On September 24, 2016, the Nationals clinched the National League East with a 6-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The victory gave Washington three division titles in five seasons, and assured that post-season baseball would be played in the Nation’s Capital in again. That division clinching game was the most memorable event in a month full of them. In this edition of “Nats by the Number”, we look at some of the other highlights of the last month of the regular season (thanks as always to baseball-reference.com’s play index for allowing easy access to statistical information on the Nats and all other baseball-related topics).
Rookie Reynaldo Lopez was the winning pitcher in the game that won the East for the Nats, throwing 5.1 innings of shutout relief to earn his fourth victory in seven decisions on the year. Lopez struck out six and allowed only three hits to become the second pitcher in Nationals’ history to throw 5.1 or more scoreless innings in relief in a game. The first time it happened came all the way back in 2005 under much less dramatic circumstances than did Lopez’s effort in the title clinching win. On May 13th of the Nats’ first season, Tomo Ohka stopped the bleeding with 5.2 scoreless innings pitched out of the pen in Washington’s 8-2 loss to Milwaukee.
Slender Trea Turner is known more for his speed and all around ability than he is for his power, but the rookie’s home run hitting ability was on display in a big way in the season’s final month. Turner hit eight home runs in the month to pace the Nationals and finish behind only Atlanta’s Matt Kemp (who had nine) for the most homers in the National League in the final month of the regular season.
Turner’s power outburst included two multi-home run games. On September 9th at Nationals Park, Turner hit a two run homer off of Philadelphia’s Colton Murray in the bottom of the seventh to give Washington a 4-1 lead and ended the contest with a game winning, ninth inning round tripper off of the Phils’ Frank Herrmann to put the Nats in the win column by a 5-4 score. Eight days later in Atlanta, Turner hit a pair of solo homers off of Atlanta’s Josh Collmenter.
On the season, Washington players had eight two run home run games. Like Turner, Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa had two such games each. Other Nationals with two homers in game in 2016 where National League MVP runner-up Daniel Murphy and outfielder Michael A. Taylor.
In an 11 game home stand in early September against the Phillies, Braves and Mets, the Nationals did what they had done all season long to their divisional rivals- they dominated them.
Washington won nine of the 11 contests to cement its spot at the top of the National League East. Included in the stretch were walk-off victories over the Braves on September 7th (on a Wilson Ramos hit) and the Phillies on September 9th (on a Trea Turner solo home run).
The Nationals also had two shutouts in the month. On September 10th, Washington defeated the Phillies 3-0 on the strength of excellent pitching by Max Scherzer and the Nats’ bullpen plus Bryce Harper’s eighth inning three run home that broke a scoreless tie.
Four days later, Tanner Roark won his 15th game of the year as he shut the Mets out over seven innings and got all the support he needed when Ramos hit a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning as the Nats won 1-0.
On the season, Washington was an amazing 41-16 in contests against the Braves, Phillies and Mets.
Closer Mark Melancon was the key pitcher in the Nats’ bullpen down the stretch but he received a lot of help from his bullpen mates, including righty Shawn Kelley.
In the season’s final 27 regular season games Kelley threw 10.1 scoreless innings, striking out 11 and allowing only one hit to finish his season with a flourish. Kelley won his only two decisions in the month and finished the 2016 campaign with an impressive WHIP of .897.
Jayson Werth’s two run pinch-hit home run off of former teammate Felipe Rivero helped Washington to a comeback 10-7 win at Pittsburgh on September 25th, and also helped Washington improve on its team record total for pinch-hit home runs in a season.
Werth’s dramatic blast was the 12th home run by a pinch-hitter in 2016 for the Nats, as the team easily shattered the 2006 squad’s record of eight. Washington’s total was the third highest in Major League Baseball, trailing only St. Louis (17) and the New York Mets (13).
Werth was one of three Nationals with more than one pinch-hit homer on the year. The veteran outfielder had two, while bench stalwarts Stephen Drew and Chris Heisey had three each. Other Nationals with pinch-hit homers in 2016 were rookie Pedro Severino, Clint Robinson, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy.
Nats’ ace Max Scherzer was 5-0 in his six decisions in the season’s final month and ended up with 20 wins on the year. Scherzer became the second pitcher in Nats’ history with 20 or more wins (Gio Gonzalez won 21 in 2012) en route to his second Cy Young Award.
Scherzer struck out 46 batters in 39.1 innings pitched in his final six games, and ended with a National League high 284 punchouts on the year.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon hit only .247 in the season’s final 27 games, but he certainly made the hits he did have count. The talented Texan drove in a team high 23 runs in the month, tying Daniel Murphy (who had 23 in both May and July) for the most RBI in a month by a Nationals’ player in 2016. Bryce Harper led the way with 24 RBI in April.
Will tonight be the night the Nats add another National League East title to their resume? Last night’s disappointing late inning loss to the Pirates may have put a temporary block in Washington’s inevitable celebration of its third division crown in five years, but perhaps Pittsburgh will soon join Atlanta (in 2014) as road cities where the Nats have clinched a title.
Here’s a look at some of the events of recent days, in our “Nats by the Numbers” format.
Four Nationals (Daniel Murphy with 88, Anthony Rendon with 86, Bryce Harper with 82 and Jayson Werth with 80) have scored 80 or more runs so far in the 2016 season, making this the first campaign in Nationals history where four or more players have achieved the feat. This quartet of 80 plus run scorers surpasses the 2006, 2012 and 2014 seasons in which three Nats players crossed the plate more than 80 times. In 2006, Alfonso Soriano had 119 runs scored to lead the team, with Nick Johnson (100) and Ryan Zimmerman (84) also having big scoring years. The 2012 Nats’ division winning team was paced in runs scored by Harper (98), with Zimmerman (93) and Danny Espinosa (82) also cracking the 80 run barrier. And in 2014, Rendon broke the century mark with 114 runs scored with Denard Span chipping in with 94 and Werth scoring 85 times.
Both Espinosa and Wilson Ramos homered off of left-handed pitchers this week, giving each nine homers against lefties on the year. In Nats’ history, only two players have had more than nine homers against southpaws in a season. In 2006 Soriano took lefties deep 12 times, and Adam Laroche hit 11 against left-handers in 2012.
The Nats have 19 home runs so far in September, and are on pace to have the fewest homers of any month in the 2016 campaign. Only four Major League teams have fewer round trippers than Washington so far this month. The Nationals high mark for homers in a month this year was in May when Washington blasted a National League leading 43 long balls. The Nats had 38 homers in June, 37 in August, 32 in July and 26 in April.
Nationals ace Max Scherzer leads the Major Leagues in strikeouts with 267, and has struck out at least 240 batters in each of the last four seasons. Since 1969, only five players have more 240 plus strikeout seasons than Scherzer’s four. Randy Johnson leads the way with 10 such seasons, with Nolan Ryan (9), Roger Clemens (6), Steve Carlton (5) and Tom Seaver (5) also in the exclusive group. Among active pitchers, only three hurlers have more than one 240 plus strikeout year on their resume. Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, Corey Kluber of Cleveland and Justin Verlander of Detroit have two each.
Daniel Murphy’s 47 doubles on the year has equaled the Nats’ mark set by Zimmerman in his outstanding 2006 rookie campaign. The 47 two baggers by the Nats’ second baseman is the most by any National League East player since Dan Uggla had 49 for Florida in the 2007. In that year, Hanley Ramirez (48, also for Florida) and Chase Utley (48 for Philadelphia) also exceeded the 47 doubles mark. Murphy’s recent injury situation has likely robbed him of a shot at becoming the first NL East player with 50 plus doubles in a year since 2006 when Florida’s Miguel Cabrera reached the half-century mark. Since divisional play’s current format began in 1994, only four NL East players have had 50 or more doubles.
Nats’ setup man Shawn Kelley has 12.76 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in the year so far, the third best mark in the National League. Kelley’s 78 strikeouts in 55 innings pitched gives him a SO/9 mark that trails only Miami’s Kyle Barraclough (14.01) and the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen (13.64).
Among National League starters, Stephen Strasburg (11.15) and Scherzer (11.06) trail only Miami’s Jose Fernandez (12.49) and Arizona’s Robbie Ray (11.39) in this category.
Zimmerman’s three run homer off of Miami’s Tom Koehler on Wednesday was the tenth the Nats’ veteran his hit since Marlins Park opened in 2012, the most by any Miami opponent during that time period. Zimmerman’s teammate Harper is next with seven homers at the cavernous park, with former Braves Evan Gattis (6) and Jason Heyward (5) next in line.
Stephen Drew celebrates his game winning RBI triple with teammates Chris Heisey and Ben Revere last night at Nationals Park in Washington’s 3-2 victory over San Diego.
Nationals 3 Padres 2
Nationals’ Record 58-40
WP- Papelbon (2-2) LP- Quackenbush (6-4)
HR- Schimpf, SD (8)
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star- 2016 has been a lost year in many ways for Nats’ centerfielder Ben Revere, but the speedy veteran had a good game on Saturday. Revere drove in a run with a double, reached base twice and made a nice diving catch in center to thwart Wil Myers’ attempt at a hit in the sixth inning.
Second Star- Max Scherzer was strong yet again, allowing only two runs on four hits while striking out 10 batters with no walks allowed in seven innings pitched. Since 2015, Scherzer has eight games of 10 plus strikeouts with no walks allowed. Only Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw with 11 has more.
Star of the Game- The job of being a late-inning pinch-hitter is not an easy one, but Washington’s Stephen Drew is making it look so this year. As a pinch-hitter, Drew has an amazing 1.214 OPS and his RBI triple drove Anthony Rendon home with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Valiant in Defeat- Ask 1,000 people who consider themselves to be good baseball fans, and chances are that a good portion of them have not heard of San Diego’s second baseman Ryan Schimpf. If the rookie continues playing the way he has, that will change. Schimpf provided San Diego’s runs on the night, hitting a two run homer off of Scherzer in the top of the second inning. The homer was a Major League leading eighth for Schimpf so far in July.
With rumors of acquisitions of bullpen help circulating in Washington, the duo that composes the back end of the currently configured pen is not exactly showing signs of weakness. Both eighth inning man Shawn Kelley and current closer Jonathan Papelbon pitched scoreless innings last evening, continuing solid pitching for the pair over the past three weeks. In July Kelley has 11 strikeouts and only one walk allowed in 6.2 innings pitched, while Papelbon has thrown seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and one intentional walk in the month. Papelbon has been particularly effective at home this year, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.10 ERA and a .735 WHIP.
Anthony Rendon’s leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth last night started Washington on the road to victory, and continued Rendon’s hot hitting ways against the Padres. After going 2-4 in last night’s game, the third baseman has a lifetime .303 average against San Diego in 66 at bats.
Daniel Murphy picked up his 71st RBI of the year on a sacrifice fly last evening, leaving him only seven runs batted in behind his career high of 78 set in 2013 while Murphy was playing for the Mets. Murphy’s .999 OPS so far in 2016 leads the National League.
Kudos to former National Edwin Jackson for a solid effort on the mound against the Nats last evening. Jackson allowed only two runs in six solid innings pitched, and may be earning himself a permanent spot in the San Diego rotation.
It’s a battle of Big and Tall Men’s Shop customers on Sunday, with Washington’s 6’6″ Lucas Giolito taking on San Diego’s 6’4″ Christian Friedrich in the rubber game of the teams’ three game series.
Giolito is looking for his first Major League win, while Friedrich is trying to get his performance in the month of July going in the right direction. So far this month, Friedrich is 0-3 with a 6.46 ERA.
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.