Nationals by the Numbers- Game 2 NLDS Edition

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper clubs a majestic two run home run off of Chicago’s Carl Edwards Jr. in last night’s Nationals’ 6-3 win over the Cubs.  Washington’s victory evened the NLDS between the teams at one win each.

The despair and gloom from Friday seemed to be lingering into Saturday as the Nationals were six outs away from falling behind the Chicago Cubs 2-0 in opening round of the playoffs.  But in what seemed to be an instant, elation and hope replaced gloom and despair as the Nats scored five runs in the eighth inning to shock the Cubs with a 6-3 victory that left Nats’ fans cheering long after the last out of the game was recorded.  Here’s a look at a few notable numbers coming out of Washington’s thrilling victory.

0

Washington’s eighth inning heroics would not have mattered if not for the sterling efforts of relievers Matt Albers, Sammy Solis, Ryan Madson and Oliver Perez who kept the Cubs scoreless from the sixth through eighth frames.   Veteran lefty Perez recorded the biggest outs during those innings, getting Cubs’ star Anthony Rizzo to ground into an inning ending double play the keep the score 3-1 going into the bottom of the eighth.

.340

Ryan Zimmerman had two hits, including the game-winning three run home run, continuing his success at bat in the post-season.  In 50 post season at bats, Zimmerman is hitting .340 with three doubles, three home runs and nine runs driven in.  Zimmerman’s home run was his first in the playoffs since October 12, 2012 when he hit a two run first inning round-tripper off of St. Louis Adam Wainwright.

.911

One of the under the radar stars of the Nationals’ 2017 season has been Adam Lind, and the veteran bench player did his job again last night to spark Washington’s five run rally.  Lind led off the inning with a pinch-hit single off of Carl Edwards, continuing a trend of productivity for the left-handed hitter when he’s the first up in an inning. During the regular season, Lind posted an excellent .911 OPS when he was the first hitter in a frame.

Lind’s single off of Edwards came on an 0-2 pitch, and getting a favorable result even when in a most unfavorable count is another area Lind excelled in during the 2017 season.  His .649 OPS in 0-2 counts was the 22nd highest in the Major Leagues among hitters with at least 30 at bats in such situations.  Only Howie Kendrick (.802 and fifth in the Majors) and Bryce Harper (.775, seventh in the Majors) rank higher than Lind in that category among Nationals players.

3

Crucial to keeping the score close enough for the Nats to make their magical comeback was Washington’s turning three double plays to frustrate potential rallies by the Cubs. The three double plays turned was the most by the Nationals in their 16 post-season games.   Prior to last night, the team record was two double plays converted (which the team did in both Game 1 and Game 3 of the 2012 NLDS against St. Louis).

60

Harper’s electrifying home run was the first the Nats’ slugger hit in 60 days, dating back to his first inning blast against Miami’s Odisamer Despaigne on August 7th at Nationals Park.  Harper’s last road homer came at Wrigley Field on August 5th against the Cubs’ John Lackey.

 

 

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Ranking the Nationals’ Seven Home Playoff Losses from “Best” to Worst

natslosetostl2012

A Nationals fan can’t bear to watch as the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their 9-7 series clinching victory over the Nats on October 12, 2012 at Nationals Park.

Two out of three ain’t bad, but two out of nine is an entirely different story altogether.

The Washington Nationals’ 2-7 home playoff record since 2012 is a sore spot for all who wear the curly W and while there is hope the team’s fortunes will change beginning this evening, the pain of the seven losses lingers over Nationals Park like a dense fog.

While this may be akin to ripping a band-aid off of an open wound, we’re going to look at at the seven losses and rank them in terms of the pain they inflicted on the Nats and their followers.

#7- Game 3 2012 NLDS-  St. Louis 8 Washington 0

The first playoff baseball game in Washington DC in generations was a dud.  The Nats split the first two games of the series at Busch Stadium, and hoped to gain control of the series before the home crowd on a nice fall afternoon in the nation’s capital.

Instead, things went south quickly for the home team. The experienced Cardinals scored four runs off of Edwin Jackson in the first two innings and never looked back en route to an easy 8-0 victory.  The young Nats had seven hits, including three by Ian Desmond, but left 11 men on base as they were whitewashed by Cris Carpenter and three Cards’ relievers.

#6- Game 1 2014 NLDS- San Francisco 3 Washington 2

The favored Nats couldn’t score off of Giants’ starter Jake Peavy and by the time the Nats got solo homers by Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera off of old friend Hunter Strickland in the bottom of the seventh, they were down 3-0.

The Nats threatened to tie the score or even take the lead in the bottom of the eighth, but Sergio Romo struck out Desmond and retired Harper on a ground out to end the threat.  When Santiago Casilla retired the Nats in order in the bottom of the ninth, the resourceful Giants had taken control of the series.

#5- Game 1 2016 NLDS- Los Angeles 4 Washington 3

A Max Scherzer- Clayton Kershaw mound match-up had the makings of an epic contest, but the visitors struck for four runs off of Scherzer in the first two innings to take a 4-0 lead.  Washington battled back off of Kershaw to pull within 4-3 in the bottom of the fourth, but the Dodgers bullpen kept the Nats scoreless over the final four innings to secure the win.

#4- Game 1 2017 NLDS- Chicago Cubs 3 Washington 0

Wasting Stephen Strasburg’s excellent start, the Nats’ bats went flat against unflappable Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs bullpen as the visitors prevailed 3-0.  The atmosphere was electric at Nationals Park over the first five innings as Strasburg dominated the tough Cubs lineup, but a few sixth inning mistakes made the 41,000 plus in the ballpark think “here we go again”.

#3= Game 2 2014 NLDS- San Francisco 2 Washington 1

Say what you will about last night’s disappointing loss to the Cubs, but at least it was over relatively quickly.  In game two of the 2014 NLDS, the Nats’ demise took an excruciating 18 innings and featured a ninth inning that remains a sore spot for followers of the team.

With Jordan Zimmermann cruising and one out away from a shutout win that would have evened the series, manager Matt Williams replaced Zimmermann with closer Drew Storen after Joe Panik coaxed a walk to keep the visitors’ hopes alive.  Buster Posey  greeted Storen with a single, and Pablo Sandoval followed with a double to left that scored Panik to tie the score at 1-1. Only an exceptional relay throw from Harper to Desmond to Wilson Ramos kept Posey from scoring to give San Francisco the lead.

In retrospect, perhaps it would have been better if that run had scored. The next nine innings featured frustration of the highest level as the Nationals time and time again failed to do anything at the plate. When Brandon Belt homered deep into the right field stands to give the Giants a 2-1 lead in the 18th inning, the Nationals’ fate was all but sealed.  Strickland worked around a two out walk to secure the win for the Giants.

#2- Game 5 2016 NLDS- Los Angeles 4 Washington 3

The Nats led 1-0 heading into the top of the seventh and with Scherzer on the mound, things were looking good. But then the top of the seventh happened. Los Angeles put four runs on the board to drive Scherzer out of the game and take the air out of the crowd at Nationals Park.  Washington rallied to pull within one run by scoring twice in the seventh, but Kenley Jansen and surprise reliever Kershaw kept Washington scoreless over the final two frames to give the Dodgers the series win.

#1- Game 5 2012 NLDS- St. Louis 9 Washington 7

Even some five years later, the memories of that fateful Friday night in 2012 are too painful to go into in any detail.  The loss of a six run lead, the ninth inning that seemed to be scripted by the Marquis de Sade, the hit by Pete Bleeping Kozma and the funeral atmosphere once the Nationals were shut down in the bottom of the ninth all linger in the minds of Nationals fans to this day.

Nationals by the Numbers- September 24, 2017

murph923

The torture continues for the New York Mets and their fans.  Former Met Daniel Murphy did it to his old team again last night, hitting a solo home run in the top of the 10th inning to lead the Nats to a 4-3 victory over the Mets.

In this edition of “Nationals by the Numbers”, we look at the Nats’ dominance of the National League East over the past six seasons, achievements by the team in the current season and outstanding performances at the plate by Nats’ players against divisional foes.

.636

Last night’s win in 10 innings at New York was Washington’s seventh in 11 extra inning contests so far in 2017.  The team’s .636 winning percentage in such games has the Nats in line to post the fifth above .500 record in extra inning contests in the team’s 13 year history.

The Nats’ best mark in extra inning games was the 2015 team’s 9-2 record (.818 winning percentage).  The 2012 division winning team won 13 of its 20 extra inning games for a .650 winning percentage. In 2011 Washington went 12-8 (.600), and the 2006 squad won 7 of 13 (.538).

1.414 

While Daniel Murphy is public enemy number one in Flushing, New York these days, teammate Adam Lind is on his way to earning a special place in the hearts of the always vocal Mets’ faithful.

In 40 at bats against the Mets so far this year, Lind has put up a .394 batting average with six homers and 15 RBI.  His 1.414 OPS against New York is the highest for any Nationals’ hitter with at least 30 at bats against the Mets.  Murphy’s 1.139 OPS against New York, which includes nine homers and 35 runs driven in, is the second best total.

6

Stephen Strasburg fanned six Mets’ hitters last night, giving him 196 so far this season.  Strasburg is on the verge of posting the second 200 plus strikeout campaign of his career. The righthander fanned a National League high 242 batters in 215 innings pitched in 2014.   The all-star came close to the 200 mark in 2012 when he struck out 197 opponents.

9

Matt Wieters’ booming home run off of Matt Harvey last night gave him 10 round trippers on the year, and made him the ninth National with at least that many this season.   The Nats, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers are tied among National League teams for the most batters with double digit home runs this year.

17 

Sammy Solis earned the win last night with one inning of shutout pitching. In doing so, he became the 17th Nationals’ pitcher to earn a victory so far this year.  The 17 pitchers with a victory on the year is the highest total for Washington since 22 hurlers picked up wins for the 2011 80 win Nationals’ squad (the 2015 Nats’ team also had 17 pitchers with victories).

20

Sean Doolittle earned his 20th save for the Nats’ this year last night, tying Mike Macdougal (2009 season) for the 10th highest save total in a season for Washington.

The high energy lefty has converted on all 20 of the save situations he’s been presented as a National, and he is in line to top Macdougal’s 95.2 save percentage as the best mark in Nats history for a pitcher with at least 20 saves.

Other Nats’ relievers near the top in save percentage in a season include Drew Storen (89.6 in 2011 while earning 43 saves), Chad Cordero (87.9, 29 saves in 2006) and Rafael Soriano (87.8, 43 saves in 2013).

75

It’s no secret to anyone who follows Major League Baseball that the Nationals have been the dominant team in the NL East over the past six seasons.  But how dominant have they been?

Here are the win-loss totals for NL East teams from 2012 through games played last night (Sept. 23, 2017):

WASHINGTON   551-413

ATLANTA            474-488

NEW YORK          470-494

MIAMI                  431-532

PHILADELPHIA  422-543

The Nats have posted above .500 records in all six seasons from 2012 to the present.  The other National League East teams have combined for four (two each by the Braves and the Mets).

UP NEXT

An exceptional matchup of starting pitchers will be the draw in today’s finale of the Nationals’ three game set at New York.  Washington’s Max Scherzer and New York’s Jacob de Grom square off in a battle of two of the Major League’s finest.

Scherzer is 5-2 with a 1.79 ERA in his career at Citi Field, and has struck out 80 Mets in only 55.1 innings pitched.

de Grom has won five of his eight decisions against the Nats, and has a 2.75 ERA when facing Washington.  Anthony Rendon (0-16, five strikeouts), Michael A. Taylor (0-17, 10 strikeouts) and Jayson Werth (1 for 15, five strikeouts) have struggled mightily against the lanky Mets’ hurler.

Nationals Notes- September 18, 2017

Los Angeles Dodgers v Washington Nationals

Ryan Zimmerman’s two home runs and four RBI helped the Nationals defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-1 at Nationals Park on September 17th.

Here’s a four pack of Nats’ notes as the regular season enters its final two weeks and the Nationals prepare for their fourth playoff appearance in the last six seasons.

WHY STOP AT ONE?

Ryan Zimmerman’s two home run game against the Dodgers last night was the 22nd multi-home run game of his career and a team record tying sixth so far in the 2017 season.  The two home run game tied Zimmerman with Adam Dunn, who had six in 2010, for the most in a season in Nats’ history.

The Face of the Franchise’s 22 games with more than one home run is easily the high mark in Nats’ history.  Teammate Bryce Harper is next with 15, including five so far in the 2017 season, with Dunn and Adam LaRoche tied for third with eight each.

Zimmerman’s previous high for multi-homer games in a season was five, set in 2010.  This season and the 2010 campaign are the only years in which Zimmerman has had more than two such games.

WINNING WAYS

Stephen Strasburg won his 14th game on Sunday, moving him within one victory of his career season high of 15, set in 2012 and equaled last season.

Since 2015, only two pitchers have a higher winning percentage than Strasburg’s .727 (40-15 record)  among pitchers with at least 30 decisions.  Both pitchers ahead of Strasburg in this category are also headed to post-season play.   Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers is first with a .763 percentage (45-14), while Arizona’s Zack Greinke is second at .754 (45-16).

Strasburg’s 2017 WAR of 5.8 shatters his previous career high of 3.5 (set in 2014), and his 1.027 WHIP is well below his solid 1.084 career mark in that category.

STARRING IN A PINCH

Since he had a big go ahead home run in the Nationals’ 2017 season opener against Miami, veteran Adam Lind has been a valuable piece of the Nats’ high powered offense.

Last night against the Dodgers, the sweet swinging lefty hit his Nats’ record fourth pinch-hit home run of the season.  Lind’s four pinch-hit blasts ties him with Colorado’s Pat Valaika for the Major League lead this season. Lind’s 1.063 OPS is the top mark in the Majors among pinch-hitters with at least 40 at bats

With 13 pinch-hit RBI so far in 2017, Lind has topped the Nats’ previous season high of 12 set by Tony Batista in 2007.

SEEING DOUBLE 

With 40 two base hits so far this year, Nats’ second baseman Daniel Murphy trails only Colorado’s Nolan Arenado (who has 42) among National Leaguers.  Murphy, who led the National League with 47 doubles in 2016, can be the first Senior Circuit player since Craig Biggio in 1998 and 1999 to lead the league in back to back seasons if he is able to wrest the lead from Arenado.

BIRTHDAY GREETINGS

Happy 38th birthday to 2006 Nationals’ pitcher Billy Traber.  The left-handed Californian went 4–3 with a 6.44 ERA in 43.1 innings pitched for the Nationals in their second season.

Traber’s finest moment as a National came on August 11, 2016 when he allowed only four hits and one run in seven innings pitched to defeat Tom Glavine and the Mets by a 2-1 score.

Nationals by the Numbers- September 17, 2017

 

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Rookie Victor Robles’ triple against the Atlanta Braves on September 14, 2017 electrified the crowd at Nationals Park.

Think of some of the most exciting things a fan can witness while attending a baseball game.  A booming home run, a walk-off hit, a pitcher striking out the side and a tremendous defensive play are among them but for me, seeing a batter hit a ball into the gap and make it all the way to third for a three bagger is right at the top.  In this edition of Nationals by the Numbers, we look at some details related to triples hit by the Nationals over their 13 years in Washington (thanks to Baseball-reference.com’s Play Index for making finding this information very quick and easy).

2

If a triple is a relatively rare occurrence at a Major League baseball game, a triple hit by a pitcher is more rare than a genial debate these days between Democrats and Republicans.

In the Nats’ history, two pitchers have hit triples.  On September 24, 2005 at RFK Stadium against the New York Mets, Livan Hernandez hit a three bagger against Tom Glavine.  Almost two years later at Shea Stadium on July 28, 2007, Joel Hanrahan did the trick against Mike Pelfrey and the Mets.  The triple was one of two for Hernandez in his 17 year Major League career, and the only one for Hanrahan.

4

Four players have had a Nats’ record two triples in game.

If you blinked, you might have missed infielder Bernie Castro’s time with the Nationals in 2006.  The switch-hitter played in 42 games for the Nats that season and hit only .227, but he had two triples in Washington’s 8-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on September 16th at RFK Stadium.

With 28 triples as a National, Cristian Guzman has the most in Nats’ history.  On April 7, 2008 at Nationals Park against Florida, Guzman had two triples in Washington’s 10-7 loss to the Marlins.

Speedy Denard Span patrolled centerfield valiantly for the Nationals from 2013 to 2015, and he hit 19 triples while playing in DC.  On May 31, 2013 at Atlanta, Span had two triples in Washington’s 3-2 victory over the Braves.

On August 13, 2016, Ben Revere became the fourth Nats’ player with two triples in a game. Revere’s pair of triples came in a 7-6 victory over the Braves at Nationals Park.

5

There have been five games in Nats’ history where a team record three triples have been hit.

On April 13, 2005 at Atlanta, Jamey Carroll, Jose Vidro and Terrmel Sledge all tripled in Washington’s 11-4 victory.  Later that season, Brad Wilkerson, Preston Wilson and Brandon Watson all tripled but the trio of extra base hits did not prevent Washington from losing 8-4 to Florida.

RFK Stadium’s spacious gaps in both left-center and right-center were lush breeding ground for triples, and the Nats had three there in a September 16, 2006 8-5 win over Milwaukee. The aforementioned Bernie Castro had a pair, with then-rookie Ryan Zimmerman chipping in with the other.

In recent years the Nationals’ offense has often come alive when playing at Miami, and it certainly did on April 14, 2014 in the Nats’ 9-2 victory over the Marlins. In that contest, Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon all tripled.

In addition to Ben Revere’s pair of triples on August 13, 2016, Trea Turner also had one in the Nats’  7-6 win over the Braves at Nationals Park.

11

Almost as rare as a triple by a pitcher is one by a player who toils behind the plate as a catcher. In Nats’ history, there have been 11 triples hit by catchers. Brian Schneider’s April 25, 2005 triple against Philadelphia at RFK Stadium was the first, and Jose Lobaton’s three bagger at home against Minnesota on April 22, 2016 was the most recent.

Former Nats’ backstop Jesus Flores holds the record for most triples by a catcher in his tenure in Washington with four.

12

If a garden variety triple is among the most exciting plays in baseball, a triple with the bases loaded takes the excitement level up several notches.

The Nats have had 12 bases loaded triples, with Daniel Murphy being the only player with more than one.  Murphy had one on April 7, 2016 in the Nats’ home opening loss to Miami and picked up another this April 25th in Washington’s victory at Colorado.

The 2017 Nats have a team-record three bases loaded triples in a season.  Trea Turner joined Murphy by having on on April 25th at Colorado, and Howie Kendrick drove home three runs with a triple on August 28th against Miami.

27

The 2017 Nats have 27 triples, with Trea Turner (6), Wilmer Difo (4) and Michael A. Taylor (3) leading the way. The team is only two three baggers away from the 2016 team’s total, but a far cry away from the Washington Nationals’ record of 38 set in the otherwise disappointing 103 loss 2009 season.

350

Washington has 350 triples since 2005, with 176 coming at home and 174 being hit on the road.  The Nats have hit 125 triples at Nationals Park since 2008, and hit 51 at RFK Stadium from 2005 through 2007.

On the road, the Nats’ had a team high 27 at Turner Field in Atlanta.  They’ve hit 17 at Marlins Park in Miami and 15 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.  The 12 triples hit by Nats’ players at Chase Field in Arizona is the high mark at non-NL East facilities.

As referenced earlier, Cristian Guzman’s 28 triples is the most for a Nationals’ player. Ian Desmond is next with 21, followed by Ryan Zimmerman (20), Denard Span (19), Bryce Harper (18) and Trea Turner (14).

Nats’ Notes- September 9, 2017

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Michael A. Taylor celebrates his inside the park grand slam home run in the Nationals’ 11-10 victory over the Phillies at Nationals Park on Friday September 8th.

The Nationals stand at 87-54 and 19 games up in the National League East with only 21 games left to play in the 2017 regular season. Here’s a look at a few interesting notes coming out of the Nats’ recent games.

JUST CAN’T WAIT TO GET ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Washington has won a Major League high (tied with Houston) 45 road games this year. With road series’ against the Braves, Mets and Phillies yet to be played, the team is only three wins away from its team best 48 victories in enemy ballparks.  If the Nats go at least 5-4 on the final road trip of the year, they will become only the third National League team since 2000 with at least 50 road victories in a season.  The 2005 St. Louis Cardinals and the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies had 50 road wins each.

The National League record for most road wins in a season is 53, last achieved by the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants who won 53 each in the 1993 season.

STERLING STARTS

The Nationals have a Major League high 67 games this season in which their starting pitchers have thrown at least six innings and allowed two or fewer runs.   The Cleveland Indians are next in this category seven games behind the Nats at 60, and no other team is closer than 12 games away from the Nats’ mark (Arizona and the Los Angeles Dodgers have 55 such games each).

Cy Young Award candidates Gio Gonzalez (17), Max Scherzer (16) and Stephen Strasburg (13) have the most six innings plus, two or fewer runs allowed game for the National League East leaders. Tanner Roark is next with nine games, followed by Joe Ross and Edwin Jackson with five each and A.J. Cole with two.

NATS’ BATS

The Nationals have not only been superb at preventing runs from scoring in 2017, they’ve also been great at scoring.

Last night’s 11-10 victory over the Phillies gave the Nats a Major League high 21 games in 2017 where they’ve scored 10 or more runs.  Cleveland and Texas are next with 17 such games each.  Colorado, with 15, is second in the National League.

The Nationals’ 21 10 plus runs scored contests has shattered the team mark of 14 such games, set in the 2016 season.  The only other seasons in which Washington has had at least 10 games with runs scored in double figures are 2015 (11 games), 2012 (11), 2009 (10) and 2008 (10).

MILESTONES IN REACH 

Nats’ first baseman Ryan Zimmerman hit his team leading 30th and 31st home runs of the season this week, putting him only two round trippers behind his personal best the  33  he hit in 2009.   Zimmerman also has 95 RBI, and he appears primed to post the third 100 plus RBI season of his career.  Zimmerman’s best RBI mark was 110 set in his rookie year of 2006. He drove in 106 runs in the 2009 season.

The notoriously streaky hitter has also shown signs that September might be a month to remember for him. In 27 at bats so far this month, Zimmerman has hit .370 with two homers and seven runs driven in.

HOME RUN HIGHLIGHTS

Trea Turner’s ninth home run of the year against the Phils on Friday puts him one blast away from joining the Nats’ 2017 ten plus home run club. Seven Nationals (Zimmerman with 31, Bryce Harper with 29, Anthony Rendon with 23, Daniel Murphy with 22, Michael A. Taylor with a career high 15, Brian Goodwin with 13 and Adam Lind with 11) have already put up double digit numbers in home runs.

Turner, Matt Wieters and Jayson Werth have all hit nine round trippers so far this year. If at least two of the three get to 10 or more home runs on the year, the Nats will set a record for the most double digit home run hitters in team history. The 2015 and 2016 squads both had eight players with 10 or more homers.

Michael A. Taylor’s inside the park grand slam home run on Friday was the fifth in Nats’ history, and the first with runners aboard.   Austin Kearns (May 12, 2007 against Florida), Willie Harris (September 24, 2010 against Atlanta), Zimmerman (May 15, 2016 against Miami) and Stephen Drew (May 31, 2016 at Philadelphia) are the other Nationals who have hit inside the park homers.

LEADING BY A LOT

If the Nationals hold or improve on their current lead in the Nationals League East, they will become the first team since the 2008 Los Angeles Angels to win its division by at least 19 games.  The 2008 Angels won their division by 21 games in that season.

11 teams have won their divisions by at least 15 games since the current divisional format was adopted.  A word of caution for those thinking a big lead a team will be playing until the week of Halloween; before the Chicago Cubs won the World Series last year, the six previous teams (including the 2014 Nats) who won their division by such a margin all lost in the Divisional Playoff round).

Here’s a look at the 11 teams who cruised to a divisional win, with a list of what  happened to them in the post-season:

1995 Atlanta Braves  Won NL East by 21 games-  Won World Series

1995 Cleveland Indians Won AL Central by 30 games- Lost World Series to Atlanta

1998 Atlanta Braves  Won NL East by 18 games-  Lost in NLCS to San Diego

1998 New York Yankees Won AL East by 22 games- Won World Series

1999 Cleveland Indians  Won AL Central by 21.5 games- Lost in the ALDS

2002 Atlanta Braves  Won NL East by 19 games-  Lost in the NLDS

2003 San Francisco Giants  Won NL West by 15.5 games- Lost in NLDS

2008 Los Angeles Angels Won AL West by 21 games- Lost in ALDS

2011 Detroit Tigers  Won AL Central by 15 games- Lost in ALDS

2014 Washington Nationals Won NL East by 17 games- Lost in NLDS

2016 Chicago Cubs  Won NL Central by 17.5 games- Won World Series

This Day in Nationals History- An Unexpected Gem

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Pitcher Ramon Ortiz celebrates the first and only home run of his twelve year Major League career on September 4, 2006 in Washington’s 4-1 victory over St. Louis at RFK Stadium.

Former Major League player and announcer Joe Garagiola once called baseball a “drama with an endless run and an ever-changing cast”.   On September 4, 2006 at RFK Stadium, the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals played an drama-filled game that saw a player more used to being an understudy emerge as the leading man.

In his 12 year Major League career, pitcher Ramon Ortiz won 87 games and lost 86.   He was durable, he threw hard and he got the most out of his relatively tiny frame, but he was hardly the type of pitcher one would expect to steal the show.  Eleven years ago today, he did just that.

Unlike this year’s Washington Nationals team that is playing in September with an eye toward post-season play, the 2006 Nats were simply playing out the string by the time Labor Day arrived.   The Nats had exciting Alfonso Soriano, emerging star Ryan Zimmerman and productive Nick Johnson in their lineup, but Washington’s pitching (particularly from its starting staff) was abysmal.

Ortiz took the mound for the holiday contest sporting a 9-12 record and having come off a three game stretch against divisional foes where he had allowed 15 runs in 12.2 innings pitched.  His opponents from St. Louis had won seven of their last nine games and were on their way to a National League Central title.

The Nats’ righty started out strong, striking out two (including Cards’ star Albert Pujols) in the first inning.  Ortiz walked two Cardinals in the second, but ended the threat by retiring 2005 Nats’ backup catcher Gary Bennett on a fly ball to right.

Ortiz settled in nicely from innings three through seven, retiring 15 of the 16 batters he faced in those frames. The problem for Ortiz and the Nats was that St. Louis starter Jason Marquis had kept Washington off of the scoreboard,  working out of several jams in the process.

In the bottom of the seventh, Washington finally got to Marquis.  The always patient Johnson led off the frame with a walk and Austin Kearns followed with a two run home run to give the Nats the lead.

With only six outs to go to earn a no-hitter, Ortiz retired Ronnie Belliard on a ground out, Bennett on a deep fly ball to left center and Scott Spiezio on a pop up to send the 31,000 plus at RFK Stadium into a frenzy.

In the bottom of the inning, Ortiz did damage with his bat as he led off the inning with the first and only home run of his career off of Cards’ reliever Jorge Sosa to boost the Nats’ lead to 3-0.  The Nationals added another run to their tally later in the inning when Zimmerman doubled off of Sosa and Johnson followed with a RBI two bagger off of Randy Flores.

With RFK Stadium rocking in a fashion usually reserved only for Cowboys-Redskins matchups in the fall, Ortiz took the hill with three outs to go to become part of history.  The bid for a no-hitter ended suddenly, with pesky Aaron Miles hitting a clean single to center to start the frame.  Chris Duncan then hit a bullet down the first base line, but Johnson snagged the rocket shot and doubled Miles off of first to put the Nats one out away from victory.  Ortiz then lost his shutout when Pujols, who was en route to 49 home run season, blasted a solo round tripper to put St. Louis on the board.  With his starter obviously out of gas,  Nationals’ manager Frank Robinson called on Chad Cordero to close things out.  The Chief did just that, striking out Scott Rolen to end the game and give Washington a 4-1 win.

Ortiz would finish the 2006 season (his only one in Washington) with an 11 wins, a National League high 16 losses, a 5.57 ERA and 31 home runs allowed.   It would be eight years later that a much more accomplished hurler, Jordan Zimmermann, registered the first no-hitter in Nats’ history in a late September white-washing of Miami at Nationals Park.