Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ series win at the Braves
Game 1: 4-2 win on Tuesday night (Sept. 19)
Game 2: 7-3 win on Wednesday night (Sept. 20)
Game 3: 3-2 loss on Thursday night (Sept. 21)
1. The biggest item to come out of this series is that Bryce Harper is on the mend. He on Tuesday batted in a simulated game, after which Mike Rizzo said that Haprer could return to the active roster next week. Harper has been on the 10-day disabled list since Aug. 13 with a hyperextended left knee, left-knee bone bruise and left calf strain. The remaining major hurdles include running on the field at full speed and attempting to cut, dive and/or slide.
2. Tanner Roark on Thursday night continued his second-half resurgence, allowing three runs in seven innings on seven strikeouts versus six hits and no walks, and that final line would have been much better if not for the Nats shoddy defense. Roark had a 5.27 ERA through June; he now has a 3.38 ERA since then.
3. Gio Gonzalez on Wednesday night rebounded from being bad in two of his previous three starts, allowing two runs in seven innings on eight strikeouts versus just three hits and a walk on 104 pitches. The only damage he allowed came on a two-out solo homer by the notorious Nats killer Freddie Freeman in the bottom of the first and a leadoff homer by ex-Nat Kurt Suzuki in the bottom of the fifth. Otherwise Gio was terrific, retiring 10 consecutive batters between the two solo homers. He exited this series second among all major-league pitchers with a 6.85 bWAR this season.
4. Max Scherzer came out of the series third among all major-league pitchers with a 6.64 bWAR this season. He on Tuesday night extended himself against the Braves for a second consecutive start. But this one went much better than the last one. He allowed two runs in seven innings on seven strikeouts versus five hits and a walk on 112 pitches. Scherzer retired the first 11 batters he faced before giving up a single to – you guessed it – the notorious Nats killer Freddie Freeman on an 0-1 pitch in the bottom of the fourth. Nick Markakis follwed with a first-pitch single, and then ex-Nat Kurt Suzuki delivered a full-count RBI single for the Braves’ first run. Scherzer then allowed a run in the bottom of the fifth on a leadoff walk of Lane Adams, a steal and then an RBI double by Dansby Swanson. But Scherzer then retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced. He tossed a perfect bottom of the seventh on 15 pitches, as he didn’t struggle when crossing the 100-pitch plateau. Compare this with what happened the previous Wednesday night – Sept. 13 – on which Scherzer was charged with seven runs in six innings in an 8-2 loss to the Braves. The crux of this had to do with a six-run Braves seventh, during which Dusty Baker kept Scherzer in the game through three consecutive walks and a two-run single to begin the inning.
There is danger in Scherzer throwing 110+ pitches in meaningless games against the Braves deep into September. As durable as he has been, he is in his age-32 season, and every player is durable until he isn’t. But I have to say that there’s a big part of me that respects the heck out of what Scherzer is doing. He is risking his stats and his health in order to, at least in his mind, be better prepared for October. Remember what happened with Scherzer in last October’s five-game NLDS loss to the Dodgers: he lasted for just six innings in each of his two starts, and he allowed four runs in the 4-3 loss in Game 1.
5. The Nats’ new-look bullpen continued to roll, allowing just one run in five innings.
6. The Nats’ offense was pretty good over the first two games of the series but was back to struggling on Thursday night, during which they totaled just four hits and no walks and struggled mightily against R.A. Dickey.
7. The Nats’ six-run eighth on Wednesday night featured an amazing eight consecutive Nats batters reaching base via hit or walk: Wilmer Difo – single on an 0-2 pitch, Trea Turner – first-pitch double, Jayson Werth – four-pitch walk, Daniel Murphy – bases-loaded four-pitch walk, Ryan Zimmerman – bases-loaded walk, Anthony Rendon – bases-loaded four-pitch walk, Adam Lind – first-pitch two-run single, Michael A. Taylor – RBI single on a 1-2 pitch. Matt Wieters struck out twice in the inning.
8. The biggest individual offensive bright spot was Trea Turner, who went 5-for-13 with a homer, two doubles and a walk and went 2-for-2 on stolen bases. The two steals came on Tuesday night, as he broke Alfonso Soriano’s single-season Nats record of 41 set in 2006. He exited the game 42-for-48 on steals this season, good for an excellent percentage of 87.5 percent. Soriano in 2006 went 41-for-58 (70.69 percent). That’s a big difference. Turner had a double, an RBI single and a walk on Tuesday night. He on Wednesday night began the game with a first-pitch homer and had a double. And Turner had a single on Thursday night.
9. Ryan Zimmerman had a double and two RBI singles on Tuesday night, giving him 101 RBI to go with 33 home runs. This is just the second 30-100 season of his career (2009). Yes, RBI is an overrated stat because of its dependent nature. But it’s not like RBI is meaningless. Zimmerman also had a solo homer to begin the top of the second on Thursday night.
10. Jayson Werth went 1-for-12 with a walk and six strikeouts in the series. He now is 4-for-his-last-49 going back to the 6-3 loss at Milwaukee on Aug. 31. Werth missed 75 games with a left-foot contusion and then missed five straight games with a sore left shoulder earlier this month. Whether the struggles are health-related or not, he is running out of time to get on track.
11. The Nats’ defense on Thursday night was horrendous. The Nats exited this series just 24th out of 30 major-league teams with -33 Defensive Runs Saved.