On May 11th at Nationals Park Max Scherzer did something that had been done only four other times in Major League history, striking out 20 batters in a nine inning game to lead Washington to a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
After shooting out of the gate with an 18-9 record in April, the Nats faced stiffer challenges in May as they faced 2015 playoff teams Kansas City, the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets. The Nats navigated through the challenges with a 16-14 record and ended May in first place in the NL East, a position they would maintain for the rest of the 2016 season.
NATS BY THE NUMBERS- MAY 2016
Stephen Strasburg was 5-0 in May and struck out 50 batters in 37.2 innings pitched, and won some of the biggest games of the month for Washington.
On May 4th in Kansas City in the rubber game of a three game set between the Nats and the defending World Series champion Royals, Strasburg allowed only two runs and struck out seven in six innings pitched to lead Washington to a 13-2 victory over Kansas City.
Later in the month, the California native won back to back showdowns with New York’s Matt Harvey. First at Citi Field on May 19th, Strasburg struck out 10 Mets and allowed only one run in six innings pitched as the Nats won easily 9-1. Five days later at home Strasburg bested the struggling Harvey again, as he registered 11 punch-outs in 6.2 innings pitched in a 7-4 Washington victory.
In his last start of the month on May 29th, Strasburg bested St. Louis by a 10-2 score. The victory gave the Nationals a one game lead over the Mets in the National League East. They would remain in first place in the division for the balance of the season.
After facing the defending champion Royals in Kansas City in the first week of the month, the Nats traveled to Chicago to face the team that many thought would replace the Royals as baseball’s best team in 2016. The trip was not a pleasant one for Washington.
The Cubs powered their way to a four game sweep of Washington, hitting seven home runs and scoring 25 runs in the four game set. Nats’ off-season target Ben Zobrist was particularly effective for the Cubs in the series, hitting three round-trippers and driving in nine runs. Tommy LaStella, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez joined in the long-ball fun for the Cubs, with Baez’s shot coming in the bottom of the 13th of the final game of the series to give the Cubs a walk-off win.
Max Scherzer’s performance in 2015, which included two no-hitters and a one hit gem in which he struck out 16 Milwaukee Brewers, showed Nats’ fans that there was always a possibility they’d see something special when #31 took the mound. On May 11th, the nearly 36,000 fans at Nationals Park saw that Scherzer’s 2015 magic wasn’t a one-time thing.
Facing his former team and with former National Jordan Zimmermann as his mound opponent, Scherzer struck out 20 Detroit Tigers to tie a Major League record for most strikeouts in a nine inning game. Scherzer struck out the Tigers in order in both the third and eighth innings and fanned the dangerous Miguel Cabrera and Justin Upton in the ninth, before catcher James McCann grounded out to second to end the game and leave Scherzer one strikeout short of tying a Major League record (the Washington Senators’ Tom Cheney recorded 21 strikeouts, albeit in 16 innings pitched, in September 1962 against the Baltimore Orioles).
A player who wins a league Most Valuable Player award one year is generally treated with great respect in the subsequent season, and May proved that was true in a big way for Washington’s Bryce Harper. The Nats’ slugger walked a Nats’ record 31 times in the month, including 13 times in the four game series against the Cubs.
No Major Leaguer was walked more times in a month than Harper was in May 2016. Harper’s total easily beat the Nats record of 26 walks in a month, a mark he set in September/October of his 2015 MVP campaign.
April showers brought not May flowers but May bombs in Washington, as the Nationals hit a season high 43 round-trippers in May. Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman led the way with seven homers each, with Danny Espinosa hitting five and Harper, Wilson Ramos, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth picking up four a piece.
The most dramatic home run of the month was provided by bench player Clint Robinson, whose walk-off homer on May 10th gave Washington a 5-4 victory over Detroit.
Washington hit 24 of their 43 homers in the month at Nationals Park, the most the team had at home in any month during the 2016 campaign.
From the start of the season, it was apparent that the Nationals and General Manager Mike Rizzo made a good move in signing Daniel Murphy as a free agent following the team’s disappointing 2015 campaign.
Murphy’s talents with the bat were on full display in May, as the infielder set a Nationals’ record with 47 hits in the month and hit .416 with seven homers and 23 RBI to pace Washington’s offense. Murphy was particularly effective against his former teammates in Queens, going 10-23 in the Nats’ six games against the Mets at the end of the month.
The 47 hits by Murphy shattered the Nationals’ record of 40 for safeties in a month, held by five players with the last being Denard Span (who had 40 hits in August 2014).