2nd 18-gamer: The Bats Bail Out the Arms

For links to previous 18-gamers, click here.

Following up their hot 13-5 start, the Nats logged a respectable 10-8 in the second 18 game set. Their 23-13 record after the first two sets is exactly the same as the record after 36 games last year.  (Ironically, last year’s 36th game was also the first game of a day/night doubleheader on May 14.) But check out this comparison of the team’s hitting in the first 36 games.

Remember, last year’s start included Bryce’s monster April. This year’s hitters have 59 HRs compared to 46 last year, and the OPS of the team is .847, compared to .738 in 2016. Incredible.

The hitting during the second 18 game set was truly out of control–  37 doubles, 35 HRs, a team BA of .296 and OPS of .897. Here’s the game by game chart, followed by the totals for the set.

The pitching, on the other hand, showed a serious a retreat from the first 18. Here’s the game by game summary.

Only four out of the 18 starts had a Game Score of 59 or more, compared to 14 in the first 18.  Only 8 of the 18 were quality starts, compared to 16 in the first set.  As you can see, we gave up a whole lot of HRs too. While much of the focus has been on the bullpen, the starters definitely bear some responsibility for the team’s overall less than stellar record in this set.  Nonetheless, the hitting hitting carried the team to a solid above .500 set, and a 7.5 game lead in the NL East.

So how’d they get there? Lets take a look back.

You will recall that the Nats finished the first 18 games on a real high. A weekend sweep of the Mets at Citi Field had them on a six-game winning streak, with Max going 8 innings, Murph hitting a first inning grand slam, and Koda picking up his 2nd save in the getaway game.  As they headed to Colorado, the team was clicking and had already won the first six games of a 10-game road trip.

Over the years, Coors Field has often been the “friendly confines” for the Nats, and this series was no different. After dropping the first game, the Nats went on an unprecedented offensive tear, scoring 42 runs in three games. Highlights included:

TTO’s first cycle, driving in seven runs, dressed like Spiderman –

Bryce going 4 for 4, without pulling the ball once —

An 11-run inning –

In the 4-game series, TTO, Bryce, Zim, and Murph had 3-RBI games. Murph did it in all three games. An amazing display.

Not everyone in DC was happy though.

Boo hoo!

And there’s always someone who’s going to complain about balls and strikes.

After completing their amazing 9-1 roadtrip, the Nats returned home for a weekend series against the Mets. They promptly lost two straight with Max and Stras on the mound, both victimized by the long ball, which seems to be the main way the Mets win ballgames this year.

But all was forgiven the next day when the Nats’ bats exploded for a record setting 23-5 pummeling of their division rivals in a game started by Noah Syndergaard. Thor lasted just an inning and a third before departing with what turned out to be a serious, season threatening injury, and the Nats scored in all but one inning of the game. They put up crooked numbers four times, led by TTB, who raised his batting average 52 points and his OPS 202 points in a 6 for 6, 3 HR, 10 RBI day.

The most significant event in the Mets series, of course, was not TTB’s long overdue arrival but the shocking and gut-punching departure of Adam Eaton, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Friday night. MM (Mighty Mouse), as he is known around here, had been a huge spark plug for the team in its hot start. In just 23 games, he had pretty much proven that Mike Rizzo made the right decision to “sell the farm” for him.

There is no way I’m featuring a video of the play on which he was injured in this recap, even though it was a perfect example of his overwhelming desire to help his team.  (Click here if you’re a real glutton for punishment.)  Instead, for the record, let’s stop for a moment to consider what a great season was having:

And then there’s this, released just a few days earlier.

Somehow I think a guy who was drafted in the 19th round and works this hard is going to be back next year, as good as ever.

The Nats then took 2 of 3 from the Arizona D-backs, who were having a surprisingly good season to that point, and still are doing much better than expected. All three were hard fought games, but the Nats had Max going in the rubber match.

We’re starting to get a sense of just how much Max wants to win, not that I’m trying to foreshadow anything.  (Click on the link and check out the piece, including the comments.  You’ll be glad you did.)

The Nats then headed back to Philly and took two of three. In the first game, Stras didn’t make it out of the 6th inning, and Treinen continued his descent into mopup duty, but the unlikely duo of Romero and Albers combined to close out a 4-2 victory. Despite his so-so outing on the mound, Stras picked up the slack for an ailing Bryce Harper at the plate. He deserved the win, if only for his “Manny Machado trot” (h/t FP).   So enjoy a rare event – a Statcast dissection of a Stephen Strasburg home run.

With Bryce still on the bench, the Nats took the next game 6-2, behind a fine start by A.J. Cole. And Ryan Zimmerman had himself a day.

Ryan Zimmerman had himself a lot of days in this 18-game set, as he did in the first one. No, he is not cooling off yet.

Nor is Daniel Murphy, who went 3-4 in that same game.  Murph had exactly the same batting average in the second 18 games as he did in the first — .324. And he had more runs and RBIs. His OPS after 36 games stands at .961, which is an MVP-caliber number except in comparison to the two guys who in front of him in the lineup. Check it out.

After blowing a chance for a sweep and wasting a two homer game by Jayson Werth, the Nats headed to Baltimore to start the annual Battle of the Beltways. (No, I’m not buying the MASN Cup as the name for this rivalry, sorry.) It kind of turned into a battle of the walkoffs, with the Orioles walking off the Nats in the second game, despite Max’s gem that I alluded to earlier, and the Nats returning the favor on in the third game, back in DC. That was a particularly sweet victory, with Matt Wieters providing the final blow.

After a rocky start defensively, Wieters sure is looking like a smart offseason pickup by Rizzo.

A pair of rainouts delayed the conclusion of this 18-game set, which came after the first game of the doubleheader against the Phillies on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies again?  Yup.  We’ve now played 12 of our 19 games against them and won’t see them again until September.  Our record so far is just 7-5, though we’ve scored 54 runs and given up 60 in the games so far.

Oh right… Guthrie.

Game 35 on Saturday night belonged to Bryce, who hit his 5th career walkoff homer, fresh off signing a record-breaking, arbitration-avoiding deal for 2018.

Anyone who thought Bryce should have saved a homer for Mother’s Day needn’t have worried. Even though the Nats ended up losing the game, he didn’t disappoint.

No, he’s not cooling down either.

Could it be that his 2015 form is really here to stay?  It’s just amazing what he’s doing. And he’s just the second best player on the team right now.

We haven’t talked much about the bullpen, and who wants to watch videos about meltdown, implosions, and dumpster fires anyway?  If you want to get depressed, just follow Twitter late in a game. Some people are plaintive and understated:

Others, not so much:

In the end, you can cover a lot of bullpen woes when the middle of your batting order leads the majors in just about everything.  My rough estimate is that we can blame seven losses in 36 games on our relievers’ failures. Sure, it would be nice to be 30-6 after the first two sets, but 23-13 will certainly do, especially in the disaster zone called the NL East.  Let’s see what the next 18 games will bring.

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