4th 18-gamer: Good News and Bad News, Mostly Bad News

For previous 18 gamers, click here.  And apologies for the tardiness of this post. Life intervenes sometimes.  Plus, it was a crappy set.

First the good news. Remember that asterisk (*) attached to the last 18-gamer? It’s gone. With the completion on June 18 of the suspended game that began on May 15, the Nats’ record for the third 18 game set is officially 13-5.   And Juan Soto, who wasn’t even on the team when that game started, won it with a a gargantuan blast.


The other good news was….  Oh wait, there was no other good news.  Getting a split in the season series with the Yanks and Juan Soto. That’s pretty much it.  (More on Soto later.)

The rest was bad news.  Let’s start with with a lousy 7-11 record for the set.  Believe it or not, it’s the first losing set the team has had since 2015, and 7-11 is the worst set since, you guessed it, 2015, when they managed to do it twice.  We all know what happened in 2015.  Pap, the choke, the Storen melt-down, MW reneges on his Babe impersonation promise and loses the clubhouse.  Memories we’d all like to forget.

So after 72 games, the team was 9-9, 10-8, 13-5 (* removed), and 7-11.  The good will and optimism we took from the last set was fully squandered in this one, along with the chance to take control of the NL East.  Here’s where things stood at the end of the set.

Before getting to the details, let’s take a look at the overall numbers.  Not pretty.

Just as in the previous, very successful 18 games, the Nats scored 3 or fewer runs nine times.  Unfortunately in all nine of those games they actually scored 2 or few runs, and they were shut out five times.  That is not a typo.  Five times. Hard for even good pitching to do much about that.  (And as we’ll see, the pitching wasn’t good either.)  The Nats won only one of those nine games, as opposed to five of the nine in the previous set when they scored three or fewer runs.

The comparison with the overall hitting numbers of the third set, not including the stats from the completion of the May 15 game, is interesting:

OPS down by 128 points.  Fourteen fewer homers.  And yet they scored only 3 fewer runs and had 13 more steals.  So there must have been a regression in pitching, right?

Right.  Take a look at the starting pitching during this set.

This was by far the worst showing by the starters in an 18 game set.  Max was Max, maybe better than Max actually, but the team was shut out in his last two starts.  Stras, Gio, and Tanner cratered, and the two replacement starters were not good.   (Jefry Rodriguez‘s stats above include his first MLB appearance  in relief of Hellickson, who was injured after 1/3 of an inning in the fourth game of the set.  In fairness, Rodriguez was actually passable in those two outings.) Here’s the overall pitching summary.

Doo did have six saves in six chances. But the key thing is he had only six chances, as opposed to nine in the previous set, once you add to that set the suspended game where he struck out Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and got Gary Sanchez to fly out to lock down the save on 14 pitches).

Check out how Doo improvised his preparation for a game that started at 5 pm in the 6th inning.

While searching for stuff on this save, I also learned that the Twitterverse is really pissed at how CBS and Yahoo handled the stats for the suspended game in their fantasy leagues. Just another example of how the Nats and Yankees warped the time/space continuum, causing havoc for those who rely on stats.

But wait, that was more good news. Kind of.  So back to the bad.  How ’bout Bryce Harper?

My goodness. Not only was this set bad for Bryce, it was just plain bad for any player.  I  don’t care what his BABIP was, a .465 OPS in 75 PAs is awful.  And 25 K’s?  Striking out in 1 out of every 3 PAs is Espi territory.   It pains me to say this but looking at Bryce’s 18 game stats is starting to remind me of rubbernecking on the highway.

A detailed review of the games in this set was painful, but there are a few worth highlighting. The very first game of the set, which completed a three game sweep of the O’s in Baltimore, is one.  It included one of the two Bryce HRs in this set, a fine diving catch by MAT, a gorgeous two strike, opposite field RBI hit by Soto, a nice escape save by Doo after a colossal O’s TOOTBLAN, and Max’s most dominating outing of the season other than his complete game in April — 8 innings, 2 hits, 1 BB, 12 Ks.  A very satisfying win. The condensed game captures it all if you feel like revisiting the good feelings you had when the team seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. (Plus, we swept the O’s, which is always worth celebrating.)

The Nats then headed to Atlanta, sitting in first place in the division for the first time since April 3, only to run into a Braves team that was not ready to give up the top spot.  They lost 3 out of 4, with the only win came in a crazy 14-inning affair in which the Nats used 7 pitchers to pitch, and another, Max Scherzer, to pinch hit and gallup around the bases on a game winning triple by Wilmer Difo.

(The video highlights are shown during the interview with Davey. The look of pure joy on Max’s face talking about what he did is totally worth revisiting, even if you saw it that night.)

After using seven pitchers in that extra-inning win, the last thing Davey needed was for Jeremy Hellickson to be injured after one out the next night. But that’s what happened, further taxing the bullpen.  Jefry Rodriguez pitched well in long relief, followed by Solis, and the Nats took a one run lead into the bottom of the 7th.  But, to the shock of no one, Shawn Kelley gave up a long ball to Dansby Swanson to tie the game 2-2.    In a surprise move, Tanner took the mound in  the bottom of the 9th on his throw day and proceeded to give up a walkoff HR.

At least the game didn’t go 14 innings again.

Perhaps chastened by the apparently for real Braves, the Nats came home and grabbed the lead in the NL East back with an 11-2 drubbing of the Tampa Bay Rays to complete a two-game sweep. On TTB’s birthday, they beat up on the Rays “opener” Jonny Venters in a 5-run first inning.  Fun to see that bit of “strategery” get pummeled.

The next series against the Giants was notable mostly for the loss of Stras after two innings in his start on June 8 (Game 62).   He hasn’t been seen on the mound since, and with Hellickson already on the DL, our fantastic pitching rotation is looking pretty decimated.  Fedde and Jefry may be adequate, and they’re all we’ve got, but they aren’t Stras and Helly.

Even after losing two of three to the Giants, the Nats were holding on to the lead in the NL East by the barest of margins, but that changed with a loss to the Yankees in New York the next night, another shutout.  They did win the second game of the series behind two blasts by Soto, including another a gargantuan shot.  (Or was it his first gargantuan shot? The mind still boggles.)

That night finally got Soto the national attention he deserves, and, fortunately, his performance has continued to amaze. In fact, I hope you’ll agree that it warrants an 18 game stats summary.

With Bryce seemingly slipping into oblivion, let’s hope a look at Soto’s numbers becomes a regular feature of the 18-gamers.  It sure doesn’t look like he’s headed back to the minors any time soon.

After leaving the Big Apple on a high note, the Nats headed to Toronto for a weekend series, where the wheels quickly came off.  They were swept, and swept ugly, including a shutout by old friend Marco Estrada. (Yes, Estrada was a Nat a decade ago.)  Gio and Tanner had lousy starts, sandwiched around the second straight Max start where the Nats couldn’t manage a single run.  The third game of the series did feature a 3-hit, 4-steal game by MAT, which is worth a mention and a video.

Also worth a mention is that MAT had one heckuva set.

We’ve watched MAT long enough to not expect that kind of production for very long.  And he’s also kind of the odd man out in the outfield with the return of Eaton and the arrival of Soto.  But he’s playing well enough to force Davey to give him some playing time — 11 starts in this set — and he seems to be making the most of his opportunities.

After their bleak trip to Toronto, the Nats came home to get rid of that asterisk and once again face the O’s. The set finished on a down note with yet another shutout.  When you can only manage five hits in a game where your opponent’s starter is Andrew Cashner, and he only goes 4 innings, you know things are not going well.

Unfortunately, we already know that they haven’t improved much in the first several games of the next 18 game set.  Where that will leave us as we pass the halfway point of the season and prepare to welcome to All Stars to DC shortly after Game 90 will be the subject of my next missive.  Spoiler alert, Max’s bad luck continues.

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