Fortuitously for your faithful contributor who needed a little more time to pull together a post, the Nats 90th game of the season was last Sunday, with five days before the next game. So this 5th 18-gamer of the year doesn’t cut a series in half, and has a very logical ending point, right before the All Star break. It’s not technically midway through the season, but close. And a good chance to take stock of where this team is.
And what an eventful stretch these 18 games were. They included the last three games of a six game losing streak, and then a six game winning streak. And they contained seven games against the arch-rival New York Mets of which the Nast won six. The Nats finished 11-7 for the set, the best 18-game performance so far this year, other than the scorching 14-4 start. For the record, the first five 18-game sets this season have been 14-4, 9-9, 10-8, 10-8, and 11-7. That’s consistency and steady improvement, a perfectly executed recipe for a six game lead over the Mets going into the All Star break.
I said at the end of the last 18 gamer that the Nats had shown they are for real this year. Especially with the way the team answered a seven game losing streak with a six game winning streak, this set seemed to make a statement: “We’re not just for real, we’re pretty darn good.”
Here’s the batting summary of the set:
Once again, the Nats were homer-happy in this set, hitting 26 compared to 27 in the previous set. The team OPS improved from .747 to .757 over the 18 games. The bats have come alive at just the right time, and with Zim heading the DL and Trea Turner coming up again at the end of the set, we could see a different kind of lineup as the second half of the season starts. Will C-Rob step up, or will TT get steady playing time?
The pitching was solid too:
Nats pitchers gave up just 17 HRs in the 18 games. Tanner Roark led the way with three good starts, all leading to Nats wins. And we saw a promising debut and then a very disappointing second start from the highly touted Lucas Giolito. We also saw the return of Stephen Strasbug from the DL, and Joe Ross head there.
Ok, so how about a quick tour through the set?
It started with the last game of a sweep at the hands of the Dodgers, a reverse Nats Classic. On for a save in the 9th, Shawn Kelley got a K, and then gave up a single to Howie Kendrick. The next play was one for the ages, and one Michael A. Taylor would like to forget. I figure no one really wants to wait through an ad to see it again. So here’s a GIF, just for the record, of the play that resulted in a crushing 4-3 walk off loss.
Nats loss no. 30: WED, June 22. Dodgers win 4-3.
Puig walks off Nats on Michael Taylor error.
Nats losing skid: 5. pic.twitter.com/o1BIVccpMf
— EveryNatsLossInAGIF (@EveryNatsLoss) June 23, 2016
After losing two in a row to the Brewers, Tanner Roark was the stopper, pitching 7 innings of shutout ball and giving up only 7 hits and one walk while striking out 7. The bullpen bent but didn’t break and the Nats left Brew City with a 3-2 victory, powered by homers from unlikely sources – Lobi and CRob. And Lobi’s homer was the Nats’ 100th of the year:
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 27, 2016
So the Nats finally came home for a long homestand spanning the July 4 weekend. Winning 7 out of 10 games, the Nats scored 61 runs and hit 16 HRs. The power explosion started with Daniel Murphy’s two homers in the third game of the three game sweep of the Mets that started the homestand. Could Murph get any hotter against his former team? Well, yes — as we’ll see in the last series before the All Star break, but this was pretty special.
Murph, of course, took it all in stride.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 29, 2016
But that was just an appetizer. Danny Espinosa took infielder power to another level in four game series against the Reds. In the first and last games of that series hit a grand slam and another homer, from different sides of plate!
Technically home plate has 5 sides, so it's only a matter of time before Espi finds a way to homer from the other 3. pic.twitter.com/sFBz5XkXAT
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 3, 2016
Amazing stuff. The second of Espi’s two-homer games also featured the return of Stephen Strasburg after a 17 day stint on the DL. And in his first game back, he gave us 6 2/3 innings of no hit baseball before Dusty hooked him after 109 pitches. Quite a statement. Stras has started 16 games this year. The Nats have won 15 of them.
Stras’s effort was aided by this spectacular play by Espi. He’s been doing it all for the last month.
We can’t leave the July 4 weekend without a nod to the clever Rat Pack night promotion. I’ve got an extra poster if anyone wants one.
Fans who come to Saturday's game will go home with a poster of these 4 dapper gents.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 30, 2016
After reeling off 6 straight wins and 7 of 8, the Nats lost a pair to the Brewers, running into Junior Guerra and Zach Davies, a pair of young starters who could give the Brewers a bit of hope for the future. But they beat up Matt Garza in the series and homestand finale before heading off to New York for a climactic 4 game series against the Mets. Nats fans were wary. When would the Metropolitan beast come alive? If we got swept, that 4 game lead they had going into the series could evaporate.
Instead, Daniel Murphy took over, once again leaving Mets fans gnashing their teeth.
Daniel Murphy — 3 important rules: 1. No bright light. 2. Don't get him wet. 3. Never feed him Mets pitching. pic.twitter.com/5eVaDIvQaU
— EveryMurphyAtBat (@EveryMurphyAB) July 8, 2016
You gotta love this particular twitter wag, who seems to enjoy torturing Mets fans with Murph’s exploits. And I think he actually was or maybe still is one…
Mets fans, what's more upsetting: Daniel Murphy's 2016 performance against the Mets — or against the Royals? pic.twitter.com/uPLrGjTcb3
— EveryMurphyAtBat (@EveryMurphyAB) July 13, 2016
Murphy’s heroics against his former team are becoming the stuff of legend. But his whole season been spectacular so far. He’s now leading the league in hitting, and also hits and total bases. He’s second in SLG, doubles, and RBIs, and third in OPS. Here are his stats, broken down by 18 game sets:
Bryce Harper showed a bit of an uptick during this 18 gamer. But he still doesn’t seem to have recovered from the head games Joe Madden played with him in early May.
It’s very clear at this point that Murphy is the biggest pleasant surprise for the Nats this year, but the second biggest is Wilson Ramos. So I think adding a look at his stats in the same form as his two co-All Stars makes sense from here on in. Let’s take a look.
The Buffalo has more hits and a higher SLG than Bryce. He’s making a statement in his walk year that cannot be ignored. I look forward to following his progress the rest of the season.
Friday night at Nats Park, the Nats will start the “second half” of the season, and the sixth of nine 18-game sets. The red hot Pirates come to town, followed by the dangerous Dodgers. And the Nats have another west coast trip on the horizon that includes four games against the Giants. Some tough opponents.
There’s not a single game against the NL East in this upcoming set. The rest of the division must be breathing a sigh of relief. Check out the Nats’ records against its division after the first 90 games of the season:
6-0 vs. ATL
7-6 vs. MIA
9-4 vs. NYM
8-4 vs. PHI
That’s 30-14 vs. NL East. Almost half of our games so far have been against division opponents, and we have a winning percentage of .682 in those games. Whoa!
Tom Verducci thinks the Nats are the team to beat in the division.
How about you?