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Federal Reserve: Hitter and Pitcher of the Year

Throughout the year, the poker room Federal Reserve handed out monthly award winners to highlight some of the best performances in the minors this year. Now, the time has come to handout the final prizes of the season, the Hitter and Pitcher of the Year Awards.

The races in both fields were competitive. In the end, however, two already lauded prospects took the awards, with the hitter tearing through his league en route to Washington and the pitcher living up to, if not exceeding, the lofty expectations that surrounded him.

Hitter of the Year: Steven Souza Jr., Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs

Souza could never play another inning in a Nationals uniform and will still be remembered for his game-ending catch that preserved Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on Sunday. Considering his production in the minors, however, the outfielder could be a key piece to the team’s future.

Logging 407 plate appearances across 96 games for the Chiefs, Souza batted an International-League-leading .354/.427/.577 with 18 home runs, 77 RBIs, and a 180 wRC+. He also displayed considerable speed, swiping 28 bases in 35 attempts. Souza’s production helped lead the Chiefs to their first playoff appearance since 1998, while earning him league MVP and organizational Player of the Year honors. When including his two brief rehab stints with Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac, Souza batted .345/.427/.577 in 100 minor league games.

With all three of their regular outfielders likely to return, the Nationals have a tough choice to make with Souza. Having already dominated Triple-A, another stint at that level is unnecessary. Considering that Scott Hairston’s deal is set to expire, the Nationals could use Souza off their bench, where his combination of power, speed, and defense could make him a productive reserve.

Runner-up: Michael Taylor, Double-A Harrisburg Senators and Chiefs

Pitcher of the Year: Lucas Giolito, Low-A Hagerstown Suns

Giolito entered this season as one of the game’s most hyped prospects, with the only major concern being how his health would hold up in his first full season after Tommy John surgery. Those fears were quickly muted, as the righthander dominated the South Atlantic League (SAL).

Making 20 starts, Giolito went 10-2 with a 2.20 ERA, 3.16 FIP, and a 110:28 K:BB ratio in 98 innings pitched. While he was consistent throughout the season, his performance made a considerable spike with his dominant July. During that month, Giolito went 4-0 with a 1.19 ERA and a 33:5 K:BB ratio in 28 and 1/3 innings, including a start on the 25th against Kannapolis (White Sox) in which he allowed 1 hit while striking out 9.

As part of their protocol with pitchers recovering from Tommy John, the Nationals shut Giolito down in August. His numbers with the Suns netted him several honors, including the SAL’s Most Outstanding Pitcher and Prospect awards, organizational Pitcher of the Year, and a selection to the MLB All-Star Futures Game.

Giolito is more than living up to his billing as one of the game’s top pitching prospects. At just 20-years-old, he figures to open next season with the Potomac Nationals.

Runner-up: Austin Voth, Suns, Nationals, and Senators.

Minors Notes:

  • On Tuesday, Matt Eddy of Baseball America ranked the power and speed combinations among minor league players this season. Michael Taylor topped the list, with Steven Souza Jr. coming in fifth and infielder Wilmer Difo ranking eighth.
  • A reminder that next week will mark the conclusion of the Federal Reserve’s weekly updates. However, occasional posts, including Arizona Fall League coverage, will be provided until February, when the weekly content resumes.
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Stop Vilifying Fans For Leaving Saturday’s Game Early

Yesterday, I decided to take a day off from baseball writing. I didn’t want to write when the emotion from Saturday night’s (into Sunday morning’s) record-setting game was still raw. The frustration from the Game Two loss has not totally subsided, but there is one particularly frustrating narrative that has been blasted across local and national media: how outrageous it was that Washington Nationals fans dared to leave a tight playoff game early. I am extremely disappointed in people who have adopted this viewpoint.

There are a lot of points to make here to give people legitimate excuses for leaving early. It was incredibly cold as the game wore on, and many weren’t dressed properly because the afternoon temperatures were incredible. There were families with young children leaving, undoubtedly due to the temperatures and game length. The game wore on into Sunday, when many get up for church services or to spend time with family before the work week begins again.

However, none of these reasons hit on the most important point: some people have lives outside of baseball. Not everyone watches every game or lives and dies by every pitch. Not everyone believes it is their best use of time to spend nearly six and a half hours at a ballpark watching a game. I stayed until the bitter end, and then some, on Saturday, because baseball is a huge part of my life (and I have an extraordinarily supportive spouse.) Others have different priorities, and there is nothing wrong with that.

We absolutely have to stop vilifying fellow fans for the way they choose to enjoy sports. Whether someone is a life-long (or 10-year long in the case of the Nationals) fan of their team or a new fan who is excited about having playoff baseball in their city, people watch the game for different reasons. Any reason that those fans choose is completely acceptable.

Baseball fans come in all types, and we should be encouraging all of them to keep enjoying the game that we love. We should not be criticizing them for not enjoying it the correct way, and we certainly shouldn’t criticize them for deciding they’ve had enough after five, or six, or six and a half hours of baseball.

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Some Thoughts From The Longest Game In Playoff History

Jordan Zimmermann At His Peak - We have watched Jordan Zimmermann grow up, from an underrated draft pick out of the University of Wisconsin Stevens-Point, to the Nats sole pitching prospect in an era when there wasn’t much to look forward to. We were there when he went through Tommy John surgery, and we’ve seen him recover in remarkable fashion to the tune of two All-Star nods. Perhaps most importantly, we have seen him reach the top of the mountain in a game where so many never make it. Jordan Zimmermann took the mound last night at the age of 28 at the top of the game, making his first 2014 postseason start after the best outing of his career (a no-hitter), during his best season of his career, and he left having made perhaps the best October outing anyone possibly could. Jordan Zimmermann has done more for this team in 2014 than you could ask any starting pitcher to do for any franchise, and the club let him down.

Zimmermann for the second consecutive start here at Nats park was immaculate. He pitched 8 2/3rds innings, allowing just three hits, and one fateful walk. He relied heavily on his fastball, throwing it 85% of the time, but he used it to pound the zone. Of his 85 fastballs, 61 were strikes. 10 induced whiffs by the Giants batters, and while 17 fastballs were put into play, only one was a hit. He neutralized the opposition the way he has all season long, the Nats just needed to put runs on the board. 

The Decision To Pull Jordan Zimmermann - Zimmermann had retired 20 straight Giants hitters before allowing a (questionable) walk to Joe Panik in the top of the 9th last night. With ball four, he had reached 100 pitches, and with the tying run on base and two outs Matt Williams pulled the right hander to bring in his closer, Drew Storen. Had Storen retired Buster Posey or Pablo Sandoval, there would be no second guessing this decision, however with the Nats’ closer blowing the save, people are asking if it was the right decision. 

There are two ways  you can choose to look at this. One is that they should have kept Zimmermann in to complete what he started. In his last 18.2 innings pitched, he had allowed three hits, no earned runs, just one walk, and struck out 17. He was the hottest pitcher in baseball, and arguably the hottest a pitcher could possibly be. He had mowed down the Giants, allowing just one base runner in 21 batters, and he has the history of showing that he has the guts to record a final out when needed. On the other side, Drew Storen has been electric since the club made him the closer this year. You were in a situation where if it were the regular season, it might be nice to keep Zimmermann in to allow him to battle for the complete game shutout, but in a realistic postseason situation where you are down one game, you need to bring in the guy whose job it is to shut the door, especially when he is fresh. 

While I wouldn’t have second-guessed Williams leaving in Zimmermann to complete what he started, I feel he did make the right move in bringing in the closer. Unfortunately as fate would have it, that closer went on to add to his spotty past in the postseason. 

Drew Storen As The Nationals’ Closer - What is there to say? Drew Storen was absolutely terrible last night. Matt Williams gave him the ultimate bid of confidence, bringing him in with the game on the line, taking out their best pitcher to do so. As stated above, that was the right move. You go to your guy, that’s why he is your closer and you have to have confidence he will finish the game…now, after second consecutive playoff blown save, you have to wonder whether Storen can still be that guy for this team. 

Storen needed one out. He threw three pitches. One was a hard hit foul ball. The other two were smashed line drives, one by Buster Posey to move Panik to second base, and one was the roped double that resulted in Posey being called out at home plate after the tying run scored. The only out Storen recorded, was from a relay play at the plate, where he very well could have been ruled safe. In his last two post-season save opportunities, he has allowed five hits, five earned runs, two walks, and recorded just four outs in two blown saves. Now facing an 0-2 deficit, if the Nats enter the ninth with a lead again, you have to wonder if they can trust bringing him in. 

Asdrubal Cabrera’s Ejection - Cabrera was ejected after arguing two high strike calls in the bottom of the 10th inning. You can see the debacle here. Cabrera was visibly upset with the strike two call, which appeared to be at the top of the zone but called very, very late by 35-year-old umpire Vic Carapazza. When the next pitch in a similar spot was called for strike three, Cabrera completely lost it and was immediately ejected. While it was good to see at least some passion from this club, the ejection was short sided and really showed how much the Nats have been pressing to score runs. Was Cabrera upset about the call? Sure. However I’m willing to bet that his inability to get on base in a situation where the season was on the line played a large role in why he was so passionately upset. 

The biggest downside of the ejection here though, was that Cabrera was not in the lineup for the rest of the 18 inning game. While Danny Espinosa made some great plays defensively in his place, offensively he was a black hole. Those at bats could have been taken by Cabrera, and if they had, the team had a better chance of winning last night. 

Matt Williams’ Ejection - Some were upset that Williams was ejected last night after going out to defend Cabrera. I’m not. This team has been playing flat for two games, and I’m sure Williams felt that he needed to show that he was willing to fight for his team, even if the rest of the team wasn’t fighting for themselves yet. Some may say the manager needs to help his team gather composure there, and usually I would agree, but sometimes a manager needs to light a spark. While that may not have happened in the ensuing eight innings, I think Williams made the right choice to go out swinging. 

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Keys to the Game: Washington Nationals vs. San Francisco Giants – NLDS Game 1

The Washington Nationals hosted their first ever Game 1 on Friday afternoon, and there were 44,035 fans here to see it. While the San Francisco Giants walked away with the 3-2 victory, there were a lot of positives to glean from the game.

The Keys to the Game

Hunter Strickland Ks Desmond with bases loaded – The Nats had their first real chance to get into the game in the sixth. With the bases loaded and two out, Ian Desmond faced Strickland, who regularly hits triple-digits on the radar gun. Desmond struck out after getting a couple fastballs over the plate.

Strasburg comes out amped, loses command later – Strasburg came out throwing darts in the first inning. The first four pitches of the game showed 97, 98, 98, and 98 on the radar gun. He never blew up in any inning, but he did lose some command as the game went on. It’s possible that throwing gas in the first inning and a half impacted his effectiveness later. Still, he only allowed one earned run on eight softly-hit singles, so he did a great job limiting damage.

Peavy hits for himself – With 84 pitches to his name through five innings, Jake Peavy hit for himself with two on and none out in the top of the sixth. The Giants had a chance to do real damage in that inning, but instead gave up an out and weren’t able to tack on an additional run against a very effective Jerry Blevins.

Harper, Cabrera crush home runs in 7th – Strickland stayed in the game to start the seventh inning, and Bryce Harper really made him pay for it. Harper absolutely massacred a baseball several rows into the third deck to put the Nats on the board. Two batters later, Asdrubal Cabrera lined his own solo shot into the Nats bullpen, which made it a 3-2 game. As a favorite aside, both players had phenomenal bat flips.

The Takeaway

Despite losing the game, the Nats had some chances late and hit two massive bombs. Unfortunately, the thing that many will take away from this game was that Strasburg didn’t pitch well, which is patently untrue. While he gave up eight hits in five plus innings, none was hit hard, and he allowed zero extra base hits. Further, he allowed just one earned run. This game was evenly matched, Peavy pitched better, and the Giants won a close contest.

The Next One

NLDS Game Two – Jordan Zimmermann vs. Tim Hudson at 5:37 pm (Nationals Park)

(Featured Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Graphic work by Drew Jennison (https://twitter.com/uadrew)

My Nationals Themed Wedding (Why I Have The Best Wife In The World)

Photos by DC Photographer Laura Wainman (https://www.facebook.com/lcwphotos)

Photos by DC Photographer Laura Wainman (https://www.facebook.com/lcwphotos)

They say that a couple who shares interests together, stays together. That poses an interesting challenge for a fanatic baseball blogger when trying to find someone to share the rest of your life with. Fortunately for me, I found a wonderful woman to fall in love with me, and she knew right away that part of getting me was a package deal with falling in love with the Washington Nationals as well. Like in any relationship, she had to learn the important numbers, like my cell, my date of birth, and in our case she quickly learned how to recite the Nats lineup and starting rotation. That’s how I knew it was true love.

When getting married this summer, we knew that we had to incorporate our love of the Nationals into our special day somehow. Our first thought was to see if we could have the reception at Nats Park, but with that being way out of our budget we had to find a creative way to incorporate not only the Nats as a team, but the players we love watching together every night.

Photos by DC Photographer, and Nats fan, Laura Wainman https://www.facebook.com/lcwphotos

Photos by DC Photographer, and Nats fan, Laura Wainman https://www.facebook.com/lcwphotos

One trend we had noticed at weddings in recent years is that some couple’s have given the tables at their weddings different names based on themes that related to the couple. So for instance, at Awful Announcing blogger Matt Yoder’s wedding, he had Harry Potter themed tables (I think we sat at the forbidden forrest), and at my other friend Matt’s wedding last summer, we sat at the Wrigley Field table, which was one of him and his wife Maddie’s first dates. So for us the answer was obvious; instead of having table numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 etc.., we should name our tables after our favorite Nats players and number them by their jersey number. We also decided that we should post a photo at each table of the two of us, photoshopped with the respective player.

The Head Table – Table #6

Graphic work by Drew Jennison (https://twitter.com/uadrew)

Graphic work by Drew Jennison (https://twitter.com/uadrew)

Table #34

Bryce HarperTable #2

Spendon

Table #37

Strasburg 2

 

Table #20

Desmond

Table #28

Werth Dog

Table #25

Laroche Pic

Table #47

Gonzalez Pic

Table #40

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It ended up being a big hit, and the Nats happened to win that night 11-0 over the Phillies. Oh, and she said “I do,” too. Here are some other baseball related photos from our special, taken by our awesome Washington Nats’ Fan wedding photographer, Laura Wainman.

 

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It should be noted, for the record, that since our wedding the Nats have gone 38-17. #Rally Wedding.

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Strasburg Cruises in Game 161

As the Washington Nationals (95-66) prepare for the playoffs, presumptive Game 1 starter Stephen Strasburg dominated the Miami Marlins (77-84) over six innings, allowing no runs in an eventual 5-1 win.

Strasburg (W, 14-11) was at his absolute best, stymying the Marlins throughout his outing. The Miami bats found no purchase against his devastating pitches, including his fastball that scraped 98, his 12-6 curveball, and his changeup that fooled the most discerning of eyes. In six innings, he gave up no runs on two hits and one walk while striking out seven.

He ends the year with 242 punchouts, a total that leads the National League. He will maintain at least a tie for the league lead unless Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto can strike out eight or more batters tomorrow. He also lowers his final ERA to a tidy 3.14.

On offense, it was business as usual for the Nats. Strasburg earned his third RBI of the year on a second-inning sacrifice that scored Bryce Harper from third. Adam LaRoche scored another run with a bases-loaded groundout in the fifth. But the Nationals didn’t break out until the eighth, when Asdrubal Cabrera clocked a bases-clearing double that turned a slim 2-0 lead into a colossal 5-0 one.

The night’s other offensive storyline was the Denard Span. By his lofty standards it was not notable: he was 2-for-3 with a pair of singles. But the two hits helped the center fielder set three important marks. The knocks were his 182nd and 183rd of the year, tying the team record for hits in a season that was originally set by Cristian Guzman in 2008. The game was also his 58th multi-hit effort of the season, breaking a tie he had with Guzman for the record at 57.

Third, and not least important, the hits pushed him to a .301 batting average from .299. He can now safely play the first half of the Nationals’ final game of the year without worrying about his batting average. In fact, he can go 0-for-3 and still be hitting .300, so he should have two or three shots at setting the team hits record.

Anyway, back to the game, insignificant though it may have been. Drew Storen had some trouble in the ninth, giving up a pair of singles and then an unearned run on two errors, but he escaped too much incident in locking down the Nationals’ 95th win of the year. With the best record in the NL wrapped up, the Nats simply await the winner of the NL Wild Card game, which could be the San Francisco Giants, the Pittsburgh Pirates, or the St. Louis Cardinals.

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Pitching Falters In Nationals’ Lopsided Loss To Marlins

Just hours after they clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Washington Nationals (94-66) took their first breath of the 2014 season. For the first time in 159 games, nothing was at stake. But as they exhaled, they collapsed and suffered a 15-7 beating at the hands of the Miami Marlins (77-83).

Friday night’s contest was the antithesis of the clean, 4-0 win and complete game shutout orchestrated by Doug Fister in the first game of the day-night double header. Game 160 saw a less than five-inning outing from Nats’ starter Taylor Hill, two errors and a complete bullpen meltdown in late innings.

Hill made his third appearance and first start of the season for the Nationals, who were short-staffed through their baseball marathon of two double headers in two days. Hill gave up one run in each of the first two innings, but settled in for the third and fourth. He got the first two batters of the fifth inning to strike out and ground out, but then faced five batters and gave up four runs without converting the final out. He was replaced by Ross Detwiler, who gave up the seventh earned run charged to Hill.

The relief performances that followed spanned the spectrum. Aaron Barrett, Rafael Soriano and Ryan Mattheus each pitched a scoreless inning, with Barrett giving up the only hit. But Xavier Cedeno and Craig Stammen both officially pitched zero innings – Cedeno faced three batters and Stammen faced six without recording an out – and gave up eight runs between the two of them.

A rough outing from Cedeno, who spent most of his season at Triple-A, was less surprising than Stammen’s ninth-inning fracas. Stammen hadn’t allowed an earned run since Aug. 24, and his ERA was 3.22. But after giving up four consecutive singles and a grand slam to Enrique Hernandez, his ERA ballooned to 3.84.

Possibly the most impressive outing of the night was Mattheus’, who entered to clean up Stammen’s mess and got all three outs on just four pitches.

The damage was done, though. Despite what would have been a successful offensive night in most other games, the Nationals saw the Marlins outdo their run and hit totals by almost double. The Nats had seven runs on 12 hits, compared with the Marlins’ 15 runs on 22 hits.

Jayson Werth led the offense with a 3-for-4 night. He had one RBI and two runs, and was just a home run away from hitting for the cycle. Steven Souza Jr. and Tyler Moore both homered, and Michael Taylor and Kevin Frandsen both went 2-for-5 with one run scored each.

The crowd had as much to cheer for as to bemoan in the lopsided loss, but with two games remaining in the regular season, the Nationals are going to want to use those games to go out on a good note and let the fans cheer them into the postseason.

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Washington Nationals Starting Pitchers Peaking At The Right Time

Gio Gonzalez had his best start of the season on Thursday night against the New York Mets, posting a Bill James Game Score of 85 by striking out 12 in seven innings while giving up just one hit. Gio’s performance was just the latest example of how the Washington Nationals starting pitchers are peaking at the right time with just one week until Game One of the Nationals League Division Series in D.C.

If you sort National League pitchers by WAR over the course of the season, Nats pitchers are prominently featured. Clayton Kershaw obviously leads the pack, but Jordan Zimmermann is second. Stephen Strasburg is fourth. Gonzalez and Tanner Roark fall just outside the top 10 at 11th and 12th, respectively.

Over the last 30 days, the numbers paint an even more impressive picture of the Nats top three pitchers. Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmermann are fifth, sixth, and seventh, respectively, in WAR among NL starters. All three have ERAs below 2.50, and Strasburg is sitting at a minuscule 1.34 ERA. If you sort by FIP, all three are in the top 10 in that period, with Gonzalez leading the Nats group in fourth behind Jacob deGrom, Jake Arrieta, and Kershaw.

What do all of these numbers mean? The Nationals starters have been superb all season long, but they’ve been nearly untouchable over the last month. On top of that, the three pitchers with the best stuff have shone above the rest. Gonzalez’s and Strasburg’s walk numbers are way down from career averages while maintaining impressive strikeout rates, while Zimmermann is striking out more batters than usual.

Their season stats are all impressive, but they’re peaking their already impressive performances just as they head into October for their toughest tests of the long season. A healthy, deep offensive lineup compliments among the most elite pitching staffs in the league, hoping for a better result than their last trip to the postseason. Their performances lately certainly bode well for this year’s push through October.

All stats from FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

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Gonzalez Strikes Out 12 In Nats Win Over Mets

The Washington Nationals (93-65) haven’t yet announced their playoff rotation, but on Thursday night Gio Gonzalez made his case to secure his place in it.

In the Nationals’ 3-0 win, Gonzalez shut out the New York Mets (77-82) for seven innings, gave up just one hit and struck out a career-high 12 batters. His command was nearly flawless, as he threw 70 of 103 pitches for strikes and issued just two walks. His signature curveball was also on point, and he threw it for strike three in five of his 12 strikeouts.

Gonzalez (W, 10-10) mowed through the Mets’ lineup for the first five innings, facing the minimum 15 batters in that span. Mets’ starter Zack Wheeler (L, 11-11) had similar success, facing just two over the minimum until the fourth inning when the Nats offense broke out.

The Nationals scored all three of their runs in the fourth inning, and all by unconventional means. Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos kicked the inning off with back-to-back singles. After Nate Schierholtz walked to load the bases, Tyler Moore grounded into a fielder’s choice to bring home the first run. Scott Hairston followed with a walk, but a passed ball by catcher Anthony Recker allowed another run to score. Danny Espinosa hit the third single of the inning to re-load the bases, and the final run crossed the plate when Anthony Rendon was hit by a pitch.

Outside of the fourth inning, the offense was relatively quiet. Nats hitters totaled just six hits and struck out 10 times. But thanks to the stellar performances from the pitchers, the Mets were limited to three hits with 14 strikeouts.

Matt Thornton notched his 18th hold in the eighth inning, and Drew Storen converted his 11th save in 11 tries in a 1-2-3 ninth.

The win sealed the season series victory for the Nationals, who beat the Mets in 15 of 19 contests this year. By taking the second game of the day-night double header, the Nats lowered their magic number to secure home field advantage to one game.

They will get two chances to win that one game on Friday, when they play their second double header in as many days, this time against the Miami Marlins.

treinen 9-25

Late Inning Runs Sink Nats In Game 1

Though they still have something to play for, the Washington Nationals (92-65) started just four regular starters in their first of two games against the New York Mets (77-81) today, and listlessly fell thanks to three runs between the eighth and ninth, losing 7-4.

Blake Treinen got the start, but posted the worst start of his MLB career. In a 4.1 inning outing that pushed him over the 50-inning limit and removed his rookie eligibility, he gave up four runs on eight hits, walking one and striking out one. He had never allowed more than two runs in an outing in his career prior to this game, but a strong argument can be made that his poor performance today was due to bad luck.

Treinen was his usual self, balls-in-play wise, getting his 13 outs on eight groundballs and three fly balls, in addition to his strikeout. And of the eight hits he gave up, only one went for extra bases, so it’s possible that at least a few of the singles he gave up were simply groundballs that found holes.

Even with his bad outing, Treinen finishes his rookie season with a 2.49 ERA and 3.09 FIP in 50.2 innings, certainly a resounding success by any standard for a player who came to the Nationals as a throw-in from Oakland in the Michael Morse trade.

On offense, some younger Nats made impacts as well. In terms of his tenure, Nate Schierholtz may be the youngest Nat, and he hit a fifth-inning single to cut the New York lead to 4-2. Age-wise, Michael Taylor is very much a young Nat, and he followed Schierholtz’s hit with a game-tying, two run single of his own.

Taylor may see a bit more action this year, and has not exhausted his rookie eligibility, but he has acquitted himself reasonably well in his cup of coffee. He hit just .195, but a high walk rate and power stroke pushed his OBP and slugging percentage to .286 and .355 respectively. He should spend next season at AAA Syracuse, and if he can continue to improve his stock, could take over for Denard Span when his contract expires after next season.

But it was a very long tenured Nat who blew the lead. The supremely reliable Tyler Clippard gave up a pair of runs in the eighth inning, and Ryan Mattheus ceded another in the ninth to seal it for the Mets.

The Nats went on to win the second game of the double header. Spoiler! Their magic number for the NL’s best record is 1.