Nationals Save Week with Seattle Power Display


Aug 30, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; The Washington Nationals celebrate after defeating the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field. Washington defeated Seattle 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball makes total sense. It really does. After a stretch of games that saw the Nationals win 10 in a row, 12 of 13, come from behind like it was a Disney movie, and look in turns vulnerable and unbeatable, the Nats went into Philadelphia and looked lethargic and disinterested. Just as you’d expect the team was swept by the East’s worst team, and faced with the daunting task of hitting against the AL’s best pitcher in Felix Hernandez, the team promptly hit four home runs off the right hander and six in the game.

In the Seattle series, against the best pitching staff in baseball by ERA, the Nats hit 10 home runs, scored 14 runs, and won two of three. Sure. That’s exactly what you expect to happen, right? I can only imagine when the team faces off against Clayton Kershaw this coming Tuesday they’ll hit double-digit runs. I expect this to happen at this point only because everything about this team defies logic of late.

It was unfortunate to see the large lead shrink to six (because, you know, that’s pretty awful being up six games with a month to play), but seeing how the team could be up by just a couple if the breaks don’t go their way the last few weeks, six is pretty great. The team went 19-10 in August, by far and away the best record in the NL for the month and their best record by winning percentage since September of last year, came oh so close to being just the second team to win 20+ games in a month this season (Toronto went 21-9 in May), and only the Orioles have a larger divisional lead.

Deep breaths, everyone.

So, unless you believe the team that went through the motions in Philadelphia is the real Nats, then I guess we should just get to the good stuff.

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The starters pitched well, if not exactly dominant except for Stephen Strasburg’s outing against Seattle on Saturday. In that game, Strasburg routinely hit upper 90s with his fastball, making his changeup all the more befuddling. Despite the ongoing noise of today’s Ace-status, as if this week he’s dropped from yellow to blue, Strasburg finished August 4-1 with a 3.26 ERA, striking out 43 while allowing just 30 hits.

Doug Fister turned in a second straight outing where he’s allowed four or more runs, and over his last 11 2/3 innings he allowed 17 hits. On Wednesday, his curveball looked as sharp as it’s been all season, but he had to elevate his fastball to get called strikes.  For the month of August, he had a 2.25 ERA in 40 innings of work with a FIP of 3.90.

Gio Gonzalez allowed three earned against Philadelphia, and Gonzalez now hasn’t won in his last nine starts, dating back to July 5th. He didn’t pitch poorly against the Phillies. He allowed a couple of home runs, which in Citizen’s Bank Park is as easy as seeing the Liberty Bell. He’s pitched better of late, so the wins will come. As for the month, he went 0-2 with a 3.77 ERA. We should all collectively laugh and realize that was the worst of the month for the starters. Like I’ve said, we’re so spoiled.

Jordan Zimmermann looked sharp in his outing against King Felix, and he posted his best month since the otherworldly June. For August, he finished 4-0 with a 2.21 ERA. Tanner Roark was the lucky pitcher to appear twice, and he was rewarded with two losses. Against the Phillies he pitched six solid innings, allowing two earned on five hits. On Sunday, he was touched for four runs, three of those on a Dustin Ackley home run. His changeup looked particularly good early in the game, and Seattle got quite a few hits taking the ball to the opposite field. August was his worst in terms of runs allowed, but batters still hit just .264 off of him for the month, which is just north of the NL average of .250.

Except for a complete meltdown against Philadelphia on Wednesday, the bullpen pitched pretty well. Maybe it’s coincidence, but Ross Detwiler has now been involved in the last two team punts, allowing three earned to both San Francisco last Friday and against Philadelphia. I guess you can look at this in a couple of ways: 1) when things go bad for Detwiler, they really go bad, so be very, very afraid; 2) he’s allowed about half of his runs in just four appearances, meaning he’s been pretty good otherwise.

Sometimes both can be true.

For the week, the starters went 2-3 with an ERA of 3.82, allowing 45 hits in 37 2/3 innings. The bullpen went 0-1 with an ERA of 4.38. For the month of August, the starters went 11-9 with an ERA of 2.95, allowing 174 hits in 186 1/3 innings while striking out 156 and pen went 8-1 with an ERA of 2.97 while allowing 76 hits in 78 2/3, striking out 66.

If Jayson Werth’s shoulder is hurting him, you would never be able to tell from the way he swung the bat this week. In Seattle, he crushed this home run, hit home runs in consecutive games for the first time since that ho-hum month of July, and made this play to show that he’s not all muscle and no hustle. For the week, he hit .250/.400/.600. As Werth has shown multiple times this season, he can carry this offense when he gets hot. Fortunately for the Nats, lately he hasn’t really had to.

Wilson Ramos hit three home runs, Anthony Rendon hit two and batted .333/.360/.708 for the week, and Bryce Harper busted out in a big way batting .300/.333/.750 and clubbing the first of his two home runs on Sunday so far that it only stopped moving because the bleachers got in its way. On Friday, he hit his 50th career home run, and for the month of August he led the team lead with seven. Remember when there was talk about Harper going back to the minors? It sounds dumber now than it did then.

Speaking of past remembrances, do you remember when Ian Desmond was struggling to do anything well? Since reaching a season low.214 batting average in early May, entering Sunday Desmond has hit .268/.324/.464 with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs. He currently leads all Major League shortstops in home runs (22) and RBIs (81), is seventh in stolen bases (17), and eighth in runs scored (58). He’s also played much better defensively, including this great diving play against Philadelphia. He’s had to play beside a revolving door of second basemen and hasn’t missed a beat.

Denard Span. Should I write more? Ok. Following a July where he set the world on fire, his August was a step back only in terms of his own lofty standards. He tied a Nationals record with 40 hits for the month, batted .328/.346/.443, and had me believing he was going to hit for the cycle on Wednesday. Anything is possible for this guy right now. Check out his splits for the past two months and if this were the 1980s we’d be talking about him as a potential MVP candidate. Entering Sunday, since the beginning of July Span has hit .347/.402/.427 with 36 runs scored and 14 stolen bases. He also hit this home run, which was awesome and led me to giggle with glee at the time.

For the week, the team hit .245/.282/.486 with 14 home runs and 23 runs scored. The team hit .265/.327/.435 for the month, swatting 40 home runs in the process. The 40 home runs were second only to the O’s for tops in the Majors.

In the week ahead, the Nats finish off their 9-game road trip with three against the West leading Dodgers. In the opener they’ll see Roberto Hernandez, who has owned the team this season, and then Kershaw. After, the team returns home for three against Philadelphia, hopefully with better results than this week.