Chris Heisey is mobbed at home plate by his Nationals’ teammates following Heisey’s 16th inning game-ending home run that gave the Nationals a 6-5 victory over the Minnesota Twins on April 24th.
With only three Major League Baseball team fan bases left with hopes of seeing their teams go all the way, the rest of us are left to look back at what was an interesting 2016 campaign.
For the 95 win Washington Nationals, the season featured plenty of superb performances and magical moments. Our “Nats by the Numbers” series will look at each month of the 2016 season to highlight some of the memorable events of the Nats’ season. We begin with the season’s opening month, a month where the Nationals showed the Major League world that the up and down play of the 2015 season was a thing of the past.
APRIL 2016- NATS BY THE NUMBERS
The Nationals spent much of the time between the 2015 and 2016 seasons looking to upgrade their offense, with particular attention being paid to finding someone to take over the second base job. Failed attempts to land Ben Zobrist and Brandon Phillips frustrated many fans, but they proved to be blessings in disguise when the Nats ended up “settling” on signing free agent and 2015 post-season star Daniel Murphy.
Murphy came out of the gate in April as hot as the Washington DC weather is in July, hitting .370 with seven doubles, two triples, a pair of homers and 11 RBI to let the baseball world know that he may have only scratched the surface of his ultimate potential in his amazing late-season run in 2015. The fact that the Nats’ gain in signing Murphy helped to weaken the arch-rival Mets’ chances of repeating as divisional champions only made the signing of the veteran infielder even sweeter.
The Nationals were 16-7 in April 2016, and the team’s .696 winning percentage in the month was the third best in a month in Nationals’ history. In their inaugural season of 2005, the Nationals had a June to remember as they went 20-6 and posted an amazing .769 winning percentage. The 2014 division-winning Nats’ team finished that season playing great ball, going 19-8 (.704) to put up the second best winnings percentage in a month in Nats’ history.
It wasn’t all cherry blossoms and gentle breezes for the Nats in the first full month of spring, and a home series in late April against the Philadelphia Phillies proved that. The Phillies swept the Nats in DC in a weekday three game set, holding the Nationals to a measly three runs in the process. The late April success against the Nats proved to be fluke for the Phillies, who won only five of 19 games against Washington on the season.
In all three of their division winning seasons, the Nationals have been blessed to feature very strong starting pitching. Two members of the 2016 staff, rightys Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross, started the season off on the right foot as they combined to go 7-0 during April. Strasburg was 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched in a year that would see him make the National League all-star team. Like Strasburg, Ross fell victim to injuries as the year progressed but he was special in April. The Northern California native went 3-0 with a sparkling 0.97 ERA in the season’s first month.
The Nationals showed they were intent on regaining their National League Eastern division crown from the start of the year in 2016 winning nine of their first 10 games (all against divisional opponents) under new manager Dusty Baker to start the year on the right foot. The Nationals would win 67% of their games against divisional foes on the year in route to their third divisional title in five seasons.
2015 was, in many ways, a lost season for Nationals’ pitcher Tanner Roark. Despite performing admirably in the 2014 campaign as a starter, Roark lost his spot in the 2015 Nats’ rotation when the team signed Max Scherzer, and he had an up and down campaign while working out of the bullpen.
Roark regained his spot in the rotation in 2016 and on April 23rd at Nationals Park against the Minnesota Twins, he showed the Nats that he was staking a claim to stay there. Roark struck out a career high 15 in seven innings to lead the Nats to a 2-0 victory. Only teammate Max Scherzer (20 against Detroit on May 11th), Colorado’s Jon Gray (16 against San Diego on September 17th) and Philadelphia’s Vince Velasquez (16 against San Diego on April 14th) had more strikeouts in a game than Roark’s 15 among National League pitchers in 2016.
Fans who attended the Nationals-Twins game on Sunday April 24th at Nationals Park certainly got their money’s worth. The game featured a lead off home run in the bottom of the first by Nats’ outfielder Matt den Dekker, 10 strikeouts by Strasburg, a Minnesota rally keyed by All-Star Brian Dozier that derailed Strasburg’s bid for a win, a dramatic ninth inning pinch-hit homer by Bryce Harper to tie the game in the ninth, a wild 15th inning that saw the Nats’ rally to tie the game on a Twins’ error and a dramatic ending when Chris Heisey blasted a shot over the wall in left-centerfield to give Washington a 6-5 win.
Heisey would prove to be a valuable power source off of the Nationals’ bench in 2016, hitting nine homers in only 139 at bats.
The 2015 season had its bad moments for the Nats and their fans, but the campaign did feature a season long story line that was tremendous to follow; the emergence of Bryce Harper as a superstar.
Harper’s outstanding 2015 season carried over to the start of the 2016 campaign, as he had 24 RBI, nine homers and a 1.121 OPS in the season’s first month.