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 Diego’s Matt Kemp homered twice and drove in four runs to lead the Padres to a 5-3 victory over the Nationals last night at Nationals Park.
Padres 5 Nationals 3
Nationals’ Record- 57-40
WP- Perdomo (4-4) LP- Roark (9-6) SV- Maurer (4)
HR- Kemp, SD 2(22), Werth, Was (12), Murphy, Was (19)
Perhaps the Nationals should be glad that the Los Angeles Angels are not on their 2016 schedule. Against teams from Southern California this season, Washington has only three wins in 11 games. Last night’s 5-3 loss to San Diego put the Nats at 3-4 on the current homestand with two more games left to go against the Padres.
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star- Padres’ reliever Brandon Maurer doesn’t wear his cap tilted to one side or shoot imaginary arrows into the air after recording a save like his predecessor in San Diego did, but the power-throwing righthander has been very effective of late in the Padres’ bullpen. Maurer picked up a four out save last night, retiring four of the five batters he faced to earn his fourth save of the season. Since June 15th, Maurer has allowed only one run and eight hits in 14 innings pitched while recording 15 strikeouts.
Second Star- Young Padres’ starter Luis Perdomo threw the best game of his brief Major League career, allowing Washington only two earned runs in seven strong innings pitched to earn his fourth win on the season. The right-hander limited Washington to four hits and one walk in his outing.
Star of the Game- With six home runs and eight RBI in his last six games, Padres’ rightfielder Matt Kemp is as hot as the summer weather that is hammering most of the United States. Kemp hit is 21st and 22nd homers of the year last night and drove in four of the five San Diego runs to lead the Pads to victory.
Valiant in Defeat- Nats’ catcher Wilson Ramos went 3 for 4 with a RBI, picking up his tenth three plus hit game in the 2016 campaign. Ramos is now hitting .334 on the year, the second best batting average in the National League. The Buffalo trails only teammate Daniel Murphy, who is hitting .348.
Nats’ starter Tanner Roark gave up both of Kemp’s home runs last night, making the game only the fourth in 31 starts at Nationals Park where Roark has allowed multiple home runs. Roark’s career high for most home runs allowed in a home start is three, set on June 5th of last season against the Cubs. Unlike last night’s game, that outing had a happy ending as Washington defeated Chicago 7-5.
Jayson Werth’s home run last night was his 90th as a National and his 43rd at Nationals Park. He’s fifth on the all-time list of most homers at the home of the Nats, trailing Ryan Zimmerman (81), Ian Desmond (66), Bryce Harper (61) and Danny Espinosa (45). His first inning solo homer off of San Diego’s Perdomo came on a 1-2 count, making the blast the first Werth has hit on such a count since he took Atlanta’s Eric Stults deep at Nationals Park on May 8th of last season.
Speaking of Nats’ homers, Murphy’s solo home run off of San Diego’s Brad Hand in the eighth inning last night gave the Nats’ All-Star six home runs off of left-handed pitchers in the 2016 season. Only two left-handed batters have more; both Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez and the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo have taken lefties deep seven times so far this year.
Troubles at the top of the order continue for Washington, as Ben Revere went 0 for 5 last night. The Nats’ leadoff spot on-base percentage of .252 is far and away the worst in the National League (Cincinnati’s .315 is the next closest mark to Washington’s), and Nats’ leadoff hitters have the lowest batting average in the league as well at .209.
Washington looks to even the series with the Padres tonight with Max Scherzer taking on former National Edwin Jackson.
July has been good to Scherzer in his career. His 2.81 career ERA in the July is the lowest of any month, with September/October (2.93) and June (3.25) next. Several San Diego hitters have struggled mightily against Scherzer in their careers. Kemp is an amazing 1-27 (.033 average) with nine strikeouts, Alexei Ramirez is hitting .133 in 60 at bats and Melvin Upton is 0-9 with four strikeouts. San Diego All-Star first baseman Wil Myers has fared well against Max, going 4 for 6 with two home runs.
Jackson, who won 10 games for the 2012 National League East winning Nationals, won his first game as a Padre last Sunday as he allowed only one hit and two earned runs in 6.1 innings pitched as San Diego beat San Francisco. Werth is 4 for 12 with two doubles in his career against Jackson, while Anthony Rendon (0-5) and Ramos (1-7) have struggled against the veteran righty.