6th 18-gamer: With Just 54 Games to Go, Things are Still Looking Up

For previous 18-gamers, click here.

The last 18-game set conveniently concluded at the All Star break. As the baseball world’s attention turned to the mid-summer classic in San Diego, the Nats were 18 games over .500 and six games ahead of the New York Mets. Five Nats were selected for that game, and four participated. Things were looking good, but ahead loomed a tough set including series against the Pirates, Dodgers, Indians, and Giants — no lowly NL East teams to beat up on.

Final result: 10-8.  Even better, here’s the tally through game 108:

14-4, 9-9, 10-8, 10-8,11-7, 10-8.

Notice something there? The Nats have yet to win fewer than half the games in an 18-game set. Even in their playoff years of 2012 and 2014, when they won 96 and 98 games respectively, they didn’t accomplish that in the first 108 games of the season.

10-8 sets certainly offer plenty of chances for frustration. Losing two series in the homestand that kicked off the set caused a lot of angst in Natstown as just about anyone reading this post knows.  But after sweeping the Snakes out West, the Nats were back to their season high of 20 games over .500, and seven games ahead of the Marlins in the NL East.  And those Mets? 8 ½ back and riddled with injuries.

Let’s take a look at the batting stats for the set:

No power explosion like the last two sets – 20 HRs compared to 26 in games 73-90 and 27 in games 55-72. But we scored an average of 5.2 runs per game, the same as in the previous sets. That’s encouraging. Imagine scoring that much over the course of a season. (So far we’re at 4.8 runs per game.)

The pitching was pretty good as well:

Stras, Max, and Roark started 12 of the 18 games and the Nats won 9 of those games.  The staff had an ERA of 2.94 and gave up only 14 HRs. The overall numbers mask some pretty serious issues with the bullpen, which Rizzo’s acquisition of Mark Melancon hopefully will resolve, and a question mark in the 5th spot in the rotation. But our pitching is the envy of the National League — second only to the Cubs in both ERA and Batting Average Against.

So the Nats returned home after the ASG and took a series from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had won 9 of their last 11 before the break. As expected once he bowed out of pitching in the ASG, Stras started the first game back. His an 8 inning, 3 hit gem brought his record to an astounding 13-0.

Not everyone was happy about his effort:


The one loss in the series was an 18 inning affair, perhaps the only time since he arrived in DC that Daniel Murphy has hit a homer that Nats fans regretted several hours later.   Of course, the Bucs fans in attendance regretted it at the time, only to be rewarded at the end of the 5 hour and 48 minute game.

After a promising start to the homestand against the Pirates, the Nats dropped the next series to the Dodgers. Stras notched his first loss of the season in the final game of the series, pulling a Max by giving up two home runs to Justin Turner in the first three innings of his outing. Ouch.

Happy to see one of the best teams in the NL West, even without Clayton Kershaw, leave town, the Nats couldn’t do any better against the less formidable Padres. Much to the consternation of arm-chair managers everywhere,  Pap pitched in the 9th inning in all three games. On Friday night, with the Nats down by a run, he pitched a clean 12 pitch inning.  Coming into a tie game the next night, he had a tougher 18 pitch inning but still escaped without giving up a run. Still under the weather after missing a few games, Stephen Drew came off the bench to deliver a walkoff win in that one.

That was the last time we’d see Drew on the field in this set.  He had been unavailable with “flu-like symptoms” prior to his big hit.  His condition didn’t improve, and the Nats finally put him on the DL a few days later.

On Sunday, with the score tied in the 9th again, Pap came in for third straight game, much to the consternation of arm-chair managers everywhere.  Twenty-eight pitches later, he left with Nats down by 4 and about to endure a dispiriting loss.

If that game wasn’t the match that lit a fire under Rizzo to deal for an effective closer, the next game against the Indians in Cleveland two days later surely was. The Nats scored an insurance run in the top of the 9th to give Pap a two run cushion and a chance to pick up his 20th save. Again he was ineffective, and five batters later he left the game having surrendered the lead. Oliver Perez allowed the walkoff hit that seemed all but certain to follow.

Five days later, the Rizzo swapped Felipe Rivero and prospect Taylor Hearn for Mark Melancon, the very successful Pirates closer who will be a free agent at the end of the season.  As happy as this move made me, I couldn’t help thinking back to the trade deadline in 2010, when the Nats traded their soon to be expensive closer Matt Capps to the Twins for a promising prospect – a catcher who had played in only seven major league games up until then.  Now he’s known as the Buffalo. Will this deal turn out to be a beneficial one for the Nats? Only time will tell, but it feels right for this moment in the team’s quest to go deep in the playoffs.

After the Pap meltdown, Stras got the Nats back on track the next day in Cleveland. Seven innings, 3 hits, 2 walks, 7 Ks, no runs. Ho hum, just another day at the office for his 14th win. TVT (still sporting his “beard”) had a key hit, Murph homered, and Treinen got a game ending DP in the 9th. It was a big getaway day win with a series on the road against the dangerous Giants looming.

So then the team headed West for the showdown with the Giants. The four game series had a very good start with a tough win that Pap almost threw away in the 9th, only to be bailed out by Oliver Perez and Shawn Kelley, who picked his fifth save of the season.

That game also featured a great defensive play by Bryce and, in fairness, an even better one by old friend Denard Span.  Sorry I can’t find videos to embed, but the links are definitely worth checking out.  Span’s route efficiency on that play definitely confirms that he’s still a you know what….

In the Nats’ 4-1 win on Friday night, baseball history was made. No, Max didn’t strike out 21 batters, but he had a very nice outing and Shawn Kelley picked up his sixth save of the season. But let’s take a moment to appreciate the first 3-5 triple play in baseball history.

Unfortunately, a potential sweep became a split, with the Giants winning the next two games. Bryce made a nice defensive play in the game on Sunday as well, though it wasn’t quite as pretty.

Finally, the road trip and the 18 game set came to a (happy) end with sweep of the D-Backs in Arizona.  Stras, Roark, and Max all pitched well, but the bats were the story, absolutely exploding for 32 runs in the three games. Even Stras got into the act:

Mark Melancon joined the team and pitched in two of the blowouts, a nice way to ease into his new role. If he pitches as well in save situations, the bad memory of Pap will be pretty easy to forget.

And now for the 18 game stats of the two hitters who have been carrying the team, and the guy who’s mostly been carried.  He’ll always have April and some nice defensive plays, but his reigning MVP season seems pretty much lost by now.

I’m not sure how many more times I can listen to Bob, FP, Ray, Charlie, or Dave say that Bryce could be coming out of his 3 month long slump. But in this 18 game set, the slump turned into a full fledged collapse. It’s really hard to imagine his season getting any worse than 8 hits and 1 HR in 74 PAs.

Screen Shot Harper Stats 108 games

Murph, on the other hand, continued to dominate the league, putting up, incredibly, his best 18 game set numbers of the season.  He sat out the first two games of the set after tweaking his hamstring in the All Star Game. But when he came back, whoa Nellie! Can you say “OPS of 1.306”? All of his season numbers went up. The man is simply having a monster season.Screen Shot Murphy Stats 108 games

Shall we let our old friend @EveryMurphyAB summarize?

And finally, the Buffalo. What can you say about this guy other than, “I’m sure glad he’s on our team.”?  He put up another tremendous set, and his season long numbers are truly in superstar territory.  The best thing is that we are not talking about a small sample size here. A .917 OPS over 362 PAs is something special.Screen Shot Ramos Stats 108 games

So the sixth 18 game set is in the books. The Nats have the top two hitters in the National League and three starters in the top 10 in in the NL in B-R Pitcher WAR. Their new closer is fourth in the league in saves.  On Friday, season ticket holders we given the opportunity to put down a deposit on post season tickets.  I don’t want to tempt the baseball gods, but with 20 of the last 54 games of the season scheduled against the Phillies and the Braves, that kind of makes sense.

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