Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ regular-season-ending four-game split with the Pirates
Game 1: 5-4 win on Thursday night (Sept. 28)
Game 2: 6-1 win on Friday night (Sept. 29)
Game 3: 4-1 loss on Saturday night (Sept. 30)
Game 4: 11-8 loss on Sunday (Oct. 1)
1. The Nats finished the regular season 97-65. The 97 wins are the second most in franchise history (98 in 2012). The run differential of +147 is second to last season’s +151 for the best in franchise history. But this season’s Nats were more impressive than last season’s from a standpoint of who they beat. The 2016 Nats fattened up on the lowly National League East, going 51-25 within the division versus just 32-34 against the rest of the NL. The 2017 Nats went 47-29 within the division but also 40-26 against the rest of the NL, including 21-11 against the NL West.
2. A bizarre final two months of the regular season for Max Scherzer ended on Saturday night. He tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts versus just a single and a walk before leaving in the top of the fourth. Scherzer landed awkwardly during a one-out battle with Josh Bell, fought to stay in the game, but was removed by Dusty Baker as a precautionary measure. An MRI exam confirmed that Scherzer was dealing with nothing more than a right hamstring cramp. This marked the fourth time over the last two months that Scherzer has dealt with a minor injury:
- Aug. 1 – 7-6 loss at Miami – Scherzer exited the game after an errant warm-up pitch prior to the bottom of the second due to spasms on the right side of his neck; this came not long after he had hit his first career home run in the top of the second, blasting a one-out three-run bomb on an 0-2 pitch off showing bunt.
- Aug. 19 – The Nats placed Scherzer on the 10-day disabled list due to inflammation on the left side of his neck. This was just the second DL stint of his career. He ended up missing two starts.
- Sept. 2 – 3-2 win at Milwaukee – Scherzer was struck 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.
3. Stephen Strasburg on Friday night concluded a sensational final month and-a-half of his regular season. He tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings on eight strikeouts versus just two singles and two walks on 98 pitches. Strasburg over eight starts since coming back from his right-elbow nerve impingement: 0.84 ERA (five earned runs in 53 2/3 innings), 63 strikeouts versus 10 walks.
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg delivers a pitch during the third inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
4. So who will be the Nats’ NLDS Game 1 starter against the Cubs on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.? Dusty Baker after Friday night’s win said that the Nats had decided on who their starter would be for their NLDS Game 1 against the Cubs this Friday, but he hinted that he might not announce that until Thursday. Dusty after Sunday afternoon’s loss said that Scherzer’s injury “probably” would affect the Nats’ NLDS rotation. For the record, there is no wrong choice between Scherzer and Strasburg. The argument for Scherzer is obvious – he has been the Nats’ best pitcher this season and over the last three seasons. The argument for Strasburg, though, is more compelling than ya might think:
- Strasburg has been the best pitcher in the majors over his last eight starts and has looked nothing but healthy since coming back from his right-elbow nerve impingement
- Scherzer, in extending himself in those back-to-back outsings against Atlanta on Sept. 13 and Sept. 19 (116 and 112 pitches, respectively) is better equipped to go deep into a game right now. What if Strasburg struggles in Game 1, necessitating a taxing game for the bullpen? You would want your starter for Game 2, which will be the next day, to go long. Scherzer would seem to be in the form to do that right now. You flip the script and who knows whow long Strasburg would be able to go in a Game 2 that followed a Game 1 in which the bullpen was used a bunch. Strasburg has thrown 100 or more pitches in a game just twice since July 18.
- Both the Game 1 and Game 2 starters, due to two travel days during the series, would be available on full rest for a Game 5.
5. It was disappointing to see the Nats’ two other likely NLDS starters, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark, struggle on Sunday afternoon. Gio, who has been under the weather lately, allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings. Roark allowed two runs in the top of the sixth. Gio ended what was an overall-terrific regular season by struggling in four of his final six starts.
6. Bryce Harper, who played in the final two games of the series at Philadelphia in his return from a 42-game absence caused by a hyperextended left knee, left-knee bone bruise and left calf strain, did not play on Thursday night due to knee soreness. He was back on Friday night and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts before leaving the game (as planned) to begin the top of the eighth. Dusty Baker admitted on Friday that Harper might not play a full nine-inning game before the postseason. Harper again went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Saturday night, leaving that game after eight innings. He had two singles, a walk and a stolen base on Sunday afternoon, leaving that game after seven innings. Actually, maybe the most encouraging thing we saw regarding Harper was him scoring from first on Adrian Sanchez’s RBI double in the bottom of the seventh on Sunday afternoon. All told, Harper went 3-for-18 with no extra-base hits and two walks and went 2-for-2 on steals over five games in his return from injury.
7. Howie Kendrick left Thursday night’s win due to a tight hamstring, but his replacement, Alejandro De Aza, came up big: RBI triple in the bottom of the seventh and a walk-off single on an 0-2 pitch in the bottom of the ninth. The Nats signed De Aza to a minor-league deal in June. He has played for seven teams over his 10 major-league seasons. Kendrick came off the bench in each of the final two games of the series and had a double on Sunday afternoon.
8. Multiple major Nats had big series:
- Ryan Zimmerman had a monster game on Friday night: two-run homer in a three-run sixth, a solo homer in a two-run eighth, an RBI double in the bottom of the first and another double. His 12 total bases tied a career high. Zimmerman also had two singles, including an RBI single on a 1-2 pitch in the bottom of the second, on Saturday night and drew a walk on Sunday afternoon.
- Daniel Murphy had three singles, including an RBI single, and a walk on Thursday night; two singles, including an RBI single, on Friday night; and two singles on Sunday afternoon.
- Anthony Rendon had two singles on Friday night and a three-run homer on Sunday afternoon.
- Trea Turner had two singles, a walk and a stolen base on Friday night and a double, a single, a walk and a stolen base on Sunday afternoon.
9. It is hard to say how much this means given the meaningless nature of this series, but the Nats’ bullpen did not do well in this series.
- Thursday night – Sean Doolittle, who had been 21-for-21 on saves with the Nats, finally had his first blown save with the team, giving a first-pitch leadoff single to Andrew McCutchen and then a first-pitch game-tying two-run homer to Josh Bell in the top of the ninth. Yes, two pitches, two runs. Prior to Doolittle coming into the game was the rest of the Law Firm getting the job done, as Brandon Kintzler tossed a perfect seventh and Ryan Madson tossed a perfect eighth.
- Friday night – Oliver Perez retired the only batter he faced, but Matt Grace allowed a run in the top of the ninth on a single to Starling Marte and a double to Andrew McCutchen to begin the inning. Grace also issued a one-out walk to David Freese.
- Saturday night – A.J. Cole and Enny Romero combined for 4 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Max Scherzer, but Kintzler gave up four runs in the top of the ninth on a bases-loaded triple, three singles and a walk.
- Sunday afternoon – Perez allowed three runs in the top of the eighth.
10. Edwin Jackson on Thursday night concluded his regular-season run (and maybe run period) with the Nats in 2017, and it was good to see him go out in a good way. He allowed two runs in six innings on seven strikeouts versus four hits, two walks and a wild pitch. The Nats signed Jackson to a minor-league deal in June off him having been terrible with the pitching-starved Orioles. He ended up being a really nice surprise, posting a 2.94 ERA over his first eight starts with the Nats this season. Things fell apart over his first four starts in September (22 earned runs in 16 innings) before that quality outing on Thursday night.