Tanner Roark may not be a household name to many who follow Major League Baseball, but he certainly is one for Nats’ fans. Roark won his 15th game on Wednesday in the Nats’ 1-0 victory over the New York Mets.
With only 16 games to play and a ten game lead over the New York Mets in the National League East, it is only a matter of time before the Nationals celebrate their third division title in the past five seasons. There’s still a lot to play for, however, as the Nats need to maintain their five game spread over the Los Angeles Dodgers to assure themselves of the home field advantage in what is squaring up to be an intriguing NLDS series between the teams.
Here’s a look at some items of note as the Nats head into the final weeks of the 2016 regular season.
A SEASON TO REMEMBER
Where would the Nationals be without MVP candidate Daniel Murphy? The new National has at least one hit in all of the team’s 12 games so far in September, and continued his domination of his former mates from New York going 6 for 12 with three doubles in the teams’ recent series at Nationals Park. If Murphy can keep his batting average above .340 down the stretch, he will register only the third season since 1901 where a player who plays primarily (at least 80% of his appearances) at second base has hit over .340 with at least 25 homers, 100 RBI and 45 doubles. The only other player to have seasons like that will playing second base was Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, who did so in 1922 and again in 1929.
HOME RUN HIGHLIGHTS
The 2016 Nationals have 187 home runs so far, a mere seven round-trippers away from the 2012 club’s team record of 194. 95 of the Nats’ homers have come at home, with May (43) and June (38) being the months where Washington hitters have hit the most. Of Washington’s homers so far, 122 have been solo shots, 44 have been with one man on, 14 have come with two aboard and seven have been grand slams. The top inning for Nats’ blast has been the seventh. Washington has 29 home runs in that frame.
MAT THE BAT
Nats’ pitcher Mat Latos is built like an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, so it is no wonder that the veteran righthander is able to generate power with his bat as well as with his right arm. On Monday against the Mets, Latos became the first Nats pitcher to hit a round-tripper at Nationals Park in over three years when he deposited a Rafael Montero pitch into the visitor’s bullpen in Washington’s 8-1 win over the Mets
Before Latos’ shot, the last pitcher to hit a home run at home for the Nats was Gio Gonzalez, who went deep off of Miami’s Kevin Slowey on April 3, 2013. Other Nats’ hurlers who’ve homered in home games include Stephen Strasburg (5/20/12 against Baltimore), Tommy Milone (9/3/11 against the Mets), Ramon Ortiz (9/4/06 against St. Louis) and Livan Hernandez (4/29/05 against the Mets). The Nats are 6-0 at home in games where a Washington pitcher has gone yard.
THE SLIMMEST OF MARGINS
Washington’s 1-0 victory over the Mets on Wednesday was the 16th 1-0 victory for the Nats since 2005 and the second of the 2016 season. Both 1-0 victories this season have come in games started by Tanner Roark and in contests where the only Washington run has come on a seventh inning Wilson Ramos home run. Ramos’ mammoth blast to left center on Wednesday off of Fernando Salas was the game winner this week, and his home run off of San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner won the game back in August.
Wednesday’s 1-0 win over the Mets was Washington’s fifth against the New Yorkers, the most against any opponent.
TANNER IS TOPS
Any discussion of the best pitchers in the National League that doesn’t include the name of Nats’ starter Tanner Roark is a discussion without merit.
Roark was fantastic again on Wednesday, shutting the Mets out over seven innings to earn his 15th win of the year. In 2016, Roark has had a Major League high nine games in which he’s pitched at least seven innings without allowing a run. Besides Roark, only Chicago’s Jake Arrieta (with seven), Miami’s Jose Fernandez (6), Atlanta’s Julio Teheran (5), Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman (5) and the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka (5) have more than four such games.
The Nats make their final visit to Atlanta’s Turner Field this weekend and if there’s any justice, this will also be the last time the Nats (and their fans watching from home) will have to listen to the incredibly annoying “tomahawk chop” song that appears to be played at decibel levels rivaling that of a space launch.
With a winning record for the season at Atlanta for only the third time in 12 years already in hand, the Nats look to reduce their magic number against a depleted but always game Braves’ squad.
Max Scherzer takes the mound tonight for Washington in pursuit of his 17th win of the year. The Nats’ ace is 2-2 with a 2.36 ERA in his career at Turner Field. Outfielder Matt Kemp has provided the Braves with a boost since his acquisition from San Diego earlier this year, but Atlanta fans probably aren’t expecting much out of their left fielder this evening. In 36 career at bats against Scherzer, Kemp is hitting .083 with ten strikeouts.
Rookie John Gant, who the Braves acquired from the Mets in the 2015 trade that sent Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to New York, will be Scherzer’s mound opponent. The right-handed rookie is 1-3 with a 4.40 ERA on the year, but does have an impressive 45 strikeouts in 43 innings pitched.
San Francisco’s Eduardo Nunez and Brandon Belt celebrate the Giants’ 7-1 win over the Nationals on Saturday evening at Nationals Park.
Giants 7 Nationals 1
Nationals’ Record- 65-45
WP- Cain (4-6) LP- Strasburg (15-2)
HR- Belt, SF (13)
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star- It is well established that San Francisco’s Buster Posey is one of the best all-around players in the National League. Posey’s skills were on display on Saturday night at Nationals Park as he went 2 for 3 with two RBI to aid the Giants’ seven run attack. Posey’s 2016 WAR to date of 3.3 is tops among Major League catchers, with the Nats’ Wilson Ramos (2.9), Jonathan Lucroy of Texas (2.8) and Kansas City’s Salvador Perez (2.7) next.
Second Star- In years past, Giants’ Saturday starter Matt Cain was an all-star. These days the gutty veteran is trying to work his way back to that status, but don’t tell the Nationals that he’s lost his game. Cain defeated the Nats for the second time in a week, shutting them out over five innings pitched to earn his fourth win in ten decisions on the year.
Star of the Game- Eduardo Nunez put on a show on Saturday night, going 4 for 5, scoring three runs and picking up three extra-base hits (two triples and a double) in San Francisco’s win. Nunez’s two three-baggers marked only the fifth time a Nats’ opponent has had multiple triples in a game. It was the first such game since September 7th of 2012, when the Marlins’ Jose Reyes tripled twice in Miami’s 9-7 win at Nationals Park. Nunez also contributed a fine defensive play, as he corralled a hot shot of off the bat of Washington’s Jayson Werth in the fourth inning to begin the turning of a key double play that helped keep Washington scoreless.
Valiant in Defeat- Line drives were coming off the bat of Washington’s Wilson Ramos all night long, as the hot hitting catcher went 3 for 4 in his team’s defeat. Ramos also scored the Nats’ only run on the night.
Stephen Strasburg only lasted 4.2 innings on the night, marking his shortest outing of his All-Star year. He surrendered a season high four extra base hits in the game, but did strike out eight to mark the 12th time he’s had eight or more strikeouts in a game this season. Strasburg also had Washington’s only extra-base hit on the night, picking up a fourth inning double. The double was Strasburg’s first since July 1st of 2014.
Danny Espinosa had two hits and a RBI in the contest, marking the second time in his last three games that he’s had multiple hits. Prior to these games, Espinosa had multiple hits in only one of the prior 22 contests.
The Nats and Giants have played six times so far in 2016, with each team winning three times. The tie will be broken on Sunday, as Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner takes on Washington’s underrated 11 game winner Tanner Roark in the rubber game of the series.
Bumgarner is 10-6 on the year with a sparkling 2.25 ERA, but he’s not fared well at Nationals Park in the past. He is 1-3 at the home of the Nats, and has allowed five home runs in his last 14 innings pitched at the park. Bumgarner also has not been as effective on the road (1.268 WHIP) as he’s been at home (.827 WHIP) so far in 2016.
Roark is 6-3 with a 2.84 ERA in his career in August. Hunter Pence (0-7) and Angel Pagan (0-6) have struggled against Roark in their careers, while Posey (4-11, two doubles) and Brandon Belt (3-6 with a double and homer in the regular season, plus a heart breaking home run in the 18th inning of game two of the 2014 NLDS) have not.