Ryan Zimmerman watches his mammoth home run to left field that got the Nationals off on the right foot on Friday as Washington defeated Miami 4-1 for its third win in a row.
Five games this week against division rivals Miami and New York showed the ebbs and flows a team goes through during the course of a Major League season. The Nats were dominated by superb pitchers in the first two games of the week, but bounced back to score runs and pick up wins as the week moved into its second half.
Here’s a look back, which was made possible in large part by Baseball-reference.com’s Play Index, at the past five games for the Nats.
SUN May 15- Miami 5 Washington 1 Nationals Record 23-15
WP- Fernandez (5-2) LP- Ross (3-3) SV- Ramos (11)
HR- Zimmerman, Was 4), Stanton, Mia (11)
This matinee at Nationals Park became the Jose Fernandez show, as the Marlins’ superb righty was dominant on the mound and helped out at the plate to give Miami the win. Fernandez allowed only one run and fanned 11 in seven innings pitched, to move his career mark against Washington to 5-0 with an eye popping 1.09 ERA. With the bat, Fernandez had two sacrifice bunts and helped put the Marlins into a comfortable lead with a two run single off of Nats’ starter Joe Ross that gave Miami a four run lead.
Ross allowed five runs (three earned) in a so-so start. The game was only the third in 20 career starts for Ross where he’s allowed more than four runs.
Washington’s only run came on Ryan Zimmerman’s inside the park home run that resulted from a horrific looking crash between Marlins’ outfielders Marcel Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton on Zim’s deep shot to right center field. The inside the park homer was the third in Nationals’ history, all of which have come at home. On May 12, 2007, Austin Kearns circled the bases at RFK Stadium with Washington’s first ever inside the park homer, and Willie Harris did the trick on September 24, 2010 at Nationals Park against Atlanta.
TUES May 17- NY Mets 2 Washington 0 (at Citi Field) Nationals Record 23-16
WP- Syndergaard (4-2) LP- Scherzer (4-3) SV- Familia (13)
HR- Granderson, NY (7), Conforto, NY (6)
On Tuesday at Citi Field Washington’s starter Max Scherzer was good, but good rarely beats great and it didn’t on this night. Mets’ ace Noah Syndergaard was so awesome in this one that those of us watching couldn’t help but wonder how he ever loses.
The tall New York hurler allowed only five hits, no walks and struck out 10 in his seven innings of work, marking only the second time in his career where he’s had 10 or more strikeouts while pitching at least seven innings and walking no one.
Mets’ leadoff man Curtis Granderson gave Syndergaard all the support he’d need when he hit Scherzer’s first pitch of the night over the right field wall to give the Mets a 1-0 lead. The homer was the 38th leadoff round tripper of Granderson’s career.
Scherzer’s strikeout pitches were working as well, as he fanned 10 Mets. The game marked the second time in his career where Scherzer has been tagged with a loss while striking out at least ten and allowing two or fewer runs. The other time came last season on May 1st at, you guessed it, Citi Field against Matt Harvey and the Mets when Max allowed only one run and punched out 10 in a 4-0 loss.
WED May 18- Washington 7 @ NY Mets 1 Nationals Record 24-16
WP- Gonzalez (3-1) LP Colon (3-3)
HR- Cespedes, NY (13)
Affable Nats’ starter Gio Gonzalez usually wears a smile wherever he goes, but that smile is probably a little bit bigger when he’s in New York to face the Mets. Gonzalez moved his career record at Citi Field to 7-1 with a 1.53 ERA as he led the Nats to a convincing win.
Gonzalez’s efficiency was in stark contrast to that of Colon and the relievers that followed him, as New York walked 11 Nationals’ batters. The 11 free passes tied the Nats’ record for most bases on balls in a nine inning game. The feat was done twice previously, once on May 7, 2005 at San Francisco in Washington’s 11-8 victory, and again on August 9, 2006 at RFK Stadium as Washington defeated Florida 5-2. Nats’ two and three hitters Jayson Werth (with three) and Bryce Harper (with four) combined for seven of the walks.
Werth also contributed two hits and scored three runs in the contest.
THURS May 19- Washington 9 @ NY Mets 1 Nationals Record 25-16
WP- Strasburg (7-0) LP- Harvey (3-6)
HR- Murphy, Was (6)
It was anything but “Happy Harvey Day” at Citi Field on Thursday as a dominant effort by Stephen Strasburg and some fireworks by the Nats left Mets’ starter Matt Harvey perplexed and the Citi Field faithful in a sour mood.
Strasburg moved to 7-0 on the year, fanning 10 and allowing only one run in six innings. The win was his fifth in eight career decisions against the Mets, and marked the fourth time in 10 starts against the New Yorkers where he’s had 10 or more strikeouts.
To add to the misery of the Mets’ fans, 2015 favorite son Daniel Murphy went 2 for 4 with a key two run, first innings home run off of Harvey that got the burly righthander’s night off to a bad start. Murphy’s homer against his former team was the 68th of his career. He has now hit home runs against every National League team with the exception of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Murphy’s teammates Ben Revere and Anthony Rendon contributed to the Nats’ big night. Revere went 2 for 5 with a two run triple, marking the second time this season the Nats’ speedster has had multiple hits in a game (he had 49 such games in 2015). Rendon did Revere one better in the hits department, going 3 for 4 with a run scored and two RBI. In 101 career at bats at Citi Field, Rendon is hitting .337 with eight doubles, six home runs and a .959 OPS.
FRI May 20- Washington 4 @ Miami 1 Nationals Record 26-16
WP- Roark (3-3) LP- Nicolino (2-2) SV- Papelbon (12)
HR- Zimmerman, Was (5), Taylor, Was (4), Ozuna, Mia (8)
Ryan Zimmerman’s 425 foot blast deep into the seats at Marlins Park was a marvel to watch, except if you happened to be Marlins’ starter Chris Nicolino or one of his teammates. Zim’s homer was his longest of the year and his first 425 plus blast since last September (when he hit a 427 foot home run at St. Louis on 9/2), and gave the Nats a lead they’d never lose in the opening game of what seems to be the 20th series of the young season between the Nats and the Marlins.
Michael A. Taylor added to the home run party in the second innings, as his laser blast to the left field seats gave the Nats a 4-0 lead. Six of the Nats’ eight hits on the game went for extra bases, although they couldn’t add on to the 4-0 lead and saw the Marlins threaten on several occasions. Starter Tanner Roark and relievers Felipe Rivero, Shawn Kelley (who navigated expertly through troubled waters in the eighth innings) and Jonathan Papelbon made the lead hold up however, as the Nats won their third consecutive game. The Nats’ pitchers were particularly effective against the suddenly struggling Stanton (who has no hits in his last 15 at bats), holding him hitless in four at bats and striking him out three times.
Washington’s defense helped out on Friday. Werth’s strong throw to nail Miami’s Adeiny Hechavarria as the Marlins’ shortstop tried to stretch a hit into a double in the seventh inning kept Miami from getting a runner into scoring position, and shortstop Danny Espinosa ended the game with a sparkling play that kept Miami from bringing the tying run to the plate.
In 2015, the Nationals stole only 57 bases to rank 14th in the National League (ahead of only the league champion Mets). While the success of the Mets may minimize the importance of stolen bases to some extend, one watching the Nationals play station to station baseball in 2015 could easily have come to the conclusion that a few key steals here and there might have helped the team create additional scoring opportunities.
This season the Nats could have four players (Ben Revere, Michael A. Taylor, Trea Turner, Danny Espinosa) with elite speed in their lineup, with several others (Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy) also capable of swiping bases at times. Since the team’s inception in 2005, the Nationals have finished in the top half of National League teams in steals only four times in 11 seasons. Will this year’s squad make it five of 12?
New Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker is believed to be a proponent of increased usage of the stolen base, but his past teams’ records show that he has not always had the horses to put together a proficient running game. In his 20 years as a manager, Baker’s teams have stolen 100 or more bases only eight times (seven times with the Giants and once with the Cubs). Baker’s teams have also had lower than acceptable stolen base percentages (69% in 10 years with San Francisco, 69 % in four years with the Cubs and 68% in six seasons in Cincinnati).
The most effective Nationals’ squad in terms of stolen bases was the 2014 NL East champion team that stole 101 bases (Denard Span led the way with 31 steals, with Ian Desmond chipping in with 24) with a sterling 81% efficiency rating. In terms of outright steals, the 2006 team (led by Alfonso Soriano’s 41) had the most steals with 123 but had only a 66% success rate. The three other times Nats’ teams have had over 100 steals were in 2010 (110, 73% success rate), 2011 (106/74%) and 2012 (105/75%).
It will be interesting to see how the Nats use the steal in 2016. If Revere is able to stay healthy and get on base at his usual clip, it is easy to see him easily eclipsing Soriano’s team high total. And if Turner wins the shortstop job and is able to stay above water offensively, he could give the Nationals one of the top one-two punches in the league in terms of stolen base effectiveness.
There are differences of opinion as to the value of the steal. For a team like the Nats that has struggled to move runners at times, the tactic might give Washington’s offense a boost. While we shouldn’t expect the 2016 Nats to resemble the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals, one can assume that there will be more speed on display in Washington this season than there has been in the past.
It’s Fun Fact Friday, courtesy of Baseball Reference.com’s Play Index, with the focus this time on trivia and numbers related to the players expected to be patrolling the outfield for the Nationals in 2016.
- New Nationals’ outfielder Ben Revere always seemed to be a thorn in the side to some of Washington’s better hurlers. For example Revere is 8 for 22 (.364) with a home run lifetime against Max Scherzer, and has a .400 average in 25 at bats against Gio Gonzalez. It turns out that Scherzer and Gonzales are not the only talented pitchers against whom the speedy outfielder has had success. Revere is 7 for 14 in his career against Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner, has a .583 in 12 at bats against Pirates’ flame thrower Gerrit Cole and has six hits in 10 at bats against Houston’s Tony Sipp.
- Jayson Werth has 198 career home runs, with 78 coming as a National. Werth has gone deep against 28 of the 30 Major League teams, and has a chance to add another notch to his belt in May when the Detroit Tigers visit Nationals Park. The Nats’ left fielder will have to wait a few years to get a shot at homering against the other team he’s yet to go yard against. The Nats won’t be playing the Oakland A’s, at least in the regular season, until 2018.
- Bryce Harper hit 42 homers and posted a 1.109 OPS in his MVP season of 2015. Harper’s breakout year was the 53rd in the Majors since 1914 where a player hit at least 40 homers and had an OPS of at least 1.10. If he can match the numbers this year, Harper will join a select group of players who have had more than once such season in their careers. All-time great Babe Ruth has 11 such seasons, with Barry Bonds posting six, Lou Gehrig having five, Albert Pujols, Mark McGwire and Hank Greenburg doing the trick three times each, and Mickey Mantle and Todd Helton having two each.
- In his rookie season of 2015, Nats’ center fielder Michael A. Taylor became the first Major League rookie since 2012 with at least 14 home runs and 16 stolen bases in a season. In an injury plagued 2012 Harper had 22 taters and 18 steals, Mike Trout of the Angels hit 30 long balls and stole 49 bases and Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes hit 23 round-trippers and swiped 16 bags. Since 1914, Taylor is one of only 51 Major Leaguers who have achieved this goal.
- Both Clint Robinson and Matt den Dekker served in backup roles for the Nationals in 2015, and both contributed significantly down the stretch. Robinson posted a .938 OPS in 35 at bats in August of last season, with eight runs scored, a double, three home runs and seven RBI. den Dekker saved his best in 2015 until the season’s final month, as he hit .298 with three homers, seven RBI and a .948 OPS in September. One area where the two outfielders differed was in their home v. road splits. Robinson was much better on the road (.897 OPS) than at home (.676) last year, while den Dekker (.993 home, .564 road) was almost his polar opposite.