The highlight of a mostly rocky six game stretch for the Nationals was Max Scherzer’s dominant effort in Washington’s 4-0 win over Baltimore on August 25th at Nationals Park.
Despite some poor play over the past week, a week that saw the Washington Nationals go 2-4, the Nationals are eight games up in the National League East with only 34 left to play. The eight game lead is the second largest in the Majors, behind only the Chicago Cubs’ mammoth 14 game spread over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. And with the six game stretch ending with two encouraging wins, there is hope that the ugly four games to begin the week were just a minor blip on the radar screen.
Here’s a look at some of the lowlights and highlights of the past six days for the Nats.
BURN THE TAPE OF THIS ONE
As ugly games go, it would be hard to find one to top Sunday’s 7-6 ten inning loss at Atlanta that prevented Washington from earning a four game sweep at Turner Field. The Nats committed five errors and blew a four run lead, with the end of the contest coming on Jace Peterson’s game ending home run off of Shawn Kelley with two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning. The game ending home run was the second of the season allowed by Washington, with the first coming back on May 8th at Wrigley Field when Javier Baez’s 13th inning solo homer off of Blake Treinen gave the Cubs a 4-3 win over Washington. No opponent has had more walk-off home runs against the Nats than Atlanta with four (see details below).
DATE NATS PITCHER BATTER SCORE/INN AT TIME OF HR RUNNERS ON
9/1/2005 Luis Ayala Andruw Jones 7-7 10th None
5/13/2006 Chad Cordero Jeff Francouer W 5 A 4 9th Three
8/16/2013 Ian Kroll Justin Upton 2-2 10th Solo
8/21/2016 Shawn Kelley Jace Peterson 6-6 10th Solo
NOT SO CHARMING FOR THE NATS
Camden Yards is a beautiful ballpark and many Nats’ fans made the trek north to see Washington play in Baltimore on Monday and Tuesday. Those fans probably aren’t calling the Baltimore Charm City after seeing Washington struggle in two losses to the O’s.
On Monday, the O’s nipped the Nats by a 4-3 score despite a valiant effort by Nats’ rookie A. J. Cole who stepped in for injured All-Star Stephen Strasburg and threw seven solid innings. Unfortunately for Cole and the Nats, Baltimore did touch him for two home runs that plated three of the four runs to give the O’s their advantage. Zach Britton’s ninth inning of work was nightmarish for the visitors, as the lefty blew Washington away to save a win for Baltimore rookie Dylan Bundy.
Tuesday’s game was anything but competitive. The Orioles won 8-1, giving the Nats their worst loss since they fell by seven runs (in a 12-5 game) at home against the Phillies on September 27, 2015. The Nats had ten hits on the day but only one went for extra bases, with the O’s registering three doubles and home among their 13 hits as they cruised to victory. Trea Turner’s 4-4 game out of the leadoff spot was the highlight of the game for Washington.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
The Nats seemed headed to another lopsided loss on Wednesday night as they trailed Baltimore 10-3 going into the bottom of the ninth. But Washington rallied, scoring five and bringing the winning run to the plate before Britton induced a double play ground ball to end the threat and give the O’s their 17th win in their past 23 games against their Beltway rivals.
Washington’s rally included the first grand slam home run of Daniel Murphy’s career. For the game, Murphy went three for five with five RBI, but it was another talented infielder who stole the show. Baltimore’s Manny Machado had four hits in six at bats, scored four times and hit a two run home run to pace Baltimore’s attack. In his career at Nationals Park, Machado is hitting .425 in 40 at bats and has posted a 1.169 OPS.
PLAYING THEIR ACE
Ending the team’s four game losing streak on Thursday with another sterling performance, Washington’s Max Scherzer showed why he’s among a handful of pitchers who are true stoppers.
Scherzer threw eight shutout innings and struck out 10 as he dominated a dangerous Orioles’ squad in tense contest that the Nats ended up winning 4-0. Scherzer’s 88 pitching game score on the date was his highest of the 2016 season, and the ninth 80 plus pitching game score he’s put up in his two years in DC. Over that time period, only Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw (with 14) has more.
The top of the Nats order provided the offense on the night for the home team, as Turner, Jayson Werth, Murphy and Bryce Harper combined to go seven for 16 with four runs scored, four RBI, two doubles, a home run and two stolen bases.
WELCOME TO THE CENTURY CLUB
The highlight of Friday’s 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies was Nats’ lefty Gio Gonzalez earning the 100th win of his career. Gonzalez allowed the Rockies two runs and four hits in six strong innings pitched. He struck out five and walked only one, as he improved his 2016 record to 9-9. As with many pitchers, not giving up walks seems to be a key for the Nats’ lefty. In games where he has allowed two or fewer bases on balls while pitching for Washington, Gonzalez 47-24. In contests where he’s given up three or more walks, Gonzalez’s record is 15-19.
The Nats’ Fearsome Foursome at the top of the team’s order were at it again, as Turner, Werth, Murphy and Harper combined for seven hits in 17 at bats, with four runs scored and six driven in. Werth had a double and his 18th home run of the year in the contest, while Harper had a double and his first triple of the season.
August has been a big month for the big four, all of whom are sizzling so far in the season’s penultimate month:
TURNER- .355 average, four homers, 13 RBI, nine steals, .946 OPS
WERTH- Six homers, 13 RBI, .938 OPS
MURPHY- .325 average, five homers, 22 RBI, .983 OPS
HARPER- .354 average, two homers, 16 RBI, 1.011 OPS
The Nats look to continue their winning ways this afternoon against Colorado as A.J. Cole looks for his first career win while Colorado pins its hopes on veteran lefty Jorge De La Rosa.
De La Rosa has three wins in as many decisions in his career at games played at Nationals Park, and is 5-2 overall against the Nats. Werth has hit .368 with a double and two homers against the Rockies’ lefty, while Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos have combined to go two for 20 against him. Ramos’ one hit, however, was a home run.
Tanner Roark throws a pitch during his masterful performance in today’s 9-1 Nats’ win over Atlanta at Nationals Park.
Nats’ Record- 69-47
Nationals 9 Braves 1
WP- Roark (13-6) LP- Jenkins (2-3)
HR- Rendon, Was (15), Heisey, Was (6)
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star- We are going with the trio of Trea Turner, Ben Revere and Bryce Harper who were at the top of the Nationals’ order on Sunday, and combined to score seven runs with four hits, two doubles and a RBI. Key to the Nats’ win was a three run first inning rally in which all of the top men in the order participated. Turner led of the game with a two bagger, and scored when Revere bunted for a hit and Atlanta’s Anthony Recker threw wildly to first to try to record an out. Harper followed with a double to left to score Revere, and Washington had jumped out to a 3-0 lead before Atlanta’s starter Tyrell Jenkins got into the flow of the game.
Second Star- The 2016 version of Nats’ third baseman Anthony Rendon is looking more like the 2014 version of a player many felt was one of the league’s best hitters. Rendon homered and hit a sacrifice fly to drive in four runs in the game, and his three run homer in the bottom of the fifth off of Jenkins broke the game open.
Star of the Game- Gutty, gritty and talented are adjectives that can be used to describe Nats’ starter Tanner Roark, and you might want to throw “underrated” into the mix as well. Roark won his 13th game on a day suited more for sitting in a hammock and drinking lemonade than recording seven innings of superb pitching as Roark did. The Nats’ hurler registered his ninth game in 12 starts at home where he’s thrown at least seven innings, and moved his record to 10-3 in games since May 20th.
Valiant in Defeat- Nats’ leadoff man Turner wasn’t the only top of the order player who played well on Sunday. Atlanta’s Ender Inciarte went 2 for 4 with a double (the only extra base hit on the day for the visitors) and scored the Braves’ only run of the game.
The Nats scored nine or more runs for the 14th time this season. They’re not five games short of the team record 19 set in 2012 by the 98 game winning NL East Champion team. The only other Nats’ teams with more than the 2016 team’s mark to date were the 2006 squad that had 18 nine plus run games, the 2015 team with 17, the 2008 team with 16 and the 2013 squad with 15.
Washington turned three double plays behind the fast working, strike throwing Roark on Sunday, marking the sixth time this season that the Nats have recorded three or more ground ball double plays in a game. The last time Washington had six or more games where they recorded at least three ground ball double plays was in 2012, when the Nats did the trick in eight games.
Wilson Ramos had two RBI in the game, leaving him three shy of his career mark of 68 set last year.
Since 2014 in games played at Nationals Park, the Nats hold a 21-6 record against the Braves. Washington has held Atlanta to three or fewer runs in 17 of the 27 games played.
A trip to Colorado is usually one highly anticipated by a visiting teams hitters, but dreaded by its pitchers. The Nats open a three game set against the Rockies on Monday night, with Max Scherzer taking on Jorge De La Rosa.
Scherzer, who leads the National League in strikeouts with 208, will be taking on a free swinging Colorado squad whose 958 strikeouts on the year is the sixth highest total in the National League. Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez is 3 for 10 with three homers in his career against Scherzer.
Colorado’s De La Rosa has won five of his seven career decisions against the Nats. In 60.2 innings pitched against Washington, he’s allowed only two home runs.
One National who has to be frustrated that he will be missing the trip to Coors Field is Ryan Zimmerman. In 131 career at bats at the Rockies’ home, Zimmerman has hit 12 doubles, eight homers, driven in 38 runs and posted a 1.090 OPS.