Nats win third straight series
Thanks to a number of good clutch hits and solid pitching performances, the Washington Nationals beat the San Diego Padres in two out of three games, thus prevailing in their third consecutive series. It was the same margin by which they previously prevailed over the Rockies and the Brewers. In tonight's rubber match game, rookie pitcher Joe Ross once again had a splendid outing, allowing only one hit over six innings, and that "hit" was merely a swinging bunt by Cory Spangenberg that could have been scored an error. He later scored an unearned run. In the fifth inning, the Nats put together some hits, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch to score two runs, thus taking the lead. Yunel Escobar got the Nats' first RBI when his wrist was injured, and left the game at the end of the inning. Later Michael Taylor injured his knee colliding into the center field wall, chasing a long fly ball. Both players are day to day. Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman connected for solo home runs, making the game feel just like the good old days. In the ninth inning, the Nats' new closing pitcher Jonathan Papelbon gave up a run, but still got the save, his fifth with the Nats. Final score: 4-2.
Thanks in good measure to that grand slam on Tuesday, Zimmerman racked up eight more RBIs in the three-game series with the Padres, making a total of 57 so far this year, even though he has only played in 84 games. But he is batting only .224, and he could end up 2015 with the worst batting average of his career. His lowest previously was 2007, when he batted .266.
Nats clinch losing month
Unfortunately, thanks to last night's 6-5 loss to the Padres (in which a promising seventh-inning rally was killed when Yunel Escobar grounded into a double play on a 3-0 count!) the Nationals clinched a losing record for the month of August. They are 10-15 this month, and with just four games to go, the best they can do is 14-15. They were 11-13 last month. The last time the Nats had losing records in two consecutive months was April-May, 2011.
About ten days ago, one of my Facebook friends asked me what I thought the Nationals chances of reaching the postseason were. I replied about fifty-fifty, rather optimistically. Obviously, things have not improved much since then, and with time working against them, it's fair to say that the proverbial "fat lady" is getting ready to sing. According to baseballprospectus.com, the odds that the Nats will make the playoffs have dropped to just 7.7%, 15.9% less than a week ago.
Looking at that day-to-day probability chart, you can see that the turning point for the Nats came at the very end of July. In the space of two weeks, their playoff chances went from about 80% to about 20%. In retrospect, I think it will be said that the 2-1 loss to the Mets in twelve innings at Citi Field on July 31 proved to be the team's undoing. (baseball-reference.com) Up until that point, they had a three-game lead over the Mets, eight games over .500. The Mets' Matt Harvey had a perfect game going into the sixth inning, while Gio Gonzalez was replaced during the fifth inning. The game went to the bottom of the 12th, whereupon lead-off batter Wilmer Flores -- the very same guy who had been seen weeping in the dugout two days earlier after being told that he had been traded -- hit a walk-off home run. After that kick in the gut, the Nats went on to lose the next two games, getting swept by the Mets, who took first place in the division. The July 31 game was an incredible twist of fate, on multiple levels. That's baseball for you.
And so, as we approach September, Nats fans will be constantly glancing at the scoreboard to see how the Mets are doing, and grimacing at the shrinking magic number / elimination number. Tonight in Philadelphia the Mets pulled off another comeback win (in 13 innings) over the Phillies, who had taken a 5-0 lead in the third inning. That makes it seven wins in a row for the division-leading team, who remain 6 1/2 games ahead of the Nationals.
Papelbon joins the Nats
Omitted from my brief review of the Nationals' decline since mid-season on Tuesday was the bullpen situation. In particular, the acquisition of Jonathan Papelbon (via a trade with the Phillies late last month) was supposed to be a big boost to their playoff chances, but it just hasn't worked out that way. The Nats obviously needed a stronger bullpen, but they already had a good closer in Drew Storen, so Papelbon's arrival was more than a bit awkward. At the time I thought it was a good move, but there just haven't been that many crucial save opportunities where Papelbon could make a difference.
Ironically, the kind of pitcher the Nationals really needed was their ex-setup man Tyler Clippard, but he was traded from the Athletics to the Mets in July. "Clipp" made it clear to the Nats front office during the off-season that he wanted to be the closing pitcher, hence the trade by which the Nats acquired Yunel Escobar from Oakland. That worked out very well. Clippard has saved 19 games out of 23 save opportunities with the A's and Mets this year.
MLB Franchise pages
I took the time to make some overdue corrections to the MLB Franchises page. For example, the original owner of the second Washington Senators franchise (1961) was Elwood Quesada, not Robert Short, who acquired the team in 1969. Quesada sold the franchise in 1963, but I'm not yet sure to whom. Also, the owner of the Tampa Bay Rays is Stuart Sternberg, not "Stuart Steinberg."
I also updated the 2013 and 2014 Washington Nationals annual pages with narratives about the latter parts of the seasons.