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

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Game 108 Review- Cubs 7 Nationals 4

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Chicago’s Willson Contreras admires his sixth inning two run home run off of Washington’s Matt Grace in the Cubs 7-4 victory over the Nationals on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Game 108

Nationals’ Record- 64-44, first place in the National League East, 13 games ahead of Miami

Chicago Cubs 7  Nationals 4

WP-  Lackey (9-9)   LP- Jackson (2-2)  SV- W. Davis (23)

HR- Harper Was (28),  Avila Chc (12), Contreras Chc (19)

As was the case with Friday afternoon’s game, there was a playoff atmosphere at Wrigley Field yesterday as the Nationals and Cubs squared off in game two of their weekend series.  This time it was the Cubs who emerged victorious, riding the wave of a four run first inning and holding late threats by the Nats to earn a 7-4 victory.

STARS OF THE GAME

On a team with popular superstars such as Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and established veterans such as Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward, it is easy for some of the team’s younger players to get lost in the shuffle.  If talented Willson Contreras keeps playing like he’s been recently, that is not going to be possible. Contreras drove in three runs, including two on a laser shot home run in the bottom of the sixth, to pace the Chicago attack. Since the all-star break, Contreras 27 RBI match Colorado’s Nolan Arenado for the most in the Major Leagues.

Contreras played left field in yesterday’s game because Joe Maddon had new Cub Alex Avila start behind the plate. The veteran backstop made his start count, hitting a two run first inning home run off of Washington’s Edwin Jackson to give the Cubbies a 4-1 lead.

STRONG IN DEFEAT

Nats’ left-handed reliever Sammy Solis was a valuable asset out of Washington’s bullpen in 2016, posting a solid 1.1 WAR on the year.  Things have not gone as well for the 6’5″ Minnesota native so far in 2017, but he did a superb job in yesterday’s contest.  Solis threw 1.2 scoreless innings with four strikeouts, punching out Rizzo and Contreras to leave two Cubs stranded in the seventh inning and fanning Zobrist and Heyward in a one-two-three eighth.

NATS NOTES

After allowing four runs on five hits in the first inning, Washington starter Edwin Jackson settled down nicely over his final four innings of work.  From innings two through five, Jackson allowed no runs on only one hit while striking out seven Cubs.

On Saturday, Bryce Harper demonstrated some of the skills that make him one of the Major League’s best players. He hit a long solo home run off of Cubs’ starter John Lackey in the top of the first, giving him a Major League best 12 first inning home runs this year.  In the bottom of the frame, Harper threw a laser from right field to cut down Contreras at third base.  Harper displayed his range in right in the bottom of the fifth, robbing Jon Jay of a potential extra base hit with a running catch at the wall in right center.

On a team with numerous offensive stalwarts, Washington’s Jose Lobaton is not expected to provide much at the plate.  Since the all-star break however,  Lobaton has picked his game up somewhat.  The affable backstop worked a ninth inning walk off of Cubs’ closer Wade Davis in the top of the ninth to keep Washington’s hopes alive, and moved his post-break OPS to .876 in the process.  Before the break, Lobaton’s OPS was an anemic .437.

Both Matt Grace and Matt Albers gave up runs out of the bullpen in yesterday’s game, continuing a trend that has seen the relievers get roughed up in recent outings.  Grace was touched for two runs in the game, giving him 10 runs allowed in his last nine innings pitched since July 23rd.  The Cubs touched Albers for a single run, and the stout righty has now allowed seven hits, three runs and two walks over his last three appearances.

UP NEXT

Sunday’s contest is the rubber game in the seven game regular season series between the two division leading teams.  The Cubs go with veteran left-handed ace Jon Lester, who has a 3-0 record with a 2.77 ERA and a .769 WHIP in his three post-All Star game starts.  Washington’s Matt Wieters has had success (.327 average, four extra hits in 49 at bats) against Lester in the past, but Ryan Zimmerman (2-14, four strikeouts), Daniel Murphy (2-11) and Howie Kendrick (8-46, nine strikeouts) have not.

Rookie Erick Fedde looks for his first Major League win today.  Last Sunday, Fedde gave up 10 hits and seven runs as the Nats fell at home to Colorado.

Game 89 Review- Nationals 5 Reds 0

 
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Bryce Harper circles the bases following his third inning home run off of Cincinnati’s Tim Adleman in Washington’s 5-0 victory over the Reds at the Great American Ballpark on July 14th.

NATIONALS  5  Reds 0

Record 53-36    9.5 games up on Atlanta in the NL East

WP- Gonzalez (8-4)  LP-  Adleman (5-7)  SV- Grace (1)

HR-  Harper, Was 2(22)

The second half of the Nationals’ season began with a great all-around effort as Washington defeated the Reds 5-0 in the first game of a four game series at Cincinnati.   Here’s a look at some of the news and notes from the game.

STARS OF THE GAME

Gio Gonzalez was razor sharp on the night, allowing only four hits in 8.1 shutout innings to earn his eighth win of the year. Gonzalez induced 14 ground ball outs and struck out six as he registered his 17th game in 19 starts on the year where he’s allowed three or fewer earned runs.   Gonzalez’s 79 pitching game score was his highest in a road contest since September 9, 2013 when he posted a 91 score in Washington’s 9-0 rout of the New York Mets.

Nationals’ rightfielder Bryce Harper is a unique talent, and his power stroke was on display on Friday night.  Harper homered twice for the fourth time this year and registered the 14th multi-home run game of his career to pace Washington’s attack.   The all-star has a nine game hitting streak going, and is 15-34 with 12 runs scored, two doubles, four home runs and 10 RBI during that time period.

He may not have been part of the All-Star festivities in Miami earlier this week, but anyone who has watched Anthony Rendon play this year realizes that the Nats’ third baseman is playing at an All-Star level. Rendon was 2 for 3 with a double and a run batted in at the plate and made several sparkling defensive plays to support Gonzalez’s strong outing.

STRONG EVEN IN DEFEAT

The Reds have a large supply of power arms in the bullpen, and righty Asher Wojciechowski’s ability to throw hard was on display on Friday.   The South Carolina native struck out four, including Harper and Rendon, in two scoreless innings pitched.

NATS NOTES

Brian Goodwin led of the contest with a double to right and later scored the game’s first run on a Stephen Drew RBI hit.  The first inning success for the Nats’ rookie is nothing new. In 24 at bats in the first inning so far this year, Goodwin is hitting .375 with a 1.194 OPS.

Catcher Matt Wieters had a strong game, working with Gonzalez to shut down the Reds and picking up two hits in three at bats. The multi-hit game was the 14th of the year for Wieters, but only his third in games played away from Nationals Park.

Rendon was not the only Nationals’ player flashing the leather on Friday night.  Goodwin and Chris Heisey both made sparking catches, with Goodwin’s keeping the Reds off of the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth with Washington holding only a three run lead.  Middle infielders Drew and Wilmer Difo also were strong with the glove, with Drew turning a potential two run single by Tucker Barnhart into a game ending out to end a Reds’ bases loaded threat.

UP NEXT

Later today, Cincinnati fans will get to see something they’ve not had a chance to do previously.  Nats’ ace Max Scherzer will make the first appearance of his career at the Great American Ballpark as he looks for his 11th win on the year.  In his career Scherzer has posted a 2.75 ERA, the best mark in any month for the All-Star righty.

Opposing Scherzer will be rookie Luis Castillo, who is 1-1 with a 3.13 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 23 innings pitched. The righthander has been more effective keeping lefties (.222/.286/.469) than righties (.286/.375/.452) off base so far this year.

So far this year the Nationals have not been living it up on Saturday night, or at any time during the weekend’s first day for that matter.  Washington is 6-8 in Saturday contests so far in 2017.

 

Nationals by the Numbers- July 13th

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The Nationals had a strong five player contingent at this year’s Major League All-Star game.  The team looks to get the second half of the 2017 season off on the right foot tomorrow night in Cincinnati against the Reds in the first game of a four game series.

Three and a half months down on the 2017 season, two and a half more to go.  In this edition of Nationals by the Numbers, we look at some shining results from the team’s star pitchers, impressive offensive production by the team as a whole and several star players in particular, and the first half totals by a Nats’ player who likely thinks there’s no place like home (i.e. Nationals Park).

.811

The Nats’ .811 OPS ranks second in the Major Leagues so far in 2017, trailing only the Houston Astros’ .855 figure.   Washington’s impressive mark is far and away the best OPS figure a Nationals team has registered in the first half of any season.  The previous high was .757, set in the Nats’ division winning season last year.  The 2009 team’s .753 figure was third, followed by the 2006 squad’s .746 mark and the 2010 team’s .733 total.

.859

Speaking of OPS….if history is a guide, Nats’ all-star Ryan Zimmerman will continue his hot-hitting ways over the season’s final 74 games. In his career, Zimmerman has put up an impressive .859 OPS mark v.s. the .765 figure he’s registered in the first halves of seasons.

Zimmerman’s best post-break season came in 2015, when he posted a 1.024 OPS while hitting .311 with 11 homers and 39 RBI.  The “face of the franchise” also excelled in the second half of the 2009 (.969 OPS, .297 average, 19 homers and 54 RBI) and 2012 (.945 OPS, .319 average, 17 homers, 55 RBI) seasons.

.88 

All the talk of a juiced baseball certainly has not proven to be true when Stephen Strasburg has toed the rubber for the Nats so far this year.  Strasburg’s .88 HR/9 rate tops all National League pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched so far in 2017.  In 112.2 frames so far this year, Strasburg has allowed only 11 homers.    Among Major Leaguers, the veteran righthander trails only Detroit’s Michael Fulmer (.54) and Boston’s Chris Sale (.78) in the category.  Strasburg’s teammate and fellow All-Star Max Scherzer is fifth in the Majors at .91.

6

Any pitcher who posts a pitching game score of 80 or more has thrown a gem.  So far in 2017, Washington has six such games.   Strasburg and Scherzer posted matching 85 scores in back to back games against San Diego in May, and Scherzer has four other such games so far in 2017.  The six 80 plus games equals the team’s mark in the entire 2016 season, and is only two games off of the Nats’ record of eight 80 plus pitching game score contests set in 2012.

In his time in Washington Scherzer has 13 such games,  putting him six ahead of Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez who’ve had seven each.

11 

It has been 11 years since a National League East team has had a bigger divisional lead at the break than Washington’s current 9.5 spread over the Atlanta Braves.

Back in 2006, the New York Mets led the division by 12 games at the break over Philadelphia in route to a 97-65 record and a divisional championship.  The Mets won a divisional playoff series against the Dodgers that year, before suffering a heartbreaking 4-3 defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship series.

 102

Nats’ catcher Matt Wieters has saved his best for the home crowd so far in 2017, hitting 102 points higher at home (.291) than he has on the road (.189).

Wieters’ road OPS of .536 is the ninth lowest mark among Major Leaguers with at least 100 at bats in road contests this year.  Former National Danny Espinosa is the “leader” in this dubious category, putting up a .383 OPS in 115 at bats away from Anaheim.

295

How cool would it be to have a video of each of Nats’ all-star Daniel Murphy’s regular season hits in his time as a National?  If such a video existed, it would show 295 safeties by the sweet swinging Murphy, the fifth highest total in the Major Leagues since 2016.   Jose Altuve leads the Majors with 332 hits since the start of 2016, with Boston’s Mookie Betts next in line at 310.  Only two National Leaguers have a higher total than Murphy’s 295.  Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon has 304 hits over the past year and a half, and teammate D.J. LeMahieu has one more than Murphy at 296.

 

Nationals by the Numbers- May 14th

Another dramatic Bryce Harper home run against the Phillies gave the Nats their second straight walk-off win in Washington’s 6-4 victory on May 13th at Nationals Park.

The latest “Nationals by the Numbers” highlights late inning heroics by members of the Nats’ powerful lineup and some positives coming out of what has been to date a much maligned Nats’ bullpen corps.

6

Bryce Harper contributed to Washington’s game winning rally on Wednesday with a double to left field off of Baltimore’s Brad Brach.  Six of Harper’s nine doubles in the 2017 have been hit to the opposite field.

7

In Washington’s comeback win over Baltimore on Wednesday May 10th, catcher Matt Wieters went 3 for 5 and drove in the winning runs against his former teammates.  The game was Wieters’ seventh multi-hit game of the 2017 season.  Only three catchers (the Giants’ Buster Posey with 11, Miami’s J. P. Realmuto with 10 and Brian McCann of Houston with 8) have more multi-hit games than Wieters.

9

Wieters’ heroics on Wednesday might not have been possible without some assistance from Nats’ centerfielder Michael A. Taylor, whose eighth inning two run home run off of Baltimore’s Alec Asher drew Washington within two runs at 6-4.   Taylor’s laser blast came on the first pitch he saw from Asher, marking the ninth time in his 23 homers that he has gone deep on the first pitch of an at bat.  20 of Taylor’s home runs have come when he’s been ahead in the count.

12.3

Nats’ reliever Shawn Kelley got the win in Saturday’s game, throwing one inning and fanning two batters in the process. Kelley now has 15 strikeouts in 11 innings pitched on the year for a 12.3 SO/9 ratio. That number almost equals his career best 12.4 mark set in 2016 when Kelley was the Nats’ primary set-up man.

31

Stephen Strasburg struck out nine Orioles’ batters on Wednesday night, giving him 31 career games at Nationals Park with nine or more strikeouts. In those 31 games, Strasburg has posted a 17-5 record with the Nats winning six of the nine contests where Strasburg did not figure in the decision.  The nine strikeout game was Strasburg’s first at home since July 21, 2016, when he lost a 6-3 decision to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

32

Reliever Matt Albers struck out all three batters he faced in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s win over Baltimore.  Albers’ effort marked the 32nd time in team history that a Nationals’ reliever has struck the side without allowing anyone to reach base.  Washington had only one such performance in 2016, and it came in a losing effort. On September 20th, Rafael Martin fanned all three Diamondbacks he faced in the ninth inning of Washington’s 14-4 loss at the hands of Arizona.  Drew Storen is far and away the Washington leader in this category with nine such games. Henry Rodriguez and Tyler Clippard tie for distant second with three games each.

33

Harper’s walk-off two run homer against the Phillies on Saturday night was the fifth of his career, and the 33rd in Nationals’ history.   Six of those have come against Philadelphia, the most among any opponent.  Harper and Ryan Zimmerman (with 10) are the only Nationals with multiple walk-off home runs in their careers in Washington.