It was exactly two weeks ago from today against the Arizona Diamondbacks that Ryan Madson came into the 3-to-2 game and had to face A.J. Pollock with Nick Ahmed on 3rd base and 2 outs. Pollock shortened up his swing and served the game tying run into left field and Madson wore the “blown save” in a game the Nationals eventually lost in extra innings. On that day, the Nats fell to a season’s worst 5-games below .500. Today, Madson got to redeem himself and earn the save and push the Nationals 5-games over .500. It is like a complete 180° turn. Redemption is a dish best served cold.
Maybe manager Dave Martinez remembered that outcome on April 28th and decided to use Shawn Kelley in the spot to face A.J. Pollock. Maybe not. Martinez did say that Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle were both unavailable in this game. The first reliever out of the bullpen was “Everyday” Sammy Solis who has now appeared in 22 games which is the most of any pitcher in the Major Leagues.
When you’re going well, you’re going well. Even an error by Wilmer Difo to the first batter faced in the 9th inning did not derail Madson from his mission. The unsung hero in this game was Shawn Kelley who somehow survived the 8th inning after walking the first batter he faced then he got the ‘en fuego’ Pollock to line-out to centerfield and then struck out Steven Souza on a painted 94mph heater on the bottom of the zone that definitely was partially in the zone as you can see (below) for the last out in the 8th inning.
“We can blow teams out when we need to,” Shawn Kelley said. “But we can also win the close one when things are right. Just feels like we’re getting back to what we do.”
On this day, Stephen Strasburg would spin a gem of 1-run baseball over 6 2/3 innings. Strasburg struggled in the 1st inning loaded the bases with 1 out and worked out of the jam without giving up a run. Strasburg was seen in the dugout with what appeared to be some discomfort in his neck. Last year Strasburg was put on the DL with neck stiffness. This time Strasburg came out in the 2nd inning and looked like a different pitcher and dominated. He really dominated the rest of the game sans the A.J. Pollock RBI double. After the innings Strasburg spoke to the homeplate umpire because he was upset about the first pitch he threw to the previous batter who walked. The chart shows Strasburg was correct, but in the umpire’s defense Strasburg went to a 1-2 count and then missed on 3 straight pitches.
On this day, Strasburg would get some great defense in centerfield from Michael Taylor and in rightfield from Bryce Harper and at first base from Matt Adams and at shortstop from Trea Turner. The Nationals did the little things to win this game because they once again did not fully capitalize on the numerous chances they had to blow the game open. The Nationals had 7-hits in the game to go with 7-walks, and only managed 2-runs in this 2-to-1 victory. But on this day, it was just enough.
With this win, the Nationals have now won 12-of-their-last-14 games and are now just 1.0 game out of 1st place, and if the Braves lose tonight the Nationals could go into tomorrow with a chance to claim first place.
Two weeks ago the Nationals were 1 win and 8 losses in one-run games. Since then, 4 wins and 1 loss in one-run games. Overall, the one-run record is not good at 5 wins and 9 losses, but they have turned it around because manager Dave Martinez is making many right moves and players are executing better in the close ones. Today his bullpen threw another shutout to make this win possible. The Diamondbacks had gone 38 games this season without losing a series, and that changed today with this Nationals win that will not only guarantee the Nationals win this 4-game series but also the season series has been clinched by the Nationals with their 4th win in 6-games against the Diamondbacks.
With Strasburg’s pitching gem today, he improved the Nationals starter ERA which was ratcheted below 3.00 as a staff to a cool 2.98. That includes all members of the starting staff that have started a game. Strasburg improved today to 3.28 to move in front of Tanner Roark who is at 3.33. The other three Nats starters are at 2.28 or better. The Nationals of course have the best starting pitching staff in the National League. With 41 games complete, the Nationals will have to do it another 121 times to remain the best.