Results tagged ‘ Ian Desmond ’

Ian Desmond, Denard Span Named Rawlings Gold Glove Finalists

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by Amanda Comak

The finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were announced this morning by Rawlings Sports, and for the second consecutive year the Washington Nationals have two players among the honorees.

Desmond is a Gold Glove finalist for the second straight season.

Desmond is a Gold Glove finalist for the second straight season.

Shortstop Ian Desmond and center fielder Denard Span were named as finalists at their respective positions, but they’ll have to wait until Tuesday, October 29 to find out if either will take home the prize.

Desmond, who was also a finalist for the award in 2012, is up against tough competition in Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons and Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

Span faces some heady competition as well with Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez and Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen also named as finalists. McCutchen is considered a frontrunner for the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award when it is announced in November.

Neither Nationals player has won a Gold Glove previously, but both would be deserving of the honor this year.

Desmond, whose range and exceptionally strong throwing arm were on display often again this season, finished the year with a .971 fielding percentage. Fangraphs.com ranks him among the five best shortstops in the league in most advanced metrics categories.

Former Nationals manager Davey Johnson, a three-time Rawlings Gold Glove second baseman himself, often said that he viewed Desmond as the best shortstop in the league – offensively and defensively.

Span was a pleasure to watch patrol center field for the Nationals, often earning effusive praise from his teammates for the effortless way with which he made difficult catches look simple. The highlight to his defensive season likely came when he saved a 6-5 victory over the San Francisco Giants by making a sensational diving catch to end the game.

Advanced metrics seem to underrate Span, though Fangraphs.com still ranks him as having the third-best Ultimate Zone Rating in the league behind A.J. Pollock and McCutchen, perhaps because he is not among the most laser-armed outfielders. But his exceptional defensive work does not go unnoticed by those on the field. Jayson Werth said late in the 2013 season that he trusts Span more than any center fielder he’d ever played with .

070313-461 denard span

Span excelled in center field in his first season with the Nationals.

Each manager and up to six coaches on each staff voted from a pool of qualified players in their league, and cannot vote for players on their own team. But this year, for the first time in its 57-year history, Rawlings added a sabermetric component to the Rawlings Gold Glove Award selection process, as part of its new collaboration with the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

The SABR Defensive Index accounted for approximately 25 percent of the overall selection total, with the managers and coaches’ vote continuing to carry the majority.

The winners of the 2013 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards will be announced Tuesday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN2 in a special one-hour Baseball Tonight.

Signature Moments of 2013: Quarterfinal #2

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With 86 wins in the books, the 2013 season had its share of lasting memories. We have seeded the top 10 in our book, and over the next few weeks we will be letting you vote in a bracket-style competition to determine the ultimate signature moment of the season. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through the World Series for a new poll and to see which moments advanced on to the next round.

SigMomentsBracket10-11

A STORYBOOK BEGINNING | 4.1

On April 1, Bryce Harper’s first swing of the 2013 campaign connected with a hanging curveball out of Ricky Nolasco’s hand, soared 406 feet and landed in the right field seats. In his second at-bat, the defending National League Rookie of the Year punished another Nolasco breaking ball, again to right. He couldn’t have scripted a better start to his sophomore season.

THE WALKING DEAD | 6.19


Trailing most of the game on June 19 in Philadelphia, the Nationals bats awakened just in the nick of time to force extra innings and steal a win to end a long, grinding road trip. Jayson Werth, of the “be ready to eat some face” comment following the tough loss the night before, ripped a game-tying, two-out, RBI-single in the top of the ninth inning. In the 11th, the Nationals loaded the bases for Ian Desmond, who annihilated a hanging slider from Michael Stutes for his first career grand slam, giving the Nats a 6-2 win.

Storybook

A Werthy Candidate

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Andrew McCutchen is going to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award. One of his Pirates teammates, either Marlon Byrd or Francisco Liriano, seems destined to win National League Comeback Player of the Year. The honors will be deserved, as they have all had exemplary seasons, worthy of such accolades. And while Jayson Werth will not take home either of those – he was not even a finalist for the Comeback Player of the Year Award – there is a third honor for which he is nominated that he absolutely deserves: The Hank Aaron Award.

Each year, every team in baseball has a single nominee for the award, which recognizes the most outstanding offensive performer in each league. And although the Nationals received a number of standout performances in 2013 – from Ian Desmond leading all National League shortstops in extra-base hits to Ryan Zimmerman’s prolific September that left him with the team lead in home runs – Werth’s career year stood above the rest.

Despite early season injuries, Jayson Werth enjoyed a career year.

Despite early season injuries, Jayson Werth enjoyed a career year.

When the dust settled on the 2013 regular season, only one player ranked in the top five in the National League in OPS (second, .931), slugging percentage (third, .532), on-base percentage batting (fifth, .398) and batting (tied-fifth, .318). And although he played just 129 games due to some lingering injuries, Werth still slugged 25 home runs en route to a 154 OPS+.

For those of you more inclined towards advanced statistics, consider wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), a statistic that Grantland baseball writer Jonah Keri considers “the most telling offensive stat in the game.” The statistic attempts to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs, and is park- and league-adjusted. For a complete breakdown, see the Fangraphs explanation here.

Despite wRC+ being a ratio, it is also a counting stat, meaning that it will go up the more extra-base hits, stolen bases, etc. achieved. And despite playing in only those 129 games, Jayson Werth (160) led all of the National League in wRC+ in 2013.

That’s right, better than the five-tool player McCutchen (155). Higher than both sluggers Paul Goldschmidt (156) and Joey Votto (156), who each appeared in at least 160 games. And Werth provided those runs for the Nationals all while maintaining his trademark patience at the plate.

Fans at Nationals Park show their support for their right fielder.

Fans at Nationals Park show their support for their right fielder.

Once again, Werth led the National League in pitches per plate appearance – just as he did in 2011 (4.37), 2010 (4.37) and 2009 (4.50) – clocking in at 4.24. The 34-year-old veteran paced a trio of Nationals in the top dozen in the league (Adam LaRoche, ninth – 4.07, Zimmerman, 12th – 4.01) as Washington was the lone Senior Circuit club with three players over the four-pitch threshold. Werth’s 4.42 career mark is still the highest active rate in Major League Baseball and among the highest of all time (third, unofficially) since the statistic began being tracked in the 1980s.

He also continued to steal bases at an exceedingly high rate, swiping 10 bags in 11 attempts. That raised his career success rate to 87.0 percent (114-for-131), good for fourth all-time in Major League history among qualifying players.

While continuing to do what he does best, Werth shrugged off early injuries en route to the National League Player of the Month Award in July, and made a great case to repeat the feat in August. He set career marks in batting and OPS, exceeding the 2010 season that saw him earn an eighth-place finish in the National League MVP voting. And while he may ultimately fall short of other awards this season, the Hank Aaron Award should – literally – have his name all over it.

- VOTE NOW FOR JAYSON WERTH FOR THE 2013 HANK AARON AWARD -

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner

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Hello everyone.

Another summer of Nationals baseball is in the books.

Eighty-six wins and a late-season charge that both captivated and frustrated fans and players alike.

I have been asked by friends and fans how a team with such a talented roster could play sub-.500 baseball for four months – breaking our hearts – and then come back and play so well during the season’s final six weeks?

All I know is there is no ‘sure thing’ in our game and we were certainly reminded of that in 2013. Some might answer that baseball’s true beauty is rooted in its humility. I’m proud of the way this team struggled back to finish the season, going 32-16 in the last seven-plus weeks – giving us back our hope for 2014.

Here are a few of my final thoughts on this season:

  • Congratulations to Ian Desmond on his second consecutive 20-homer, 20-stolen base season. It is a joy to watch a true professional play at his level, day-in and day-out. From my seat, I see that he’s quickly becoming the best shortstop in baseball.
  • Jayson Werth led the Nationals late-season surge.

    Jayson Werth led the Nationals late-season surge.

    Jayson Werth’s stellar season should put him on a short, short list for National League Comeback Player of the Year. His return from last year’s gruesome left wrist injury is simply remarkable. I know from personal experience how seriously and with what care he treats his health – intense rehab and workouts, and near fanatical nutrition.

  • Wilson Ramos is a difference-maker in our lineup. His ironman streak of 24 consecutive starts behind the plate with seven home runs and 24 RBI was one of the major factors in bringing this team up in the standings.
  • It was disappointing that Jordan Zimmermann was not able to capture his 20th win last week at Busch Stadium, but that takes nothing away from a terrific ‘13 season. I would expect Jordan to capture some votes in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
  • While Denard Span’s 29-game hitting streak was memorable, I also think it meant he finally found his comfort level in D.C. and the National League. If you remember, Jayson coped with some of his own transition issues when he joined us in 2011 after a long tenure with the Phillies, but found his groove and became the team contributor that we see today.
  • We had our fair share of injuries and adversity in 2013. I would have loved to see one more month out of Werth, 130 total starts from Ramos, and for Bryce Harper to have avoided that right field wall at Dodger Stadium at the beginning of the season, but those were the cards we were dealt. That said, those injuries afforded Anthony Rendon, Taylor Jordan, Ian Krol and Tanner Roark the opportunity to showcase their talents over the long stretch. Both the team and the players will benefit from those innings on the field.
  • I’d be remiss if I did not thank Davey Johnson for an historic run as our manager. Who will ever forget the summer of 2012, when postseason baseball returned to The Nation’s Capital for the first time since 1933? I know I won’t. Thanks Davey for helping to author memories that will never fade.
  • Lastly, I want to thank not only those reading this blog, but all of our fans that stand behind this team on a daily basis. Attendance was up over 9% this season. TV ratings were fantastic. Your passion for Nats baseball is felt all the way to the clubhouse – I’ve even heard our players talk about it. Your enthusiasm reminds us all why this game matters.  Thank you!
Jordan Zimmerman's 19 wins paced the Nationals staff.

Jordan Zimmermann’s 19 wins paced the Nationals staff.

Mike Rizzo will soon begin interviews to find our next manager. With most of our young talent in place for the next several years, and a strong pitching foundation built around an accomplished rotation, I have to think we have an attractive position to offer. I know Mike has a working list of candidates in mind, but he’s also talking to executives from around the game that he respects. This search will be extensive and we expect he’ll deliver the right man for the job.

It’s my hope that many of you will be able to meet our new skipper at NatsFest in January. We will be rolling out the specifics on our signature offseason event shortly. And MLB’s Winter Meetings (December 9-12 in Orlando, FL) will be here in short time too. Almost time to fire up the Hot Stove.

Yes, I know we all just completed a grueling 162-game season, but my optimism is already on ‘high’ for 2014.

Mark

What to Watch for: 9.28.13

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Washington Nationals (85-75) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (80-80)

RHP Dan Haren (9-14, 4.87) vs. RHP Brandon McCarthy (5-10, 4.64)

The Nationals hit two of the three longest home runs in baseball last night, as Wilson Ramos followed Jayson Werth’s three-run blast in the fifth inning (first, 448 feet) with one of his own in the eighth (third, 423 feet). Werth’s blast matched the longest of his career, also matching Ian Desmond’s August 14 drive off Tim Lincecum for the second-longest hit by a National this season. Desmond’s Kauffman Stadium blast 11 days later checks in as the longest by a Washington batter in 2013 at 455 feet.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Jayson Werth RF

4. Bryce Harper LF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Wilson Ramos C

7. Chad Tracy 1B

8. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

9. Dan Haren RHP

NAT WERTH

Jayson Werth is the only National Leaguer to rank in the top five in OPS (third, .935), slugging percentage (third, .535), batting average (fourth, .319) and on-base percentage (fifth, .400). At .935, Werth currently weighs in with the second-best OPS total in the Nationals nine-year history.

POWER SURGE

At the completion of play on September 1, Ryan Zimmerman was tied for 38th in the NL with 15 home runs. Zimmerman has hit 11 long balls and is currently tied for fifth in the NL with a team-leading 26 homers. Zimmerman’s 11 homers this month are the most in Major League Baseball (Hunter Pence, 10) and have established a Nationals record for the month of September. The only National to hit more home runs in single month: Alfonso Soriano – 12 in May, 2006.

20 x 5

Thanks to Ryan Zimmerman (26), Jayson Werth (25), Ian Desmond (20), Bryce Harper (20), and Adam LaRoche (20), the Nationals are one of three teams with a quintet of 20-homer bats, joining Atlanta and Toronto.

Let It Rain

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The 2013 season is not yet over. But the dream of defending the National League East crown, of a repeat trip to the postseason has come to an end.

While the end always stings, it did not come as suddenly or unexpectedly as the end of the 2012 season. And while it may have technically ended at the hands of the Cardinals, there wasn’t much of a sense of any connection between the end of last year and the end of this year. It was simply happenstance that the Nationals should make their lone trip to St. Louis at the end of September, after staving off elimination for weeks, and that Cincinnati and Pittsburgh should each squeak out runs against inferior opponents just minutes earlier to create such a scenario.

The odds were stacked against Washington as early as April, when Atlanta built a division lead it would never relinquish. They grew longer with injuries to key cogs in the offense and the rotation, and with the way the National League shook out, a high-80s win total was simply not good enough to knock on October’s door this year.

Though Johnson will not be on the bench next season, he will continue to work with Rizzo to improve the ballclub.

Though Johnson will not be on the bench next season, he will continue to work with Rizzo to improve the ballclub.

“It’s tough,” said Davey Johnson after Monday night’s 4-3 defeat. “You put the uniform on to win, and we didn’t get it done.”

This will be Johnson’s last year in uniform on the bench for Washington, which surely adds to that emotion. But there is solace in knowing that he will be back in the front office next season, helping President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo as the club looks to improve in 2014 and beyond.

“I’m not worried about the organization,” he expressed. “The organization’s in great shape.”

Ian Desmond, who has been the first to stand up and face the media in the wake of any tough loss this season, concurred in his assessment.

“I couldn’t ask to be in a better place, with a better group of guys,” he said.

Even as the national media has portrayed Jayson Werth as the emotional leader of this club, and continued to focus on Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg as the name-brand stars, it was Desmond who stayed consistently, statistically great the past two seasons, no matter what happened around him.

Ian Desmond's consistency and leadership will only strengthen the Nationals moving forward.

Ian Desmond’s consistency and leadership will only strengthen the Nationals moving forward.

His final 2012 line looked like so: .292/.335/.511 with 60 extra-base hits, 21 stolen bases and a team-leading 5.0 fWAR.

With five regular season games remaining in 2013, he’s compiled a .285/.337/.463 line with 61 extra-base hits, 21 steals and a 5.1 fWAR, again best on the club.

“For me personally, I just play the game the way I know how to play the game,” he said Monday night. “I don’t turn the dial up. The dial’s already turned up.”

Desmond’s ability to stay healthy has helped him remain consistent in a year of turbulence. That quality is one that Harper, who remained in his full jersey, sitting at his locker well after the conclusion of the game, looks to draw from heading into the offseason.

“I’ve got to try to be in this lineup every night,” Harper said, looking ahead to next season, referencing time missed due to injury this year.

But before all attention turns to 2014, Washington can still make life tough on these Cardinals. With two more games in St. Louis, the Nationals can go a long way toward determining the pecking order in the NL Central, perhaps pushing the Cards into the one-game Wild Card.

“We’ve got an opportunity to rain on their parade a little,” said Desmond, well aware of the situation.

And so, with that, we’ll say the words that baseball people never dare to speak aloud.

Let it rain.

What to Watch for: 9.23.13

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Washington Nationals (84-72) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (91-65)

RHP Tanner Roark (7-0, 1.08) vs. RHP Adam Wainwright (17-9, 2.98) 

Washington heads to St. Louis and Arizona for the final road trip of the 2013 season as the Nationals return to Busch Stadium for the first time since the 2012 NLDS. The Nationals continue to cling to slim postseason odds, but enter tonight’s game winners of six of their last eight, 13-of-16, and 24 of their last 32 games. In addition to the best September record in the National League, Washington owns the best overall mark in all of baseball (30-12) since August 9, since which point the Nats are +71 in run differential.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Jayson Werth RF

4. Bryce Harper LF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Anthony Rendon 2B

9. Tanner Roark RHP

MR. 20-20

Ian Desmond (number 20) stole his 20th and 21st bases of the season on Sunday, becoming the first National to reach the 20-20 plateau more than once. The only prior 20-20 seasons in Nationals history belong to Desmond (25 HR, 21 SB) in ‘12 and Alfonso Soriano (46 HR, 41 SB) in ‘06. Desmond is the eighth Major Leaguer to attain 20-20 status this season.

NAT WERTH

Jayson Werth is currently the only player who ranks among the National League’s top five in OPS (fifth, .927), slugging percentage (fourth, .528), batting average (fifth, .319) and on-base percentage (fifth, .398). Werth has hit better than .300 in July (.367), August (.380) and September (.304).

2,652,422 THANK YOUS ARE IN ORDER

In 2013, the Nationals hosted 2,652,422 fans to Nationals Park. The average attendance (32,746, 81 openings) is the highest in the six-year existence of Nationals Park and the highest since the inaugural year of the franchise back in 2005. Attendance at Nationals Park in ‘13 was up over 9.1% (or 2,736 per game) compared to 2012.

What to Watch for: 9.20.13

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Miami Marlins (56-97) vs. Washington Nationals (82-71)

RHP Jacob Turner (3-7, 3.51) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (18-8, 3.33)

The Nationals won their seventh game in as many tries at home against the Marlins Thursday night with a 3-2 victory behind Gio Gonzalez. Washington has won four-of-five, 11-of-13 and 22 of its last 29 games in its frantic, late-season push for the postseason. The Nationals will have their eyes on the Reds and Pirates – both of whom they are chasing in the Wild Card hunt – who begin the first of six matchups over the season’s final nine games.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Jayson Werth RF

4. Bryce Harper LF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche 1B

7. Wilson Ramos C

8. Anthony Rendon 2B

9. Jordan Zimmermann RHP

ALL GREAT THINGS MUST COME TO AN END

Denard Span’s 29-game hit streak came to an end last night, one game shy of the Nationals (2005-present) franchise mark, set by Ryan Zimmerman in 2009. A look at the longest hit streaks in D.C. baseball history:

1. Heinie Manush* (AL Nationals)              1933        33

2. Sam Rice* (AL Nationals)                      1924         31

T3. Ryan Zimmerman (NL Nationals)   2009        30

T3. Sam Rice* (AL Nationals)                     1929-30   30

T5. Denard Span (NL Nationals)           2013        29

T5. Sam Rice (AL Nationals)                       1920        29

* – Hall-of-Famer

FOUR SCORE AND 20 BLASTS AGO

With Bryce Harper’s 20th homer, the 2013 Nationals became the first club in franchise history, including Montreal, to have five 20-homer players. Ryan Zimmerman (25), Jayson Werth (23), Ian Desmond (20), Adam LaRoche (20) and Harper helped Washington become the third Major League team with five 20-homer players this season.

20-20 VISION

Ian Desmond—via his 20-homer, 19-stolen bag effort so far—is on the cusp of becoming the first National with multiple 20-20 campaigns (25 HR, 21 SB in ‘12). Six Major Leaguers have attained 20-20 status so far in ‘13: Carlos Gonzalez (26 HR-21 SB), Hunter Pence (25-21), Mike Trout (26-33), Will Venable (22-20), Carlos Gomez (21-36) and Andrew McCutchen (20-27).

Signature Moments of 2013

With 86 wins in the books, the 2013 season had its share of lasting memories. We seeded the top 10 in our book, and after more than 6,500 votes, you determined the ultimate Signature Moment of the season. Relive each and every one in video form below.

SigMomentsBracketFINAL

A STORYBOOK BEGINNING | 4.1
On April 1, Bryce Harper’s first swing of the 2013 campaign connected with a hanging curveball out of Ricky Nolasco’s hand, soared 406 feet and landed in the right field seats. In his second at-bat, the defending National League Rookie of the Year punished another Nolasco breaking ball, again to right. He couldn’t have scripted a better start to his sophomore season.

ONE HIT WONDERS | 4.25 & 4.26
On April 25 against the Cincinnati Reds, Gio Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano combined to throw just the second one-hitter in the history of the young Nationals franchise, handing the Reds an 8-1 loss. The very next night, Jordan Zimmermann did all the work himself, needing just 91 pitches to finish a one-hitter of his own, his first-career shutout, 1-0. It was the first time since August 10-11, 1917 that a Washington-based baseball club had one-hit an opponent on consecutive days, when Walter Johnson and a trio of Senators did so to the Chicago White Sox.

LOMBO LIFTS NATS | 6.4
With the Nationals trailing 2-1 late against the New York Mets, the bats came alive with a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning. Ryan Zimmerman led off the frame with a double and scored on a single by Adam LaRoche, who went to third on a double by Ian Desmond. After an intentional walk loaded the bases, Steve Lombardozzi worked a nine-pitch at-bat before lifting a sacrifice fly down the left-field line, just deep enough to score LaRoche for the Nats first walk-off win of the 2013 season.

THE WALKING DEAD | 6.19
Trailing most of the game on June 19 in Philadelphia, the Nationals bats awakened just in the nick of time to force extra innings and steal a win to end a long, grinding road trip. Jayson Werth, of the “be ready to eat some face” comment following the tough loss the night before, ripped a game-tying, two-out, RBI-single in the top of the ninth inning. In the 11th, the Nationals loaded the bases for Ian Desmond, who annihilated a hanging slider from Michael Stutes for his first career grand slam, giving the Nats a 6-2 win.

BRYCE IS BACK | 7.1
Exactly three months after the Nationals 2013 campaign began, Washington came to bat in the bottom of the first with Bryce Harper hitting third in its lineup – his first game back after missing more than a month due to injury. Harper took ball one, then rocketed a solo home run to put the Nationals in front, just as he did in his first at-bat on Opening Day.

RAMOS RETURNS | 7.4
After Wilson Ramos spent 44 games on the disabled list, his return to the Nationals lineup on July 4 couldn’t have come soon enough. Ramos plated a career-high five RBI (surpassing his previous high of three), capped by a three-run bomb in the seventh inning that broke open a tie game and helped lift the Nationals to an 8-5 Independence Day win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

WALK-OFF WONDERS | 7.25 & 7.26
On July 25, in a 7-7 tie with two outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the ninth, Bryce Harper ripped a line drive to deep left-center field, just clearing the #NATITUDE sign and dropping into the second row of the Red Porch for the first game-winning home run of his career. The very next night, in the second game of a doubleheader with the New York Mets, Ryan Zimmerman punished a high fastball over the out-of-town scoreboard to give the Nationals a 2-1 victory. It was his ninth-career walk-off home run, four shy of the Major League record.

ONE GRAND SWING | 8.10
Jayson Werth reached the 1,000-hit milestone in memorable fashion on August 10, in an 8-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. After a pair of singles in his second and third at-bats got him to 999, Werth was set up for a chance to reach the 1,000 mark in his next at-bat, which came in a tie game with a runner at first and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The normally methodical Werth took no time to make his presence felt, jumping on the first pitch and wrapping it inside the left field foul pole for a go-ahead, two-run home run.

THE STRAS ‘SHO’ | 8.11
On August 11 against the Philadelphia Phillies, Stephen Strasburg completed his first Major League shutout in a 6-0 Nationals victory. Impressively, he combined the dominant power pitching with which he burst onto the scene in his first big league start, with the pitch-to-contact approach he has executed this season. Despite striking out 10 Philadelphia batters, the 25-year-old needed just 99 pitches and faced just 29 batters, two over the minimum.

“IT AIN’T OVER…” | 9.17
Following the tragic events of September 16 at the nearby Navy Yard, the mood was somber as the Nationals took on the Atlanta Braves in game one of a split doubleheader the next day. Down two in the bottom of the ninth against the seemingly unbeatable Craig Kimbrel, the Nats rallied for three runs to win the game, scoring the go-ahead and winning runs on a grounder by Denard Span that snuck between the legs of Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

Improbabilities and Impossibilities

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by Noah Frank

“We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.” – Vince Lombardi

It is not impossible for the Nationals to make it to the postseason this year. The strange twists and turns of this season have left them looking up a steep hill, at tall odds stacked heavily against them. And while not impossible, the chance of them crashing the party remains highly improbable. Which is to say that they will need a number of improbabilities to swing their way, in succession, to defy those odds.

They got off to a good start on Tuesday.

Facing the prospects of a crushing loss in the opening game of the twinbill against the Braves, the Nationals did something no team has done in Craig Kimbrel’s 225 career appearances, scoring the three runs they needed to erase a two-run deficit to walk off with a 6-5 win. The Baseball Reference win probability chart had the Nats at eight percent to win in such a scenario entering the bottom of the ninth.

Leverage

The comeback was made even more amazing, and the result even more unlikely than the probabilities suggest, considering that Washington had yet to score against the Atlanta closer his 10 prior appearances against them this season. He had converted 37 straight save opportunities, a string that was going to end as soon as the ball left Denard Span’s bat, as his one-out grounder was going to be deep enough to score the tying run. But as Andrelton Simmons – the highest-rated defensive shortstop in baseball – pulled his glove up, the ball skipping untouched through his legs, the Nationals found themselves celebrating an even more unbelievable victory.

Denard Span keyed another improbable Nationals victory.

Denard Span keyed another improbable Nationals victory in game one.

The long odds didn’t end in game one, though. After Tanner Roark, perhaps the unlikeliest figure in this late season charge, delivered seven scoreless frames in the nightcap, Washington clung to a 1-0 lead heading to the bottom of the eighth. The Braves turned to Jordan Walden, who had allowed just one run in eight prior appearances against the Nats, coming on a solo shot by Ryan Zimmerman. The Z-Man took an encore roundtripper to double the lead, then Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche combined to plate two more runs as the Nationals put the game away.

Against the two relievers who had dominated them the most this season, the Nationals suddenly broke through for three runs apiece. Coming in, Walden and Kimbrel had combined to go 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA (1 ER/18.0 IP), four walks, 22 strikeouts and a perfect 7-for-7 in save chances in the season series. On Tuesday, they were 0-1 with a 22.50 ERA (5 ER/2.0 IP), with two walks, no strikeouts and a blown save.

While Washington has no realistic chance to catch Atlanta in the division, the two wins ensured the Braves could not clinch the NL East in Washington this week. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds have continued to win in Houston, lowering the Nationals postseason chances to 3.3 percent, according to Baseball Prospectus, heading into play on Wednesday. However, the Pittsburgh Pirates have lost two straight, bringing them back into the picture as well. In order to tie the Reds or Pirates and force a one-game playoff to get to the Wild Card game, the Nationals would need to play out their remaining games with one of the following combinations from their opponents:

Improbabilities

While it seems unlikely that teams like Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, clubs which have played well all season, will collapse entirely, any of the top three combinations seem possible. Yes, it would require the Nationals to keep playing at the same rate they have over their last 12 games (in which they are 11-1) against stronger competition, including three games in St. Louis.

These are not probable outcomes. But, then again, after what happened on Tuesday at Nationals Park, we know that improbable does not equal impossible.

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