Stephen Strasburg retired the last 14 Phillies’ batters he faced on Friday night as the righty moved to 10-0 on the year in Washington’s 9-6 victory over their division rivals.
With two wins in three games against the White Sox in Chicago and two wins so far in their weekend series against the Phillies, this week has been a good one for the Nationals. The team’s record stands at 38-24, which is exactly where it was in 2012 after 62 games in Washington’s 98 win NL East Division Championship season. Of course the 2016 Nats hope to achieve more than just a division title, and there are signs that this year’s team could be better than the 2012 squad that brought five plus months of excitement to the Nation’s Capital.
THE WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS
MOWING THEM DOWN
Stephen Strasburg was touched for four runs on Friday by the Phillies in the first three innings as the Nats fell behind by a 4-0 score, but that only seemed to serve to strengthen the resolve of the Major League Baseball wins co-leader (Jake Arrieta of the Cubs and Johnny Cueto of the Giants also have 10 victories). Strasburg retired the final 14 Phils he faced, striking out seven of them, to (with the help of the team’s bats) put Washington in the driver’s seat in the first game of the weekend series.
The 14 batters in a row retired by Strasburg marked the sixth time in his career where he’s retired at least that many batters in succession:
STRASBURG- MOST CONSECUTIVE OUTS RECORDED IN A GAME
Batters Retired Date Opp Notes
19 4/1/13 Mia Gave up leadoff hit and retired next 19 batters.
15 6/18/10 CWS First two batters had hits, then 15 in a row retired.
15 8/25/15 SD Retired last 15 batters he faced.
14 4/10/14 Mia Fanned six of the 14 he retired in a row.
14 4/19/15 Phl Retired 14 straight to start the game.
14 6/10/16 Phl Struck out seven during this stretch.
In his career, Strasburg has 32 instances where he has retired at least 10 batters consecutively.
GOON SQUAD II
Who says a sequel can never be as good as the original! The 2012 Nats, with their bench players dubbed the “Goon Squad” leading the way, posted a .786 OPS in pinch-hit appearances. That mark was the second highest in the Major Leagues. So far in 2016, Nationals’ pinch-hitters have put up a robust .995 OPS which is the third highest mark in the Majors. Washington’s eight pinch-hit homers trails only St. Louis (with 10).
Nats’ shortstop Danny Espinosa has been great with the glove in 2016, and he’s starting to show that he can be solid at the plate as well. Since May 1, Espinosa has nine homers and 17 RBI in 131 at bats. His 10 home runs on the year trails only Trevor Story of Colorado (16) and Corey Seager of the Dodgers (14) among National League shortstops. Espinosa had two three hit games over the past week, going 3 for 5 on June 8th against the White Sox and picking up three hits in four at bats in Friday’s win over the Phillies.
Espinosa did not play in Saturday’s 8-0 whitewashing of the Phillies, but another hot hitter did…reserve infielder Stephen Drew. Drew has six hits with 3 runs scored, a double, two home runs and six RBI in his last 12 at bats.
Veteran Jayson Werth has looked better both at the plate and in the field over the past weeks. Since May 29th, Werth has four home runs and 13 RBI in 37 at bats. He also made perhaps his best defensive play of the year on Friday night, ranging to his right and laying out to make the catch to rob Mikael Franco of an extra-base hit.
The Nats’ best hitters on the year have been probable 2016 National League All-Stars Daniel Murphy, Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper. All three players currently sport OPS marks of .918 or better. In Nationals’ history, the only season in which two or more players were over .900 in OPS was in 2006 when Nick Johnson (.948) and Alfonso Soriano (.911) did the trick.
In Saturday’s win, Tanner Roark shut the Phillies out over seven innings pitched to earn his fifth win of the year and even picked up a RBI with a perfectly executed squeeze bunt in Washington’s four run second inning. In 2016, Roark has four games in which he has gone at least seven innings and allowed no runs. Of his career nine games fitting those parameters, seven (including all four in 2016) have come at Nationals Park.
ODDS AND ENDS
Through 62 games, the Nats’ 591 strikeouts is the most among National League pitching staffs. Strasburg (with 110) and Max Scherzer (107) are third and fourth in the league, trailing only Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (132) and Jose Fernandez of Miami (118).
Tommy Joseph of the Phillies had two home runs in Friday night’s loss to the Nats, making him the second player to have a multiple home run game against Washington this year. Back on May 6th at Wrigley Field, Ben Zobrist hit two round-trippers in a Cubs win over the Nats. In 2015, there were 14 instances of a player having a multi-home run game against the Nats.
Today’s series finale against the Phillies will be played under the sun, which may not be a good thing for the already battered Phils’ staff. In day games in 2016, Bryce Harper has a 1.102 OPS, seven home runs and 16 RBI with Daniel Murphy checking in with a 1.007 OPS and 15 runs batted in. Games during the afternoon have also been good for Buffalo sightings as Wilson Ramos has a 1.091 OPS and five home runs in such contests.
Finally, happy 32nd birthday to former Nationals’ outfielder Roger Bernadina. Known for spectacular defense plays, including a game saving catch at Houston in 2012 which many observers believe is the best defensive play by an outfielder in Nats’ history, Bernadina is currently a Mets’ minor league player.
Cincinnati’s Eugenio Suarez connects for a home run in the bottom of the third inning in last night’s Reds’ 7-2 victory over the Nationals at the Great American Ballpark.
Nats’ Record- 33-22
WP- Finnegan (2-4) LP- Gonzalez (3-4)
HR- Werth, Was (9), Suarez, Cin (13), Cozart, Cin (8), Duvall, Cin (15)
Coming off of a three game sweep of the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, the Nats took on the lowly Reds at Cincinnati last night in the first game of a weekend three game set at the Great American Ballpark. Despite their struggles so far in 2016, the Reds proved to be a worthy opponent on this evening as they bashed the Nats by a 7-2 score to start their weekend off on a positive note.
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star– When one thinks of the best hitting shortstops in Major League Baseball, the Reds’ Zack Cozart is probably an afterthought for most people. Perhaps that needs to change.
Cozart was 2-4 with a home run (his eight) and two RBI last night for the Reds, moving his average on the year to a healthy .310. Among players who’ve played significant time at shortstop this year, Cozart’s 132 OPS + ranks behind only Manny Machado of Baltim0re (159), Xander Bogaerts of Boston (138) and Aledmys Diaz of St. Louis (134).
Second Star– Reds’ lefty Brandon Finnegan is anything but dominant, but he was efficient and effective in last night’s win. Finnegan held the Nationals to five hits and one run over his 6.1 innings pitched as he won his first game at home since July 7th of last season.
Star of the Game- When Todd Frazier was traded from the Reds during the off-season, many thought that third base would be a black hole in Cincinnati’s lineup in 2016. Eugenio Suarez is making sure that will not be the case
Suarez was 3 for 4 with two runs, two RBI and his 13th home run of the year to pace Cincinnati’s healthy offensive attack. Suarez’s homer total, achieved in only 198 at bats, matches the 13 he hit in 2015 with 372 at bats.
Valiant in Defeat- Trea Turner may only be up in the Major Leagues for a few days, but he sure made the best of his situation on Friday night. The speedy infield prospect went 3 for 3 with a double in his 2016 debut.
Jayson Werth’s solo home run off of Finnegan was his ninth of the season, putting him one short of his ninth double digit home run season in the Major Leagues. He has three career home runs at the Great American Ballpark, but last night’s blast was his first since 2013.
Coming off of the bench last evening, Wilson Ramos had only one at bat but he continued his hot 2016 form in that opportunity. Ramos’ double was his 10th of the season, and moved his batting average on the year to .342.
The Nats have now dropped five of their last six games in Cincinnati. Since 2005, Washington has only 14 wins in 38 games played in the Queen City.
Stephen Strasburg looks to pick up his 10th win in as many decisions today when he takes on the Reds. In three career games at Cincinnati, Strasburg has allowed 10 runs in 12 innings pitched.
The Reds send Dan Straily to the mound. In games at home this season, Straily has a 1.90 ERA in 31 innings pitched. He has thrown 29.1 innings in road games this year, with a 3.99 ERA to show for it.
Jayson Werth acknowledges the crowd at Nationals Park after his pinch-hit grand slam home run on Sunday broke open a game the Nats would win over St. Louis by a 10-2 score.
Winning only three of seven games in a week is not ideal by any means, but the Nats were able to hold their own for the most part against fellow National League playoff caliber teams and they head into Memorial Day with more wins (30) than all but two Major League teams (the Cubs have 34 and the Giants have 32). Here’s a look at some of the highlights and low points from the past seven games.
NINE IS FINE FOR NATS’ ACE
Two of the team’s three wins in the week came courtesy of solid starts by Stephen Strasburg, who beat the Mets on Tuesday and came back and took care of the Cardinals on Sunday. Strasburg is 9-0 on the year with a 2.69 ERA and has an impressive 1.089 WHIP so far. The Nats’ power pitcher struck out only four Cardinals’ in Sunday’s win, marking only the sixth time in 18 decisions where he’s picked up a win while fanning four or fewer. In 111 career starts where he’s struck out five or more batters, Strasburg has posted an impressive 57-25 record.
His two wins gave him 13 career victories in the month of May, the most he’s posted in a month in his career. Strasburg has 12 career victories in August, and 11 in both April and June. Sunday’s effort improved Strasburg’s record in day games to 28-14, and moved his career mark at Nationals Park to 31-17 with a 2.73 ERA.
MAKING IT COUNT IN A PINCH
Veteran Jayson Werth was scheduled for an off day on Sunday, but entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. He made his one at bat on the day count in a big way, driving a Dean Kiekhefer pitch way over the wall in center field for a grand slam that broke open a close contest.
The pinch-hit homer was the seventh of the year for the Nats, moving them within one of the Washington record eight pinch-hit round trippers that were hit by the 2006 squad. The four run pinch-hit blast was the second in Nationals’ history. Former National Justin Maxwell hit a grand slam back in September 2007 against Florida.
Werth’s slam was his third as a National. Only Ryan Zimmerman (5) and former National Michael Morse (4) have more. Besides Zimmerman and Werth, current Nats with grand slams while wearing the Curly W are Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos with two each, and Danny Espinosa and Michael A. Taylor with one a piece. Washington has 43 grand slams since the team’s move to Washington in 2005, and Werth’s blast was the 18th grand slam hit by a Washington player at Nationals Park.
A BLAST BY BRYCE
Nats’ star Bryce Harper hit is 12th and 13th home runs of the year during the Cardinals’ series, and number 12 was one to remember.
The 437 foot blast to right field off of Cards’ starter Mike Leake evened the score on Thursday night at 1-1 in a game Washington would win over the Cards by a 2-1 score. According to ESPN’s Home Run tracker, the round tripper tied for the sixth longest Harper has hit at Nationals Park:
Longest Home Runs at Nationals Park by Bryce Harper
Distance Date Pitcher
453 feet 9/4/15 Julio Teheran
452 feet 4/18/15 Aaron Harang
444 feet 9/8/13 Mark Buehrle
441 feet 5/6/15 Tom Koehler
438 feet 7/18/15 Kenley Jansen
437 feet 8/6/13 Julio Teheran
437 feet 5/26/15 Mike Leake
AN ODD OUTING INDEED
Friday’s Nats’ loss to St. Louis was all but sealed when the Cards scored five runs in the third inning against Nats’ starter Max Scherzer. The game marked the 24th time in Scherzer’s career as a starter where he’s pitched at least seven innings and surrendered three or fewer hits. Scherzer is 21-1 in those contests. Friday’s game marked the second time this season that Scherzer has walked four batters in a game, and he’s 0-2 in those contests. The Nats’ righthander did not walk more than three batters in any game during the 2015 season.
HOT HITTING IN A HOT WEEK
Especially in the latter part of the week, the weather felt more like a typical summer climate than it did like one would experience in spring. Several Nats’ hitters were as hot as the weather during the week.
In Saturday’s loss to St. Louis, Ryan Zimmerman went 4 for 4 with two home runs. The multi-homer game was Zimmerman’s second on the year, and the 16th in his career. The veteran National has three two home run games against St. Louis in his career, the most multi-homer games he’s had against any opponent. Zimmerman’s four hits marked the 11th time he’s done that in his career. Before Saturday, the last time Zimmerman achieved the feat was on 7/5/2014 when he went 4 for 4 with a pair of doubles in the Nats’ 13-0 rout of the Cubs.
Daniel Murphy was New York’s favorite son during the Mets’ playoff run in 2015, but New Yorkers (particularly fans of the Mets) could be forgiven if they’re not particularly fond of the Nats’ second basemen these days. Murphy had two hits in each of the three games against the Mets on the week, giving him 10 hits in 23 at bats in 2016 against his former teammates. Murphy hit his second home run of the season off of struggling New York starter Matt Harvey on Tuesday. Only former National Jordan Zimmerman (with four) has given up more home runs to Murphy in his career.
Wilson Ramos came up big on Sunday, continuing a hot spell in May. The Nats’ catcher went 3 for 3 with a home run and four RBI, marking the eighth time he’s driven in at least four runs in a game. Ramos’ career high for RBI is five, set on three different occasions during the 2013 season. So far in May, Ramos has posted a .967 OPS with four home runs and 17 RBI.
Thursday’s winning pitcher for the Nats was Joe Ross, who allowed only one run and struck out four in seven innings of solid work. The win evened Ross’ record on the year to 4-4 and lowered his ERA to an impressive 2.52. The game marked a nice bounce back effort for the young righty, who had allowed 10 runs in 11.2 innings pitched in his previous two starts at home.
The Nats will spend Memorial Day in the City of Brotherly Love, as Tanner Roark takes on Jeremy Hellickson this evening. Those keeping score at the game might want to have extra ink available, as neither pitcher has fared well at Citizens Bank Park. Roark is 1-4 wit a 8.27 ERA at CBP, while Hellickson’s 2016 campaign his shown that he’s generally more effective on the road (.347 ERA, 1.101 WHIP) than he’s been at home (4.87 ERA, 1.475).
The fans of the Phillies are generally not the most hospitable bunch, but Bryce Harper could be forgiven if he considers a trip to Ben Franklin’s home town as enjoyable as a young child’s visit to the Magic Kingdom. Harper has a lifetime 1.077 OPS and 11 home runs in 130 plate appearances at Citizens Bank Park.
If Roark is to have success this evening, he’s probably going to have to control two young Phillies’ outfielders who have had success so far in the month of May. Speedy leadoff man Odubel Herrera is hitting .327 with eight RBI, while Rule 5 pickup Tyler Goeddel has hit at a .313 clip two home runs on the month.
Hot hitting Daniel Murphy had four hits, including his fourth home run, scored four runs and drove in three to pace the Nats to a 13-2 win over the Kansas City Royals in the rubber game of the teams’ three game series at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium.
The state of Missouri has more than its share of baseball tradition. It is the home to the Negro League Hall of Fame, the National League’s most successful franchise in the St. Louis Cardinals and to the Kansas City Royals who have represented the American League in the two World Series showdowns. Over the past six days however, the best team playing Major League baseball in the state has been the team with the Curly Ws on its hats.
After sweeping the Cardinals in St. Louis over the weekend, the Nats journeyed to Kansas City and won two out of three games to improve their record to 19-8 and maintain a one and a half game lead over the New York Mets in the National League East.
Some notes coming out of the series include:
-Monday’s 2-0 shutout win over the Royals was the fourth of the season for the Nats. That total, reached on the second day of the season’s second month, is one more than the 2006 and 2009 Nationals’ staffs registered in a full season. The most team shutouts in Nats’ history is 19, set in 2014 by the National League East championship squad.
-Gio Gonzalez has started 216 Major Leagues and on Monday, he did something he’d not done before. Gonzalez threw six shutout innings but fanned only one Royal, making the game the first one Gonzalez has earned a win while starting and striking out one or fewer batters. His previous low was two strikeouts in 2010 when Gonzalez earned the win in Oakland’s 6-2 victory over Texas.
-Left-handed reliever Oliver Perez recorded two key outs in his appearance on Monday, continuing a trend of very solid pitching by the veteran hurler. Left-handed batters are hitting only .071 on the season, and Perez has retired nine (six on strikeouts) of the first batters he’s faced when entering a contest.
-Daniel Murphy has been one of the best hitters in the National League so far in 2016, and he continued his success in Kansas City as he went 8 for 13 with two doubles, two home runs and five RBI in the three games. Other Nats with very strong results in the series were Ryan Zimmerman (7 for 14, four doubles, two RBI) and Wilson Ramos (6 for 9, two doubles, two RBI).
-Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth all homered in the Nats’ 7-6 loss to the Royals on May 3rd. Rendon’s home run was his first since September 14th of last season when he went deep at Citizens Bank Park off of the Phillies’ Aaron Nola. Werth’s home run was his fifth of the year. Of his last 25 home runs, 16 have come on the road.
-Bryce Harper struggled for most of the series, but hit his 10th home run of the this afternoon. The blast off of Dillon Gee was the third of Harper’s career against the former Met. Only Tom Koehler of Miami (6) and Julio Teheran of Atlanta (5) have allowed more to the reigning National League MVP.
-Superb starting pitching efforts are becoming routine for Stephen Strasburg, who earned his fifth win in as many decisions on Wednesday as he allowed the Royals only two runs in six innings pitched. Strasburg’s WHIP on the season is at 1.00. His career best in a season where he’s qualified for the league’s ERA title was the 1.05 mark that he put up in 2013.
The Nats and the Cubs face off on Thursday night at Wrigley Field in the first of four games between the National League’s best teams so far in 2016. Harper is hitting .333 with a 1.174 OPS in his 27 career at bats at the home of the Cubs. Both Harper and Murphy have homered in their careers off of Thursday’s Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks, although the lanky righty is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his two career starts against the Nats.
Joe Ross takes the hill tomorrow against a powerful Cubs’ lineup. Perhaps his biggest challenge will come from all-star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who is coming off a series in Pittsburgh where he had seven hits in 14 at bats with five doubles, a home run and three RBI.
Jayson Werth’s first inning three run home run off of St. Louis’ Jaime Garcia staked the Nats to an early lead that they wouldn’t lose as Washington defeated the home standing Cardinals 6-1 on Saturday.
Like the ever changing weather of April, the Washington Nationals’ past week featured more ups and downs than an amusement park roller coaster. From the thrills of an extra inning win last Sunday against Minnesota to sweep at home at the hands of the less than powerful Phillies to two impressive wins against the always good St. Louis Cardinals, the week has been an interesting one.
Here’s a recap of some of the key moments and events of the past six games.
April 24- Washington 6 Minnesota 5 – 16 innings
The game had it all, from hot hitting pitchers, a game tying pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth, an unlikely game tying run and a walk-off round tripper that finally ended the marathon contest.
Starter Stephen Strasburg, who pitched well on the day, and emergency pinch-hitter Joe Ross both had base hits on the day, marking the first time since April 25, 2012 that two Nats’ pitchers had hits during the same game. In that contest Jordan Zimmermann and Tom Gorzelanny not only each had a hit, but also drove in runs. The only other games where two Nats’ pitchers have reached on hits were only May 23, 2010 (John Lannan and Drew Storen were the hurlers), August 20, 2006 (Pedro Astacio and Travis Hughes) and August 30, 2005 (John Patterson and Jason Bergmann. The Nationals are 4-1 in those games.
Bryce Harper’s dramatic ninth-inning home run that sent the game into extra innings was the first pinch-hit homer of the Nats’ star’s career, and the 53rd pinch-hit home run in Nationals’ history. Six other current Nationals have pinch-hit round trippers for Washington in their careers. Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa, Matt den Dekker, Clint Robinson and Michael A. Taylor have come off the bench and to go deep for the Nats.
April 26- Philadelphia 4 Washington 3
Philadelphia’s Andres Blanco has been a utility player for most of his Major League career but in recent times, he’s looked like Jimmy Rollins in his prime against the Nats. On Tuesday, Blanco went 3-4 with a double, a homer and two RBI to pace the Phils to a 4-3 win over the Nats and Max Scherzer.
Blanco has 12 career homers, and the Nats are the only team he’s hit more than one against (Blanco homered on September 27, 2015 against Washington in a game where he went 3 for 6 with three RBI).
April 27- Philadelphia 3 Washington 0
What a difference 12 days made. On April 15, 2016 at Citizens Bank Park, Phils’ starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson was battered by the Nationals in Washington’s 9-1 victory. This past Wednesday, Hellickson did a 180 and held Washington scoreless over seven dominant innings to lead Philadelphia to victory.
Hellickson’s pitching game score of 78 on the day tied for the second highest he’s had in his 140 starts in the Major Leagues.
April 28- Philadelphia 3 Washington 0
Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola and Washington’s Tanner Roark were both superb on a rainy Thursday afternoon in Washington, but neither factored in the decision as the game remained scoreless through eight innings. The visitors finally broke through in the top of the ninth, scoring three runs off of Washington’s Felipe Rivero to put themselves in position to earn a rare sweep of the Nats. Cameron Rupp’s bases loaded double was the big blow in the Phils’ win.
Washington had no extra-base hits on the day, marking the 127th time the Nats have been held without one. Not surprisingly, the Nats are 22-105 in those games. Washington’s last victory without an extra base hit came on June 2, 2015 at home against the Toronto Blue Jays.
April 29- Washington 5 @ St. Louis 4
Coming into Friday’s game, the Nats had won only seven of their 33 regular season games played at St. Louis since baseball returned to Washington in 2005. Stephen Strasburg made sure things would turn out differently in the Nats’ first visit to the Gateway City in 2016.
After fighting through a rocky first inning, Strasburg settled down and eventually dominated the home team as he fanned nine (including three each in the bottom of the fifth and sixth innings) to earn his fourth victory in as many decisions on the season.
Strasburg was aided by home runs by Taylor and Espinosa off of St. Louis starter and loser Mike Leake. Taylor led off the game with a round tripper, marking the fourth time in his career that he has done so. The Nats are 3-1 in those contests. Espinosa had two hits, a homer (his first of the year) and two RBI in the game.
April 30- Washington 6 @ St. Louis 1
Fast starts have been common for the Nats in 2016, and that skill was display yesterday afternoon against St. Louis and lefty Jaime Garcia. The Nats jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, with the big blow coming on Jayson Werth’s three run home run. The blast was the 29th three run tater in Werth’s career. His .513 career slugging percentage against St. Louis is the third highest he’s posted against National League teams (Werth has a .566 slugging percentage against Arizona, and put up a .539 mark against Washington prior to joining the Nationals in 2011).
Young pitcher Joe Ross made sure the early lead would hold up, holding the Cards to one run in six innings pitched to earn his third win of the year. Ross has not allowed a home run in his last 39.2 innings pitched, dating back to August 22, 2015 when Milwaukee’s Kris Davis homered off of the Nats’ rising star.
Max Scherzer looks to rebound from a pair of relatively disappointing outings as he takes on St. Louis’ Carlos Martinez in the finale of the three game set.
It has pretty much been feast or famine when St. Louis’ Brandon Moss has faced Scherzer in his career. The left-handed veteran has two home runs and four RBI against Scherzer in 22 career at bats, but has also fanned 11 times. Less successful against the Nats’ ace has been Matt Holliday, who is 0 for 5 with three strikeouts.
Martinez has limited opponents to a .867 WHIP so far in 2016, and is 4-0 on the year. Daniel Murphy, Werth and Zimmerman are a combined 0-12 lifetime against the hard-throwing young pitcher, while Anthony Rendon has hits in both of his at bats against Martinez.
Nats Record- 12-4
WP- Gonzalez (1-0) LP- Gibson (0-3)
HR- Werth Was (3), Sano Min (3)
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star(s)- The Bottom of the Nats’ Lineup
Jose Lobaton and Danny Espinosa are known more for their glove work and baseball smarts than they are for their hitting but on Friday, both players contributed significantly at the plate.
Lobaton went 2 for 3 on the day with three RBI and a rare triple to aid Washington’s cause. The three RBI game was the second in Lobaton’s time in Washington, with the first coming last season in the team’s epic 13-12 comeback win at Atlanta on April 28th (Lobaton’s RBI came on a three run homer off of the Braves’ Julio Teheran).
Espinosa had two hits as well and drove in a pair of runs. On the year, the Nats’ shortstop has three two hits games, three games in which he has one hit and ten games in which he’s been held hitless. His left-handed stroke looked good against the Twins last night, so perhaps Friday’s game will help Espinosa start on a hot streak.
Pitcher Gio Gonzalez even helped out, driving in Lobaton with a sacrifice fly in Washington’s three run third inning.
Second Star- Throwing Strikes, Getting Outs
Gonzalez helped out at the plate on Friday, but his real contribution to the Nats’ 12th win in 16 games was on the mound. The lefty allowed Minnesota two earned runs in six innings pitched to pick up his first win of the year, and continued to show that 2016 might be a year of better control for the sometimes erratic hurler. Gonzalez threw 60 strikes in his 90 pitches on the night, and walked only one Twin while striking out eight.
Admittedly the season is young and April numbers don’t always stick but on the year, Gonzalez’s BB/9 mark of 1.9 is well below his previous best of 3.2 set in the 2014 season.
Star of the Game- A Performance “Werth-y” of Praise
With two superb defensive plays in left field and his third home run of the year, Jayson Werth’s play on Friday electrified the crowd at Nationals Park. Werth’s 201st home run of his career was a no-doubt blast to left off of Minnesota’s Michael Tonkin that expanded Washington’s lead to 8-1. Perhaps more impressive than the blast was his leaping grab of a third inning deep shot by Minnesota’s Bryon Buxton that prevented the talented Twins’ centerfielder from registering his first home run of the year.
Valiant in Defeat- A Big Man Hits a Big Fly
Minnesota’s 6’4″ 260 pound right fielder Miguel Sano is built like he could play defensive end for the Vikings, and he punished a Felipe Rivero pitch late in Friday’s game for his third home run of the year. Sano was 2 for 4 on the day.
Another game, and it was another multi-hit effort for Washington’s Daniel Murphy. Murphy went 2 for 4 and scored two runs on the game, padding his Major League leading batting average to .411. Murphy has nine multi-hit games on the year, tying him with Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison, Detroit’s Ian Kinsler and Arizona’s Jean Segura for the Major League lead in that category.
Tanner Roark takes the hill for Washington on Saturday afternoon going up against Minnesota’s Phil Hughes as the Nats try to secure a series win. Roark is 13-8 with a 2.81 ERA in his career at Nationals Park. Hughes is 1-2 on the season with a 4.42 ERA, and is coming off of a 2015 season in which he allowed an American League high 29 home runs. Washington’s Murphy is known as one of the toughest hitters in baseball, but he’s been unable to solve Hughes in his career (Murphy is hitless in eight at bats against the right-hander).
Stephen Strasburg’s strong finish to the 2015 season has carried over to 2016. On Tuesday, the Nats’ hurler shut the Marlins out through eight innings to lead the Nats to a 7-0 win.
The Nats’ seven game road trip concluded yesterday afternoon with a 5-1 loss to the Marlins which made the Nats’ 4-3 on the trip, including a split of four games at the generally deserted Marlins Park. There were some ups and downs in the series in South Florida, and we’ll look at the glass as half full by focusing on the positives.
- Stephen Strasburg’s Dominance
Since returning from injury in the second half of the 2015 season, Strasburg has been among the best pitchers in baseball. So far in 2016 he’s maintained that form, and he pitched his best game of the 2016 season in Tuesday’s 7-0 win over the Marlins.
By the pitching game score metric, the game was the fourth best start in the righthander’s career as he put up an 84 PGS while holding the Marlins to three hits and fanning 10 in eight innings pitched. Strasburg was in control from the beginning, and looked strong in the late innings as he registered the fourth game of his career where he’s pitched eight or more innings.
His 3-0 start in the 2016 season has put his career record in the season’s first month over the .500 mark (he is now 10-8 in March/April contests). He’s not allowed a home run this season in 21 innings pitched, and has a streak of 45 innings in which he’s not allowed a home run in road games.
Strasburg’s victory was the 11th in his career against the Marlins, the most the tall hurler has had against any opponent.
2. A Miami Missile
Don’t let the slender appearance fool anyone, Nats’ lanky outfielder Jayson Werth has primo power and that stroke was on display on Tuesday in Miami. Werth’s 432 laser shot into the garish beyond the outfield wall display broke a 0-0 tie in the seventh inning and started talented Miami lefty Adam Conley on the road to destruction. According to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker took, Werth’s blast left the park at 113 miles per hour. The last time Werth had a homer that left the park at that speed or greater was in August of 2014 when his homer off of San Francisco’s Tim Hudson made it to the seats in Nats Park at 114.4 mph.
3. Bryce on Fire
Bryce Harper’s accomplishments over the past year or so are well documented, but it is still fun to look at what the young outfielder is accomplishing. Today we’ll look at some of his accomplishments this season related to the long ball.
Harper had two homers in the Miami series, including one off of old friend Tom Koehler, to give him five in the seven game road trip and eight on the year. He has more than a week left to break his own record, set in 2013, for home runs in the season’s first month of nine. Harper also holds the record for the most home runs in any month by a National. He went deep 13 times last May on the way to his MVP season.
4. No Small Effort
Burly reliever Yusmeiro Petit was one of the heroes in Wednesday’s Nats 3-1 win, throwing four solid innings in relief of starter Joe Ross (who left due to a blister on his pitching hand) to earn the victory. The game marked the fifth time in Petit’s career where he’s thrown four or more innings in a relief role, and was the first where he picked up a win in such a contest.
In recent years, trips to Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park have been much more pleasant for the Nationals than they once were. These days, its the home team that is most often feeling the blues when the Nationals visit the City of Brotherly love. That was certainly the case last night when Washington ambushed Phillies’ starter Jeremy Hellickson for five first inning runs in route to an easy 9-1 win.
Nationals fans who have followed the team from the start remember the torture we went through when our team played the Atlanta Braves or Philadelphia Phillies in the team’s early years in DC. Heartbreaking late losses and devastating blowouts were experienced regularly at the hands of Washington’s NL East foes, but it looks now as though the bullied have become the bullies in these rivalries.
Following a four game sweep of the Braves earlier this week and a 9-1 rout of the home team at Citizens Bank Park last night, the Nats stand at 8-1 and have the best record in the Major Leagues.
The four game sweep of the hapless Braves at Nationals Park gave Washington 15 straight home victories over Atlanta, and a 19-5 mark against the Bravos since 2014. The series saw dominant pitching by the Nats against Atlanta’s less than powerful lineup, big home runs by Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth, Stephen Drew and Bryce Harper (his being a dramatic grand slam bomb for his 100th career round-tripper) and solid all-around play by a seeming revived Wilson Ramos as they overpowered the Braves in the sweep.
On Friday, the Nats won for the seventh time in their last eight games at Citizens Bank Park as they put a five spot on the Phils in the top of the first and never looked back on the way to a 9-1 win. Michael A. Taylor started the game off with a booming lead off homer, and former Phil Jayson Werth continued to torture his old team with a three run double to the deepest part of the ballpark to expand the lead to 4-0. After Danny Espinosa chipped in with a solid RBI single (his first hit since the second game of the season in Atlanta), the Nats were up 5-0 and on their way to their sixth straight win.
So far the Nats’ rotation has been spectacular, the team’s hitters are getting the big hit when they need it, the bullpen has been better than advertised and the Dusty Baker-led coaching staff is pushing all of the right buttons for the first place Nats. It’s early of course and the Braves/Phillies are among the National League’s least imposing teams, but signs are pointing to 2016 being a fun year in DC.
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.