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Takeaways From The Nationals Winning Three Of Four Over Philadelphia And Clinching The National League East

Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ series win over the Phillies and clinching of the NL East

 

 

Game 1: 4-3 win on Thursday night (Sept. 7)

Game 2: 11-10 win on Friday night (Sept. 8)

Game 3: 5-4 loss on Saturday night (Sept. 9)

Game 4: 3-2 win on Sunday afternoon (Sept. 10)

 

1. Sunday afternoon’s win coupled with Miami’s 10-8 11-inning loss at Atlanta gave the Nats their fourth National League East title in six seasons.  As I have said many times, the NL East is terrible; it is the worst division in major North American pro sports.  The Marlins, Braves, Mets and Phillies all are well below .500 with negative run differentials.  But that doesn’t mean that the Nats don’t deserve a lot of credit for what they have again done.  Winning is hard, especially when you suffer as many injuries as the Nats have this season.  The Nats have gone from one of the worst teams in the majors to now one of MLB’s model organizations.

 

Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper, center right, is doused in the locker room as the team celebrates after they clinched the National League East title after a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Washington.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

 

2. Stephen Strasburg is on fire.  He on Sunday afternoon extended his scoreless inning streak to 34, a new Nats/Expos record.  Strasburg tossed eight scoreless innings on 10 strikeouts versus just two singles and a walk on 108 pitches.  He has made five starts since returning from the right-elbow nerve impingement: two runs in 35 innings, 41 strikeouts versus four walks.

3. It goes without saying that the Nats need Max Scherzer to be at his best come October.  Well, he has not been at his best lately, presumably due to not being entirely healthy.  He on Friday night allowed four runs in six innings, giving up a three-run homer, two doubles, three singles, three walks and a hit-by-pitch.  It wasn’t all bad, as Scherzer did have seven strikeouts and did retire 12 of 13 batters at one point.  But this was not the Scherzer that we’ve become used to seeing.  He in the top of the first issued back-to-back one-out walks of Odubel Herrera and Rhys Hoskins and then served up a three-run homer to Nick Williams on an 0-1 pitch.  And Scherzer later issued a two-out walk of former Oriole Hyun Soo Kim in that inning.  It’s not like Scherzer has been terrible lately; the guy had an ERA of 2.05 in August.  But he had that abbreviated start at Miami on Aug. 1 due to neck spasms, then missed two starts due to inflammation on the left side of his neck and then had what happened in the 3-2 win at Milwaukee last Saturday night: struck by the on the left calf by a Travis Shaw comebacker in the bottom of the first, stayed in the game, wasn’t his usual dominant self (decreased velocity, flat breaking balls) and lasted for just five innings.

4. Edwin Jackson on Saturday night struggled for a second straight start, allowing five runs in 3 1/3 innings.  He gave up two solo homers, five singles and three walks.

5. Tanner Roark wasn’t particularly good on Thursday night, but he did give the perennial “chance to win” in allowing three runs in six innings for what was technically a quality start (though the standard of three runs in six innings, which translated to a 4.50 ERA, cracks me up).  He gave up seven hits, including solo homers to Jorge Alfaro in the top of the third and Tommy Davis in the top of the fourth and an RBI single to Freddy Galvis in the top of the fifth.  But Roark issued just one walk to go with a wild pitch and did have six strikeouts.

6. The offense was good over the first two games and not so good over the final two games.  A few observations:

  • Michael A. Taylor was the starting center fielder in each of the first three games before not playing on Sunday and was a beast: 7-for-12 with two homers, a triple, a double and a walk and 2-for-2 on stolen bases.  He had a tremendous catch to rob Andres Blanco of a leadoff homer in the top of the seventh on Thursday night and had an inside-the-park grand slam, an RBI triple, two singles, a stolen base and an outfield assist on Friday night.
  • Trea Turner went 6-for-16 with two homers, a triple, a double, a walk, six RBI and a stolen base in the series.
  • The Nats’ win on Sunday afternoon came with a lineup that included the last names Sanchez, Difo, Lind, Robles, Stevenson, Severino and Bautista.

7. As we are in the midst of expanded rosters in September, the Nats on Thursday made a number of moves, including selecting the contract of outfielder Victor Robles from Double-A Harrisburg.  As I have talked about on our “Down On The Farm” segments on Chin Music this season, Robles is the Nats’ no. 1 prospect and the no. 1 outfield prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline.  He shined for both Harrisburg and High-A Potomac in what was just his age-20 season, posting an .875 OPS over a combined 496 plate appearances.  Entering the 2017 season, Baseball America named Robles as the “Best Athlete,” “Best Hitter for Average,” “Best Defensive Outfielder,” and “Best Outfield Arm” in the Nats’ minor-league system.  Robles was the Nats’ starting center fielder on Sunday afternoon, during which he had an RBI double in the Nats’ two-run sixth.

The Nats signed Robles out of the Dominican Republic on July 2, 2013.  He has steadily moved up the prospect rankings and is an example of why spending money in Latin America is so important.  Robles, Rafael Bautista, Wilmer Difo, Raudy Read, and Pedro Severino are Dominican players who were signed and developed by the Nats through their revamped Latin American operations to occupy a spot on this year’s major-league roster.

8. The bullpen had a high-variance series.

  • Thursday night – The Law Firm – Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle – each tossed a scoreless inning.
  • Friday night – We had a major flashback to the #CantTrussIt days of this bullpen this season, as Oliver Perez and Shawn Kelley each allowed three runs without recording a single out.  Perez faced four batters to begin the top of the seventh: leadoff single by Cesar Hernandez on a 1-2 pitch, first-pitch single by Odubel Herrera, three-run homer by Rhys Hoskins, single by Nick Williams on an 0-1 pitch.  Kelley faced three batters to begin the top of the ninth: leadoff single by Hoskins, single by Williams, three-run homer by Maikel Franco.  The outing left Kelley having allowed an incredible 12 home runs in 23 2/3 innings this season.  Cleaning up the messes were Matt Albers, Kintzler and Doolittle, who combined to retire eight of 10 batters faced.   Doolittle struck out three straight Phillies to end the game.
  • Saturday night – Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole, Joe Blanton, Perez and Albers combined for 5 2/3 scoreless innings.
  • Sunday afternoon – Madson allowed two runs in the top of the ninth on three singles for the first runs he allowed as a Nat in 13 innings of work.
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