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.
Reds’ catcher Tucker Barnhart watches his 10th inning, go-ahead single head to right center during last evening’s Reds’ 9-4 victory of the Washington Nationals that ended the home team’s winning streak at six games.
Nats Record 49-33
WP- J. Smith (1-1) LP- Solis (1-3)
HR- Espinosa, Was (16)
Saturday night was a game of missed opportunities for the Nationals. After trailing for most of the game, Washington mounted a furious rally in the eighth inning that tied the game at 4-4. Some clutch pitching from the normally less than formidable Reds’ bullpen prevented further disaster for the visitors, and the Reds eventually put five on the scoreboard in the top of the tenth inning to win the game.
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star– Reds’ starter Dan Straily’s outing may have ended in a less than satisfactory fashion as he saw a potential win go up in smoke as a result of the Nationals’ eighth inning rally, but there’s no denying that Straily was special on this night. He allowed the Nats only one hit and one run through his first seven innings of work, bouncing back from his last three starts in which he allowed 17 earned runs in only 14 innings pitched.
Second Star– With Nationals Park rightfield line stands fans’ number one enemy Joey Votto out with a sore shoulder, Adam Duvall drove in the 57th and 58th runs of his surprising season with a first inning double that got the Reds off to a quick start. He doubled again later in the contest. The Reds’ slugger has an impressive .892 OPS so far this season.
Star of the Game– Tucker Barnhart went 3 for four with two runs scored and plated the go-ahead run with a tenth inning single that led to Cincinnati’s win. The unheralded backstop has six hits in nine at bats in the last two games of the series.
Valiant in Defeat- June was month to forget for Nationals’ reliever Felipe Rivero. The lefty was 0-2 with a 10.64 ERA and a 2.091 WHIP in the month. On Saturday, he helped the Nationals stay in the game as he threw 2.2 scoreless innings with a pair of strkeouts.
What a difference 48 hours make. On Thursday night, young Reds’ reliever Josh Smith allowed five runs in 1.2 innings pitched in the Nats’ 13-4 rout of Cincinnati. Last night, Smith was perfect over 1.1 innings to earn the first win of his Major League career.
Washington starter Joe Ross battled and eventually righted the ship after allowing four runs over the first two innings of the game, but the young righty is not performing recently as he did in the season’s first months. Since the end of May, Ross has seen his ERA go from 2.37 to 3.49, and he has allowed 27 hits in his last 17.2 innings pitched.
Danny Espinosa homered again on Saturday, hitting a two run blast in the eighth that triggered Washington’s game tying rally. Espinosa has 16 homers on the year, only five short of his career high of 21 set in 2011. Among Major League full-time shortstops, Espinosa’s 16 round trippers is behind only Colorado’s Trevor Storey (19), Los Angeles’ Corey Seager (17) and Oakland’s Marcus Semien (17). Even more amazingly, Espinosa’s 12 home runs on the year while hitting in the eighth spot is six ahead of his closest competitors. Seattle’s Leonys Martin and Chicago’s David Ross have six home runs each so far while hitting eighth.
Righthander Tanner Roark threw seven scoreless innings on Sunday to pace the Nationals to a 3-2 victory that ended Washington’s grueling seven game losing streak on the team’s road trip from Hades.
A 3-7 road trip is nothing to write home about, especially when seven of the games were played against sub-par San Diego and Milwaukee teams. However the difficult trip did have a happy ending, as Tanner Roark’s pitching and power from unusual sources led Washington to a 3-2 victory and a three game lead in the National League East heading into a showdown series against the Mets at Nationals Park.
Nationals 3 Brewers 2
Nationals Record- 44-32
WP- Roark (7-5) LP- Barnes (0-1) SV- Kelley (3)
HR- Lobaton, Was (1), Robinson, Was (3), Maldonado, Mil (2)
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star- Reserve first baseman/outfielder Clint Robinson doesn’t have flashy numbers, but he passes the eye test when looking for good at bats from a bench player. His two run homer to right field off of Milwaukee reliever Michael Blazek in the eighth inning gave Washington a 3-0 lead, a cushion they’d need when the bullpen surrendered runs in both the eighth and ninth innings.
Second Star- No one doubts Nats’ backup catcher Jose Lobaton’s ability as a defensive player and pitch framer, but he’s not known as much of an offensive threat. Today Lobaton excelled with both the glove and the bat, as his home run to left-center broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning and gave Washington a lead it would not lose. The homer was the first of the year for Lobaton, and the first he’s hit since June 28, 2015 when he hit a round-tripper at Citizens Bank Park against the Phillies.
Star of the Game- Starting a day earlier than expected due to Stephen Strasburg’s injury, Tanner Roark threw seven innings of scoreless ball to lead Washington to victory. Roark has five games this season in which he’s thrown at least seven innings and allowed no runs, tying him with Chicago’s Jake Arrieta for the National League lead in that category. Roark is now 7-5 with a sterling 2.96 ERA on the year.
Valiant in Defeat- Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter had two hits a piece for Milwaukee, but the big blow for the home team was a two-out, ninth inning mammoth pinch-hit home run by Martin Maldonado that kept the Brewers’ hopes alive. The home run was the backup backstop’s second of the season.
Washington’s Shawn Kelley earned his third save of the year, working 1.1 innings, striking out three and stranding the tying run on third base to end the game. In 9.2 innings pitched in June, the righthanded reliever has 16 strikeouts.
Prior to the home runs by Lobaton and Robinson, it looked like another “missed it by that much” day for the Nats in terms of the long ball. In the fifth inning with the bases loaded, Bryce Harper narrowly missed hitting a grand slam home run as Milwaukee’s Kirk Nieuwenhuis grabbed Harper’s blast to the deepest part of center to keep the game scoreless.
Joe Ross takes the hill tomorrow night at Nationals Park against the Mets. In his career at the home of the Nationals, the talented youngster is 6-4 with a 2.92 ERA and has held opponents to a paltry .596 OPS.
Ross’s opponent on the mound will be New York’s talented and towering righty Noah Sydergaard, who is 8-2 with a 2.08 ERA and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings pitched this year. Anthony Rendon (4-10 with a double and a homer) has fared well against Syndergaard in the past, while Danny Espinosa (0-6, four strikeouts) has not.
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.
DC area native Justin Bour admires his two run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning last night that broke a 1-1 tie and led the Miami Marlins to a 3-2 victory over the Washington Nationals.
MARLINS 3 NATIONALS 2 (at Marlins Park) Nationals’ Record (26-17)
WP- Fernandez (6-2) LP- Ross (3-4) SV- Ramos (13)
HR- Bour, Mia (8)
Down a run but with the bases loaded and no outs in the top of the ninth innings, it looked as though Marlins’ closer A. J. Ramos was on the verge of his first blown save of the year. But Ramos got ahead in the count on Nats’ pinch-hitter Jayson Werth, and then induced the veteran outfielder to ground into a third unassisted to catcher double play that torpedoed the Nats’ rally. After Jose Lobaton grounded out to first, the Marlins had the wni and the Nats’ three game winning streak was snapped.
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star- Playing only because regular leftfielder Christian Yelich was a late scratch due to back problems, Ichiro Suzuki went 4 for 4 and scored a run at the top of Miami’s order. The game was the 52nd of his storied career in which Suzuki had four or more hits.
Second Star- Some starting pitchers, like Washington’s ace Stephen Strasburg, rarely express emotion on the mound. Others like Miami stalwart Jose Fernandez wear their emotions on their sleeve. Perhaps in part due to his passionate approach, Fernandez (like the reserved Strasburg) is one of the National League’s best pitchers, and that was on display again last night. The fiery righty struck out nine and allowed only one run over six strong innings to put the Marlins on the course to victory. Over 52.2 career innings pitched against the Nationals, Fernandez has fanned 72 batters.
Star of the Game- Justin Bour hails from the DC Metro area, and has more career home runs (seven) against the Nationals than any other opponent. Bour’s no doubt two run home run to right field off of Nats’ starter and loser Joe Ross was the difference maker in yesterday’s contest.
Valiant in Defeat- Ben Revere continued his climb back from his slow start, getting two hits in four at bats on the game. Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy also had two hits a piece for the Nats.
2015 was a year to forget for Miami’s Marcel Ozuna. Ozuna posted a .691 OPS on the campaign, and even spent some time in the Minor Leauges to get back on track. So far, the five tool talent is making 2016 a year to remember. The centerfielder went 3 for 4 on the game with a double and National League leading third triple, and has a .911 OPS so far this year.
Ross struck out Martin Prado, Derek Dietrich and the slumping Giancarlo Stanton in the top of the first inning, marking the fifth time in his career and the third time in 2016 that he’s fanned three batters in a frame. On April 30th at St. Louis, Ross punched out Kolten Wong, Jaime Garcia and Jeremy Hazelbaker in the bottom of the third. A week later at Wrigley Field on May 5th, Ross fanned Tim Federowicz, Kyle Hendricks and Dexter Fowler (also in the bottom of the third inning).
The Nats’ second run of the game came on a RBI single off the bat of pinch-hitter Wilson Ramos. The RBI was the 20th of the year for the Buffalo, tying him with Wellington Castillo of Arizona and Francisco Cervelli of Pittsburgh for the most runs driven in by National League catcher.
The rubber game of the three game set is today, with Max Scherzer taking on Miami lefty Adam Conley.
Martin Prado has hit Scherzer hard in his career, registering 11 hits in 22 career at bats. Yelich (4-12, 2b, HR) has also fared well against the Nats’ righty, but Dietrich (2-10, four strikeouts) and Bour (3-15, five strikeouts) have not.
Wilson Ramos has homered twice in six career at bats against Conley, and Anthony Rendon has three hits (including a double) in seven career at bats against the Marlins’ lefty.
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.
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.
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.
Former Nationals’ manager Matt Williams probably said it best when describing Jordan Zimmermann’s contributions to the Nationals over the past few years. “The word that comes to mind (to describe Zimmermann) is consistency. (He’s) reliable (and) durable. For a starting pitcher that is important and he’s provided the Nationals organization that for a long time,” the former Washington manager said when describing Zimmermann.
In 2016, the Nationals face a season in which they won’t be able to rely on #27’s steadiness and solid production. From 2011 when Zimmermann first became a full-time member of the rotation through last season, Zimmermann’s 972 innings pitched topped all but 13 Major League pitchers. His ERA+ of 124 during that time period showed that Zimmermann was not only throwing a great number of innings, he was productive while doing so.
How will the Nationals replace Zimmermann this year? Fortunately they have two pitchers at the top of the rotation in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg who will likely give the team between 180 and 210 innings pitched each. In the rotation’s third spot will be Gio Gonzalez. Can Gio regain the form he showed in 2012 (199.1 innings pitched, 21-8 record and 2.85 ER) and 2013 (195.2 innings pitched, 11-8. 3.36 ERA), or will Gonzalez be the on again, off again pitcher he was in 2014 and 2015 when he often struggled to go much further than five innings in his starts?
Young pitchers Joe Ross and Tanner Roark will be counted on to fill in the back end of the rotation, but is it realistic to expect either pitcher to provide 190 or so innings pitched like the Nats would have been able to rely on Zimmermann to throw?
Perhaps the ultimate answer to the problem will be provided by a veteran pitcher the Nats signed to a Minor League deal a few weeks ago. Soon to be 39 year old Bronson Arroyo is no stranger to throwing lots of innings over the course of a season. From 2005 through 2013, Arroyo threw at least 199 innings in each season. And while his performance during that time frame wasn’t quite at the level Zimmermann’s was during his five seasons as a Nats’ rotation stalwart, Arroyo wasn’t exactly chopped liver on the hill. Of course there’s Arroyo’s injury situation to consider as there’s no guarantee that the post-injury version of the righty will be able to put up the type of numbers Arroyo did during his salad days.
With the team’s bullpen somewhat in flux, it will be crucial for the starting staff to be one of the top ones in the National League. Part of that will involve making sure that the pitchers in the bottom spots of the rotation are not five inning pitchers who end up taxing the potentially shaky bullpen. We’ll see how things sort out once Spring Training begins and we have a better idea of Arroyo’s health, Ross’s development and Roark’s ability to recapture the form he showed as a starter in 2014.