Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ series win over the Phillies
Game 1: 7-3 win on Friday night (May 4)
Game 2: 3-1 loss on Saturday (May 5)
Game 3: 5-4 win on Sunday afternoon (May 6)
1. A great way to cap a great homestand. The Nats overcame a 4-1 eighth-inning deficit on Sunday by scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth and then two runs in the bottom of the ninth. The Nats lost two Arizona in the first two games of the homestand but went 7-1 the rest of the way, putting them above .500 (18-17) exiting a series for the first time since April 4.
2. Just as the Nats got back one key bat they lost another, although this hopefully isn’t a serious injury.
Anthony Rendon in the 3-1 loss to the Phillies on Saturday returned from a 19-game absence caused by a toe injury that the Nats said was a contusion but that he revealed to The Washington Post on Friday during a rehab stint with High-A Potomac was actually a hairline fracture. He batted in the no. 2 spot in Game 2 and the no. 3 spot in Game 3 and had two walks in the 3-1 loss to the Phillies on Saturday and a two-out two-run single in the bottom of the eighth in the 5-4 win over the Phillies on Sunday afternoon.
But Ryan Zimmerman, who had a two-run single in the bottom of the first in the 7-3 win over the Phillies on Friday night, missed the final two games in the series due to side stiffness.
3. Dave Martinez’s new-look lineup continued to kill it in Game 1 before slowing down the rest of the series. Still, the “big four” in this new-look lineup continue to produce.
Bryce Harper batted in the no. 1 spot in every game in the series. He went 0-for-8 with three strikeouts over the final two games but was great in the 7-3 win over the Phillies on Friday night. Bryce in that game homered twice off Nick Pivetta, who the Nats gave up to the Phillies in July 2015 for the closer who choked Bryce in Sept, 2015, Jonathan Papelbon: leadoff homer in the bottom of the first and a first-pitch two-run homer in the bottom of the second. That second homer went 473 feet per Statcast, making the homer Bryce’s longest of the Statcast Era (that’s a grandiose way of saying “since the start of the 2015 season”).
Trea Turner remained in the no. 2 spot in starting two of three games in the series. He had a single and two walks in the 7-3 win over the Phillies on Friday night, a pinch walk in the 3-1 loss to the Phillies on Saturday and a big two-out infield single on an 0-2 pitch in the Nats’ two-run eighth in the 5-4 win over the Phillies on Sunday afternoon. Turner is second among qualified Nats this season with a .382 on-base percentage.
Matt Adams continued to bat in the no. 3 spot in all three games in the series, going 3-for-10 with two homers and three walks. He in the 7-3 win over the Phillies on Friday night had first-pitch two-run homer off Drew Hutchison’s first pitch of the game in the bottom of the second and two walks. Adams drew a walk in the 3-1 loss to the Phillies on Saturday. And he had a leadoff homer off Jake Arrieta in the bottom of the second and a single in the 5-4 win over the Phillies on Sunday afternoon. Adams now has a .412 on-base percentage and a .676 slugging percentage over 85 plate appearances this season. How many offseason signings look better right now than Matt Adams at one year and $4 million?
Wilmer Difo continued to bat in the no. 3 spot in all three games in the series, going 4-for-10 with a homer, a double and two walks. Difo in the 7-3 win over the Phillies on Friday night had a double, a single and two walks. He in the 3-1 loss to the Phillies on Saturday had a one-out solo homer off Vince Velasquez in the bottom of the fifth on a 1-2 pitch for the Nats’ only run. And Difo in the 5-4 win over the Phillies on Sunday afternoon had a bases-loaded walk-off single off Hector Neris (who could not find the plate) and a walk. Difo now has a .393 on-base percentage this season.
4. Max Scherzer was sensational in the 5-4 win over the Phillies on Sunday afternoon, allowing one run in 6 1/3 innings with an incredible 15 strikeouts versus three doubles, two singles, two walks and a hit-by-pitch. He became the first pitcher in the live-ball era (since the start of the 1920 season) to have 15 strikeouts in a game in which he recorded 19 outs or less. Max recorded 12 consecutive outs via strikeout at one point in this game; that’s the second longest such streak in a single game since 1961. He threw 71 of his 111 pitches for strikes. And the funny part about all of this? It came on the 20th anniversary of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game for the Cubs.
But what was especially interesting to me was that Max did this on a day on which the Dodgers placed Clayton Kershaw on the 10-day disabled list with left biceps tendinitis, marking a third consecutive season in which he has gone on a DL. The reason that people like me now have Max ranked ahead of Kershaw is durability. Inning for inning, Kershaw’s better. But you have gotten many more innings from Max since the start of the 2016 season. Sunday really captured that. Max’s numbers now over eight starts this season: 1.74 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 13.94 K/9.
5. It wasn’t just Max, though, who was good for the Nats from a starting-pitching standpoint in this series. The Nats’ rotation is on a nice run right now.
Tanner Roark in the 3-1 loss to the Phillies on Saturday was pretty good all things considered. He allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings; that’s not great, but two of the runs came on a full-count two-run homer by Rhys Hoskins in the top of the first with no outs. Roark then tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings before giving up a run in the top of the sixth on a one-out triple by Carlos Santana on a 1-2 pitch immediately followed by an RBI single by Maikel Franco. Roark ultimately gave up six hits, three walks and a hit-by-pitch, but he also had nine strikeouts. What stood out as much as anything was his pitch count – 115. He now has thrown 100 or more pitches in five of his last six starts and has thrown at least 103 pitches in each of his last four starts.
And props to Gio Gonzalez for doing as he did in the 7-3 win over the Phillies on Friday night, as he continued pitching in the top of the fifth even after a 39-minute rain delay. Not every starting pitcher would be up for that. Gio was pulled after the fifth inning, but his final line was terrific: five scoreless innings on five strikeouts versus just two doubles and two walks. He now has a 2.33 ERA over seven starts this season. He also now has lasted for less than six innings in five of seven starts this season, but this start on Friday night obviously was a little different.
6. The Nats’ bullpen did have a bad series, allowing six runs in 9 1/3 innings over the three games.
Trevor Gott got got in the 7-3 win over the Phillies on Friday night, allowing three runs and recording just one out in the top of the sixth. Gott retired Odubel Herrera on a groundout but then in succession gave up a single to Aaron Altherr, a two-run homer to Carlos Santana and a solo homer to Maikel Franco on a 1-2 pitch. Gott then left the game with a sprained ankle. But then came the rest of the game for the Nats’ bullpen. Wander Suero, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler combined for 3 2/3 scoreless innings. Suero was especially good, retiring all five batters he faced.
Sammy Solis and Suero combined for 2 2/3 scoreless innings in the 3-1 loss to the Phillies on Saturday.
But Solis, Kintzler and Carlos Torres combined to allow three runs in 1 2/3 innings in the 5-4 win over the Phillies on Sunday afternoon. Solis faced one batter, allowing a one-out RBI single to Nick Williams on a 1-2 pitch in the Phillies’ three-run seventh. Kintzler then came in, struck out Cesar Hernandez but then gave up an RBI double to Rhys Hoskins on a 1-2 pitch and then a full-count RBI single to Odubel Herrera. Torres gave up a one-out solo homer to Maikel Franco in the top of the eighth.
But did you notice what Dave Martinez then did in that win on Sunday afternoon? He brought in his closer while trailing 4-3 in the top of the ninth. Sean Doolittle had two strikeouts in a scoreless ninth, preserving the one-run deficit and setting the stage for the two-run bottom of the ninth. I love that Martinez has been anything but a “slave to the save” this season regarding Dollittle’s usage.