Nats Still Comfortably Ahead in NL East Despite 2-4 Stretch

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The highlight of a mostly rocky six game stretch for the Nationals was Max Scherzer’s dominant effort in Washington’s 4-0 win over Baltimore on August 25th at Nationals Park.

Despite some poor play over the past week, a week that saw the Washington Nationals go 2-4, the Nationals are eight games up in the National League East with only 34 left to play. The eight game lead is the second largest in the Majors, behind only the Chicago Cubs’ mammoth 14 game spread over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.  And with the six game stretch ending with two encouraging wins, there is hope that the ugly four games to begin the week were just a minor blip on the radar screen.

Here’s a look at some of the lowlights and highlights of the past six days for the Nats.

BURN THE TAPE OF THIS ONE

As ugly games go, it would be hard to find one to top Sunday’s 7-6 ten inning loss at Atlanta that prevented Washington from earning a four game sweep at Turner Field.  The Nats committed five errors and blew a four run lead, with the end of the contest coming on Jace Peterson’s game ending home run off of Shawn Kelley with two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning.   The game ending home run was the second of the season allowed by Washington, with the first coming back on May 8th at Wrigley Field when Javier Baez’s 13th inning solo homer off of Blake Treinen gave the Cubs a 4-3 win over Washington.  No opponent has had more walk-off home runs against the Nats than Atlanta with four (see details below).

DATE              NATS PITCHER         BATTER         SCORE/INN AT TIME OF HR       RUNNERS ON

9/1/2005        Luis Ayala                Andruw Jones          7-7   10th                                 None

5/13/2006       Chad Cordero        Jeff Francouer          W 5 A 4  9th                            Three

8/16/2013       Ian Kroll                  Justin Upton             2-2  10th                                   Solo

8/21/2016       Shawn Kelley        Jace Peterson             6-6  10th                                  Solo

NOT SO CHARMING FOR THE NATS

Camden Yards is a beautiful ballpark and many Nats’ fans made the trek north to see Washington play in Baltimore on Monday and Tuesday.   Those fans probably aren’t calling the Baltimore Charm City after seeing Washington struggle in two losses to the O’s.

On Monday, the O’s nipped the Nats by a 4-3 score despite a valiant effort by Nats’ rookie A. J. Cole who stepped in for injured All-Star Stephen Strasburg and threw seven solid innings. Unfortunately for Cole and the Nats, Baltimore did touch him for two home runs that plated three of the four runs to give the O’s their advantage.  Zach Britton’s ninth inning of work was nightmarish for the visitors, as the lefty blew Washington away to save a win for Baltimore rookie Dylan Bundy.

Tuesday’s game was anything but competitive. The Orioles won 8-1, giving the Nats their worst loss since they fell by seven runs (in a 12-5 game) at home against the Phillies on September 27, 2015.  The Nats had ten hits on the day but only one went for extra bases, with the O’s registering three doubles and home among their 13 hits as they cruised to victory.   Trea Turner’s 4-4 game out of the leadoff spot was the highlight of the game for Washington.

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

The Nats seemed headed to another lopsided loss on Wednesday night as they trailed Baltimore 10-3 going into the bottom of the ninth. But Washington rallied, scoring five and bringing the winning run to the plate before Britton induced a double play ground ball to end the threat and give the O’s their 17th win in their past 23 games against their Beltway rivals.

Washington’s rally included the first grand slam home run of Daniel Murphy’s career. For the game, Murphy went three for five with five RBI, but it was another talented infielder who stole the show. Baltimore’s Manny Machado had four hits in six at bats, scored four times and hit a two run home run to pace Baltimore’s attack. In his career at Nationals Park, Machado is hitting .425 in 40 at bats and has posted a 1.169 OPS.

PLAYING THEIR ACE

Ending the team’s four game losing streak on Thursday with another sterling performance, Washington’s Max Scherzer showed why he’s among a handful of pitchers who are true stoppers.

Scherzer threw eight shutout innings and struck out 10 as he dominated a dangerous Orioles’ squad in tense contest that the Nats ended up winning 4-0. Scherzer’s 88 pitching game score on the date was his highest of the 2016 season, and the ninth 80 plus pitching game score he’s put up in his two years in DC. Over that time period, only Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw (with 14) has more.

The top of the Nats order provided the offense on the night for the home team, as Turner, Jayson Werth, Murphy and Bryce Harper combined to go seven for 16 with four runs scored, four RBI, two doubles, a home run and two stolen bases.

WELCOME TO THE CENTURY CLUB

The highlight of Friday’s 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies was Nats’ lefty Gio Gonzalez earning the 100th win of his career. Gonzalez allowed the Rockies two runs and four hits in six strong innings pitched. He struck out five and walked only one, as he improved his 2016 record to 9-9.   As with many pitchers, not giving up walks seems to be a key for the Nats’ lefty.  In games where he has allowed two or fewer bases on balls while pitching for Washington, Gonzalez 47-24.  In contests where he’s given up three or more walks, Gonzalez’s record is 15-19.

The Nats’ Fearsome Foursome at the top of the team’s order were at it again, as Turner, Werth, Murphy and Harper combined for seven hits in 17 at bats, with four runs scored and six driven in. Werth had a double and his 18th home run of the year in the contest, while Harper had a double and his first triple of the season.

August has been a big month for the big four, all of whom are sizzling so far in the season’s penultimate month:

TURNER-  .355 average, four homers, 13 RBI, nine steals, .946 OPS

WERTH-    Six homers, 13 RBI, .938 OPS

MURPHY-  .325 average, five homers, 22 RBI, .983 OPS

HARPER-    .354 average, two homers, 16 RBI,  1.011 OPS

UP NEXT 

The Nats look to continue their winning ways this afternoon against Colorado as A.J. Cole looks for his first career win while Colorado pins its hopes on veteran lefty Jorge De La Rosa.

De La Rosa has three wins in as many decisions in his career at games played at Nationals Park, and is 5-2 overall against the Nats.  Werth has hit .368 with a double and two homers against the Rockies’ lefty, while Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos have combined to go two for 20 against him. Ramos’ one hit, however, was a home run.

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