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.


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.


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.


Federal Reserve: 2014’s Top Performing Minor Leaguers

Next week the Federal Reserve will hand out its final awards of the season, the Pitcher and Player of the Year. Before doing that, however, it seems appropriate to honor the best players at each position in the Nationals’ Farm System.

The criteria is simple. With the roster construction based off of Baseball America’s Postseason All-Stars, minus the use of a DH, there are eight position players, five starting pitchers, and a closer. Ineligible from this list are players who appeared exclusively with short season teams, as the roster is composed of players from the Auburn Doubledays, Hagerstown Suns, Potomac Nationals, Harrisburg Senators, and Syracuse Chiefs.

Catcher: Spencer Kieboom, Suns
361 .309 .352 .500 9 61 5.8% 18.6 2 2

First Base: John Wooten, Suns, Doubledays*, and Nationals

422 .293 .335 .474 12 72 5.5% 15.4 5 5

Second Base: Tony Renda, Nationals

472 .307 .381 .377 0 75 9.1% 12.5% 19 5

Third Base: Drew Ward, Suns

478 .269 .341 .413 10 72 8.8% 25.3% 2 2

Shortstop: Wilmer Difo, Suns

610 .315 .360 .470 14 90 6.1% 10.7% 49 9


Destin Hood, Senators, Doubledays*, and Chiefs

420 .298 .348 .460 11 42 6.4% 21.5% 10 3

Michael Taylor, Senators and Chiefs

493 .304 .390 .526 23 61 11.6% 29.2% 37 9

Steven Souza Jr., Chiefs, Suns*, and Doubledays*

419 .345 .427 .577 18 77 12.4% 19.1% 28 7

That group includes two MVP winners in Difo and Steven Souza, who claimed the South Atlantic (SAL) and International League honors respectively. Souza is also one of two players to debut in the majors this year, with the other being Michael Taylor.

Starting Pitchers
A.J. Cole, Senators and Chiefs
Wins Losses ERA IP Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
13 3 3.16 134 111 32 7.5 2.1

Taylor Hill, Chiefs

Wins Losses ERA IP Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
11 7 2.81 144 86 25 5.4 1.6

Lucas Giolito, Suns

Wins Losses ERA IP Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
10 2 2.20 98 110 28 10.1 2.6

Reynaldo Lopez, Doubledays and Suns

Wins Losses ERA IP Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
7 3 1.08 83.1 70 62 7.6 2.8

Austin Voth, Suns, Nationals, and Senators

Wins Losses ERA IP Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
7 7 2.77 126.2 133 38 9.4 2.7


Jake Walsh, Suns and Nationals

Games IP Saves Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
37 52 12 54 14 9.3 2.4

*Denotes time spent with team on rehab assignment.

Cole and Giolito lived up to their billing as two of the Nationals’ top pitching prospects, with Giolito winning the SAL’s Most Outstanding Pitcher and Prospect awards. Voth, Hill, and Lopez all had breakout sasons, as Lopez’s was highlighted by a 38 and 1/3 consecutive scoreless-innings streak between Auburn and Hagerstown.

In the bullpen is Walsh, a 34th-round selection in 2013 who broke out with a solid season. After earning an All-Star selection with a 1.45 ERA and a 7.8 K/9 in 31 innings at Hagerstown, the lefthander was equally impressive in Potomac, where he posted a 1.71 ERA and an 11.6 K/9 in 21 frames.

Minors Notes:

  • The Nationals announced today that Steven Souza Jr was named Minor League Player of the Year, while Lucas Giolito was named the Pitcher of the Year. In addition, the organization honored Wilmer Difo with the second-annual Bob Boone Award.
  • Ben Badler of Baseball America named Jakson Reetz the 14th-best prospect of the Gulf Coast League (BA subscribers can access scouting reports here). Reetz’s successful stint in the short-season circuit was profiled in last week’s Federal Reserve. 

LaRoche Homers, Span Injured In Nationals’ Victory Over Mets

The last time the Washington Nationals (92-64) played at Nationals Park they lost a disappointing game to the Atlanta Braves that left their magic number to clinch a playoff position stuck at 10. On Tuesday, the Nats returned to Washington wearing their NL-East crown, chasing a different number after their 11-game road trip: Two.

With their 4-2 win over the New York Mets (76-81), the Nationals lowered their magic number to secure the National League’s best record and home field advantage during the playoffs to two more games.

The win was replete with exciting moments, rewarding an enthusiastic crowd that seemed already amped for October baseball. Tanner Roark had a quality start to earn his third consecutive win. Denard Span made a highlight-reel, headfirst diving catch to end a 1-2-3 inning for Roark, though it resulted in a right-knee injury for Span. Ryan Zimmerman returned from his own injury, making his first appearance at Nationals Park since July 20. Adam LaRoche hit his 26th home run of the year, and Drew Storen earned his 10th save in 10 tries.

Despite giving up a leadoff double to Matt den Dekker to start the game, Roark (W, 15-10) retired the next 12 consecutive batters, completely shutting the Mets down over the first four innings of the game. New York didn’t score until Roark gave up another leadoff double, this time to Wilmer Flores, who came around to score on a ground-rule double hit by Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Flores scored again on a sacrifice fly after hitting a single in the top of the seventh inning.

Those two runs would be all the Mets could muster, thanks largely to Roark, who gave up a total of five hits over 6 1/3 innings, striking out one and walking none to regain his tie with Doug Fister for most wins on the Nationals’ staff.

Roark’s dominance was aided by Span in the third inning, when his diving catch stole more extra bases from den Dekker. But after crashing into the wall, Span limped off the field and was replaced by rookie Michael Taylor. The substitution ultimately worked in the Nationals’ favor, as Taylor doubled in the first run of the game in the fifth inning.

In the same inning, with Taylor and Jayson Werth on base, LaRoche slugged a no-doubt home run over right field to give the Nationals a definitive lead.

In the bottom of the seventh, the pitcher’s spot was due to lead off, and the fans roared when they saw who was striding toward the batter’s box. The loudspeaker announced Ryan Zimmerman as a pinch hitter, and the crowd didn’t stop cheering for the most beloved National, even after he popped out on two pitches.

The cheering continued in the eighth inning when Tyler Clippard pitched around a Travis d’Arnaud triple – originally ruled an error by Bryce Harper but later reversed – to shut down the Mets and earn his 39th hold.

Storen (S, 10) took over in the ninth. Despite allowing a two-out single to Ruben Tejada, he got Bobby Abreu to ground out after an eight-pitch at-bat to end the inning and the game. The crowd exploded again.

The Nats have won nine of their last 10 games, and Tuesday’s win pushed their record to 28 games over .500. Their five-game winning streak is tied for longest active winning streak in the majors with the San Diego Padres, who at 75-81 have already been statistically eliminated from playoff contention.

People say the postseason belongs to the team that gets hot at the right time. If the Nationals can keep up this torrid winning pace through the remaining six games of the season and into October, that team just might be them.

strasburg 9-21

Strasburg Stifles Marlins as Nats Sweep

Often criticized, Stephen Strasburg reminded everyone today why he should start Game 1 of the NLDS for the Washington Nationals (91-64), as he shut out the Miami Marlins (74-79) over seven innings, leading the Nationals to a 2-1, sweep-clinching win.

With the victory, the Nationals’ magic number to clinch the NL’s best record, and therefore home field advantage until the World Series, slips to just four. They lead the Los Angeles Dodgers by 2.5 games for the top mark in the senior circuit.

Strasburg (W, 13-11) continued his stellar September. In four starts this month, he has given up four runs in 26 innings, good for a 1.38 ERA. He has struck out 25 men and walked just two, and given up only 19 hits.

For comparison, NL Cy Young mortal lock Clayton Kershaw has a 2.17 ERA in four September starts. He has 34 strikeouts in 29 innings, but has also walked eight batters and given up two unearned runs. Strasburg’s performance has given him a shot to be the first pitcher not named Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner to win NL Pitcher of the Month for the first time since April.

Today was what has become business as usual for the Nats’ ace. He hurled seven innings, giving up three hits. His peripherals were mediocre by his standards, as he broke a four-start walkless streak with two walks and struck out just five for his fewest strikeouts in 7+ IP since August 19th. But he got the job done nonetheless, and against a Miami offense that ranks around MLB average in most categories.

Offensively, the Nats did just enough. Nate Schierholtz knocked an RBI triple, the Nats’ third in two games, and was driven in by Anthony Rendon for a 2-0 lead in the fifth. They knocked seven hits off of Marlins starter Nathan Eovaldi, but drew no walks and could not bunch the hits well enough to land a heavy blow.

In his continuing campaign to let Rafael Soriano state his case for the playoffs, Manager Matt Williams inserted the deposed closer for the ninth inning. But he struggled once more, giving up a run on a double and a sacrifice fly, though he did manage to preserve the lead and record the save.

Soriano has now given up eight runs in his past ten outings. He was a huge part of this team in the first half, and was snubbed despite being a very deserving All-Star, but the Nats cannot afford to be sentimental with him. His odds of inclusion on the playoff roster are slipping towards zero.

Having completed a 9-2 road trip, the Nats will be off Monday before heading home for a seven-game stand to end the regular season. If they can grab home field advantage in the NLDS, a bonus for which their magic number is also four, they will be home for two more games when postseason play begins.

zimmerman 9-20

Nats Eke By Marlins in Zimmerman’s Return

Though they found plenty of success without him, Ryan Zimmerman returned to the Washington Nationals (90-64) lineup tonight, going 2-for-3 as they won their third straight game against the Miami Marlins (74-80) by a score of 3-2.

Zimmerman was activated Saturday after missing 55 games with a badly torn hamstring. He was hitting a healthy .282/.345/.456 in the 53 games he played earlier this season, as he also missed a significant amount of time with a broken thumb. But with his injuries (hopefully) behind him at last, Zimmerman and the Nationals can look forward to the playoffs, finally whole.

For the first time this series, the Nats trailed by more than one run. The Marlins struck twice, on an RBI single in the first inning and via two Nats errors in the fourth to grab a 2-0 lead. Jordan Zimmermann (W, 13-5) was not at his best, but still managed to hold the Marlins to just two runs, one earned, on five hits and no walks over six innings. He struck out four.

The Nats, meanwhile, could hardly scratch Miami starter Jarred Cosart. Acquired from the Houston Astros at the trade deadline, the ground-ball expert was at his best in the early going. He induced three inning-ending double plays in the first three innings, and was throwing a shutout on six hits through six innings. Though his peripheral stats have historically been poor, no one watching could deny his effectiveness despite his two walks and two strikeouts.

But in the seventh, he seemed to lose steam. He gave up a hard-hit ball to Zimmerman that Reed Johnson misplayed in the outfield, giving the hobbled (and hardly running) Zimmerman a stand-up triple that cut the lead to 2-1. Asdrubal Cabrera earned a triple of his own, scoring Wilson Ramos from first after Zimmerman was thrown out on a chopper, tying the game. It became only the sixth two-triple inning in Nationals history, and the first time ever both drove in runs, according to the team’s official Twitter.

After Cosart was pulled, Denard Span laced a single that scored Cabrera and handed Washington a 3-2 lead.

Aaron Barrett and Tyler Clippard both threw 1-2-3 innings, and set things up nicely for Drew Storen to earn his ninth save of the year. Though he had been great in his tenure so far, Storen got himself into a jam, putting runners on the corners with one out. Fortunately, he got a tailor-made ground ball and inning-ending double play to hand the Nats their 90th win of the season.

The win was the Nats’ 10th straight in games started by Zimmermann, the most in team history. Combined with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ loss, the Nats moved 2.5 games up in the chase for the NL’s best record, and dropped their magic number for that spot to five. They will gun for the sweep of Miami tomorrow.

gio 9-18

Two-Out Rally Pushes Nats Past Miami

Despite having clinched the NL East, the Washington Nationals (88-64) still have plenty to play for, and they acted like it tonight, as five straight two-out hits led to a five-run fourth in a game the Nats eventually won, 6-2, against the Miami Marlins (74-78).

This game’s beginning could not have been further from its end. Marlins starter Brad Hand mowed down the Nats his first time through the order, setting down the first nine Nats he faced in order. An RBI double from Reed Johnson handed Miami a 1-0 lead at the game’s one-third mark.

But when the inning marker turned to “4”, a switch seemed to flip at Marlins Park, and both teams remembered who they were.

Anthony Rendon busted up Hand’s perfect game with a one-out single in the fourth. With two outs, he was nearly picked off in an attempted steal of second, but seemed to beat out the first baseman’s throw to second, which sailed into the outfield and rendered the question moot. The play was scored a stolen base.

At that moment, the hit parade began. Wilson Ramos blistered an RBI double to center, tying the game. The next four Nats to bat each singled, driving in three runs and scoring a fourth on a poor throw to second by Johnson. The inning finally ended when Gio Gonzalez popped up, meaning the Nats sent as many batters to the plate in the fourth inning as they did in the first three combined.

A four-run cushion was all Gonzalez (W, 9-10) needed, as he flashed his best form since returning from the disabled list.

The lefty, who has suffered through a difficult season by his standards, set down ten straight Fish after Johnson’s RBI. An infield single would be the only other Miami RBI hit for the rest of the game.

Gonzalez’s line reflected his excellence: 7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K. Notorious for his control issues, Gonzalez often walks multiple batters in a start, so it should not be a major surprise that Thursday was only his second walk-less start of the season. But Gonzalez may be on an upward trajectory, as the other was two weeks ago against Philadelphia. In his past six starts, Gonzalez has a 2.79 ERA and 29 strikeouts to just seven walks in 38.2 innings.

A fifth-inning RBI double from Jayson Werth padded the lead, and perfect innings from Craig Stammen and Rafael Soriano (!!!) slammed the door. The Nats maintained a 1.5 game lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers for the league’s best record, the only goal the Nats still have to play for.