All-star closer Kenley Jansen celebrates his team’s 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals in game one of the teams’ National League Divisional Series on Friday at Nationals Park.
DODGERS LEAD SERIES 1-0
WP- Kershaw LP- Scherzer SV- Jansen
HR- Seager, LAD Turner, LAD
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star- Corey Seager did not play against the Nationals when the Dodgers visited Nationals Park in July, but Nats’ fans got to see the soon to be National League Rookie of the Year’s talent in a big way early in yesterday’s game. After Nats’ starter Max Scherzer fanned Dodgers’ leadoff man Chase Utley to start the game, Seager ambushed the Nats’ ace with a first pitch booming home run to centerfield to give the visitors a lead they would not lose. Doing big things against right-handed pitching certainly isn’t new to Seager, whose .948 OPS against righthanders was the 13th highest total in the Major Leagues in 2016 for batters with at least 200 at bats them. Washington’s Daniel Murphy was third in the Majors with a .985 mark, and his teammate Trea Turner was sixth with a .957 OPS against righties.
Second Star- One has to be impressed with the career transformation Los Angeles’ Justin Turner has undergone. Since joining the Dodgers Turner has become a legitimate power threat, hitting 50 home runs (including a career high 27 this year) and posting a .492 slugging percentage in his time in Dodger Blue. Turner’s power was on display yesterday as he hit a big two run homer off of Scherzer in the top of the third inning to give Los Angeles a 4-0 lead. Turner’s blast continued his show of power against Washington this year. He hit a home run off of Yusmerio Petit when the Nats faced Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium, and hit two more off of Stephen Strasburg when Los Angeles was in Washington in July.
Star of the Game- Los Angeles’ closer Kenley Jansen looks like he could be a defensive end for the Rams, and the intimidating reliever did his job in a big way yesterday. Jansen recorded a five out save, striking out three in the process, as Los Angeles took control of the series. Jansen had five saves of four or more outs in the regular season, second only to Tampa’s Alex Colome and Toronto’s Roberto Osuna who each had six such saves. The Nationals had four four plus out saves in 2016, three by Shawn Kelley and one by Mark Melancon.
Valiant in Defeat- Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman had two hits each. Rendon drove in two runs with a clutch two-out single against Kershaw to cut the Los Angeles lead to 4-2 in the bottom of the third, and had a line drive single in the fifth as well. Zimmerman hit the ball hard three times, singling in his first two at bats and then lining out to deep right field in his third.
On a dreary Saturday morning in Washington, here’s a bit of news that won’t do much to brighten the city’s mood. Since 2005, 21 teams who were hosts in the first game of a League Divisional Series were down 0-1 after that game. Only five of those 21 teams went on to win their series.
Neither Kershaw or Scherzer were at their best yesterday, but both did keep their teams in the game. Kershaw allowed three runs on eight hits over five innings to win his third game in nine post-season decisions. Scherzer allowed four runs over the first three frames, but shut the Dodgers out over his final three innings of work as he saw his post-season record drop to 4-4.
When the Nats’ offense struggled in 2016, it was often due to an inability to put the bat on the ball in crucial moments. The strikeout bug bit the Nats on Friday, with Turner, Jayson Werth and Danny Espinosa fanning three times each. Espinosa’s strikeouts were particularly important, as each came with two men on base.
Kudos to members of both teams’ bullpens for their performance under post-season pressure on Friday. Four Dodgers’ relievers and two Nats’ hurlers combined for seven innings of shut out ball, with only three hits allowed and nine strikeouts.
With its season all but on the line, Washington turns to Tanner Roark to right the ship in Game Two of the series. Roark is 0-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 10.1 innings pitched against the Dodgers. Roark has had great success against the Dodgers’ Chase Utley (.077 average in 13 at bats) in his career, while Adrian Gonzalez has two hits and a home run in four career at bats against the Nats’ righty.
Tall and talented Dodgers’ lefty Rich Hill has reason to be confident when he looks to give the visitors a commanding 2-0 lead in the series, but he’ll probably be a bit wary when he faces Nats’ first baseman Ryzn Zimmerman. In his career against Hill, the Nats’ veteran has six hits in nine at bats with a double and two home runs. Jose Lobaton is scheduled to start at catcher for the Nats’ today, and the veteran backstop has three hits (including two doubles) in as many career at bats against Hill.
Nationals’ first baseman Ryan Zimmerman celebrates his second inning home run off of Atlanta’s Tyrell Jenkins in Washington’s 11-9 victory at Turner Field on Saturday night.
Nationals’ Record: 73-49
Nationals 11 Braves 9
WP- Scherzer (13-7) LP- Jenkins (2-4) SV- Melancon (36)
HR- Zimmerman, Was (13), Murphy, Was (23), Turner, Was (4)
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star- 2016 is shaping up to be an excellent year for the Washington Nationals, and it may be an MVP-level year for hot-hitting Nats’ infielder Daniel Murphy. The Nats’ infielder went three for four with his 23rd home run in last night’s win. The game marked Murphy’s 11th three or more hit game of the season, second among Nats’ players to only Wilson Ramos who has 12 such games.
Second Star- Anthony Rendon did teammate Murphy one better in the hit column, going four for five with a double, three runs scored and a RBI in the victory. The Nats’ third baseman continued his sparkling second half of the year, moving his post All-Star break OPS to .988 (his OPS was .746 in the season’s first half).
Star of the Game- In his first game off of the disabled list, Ryan Zimmerman set the pace for a Nats’ attack that would put up 17 hits on the game. His second inning home run, the 13th of the season for Zimmerman, got the Nats on the board and he contributed two other hits in the victory. The round-tripper was his ninth at Turner Field and the 21st he’s hit against Atlanta in his career.
Valiant in Defeat- Chase d’Arnaud may be the least known of the baseball playing d’Arnaud brothers, but he was excellent for Atlanta in its losing effort. d’Arnaud went two for five with a run scored and three RBI, and made several excellent defensive plays at shortstop as well.
Last night’s game was not one of Max Scherzer’s most dominant on the mound, as he gave up four runs and six hits with three walks in 6.1 innings pitched. However he did however, come up big with a bat in his hand, going two for four with two RBI and a big base hit in Washington’s eight run fourth inning. Scherzer became the first Nats’ pitcher in over five years to have at least two hits and two RBI in the same game. Before last night, Livan Hernandez (with two hits and two RBI in a Nats’ 4-2 win at Philadelphia on August 12, 2011) was the last Nats’ pitcher to do so.
August has been a good month for reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper. Harper went two for four with a run scored, a walk and a RBI in Saturday’s game, increasing his August OPS to .951. That is the best mark he’s put up in a month since April, when his OPS was an amazing 1.121.
Harper is not the only National who is sizzling in August. Lead off man Trea Turner continued to show his surprising power, hitting a three run home run in Washington’s fourth inning. Turner, who now has four homers and 20 RBI on the year, has hit .321 this month.
Atlanta had five doubles in the game, equaling the most Washington has surrendered in a nine inning game in 2016. The Nats have allowed five or more doubles three times in 2016, one coming in an 18 inning game against Pittsburgh. The Nats are 1-2 in those contests.
Atlanta is 0-5 against Washington at Turner Field in 2016. Against all other National League East foes, the Braves are a relatively respectable 9-11.
Gio Gonzalez goes for the 100th win of his career on Sunday as the Nationals look to wrap up a four game sweep. Atlanta’s scheduled starter Joel De La Cruz has a much more modest goal; he’s looking for his first career win this afternoon.
Gonzalez has been strong in the second half of the year, going 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA. Veteran outfielder Jeff Francouer has had success against Gonzalez in the past, going 11 for 28 (.391) with a home run and three RBI. Freddie Freeman has also hit well against the Nats’ lefty, posting a .290 average with two homers and ten RBI in 31 career at bats. Atlanta catchers Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker have combined to go 0 for 12 with nine strikeouts in their careers against Gonzalez.
De La Cruz is 0-6 in his rookie season, but has put up a 2.00 ERA in games played at Turner Field. Control has been an issue for the big righthander, who has walked nine batters while striking out only eight in 15 innings pitched this month.
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.
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.
Anthony Rendon scores ahead of the tag from Miami’s Jeff Mathis on Ryan Zimmerman’s first inning sacrifice fly to give Washington a lead they’d never relinquish in the Nats’ 6-4 victory over Miami this afternoon (PHOTO- Miami Herald.com).
Nationals’ Record- 23-13
WP- Strasburg (6-0) LP- Nicolino (2-1) SV- Papelbon (11)
HR- Ramos Was (4), Yelich Mia (5)
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star- Anthony Rendon
The Nats’ third baseman went 2 for 4 with a run scored and a RBI to help the Nats’ offense to its six run output. Rendon’s nifty head-first slide on Ryan Zimmerman’s first inning sacrifice fly gave the Nats a lead they’d never lose, despite the pesky Marlins almost battling back several times to tie or go ahead in the contest.
Second Star- Shawn Kelley
The right-handed reliever got the job done on the day, recording five outs and keeping the Nats’ lead in place in the latter part of the game. One of the biggest at bats of the game came in the top of the seventh with Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton representing the go-ahead run at the plate. Kelley got ahead of Stanton, and then struck him out swinging on a 92 mile per hour fastball to end the threat.
Star of the Game- Michael A. Taylor
The Nats’ young leadoff hitter was on base four times in the game, recording two hits and two walks. It was a day of deuces for Taylor, as he also scored two runs and stole two bases.
Valiant in Defeat- Christian Yelich
There’s no denying the talent of the Marlins’ young outfielder, who hit a solo home run to deep centerfield off of Stephen Strasburg in the first inning and brought home another run with a double off of Strasburg in the top of the fifth. Yelich’s home run was his fifth of the season, and his two hits in four at bats raised his batting average to .328.
Strasburg’s win was his sixth in a row to start the season, tying him with reliever Tyler Clippard (who won six straight decisions to start the 2010 campaign). In his next start, the Nats’ stalwart will try to match Tanner Roark’s seven straight wins to begin a campaign, which Roark set in 2013 (thanks to Baseball-reference.com’s Play Index for this information). Strasburg struck out seven Marlins on the game making this the 80th game in his career, and seventh in eight starts this year, where he’s recorded at least that many strikeouts.
Washington stole three bases on the game, marking the second time this season the team has had three or more steals in a game. In addition to Taylor’s aforementioned thefts, Bryce Harper stole third base in the first inning of today’s game. Taylor and Harper also were responsible for Washington’s first three plus stolen base game in 2016, as each player stole two bases in the Nats’ victory over Atlanta on April 11th. The Nationals did not steal three or more bases in any of the team’s games last season.
Washington scored two of its runs in the first inning on sacrifice flies by Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman, marking the 57th time the Nats have had two or more run scoring fly ball outs in the same game. The two sacrifice flies in one inning was the seventh time Washington has accomplished that feat, with the last time coming on August 5th of last season when Zimmerman and Jayson Werth brought home runs on a flyout off of Arizona’s Rubby De La Rosa.
Two of the hardest hit balls of the day for the Nationals came off of the bats of Werth and Wilson Ramos. Werth’s scorching line drive single past shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria plated Harper with Washington’s run in the first inning, and Ramos’ laser shot home run to left center off of Miami’s Nick Wittgren in the bottom of the sixth inning gave Washington a 5-3 lead. Miami had some hard hit balls of its own, with Yelich’s first inning homer leaving the park in a hurry. The bad luck award for a hard hit ball goes to Stanton, whose shot in the fifth inning that could have tied the score was turned into an inning ending out on a fine play by Washington’s shortstop Danny Espinosa.
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.
Tanner Roark is not known as a strikeout pitcher but after today’s outing, maybe that will change. The Nats’ righthander fanned 15 Twins to pace Washington to a 2-0 victory this afternoon.
NATS RECORD- 13-4
WP- Roark (2-2) LP- Hughes (1-3) SV- Papelbon (7)
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star- A Model of Efficiency
Situational reliever Oliver Perez may not be among the most well-known Nats by the casual fan, but his effort on Saturday helped keep Tanner Roark’s brilliant effort from going down the tubes. Entering the game in the top of the eighth with a man on, one out and the tying run at the plate, Perez retired Eddie Rosario on a fly ball to center on his first pitch and fanned the dangerous Joe Mauer on his next three to keep the Nats’ 2-0 lead in tact.
Second Star- Making Them Count
Ryan Zimmerman has been an all-star, a gold glove winner and a earned silver slugger awards while playing for the Nats. Over the past few years health issues have kept Zimmerman from achieving at his past levels, but he’s been a consistent run producer even when not totally himself.
In an injury plagued 2015 campaign Zim drove in 73 runs in only 95 games, and he showed his RBI form today as his two run first inning single gave Roark all the support he’d need to lead the Nats to victory. Zimmerman capped his fine day with a sterling play at first base on a smash by the talented Mauer for the first out of the top of the sixth inning.
Star of the Game- A Dominant Effort
Roark is often the forgotten man in the Nats’ talented rotation, but he was the center of everyone’s focus on Saturday. His 15 strikeouts were the most ever at Nationals Park, and he registered only the 14th game since 2005 where a pitcher has fanned at least 15 batters, allowed no runs and gave up two or fewer hits. That feat was done five different times last year, including twice by Roark’s teammate Max Scherzer.
Valiant in a Losing Cause
Minnesota’s Phil Hughes gave up only two runs on six hits in his seven innings of work. Showing his usual fine control and keeping the long ball from stinging him as it has often done in the past, Hughes kept his team in the game.
Bryce Harper’s two doubles on the game gave him 14 extra-base hits on the season, the high in the Major Leagues heading into Saturday evening’s games.
Washington’s win was its seventh straight at home this year. The Nats’ longest win streak in home games is 12, set from June 2, 2005 through June 25, 2005.
Last night, Twins’ rookie Miguel Sano impressed with his power bat. Today he had a day to forget in the batter’s box (he went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts), but he looked good at the hot corner. The large youngster made several fine plays at third base, the best being his effort to retire Anthony Rendon for the first out in the bottom of the eighth.
Stephen Strasburg takes the hill for the Nats tomorrow, looking for his fourth win in as many starts on the year. In his career, Strasburg is 7-3 with a 2.69 ERA in interleague games. He has fanned 108 batters in 80.1 innings pitched against American League teams. Minnesota’s young starter Tyler Duffey is slated to make his first start of the 2016 season. Last year, Duffey went 5-1 with a 3.20 ERA and allowed two or fewer earned runs in eight of his ten starts.
From his first pitch, a 97 mile per hour heater, through his dramatic final inning, the atmosphere in Nationals Park was electric during Stephen Strasburg’s Major League debut on June 8, 2010.
2010 was a season of improvement for the Nationals as they avoided the 100 loss mark for the first time in three seasons and saw future building blocks emerge that would help the Nats to higher heights in subsequent seasons. A 69-93 finish showed that there was still lots of work to be done however.
BEST OF TIMES- A Dazzling Debut
Stephen Strasburg’s amazing debut game on June 8th remains one of the franchise’s highlight events nearly six years after it took place. Strasburg was dominant in his first start, fanning 14 (including the last seven batters he faced) as the Nats defeated Pittsburgh 5-2. Strasburg would go 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 68 innings pitched. The 2010 story for the flame throwing righthander had a disappointing ending however, as Strasburg had to leave an August outing in Philadelphia with an injury to his elbow that would lead to his undergoing Tommy John surgery.
BEST OF TIMES- Dynamic Duo Part II
Few teams in the Major Leagues had as an effective one-two punch in the key spots in their lineup as the Nats did with Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn.
Following up on their successful 2009 campaigns, Zimmerman (.305, 25 homers, 85 RBI, .899 OPS) and Dunn (.260, 38 homers, 103 RBI, .892) were thorns in the side of National League hurlers again in 2010. It was true that as the duo went, the Nationals did as well as the pair was particularly productive in games that Washington won. Zimmerman hit .317 with 13 homers and 50 RBI in Nats’ victories, but Dunn was even better in the 69 games Washington won. He posted MVP-level numbers in those contests, hitting .342 with 30 homers and 73 RBI while putting up a 1.253 OPS.
BEST OF TIMES- Emerging Leaders
2010 was the year that the future started to come into focus for the Nationals. In addition to Strasburg, Washington saw several other young players emerge as potential players to count on in upcoming seasons.
Washington acquired hulking Michael Morse from Seattle in June of 2009 for veteran outfielder Ryan Langerhans and Morse showed his potential as a power hitter in 2010, hitting 15 homers and driving in 41 runs in 293 plate appearances. Another player acquired by trade, Tyler Clippard, built upon his successful 2009 campaign and an even better 2010 as he went 11-8 with a save and fanned 112 batters in 91 innings pitched.
The season also saw Drew Storen and Ian Desmond begin to play major roles for the Nats, as Storen went 4-4 with five saves as a late inning relief option while Desmond hit .269 with 10 homers and 65 RBI as the team’s primary shortstop.
Finally, the mid-season acquisition of catcher Wilson Ramos from the Minnesota Twins gave the Nationals hope that they had solved the void they’d had behind the plate for most of their six years in DC.
WORST OF TIMES- Road Woes and a June Swoon
As June began, the Nats had a respectable 26-26 record and appeared to be poised to post the best record Nats’ fans had seen since the 2005 campaign. One month later, Washington was reeling with a 34-45 mark following its losing 19 of 27 games in the month.
Washington’s worst month of the year featured a season high six game losing streak and another streak of five losses, as well as three heart-breaking walk off losses. The month highlighted a season-long problem for the Nationals, winning games on the road. The Nats were 2-13 in road contests in June (and 28-53 on the road for the year).
WORST OF TIMES- Holes Up the Middle
As good as the Nationals were on the corners with Zimmerman at third, Dunn at first, Josh Willingham (.268 avg, 15 homers, 56 RBI) in left and an emerging Morse in right, their troubles in three key spots in the lineup dragged the team down in 2010.
Veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez contributed in ways that couldn’t be shown in the stats columns, but his .640 OPS was 21st among 25 catchers in the National League who had at least 200 at bats.
The Nats were equally unproductive at second base (neither Cristian Guzman or Adam Kennedy cracked the .700 OPS mark) and in centerfield (Nyjer Morgan had a .633 OPS and was caught stealing a National League leading 17 times).
WORST OF TIMES- A Need to Turn Up the Heat
Outside of rookie sensation Strasburg, the Nats’ rotation was made up of pitchers who were not strikeout pitchers. Washington’s staff was last in the National League in strikeouts in 2010, and none of the team’s pitchers with at least 13 starts posted a strikeout/nine innings pitched ratio greater than 6.0:
Livan Hernandez 33 starts 4.8 SO/9
John Lannan 25 starts 4.5 SO/9
Craig Stammen 19 starts 6.0 SO/9
Luis Atilano 16 starts 4.2 SO/9
Scott Olsen 15 starts 5.9 SO/9
Jason Marquis 13 starts 4.8 SO/9
In 2013, Bryce Harper became the youngest player in MLB history to hit two opening day home runs. Harper and fellow phenom Stephen Strasburg starred as Washington beat Miami 2-0, but the special opening day in DC didn’t end in ultimate success for the 2013 Nationals.
Opening Day is fast approaching, so we’ll take a little time today to look at some of the best opening month numbers for the Nats since 2005. From a win/loss perspective the opening month of the year hasn’t been kind to Washington, as the Nats have only had an above .500 record four times in their history (2005 13-11, 2010 13-10, 2012 14-8 and 2014 16-12).
Despite the relative lack of team success, there have been some superb individual performances in first months. Thanks to baseball-reference’s Play Index, here’s a look at the top individual opening month performances in Nats’ history.
Bryce Harper 2013- 9, Alfonso Soriano 2006-7, Nick Johnson 2006, Jose Guillen 2006, Adam Dunn 2009- 6
Anthony Rendon 2014- 20, Harper 2013-18, Ryan Zimmerman 2006, Adam LaRoche 2014 and LaRoche 2012- 17
OPS (MINIMUM 50 Plate Appearances)
Zimmerman 2010- 1.199, Harper 2013- 1.150, Dunn 2009- 1.073, Johnson 2006- 1.059, Ryan Church 2006- 1.039
EXTRA BASE HITS
Harper 2013, Rendon 2014- 16, Ian Desmond 2013- 15, Brad Wilkerson 2005-15, Vinny Castilla 2005, Church 2007, Zimmerman 2009- 13
RUNS CREATED (Minimum 50 Plate Appearances)
Harper 2013- 27.8, Johnson 2006- 27.2, Rendon 2014- 22.8, Wilkerson 2005, Soriano 2006, Dunn 2009- 20.8
BATTING AVERAGE (Minimum 50 Plate Appearances)
Ivan Rodriguez 2010- .413, Zimmerman 2010- .362, Wilson Ramos 2011- .358, Castilla 2005-.347, Jose Vidro 2006, Harper 2013- .344
Jordan Zimmermann 2013- 4, Eight players tied with 3 (most recently done by Gio Gonzalez in 2014)
Stephen Strasburg 2014- 53, Gonzalez 2014-38, Gonzalez 2013, Strasburg 2013- 36, Zimmermann 2014-35
WHIP (Minimum 12 innings pitched)
Zimmermann 2012- .704, Max Scherzer 2015- .837, John Patterson 2006, Drew Storen 2011- .857, Zimmermann 2013- .861, Livan Hernandez 2010- .871
Matt Capps 2010- 10, Rafael Soriano 2013- 7, Six tied with 5 (most recently Storen in 2015).
ERA (Minimum 12 innings pitched)
Tyler Clippard 2010- 0.50, Storen 2011- 0.64, Capps 2010- 0.68, Chad Cordero 2005- 0.73, L. Hernandez 2010- 0.87.
A second consecutive 103 loss season in 2009 made the Nats the worst team in baseball yet again and while there were many painful moments in the campaign, there were some to remember as well.
BEST OF TIMES- A DYNAMIC DUO
The Nats were far from an offensive power in 2009, but they featured sluggers in the three and four spots in their lineup that didn’t have to take a back seat to anyone. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn brought production to the Nats’ order, as both had superb years.
In his fourth full year with the Nats, Zimmerman hit 33 homers with 106 RBI and put up a .888 OPS. He hit 20 home runs from July 1st to the end of the year, and ended the Nats’ 5-4 win on September 6th against Florida with a booming two run home run to left-center to continue the legend of “Mr. Walk-Off”.
Nats’ newcomer Dunn hit 38 round-trippers and knocked in 105 runs. The tall Texan hit 10 home runs in the month of May alone, and had a first half of the year (23 homers, 61 RBI, .943 OPS that should have earned him a spot on the National League’s all-star team.
The pair’s 71 combined home runs was the fourth highest total in the Major Leagues, trailing only Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth (81), Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun (78) and Tampa Carlos Pena/Evan Longoria (72).
BEST OF TIMES- SUMMER SLAM(S)
Only 13 players in Major League history have hit two grand slams in one game, with Nats’ 2009 left-fielder Josh Willingham being the last one to do so. On July 27th at Miller Park, “the Hammer” sent Bernie Brewer and the home team’s pitching staff running for cover as he hit two slams and drove in eight runs to pace the Nats to a 14-6 victory.
Willingham’s first slam capped a six run fifth inning off of Brewers’ starter Jeff Suppan and one inning later, his homer off of Mark DeFelice gave Washington a 13-5 lead.
BEST OF TIMES- FINISHING WITH A KICK
The Nats lost 103 games on the year, but it could been a lot worse if the team had not closed the year with a seven game winning streak. The team swept divisional rival New York in the season’s final home stand, with Justin Maxwell’s game ending grand slam (on a 3-2 count) off of Mets’ closer Francisco Rodriguez providing the highlight moment in the final game of the year at Nationals Park.
The Nats followed that sweep with a four game sweep at Atlanta, a series that included two extra-inning wins by Washington to end the year.
WORST OF TIMES- PITCHING A FIT
The Nationals’ staff was at the bottom of most pitching categories, finishing last in the National League in ERA, walks allowed, strikeouts and hits allowed. The team’s pitching was particularly brutal in road games, as the Nationals posted a 5.37 ERA in road games. Other than the emergence of lefty John Lannan (3.4 pitching WAR) in the rotation and up and coming Tyler Clippard (1.4 pitching WAR) in the bullpen, the Nats’ performance on the mound in 2009 was a disaster of epic proportions.
WORST OF TIMES- HANDS OF STONE
Washington’s performance on the mound was weak in 2009, and the players in the field behind the Nats’ pitchers didn’t help things too much. Washington’s 143 errors was the most in the National League, and led to 83 unearned runs being scored by Nats’ opponents. Zimmerman played a very good third base and Maxwell and mercurial Nyjer Morgan played passable defense in center field, but there were holes at almost every other position on the diamond for the Nationals in their fifth season in DC.
WORST OF TIMES- FOUR MONTHS OF HELL
From the opening of the season in April through trade deadline day on July 31st, Washington posted an almost unimaginably poor 32-71 record. Included in that stretch was a brutal month of May when Washington won only 9 of 29 games, and an almost as bad July when Washington went 9-18. The Nats were particularly weak against division bully Philadelphia, dropping 15 of 18 contest against their tormentors from the City of Brotherly Love.