6th 18-gamer: Relief Help Arrives as the Rotation Faces Adversity; and Bryce!

For previous 18 gamers, click here.

Another pretty good 18 game set for the Nats, keyed by a newly reliable bullpen.   10-8 put us at 64-44, still 20 games over .500 and 13 games up on the Miami Marlins in the NL East. With the magic number already at 42 with 54 games to go, October baseball looks pretty much assured.  The tally so far with two thirds of the sets completed is 13-5, 10-8, 11-7, 9-9, 11-7, and 10-8.  The Nats still haven’t had a losing set yet, and they managed to increase their lead in the division by 3 1/2 games, even though played just over .500 baseball.

The real accomplishment of this set was holding serve with our starting pitching staff decimated by injuries.  Consider this: Max and Stras started only 5 games between them, and Max lasted just an inning in his third start of the set, while Stras pitched only two innings in his second.  That could have been a recipe for disaster.  But Gio was excellent once again, Tanner rebounded after an absymal  showing in his two starts in the previous 18 games, and Edwin Jackson came through with two good starts, making up for below par performances from Erik Fedde in his first major league outing and A.J. Cole in his lone start in the set.  Check out the summary:

The difference between this set and the others this year is striking overall, particularly in innings pitched, although the starters’ ERA and number of good outings was actually better in this set than in the second 18-gamer.  Here’s the game by game recap.

Of course, the biggest difference in the pitching in this set was arrival of the “three-headed monster,” summoned by Bryce Harper at about the 44 second mark of this interview after Game 93:

The third head of the monster, Brandon Kintzler, only arrived for game 106 on August 2, but Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle joined the team on July 18 in Anaheim (just before the game that preceded Bryce’s interview) and performed admirably, usually working in tandem.  Although he had a not so great 1.42 WHIP in seven appearances, Doolittle was 5 for 5 in save opportunities.  And Madson’s line in his six appearances, all in the 8th inning, was stunning — 3 hits, 0 runs, 9 Ks, and a 0.67 WHIP.

The hitting was uneven. 33 HRs was second only to the 35 hit in the second set.  But the team scored 35 runs in that set, compared to just 88 runs this time around.  And, while the Nats managed to go 86 games before being shut out for the first time this year, three of their eight losses in this set were shutouts. The pitchers in those games?  Alex Meyer, Zach Davies, and Vance Worley. Hardly an all-star group.

Here’s the game by game summary.

While the Nats got solid contributions from TTB, Murph, Goodwin, and Difo, the clear leader in hitting in this set was, once again, MVP candidate Bryce Harper.  Check out his continued dominance:

You may have noticed that Bryce hit six homers in this set, more than in any set since his otherworldly opening to the season.  Five of those shots were in the first inning.  Here’s one of them, against the Brewers:

In fact, 12 of his 28 homers this year (43%) have come in the first inning.  That’s just crazy — three more than any MLB player this year.  You wonder when opposing pitchers and managers will catch on.  Stop thinking you can challenge Bryce with the score 0-0, or it won’t stay that way for long.

Now for a quick run through the set.  It started with the last two games of our four game sweep of the Reds in Cincinnati.  The Nats outscored the Reds 20-5 in those two games.  Murph had 2 HRs in the first one, which the Nats won 14-4.

They won the second game 6-1, with Bryce and Zim going B2B, in the first inning of course.  Zim’s homer put him on top of the franchise leaderboard, surpassing the immortal Vlad Guerrero.

Then it was on to Anaheim for the first two games of a home and home series with the Angels.  The Nats took the first game 4-3, with Edwin Jackson shining in his Nats debut (this year) and  Doolittle notching his first save as a Nat.  But the MLB marketing gurus were delirious over this turn of events.

Behind one-time Nats’ farm hand Alex Meyer, the guy who was traded many moons ago for Denard Span, the Angels shut out the Nats in the second game of the series, putting a stop to our five game winning streak.  The Nats then headed to Arizona, where they took two of three from the still dangerous, though no longer division leading, D-Backs.  After the D-Backs walked off in the first game against Enny Romero, Tanner struck out 11, and yes, Bryce hit another first inning home run in the first victory.  I’m not going to show that one because really, how many Bryce Harper home runs can you watch in one sitting?

Oh, you do want to see it?  Well, ok.  This one went really, really far.

In the the rubber game, on a Sunday afternoon, the hitters got to old friend Robbie Ray for four runs in the first inning, with Goodwin leading off with a homer.  This was the game that Stras left after two innings.  No video desired of that moment, I’m sure.  Grace gave up a pair of runs, but Blanton, Enny, Albers, and Doolitte combined for 4.2 innings of shutout ball and the Nats capped off a 7-2 road trip with a 6-2 win.

Returning home to face the Milwaukee, the Nats’ bats again went to sleep, and they were shut out for the second time in five games.  But fans who attended the next two games were treated to a demonstration of just how explosive the Nats’ offense can be.  In the second game of the series, the Nats trailed 2-1 going into the bottom of the 8th inning, having managed only 4 hits and striking out 10 times against Jimmy Nelson.  Then this happened:

It’s worth noting that all but the first hit on that video came after Bryce struck out for the second out of the inning and got himself tossed for going off on home plate umpire Chris Segal.  I’ll spare you that video; it’s embarrassing. But who knows, maybe it fired up the team.

The next night featured one of the most extraordinary innings in Nats history, and it came after Bryce got the ball rolling with yet another first inning homer. (You saw that one earlier in this report.)   Here we go:

That’s right B2B2B2B, plus a TTB home run for good measure.  Five in the inning, eight in the game.  Records shattering all over the place, inspiring humor and pop art.

It was a sight to behold.  A 15-2 shellacking for the ages.  I only wish I could find a  video clip of Murph’s flyout in the middle of the home run barrage, and the crowd’s good natured booing in response.

You’ve seen some power and clutch hitting by Zim in this recap, but, unfortunately, his performance continues to wane.  Take a look at how he’s dropped off since his torrid start.

With five homers and 13 RBI, not to mention a .525 SLG for the set, this was an uptick for Zim from the 5th 18-gamer.  We can hope that continues, but Dusty has some thinking to do about the batting order before the playoffs if it doesn’t.

After the Brewers series, the Nats and their fanbase were flying high, but the starting pitching woes began to take their toll. First, the Rockies took the final series of the homestand, roughing up Tanner and Erik Fedde, who was making his major league debut.  The Nats salvaged one game, with Edwin Jackson again rising to the occasion, and Madson and Doolittle closing out a 3-1 victory.  Take a look at the Nats pitching box score for that one.

Almost a carbon copy, but with some improvements, from 10 days before against the Angels.

Not quite the three-headed monster that Bryce was thinking of, but a pretty good model for the rest of the season, if the rotation can get back in one piece.

The ace of the rotation in this set, without a doubt, was Gio.  And the next night he pitched the best game of his career, giving up his first and only hit in the top of the 9th. Every bit of that gem was needed, along with Doolittle’s high pressure save,  as Jose Urena pitched a three hit gem of his own. But Bryce drove in what turned out to be the winning run with an opposite field single in the 6th and the Nats took the series opener 1-0.

Dan Kolko’s post game interview of Gio is worth another look, tissues at the ready.

Hats off to Gio, whose pitching this year has far exceeded expectations.  With the near term reliability of Max and Stras uncertain, the Nats will continue to lean on his leadership and solid performance.

After that win, the Nats were in a position to pound the nail pretty deep in the Marlins’ coffin, but they dropped the last two games in Miami.  In the first one, it was the best of times and the worst of times, to coin a phrase. The Nats took a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the 2nd, led by Max’s three run blast, his first major league home run. But after throwing one warmup pitch after that inning, his night was over, the victim of a sore neck from sleeping wrong a few nights earlier.

Max kind of made light of the injury after the game, which the Nats ended up losing, 7-6, and just wanted to talk about his homer.


Natstown lost its mind.

One other thing worth remembering from that disappointing and scary game was the coming out party of the Nats’ other deadline acquisition, Howie Kendrick.

Welcome, Howie.  Looks like you’re going to make us forget Heisey/Raburn very fast.

The hangover from Max’s injury and the blown lead carried over to the next night, when the team was once again shut out, on just four hits. But a day off and a trip to the friendly confines got them back on track.  In the opening game of the weekend series, Tanner pitched  a solid 6 1/3 innings and the three headed monster finally debuted. Brandon Kintzler looked sharp, Madson was his usual  stellar self, and Doolittle locked down the save and a 4-2 win.

The offense was provided by Daniel Murphy.

It’s worth noting that Murph quietly had another very good set, with five home runs, the most so far this year.  The consistency of his production just continues to amaze, though his batting average fell below .300 for a set for the first time this year, and he struck out more than 10 times for the first time as well.  Still, after 108 games, 100 of which he played in, an OPS of .962 and just 44 Ks just makes you shake your head in admiration.

In the set’s final game, the Nats couldn’t overcome the four-runs given up in the first inning by Edwin Jackson, though they had their chances.  Bryce came up with two on and two out in the bottom of the 9th, the Nats down 7-4, but struck out.  He did, however, hit a home run in the first.  Again.  He also did this:

Quite a first inning for our rightfielder.   Aren’t you glad I picked that video instead of the home run?  Don’t you get tired of seeing home runs by Bryce Harper?

No?  Me either.

Two thirds of the season is now in the books.  Fifty-four games left, and just three 18-gamers (thank goodness!).  And then it gets real. With Rizzo’s trade deadline acquisitions, the bullpen is bolstered and the bench improved.  Now we just need injured players to return, and the rotation to be covered in bubblewrap until October.


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