For previous 18-gamers, click here.
Everyone’s attention has turned to the playoffs, and Saturday’s rainout means we have to wait until 1 pm on Sunday to see if the Nats can overcome that 1-0 deficit to the Dodgers. So there’s still time to look back at the Nats’ last 18 games of the season.
They were a mixed bag to be sure. With the division title pretty much wrapped up and both the rotation and lineup depleted by injuries, Dusty had a tricky balance to maintain. Try to get the team rested, but keep them ready. Give ample opportunities to the callups to show their stuff, but don’t let the regulars get rusty. And make sure to win home field advantage for the playoffs.
Remarkably, the Nats did what they needed to do pretty easily, clinching the division after Game 154 in Pittsburgh and HFA after Game 161 back in DC. They did this with Bryce, Murph, and the Buffalo all out of the lineup with injuries for a significant part of the set. And, incidentally but significantly for these periodic reviews, they managed to keep intact their streak of not having a losing 18 game set all year long. That’s right, they were .500 or better in each of the nine 18 game sets this year. Quite an achievement.
Remember when I said this in the last 18 gamer? “If they go just 9-9 in the last 18 games, you’re looking at a 95 win team folks.” Well, by taking the last two games in the season closing Marlins series and winning 6 of their last 9, that’s exactly what they did. For the year, their record 18 games at a time looks like this: 14-4, 9-9, 10-8, 10-8, 11-7, 10-8, 9-9, 13-5, and 9-9. That’s a 95 win season, 28 games over .500. It’s also an NL East crown, for the third time in five years.
Let’s take a look at the now familiar and sometimes revealing batting and pitching tables for the set.
Only 17 HRs, but we scored 4.3 runs per game. That’s actually more than in the last set where we went 13-5. So for all our complaints, the bats were ok.
Again, it was the pitching that made the difference. 4.3 runs a game (I guess that 9-9 record made sense.) Max was 4-0 in the games he started. But the rest of the starters were erratic. We lost all three games that Gio started and three of the four that AJ Cole started. Joe Ross returned and made three starts. Fortunately for him and the Nats, Reynaldo Lopez was available in long relief for two of the them and picked up two wins.
The set started with the last two games of a somewhat anticlimactic series against the Mets. The Mat Latos homer game had concluded the previous set, and put the Nats up by 10 games in the division race. They maintained that lead by splitting the final two games of the series. Roark had another great start in the rubber game, giving up 3 hits in 7 innings, and the Nats won 1-0 on, you guessed it, a bomb by the Buffalo.
— Mel (@PeanutsPen) September 14, 2016
Ok, that was weird. How about this as a better recollection of the Nats 12-7 series domination of the Mets:
Murph's 19-game hit streak vs. NYM ties the longest single-season streak vs. any one team in the div. era (1969). pic.twitter.com/22fvo5MEua
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 14, 2016
The team then traveled to Atlanta for its final series at the recently renamed Trea Turner Field. TTO went 4-5 in the first game, a 7-2 win, with 2 stolen bases, a double, and a home run.
They would lose the next two in Atlanta and the first two in Miami, a four game slide marked by disappointing starting pitching and a lack of production at the plate. But it wasn’t all their fault. The last game of that losing streak featured a 3 hit, no walk, 12 K gem by Jose Fernandez, which he would later tell Martin Prado was the best game he ever pitched.
Tragically, it would also be his last game. Here’s a really nice tribute that includes audio from his last interview, about 12 hours before the boating accident that would take his life. Worth a look/listen.
Back to baseball. Scherzer was the stopper in the next game, allowing the Nats to salvage one win in the series, while the Mets were swept in Atlanta. That dropped the magic number to 2 as the Nats headed to Pittsburgh. Hundreds of their faithful fans joined them. On Friday night, old friend Felipe Rivero pitched a perfect 8th inning, striking out two Nats. (Ok, they were Zim and Espi, so let’s not be too impressed.) But the Nats took a 5-4 lead into the 9th, on the strength of homers by Espi and the Buffalo. Melancon came on to face his former team and had quite the eventful inning. First this happened:
It’s a long replay, but what a play by Espi!
But then this happened. Feel free not to click if you don’t want to see TTO’s misplay of the game tying double. The Nats went on to lose in 11 innings, and the Mets won too, leaving the magic number at 2.
The Nats fans who had come to witness the clinch were deflated but not bowed, and they got what they had hoped to see the next night. Joe Ross made 68, only 38 of which were strikes in 2 2/3 innings, but Reynaldo Lopez relieved him with 5 1/3 of 3 hit ball. And the Nats won their 90th victory by a score of 6-1. Then all we could do was wait for the Mets to lose.
— Bob S (@Section222) September 25, 2016
And when they did, it was time to celebrate.
Sunday’s game might have been anticlimactic, but it sure was action packed, including an injury to Bryce, a bench clearing “brawl,” and a dramatic pinch hit two-run homer by Werth to tie the game in the 8th inning. The Nats went on to score 3 more to take the game 10-7 and give one more opportunity for fans to enjoy a Natwich.
Out of courtesy to those with weak stomachs I won’t reprint a photo here, but will just direct you to the four 18-gamer if you want to be reminded what a Natwich looks like.
The Nats finished their season at home against the D-backs and Marlins. Perhaps the most significant thing to happen to the team in those games was this.
A huge blow to the Nats’ hopes in the playoffs, obviously.
The first Marlins game featured a nice tribute to Jose Fernandez, who Gio was particularly close to.
Gio Gonzalez tips his cap to the Marlins during tonight's pregame ceremony honoring Jose Fernandez. pic.twitter.com/A01VhwzC1X
— Jake Russell (@_JakeRussell) October 1, 2016
The outpouring of support to the Marlins from all of MLB was heartwarming. Baseball is truly a family.
I’ll close this review with a look at the stats of the four players who carried this team at one time or another. Bryce Harper’s long slump seemed to be over after the previous two 18 game sets. But this time around, missing four games because of the injury in Pittsburgh, he was back on the schneid. We can only hope he recovers his stroke for the playoffs.
Murph was hurt for an even bigger portion of the set, starting only four games. He finished the season just barely missing a batting title, and his tremendous year was perhaps the most significant individual performance in the Nats’ great season.
The other most consistent contributor to the Nats offense was the Buffalo. Before his injury he was back to crushing the ball after seeing his numbers drop over the previous six weeks. He had a career year, and we will miss him dearly in the playoffs.
And then there was TTO. Not much to be said about his fantastic debut year, other than to note that he closed the year with one of his best power sets, showing that his first 50 games were no fluke, and giving all of us great hope for what he might do over a full season. Take a look at what he’s done and just marvel.
But all these individual achievements mean nothing now. It’s now a new season and we can only hope that the Nats continue their consistently good to excellent play for another 18 games or so.