Aug 10, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves fans cheer in the background after Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (34) struck out against Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel (not pictured) in the ninth inning of their game at Turner Field. The Braves won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Now it’s a pennant race? Perhaps still bruised from last August’s repeated Braves’ beanings, Bryce Harper decided the Atlanta A behind home plate would pay the price, letting those obnoxious tomahawk chopping Atlanta fans know just how unhappy he is with their Southern hospitality. Good on you, young fella. Maybe the Nats lost the game, and the series, but no one wins championships for being nice, and that Alex Wood’s delivery reminds me a little too much of John Rocker’s to evoke happy thoughts. The letter A might be the third most used in the English language, but I for one have seen too much of it over the years. Lead the men into battle, Bryce, and God speed.
Last week could have gone better. 3-4 is a little disappointing, but the Nats had their opportunities in the losses (a horrible seventh inning against the O’s taking that game out of reach), and being 3 ½ up is still nice. It’s not exactly what is going on in Detroit time to worry or anything. Take heart in knowing that Ian Desmond’s quest for his third straight 20/20 season is nearing one phase of its completion by hitting his 19th home run on Sunday, so maybe that career high strikeout rate of 28.4% will drop from its Adam Dunn-like level.
Hooray, for victory!
Stephen Strasburg must really hate the Braves by this point. Strasburg is an Anthony Rendon ninth-inning home run away from being 0-3 against Atlanta, allowing 14 earned runs on 24 hits in just 15 1/3 innings. Well, at least his K/9 against them is 13.5 as he’s fanned 23. He’s got that going for him. When the idiom “in his wheelhouse” was invented, I’m not sure it wasn’t coined for this pitch to B.J. Upton. It only looks like Upton was admiring his work after he hit it. He just didn’t have time to move before it cleared the fence. On Friday, in a game where the Braves were entering with an eight-game losing streak, Strasburg allowed six runs in the first two innings (on three home runs), and it took a rain storm and some timely hitting to even make this a game. One of those home runs led to this:
Somehow Steven Souza, Jr. avoided both dental work and a shoulder sling, though the effort to get both should be commended. On Sunday, Souza was placed on the 15-day disabled list and give Nats fans a chance to see defensive ace Michael Taylor.
The other enigma of the starters, Gio Gonzalez, confounded as he so often does, looking both clueless and dominant all at the same time. After allowing five hits in the first two innings to the Mets, Gonzalez shut them down through the next four until exiting in the seventh after allowing a walk and an infield single. Then, against the Braves, he walked four (I’m taking the optimistic view and calling those strategic) but struck out the side in both the first and second. In his 19 games started this season, Gonzalez has lasted five or fewer innings in seven of them, and less than five innings in five starts. He’s both fun and maddening to watch in turns, but that’s Gio, brilliant and confounding in turns.
Doug Fister once again looked outstanding, going 7 1/3 against the Mets while allowing an unearned run, and Jordan Zimmermann pitched well enough to win in the third game in that series, but Drew Storen struggled to keep his inherited runners from scoring and the Mets scored the tying runs. Of course, without extra innings we would have been denied Harper’s game-winning home run, and aren’t memories more important?
Tanner Roark pitched OK against the Orioles until everything turned ugly in the seventh, but he pitched great against Atlanta, allowing six hits in seven innings while striking out six. Fister had the audacity to regain the team lead in ERA and WHIP for the starters, but Roark’s FIP is better. What now, Fister? Also, Roark is now ninth in the NL in ERA (Zimmermann is 12th and Fister does not qualify as of yet).
The bullpen struggled early in the week, allowing three straight hits to the Orioles in that awful seventh and would have been more if not for Rendon turning a Nelson Cruz bullet into a double-play, but then they looked great against the Braves. For the week, the starters went 1-4 with a 4.64 ERA while the bullpen went 2-0 with a 1.85 ERA. Newly acquired Matt Thornton looked solid, though, in three appearances.
If the Nats batters were a band, this week they’d be known as D Span and the LaRochettes. Adam LaRoche hit three home runs, three doubles, and batted .357/.419/.786 overall to heat up after a fairly miserable July where he hit just .159/.238/.227 with one homer. Somehow, in July, he walked just nine times, and he has five already in August. One of my favorite qualities of LaRoche is that even when he wasn’t hitting he always had that swagger in the field, punching his glove after every putout. Every great team needs an arrogance to them (when not assaulting the alphabet), a certainty that they’re the best.
In August, the Nats have played ten games. Denard Span has multiple hits in seven of them. He’s raised his batting average to over .300 for the first time since the beginning of the season, and he’s nearly equaled his career high in doubles (eight away) and stolen bases (3 away), and his OPS+ of 114 is the highest it’s been since his first full season in Minnesota. Look at this weekly breakdown:
Span Weekly Offensive Breakdown
Week 13 was the last time Span had an underwhelming week where he hit .200/.259/.280, and over the last 35 games, he’s hit nearly .400. Over the last 30 days, Span leads the Majors in batting average, on base percentage, and fWAR, and if he ever figured out how to hit home runs we’d be discussing him for league MVP.
Jayson Werth had a six-game hitting streak end on Saturday with a pinch hit walk (he sat out Friday and Saturday for being “pretty banged up”), and for the week he hit .313/.455/.375. Wilson Ramos had a decent week too, starting with a home run off of Kevin Gausman, followed by the birth of his daughter, then returned to hit a home run Friday and game-winning RBI single on Saturday.
As a team, the Nats hit .245/.301/.414 with ten home runs.
The week ahead sees the Nats travel to New York to play three against the Mets before returning home for a 10-game home stand that begins with three against Pittsburgh. The team catches a break as Jacob deGrom was scratched from Monday’s start due to shoulder soreness.