Bryce Harper reacts after hitting an eighth inning three run homer off of Philadelphia’s Patrick Schuster last night that led Washington to a 3-0 victory over the Phillies.
With the team’s third National League East title in the past five years there for the taking, the Washington Nationals have positioned themselves to be a major player in this year’s post-season. A healthy nine game lead over the Mets with 20 games left to play has left the Nats a near certainty to win the National League East, and the team has a three game lead over the Dodgers for the second seed in the NL playoffs.
Our focus may be turning to October, but there have been plenty of highlights from the early part of September that made the last week memorable.
BIG FISH IN A LITTLE POND
The Nats continue to be the bully of the NL East playground as they have won nine of their past 12 games, all against divisional foes. On the year, Washington is a healthy 44-19 against the NL East. Against the division’s bottom dwellers Atlanta and Philadelphia, the Nats have posted a 27-7 mark.
What a joy it is to watch Nats’ ace Max Scherzer. The energy he brings to each game he starts electrifies both his teammates and Nats’ fans, and he’s showing that he could be the type of pitcher who can dominate a post-season series or two.
Scherzer and three relievers combined to shut Philadelphia out on Saturday, giving the Nats 11 shutouts so far in the 2016 season. His 6.1 WAR ranks second among all National League players (Chicago’s Kris Bryant is first with a 7.0 mark), he leads the league in strikeouts, innings pitched and WHIP, and is tied for the top spot in wins. It appears to be down to Scherzer, Chicago’s duo of Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta and San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner in the competition for the league’s Cy Young Award. Whether he wins the award or not, I doubt that Dusty Baker would rather have any of those pitchers on the mound in game one of a playoff series instead of his current number one hurler.
The Nats’ Daniel Murphy, with a National League East leading 41 doubles, has become the first National with 40 our more two-baggers since Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Church had 43 each in the 2007 season. Murphy is six doubles away from the Nats’ best total of 47, set by Zimmerman in 2006.
If Anthony Rendon has at least four more doubles over the season’s final 20 games, the Nats will have multiple players with 40 or more doubles in a year for only the third time. In addition to the 2007 Zimmerman/Church duo, three Nationals exceeded the mark in 2006 (Nick Johnson had 46 and Alfonso Soriano had 41 to go with Zimmerman’s 47).
ONE FOR THREE
Bryce Harper had a largely forgettable game at the plate on Saturday night as he fanned three times against talented Phillies’ righthander Jerad Eickhoff, but he turned his night around in a big way once Eickhoff was out of the game.
Harper’s eighth inning three run homer off of Patrick Schuster broke a scoreless tie and gave the Nats all the runs they’d need in their 3-0 victory. The reigning NL MVP’s blast was his third three run homer of the season, tying Jayson Werth for the most among Nats’ players. Wilson Ramos is the only other National with multiple three run blasts.
The Nats have 13 three run shots on the year, including Chris Heisey’s round-tripper against Atlanta’s Ryan Weber on September 5th. The team record for most three run homers in a season is 22, set in 2011 and equaled in 2015.
On Friday Trea Turner had two home runs, including a dramatic walk-off shot in the ninth inning, to give Washington a thrilling 5-4 win. Turner became the fourth Nats’ player to have a multiple home run game while hitting in the leadoff spot. Alfonso Soriano had four in 2006, Rick Ankiel had two on August 1, 2011 and Denard Span had a pair of homers on September 1, 2014.
Turner’s two homer game came in the 79th contest of his career. Only six Nats’ players have had a multi-homer game earlier in their careers:
PLAYER CAREER GM DATE OPP/SCORE
Brandon Harper 4 8/20/06 W 10 @ Phl 12
Danny Espinosa 5 9/6/10 W 13 NYM 3
Tyler Moore 16 6/13/12 W 6 @ Tor 2
Wilson Ramos 36 4/26/11 W 4 NYM 6
Justin Maxwell 37 9/12/09 W 3 @ FL 13
Roger Bernadina 42 5/12/10 W 6 @ NYM 4
ODDS AND ENDS
Jose Lobaton had two hits last night, giving him two multi-hit contests in the current homestand. Prior to this week, he had only two in the rest of the season. Lobaton went two for three in the Nats’ win over the Twins on April 22nd and had two hits in Washington’s loss to the Cubs on June 14th.
Reliable bullpen pitching is something most successful post-season teams have, and two Nats’ pitchers appear to be on the path to being options to rely on come next month.Both Blake Treinen and new National Mark Rzepczynski have been fantastic over their last six appearances. Treinen has allowed no runs, only three hits and no walks in 6.1 innings while striking out six, while the Rzepczynski has thrown 5.1 innings of scoreless ball with only one hit and two walks allowed.
The Nats say goodbye to the Phillies for 2016 in today’s series finale at Nationals Park, with Gio Gonzalez taking the mound against fellow left-hander Adam Morgan.
Gonzalez strugged mightily in his September 6th start against Atlanta but before that game, he had allowed three or fewer earned runs in 10 of his 11 previous starts. In his career, Gonzalez is 23-11 with a 3.14 ERA in September/October. Among Phillies’ players, big Darin Ruf is one against whom Gonzalez has struggled. Ruf has a .357 average with three homers in 28 career at bats against Gonzalez. On the other side of the coin, Mikael Franco is 1-13 with four strikeouts, Ryan Howard is 0-11 with six strikeouts and Peter Bourjos is 3-22 with seven strikeouts against today’s Nats’ starter.
Phildelphia’s Morgan is only 2-9 with an alarming 5.90 ERA on the year, but he has pitched well against the Nats in his last two starts against them (he’s fanned 13 in 13.1 innings pitched while allowing only five earned runs). In his last outing five days ago, Morgan picked up his first win since May 10th in a 4-3 Philadelphia victory at Miami.