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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.

September 28, 2020 / Nat Anacostia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


14–14 (.500)

Pythagorean Record:

14–14 (4.93 R/G – 4.96 RA/G)

September MVP:

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

Most valuable starting pitcher:

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

Most valuable relief pitcher:

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

Worst month:

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

Best start this month:

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

Worst start:

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

Tough losses:

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

Cheap win:

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

Best shutdown:

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

Worst meltdown:

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

Clutch hit:

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


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

Favorite defensive plays:


September 1, 2020 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ August in review: ‘Just play baseball’

In August the Nats saw their shortened season slip away. They had a 9-16 record for the month, which tied with June 2018 as their worst since 2010. They began the month in third place in the NL East, only 1.5 games out and with—according to FanGraphs—a 67% chance of making the playoffs. By the end of the month, they were in last place with an overall 12–20 record, 7 games behind the Braves and with only a 10% chance at the playoffs.

The month began with a long layoff when a series in Miami was cancelled due to a Covid outbreak on the Marlins. After four days off, the Nats resumed play on August 4 with a two-game series at home against the Mets. They won the first game and lost the second, with Juan Soto joining the team for the first time after being held out for a positive Covid test that appeared to have been false. After another off-day, the Nats concluded their home stand with a three-game series against the Orioles. The O’s won the first two games of the series and were ahead in the third game when it was suspended because the grounds crew was unable to get the tarp on the field before it was drenched. Stephen Strasburg was making his season debut after a right wrist injury, but it appeared the injury was still bothering him.

At that point—two and a half weeks into the season—the Nats had played all of their games at Nationals Park (though two were treated as “away” games). The Nats’ first road trip began on August 10 in New York with a four-game series against the Mets. The Nats won the first game 16 to 4 and the second, a Max Scherzer start, 2 to 1. But then they lost the last two games, splitting the series.

The road trip continued in Baltimore, where the Nats began with a “partial” doubleheader by completing their suspended game from five days earlier. Unfortunately, Starlin Castro broke his wrist tying to make a play and appears to be out for the season. The Nats lost the suspended game (making the prior weekend’s series a sweep for the Birds), but won the full game that evening 15 to 3. But more than offsetting the lop-sided victory was the fact that Strasburg had to be pulled from the game in the first inning after facing only four hitters. He would go on the 60-game injured list and get surgery for right carpal tunnel neuritis. The series concluded with the Orioles winning the second game and the Nats narrowly winning the third, giving the Nats their only series win for the month. Soto was named NL Player of the Week after hitting .462 with 5 home runs, 12 RBIs, and 12 runs with a 1.610 OPS.

The Nats 20-year old prospect, Luis Garcia, was called up to make his major league debut (the youngest player in MLB) and given the opportunity to earn the second base position in Castro’s absence. Several Nats pitchers also made their MLB debuts this month—Dakota Bacus, Seth Romero, Wil Crowe, and Ben Braymer. 

The road trip concluded in Atlanta with a three-game series against the Braves. The Nats experienced a shocking loss in the first game when they entered the bottom of the ninth with a 3-run lead and were walked off. They came back to win the second game, and the third game was rained out.

The next home stand began with a five-game series against the Marlins that included a doubleheader. The Nats lost the first game, then split the doubleheader. All three games were close. Crowe made his MLB debut starting the doubleheader game that the Nats lost. The Nats won the fourth game of the series 9 to 3, but lost the finale and the series, three games to two.

The home stand continued with a three-game series against the Phillies. The Nats lost the first two games, then the players from both teams agreed to postpone the third game to call attention to social and racial injustice in the aftermath of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The previous day the Milwaukee Bucks had refused to take the court for Game 5 of the NBA playoffs and many MLB teams followed suit.

The Nats began a road trip with a three game series in Boston against the Red Sox. The Nats took the first game 10 to 2, but lost the next two games. The month concluded with the Nats in Philadelphia playing, and losing the first game of a four-game series against the Phillies. The trade deadline was the 31st, but the Nats didn’t make any trades, with the signing of free agent veteran infielder Brock Holt their only late month acquisition.

Why did the Nats perform so poorly? The explanation starts with starting pitching—a surprise for a team that for many years has maintained one of the top rotations in baseball. The starters ERA was 6.46, 28th in MLB (ahead of only the Tigers and Red Sox) and the highest monthly ERA ever recorded by Nationals starters. With Strasburg mostly out of commission, only Scherzer and Patrick Corbin were somewhat reliable (though not reaching their expected performance). The other starters (Anibal Sanchez, Austin Voth, and Erick Fedde) were, with rare exceptions, dreadful.

The team’s batting, on the other hand, was fairly good (thanks in large measure to Soto and Trea Turner). The team’s on-base percentage during August of .344 ranked fourth in baseball, and their .469 slugging average ranked fifth. The park-adjusted overall offense number, wRC+, was 115, or 15% better than average, ranking sixth. But below-average defense held their offensive fWAR to 2.5, ranking 22nd.

The relief corps was merely bad, with a 5.12 ERA (23rd in baseball). The relievers had 19 meltdowns vs. 21 shutdowns (the average team had 17 meltdowns and 26 shutdowns). Their fielding independent pitching (FIP) was 4.45 (17th in baseball). Their opponents batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .335 (ranking 27th).


9–16 (.360)

Pythagorean Record:

12–13 (5.24 R/G – 5.60 RA/G)

August MVP:

Trea Turner (.408/.465/.699, 25 G, 114 PA, 6 HR, 26 R, 16 RBI, 208 wRC+, 1.8 fWAR). Honorable mention goes to Juan Soto (.367/.452/.800, 24 G, 104 PA, 11 HR, 21 R. 25 RBI, 223 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR). Turner led MLB in batting average for the month, and Soto led in slugging and tied for the lead in home runs.

Most valuable starting pitcher:

Max Scherzer (3–0, 4.38 RA/9, 5 G, 24-2/3 IP, 12.4 K/9, .327 opp OPS, 0.5 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Tanner Rainey (0–0, 0.93 RA/9, 9 G, 9-2/3 IP, 13.0 K/9, .229 opp OPS, 7.13 RE24, 0.7 RA9-WAR, 6 shutdowns, 0 meltdown). Honorable mention goes to Kyle Finnegan (1–0, 1.50 RA/9, 5.40 RE24, 0.5 RA9-WAR).

Worst month:

Daniel Hudson (0–2, 9.00 RA/9, 9 G, 8 IP, 12.4 K/9, .4 HR allowed, 368 opp OBP, –3.95 RE24, –0.83 WPA, –0.4 RA-9 WAR, 4 shutdowns, 2 (very big) meltdowns). I singled out Hudson because his poor performance came in high leverage situations leading directly to two losses, but others who could compete for this category include Austin Voth (0–3, 9.16 RA/9, –0.5 RA-9 WAR), Ryne Harper (0–0, 11.42 RA/9, –0.4 RA-9 WAR), Victor Robles (.214/.296/.300, –0.3 fWAR), and Carter Kieboom (.146/.308/.146, –0.2 fWAR).

Best start this month:

Anibal Sanchez (August 23, 9–3 win over the Marlins at home) pitched 7 innings, giving up 1 run on 5 hits and no walks and striking out 5 for a game score of 68. Unfortunately, his other four starts in August were bad.

Worst start:

Austin Voth (August 18, 8–5 win over the Braves in Atlanta) gave up 5 runs on 9 hits and 3 walks in 4 innings with 3 strikeouts, for a game score of 24. After Voth left the game with the Nats trailing 5 to 2, the Nats scored 6 more runs and the relievers shut down the Braves for 5 innings for the win.

Tough loss:

Patrick Corbin (August 21, 3–2 loss to the Marlins at home) gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks in 6-1/3 innings, while striking out 9, for a game score of 52.

Cheap win:

Patrick Corbin (August 4, 5–3 win over the Mets at home) gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and 1 walk in 5-2/3 innings, while striking out 8, for a game score of 48.

Best shutdown:

Tanner Rainey (August 11, 2–1 win over the Mets in New York). Rainey entered in the bottom of the seventh with the Nats leading 2 to 1, one out, and runners on first and second, facing Jeff McNeil. He got a double play to get out of the inning, then retired the side in the eighth on two strikeouts and a groundout (win probability added .322).

Worst meltdown:

Daniel Hudson (August 17, 7–6 loss to the Braves in Atlanta). Hudson came in for the save in the bottom of the ninth with the Nats ahead 6 to 3. Nick Markakis was leading off for the Braves, and Hudson hit him with a pitch. The next batter, Adam Duvall, hit a home run, and the Nats lead was down to one run. Camargo singled, Hechavarria struck out, and Inciarte flied out. With two outs, Dansby Swanson homered to deep center field, giving the Braves a walk-off win. (WPA –0.954)

Clutch hit:

Howie Kendrick (August 26, 3–2 loss to the Phillies at home). Kendrick led off the bottom of the ninth with the Nats trailing 3 to 2 and hit a double to left field, sliding in just ahead of the tag (WPA 0.244). Despite Michael A. Taylor coming in to pinch run for Howie, the Nats were unable to score and lost the game.


Eric Thames (August 26, 3–2 loss to the Phillies at home). In the same game, the bottom of the ninth, the Nats trailing 3 to 2, Thames came to bat with one out and runners on first and third. He struck out (WPA –0.260). He was followed by Victor Robles, who also struck out to end the game.

Favorite defensive plays:


August 29, 2020 / Nat Anacostia

Max Scherzer compared with Sandy Koufax

Last night, the MASN broadcast mentioned that Scherzer had tied Sandy Koufax with 97 10-strikeout games, placing them fifth on the all-time list.* In the post-game interviews one of the reporters also mentioned that Scherzer has now pitched almost exactly the same number of innings as Koufax. So I thought it would be interesting to do a little comparison of the pitchers.
*Ahead of them on the list were Pedro Martinez with 108, Roger Clemens with 110, Randy Johnson with 212, and Nolan Ryan with 215. (To be fair, it’s not clear that their list covered pre-World War II pitchers, for whom game-by-game data gets spotty; I suspect that Walter Johnson would belong on the list if all the data were available.)

When I first got interested in baseball as a boy in the early 1960s I lived in Los Angeles and was a Dodgers fan. I didn’t attend a lot of games at Dodgers Stadium, but I did get to go to a game that Koufax pitched (a 4-hit shutout as I recall). There weren’t a lot of games on television in those days either (maybe 15 to 20 games a year), but I watched them when I could and listened to the rest on the radio. Koufax was obviously one of my childhood heroes.

While it’s interesting to look at their statistical similarities, it’s worth emphasizing that their pitching styles were entirely different. Koufax, of course, was left-handed and threw three pitches—a four-seam fastball, a curveball, and a change-up, and mostly relied on the first two. His delivery was over the top, which gave his fastball vertical lift and his curveball downward drop. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a similar left hander (though we could talk about Kershaw). Of course, you’re familiar with Scherzer, who mixes up maybe six different pitches and relies on an excellent fastball and slider (and more recently, a cutter). While we don’t have reliable radar gun data for Koufax’s era, I’d guess that his max fastball speed was similar to Scherzer’s (that is, around 97).  

Baseball-Reference has a table showing similarity scores (which are based entirely on the similarity of their statistics). On Koufax’s page, Scherzer is shown as his second most similar pitcher (behind Kershaw). On Scherzer’s page, Koufax is his sixth most similar (number one is Ron Guidry). It should be noted that their similarity score of 906.8 indicates that while they are somewhat similar, they aren’t that similar. One indication of an all-time great is that no one’s statistics are highly similar to theirs (such as a similarity score of 950 or above), which is true for both Koufax and Scherzer. (For example, Anibal Sanchez has six pitchers with similarity scores above 950, whereas Scherzer’s most similar is 931 and Koufax’s is 913.) 

Here’s a comparison of their career statistics. As you can see, with the exception of raw ERA (but not ERA+) they are very comparable.

Max Scherzer vs. Sandy Koufax    

There are some other interesting parallels. Both pitchers have won three Cy Young Awards (though to be fair, Koufax’s awards were all unanimous and won during the period when the award covered both leagues). Koufax pitched 12 seasons. Scherzer is now a month into his 13th.

Does that make Scherzer a Hall of Famer? While I think Scherzer is well on his way to Cooperstown, I don’t think the comparison with Koufax’s career statistics is enough by itself. The reason is that Koufax is not in the Hall because of his career statistics but despite them. We need to look at the shape of Koufax’s career and how his peak seasons drove him into the Hall.

Both pitchers took a while to become established as stars. Koufax was signed as a bonus baby—meaning, under the rules of the time, that he had to go directly to the big-league roster at age 19 and spend his first two years there without any time in the minors. He never would play in the minors, but he spent his first three seasons in Brooklyn as a long relief/spot starter/low leverage pitcher. Scherzer was drafted out of high school in the 43rd round but went to college instead. Three years later he was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 1st round, spent one season in the minors in high A and AA, then debuted with the D-backs at age 22 in April 2008. He split his time that season between AAA and the D-backs, where he was also used as a long relief/spot starter. In 2009 he moved into the rotation, and the following season he was traded to the Tigers

Over Koufax’s first six seasons he averaged 115 innings, 29 games, and 17 starts. His record was 36–40, and his ERA was 4.10 (ERA+ of 100). Scherzer’s early years were better than that (52–42 over his first five seasons with an ERA of 3.88 and ERA+ of 110), but he was just a solid second or third starter and not yet an ace.

Koufax’s final six seasons (1961 to 1966) were what made him a Hall of Famer and a legend. It’s worth remembering though that his raw statistics were given a boost, first in 1962 by the Dodgers move from the Coliseum to Dodgers Stadium, which at the time was a fairly extreme pitcher’s park,* then in 1963 by an expansion of the strike zone. So Koufax’s raw ERA post-1962 is lower than Scherzer’s, though quite a bit of the difference washes out when we look at ERA+. Koufax from 1961 to 1966 went 129–47, ERA of 2.19, ERA+ of 156, averaging 272 innings, 37 games, and 35 starts per season. Scherzer from 2013 to 2019 (7 seasons) went 118–47, ERA of 2.82, ERA+ of 149, averaging 212 innings, 32 games, and 32 starts. During those seasons Koufax completed 115 of his 211 starts and had 35 shutouts, whereas Scherzer completed 10 of his 223 starts and had 5 shutouts.
*When looking at Koufax’s career statistics, however, we should also keep in mind that Ebbetts Field was hitters’ park and the LA Coliseum was absolutely terrible for left-handed pitchers.

Turning to advanced statistics, Koufax’s FIP from 1961 to 1966 was 2.16—far ahead of runner-up Bob Veale with 2.55. In comparison, Scherzer’s FIP from 2013 to 2019 was 2.81, which ranked third behind Kershaw (2.55) and DeGrom (2.78). Scherzer actually has a higher strikeout rate over his prime seasons (11.3/9-IP) than Koufax (9.4/9-IP), and a similar walk rate (2.1 for Scherzer vs. 2.3 for Koufax), but Scherzer’s home runs-allowed rate has been quite a bit higher (1.0 for Scherzer vs. 0.6 for Koufax). Of course, both strikeouts and home runs have risen substantially since the 1960s.

Another key difference is that Koufax pitched in four World Series (1959, ’63, ’65, and ’66) and the Dodgers won three of them. Scherzer has made it to the WS twice and has one ring. Furthermore, Koufax’s WS performance was incredible – a 4–3 record in 8 games and 7 starts (4–1 in the Dodgers’ 1963 and ’65 championships), 57 IP, with a 0.95 ERA, 2 shutouts, and 4 complete games. And of course there’s also the extraordinary story of Koufax skipping Game 1 in 1965 to observe Yom Kippur. Scherzer’s postseason performance has been good but more ordinary with a 7–5 record in 22 games and 18 starts, 112 IP, with a 3.38 ERA and no complete games. In the Nats’ championship World Series, Scherzer’s performance was essential (the Nats’ won both of his starts), but with his 3.60 ERA the team also had to depend on some timely hitting and solid relief.

I think Scherzer is very likely to make the Hall of Fame, but his seven peak seasons, though dominant, have not been as dominant as Koufax’s six-year peak, and Scherzer doesn’t have the World Series legend of Koufax. Nevertheless, I think Scherzer is in a good position to remain one of the top pitchers in baseball for at least another two or three seasons. And even if his performance drops back a bit, in another three or four seasons he will start reaching career totals that will make him a lock for Cooperstown. For example, his 2747 strikeouts places him 24th on the leader board. If he passes Maddux at 3371, he’ll be in the top ten. Barring major injury, that total pretty much seems inevitable.

I feel very lucky to have seen and been a fan of both of these incredible pitchers in their prime.

August 2, 2020 / Nat Anacostia

Nats’ July in review: ‘Getting some mojo going’

After a pandemic-induced delay of nearly four months, the world champion Nationals kicked off their 2020 season on July 23. The home opener against the Yankees ended early, called after 5-1/3 innings due to a thunderstorm. The month also ended early for the Nats when a Covid-19 outbreak on the Marlins led to the cancellation of their scheduled series in Miami. In the seven games the Nats were able to play, they went 3-4, ending the month tied for third place, a game and a half behind the Braves.

Let’s start with a quick rundown of the off season. The Nationals coming off their World Series victory were the oldest team in baseball, so they had a lot of players entering free agency. Many of the free agents were willing to return to Washington. The big news was re-signing Stephen Strasburg to a 7-year, $245 million contract. Other players who were re-signed included Yan Gomes, Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, Daniel Hudson, and Ryan Zimmerman. Also, Javy Guerra was re-signed to a minor league contract.

But the Nats did part ways with several players from their championship squad. Most prominently, Anthony Rendon, who had placed third in the 2019 NL Most Valuable Player vote, signed with the Angels for a 7-year, $245 million contract. The Washington Post reported that the Nats’ offer had been 7 years at $210 to 215 million. Clearly, ownership had decided to pursue Strasburg instead. Matt Adams was eventually signed by the Braves, Brian Dozier and Hunter Strickland by the Mets, and Fernando Rodney by the Astros. Gerardo Parra signed in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants.

The Nats brought in several new players. Relief pitcher Will Harris signed a 3-year, $24 million contract. Infielder Starlin Castro signed a 2-year, $12 million contract. The Nats also signed left-handed first baseman Eric Thames, relief pitcher Kyle Finnegan, utility player and former Nat Emilio Bonifacio, and catcher Wellington Castillo, with the last two signing minor league contracts. Shortly after the season began, the Nats inked infielder Josh Harrison. Via trade, the Nats picked up relief pitcher Ryne Harper from the Twins.

On March 12, as the nation started shutting down in response to the Covid19 pandemic, MLB announced that the start of the season would be postponed. Eventually they agreed to a 60-game schedule starting on July 23. A number of other changes were made. Games would be played in empty stadiums with piped-in crowd noise. The NL would adopt the designated hitter. If a game went to extra innings, each inning would begin with a runner on second base (the last batter to have batted in the previous inning). Furthermore, the minor leagues were shut down. Instead of relying on minor leaguers, each MLB team has an “alternate site,” giving them access to up to 60 players overall. The initial active roster would be 30 players. Just before the season commenced, MLB announced that the post season would expand from 10 teams to 16, with those teams each playing a three-game wild card series to kick off the post season. Finally, near the end of the first week of the season MLB announced that games in double headers would be played for seven innings.

“Summer training” began July 3 at Nationals Park with mostly intra-squad competition and only three true exhibition games. News during the run-up to the season was dominated by the virus. Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross, and Wellington Castillo all decided to opt out of the season and were placed on the restricted list (though Castillo probably would have been at the alternate site). Just before opening day, Juan Soto tested positive for the coronavirus despite showing no symptoms. He was quarantined and would miss the rest of July, though subsequent negative tests suggested that the original test had been a false positive. Another blow came when Strasburg had to be scratched as the starter of the season’s second game with nerve pain in his right hand. He would also miss the rest of July.

The season kicked off at home against the Yankees. Max Scherzer faced Gerrit Cole—his opponent in Game 1 of the World Series. The Yanks won the rain-shortened game 4 to 1. The Nats’ bats came alive in the second game, which they won 9 to 2. But in game 3, the Nats’ bullpen was not able to hold onto a lead and the Nats fell 3 to 2.

The next four games were against the Blue Jays. The first two were at home, and the next two were scheduled for the road. But the Blue Jays were not allowed to play in Toronto, and their new temporary ballpark in Buffalo would not be ready in time. So for the last two games the Jays remained in Nationals Park, wore their home uniforms, and batted last. The game on July 29 was officially the Blue Jays’ home opener.

In the first two games, the Nats hitters were unable to drive in runners and the pitchers gave up a bunch of solo home runs. The Jays swept the Nats’ “home” series. The “road” series kicked off with a pitching duel between Scherzer and the Jays’ heralded rookie Nate Pearson making his major league debut. The game was still scoreless after nine, so the Nats got to try out the new extra inning rules. It went well, as the Nats were able to score 4 in the tenth inning and win 4 to 0. They won the second game also, sweeping the “road” series.

Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins had experienced a major outbreak of Covid, with 18 players and 2 coaches testing positive. The Nats’ series that was scheduled for the weekend of July 31 to August 2 was cancelled, and after the first seven games the Nats faced a four-day hiatus.

It’s hard to make much of seven days of statistics, but so far the Nats batters have been weak. Their .306 on-base percentage ranks 12th in the NL, and their .398 slugging percentage ranks 9th. Their starting pitching was a bit better; their 3.47 ERA ranks 6th, and their 10.2 K/9 ranks 4th. But Nats’ starters were worst in the league in home runs allowed per nine innings with 2.5. The relief pitchers’ ERA of 1.50 was 3rd in the NL.

According to the Fangraphs estimates, the Nats’ 3–4 record caused their probability of winning the division to fall from 33.2% to 22.6%, while their probability of reaching the playoffs fell from 76.7% to 67.0%.


3–4 (.429)

Pythagorean Record:

4–3 (3.43 R/G – 3.14 RA/G)

July MVP:

Patrick Corbin (0–0, 1.42 RA/9, 1 G, 6-1/3 IP, 11.4 K/9, .333 opp OPS, 0.4 RA9-WAR). Honorable mention goes to Max Scherzer (0–1, 2.84 RA/9, 2 G, 12-2/3 IP, 14.9 K/9, .606 opp OPS, 0.4 RA9-WAR).

Most valuable position player:

Starlin Castro (.360/.385/.520, 7 G, 26 PA, 3 R, 0 RBI, 147 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR).

Most valuable relief pitcher:

Daniel Hudson (1–0, 0.00 RA/9, 3 G, 3-2/3 IP, 12.3 K/9, .273 opp OPS, 2.89 RE24, 0.3 RA9-WAR, 2 shutdowns, 0 meltdown). Honorable mention goes to Ryne Harper (1–0, 0.00 RA/9, 4 G, 5 IP, 10.8 K/9, .399 opp OPS, 3.69 RE24, 0.3 RA9-WAR, 1 shutdown, 0 meltdown).

Worst month:

Howie Kendrick (.125/.222/.188, 5 G, 18 PA, 1 R, 1 RBI, –22 wRC+, –0.3 fWAR). Kendrick was pulled from the last two games due to upper back tightness.

Best start this month:

Max Scherzer (July 29, 4–0 win over the Blue Jays in an “away” game at Nats Park) pitched 7-1/3 scoreless innings, giving up 3 hits and 3 walks and striking out 10 for a game score of 79. The bullpen held the Jays scoreless the rest of the way as the Nats won in 10 innings.

Worst start:

Erick Fedde (July 30, 6–4 win over the Blue Jays in an “away” game at Nats Park) gave up 2 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks in 3-1/3 innings with no strikeouts, for a game score of 38.

Tough loss:

  • Austin Voth (July 28, 5–1 loss to the Blue Jays at home) gave up 3 runs (2 earned) on 4 hits and 0 walks in 5 innings, while striking out 2, for a game score of 51.

Best shutdown: 

Daniel Hudson (July 29, 4–0 win over the Blue Jays in an “away” game at Nats Park). Hudson entered in the bottom of the eighth with a scoreless tie, one out, and runners on first and third, facing the top of the Jays’ order. He got a double play to get out of the eighth, then in the ninth struck out their # 2, 3, and 4 hitters, sending it to the tenth. (win probability added .397). The Nats scored 4 runs in the top of the tenth to give Hudson the win.

Worst meltdown:

Sean Doolittle (July 26, 3–2 loss to the Yankees at home). Doolittle entered in the top of the eighth with the game tied 2–2. He walked the first batter, got a strikeout, then gave up a single. Judge lined out to left for the second out, but then Torres singled to give the Yanks the lead. Tanner Rainey came in to get the final out, but the Nats would not regain the lead. (WPA –0.226)

Clutch hit:

Asdrubal Cabrera (July 29, 4–0 win over the Blue Jays in an “away” game). Just before Cabrera came to bat in the top of the tenth inning, Adam Eaton had managed a two-out infield hit with the bases loaded to give the Nats a 1–0 lead. But because the Jays would start the bottom of the inning with a runner on second, it wasn’t apparent that a one-run lead would suffice. Cabrera hit a triple down the right field line, clearing the bases and giving the Nats a 4–0 lead. (WPA 0.29) Rainey held the Jays scoreless in the bottom of the inning to give the Nats the win. (Note – usually I use Fangraphs for WPA statistics, but they seem to have a glitch in their calculations with the new extra-innings runner-on-second format, so I’ve used Baseball Reference’s version in this case.) 


Emilio Bonifacio (July 26, 3–2 loss to the Yankees at home). In the bottom of the ninth, the Nats were trailing 3 to 2. Cabrera led off with a single, and Bonifacio was sent in as a pinch runner. He made it to second on a passed ball, and then, with a 3–2 count for Victor Robles, Bonifacio attempted to steal third. Robles drew a walk, but Bonifacio over-slid and was thrown out. This was not a situation that called for a stolen base attempt. Instead of runners at first and second with no outs, the Nats had a runner at first with one out. Two outs later the game would be over.

Favorite defensive plays:


October 31, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

2019 World Series: ‘The top of baseball’s highest peak’

Game 1, Tuesday October 22. As the series opened in Houston, both teams had their aces on the mound—Max Scherzer for the Nationals and Gerrit Cole for the Astros. Trea Turner opened the series with a single, then promptly stole second (thus satisfying the criteria for a free taco promotion). But Cole set down the next three in order.

The Astros opened their half of the first with a seven-pitch walk by George Springer. José Altuve followed with a single. Scherzer then struck out Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman, but Springer advanced to third on a wild pitch and Altuve stole second. Yuli Gurriel then hit a double to drive in both runners and put Houston up 2 to 0.

In the second with two outs, Ryan Zimmerman hammered a fastball over the center field fence for the first World Series home run in Nats franchise history. The Nats were now trailing 2 to 1.

In the top of the fourth, Juan Soto led off and drove a fastball at the top of the zone high above the left-field wall to land on the railroad tracks, tying the game.

Meanwhile, Scherzer was struggling with command and getting out of jams. He allowed a walk in the bottom of the second and two singles in the bottom of the third, but got out of trouble each time. In the bottom of the fourth, Yordan Álvarez led off with a single. One out later, with Josh Reddick at bat, Scherzer and the Nats caught a break when the umpire failed to call catcher’s interference on Kurt Suzuki, which would have given Reddick a free base. Instead, Reddick flied out for the second out. Scherzer then walked Springer but got the third out from a grounder by Altuve.

In the top of the fifth, Suzuki led off with a walk, followed by a single from Víctor Robles. Suzuki advanced to third on a Turner fly ball, then Adam Eaton singled to drive him in and advance Robles to second. Anthony Rendon grounded into a fielder’s choice, forcing Eaton at second while Robles advanced to third. Then Soto hit a two-out douible off the left-field wall, scoring both runners. The Nats now led 5 to 2.

Scherzer had his first one-two-three inning in the bottom of the fifth, but with his pitch count up to 112 and having battled with command all evening, his night was done. He gave up 2 runs, 5 hits, and 3 walks in 5 innings of work, with 7 strikeouts. Uncharacteristically, he threw 47 balls along with 65 strikes. It was now up to the bullpen.

Patrick Corbin pitched the sixth. It took him 21 pitches and he gave up a single but got out of the inning with the lead intact. Tanner Rainey pitched the seventh and gave up a lead-off home run, followed by two walks, while only getting one out. Daniel Hudson came in and gave up an infield single before getting out of the inning. The Nats led 5 to 3 after 7.

Meanwhile, Cole had pitched two more scoreless innings, making it to 7 innings. He ended his start having given up 5 runs on 8 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 6. Neither pitcher had a great start, but Scherzer managed to get out of all but one of his jams and avoided giving up the long ball.

Hudson went back out for the eighth and gave up a lead-off single, followed by a one-out double by Springer that drove in a run. The Nats’ lead was now 5 to 4. After getting Altuve to line out for the second out, Sean Doolittle came in for a four-out save. He retired all four batters he faced, and the Nats won Game One 5 to 4.

The press focused on Soto, who hit a home run, a double, and a single, stole a base, and drove in 3 of the Nats’ 5 runs. Joe Posnanski of The Athletic wrote that it’s time to stop saying that Soto is the future. He’s the present.

Game 2, Wednesday October 23. Both teams have three pitchers who would qualify as the aces of most MLB teams. For the second game, Stephen Strasburg was matched against Justin Verlander.

The Nationals got on the board quickly. Turner led off the game with a walk, then Eaton singled and Rendon doubled, driving both runners in. The Nats were ahead 2 to 0.

The Astros got those runs back in the bottom of the first. After a strikeout by Springer, Altuve doubled but was caught by a nice throw from Suzuki when he tried to steal third. Brantley then singled and Bregman hit a home run, tying the game at 2 runs each.

For the next five innings the game was a pitching nail biter, which you may not have guessed if you only saw the final score. The Nats got runners on base—a single by Suzuki in the second, a double by Soto in the third, an infield single by Zimmerman in the fourth, and a single by Turner and a walk by Rendon in the fifth—but were unable to drive them in. Strasburg retired the side in the second, had runners reach on an error and a single in the third, and allowed singles in both the fourth and the fifth innings.

In the sixth inning with his pitch count mounting, Strasburg got in his first real jam since the first. Gurriel hit a one-out double, and after Strasburg fell behind Álvarez 2–0, he was intentionally walked. Davey Martinez stuck with Strasburg, who got Carlos Correa to pop up and struck out Kyle Tucker to get out of the inning. Strasburg’s night was over after 6 innings and 114 pitches. He gave up 2 runs on 7 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 7.

Verlander, who was at 98 pitches, went back out for the top of the seventh. Suzuki led off and hit the second pitch into the stands, giving the Nats a 3–2 lead. (Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote a nice appreciation of Suzuki.) Verlander then walked Robles and was pulled for Ryan Pressly. Then the floodgates opened.

Turner drew a walk, and Eaton bunted to advance the runners to second and third. Rendon got the second out on a fly to short center field, not deep enough to score Robles. The Astros intentionally walked Soto, loading the bases with two outs. Howie Kendrick hit an RBI infield single off the end of Bregman’s glove. While not a routine play, the Gold Glove finalist probably would tell you he should have made it, but the Nats were now up by 2. Asdrúbal Cabrera then hit a single on a soft liner to center, driving in two more and putting the Nats up by 4. A wild pitch advanced Cabrera and Kendrick to second and third, then Zimmerman hit a dribbler toward third. Bregman shouldn’t have thrown the ball—Zimmerman was clearly going to be safe—but Bregman launched his throw and two more runs had scored. The game had turned into a laugher, with the Nats leading 8 to 2.

After that, the only question was whether the Nats bullpen would hold the lead. Fernando Rodney got through the bottom of the seventh unscathed, allowing only a walk. In the top of the eighth, Eaton hit a two-run homer, and another run scored after a walk by Soto and a pair of singles by Kendrick and Cabrera, making it 11 to 2. In the bottom of the eighth, Rainey retired the side.

In the top of the ninth, Michael A. Taylor hit a solo home run for the Nats’ 12th run. Javy Guerra finished the bottom of the ninth. With one out, he gave up a solo home run, then with two outs a pair of Astros reached on an error and a single. But he got Jake Marisnick to ground out to end the game. The Nats won 12 to 3 and were taking a two-games-to-none series lead back to Washington.

Game 3, Friday October 25. The World Series was back in Washington DC for the first time since 1933. The Nationals’ crowds were great for all three games—got to the games early, cheered loudly and enthusiastically, and mostly stayed until the end—even though the team never gave them a lead or a really pivotal play.

For Game 3, Aníbal Sánchez squared off against Zack Greinke. In the top of the first, Springer reached on an infield single. Altuve then hit a long drive into center, but Robles made a leaping catch to save a run, and Sánchez set down the next two batters to get out of the inning. In the bottom of the first, Rendon hit a two-out double, but the Nats weren’t able to score him.

The Astros went ahead in the second inning on a double by Correa followed by an RBI single by Reddick. Reddick took second when Soto air mailed the throw home. The Nats tried to get the run back when they led off the bottom of inning with a pair of singles, but Suzuki struck out and Robles hit into an inning-ending double play.

Altuve led off the third with a double, then advanced to third when Soto failed to cleanly field the ball. Brantley followed with an infield single that scored Altuve, giving the Astros a 2–0 lead. In the bottom of the third, the Nats loaded the bases on a single and two walks, but Cabrera struck out to end the threat.

Sánchez retired the side in the top of the fourth. The Nats’ got on the board in the bottom half when Zimmerman walked and Robles hit a triple. With one out and a runner on third, Sánchez came to the plate. Modern analytics said that it was time to put in a pinch hitter, but Martinez, not trusting his bullpen, left his pitcher in. Sánchez struck out on a foul bunt, and Turner grounded out, stranding Robles. Sánchez’s subsequent pitching would not live up to his manager’s expectations.

The Astros extended their lead to 3 to 1 in the fifth on an Altuve double followed by a Brantley single. In the bottom of the inning, Eaton led off with a single and Cabrera advanced him to third with a two-out double. Astros manager A.J. Hinch pulled Greinke for Josh James, who struck out Zimmerman to end the threat.

In the top of the sixth, Eaton made a spectacular catch to get the first out. Robinson Chirinos hit a one-out solo homer, and then Sánchez walked Tucker. Martinez brought in Rodney. Sánchez had gone 5-1/3 innings and had given up 4 runs on 10 hits and 1 walk, getting 4 strikeouts. Rodney walked Springer, the first batter he faced, but managed to get out of the inning after Tucker got caught in a run-down between second and third, and Bregman grounded into a fielder’s choice.

In the bottom of the sixth, Parra pinch hit for Suzuki, giving the national tv audience a chance to see Nats fans celebrate “Baby Shark.” We later learned that Suzuki had suffered a right hip flexor injury while catching a Rodney pitch, and Suzuki would be out the rest of the series (though he was not dropped from the roster). Parra struck out, but Robles and Matt Adams drew one-out walks. Then Will Harris came in and set down Turner and Eaton.

Joe Ross pitched a one-two-three top of the seventh, and Harris retired the side in the bottom of the inning. Ross got three more outs in the eighth, allowing only an infield single. The Astros brought in Joe Smith for the eighth, and he got three outs while giving up a single by Kendrick.

For the top of the ninth, Wander Suero pitched and retired the side. Roberto Osuna closed the game for the Astros. Eaton got a one-out single, but Rendon fouled out and Soto struck out to end the game. The Nats fell 4 to 1.

I don’t especially like talking about the strike zone, but it became an issue in game 3 and remained one for the rest of the series. (Fortunately, I don’t think it was ever decisive for a game, though it did affect several important plays.)

Gary Cederstrom was behind the plate in Game 3. He was giving pitches on the outside corner to Greinke, but giving the Astros batters the benefit on low pitches by Sánchez. It was most egregious in the fifth inning, when the Astros were leading 2 to 1. Brantley came to bat with one out and Altuve on second. With a 1–1 count, Sánchez fired a pitch into the bottom of the zone, but it was called a ball. He threw another pitch, and it again hit the bottom of the zone, but it was called ball 3. The next pitch was up, and Brantley singled to make it 3 to 1.

But Cederstrom was unfair to Sánchez the entire game. This image from a story by CBS Sports shows the strikes zones called for Sánchez versus Greinke. Greinke got several strikes called outside the zone, whereas Sánchez had balls called for pitches inside the zone.

We know that Suzuki is not good at pitch framing, but these differences are so extreme it almost leads me to wonder if someone in MLB might have hinted to Sederstrom that they’d prefer not to have the series turn into a sweep.

The Nats’ offense had opportunities. They had 14 batters reach base (on 9 hits and 5 walks), but went 0–10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 runners. This was a game that should have been much closer than it was.

Game 4, Saturday October 26. The Nationals were starting Corbin, whose 3.25 ERA and 238 strikeouts in the regular season made him the team’s third ace, though his 6.91 ERA in 6 previous post-season appearances was a cause for concern. The Astros countered with José Urquidy, a rookie whose entire major league experience consisted of 41 innings in 9 regular season games and 4 innings in relief in 2 post-season games.

Corbin quickly got into trouble in the first. After striking out Springer, he gave up four consecutive singles, putting the Astros ahead 2 to 0. After another walk to load the bases, he finally got out of the jam when Chirinos grounded into a double play.

In the bottom half of the first, Rendon hit a two out single, but Soto lined out to end the inning. Corbin and Urquidy each retired the side in the second. In the third, Corbin got the first out thanks to a tremendous diving stop by Rendon. He then gave up a single to Brantley but got Bregman to pop up and struck out Gurriel. In the bottom half, Yan Gomes led off with a double, but the Nats were unable to bring him in.

In the fourth, Corbin walked the lead-off hitter. Then with a 1–0  count, he served up a belt-high change-up to Chirinos who hit it into the stands. The Astros now led 4 to 0. Urquidy retired the side in both the fourth and fifth, as did Corbin in the fifth and sixth. Corbin was helped with the first out in the top of the fifth by an amazing diving play by Robles to catch a line drive off the bat of Brantley.

Urquidy was taken out after 5, but he had dominated the Nats’ lineup, allowing no runs on 2 hits and no walks, while striking out 4. Corbin, in contrast, went 6 but gave up 4 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 5. As Andy McCullough of The Athletic reported, “The Astros weren’t fooled by Corbin’s slider.”

In the bottom of the sixth, the Nationals finally got on the board when Parra and Eaton drew walks and Rendon hit a one-out infield single. Soto grounded out to first, scoring a run. But then Kendrick struck out to end the inning. The Astros led 4 to 1.

Rainey got the call in the seventh. After giving up a walk to Tucker, he had Springer facing a 3–2 count. Tucker took off and Gomes came up on what could have been a strike ’em out/throw ’em out play, but the umpire incorrectly called it ball 4 and gave the Astros another base runner. Rainey got Altuve to fly out, but then Martinez inexplicably brought in Rodney. Despite past glories, Rodney is not a pitcher you should turn to in a high leverage situation, especially when he pitched the previous day. (With 0 days rest, his opponents’ OPS this season was .865.) Rodney gave up a single to Brantley, followed by a grand slam home run to Bregman. The Astros were now up 8 to 1. Then Martinez let him load the bases with three more walks (with a fielder’s choice mixed in) before Martinez finally pulled him for Suero.

After that, the game was pretty uninteresting. The Nats had two runners reach in both the seventh (on a single and a walk) and the eighth (on an Astros throwing error and a walk) but didn’t score them. Guerra pitched the eighth and ninth and gave up two hits in each inning, but no runs. In the ninth, Soto gunned down Chirinos trying to score (in contrast to his bad throw home in the second inning of Game 3).

The Nats were retired in the bottom of the ninth, with only Dozier reaching on a two-out walk. The Astros won Game 4 decisively, 8 to 1. The Nats stranded 9 runners and were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. The home town team left the stadium disappointed for the fourth consecutive night.

Joe Posnanski of The Athletic wrote about how the Nats were old-fashioned and not aggressive enough.

Game 5, Sunday October 27. We were expecting a rematch between Scherzer and Cole, so Nats fans were shocked in late afternoon to learn that Scherzer would not be able to start due to neck spasms. Ross would would get the start—the Nats’ fifth starter facing perhaps the best pitcher in baseball. Scherzer would get cortisone shots and was hopeful to return later in the series.

Springer drew a walk from Ross to lead off the game, but Altuve grounded into a double play and Brantley grounded out. Cole retired the side in the bottom of the first.

In the second, Ross gave up a one-out walk to Gurriel, then Álvarez drilled a home run to left center field. When the ball hit a fan in the chest who was holding onto two beers, the video went viral. The Astros were ahead 2 to 0.

In the bottom of the second, Soto and Kendrick led off the inning with a pair of singles and the Nats had runners on first and third with no outs. But Cole struck out Zimmerman and Robles grounded into a double play, ending the Nats’ opportunity.

In the third, Ross worked around a two-out single, while Cole retired the side. Trouble came in the fourth, when Álvarez hit a two-out single. Ross got ahead 0–2, then hit the corner for what should have been called strike 3, ending the inning. But Lance Barksdale called it a ball, and four pitches later Ross hung a slider over the center of the plate and Correa hit it over the fence. Astros were up 4 to 0, and Barksdale’s mistakes were just beginning.

In the bottom of the fourth, Cole worked around a one-out walk to Rendon, and both pitchers retired the side in the fifth. Ross was finished after five, and actually had pitched pretty well. He really only made one bad pitch, the home run to Correa. The sinker that Álvarez hit out was a good pitch on the outer corner that the hitter managed to drive. Ross gave up 4 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks, striking out 1. Unfortunately, he was no match for Cole.

In the sixth, Rainey came in and faced Brantley. Brantley a 2–2 pitch that caught the strike zone and Gomes stood up to throw the ball around. But Barksdale called it a ball and told Gomes he was taking off on him. Gomes responded, “Oh it’s my fault?” and Martinez was going crazy. This mistake was obvious but didn’t affect the game, as Rainey retired all three Astros that inning. In the bottom of the inning, Cole also retired the side. In the seventh, Doolittle gave up a lead-off single, but the runner was erased on a double play. After a walk, Doolittle struck out Cole to end the inning.

With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Soto took Cole deep to left-center. The Nats now trailed 4 to 1. Kendrick struck out for the second out, but Zimmerman drew a walk on a 3–2 pitch on the corner. Cole hollered a Barksdale—it was a pitch he had been getting the call on earlier (though we’ve seen that Ross hadn’t gotten a similar call earlier). Then Robles worked the count to 3–2 and took a pitch clearly out of the zone, a couple of inches farther outside than Zimmerman’s pitch had been. He started toward first thinking he’d brought the tying run to the plate, but was called out by Barksdale. I hate it when umpires try to make up for previous bad calls by making a bad call in the opposite direction, but I think that’s exactly what happened there. Overall, Barksdale’s strike zone was extremely erratic, and there were a number of articles calling for robo-umps.

Hudson came in for the eighth and gave up a lead-off double to Springer. Altuve grounded out but advanced the runner. After an intentional walk and a fly-ball out, Gurriel singled to drive in Springer and give the Astros their four-run lead back. It was 5 to 1.

Smith pitched the bottom of the eighth and gave up a lead-off single to Gomes, but he retired the next three in order. Hudson stayed on for the ninth and gave up a one-out single. Then Springer hit a two-out homer, putting the Astros up 7 to 1. Suero came in to get the final out.

Pressly pitched a one-two-three inning in the bottom of the ninth, and the Nats’ home stand was over. They lost the game 7 to 1 and trailed in the series, 3 games to 2. In contrast to the first two games, where the Nats had plenty of batters reach but failed to drive them in, this time they stranded only 4 runners and were 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position. In contrast to Game 1, this time Cole had simply dominated them.

The other notable event in Game 5 was that President Trump attended the game. His presence went largely unnoticed until it was time for the regular 3rd inning salute to the troops when the scoreboard switched to show the President. The crowd immediately switched from cheering the troops to booing the president. A little later there were chants of “lock him up.”

Game 6, Tuesday October 29. Back in Houston, the Nats would now need two consecutive wins. Replaying the match-up in Game 2, Strasburg squared off against Verlander.

Turner led off the first with an infield single. Eaton bunted him to second, and Rendon drove him home on a single to center. The Nats were up 1 to 0.

The lead was quickly reversed, though, when Springer hit a lead-off double, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and was driven in by a sacrifice fly from Altuve. One out later, Bregman hit a home run to left. In celebration, he carried the bat all the way to first base and tried to drop it off in the coach’s unwilling hands—an act that did not go unnoticed by the Nationals players. The Astros led 2 to 1. After the game, we learned that the Nats’ coordinator of advanced scouting realized that Strasburg had been tipping his pitches and had Paul Menhart correct the problem between innings

Both pitchers retired the side in the second. In the top of the third, Eaton and Rendon each drew two-out walks, but Soto grounded out to end the inning. Strasburg again retired the side.

In the fourth, Kendrick led off with a single, then Zimmerman drew a one-out walk. But the runners were stranded after a strikeout and a fly-out. In the bottom half, Strasburg surrendered two two-out walks on 9 pitches, but managed to strike out Correa to get out of the inning.

In the fifth, the Nats finally got to Verlander. With one out, Eaton drove a slider over the right field fence. With two outs, Soto launched a mammoth home run into the second deck. Trolling Bregman, Soto also carried his bat down to first. The Nats were now leading 3 to 2.

In the bottom of the fifth, Strasburg gave up a one-out single to Reddick followed by a double to Springer. But he struck out Altuve and got Brantley to ground out to get out of the jam. In the sixth, Peacock came in and retired the Nats in order. Strasburg gave up a lead-off single but retired the next three.

The top of the seventh would be the turning point of the game, but first it featured the most controversial call of the series. After Gomes hit a lead-off single, Turner hit a dribbler in front of the mound and raced toward first. Peacock fielded it and rushed his throw toward first, pulling Gurriel’s glove into Turner. The ball got away, and the runners advanced, but home plate umpire Sam Holbrook called Turner out for interference. I’ll talk more about the rule below, but it led to a heated argument and an 8-minute delay while the called New York to clarify if the rule had been applied appropriately. (The play could not actually be reviewed, as it was a judgment call.) Later, between innings and presumably after Martinez had seen some video, he came out to argue the Turner interference call again and was ejected from the game.

After the long interruption, Harris replaced Peacock and got Eaton to pop out. Then Rendon caught a cutter in the middle of the plate and hit it into the left-field stands. The Nats were up 5 to 2, and the interference call on Turner had been rendered moot.

Strasburg, who seemed to only be getting better as the night went on, retired the Astros in order in the seventh and the eighth. Pressly set down the Nats in order in the top of the eighth.

The Astros brought in Chris Devenski for the top of the ninth, and he got two outs. Then Turner doubled, Eaton was hit by a pitch, and Rendon hit a doujble off the wall in deep right, driving in both runners. He had 3 hits and 5 RBIs that night, and the Nats now led 7 to 2.

In the bottom of the ninth, Strasburg came back out to face one more hitter. He got Gurriel to line out, then Doolittle came out for the final two outs. Álvarez lined out for the second out, then Correa hit a double. But Chirinos popped out to end the game. The Nats won 7 to 2 and the series was tied at three games apiece. We were going to have a Game 7.

Strasburg’s game was amazing. He threw 104 pitches and 65 strikes. In 8-1/3 innings, he gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks, and struck out 7. (His game score was 70.) His game, along with Cole’s Game 5, were the best starts of the series.

The interference call on Turner.

The relevant part of the rule in question [5.09(a)(11)] is:

A batter is out when:

(11) In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; …

Rule 5.09(a)(11) Comment: The lines marking the three-foot lane are a part of that lane and a batter-runner is required to have both feet within the three-foot lane or on the lines marking the lane. The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base

A few comments:

  1. After the game, Joe Torre made clear that according to the rules Turner was called out for interfering with the play, not for running outside the 3-foot running lane.
  2. Did Turner actually “interfere with the fielder taking the throw at first base”? It didn’t look like he was “running into Gurriel’s mitt as the ball was arriving.” Rather, it looked to me like Gurriel was moving his glove into Turner while attempting to catch an off-line throw. The rule says the batter is out if he “interferes with the fielder taking the throw,” which I interpret as taking action that interferes, not just being there when a throw goes off course.
  3. If Turner was called out for interfering with the fielder, why would Sam Holbrook, the home plate umpire, be the one to make the call? He’s in position to see the running lane, but that only becomes relevant if it’s established that the batter has interfered with the fielder taking the throw. I’d think the first base umpire would be the one best positioned to see and judge if interference took place. After interference is established, then I’d think the first-base umpire would consult with the home-plate umpire about the running lane, if that turns out even to be relevant.
  4. According to the rule’s “Comment”, the batter has the right to be outside the 3-foot lane while taking  his last step toward the bag. Turner was clearly taking that last step when the alleged interference took place. The path Turner had previously taken doesn’t seem relevant to what was happening when the alleged interference took place.
  5. The purpose of the rule establishing the 3-foot running lane is to allow the catcher a clear throw to the base for a ball fielded directly in front of the plate. But Turner’s hit was fielded near the pitcher’s mound. Peacock’s throwing line was not obstructed by Turner’s running path. He just made a bad throw that veered Turner rather than going directly to Gurriel.
  6. For a right-handed batter, getting into the 3-foot running lane and then making a final step from foul territory to the base in fair territory would be an unnatural path, maybe even dangerous. As Turner said, the batter’s box is in fair territory and the base is in fair territory, so the most direct path is along the fair side of the line. (Interestingly, when this rule was first written, first base was apparently placed in the middle of the foul line rather than on the fair side, allowing players to step on first without veering into fair territory.) If baseball rules are designed to get players to follow them, this rule seems like a non-starter as few right-handed batters follow this running path and enforcement of this rarely applied rule seems unlikely to get them to change their path. Furthermore, it’s not clear that getting them to do so would improve the game in any meaningful way.
  7. The rule is not consistently applied. Craig Edwards of FanGraphs notes calls on several similar plays that went the other way and were even protested and upheld. I’m sure I’ve seen a number of similar plays over the years where interference wasn’t called. An erratically enforced rule that suddenly is applied in the biggest games of the year is a recipe for disaster.
  8. The rule, as applied in this case as well as similar cases, rewards bad fielding. That’s not good for baseball.

It’s a bad rule and needs to be changed. Get rid of the 3-foot lane and just tell batters they have to follow a direct running lane toward the base, the same as with any other base. If there’s purposeful interference such as knocking the ball out of a glove, call it, but don’t call out the runner just for being in the path of a bad throw.

Game 7, Wednesday October 30. Three days after missing a start in excruciating pain, Scherzer was feeling good and would get the start. How well would he pitch and how long could he go? Facing him would be Greinke, who had been hittable in Game 3, though he limited the Nats to 1 run in 4-2/3 innings. Cole, with two days rest, lurked in the Astros bullpen.

In the top of the first, Greinke set down the Nats in order. Scherzer got through the bottom half, only giving up a two-out walk to Brantley. In the top of the second, Soto led off with a single but was quickly erased when Kendrick hit into a double play.

Leading off the bottom of the second, Gurriel took a slider low in the zone into the Crawford Boxes, putting the Astros up 1 to 0. Álvarez and Correa followed with a pair of singles, but Scherzer got the next three outs to avoid further damage.

Scherzer continued to allow base runners—a single and a walk in the third, a single and a walk again in the fourth, but kept them from scoring. Meanwhile Greinke set down the Nats in order in the third and fourth and worked around a walk in the fifth.

In the bottom of the fifth, Brantley led off the inning with a single. Scherzer struck out Bregman, and Gurriel grounded into a fielder’s choice. But Álvarez drew a walk, and Correa singled, scoring Gurriel. The Astros now led 2 to 0. After 103 pitches, Scherzer’s night was done. In 5 innings he had given up 2 runs on 7 hits and 4 walks, with only 3 strikeouts. It wasn’t a characteristically great Scherzer performance, but he had made it through 5 innings and the Nats were still in the game.

In the sixth, Greinke again set the Nats down in order. Through 6 innings, he had held the Nats scoreless while allowing only 1 hit and 1 walk. Furthermore, when the Nats put the ball in play, many of them were weakly hit. Greinke fielded 5 come-backers to the mound (including one that started a double play). He seemed to be baffling the Nats batters.

Martinez called on Corbin to pitch the sixth. He gave up a lead-off single, but got a strike out and a double play to retire the side.

Hinch stuck with Greinke in the top of the seventh, and he got Eaton to ground out to start the inning. Then Rendon caught a change-up near the middle of the zone and hit a home run. The Nats exhaled as they realized they could get to Greinke.

Soto drew a walk, catching a break on a 2–1 pitch that was called a ball but should have been a strike. Hinch decided it was time to go to his bullpen and brought in Harris. (He would never call on Cole.) On an 0–1 count, Kendrick caught a cutter on the bottom, outside corner of the plate and sliced it into the right field corner. It hit the foul pole screen and the Nats were suddenly ahead 3 to 2.

The Nats extended their lead in the eighth when Eaton drew a one-out walk, stole second, and was driven home on a two-out single by Soto. They were ahead 4 to 2.

Meanwhile, Corbin had things under control. He worked around a two-out single in the seventh and retired the side in the eighth. He pitched 3 scoreless innings, giving up only 2 hits and striking out 3.

In the top of the ninth, the Nats added on. After two singles and a walk, the bases were loaded for Eaton with one out. He singled to center, driving in two, and the lead was 6 to 2.

Finally, it was the bottom of the ninth, and Hudson came in to finish the game. Long-time Nats fans were trying not to remember Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS or Game 2 of 2014. But Hudson needed only 12 pitches to get a pop-up from Springer followed by strikeouts by Altuve and Brantley. The Nationals were champions! And for the first time ever, the road team had won every game of a seven-game series.



October 17, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

Nats sweep Cardinals to win pennant: ‘This is a beautiful place’

The Nationals were favorites. The Nats had better starting pitching and a stronger lineup. But the Cardinals had been hot in the second half, had a Cy Young candidate in Jack Flaherty, and hoped that the games could get to the bullpen, where they held the advantage. It turned out the Nats’ starters were up to the challenge and the bullpen did its part, as the Nats swept the series.

Game 1, Friday October 11. It was a cold evening in St. Louis, about 45 degrees at game time. Aníbal Sánchez started for the Nationals, while the Cardinals countered with Miles Mikolas. The Nats struck first, when Howie Kendrick led off the top of the second with a double to deep right-center. Two outs later, Yan Gomes hit a double to the left-center gap, scoring Kendrick and putting the Nats up 1 to 0.

In the bottom of the inning, Marcell Ozuna squared up on a cutter and drove it to deep center where Michael A. Taylor caught it on the warning track. On a warmer night it might have been a home run. It turned out to be the only time the Cardinals would barrel a ball that night. Sánchez mixed up his seven pitches and hit his spots, resulting in weak contact and a lot of soft fly balls.

In the fourth, the Cards got their first base runner when Sánchez walked Kelton Wong. Wong stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by Gomes. But Ozuna fouled out to end the inning.

In the fifth, the Nats managed to load the bases on two singles and a walk but were unable to score a run. In the sixth, Ryan Zimmerman hit a one-out double but was left stranded. In the bottom of the sixth, Cardinals pinch hitter Randy Arozarena was hit by a pitch and stole second. He made it to third before Sánchez got Wong to fly out, ending the inning. Sánchez had not allowed a hit. Meanwhile, Mikolas had also been quite effective, pitching 6 innings and allowing one run on 7 scattered hits and 2 walks (one intentional) while striking out 7. It was still 1 to 0.

In the top of the seventh, Giovanny Gallegos was pitching for the Cards, and Adam Eaton hit a one-out triple. Rendon was intentionally walked, and Andrew Miller was brought in to face Juan Soto, who struck out. Then the Cards brought in John Brebbia to face Kendrick, who singled to drive in Eaton and increase the Nats’ lead to 2 to 0.  In the bottom of the seventh, Sánchez hit Molina with a pitch but set down the other three batters. He was at 89 pitches after seven innings with a no-hitter still intact.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Tommy Edman led off with a line drive toward first. Zimmerman made a diving catch to snag the ball and keep the no-hit bid alive. After another fly ball out, José Martínez came in as a pinch hitter and hit a short line drive to center that landed for a single, ending the no-hit bid after 7-2/3 innings. Sean Doolittle came in to get the last four outs. He retired all four batters he faced on three ground outs and one strikeout. The Nats won 2 to 0.

Daniel Hudson missed the game that evening but was making some history by becoming the first player to use the paternity leave list in the postseason when he went home for the birth of his daughter. The paternity list had been introduced for regular season games in 2011, and was extended to postseason games in 2016 after Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup missed some games for the premature birth of his son. Of course a few Neanderthals criticized Hudson for missing the game, but the Nationals defended him. Doolittle was quoted, “If your reaction to someone having a baby is anything other than, ‘Congratulations, I hope everybody’s healthy,’ you’re an a–hole.” Jeff Passan of ESPN wrote a nice article describing Hudson’s experiences.

Game 2, Saturday October 12. It was warmer that it had been the previous evening, but Game 2 was a late afternoon start (3:08 Central time, 4:08 Eastern) that meant the batters and fielders would be battling sun and shadows for the first five or six innings. Max Scherzer took the mound for the Nationals, while Adam Wainwright pitched for the Cardinals.

The Nats offense struck in the top of the third when Taylor, leading off the inning, hit the first pitch into the left-field seats, giving the Nats a 1–0 lead. Other than that, the first six innings of the game were a pitcher’s duel. Besides the Taylor home run, the Nats scattered three singles: by Rendon in the first, Taylor in the fifth, and Trea Turner in the sixth. Meanwhile, Scherzer had held the Cards to two walks and had a no-hitter through six. It was the second time in postseason history that two pitchers had held opponents hitless for 5+ innings in consecutive starts—repeating what Sánchez and Scherzer had previously done for the Tigers in the first two games of the 2013 ALCS.

In the seventh, Wainwright retired the Nats in order, but Scherzer gave up a single to Paul Goldschmidt, ending his no-hit bid. He then struck out Ozuna and got Yadier Molina to ground into a double play, ending the inning. In 7 scoreless innings, Scherzer struck out 11 while giving up 1 hit and 2 walks.

In the top of the eighth, Matt Adams got a one-out pinch-hit single, and Turner followed with another single. Eaton then doubled, driving in two runs and increasing the Nats’ lead to 3 to 0. Wainwright was pulled after 7-1/3 innings and had struck out 11 and given up 3 runs on 7 hits and 1 (intentional) walk.

Doolittle pitched the bottom of the eighth. He struck out Matt Carpenter, then Eaton made a leaping catch of a hard-hit ball from Edman. With two outs, Doolittle gave up a single to Paul DeJong. Then Martínez hit a line drive to center that Taylor misplayed, allowing the Cardinal to score their first run of the series. Doolittle retired Dexter Fowler to get out of the inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, Patrick Corbin came in for a lefty-lefty match-up and got Wong to ground out. Then Hudson retired Goldschmidt and Ozuna, and the Nats won 3 to 1. They left St. Louis leading the series two games to none.

Game 3, Monday October 14. Nationals Park was full and the crowd buzzing as Stephen Strasburg took the mound against Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals ace. The Cardinals threatened first, when Ozuna led off the second with a double. But then Ozuna got caught between second and third when Martínez grounded one back to Strasburg, who ran him down for the fielder’s choice. The Cards weren’t able to take advantage after the base running miscue.

In the top of the third, Rendon made a great play to rob DeJong of a hit. The Nats struck in the bottom of the third. Víctor Robles, returning to the line-up after missing several games with a hamstring injury, led off with a single, and Strasburg bunted him to second. After a Turner strikeout, Eaton singled to drive in Robles. Then Rendon doubled, driving in Eaton. Soto walked, and both runners advanced on a wild pitch. Kendrick then doubled, driving in both runners and putting the Nats up 4 to 0.

The Cardinals pinch hit for Flaherty in the top of the fifth. In the bottom of the fifth, Rendon got a one-out single off Tyler Webb. Brebbia came in to face Kendrick with two outs and Howie doubled, driving in Rendon. Zimmerman followed up with another double, plating Kendrick and putting the Nats up 6 to 0. In the bottom of the sixth, with Brebbia still on the mound, Robles hit a home run to right-center to make it 7 to 0.

Through six innings, Strasburg had held the Cardinals scoreless on 4 hits and no walks, while striking out 9. He was at 90 pitches. The Cardinals led off the top of the seventh with a pair of singles by Martínez and Molina. Strasburg stuck out Edman, then DeJong singled to left. Martínez held up at third until Soto slipped and threw the ball away, which allowed Martínez to score. Strasburg struck out Matt Wieters and Dexter Fowler to get out of the inning. Strasburg’s line for the game was 1 unearned run in 7 innings on 7 hits, no walks, and 12 strikeouts.

In the bottom of the seventh, Kendrick hit a two-out double and Zimmerman drove him in. It was now 8 to 1. Fernando Rodney set down the Cardinals in order in the top of eighth, striking out two. Tanner Rainey finished the game in the ninth, retiring all three batters with two strikeouts. The Nats were now one win away from clinching the pennant and making it to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Game 4, Tuesday October 15. It was Ted Lerner‘s 94th birthday. Patrick Corbin was pitching for the Nats, and Dakota Hudson was on the mound for the Cardinals. Corbin struck out the side in the top of the first. Then things started going crazy in the bottom of the inning.

Turner opened the inning with a single to right, and Eaton followed with a double. Rendon hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Turner. Soto then slashed a double into the left field corner, driving in Eaton. Kendrick was intentionally walked, and Zimmerman grounded to third baseman Edman in what should have been the second out, but secon baseman Wong dropped the ball allowing Kendrick to reach second safely and loading the bases. Robles then lifted a short fly into right that had three Cardinals converging but not communicating with each other, and they let it drop in for a hit. With better fielding that would have been the third out, but now it was 3 to 0 with the bases still loaded and one out. Gomes laced a single past the shortstop into left field, plating two more runs. Wainwright came in to relieve Dakota Hudson, and Corbin sacrificed to advance Robles and Gomes to second and third. Then Turner hit another single, driving in two more runs. After one inning the Nats led 7 to 0.

That was it for Nats scoring, as the Cardinals’ bullpen limited the Nats to 3 singles and a walk the rest of the night. Meanwhile Corbin was dealing in the early innings. By the time he recorded his eleventh out, with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, he had struck out 9 while giving up only a single and a walk. The next batter, Molina, however, took Corbin deep and made it 7 to 1.

In the fifth inning, perhaps Corbin was tiring or the Cardinal batters were getting used to his repertoire. Harrison Bader led off with a walk, and Wong singled him to third.  Fowler, pinch hitting, drew another walk and the bases were loaded with no outs. Edman grounded out, driving in a run and advancing the other runners to second and third. Martínez then doubled, driving in two more runs and narrowing the Nats’ lead to 7–4. Corbin struck out Goldschmidt and Ozuna to get out of the inning, but the game was now a lot tighter.

Rainey pitched the sixth and set down all three batters. Doolittle retired the side in the seventh on 9 pitches. He came back in the eighth and retired Martínez and Goldschmidt, but gave up a single to Ozuna. It was time for Daniel Hudson to try to get the last 4 outs.

First Hudson had to get himself out of some trouble, as he hit Molina then walked DeJong, loading the bases with two outs. He managed to get out of the jam without giving up a run, though, when Carpenter grounded out. In the ninth Hudson set down the side in order, with the final out coming on a fly ball to center that was caught by Robles. The Nats won the game 7 to 4 and swept the series.

The series MVP award went to Howie Kendrick, who led the team in runs, runs-batted-in, and extra-base hits (with 4 of each). The Nationals starters as a group were outstanding. The Cardinals hit .141 against the Nats starters, the lowest average ever allowed by a starting rotation in a best-of-seven postseason series. And the bullpen was excellent too, allowing only a single run in 9-1/3 innings of work. Many players contributed to an outstanding series.





October 11, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

The Nats win the 2019 NLDS: We believed when nobody else believed

The Los Angeles Dodgers were the better baseball team. You might argue that their starting rotation didn’t quite match that of the Nationals, but if that was the case, it was only by the narrowest of margins. Their batters hit 279 home runs, compared to 231 by the Nats. Their bullpen was very good (ranked third in the NL in FIP– and fourth in ERA–), whereas the Nats’ bullpen was awful. They led MLB in defensive runs saved. Their bench was deep and versatile, allowing the team to swap players in and out and gain the platoon advantage.

But despite obvious weaknesses, the Nationals were well suited to upset the 106-win Dodgers in a five-game series. And by repeatedly coming back from behind and “staying in the fight” until the 10th inning of Game 5, that’s exactly what they were able to do.

Game 1, Thursday October 3. With Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg having piggy backed to get the win in the Wild Card Game two days earlier, the start for Game 1 in Los Angeles went to Patrick Corbin. Whether he was nervous or was just struggling for command, Corbin issued four walks in the first inning and gave up a run. After that, Corbin settled down and allowed just two singles over the next three innings. In the bottom of the fifth, after striking out the first two batters, Corbin gave up a walk and infield single, placing runners on first and third. He then got Muncy to hit a ground ball that Howie Kendrick was unable to field. It was Kendrick’s second error of the game and put the Dodgers up 2 to 0. Meanwhile the Nats were unable to get anything going against Buehler. Leading off the second, Juan Soto hit a single but was doubled off on a lineout. In the fourth, Buehler gave up three walks but got out of his bases loaded jam. Both starting pitchers went six innings turned it over to their respective bullpens with the Dodgers leading 2 to 0.

Then we got to compare the two teams’ bullpens. The Dodgers brought in Kolarek, a lefty sidewinder, to get Soto out, then Maeda set down five Nats in a row. The Nats had Tanner Rainey face three batters in the seventh; he gave up a walk and a single and was followed by Fernando Rodney, who also gave up a walk and a single before recording the final out. The Nats now trailed 4 to 0. Hunter Strickland got the call in the bottom of the eighth and gave up two home runs.

In the top of the ninth, Trea Turner hit a leadoff double off Joe Kelly—only the Nats’ second hit of the game—before Kelly set down the next three Nats in order. The Nats were throughly outplayed In the 6–0 game, and all of their deficiencies were exposed.

Game 2, Friday October 4. The loss in Game One made it critical for the Nats to win Game Two to avoid falling into a deep hole. The pitching match-up was Strasburg against Kershaw. Trea Turner opened the top of the first with a double. After Adam Eaton popped out, Anthony Rendon walked and Soto was hit by a pitch, loading the bases. A single by Kendrick put the Nats ahead 1 to 0. Then Ryan Zimmerman fouled out and Kurt Suzuki struck out, so the Nats weren’t able to further capitalize on a very shaky first inning by Kershaw.

In the second inning, Víctor Robles was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, and after two outs Eaton singled and Rendon doubled, increasing the Nats’ lead to 3 to 0.

Meanwhile, Strasburg was dominating the Dodgers. He got them out on strikeouts (10 total) and groundouts and didn’t allow a base runner until Will Smith singled with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. Strasburg had pitched three innings in relief in the Wild Card game on Tuesday, so we wondered how long he could last. With one out in the bottom of the sixth, fatigue finally seemed to catch up, as he gave up a single to Beaty and a double to Pederson, followed by a sacrifice fly to Justin Turner. He got out of the inning with lineout to the pitcher, but the Nats’ lead was now 3 to 1.

In the bottom of the seventh, Sean Doolittle took over in relief and struck out Bellinger, but then gave up a home run to Muncy before getting out of the inning. The score was now 3 to 2.

Meanwhile, the Nats hitters were challenging the Dodgers’ bullpen—Báez, Kolarek, May, and Urías—which had taken over in the top of the seventh. Trea Turner and Eaton led off the top of the seventh with singles but were left stranded. In the eighth, Zimmerman’s led off with a double, and Suzuki followed with a walk. Asdrúbal Cabrera singled to drive in Zimmerman, widening the Nats’ lead to 4 to 2. In the eighth inning Robles had to leave the game with a hamstring injury—Michael A. Taylor would take his place in center for the rest of the series.

In the bottom of the eighth, Scherzer was called in to pitch an inning of relief on his “throw day.” He struck out the side. In the bottom of the ninth, Daniel Hudson was called on to get a two-run save. Justin Turner led off with double, but Hudson then struck out Pollock and got Bellinger to pop out to Rendon on a play that actually turned out to be fairly difficult. With two outs and a runner on second, Davey Martinez called for Muncy to be intentionally walked, putting the tying run on base. Hudson then walked Smith on four pitches, loading the bases. After throwing seven straight fastballs away to Seager, Hudson came in with a slider and Seager swung through it, giving the Nats the win.

The decision to issue the intentional walk to Muncy caused the predictable consternation among the analytical community. Joe Posnanski of The Athletic makes the case against the move with his usual elegance, while Ben Clemens of Fangraphs goes through the numbers in excruciating detail (or wonderful, depending on your tastes). My own take is a little more relaxed. With two outs, the Nats’ win probability was very high regardless of the intentional walk—we’re talking 94% without the walk versus 90% with it. The pitcher has one out to get, and if he really feels much more comfortable not facing Muncy, I’m willing to let him face the batter he’s comfortable going after.

Game 3, Sunday October 6. With the series moving to Washington for Games 3 and 4, Aníbal Sánchez faced off against MLB’s ERA leader, Hyun-Jin Ryu. In the top of the first, the Dodgers loaded the bases on a single and two walks, but Sánchez worked out of the jam. In the bottom of the first, Eaton walked and Soto homered, giving the Nats a 2–0 lead. Both pitchers then settled settled in. The Nats led off the bottom of the fourth with a pair of singles, but a double play squelched any rally. In the top of the fifth, Muncy homered to make it 2–1.

Corbin came in in relief in the top of the sixth. He gave up a lead-off single to Belinger and followed it with two strikeouts. Then Freese came in as a pinch hitter and singled. Corbin got ahead of Martin 0–2, but the Dodgers catcher evened the count, then doubled into the left-center gap. The Dodgers went ahead 3–2. Things got worse. Corbin walked Chris Taylor and gave up a double to Kike Hernández, making it 5–2. Wander Suero came in to try to stop the bleeding but immediately gave up a homer to Justin Turner, making it 8–2 Dodgers.

In the bottom of the sixth Kelly was pitching for the Dodgers, and the Nats tried to get back into the game. Rendon and Soto drew walks, followed by a single by Kendrick. Suddenly the bases were loaded with no outs. Kelly threw a wild pitch, and Rendon scored with Soto and Kendrick advancing. Yan Gomes walked, loading the bases again, still with no outs, and when Urías replaced Kelly on the mound, Cabrera came in as a pinch hitter. He hit a fly ball to right, scoring Soto on a sacrifice fly, but when Kendrick tagged to advance to third he hesitated, then failed to return to second, allowing the Dodgers to easily double him up on the way to third. Rather than one out and two base runners, the Nats now had two outs and only a runner at first. The Nats now trailed 8 to 4. Michael A. Taylor popped out to end the inning, but Kendrick’s base running gaffe had killed the rally.

The rest of the game was fairly uneventful. Rodney got into a bases loaded jam in the top of the seventh, but was able to get out of it unscathed. In the top of the ninth Strickland gave up a two-run homer to Martin. Meanwhile, the Dodgers bullpen shut down the Nats’ offense, and game ended as a 10 to 4 triumph for the Dodgers.

Game 4, Monday October 7. Down two games to one, the Nats would need two consecutive wins to salvage the series. Scherzer took the mound for Game 4 facing Rich Hill.

In the top of the first, Scherzer gave up a two-out solo homer to Justin Turner, and the Dodgers jumped to an early 1–0 lead. In the bottom of the third, the Nats evened the score when Rendon hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Taylor. Hill, who was on a short pitch count, left before the end of the inning, and the Dodgers turned to their bullpen.

In the bottom of the fifth with Urías pitching, Trea Turner led off with a single. Eaton sacrificed him over, and Rendon singled to drive him in. The Nats were up 2 to 1. Soto popped out, but Kendrick singled to place runners on first and third with two outs. Báez relieved the left-handed Urías, but Martinez decided to stick with the right-handed Zimmerman rather than going to a left-handed pinch hitter. On the second pitch, a fastball above the top of the zone, Zim got under it and drove it to center for a home run, putting the Nats up 5 to 1.

The Nats added another run in the bottom of the sixth on a Rendon sacrifice fly. Meanwhile, Scherzer managed to shut down the Dodgers after the first inning home run. In the seventh inning, starting to run on fumes, he gave up a single and two walks to load the bases with one out. But Martinez left him in and Scherzer struck out Taylor. Pederson hit a foul ball that came within a couple of inches of being a three-run double, but Scherzer managed to get a ground-out to end the inning. In 7 innings he allowed 1 run on 4 hits and 3 walks, striking out 7.

Doolittle came in for the top of the eighth. The first batter he faced, Muncy, drove a ball into deep center, but a strong wind blowing in knocked it down for Taylor to catch. Doolittle set down all three batters in eighth and also got the first out in the ninth. Hudson came in to get the last two outs, and the Nats won 6 to 1.

Game 5, Wednesday October 9. Back in Los Angeles for the finale, Strasburg was facing Buehler. For the first couple of innings, Strasburg was unable to command his curveball, allowing the Dodgers to sit on his fastball. Pederson led off with a double, followed by a Muncy two-run homer. Leading off the second, Hernández hit a solo home run, and the Nats were down 3 to 0.

Buehler held down the Nationals, and Strasburg settled down and held down the Dodgers. In the top of the fifth, Suzuki led off with a walk followed by a Taylor single. Strasburg was unable to bunt them over, though, and Buehler set down Turner and Eaton to get out of the inning. In the sixth, Rendon led off with a double, followed by an RBI single from Soto, and the Dodgers’ lead narrowed to 3 to 1.

Leading off the top of the seventh, a Buehler fast ball ricocheted off Suzuki’s wrist and hit him in the face, and Suzuki fell to the ground. He was pulled from the game, but we later learned that the injury wasn’t as bad as we initially feared. Buehler got two outs, then walked Trea Turner, and Roberts called in Kershaw to face Eaton. Eaton struck out, and the Dodgers held onto their 3 to 1 lead.

Strasburg had gone six innings and pitched quite well after the two early home runs. His final line was 3 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk in 6 innings, striking out 7. Rainey pitched the bottom of the seventh and retired both batters he faced, then Corbin was called on to retire the lefty Pederson.

Roberts decided to keep Kershaw in to face Rendon and Soto in the top of the eighth, a decision for which he was subsequently vilified. In three pitches, Kershaw gave up home runs to both Nationals hitters, and the game was suddenly tied 3 to 3. Maeda was brought in and got the next three Nats out. Corbin pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth and Kelly set down the Nats in the top of the ninth. Hudson pitched the bottom of the ninth, and despite a hard hit fly ball by Smith that had the Dodgers prematurely ready to celebrate, Hudson got out of the inning only giving up a single.

Roberts left Kelly in for the top of the tenth, and Eaton led off the inning with a walk. Surprisingly not bringing in Jansen, the Dodgers’ erstwhile closer, Kelly stayed in and gave up a double to Rendon. Soto was intentionally walked, and Kendricks came up with the bases loaded and no outs. After fouling off a curve, Kendrick drove a fastball into deep center for a grand slam, giving the Nats a 7 to 3 lead. In one blow, Kendrick redeemed the three fielding errors and the base running gaffe that had previously tarnished his series record.. In the bottom of the tenth, Doolittle got a strikeout and a groundout, then Michael A. Taylor made a diving catch on a Justin Turner fly ball to end the game and give the Nationals their first-ever NLDS victory.

The Dodgers had outscored the Nationals 22 to 21, outhomered them 9 to 5, and led in OPS .730 to .694. But timely pitching and hitting enabled to Nationals to take advantage of the short series and beat the Los Angeles juggernaut. The next day, the Nationals flew to St. Louis for the NLCS.

Managerial decisions. Rather than focusing on Davey’s interntional walks and the timing of various pitching changes and pinch hitters, I’m going to point to another decision that I considered questionable. The Nats carried Austin Voth on their NLDS roster but Davey never used him. Based on what I’ve seen, Voth seems like a talented young pitcher, and I’d rather have seen him called on to face the Dodgers’ sluggers than Strickland, who gave up 4 runs in 2 innings, or Suero, who gave up two hits and a run while getting only one out. While using Voth probably wouldn’t have changed the outcomes of any of the games, it would be nice to see if Voth could be used to help fill the obvioius, gaping hole in the Nationals’ bullpen.





October 2, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

Soto and luck lead to win in 2019 NL Wild Card

After Max Scherzer surrendered a two-run homer to Yasmani Grandal in the first and a solo shot in the top of the first, the Nats trailed the Brewers for the next two and a half hours. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post (whom I’ve frequently critizied) wrote a nice column analogizing the Nationals’ come-from-behind win to the way; they had fought from behind all season.

The Nats won with grit, with a hit batsman, with a bloop hit, with a walk and with a rocket of a two-run base hit by Juan Soto, who had been in a 5-for-47 slump that would numb the competitive soul of most 20-year-olds.

The incomparable Joe Posnanski of The Athletic gives a memorably detailed look at “the greatest half-inning in Washington Nationals history.” For example, here is his description of the Ryan Zimmerman at-bat that extended the inning and helped set the table for Juan Soto‘s decisive hit:

And then came what you can call the Flynn Moment of the game. Flynn, you might recall, was the first batter who needed to get a hit so that Mighty Casey could make it to the plate in the moment. Flynn was disparagingly called a “hoodoo” in the poem but he let drive a single, to the wonderment of all.

Flynn, in this case, was Washington Nationals legend Ryan Zimmerman, who is now 35 years old and whose body is roughly 93. He was once a brilliant player in every way — Gold Glove third baseman, terrific hitter, 30-homer guy — but in the last six seasons, he has played fewer than 100 games four times. For Nationals fans, seeing Zimmerman walk to the plate is like seeing a Dylan Thomas poem come to life.

Zimmerman began the at-bat by swinging right through a slider that Hader had mistakenly left up in the zone. Then Hader threw two of his demon pitches, those rising fastballs out of the zone, and Zimmerman somehow laid off. On the fourth pitch, a 97-mph fastball over the inside part of the plate, Zimmerman swung and connected, though to say that he “connected” is sort of like saying that Biff’s face connected with George McFly’s fist in “Back to the Future.” The bat broke in two pieces. The much larger piece of the bat ran away crying. Zimmerman found himself holding a piece of bat that was roughly the same length as a conductor’s baton.

Somehow, though, the ball carried far enough into the outfield to land for a base hit.

I also agree with Posnanski’s verdict on the major controversy of the game—did Hader actually hit Michael A. Taylor with the pitch, for which Taylor was rewarded first base, the first base runner to reach in the decisive bottom of the eighth inning, or did the ball deflect off the knob of Taylor’s bat? Cases like this illustrate a problem with replay, in that they revolve around technicalities made visible by high-resolution replay. The spirit of the situation is that Taylor wasn’t swinging, Hader’s pitch missed way inside off the plate. It would have easily been ball four if it hadn’t hit him, so a hit-by-pitch is the appropriate outcome when it did. regardless of whether it happened to knick the knob of Taylor’s bat. I’ve previously made a similar argument against calling out base runners when they momentarily lose contact with a base after successfully sliding into it. We shouldn’t let the technicalities of replay distort the simple spirit of the plays as they’ve traditionally been called.

Since I’m mentioning articles, here are a few others that I’ve enjoyed reading:

  • Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic provides a nice summary of “a wacky game.”
  • Mark Zuckerman of MASN on Davey Martinez‘s in-game decisions and how they affected the outcome. My main criticism is that I would have started Stephen Strasburg instead of Scherzer, but Strasburg was excellent in relief, so it all worked out fine in the end.
  • Jesse Dougherty and Sam Fortier of the Washington Post on how the Nationals’ 2019 season turned around after a disastrous three-game sweep by the Mets in May.