On September 24, 2016, the Nationals clinched the National League East with a 6-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The victory gave Washington three division titles in five seasons, and assured that post-season baseball would be played in the Nation’s Capital in again. That division clinching game was the most memorable event in a month full of them. In this edition of “Nats by the Number”, we look at some of the other highlights of the last month of the regular season (thanks as always to baseball-reference.com’s play index for allowing easy access to statistical information on the Nats and all other baseball-related topics).
Rookie Reynaldo Lopez was the winning pitcher in the game that won the East for the Nats, throwing 5.1 innings of shutout relief to earn his fourth victory in seven decisions on the year. Lopez struck out six and allowed only three hits to become the second pitcher in Nationals’ history to throw 5.1 or more scoreless innings in relief in a game. The first time it happened came all the way back in 2005 under much less dramatic circumstances than did Lopez’s effort in the title clinching win. On May 13th of the Nats’ first season, Tomo Ohka stopped the bleeding with 5.2 scoreless innings pitched out of the pen in Washington’s 8-2 loss to Milwaukee.
Slender Trea Turner is known more for his speed and all around ability than he is for his power, but the rookie’s home run hitting ability was on display in a big way in the season’s final month. Turner hit eight home runs in the month to pace the Nationals and finish behind only Atlanta’s Matt Kemp (who had nine) for the most homers in the National League in the final month of the regular season.
Turner’s power outburst included two multi-home run games. On September 9th at Nationals Park, Turner hit a two run homer off of Philadelphia’s Colton Murray in the bottom of the seventh to give Washington a 4-1 lead and ended the contest with a game winning, ninth inning round tripper off of the Phils’ Frank Herrmann to put the Nats in the win column by a 5-4 score. Eight days later in Atlanta, Turner hit a pair of solo homers off of Atlanta’s Josh Collmenter.
On the season, Washington players had eight two run home run games. Like Turner, Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa had two such games each. Other Nationals with two homers in game in 2016 where National League MVP runner-up Daniel Murphy and outfielder Michael A. Taylor.
In an 11 game home stand in early September against the Phillies, Braves and Mets, the Nationals did what they had done all season long to their divisional rivals- they dominated them.
Washington won nine of the 11 contests to cement its spot at the top of the National League East. Included in the stretch were walk-off victories over the Braves on September 7th (on a Wilson Ramos hit) and the Phillies on September 9th (on a Trea Turner solo home run).
The Nationals also had two shutouts in the month. On September 10th, Washington defeated the Phillies 3-0 on the strength of excellent pitching by Max Scherzer and the Nats’ bullpen plus Bryce Harper’s eighth inning three run home that broke a scoreless tie.
Four days later, Tanner Roark won his 15th game of the year as he shut the Mets out over seven innings and got all the support he needed when Ramos hit a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning as the Nats won 1-0.
On the season, Washington was an amazing 41-16 in contests against the Braves, Phillies and Mets.
Closer Mark Melancon was the key pitcher in the Nats’ bullpen down the stretch but he received a lot of help from his bullpen mates, including righty Shawn Kelley.
In the season’s final 27 regular season games Kelley threw 10.1 scoreless innings, striking out 11 and allowing only one hit to finish his season with a flourish. Kelley won his only two decisions in the month and finished the 2016 campaign with an impressive WHIP of .897.
Jayson Werth’s two run pinch-hit home run off of former teammate Felipe Rivero helped Washington to a comeback 10-7 win at Pittsburgh on September 25th, and also helped Washington improve on its team record total for pinch-hit home runs in a season.
Werth’s dramatic blast was the 12th home run by a pinch-hitter in 2016 for the Nats, as the team easily shattered the 2006 squad’s record of eight. Washington’s total was the third highest in Major League Baseball, trailing only St. Louis (17) and the New York Mets (13).
Werth was one of three Nationals with more than one pinch-hit homer on the year. The veteran outfielder had two, while bench stalwarts Stephen Drew and Chris Heisey had three each. Other Nationals with pinch-hit homers in 2016 were rookie Pedro Severino, Clint Robinson, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy.
Nats’ ace Max Scherzer was 5-0 in his six decisions in the season’s final month and ended up with 20 wins on the year. Scherzer became the second pitcher in Nats’ history with 20 or more wins (Gio Gonzalez won 21 in 2012) en route to his second Cy Young Award.
Scherzer struck out 46 batters in 39.1 innings pitched in his final six games, and ended with a National League high 284 punchouts on the year.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon hit only .247 in the season’s final 27 games, but he certainly made the hits he did have count. The talented Texan drove in a team high 23 runs in the month, tying Daniel Murphy (who had 23 in both May and July) for the most RBI in a month by a Nationals’ player in 2016. Bryce Harper led the way with 24 RBI in April.