained scoreless in the bottom of the inning for the loss.

Worst meltdown:

Kyle Finnegan (September 15, 8–6 loss to the Marlins at home). In the top of the eighth, the Nats were ahead 5 to 4. There were two outs and a runner had just reach first base when Finnegan got the call for a four-out save. He got a strikeout to end the inning, and the Nats got an insurance run from a solo Josh Bell homer in the bottom of the inning. In the top of the ninth, Finnegan gave up a walk, a single, a wild pitch (advancing the runners to second and third), and a one-run single. With the Nats’ lead down to one run and runners at the corners, Finnegan got a grounder for the first out. He then got another ground out, but it scored the runner from third, tying the game. With two outs, the next batter, Jesus Sanchez, hit a home run putting the Marlins ahead 8 to 6. He then gave up another double before getting the final out. He faced nine batters and gave up 4 hits (including a home run) and a walk. (WPA –.767)

Clutch hit:

Riley Adams (September 3, 6–2 loss to the Mets at home). In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats were trailing 2 to 1 with one out and Andrew Stevenson on first when Adams came to bat. He doubled to right-center, driving in Stevenson to tie the game, and advanced to third on a bad throw. (WPA +.614) The Nats were unable to score him, though, and the Mets scored four in the top of the tenth to win the game.


Josh Bell (September 20, 8–7 loss to the Marlins in Miami). In the top of the tenth with the score tied 7 to 7, the Nats had loaded the bases with one out. Josh Bell grounded sharply to the first baseman, who threw out Luis Garcia at home. The catcher then tried throwing to first for the double play, but his bad throw hit Bell in the back as he was stepping through the bag. The umpire ruled Bell out on interference for running inside the base line—the same play that nabbed Trea Turner in Game Six of the 2019 World Series. (WPA –.357)

Favorite defensive plays:

  • Lane Thomas covered a lot of ground and made a sliding catch to rob Lindor of a hit.
  • Josh Rogers chased down a ball hit along the first base line, then made a glove flip to just beat out the runner.
  • Alcides Escobar made a diving stop and a quick throw to get the lead runner at second.

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.


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.


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:

September 1, 2021 / Nat Anacostia

Delay for August in review post

The Nationals went 7-20 in August, their worst monthly record since April 2009.

I’m traveling now, so the regular month in review post will be delayed until sometime after Labor Day.

August 2, 2021 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ July in review: Today is heart wrenching as we say goodbye

Nationals fans couldn’t be blamed for feeling optimistic as July began. After a strong winning record in June, the Nats were in second place, only two games behind the division-leading Mets. A tough spell was ahead, as they faced 14 consecutive games against the three teams with the best records in the National League—the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants, all playing in the NL West. But the Nats had just won three games against the Mets and the Rays, so they seemed set to compete against the best teams in their league. Quickly, their hopes were dashed as several Nats players were injured and their pitching was unable to constrain the NL West offenses. The Nats finished the month going 8–18 (their worst monthly record since June 2010), dropping them to fourth place, 7½ games back. And as the July 30 trade deadline approached, Mike Rizzo and the Lerners raised the white flag of surrender and traded away not only seven players who were entering free agency at the end of the year, but also Trea Turner, who had another year left on his contract. The message was clear that management doesn’t expect the team to be competitive again until at least 2023. The fans will have to be content cheering a team consisting largely of players who were recently in the minors.

July began with a four game series against the Dodgers in Washington. The lineup for the first game brought some surprising and unwelcome news. Turner and Jordy Mercer were both injured—Turner had injured his finger while sliding into third to complete his cycle on June 30, which would keep him out of the lineup for four games, and Mercer would go on the injured list with a quad strain. Bizarrely, all of the minor league infielders on the 40-man roster were also injured, so the Nats had to start backup catcher Alex Avila at second base for the first time in his career. Avila finished the game (which lasted only five innings due to thunder storms)  but injured himself and spent the rest of the month on the IL. The Nats lost that game. The next night they added minor league journeyman Humberto Arteaga to the 40-man roster and activated him to play one game at shortstop. Max Scherzer pitched well and left the game after six with the Nats ahead 3 to 1, but the bullpen collapsed and the Dodgers won it 10 to 5. Even worse, Kyle Schwarber had to leave what would be his last game as a National with a hamstring injury. The next night, a more permanent infield solution appeared when the Nats purchased the contract of Alcides Escobar from the Royals. Escobar hadn’t played in the majors since 2018, but he filled in admirably all month. But the Dodgers won the next two games, sweeping the series.

The Dodgers series was followed by a road trip to the west coast, where the Nats played four games against the Padres followed by three against the Giants. Joe Ross went on the IL with right elbow inflamation, but the team was buoyed by the return of Turner to the lineup and of pitchers Erick Fedde, Kyle Finnegan, and Daniel Hudson from the IL. They played more competitively against the Padres, winning two of the first three games, including a 15 to 5 trouncing of the Padres in Game 3. The finale appeared to be headed the same direction as the Nats had Scherzer pitching and took an 8 to 0 lead in the top of the fourth. But it quickly fell apart, as Max gave up 7 runs while recording only two outs in the bottom of the inning. The Nats were unable to add on and lost the game 9 to 8 in 10 innings. The series in San Francisco began inauspiciously as Yan Gomes suffered an oblique strain that would leave him on the IL for three weeks. Tres Barrera took over as catcher, and Jakson Reetz made his major league debut, appearing in two games before the Nats signed veteran Rene Rivera as a backup catcher. The Nats lost all three games against the Giants and fell to fourth place in the division. By this point, it was clear that the team would probably be sellers at the fast approaching trade deadline.

The season paused for the All-Star Game. Four Nats were selected, with Max Scherzer making his fourth All-Star Game start and Trea Turner and Juan Soto also playing, while the injured Kyle Schwarber had to watch the game from the dugout. Soto put on a show in the home run derby, battling and ultimately beating Shohei Ohtani in the first round when it went to a three-swing swing-off, before falling to the winner, Pete Alonso, in the semifinal round. In the major league draft, the Nats had the 11th overall pick and selected high school shortstop Brady House.

After the break, news came that Starlin Castro had been placed on administrative leave while the league investigated an allegation of domestic violence. Ultimately, the league decided to suspend Castro for 30 games and the Nats announced that they would release him at the end of his suspension. The Nats opened a three game series at home against the Padres by being thrashed, 24 to 8, the most runs given up by the Nats in club history. The next night, the game was suspended in the sixth inning after gunshots rang out, causing players and fans to scurry for cover. There was a shooting on South Capitol Street, just outside the stadium, and three people were shot, including one woman who had just exited the stadium and was waiting for an Uber. The game was finished the next day, with the Nats losing, though they were able to win the finale on a walkoff hit by Escobar. Next came a three game series against the fifth place Marlins. The Nats won the first two games, but lost the last one in the 10th inning, giving them a 3–3 record for the home stand.

The Nats next went to Baltimore to play the Orioles, who had the second-worst record in baseball. Fans hoped that if the Nats could sweep the series, they might decide to be buyers rather than sellers at the deadline, but it was not to be. The Nats lost all three games, including an excruciating blown save and Oriole walkoff in the third game, where the Nats held a 4 to 3 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. The pattern was repeated the next night in Philadelphia, where the Nats opened a four-game series with another blown save/walkoff loss, this time after leading 5 to 3 going into the bottom of the ninth. Closer Brad Hand was responsible for both blown saves. 

The next day brought more bad news. Stephen Strasburg, who had pitched only five games this season, would have to have thoracic outlet surgery, shutting him down for at least a year. And while the Nats were able to win the second game against the Phillies, Turner had to be pulled from the game (his last in a Nationals uniform) due to a positive covid test. The next night’s game was postponed as players and staff were tested and three additional players, as well as eight team staff members (including most of the coaches), were quarantined due to positive tests.

The postponed game was played the next day (July 29) as part of a doubleheader. Before the first game, news came that Hand had been dealt to the Blue Jays. Scherzer pitched the first game, giving up one run in six innings for his final Nats win. He finished with a 92–47 record in 189 regular season starts, 1,610 strikeouts, and a 2.80 ERA (151 ERA+) in 1,229 innings as a National. Gomes, returning from the IL, hit a homer for the Nats to go ahead in the top of the seventh, and Finnegan got his first save in the bottom of the inning. But the Nats’ bullpen problems were back on display in the second game of the doubleheader, when the Nats took 7–0 lead in the top of the third and still had a 7–4 lead going into the bottom of the seventh, but gave up three runs, sending the game to extra innings, and another four runs in the eighth for an 11–8 loss. The Nats had gone 2–5 on their road trip.

That evening after the games, news of more trades came in.  Scherzer and Turner (!) were going to the Dodgers in exchange for four prospects. The prospects included the Dodgers’ top two prospects, who immediately became the Nats’ top two prospects—catcher Keibert Ruiz and right-handed pitcher Josiah Gray. Schwarber was traded to the Red Sox and Hudson to the Padres. The next day, we learned that Gomes and Josh Harrison were going to the Athletics and Jon Lester to the Cardinals before the 4 pm trade deadline. In all, eight veteran players, including three all-stars and four veterans of the 2019 championship team, were exchanged for 12 prospects, six of whom immediately were rated among the Nats’ top 16 prospects.  

The month finished with the new, younger Nationals splitting the first two games of a three game series against the Cubs at home. Many of the starters had been playing for Rochester or Harrisburg earlier in the month. Relief pitcher Gabe Klobosits made his major league debut on the 30th.

How to explain the Nationals’ poor record? Their losses in July mostly reflected deficiencies in their pitching, both among their starters and relievers. The  starting pitchers’ ERA of 5.50 during July ranked 12th among the 15 NL teams. One way to assess starting pitchers is to look at their game scores. A game score of 50 or above means that the starter has pitched well enough to give the team a good opportunity to win. Nats’ starters had game scores of 50+ in only 12 of their 26 starts this month. (In the old days when Nats had one of the best starting rotations, this standard was usually reached in about 75 to 80% of their starts.)  The relief staff’s performance was pretty awful. Their ERA of 6.55 in July was the worst among all 30 MLB teams.. Their 23 meltdowns was third most, and their WPA of –3.85 was the worst in baseball.

The offense, on the other hand, did pretty well. Their batting average of .275 during July led the majors, and their on-base percentage of .348 was second behind the Brewers. Their slugging percentage of .450 ranked third in the NL, and they ranked fourth in the comprehensive offensive metric of weighted runs created (wRC+) with 112. But the offense did not make up for the team’s awful pitching. 


8–18 (.308)

Pythagorean Record:

10–16 (5.19 R/G – 6.35 RA/G)

July MVP:

Juan Soto (.356/.487/.689, 9 HR, 24 R, 22 RBI, 205 wRC+, 1.7 fWAR).  After a somewhat disappointing first half of the season, Soto returned to MVP-level play in July, tying with Manny Machado for the MLB lead in fWAR for the month. 

Most valuable pitcher:

Kyle Finnegan (0–0, 1.54 RA/9, 11 G, 11⅔ IP, 7.7 K/9, .273 opp OBP, 2.11 RE24, 0.6 RA9-WAR, 7 shutdowns, 1 meltdown). Honorable mention goes to Ryne Harper (0–0, 1.00 RA/9, 7 G, 9 IP, .229 opp OBP, 3.73 RE24, 0.3 RA9-WAR, 0 shutdowns, 0 meltdowns), who never had the opportunity to pitch in high leverage innings.

Most valuable starting pitcher:

In a surprise, the honor this time goes to Paolo Espino (1–0, 3.86 RA/9, 5 GS. 23⅓ IP, 6.9 K/9, .306 opp OBP, 0.5 RA9-WAR). He didn’t always pitch great, but he usually gave the Nats a chance to win.

Worst month:

When a team goes 8–18 there are going to be lots of candidates here. I’ve decided to call this a tie among three middle relievers: Sam Clay (0–4, 11.57 RA/9, 13 G, 9⅓ IP, 4.8 K/9, –6.20 RE24, –0.8 RA-9 WAR, 2 shutdowns, 4 meltdowns), Wander Suero (2–1, 12.66 RA/9, 10 G, 10⅔ IP, 9.3 K/9, –7.96 RE24, –0.8 RA-9 WAR, 2 shutdowns, 3 meltdowns), and Austin Voth (1–0, 15.43 RA/9, 8 G, 7 IP, 7.7 K/9, –10.22 RE24, –0.9 RA-9 WAR, 1 shutdowns, 4 meltdowns). If I gave more weight in this category to performance in high leverage situations, though, the distinction would go to Brad Hand (–1.93 WPA, 5 meltdowns). Let me also mention Patrick Corbin, Erick Fedde, Jon Lester, Victor Robles, and Ryan Zimmerman, all of whom played poorly enough to have qualified in a less awful month.

Best start this month:

Jon Lester (July 19, 18–1 win over the Marlins at home) pitched 7 scoreless innings, giving up 6 hits and no walks and striking out 7 for a game score of 72. And for good measure, he hit 2 for 3 with a home run and 2 RBIs. I did a post about this start and how well Lester has pitched with long rest.

Worst start:

Jon Lester (July 10, 10–4 loss to the Giants in San Francisco) gave up 8 runs (3 earned) on 9 hits and 2 walks in 2⅔ innings with 1 strikeout, for a game score of 17.

Tough losses:

  • Joe Ross (July 4, 5–1 loss to the Dodgers at home) gave up 3 runs on 7 hits and 0 walks in 6⅔ innings, while striking out 11, for a game score of 59.
  • Jon Lester (July 24, 5–3 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore) gave up 3 runs on 3 hits and 1 walk in 5 innings, while striking out 2, for a game score of 50.

Cheap win:

  • None

Best shutdown:

Daniel Hudson (July 25, 5–4 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore). Hudson came in to replace Finnegan with two outs in the bottom of the 7th, a runner on first, and the Nats ahead 4 to 3. He got a strikeout to end the inning. In the eighth, he gave up two singles, then got a double play and a strikeout to get out of trouble, allowing the Nationals to go into the ninth with their lead intact  (Win probability added/WPA +.197) In the ninth inning, however, Hand would surrender the lead and give up the winning run.

Worst meltdown:

Brad Hand (July 26, 6–5 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). Hand, having already blown a save the previous day, got the call again in the bottom of the ninth with the Nats holding a 5 to 3 lead. He gave up a leadoff double to Segura and a wild pitch that advanced him to third. He struck out Realmuto, but walked Harper, putting the tying run on base. The next batter, McCutchen, hit a walk-off home run. (WPA –.909)

Clutch hit:

Juan Soto (July 18, 8–7 win over the Padres at home). In the bottom of the eighth, Soto came to bat with one out, the Nats trailing 6 to 5, and Turner on second. On a 3–2 count, he launched a fastball over the left field fence, putting the Nats ahead 7 to 6 (WPA +.487).  The Padres would tie it in the top of the ninth before Escobar hit a walk-off single in the ninth.


Gerardo Parra (July 9, 5–3 loss to the Giants in San Francisco). Parra  came to bat with one out in the top of the eighth, the bases loaded, and the Nats trailing 5 to 3. He grounded into a double play. (WPA –.254)

Favorite defensive plays:

July 22, 2021 / Nat Anacostia

On Jon Lester, Ted Lyons, and pitching on six days rest

On Monday Jon Lester pitched by far his best game of the season—7 shutout innings, allowing 6 hits and no walks, while striking out 7. Due to the All-Star break, he was also pitching on eight days rest.

I decided to check Lester’s splits for pitching on days rest. Here are his splits for 2019 through 2021:

4 Days Rest8116.7728135.71.754.812.
5 Days Rest653.9819104.01.465.
6+ Days Rest511.561057.70.995.

That’s a pretty dramatic set of numbers! In 10 starts on six or more days rest, Lester looks like a Cy Young contender. In 19 starts on five days rest, he’s about a league average pitcher. And in 28 starts on four days rest, he doesn’t look like he belongs on a major league staff.

Could this just be random (luck)? Well one set of numbers does give me pause—his strikeout numbers are actually lower with more rest. That suggests that balls in play are a pretty important factor, and we know that we should always assume that hits on balls in play are mostly random. But his walks and home runs are much lower with 6+ days of rest, which suggests that it’s not entirely balls in play.

Now let me tell the story of Ted Lyons, who pitched for the Chicago White Sox from 1923 to 1946. With a 260–230 career record and 118 career ERA+, he has sometimes been criticized as a weak Hall of Famer, though I think he was ultimately deserving of the honor. What’s always been interesting to me is his notable improvement late in his career 

From 1935 to 1938 (ages 34 to 37) Lyons was a good pitcher. His 3.98 ERA for those years was from a high scoring league, so his ERA+ was a very respectable 122. But from 1939 to to 1942 (ages 38 through 41), Lyons reached a new level. His ERA fell to 2.96, his ERA+ rose to 143, and his record was 52–30. During those years he won the ERA title one season, had the league’s lowest walk rate for three seasons, the best strikeout/walk ratio in two seasons, led the league in shutouts one season, and led the league in FIP and WHIP for one season each (not that anyone would have known what those meant in 1939).  I don’t think he would have made the Hall of Fame without his late career surge in performance.

What makes that even more interesting is that during those last four seasons, Lyons was used mostly as a “Sunday pitcher.” That is, most of his starts were made on Sundays, pitching on six days rest. The longer rest seems to have rejuvenated his career. In his Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James wrote “I still think the use of an older pitcher on a regular once-a-week basis makes all the sense in the world. If you’ve got a pitcher who knows enough to get by without beating himself, if you give him a couple of extra days to come back from the last outing and get ready for the next one, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to give you fifteen good outings out of twenty starts.”

Is this a schedule that would work for Lester? Of course, if the Nats were to move Lester to a once-a-week schedule, they would need an occasional sixth starter. But guess what? When Stephen Strasburg and/or Joe Ross come back, the Nationals will have five or even six starters (if you count Paolo Espino, which I would) all of whom have been pitching better than Lester. I think they should try moving Lester to a once-a-week schedule and see if his performance improves. There doesn’t seem much to lose.

While I do favor trying Lester on a once-a-week schedule, I wouldn’t have his regular start come on Sundays. Back in 2012 when we were hoping that the Nats could keep Strasburg in the rotation long enough for the post-season, I recommended that he pitch once-a-week on Fridays. But well-known baseball blogger Tangotiger examined the options and found that Saturdays would work best in terms of causing the least disruption to the scheduled starts of the other pitchers in the rotation.

I’d love to see if Lester could revive his career as a “Saturday pitcher.” 

July 3, 2021 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ June in review: ‘I want to play stupid’

At the beginning of June, the Nationals had a 21–29 record and were in last place in the NL East, 7 games behind the division-leading Mets. There was already speculation about which players would be traded before the deadline. The team’s fortunes continued to decline during the first 12 days of June, as they went 5–6 and successively lost Stephen Strasburg, Austin Voth, Daniel Hudson, and Max Scherzer to injuries. Then the wheel of fortune began to turn. Kyle Schwarber started hitting home runs almost daily. The starting pitchers pitched well. Players like Josh Bell and Starlin Castro who had been struggling at the plate began hitting. And the Nats began winning close games. From June 13 through 30, the Nats went 14–3, making their record for the full month 19–9. They finished the month with a 40–38 record and in second place, only 2 games behind the Mets.

On June 1 the Nats were in Atlanta, having lost the first game of a four-game series with the Braves. Strasburg had to be pulled in the second inning and would spend the rest of the month on the injured list with a neck strain, but the Nats won 11 to 6. The next night the Nats won a close game, but they lost the finale and split the series.

Their next stop was Philadelphia, where the Nats won one of three games against the Phillies. In the first game, Scherzer pitched well enough for the Nats to win despite scoring only two runs, but the Nats lost the next two. In the finale, Voth, who was making his first start of the season, was struck in the face by a pitch in his first batting appearance, breaking his nose. The bullpen had to finish the game, and they gave up 12 runs in a 12–6 Nats loss. The road trip concluded in Tampa Bay, where the Nats split a two-game series. In the last game, the team had to battle back again and again to finally win in the 11th inning, and Tanner Rainey got his first career save. The Nats’ record on the road trip was 4–5.

Returning home, the Nats had a four-game series against the Giants, who had the best record in baseball. The first game, on Thursday, was rained out, which was probably for the best as the team was recovering from an early morning flight home after their extra-inning game in St. Petersburg. Scherzer took the mound on Friday evening but had to leave while facing his second batter. He went on the injured list with groin inflation, and while the bullpen pitched well, the Nats lost the game 1 to 0. Hudson also went on the IL with right elbow inflammation, while Erick Fedde returned to the roster from the Covid-19 IL. In the Saturday double header, the Nats won the first game 2 to 0 but lost the nightcap 2 to 1. The team had reached a low point with a 26–35 record, 8½ games out of first place. According to FanGraphs, the Nats’ probability of reaching the playoffs was down to just 1.7%.

But changes had been taking place that week that would indicate a turn in the team’s fortune. The previous Tuesday in the first game against the Rays, Davey Martinez had put Schwarber in the leadoff spot. Kyle went 0 for 3 with a walk that night, but Davey must have liked the idea because he had him lead off again in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Giants, and Schwarber hit a home run off their ace, Kevin Gausman. On Sunday, Davey returned Kyle to the leadoff spot, and this time he hit two home runs and drove in four. Schwarber would stay in the leadoff spot and the home runs would keep coming. By June 29 he had hit 16 home runs in 18 games, tying him for the record with Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa. His 12 home runs in a 10-game span tied the record with Albert Belle. His 11 home runs in a 9-game span tied the record with Frank Howard. His 16 home runs in a 75 plate appearance span set a major league record. He broke Bryce Harper‘s Nationals record of 13 home runs in a month. And Schwarber’s 7 leadoff home runs in a month tied the record that Alfonso Soriano set while playing with the Nationals in 2006.

The Giants series concluded on Sunday. After scoring only 3 runs in the first three games of the series, the Nats scored five to beat the Giants 5 to 0 and split the series with two wins each. Next came a three-game series against the Pirates, and the Nats swept it.

The home stand concluded with a four-game series against the Mets, including a Saturday doubleheader. The Nats won the first game 1 to 0 that ended with a Yan Gomes walk-off single. Fedde pitched seven scoreless innings, extending his streak of 20 scoreless innings. The Nats and Mets split the Saturday doubleheader. For Sunday’s game, Gerardo Parra appeared as a pinch hitter, and Nationals Park erupted to the singing of “Baby Shark” for the first time since October 2019. Parra had signed a minor league contract with the Nats after spending 2020 in Japan and was called up after Andrew Stevenson went on the IL. Parra hit a double, and for the rest of the month he would go 4 for 11 with a home run and two doubles while playing at Nats Park. Even more important for Sunday’s game, though, were Schwarber’s three home runs in the Nats’ 5 to 2 win. The Nats won the series three games to one, and the home stand eight games to three. Schwarber was named NL Player of the Week after hitting .385 with 6 home runs and 11 RBIs with a 1.491 OPS during the seven games of the Pirates and Mets series.

The Nats’ next road trip took them to Philadelphia and Miami. They played a two game series against the Phillies, and Scherzer, returning from the IL, started the first game. It was also the first Nats game in which umpires were required to regularly check all pitchers for controlled substances. During the fourth inning, after Scherzer had already been checked twice, Phillies manager Joe Girardi requested that Scherzer be checked again. Scherzer was outraged (and wasn’t found to have any controlled substances, and when Scherzer’s night was done he stared down Girardi, leading to the Phillies manager being ejected. The video clip was the talk of baseball that evening. The Nats won that game 3 to 2. They also won the next afternoon’s game 13 to 12. It was one of the wildest games I can remember—both teams hit grand slam home runs, and the Phillies kept getting ahead and the Nats kept coming back.

The four game series with the Marlins was a little tamer. The Nats won the first and last games, while the Marlins won the second and third ones. Kyle Finnegan went on the IL with a left hamstring strain, and Erick Fedde went back on the IL with an oblique strain. The Nats finished the road trip with a 4–2 record.

Returning home, the Nationals began their toughest stretch of 17 games this season. They were scheduled to face the top three teams in the National League (the Giants for three games, the Dodgers for four, and the Padres for seven), as well as the AL team with the third best record (the Rays for two games), while kicking off the span with a single game against the division-leading Mets. The Nats beat the Mets 8 to 4 behind several home runs. They finished the month by winning both games against the Rays, by scores of 4 to 3 and 15 to 6. The second game of the Rays series featured Trea Turner hitting for the cycle and tying the record for most career cycles with three. Setup man Tanner Rainey joined other Nats pitchers on the IL with a stress reaction in his lower right leg. Of the relievers who had formed the back of the Nats’ bullpen, only Brad Hand remained on the active roster. In the first half of July we’ll find out if the bullpen fend off the top teams in the NL West.

According to Fangraphs, at the end of June the Nats’ probability of making the playoffs stood at 12.5%. was more optimistic, showing a 27% chance of making the playoffs, and Baseball-Reference was even more optimistic yet at 32%.

During June, the Nationals’ offense was one of the best in the National League. Their on-base percentage in June of .336 ranked second in the NL, and their slugging percentage of .448 ranked third. The comprehensive batting metric of weighted runs created (wRC+) was 112, which is 12% above average and ranked third in the NL.

The Nats’ starting pitchers’ ERA of 2.95 during June led the NL, which is pretty remarkable considering that Strasburg missed the entire month and Scherzer had to miss two starts. Joe Ross and Erick Fedde pitched well. And three pitchers who had not been expected to start (Paolo Espino, Jefry Rodriguez, and Austin Voth) made four starts and pitched a total of 16 innings without giving up a run.

The relief staff’s typical performance was about average. Their ERA of 4.05 ranked ninth in the NL, and their FIP of 3.86 ranked fifth. But they came through in timely, high-leverage situations—their 29 shutdowns during the month led the NL, and their 11 meltdowns was tied for fourth fewest.


19–9 (.679)

Pythagorean Record:

17–11 (4.68 R/G – 3.68 RA/G)

June MVP:

Kyle Schwarber (.280/.362/.760, 16 HR, 22 R, 30 RBI, 190 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR) was unbelievable over the 18 games from June 12 through 29 (.348, 16 HR, 27 RBIs). Schwarber was named National League Player of the Month. But I also want to recognize the runner-up, Trea Turner (.345/.398/.540, 4 HR, 24 R, 11 RBI, 6 SB, 155 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR).

Most valuable pitcher:

I call this a tie between Joe Ross (3–2, 3.06 RA/9, 5 G. 32⅓ IP, 9.2 K/9, .252 opp OBP, 1.0 RA9-WAR) and Max Scherzer (3–0, 1.42 RA/9, 4 G, 19 IP, 11.4 K/9, .267 opp OBP, 1.0 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Brad Hand (2–0, 2.20 RA/9, 15 G, 16⅓ IP, 7.7 K/9, .222 opp OBP, 4.48 RE24, 0.6 RA9-WAR, 9 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Kyle Finnegan (1–2, 10.57 RA/9, 9 G, 7⅔ IP, 12.9 K/9, .342 opp OBP, –6.23 RE24, –0.7 RA-9 WAR, 4 shutdowns, 2 meltdowns). He really just had two bad outings, but then he wound up on the injured list.

Best start this month:

Joe Ross (June 13, 5–0 win over the Giants at home) pitched 8 scoreless innings, giving up 5 hits and no walks and striking out 9 for a game score of 81.

Worst start:

Jon Lester (June 25, 11–2 loss to the Marlins in Miami) gave up 7 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks in 2-1/3 innings with 1 strikeout, for a game score of 17.

Tough losses:

  • Joe Ross (June 5, 5–2 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia) gave up 4 unearned runs on 3 hits and 2 walks in 6 innings, while striking out 4, for a game score of 60.
  • Patrick Corbin (June 26, 3–2 loss to the Marlins in Miami) gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and no walks in 6 innings, while striking out 6, for a game score of 56.

Cheap win:

  • Jon Lester (June 30, 15–6 win over the Rays at home) gave up 5 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks in 5 innings, while striking out 3, for a game score of 34.

Best shutdowns:

Usually, here I just report the relief appearance with the highest win probability added, which this time was an important and interesting save. But the second highest appearance is probably a “better” pitching performance, so I’ll report both of them.

Brad Hand (June 22, 3–2 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia). Tanner Rainey had just given up a home run to cut the Nats’ lead to one run when Hand got the call to face Andrew McCutcheon with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, the Nats ahead 3 to 2. Hand struck out Cutch and got out of the inning. Coming back for the save in the bottom of the ninth, a lot of Nats fans found their hearts racing when Hand gave up a leadoff double to Bohm. After getting a fly for an out, Hand let the go-ahead run get on base with a hit batsman. Then Vierling singled to load the bases, still with one out. Herrera flied out to short left, and Hoskins hit a grounder that Trea Turner was able to field and get the final out. (WPA +.228) Yes, it was a high-leverage shutdown, but we could have done without the white knuckles.

The next afternoon, Paolo Espino (June 23, 13–12 victory over the Phillies in Philadelphia) delivered a more conventional shutdown. After a game in which the Phillies had a see-saw battle, with each team taking the lead only to have its relievers surrender it, the Nats regained a 13–12 lead in the top of the ninth. The Nats had used six relievers already, and Hand, having pitched four of the previous five days, was not availab.e, so the call for the ninth went to Espino. He got Hoskins and Harper to fly out. Realmuto reached on an error, but Miller lined out to end the inning and one of the craziest games I’ve ever seen. It was the 34 year-old Espino’s first career save and came just a week after his first career win. (WPA +.197)

Worst meltdown:

Kyle Finnegan (June 6, 12–6 loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia). The Nats had to go to their bullpen early when starter Austin Voth was hit in the face with a pitch in the top of the third. When Finnegan got the call in the bottom of the fourth, the Nats were ahead 3 to 0, there was one out, and runners were on first and second. The first batter he faced reached on an error. Then he gave up a single, followed by two walks, tying the game at three apiece. Then came a fielder’s choice that wasn’t able to nab the runner, scoring another run, followed by a strikeout accompanied by a wild pitch that scored another. Finnegan left the game with the Nats trailing 5 to 3 and runners still on second and third (who would both score). (WPA –.656)

Clutch hit:

Josh Bell (June 23, 13–12 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia). Bell came to bat in the top of the sixth with the bases loaded and the Nats traiing 9 to 7. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, he drove a fastball the other way for a grand slam and put the Nats ahead 11 to 9. (WPA +.502) The Nats would need another clutch hit in that game—Starlin Castro‘s one-out two-RBI single in the top of the ninth to put the team ahead 13 to 12 for the win. (WPA +.395)


Victor Robles (June 12, 2–1 loss to the Giants at home in the second game of a doubleheader). The game had gone to extra innings when both teams were scoreless at the end of the seventh. The Giants scored two in the top of the eighth, but the Nats got one of them back when Starlin Castro led off with a double, driving in the automatic runner. Robles was hit by a pitch and took first, bringing Kyle Schwarber to bat, still with no outs. Schwarber flied out to center, and Castro advanced to third. Inexplicably, Robles also tried to advance and was easily thrown out, making the second out and removing the go-ahead run. It was a terrible base-running decision and may have cost the Nationals the game. While I don’t know the WPA just for Robles’s part of the play, I assume it accounts for most of the –.358 WPA recorded on the double play.

Favorite defensive plays:

June 28, 2021 / Nat Anacostia

Which Nats make my 2021 NL All-Star team?

Each year, shortly before the All Star teams are announced, I put together a National League All Star team to see which Nationals deserve to be on it. I don’t think it make sense to argue about which Nats deserve to be on the All Star team without going to the work of putting together a full team to see if any given Nats player is more deserving than other, potentially deserving players from other teams. I try to do this objectively by strictly following a point system where points are based on wins above replacement (WAR) for this year’s season-to-date, last season, and the player’s career.

This year, only two Nationals make the team. My system rates Max Scherzer second among NL pitchers, behind only Jacob deGrom. And while my system rates Trea Turner ranks second behind Fernando Tatis, Jr. among NL shortstops, his point total is actually fourth highest among all NL position players and thus easily deserving of a spot on the squad. The recent omission of his name from the final ballot just indicates that he’s still not getting the recognition he deserves.

What about Juan Soto? My system ranks him quite highly—in fact, his 21.3 points are the most of any position player that didn’t make the team. He was edged out by other corner outfielders who are rated slightly more deserving this year.

At the end of this post, I’m including a step-by-step explanation of my point system (and how I had to modify it due to last year’s shortened season). Read it if you’re interested. I’ll cut straight to the team. In parentheses are the number of points that my rating system gave to each player.

Here’s my 2021 NL All-Star team (with point totals in parentheses):


C – Buster Posey – Giants (24.2)

1B – Freddie Freeman – Braves (23.9)

2B – Ozzie Albies – Braves (19.8)

3B – Manny Machado – Padres (24.1)

SS – Fernando Tatis Jr. – Padres (29.0)

OF – Ronald Acuna Jr. – Braves (30.6)

CF – Starling Marte – Marlins (22.5)

OF – Mookie Betts – Dodgers (30.0)

SP – Jacob deGrom – Mets (39.0)


C – J.T. Realmuto – Phillies (23.2)

1B – Max Muncy – Dodgers (23.4)

2B – Jake Cronenworth – Padres (19.6)

3B – Nolan Arenado – Cardinals (24.0)

3B – Justin Turner – Dodgers (21.5)

SS – Trea Turner – Nationals (26.3). Among position players, only Acuna, Betts, and Tatis have higher point totals. It’s too bad that Tatis plays the same position as him.

SS – Trevor Story – Rockies (23.1)

OF – Nick Castellanos – Reds (23.5)

OF – Bryce Harper – Phillies (22.0)

OF – Kris Bryant – Cubs (21.5)

CF – Bryan Reynolds – Pirates (20.6)

CF – Ketel Marte – Diamondbacks (19.6) * selected to meet the requirement that each team be represented

SP – Max Scherzer – Nationals (33.0) – Since Max joined the Nationals in 2015, he’s made my NL All-Star team every season that I’ve selected them. (Because the 2020 All-Star Game was cancelled, I didn’t select a team last year.)

SP – Kevin Gausman – Giants (32.4)

SP – Zack Wheeler – Phillies (30.5)

SP – Yu Darvish – Padres (30.2)

SP – Brandon Woodruff – Brewers (29.4)

SP – Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers (28.3)

RP – Josh Hader – Brewers (17.0)

RP – Craig Kimbrel – Cubs (14.8)

RP – Giovanny Gallegos – Cardinals (12.2)

RP – Tejay Antone – Reds (11.9)

RP – Mark Melancon – Padres (11.9)

My method for calculating the points used in ranking the players:

The general philosophy that underlies my point system is that I’m trying to find the best players right now. That doesn’t mean just the players that have been hot for the last three months. The “mistakes” in past All-Star roster selections are most often players that we knew really weren’t that good, but who got picked just because they were having a hot streak. So my system factors in previous performance. I also include career performance, but it’s given a relatively small weight. The idea is that in cases where two players have played similarly, but one is a long-time star, that could be the deciding factor in which player makes the team. But no one coasts in based on their career record—they also need to be playing well this season. I also designed the system to allow a rookie or a player who has genuinely taken a big step forward to stardom to be recognized, but only in exceptional cases. (An example from this year’s team is Kevin Gausman, who this season has really redefined himself as an elite pitcher.)

Everyone who has played in the NL this season and is currently on a 40-man roster is considered. Players are assigned a position based on where they’ve played the most games this season.

While the MLB ballot lumps together all outfielders, I’ve separated center fielders from corner outfielders, recognizing that many corner outfielders aren’t capable of playing center field. But the corner outfield positions are treated as a single position. (On this year’s ballot, I note that all five selected corner outfielders, as well as Soto, the top runner-up, have primarily played right field. For some reason we have a dearth of outstanding left fielders right now.)

I follow the MLB rule that there will be 20 position players and 12 pitchers. I begin by picking the highest rated starters and backups at each position, as well as the top five starting pitchers and three relievers. At that point, 24 of the 32 players have been selected. I then check to see which teams aren’t yet represented, and pick the highest ranking players from those teams. This year there were two teams in that category—the Rockies and the Diamondbacks. Trevor Story was next in line among position players anyway, but the Diamondbacks wouldn’t have been represented on the All-Star team except for this rule, which I followed to select Ketel Marte. I then filled in the remaining position players and pitchers with the highest rated players in each category.

My point calculation method is simple but still reflects the philosophy outlined above. I did have to modify the procedure because of the shortened season in 2020.

In the past, the points were calculated as the sum of three components—this season’s WAR times 4, the previous season’s WAR times 2, and the square root of the player’s career WAR. (If the career WAR is less than zero, the last term is simply set to zero.) However, because the 2020 season season was short, my standard formula would under-count previous performance, which I wanted reflected in the point system.

The 60-game 2020 season was 37% of the length of a regular, 162-game season. So I decided to add WAR from the 2019 season, but giving it a 63% weight so the total weight of 2020 and 2019 performance matches the weight that I’ve traditionally given to the prior year’s performance.

I use Fangraphs WAR for position players, while for pitchers I use Fangraphs’ RA9-WAR, which is based on runs allowed per nine innings. (Fangraphs’ standard WAR for pitchers is based on strikeouts, walks, and home runs, but I was looking for a more results-focused measure.)

Finally, to not overly cripple the cases for rookies or players who were injured or had an off-year the previous year, I substitute current season’s performance into the formula for the past year. In the past, the substitution was simply replacing last season’s WAR with this season’s WAR if it is greater. Because of the shortened 2020 season, though, I substitute 0.37 times this season’s WAR if it is greater than last season’s WAR. This substitution was relevant for Buster Posey’s rating, since he opted out of playing in 2020.

Written as an equation, this year’s formula is:

Points = 4 * 2021_WAR + 2 * MAX(2020_WAR, 0.37*2021_WAR) + 2 * 0.63 * MAX(2019_WAR, 2021 WAR) + Squareroot(Career_WAR)

That’s it! It’s simple, but I think it works very well.

I’ll also mention two other changes I’ve made compared to my All-Star teams for past seasons. First, because the All-Star Game is played with the DH, I used to try to select DH’s for the team. But, of course NL teams don’t have full-time DH’s, and the MLB selection procedure doesn’t try to pick DH’s for the NL team. So I’ve decided to forego that complication. Second, I used to try to figure out which players would be on the injured list for the game and pick their substitutes. But I often didn’t correctly foresee when a player would return, so beginning this year I’m just picking the highest rated players regardless of the injury status.

June 1, 2021 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ May in review: ‘This is a way different year than 2019’

The Nationals entered May tied for second place in the NL East, a game behind the division-leading Phillies. During the month, they slipped further and further behind, and— with a five-game losing streak at the end of the month—their record for the month was 11–17. They finished the month in last place in the division, seven games behind the division-leading Mets. According to Fangraphs, their probability of winning the division was down to 2%, and of making the playoffs down to 4%. ( is a bit more optimistic, showing a 7% chance of winning the division and 10% of making the playoffs.)

As May began, the Nats were at home, having played (and won) the first game of a three-game series against the Marlins. The Nats won both of the remaining games for a series sweep. The final game, on Sunday May 2, was notable because Max Scherzer pitched a complete game in a 3–1 victory and had a shutout going until he gave up a home run in the ninth inning. He finished the game quickly—in 2 hours and 37 minutes (106 pitches)—because he had somewhere to go. After the end of the game he rushed away to join his wife, who, a couple of hours after the game ended, would give birth to their baby boy.

The Nats’ record was now .500 (12–12), and they were tied for first place in the NL East. Indeed, on their May 3 off day they briefly held sole possession of first place, though all four divisional rivals were within 2.5 games of the Nats. But that quickly changed with their next series, a three-game set against Atlanta, which the Braves swept. The last two games—a 5 to 3 loss in which the Nats rallied in the bottom of the eighth but ultimately fell short, and a 3 to 2 loss in which Ryan Zimmerman doubled to put the tying run in scoring position leading off the bottom of the ninth—were tightly fought but frustrating losses. At the end of the series the Nats had dropped to last place, 2.5 games behind.

The team next had a short 3-game road series in New York against the Yankees. Juan Soto returned to the lineup after the shoulder injury that had put him on the injured list. The first game was close until the eighth inning, when the Nats broke out and wound up routing the Yanks 11 to 4. Scherzer pitched superbly in the second game and left in the eighth with the Nats ahead 2 to 1, but Brad Hand wasn’t able to close it and the Yanks went on to win in the 11th inning. The third game featured another Hand meltdown and the Yankees’ second consecutive walk-off win.

Returning home for a three-game series against the Phillies, the Nats lost the first two games, with the second loss featuring yet another meltdown and blown save by Hand. They came back to win the third game behind a good start by Patrick Corbin. Wander Suero, who had been on the injured list since April 18, returned to the bullpen.

The Nats’ next road trip took them to Arizona and Chicago. In the series opener at Chase Field in Phoenix, the offense took off, beating the Diamondbacks 17 to 2. In the next game, the D-backs responded by thrashing the Nats 11 to 4, but the Nats won the finale 3 to 0 to take the series. In Chicago, the Cubs won three of four, making the Nats 3–4 on the road trip. Erick Fedde and Tanner Rainey were placed on the Covid injured list after one of them tested positive, and Victor Robles suffered an ankle sprain that would leave him on the injured list as well.

Returning home, the Nationals faced the Baltimore Orioles. Stephen Strasburg returned from his 5+ week stint on the injured list dealing with shoulder inflammation and looked good in his first start, which the Nats won 4 to 2. They went on to win the next two games, sweeping the series. The O’s were followed by the Reds, but the Nats’ bats went quiet. They scored only 6 runs in the three-game series, and the team lost two games to one. Rainey returned from the injured list. The home stand concluded with a series against the Brewers. The Nats’ bats remained quiet, scoring only 3 runs in the three-game series, which the visiting Brew Crew swept.

On the last day of the month, the Nats opened a road trip in Atlanta where they lost their fifth consecutive game. Robles returned from the injured list, but Will Harris was lost for the season when it was announced that he would have surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome.

During May, the Nationals’ offense played at an average level—their on-base percentage in May of .321 ranked sixth in the NL, and their slugging percentage of .392 ranked eighth. Their batting average of .251 ranked second, but that was offset by relatively poor performance with runners in scoring position (their “clutch” score of –1.55 ranked 13th of 15 teams).

The Nats’ starting pitching was below average, and when Scherzer (or Strasburg, who only pitched twice in the month) wasn’t pitching, was really quite bad. The starters’ ERA for May was 4.10 (11th in the league). When someone other than Scherzer or Strasburg was pitching, their ERA was 5.11 and they went 4–9 in 20 starts. The starters’ fielding independent pitching (FIP) was 4.19 (10th in the league), and they ranked 12th in home runs allowed per 9 innings with 1.35.

The relief staff was about average. Their ERA of 4.06 ranked seventh in the NL, and their FIP of 3.91 ranked sixth. They didn’t have a lot of high leverage innings—their average leverage index when entering the game was 0.89, 13th in the league. They ranked 14th in shutdowns, with 16, but had fewer than average meltdowns, with 14. Their WPA of –0.58 ranked 12th, indicating difficulties in high leverage situations.


11–17 (.393)

Pythagorean Record:

13–15 (3.96 R/G – 4.14 RA/G)

May MVP:

Max Scherzer (3–2, 1.83 RA/9, 6 G, 39-1/3 IP, 13.0 K/9, .215 opp OBP, 1.9 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable position player:

Trea Turner (.304/.349/.452, 28 G, 126 PA, 4 HR, 15 R, 17 RBI, 118 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR). His defense contributions allowed him to edge Kyle Schwarber (.245/.357/.500, 7 HR, 13 R, 18 RBI, 135 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Daniel Hudson (1–1, 2.38 RA/9, 11 G, 11-1/3 IP, 11.9 K/9, .195 opp OBP, 4.47 RE24, 0.4 RA9-WAR, 5 shutdowns, 1 meltdown).

Worst month:

Brad Hand (0–2, 8.68 RA/9, 10 G, 9-1/3 IP, 11.6 K/9, 3 HR allowed, .386 opp OBP, –4.61 RE24, –0.6 RA-9 WAR, 3 shutdowns, 3 meltdowns).

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (May 8, 4–3 loss in 11 innings to the Yankees in New York) pitched 7-1/3 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits and 1 walk and striking out 14 for a game score of 83. When he left the game in the bottom of the eighth after 109 pitches, the Nats led 2 to 1. The Yankees would tie it in the bottom of the ninth and win it in the 11th.

Worst start:

Joe Ross (May 15, 11–4 loss to the Diamondbacks in Phoenix) gave up 8 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks in 4 innings with 5 strikeouts, for a game score of 16.

Tough losses:

  • Joe Ross (May 4, 6–1 loss to the Braves at home) gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks in 5-1/3 innings, while striking out 3, for a game score of 51. When he left the game in the top of the sixth, the Nats were trailing 1 to 0.
  • Max Scherzer (May 25, 2–1 loss to the Reds at home) gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk in 7 innings, while striking out 9, for a game score of 67.
  • Max Scherzer (May 30, 3–0 loss to the Brewers at home) gave up 2 runs on 2 hits and 1 walk in 6 innings, while striking out 10, for a game score of 69. He was, however, out-pitched by Brandon Woodruff, who had a game score of 81.

Cheap wins:

  • Patrick Corbin (May 23, 6–5 win over the Orioles at home) gave up 4 runs on 11 hits and 2 walks in 5-2/3 innings, while striking out 3, for a game score of 32. The bullpen held the Nats’ lead to win the game.

Best shutdown:

Kyle Finnegan (May 8, 4–3 loss in 11 innings to the Yankees in New York). The game went into extra innings after the Yankees tied it 2 to 2 in the bottom of the ninth. In the top of the tenth, the Nats (facing Aroldis Chapman) managed to score their designated runner, going ahead 3 to 2. But in the bottom of the tenth, Hand (who had blown the save in the ninth) was allowed to start the tenth and immediately gave up a single, making it 3 to 3. Finnegan got the call, and he retired all three batters he faced—on a ground ball force-out at second, a pop-fly. and a strikeout—sending the game to the 11th. (Win probability added +.211)

Worst meltdown:

Brad Hand (same game—May 8, 4–3 loss in 11 innings to the Yankees in New York). With the Nats leading 2 to 1, Hand was asked to get the save in the bottom of the ninth. He gave up a lead-off walk to LaMahieu, who advanced to second on a ground-out. Judge singled, advancing LaMahieu to third, and Torres singled, scoring the runner. Hand got the last two outs on a strikeout and a ground-out, but the game was tied and went to extra innings. After the Nats scored a run in the top of the tenth, Hand went out to try to save it again in the bottom of the inning. The first batter he faced, Ford, singled, driving in the Yankees’ designated runner and tying the game again. Hand was pulled from the game (WPA –.567) and Finnegan came in to keep the game tied for another inning, until the Yankees finally won in the 11th.

Clutch hit:

Ryan Zimmerman (May 2, 3–1 win over the Marlins at home). With two out in the bottom of the third, runners on first and second, Zim hit a home run to center field, putting the Nats ahead 3 to 0. (WPA +.273)


Yadiel Hernandez (May 6, 3–2 loss to the Braves at home). In the bottom on the ninth, the Nats were trailing 3 to 2 and Hernandez came to bat with one out and Andrew Stevenson on third. (Stephenson came in to pinch run after Zimmerman led off the inning with a double.) Will Smith, the Braves closer, struck out Hernandez. (WPA –.251).

Favorite defensive plays:

And two more plays that were more quirky than beautiful:

May 2, 2021 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ April in review: ‘Take a swing, see what happens’

The Nationals’ season began with news that no one wanted to hear—four players tested positive for Covid-19 and seven others went into mandatory quarantine due to close contact. The opening series was postponed, and when play began the Nats immediately fell into a hole, starting the season 1–5. After that, the team seemed to be treading water. They finished the month 10–12, though only one game behind the division-leading Phillies.

The season was supposed to have started at home on April 1 with a series against the Mets followed by another against the Braves. But first the opening game, then the entire Mets series, and finally the first game of their Braves series were postponed as news came in about the sick and quarantined players. The Nats finally were cleared to play the Braves on April 6, but they were missing four players who had been expected to be starters on opening day (Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber, Josh Harrison, and Yan Gomes), as well as two starting pitchers (Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester) and the closer (Brad Hand). Both regular catchers were out, so the Nats hurriedly signed Jonathan Lucroy to fill in as catcher. The roster for the first series included lots of players from the alternate training site.

Despite the home team’s lineup deficiencies, the series with the Braves was tightly fought. The Nats won a walk-off victory in the first game, then played a double header the next day to make up for the postponed game. The Braves swept the double header, but they were both close games.

The Nats headed to Los Angeles, where several of the quarantined players were allowed to rejoin the team. But their still thin roster was no match for the Dodgers, who swept the three-game series. St. Louis was the next stop for the Nationals, where the remaining quarantined players returned (except for Lester, who was cleared to leave quarantine but would need to spend another three weeks building his arm strength). On April 12, most of the players were vaccinated. The Nats took two of three games against the Cardinals. But Stephen Strasburg pitched poorly and was placed on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation. And reliever Luis Avilan, who only pitched four games for the Nats, decided to have season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Returning home, the Nats split a four-game series against the Diamondbacks. They concluded the home stand by taking two games of three against the Cardinals. But their injury woes continued when Juan Soto went on the injured list with left shoulder strain.

The next series was in New York against the Mets. The Nats looked bad in the opener when Jacob deGrom pitched a complete game, 2-hit shutout, striking out 15 Nats, beating them 6 to 0. But the Nats were able to turn the table the next day, beating the Mets 7 to 1, before dropping the third game. The Nats then traveled to Dunedin, Florida, where the Blue Jays were playing their home games at TD Ballpark due to Covid-related international travel restrictions. Home runs were flying as the Nats lost the first game 9 to 5 despite hitting four home runs and having Max Scherzer start. But they came back to win the second game of the two-game series, 8 to 2. Returning home, the month ended with the Nats winning the opening game of a series against the Marlins 2 to 1 with a walk-off home run in the 10th inning.

The Nats’ weak performance in April reflected problems both in their hitting and their starting pitching. Of the 15 National League teams, the Nats’ on-base percentage of .314 ranked 7th, while their slugging percentage of .378 ranked 9th. The comprehensive batting measure, weighted runs created (wRC+), was 90, which ranked 11th. And their starting pitchers had an ERA of 4.94, 12th in the league, while their fielding independent pitching (FIP) was 5.29, worst in the league. Losing Strasburg and Lester for most of the month while having Corbin struggle really hurt the starting staff.

The relief corps was a modest bright spot. Their ERA of 3.66 ranked 4th in the National League, and their 7 meltdowns were the fewest in the league. That was partly due to having relatively few high leverage games (their 15 shutdowns ranked 12th in the league), but their RE24 (an overall measure of the impact on the expected runs) of +4.66 ranked third in the league.


10–12 (.455)

Pythagorean Record:

8–14 (3.50 R/G – 4.45 RA/G)

April MVP:

Trea Turner (.302/.348/.558, 22 G, 92 PA, 6 HR, 11 R, 10 RBI, 145 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR).

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Max Scherzer (1–2, 3.60 RA/9, 5 G, 30 IP, 11.4 K/9, .250 opp OBP, 0.7 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Brad Hand (2–0, 1.00 RA/9, 8 G, 9 IP, 7.0 K/9, .294 opp OBP, 3.41 RE24, 0.5 RA9-WAR, 4 shutdowns, 0 meltdown).

Worst month:

Patrick Corbin (0–3, 11.02 RA/9, 4 G, 16-1/3 IP, 7.7 K/9, 6 HR allowed, .427 opp OBP, –0.8 RA-9 WAR).

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (April 16, 1–0 win over the Diamondbacks at home) pitched 7 scoreless innings, giving up only 2 hits and 2 walks and striking out 10 for a game score of 81.

Worst start:

Patrick Corbin (April 15, 11–6 loss to the Diamondbacks at home) gave up 10 runs on 6 hits (including 3 home runs) and 4 walks in 2 innings with 1 strikeout, for a game score of 3.

Tough losses:

  • Max Scherzer (April 11, 3–0 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles) gave up 1 unearned run on 3 hits and 1 walk in 6 innings, while striking out 5, for a game score of 66. Scherzer pitched a great game, but he was facing Clayton Kershaw, who pitched 6 scoreless innings with a game score of 68.

Cheap wins:

  • None

Best shutdown:

Brad Hand (April 21, 1–0 win over the Cardinals at home). The Nats were ahead 1 to 0 when Hand took the mound in the bottom of the ninth to try for the save. He walked the first batter, but then got a ground ball for a double play, removing the runner. The next batter was Yadier Molina, who hit a fly ball down the right field line that Andrew Stevenson caught for the final out. (Win probability added +.162)

Worst meltdown:

Tanner Rainey (April 7, 2–0 loss to the Braves at home in the second game of a double header). Rainey took the mound in a scoreless game in the top of the seventh. Because it was a double header, this would be the final inning if either team could break the tie. Rainey got the first two batters to fly out, after which Dansby Swanson lined a single to left. Then Pablo Sandoval came in as a pinch hitter and belted a home run to deep center field. The Braves led 2 to 0. Rainey gave up a walk to the next batter, then got the final out, but the damage was done. In the bottom of the inning Sean Newcombe struck out the side, and the Nats lost. (WPA –.407)

Clutch hit:

Kyle Schwarber (April 30, 2–1 win over the Marlins at home). The game was scoreless after 9 innings, so for the first time this season the Nats went to extra innings. In the top of the inning, the Marlins singled in their runner who had started at second, putting them ahead 1 to 0. In the bottom of the tenth, Schwarber led off and blasted the second pitch he saw 454 feet into the upper deck, walking off the Marlins. (WPA +.557)


Andrew Stevenson (April 7, 7–6 loss to the Braves at home in the first game of a double header). It was the bottom of the seventh (again, the last inning of a double header), and the Braves closer, Will Smith, had already given up a run on two walks and a double. There was one out, runners on first and second, and the Nats were trailing 7 to 6. Stevenson grounded into a double play, ending the game. (WPA –.337).

Favorite defensive plays:

March 29, 2021 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ 2020-2021 offseason in review: ‘I like to learn a lot of new things every day’

After winning their championship in 2019, the Nats’ front office mostly held pat heading into 2020. The result was brutal—the team’s first losing season in a decade as they tied for last place in the NL East. Heading into 2021, some old ties would need to be broken and some problems would need to be addressed.

At catcher, Kurt Suzuki was allowed to depart to the Angels as a free agent, and the Nats signed a one-year deal with Alex Avila to back up Yan Gomes. Avila was Max Scherzer‘s battery-mate in Detroit from 2010 to 2014, but at age 34 the left-hander’s recent batting averages have slipped well below the Mendoza line. Only by drawing a walk in about one out of every six plate appearances has he been able to keep his on-base percentage high enough to stay in baseball. Gomes is expected to do most of the catching, with Avila starting maybe one or two games a week.

At first base, the 2020 Nats had tried using Eric Thames, Asdrubal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick, and Brock Holt (with Cabrera and Holt also having spent time at third). All four were allowed to depart as free agents. Cabrera signed with the Diamondbacks, and Holt signed with the Rangers, while Thames signed with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, and Kendrick retired. The Nats traded to fill the gap, sending two pitchers (Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean) to the Pirates in exchange for the 28-year old switch-hitter Josh Bell, who has a career wRC+ of 113. In 2019 Bell had a super-hot two-month start (.343/.405/.704 with 18 home runs in April and May), but fell off in the second half and had a poor season in 2020 (.226/.305/.364). The hope is that he recovers his power bat and that that will make up for his poor glove at first base. Ryan Zimmerman, who opted out last season due to Covid, signed a one-year deal. He’s expected to back up Bell at first and be available as a switch hitter.

Going into spring training, the other big question mark in the infield was third base, but the Nats apparently were committed to sticking with Carter Kieboom. But illustrating the rare case where spring training statistics really do matter, Kieboom went only 6 for 45 this spring and will start the season at the Nats’ alternate training site in Fredericksburg. Starlin Castro is now slated to play third, with Josh Harrison taking over at second. Trea Turner, of course, holds down shortstop. As utility infielders, the Nats selected the non-roster invitee and former Pirate shortstop, Jordy Mercer, and long-time utility player, Hernan Perez, who had signed a minor league contract. Luis Garcia was optioned and will also spend April at the alternate training site.

In the outfield, the Nats let Adam Eaton depart via free agency to the White Sox, and outrighted Michael A. Taylor, allowing him to enter free agency from whence he signed with the Royals. To fill the vacancy in left field, the Nats signed 28-year old Kyle Schwarber to a one-year deal. They hope his left-handed bat will provide power in the middle of the lineup. Schwarber’s production in 2020 was pretty dismal (.188/.308/.393, wRC+ of 77), but in 2019 he hit 38 home runs with a wRC+ of 121. As with Bell at first, defense is likely to be a liability for Schwarber. The Nats’ outfield rounds out with Victor Robles in center and the incomparable Juan Soto in right, with Andrew Stevenson moving into the fourth outfielder role.

The front of the Nats starting rotation is built around the pitchers who led them to their 2019 championship—Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. Anibal Sanchez departed as a free agent and so far hasn’t been signed. As their fourth starter, the Nats signed 37-year old Jon Lester to a one-year, $5 million deal. Joe Ross, who opted out last season, returns and should start the season as the fifth starter.

The Nats lost several relief pitchers to free agency—Sean Doolittle, who signed with the Reds; Roenis Elias, who signed with the Mariners; James Bourque, who signed with the Cubs; and Sam Freeman, who currently remains unsigned. The Nats made some investments, signing 31-year old closer Brad Hand to a one-year, $10.5 million contract. They also signed Jeremy Jeffress to a minor league contract, but released him two weeks later due to unspecified “personnel reasons.” Luis Avilan also signed a minor league contract and had his contract selected, allowing him to start the season with the Nationals. Hand and Avilan will be joined by returning relievers, Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, and Kyle Finnegan. The Nats will also start the season carrying two long relievers (and backup starters), Austin Voth, and Erick Fedde. The Nats had hoped to option Fedde, but an arbiter determined that he, like Voth, is now out of options. We’ll see whether the team is able to maintain a bullpen with two long relievers; I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them were to be traded.

While the Nats had a number of minor injuries during spring training, at present the only “regular” player who seems likely to start the season on the injured list is Will Harris, who recently received a good prognosis about a suspected blood clot. The 40-man roster includes several more players who were added to the team this off-season and will continue to train at the alternate site. Gerardo Parra returned to the Nats after playing for the Yomiuri Giants in 2020. The team also claimed pitcher Rogelio Armenteros off waivers and signed relief pitcher Sam Clay as a minor league free agent.

Turning to other changes taking place this off-season, the 2020 season saw a number of rule changes and some of them have been kept for 2021. Gone are the expanded playoffs (good riddance!) and the universal DH. The size of the active roster has dropped back to 26 players.* But MLB decided to retained the 7-inning doubleheader games (a change that I found I liked) and the runner on second in extra innings (I’m still not used to that one). Teams will also be able to bring along a five-player taxi squad on road trips. There are a bunch of covid-related health rules as well, but I won’t go into those.

*I had forgotten that in 2019 MLB had announced that beginning in 2020 the active roster size would increase from 25 to 26, along a limit on September rosters of 28. These changes didn’t take effect last year, as MLB allowed teams to carry a 28-man active roster, but they will be effective this season.

Fans will be back in the stands this season too. Each city sets its own rules, and Washington’s limit of 5,000 fans is one of the most restrictive (only Boston’s limit of 4,500 is smaller), with most cities allowing 20 to 30% of seating capacity. Because of the U.S.-Canada border closure, the Blue Jays will play their home games in Florida to start the season.

MASN has cut back its pre-game and post-game coverage, resulting in Dan Kolko, Bo Porter, and Alex Chappell losing their jobs. The Nats expressed their displeasure with MASN’s decisions, and Kolko has landed a job with the Nationals team. Chappell took a job with Amazon Web Services and Porter will work for MLB Operations.

The most fundamental change taking place this off-season was a reformation of the minor leagues. Here’s a little history first.

Minor League Baseball was organized in 1901 with the creation of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. From the beginning, the major leagues held the advantage in the relationship by controlling richer markets and better players, but for roughly their first quarter century the minor leagues operated more-or-less independently of the majors. With the development of farm systems in the late 1920s and 1930s, however, the minor leagues moved into a vassal relationship to the majors, which now controlled the on-field talent.

In 2019 and 2020, MLB decided it wanted to take more control of minor league operations and cut the number of minor league affiliates. The pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 Minor League Baseball (MiLB) season, weakening the franchises. MiLB attempted to work out an agreement with MLB to continue their professional agreement, but on September 30 MLB let the agreement expire. MLB took control of minor league operations, cut the number of affiliates from 162 to 120, and announced that it would negotiate directly with the affiliates that it had decided to retain. The old minor leagues, such as the International League and the Pacific Coast League, are gone, and the new organization is known as the “Professional Development League.” MiLB continues to exist and operate its website, but their arrangement with MLB appears to be temporary and transitional. Some of the former minor league affiliates will be homes for collegiate summer leagues or independent leagues, while others (such as Hagerstown) are losing their teams, at least in the short term.

The changes appear to mostly have been about power (MLB wants more direct control over the minor leagues) and saving money by cutting the number of minor league teams and reducing travel. The Nats will have four minor league affiliates—the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, Double-A Harrisburg Senators, High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks, and Low-A Fredericksburg Nationals.

Most major league fans won’t notice the changes too much. The replacement of Fresno with Rochester will clearly benefit the Nats by reducing travel time for Triple-A call-ups. The main effects are on the small towns that are losing their teams and on the players (especially those drafted out of high school) who will lose the chance to try their skills in the minors. This summer’s first-year player draft will take place in mid-July run between 20 and 30 rounds, in contrast to about 40 rounds in the past.

The other change that Nats fans will notice is that minor league seasons will start later, with Triple A scheduled to start about May 4. A number of minor league players, including those on 40-man roster, will spend April at the Nats’ alternate training site in Fredericksburg.

Opening day is Thursday, April 1, 7:09 pm, at home against the Mets. The weather forecast (low 40s and rain) isn’t good. We’ll hope for the best.