Back To School: 10 Lessons from the Nationals 10 Game Homestand

spanwalkoff The Nationals have been on an epic tear. Even after dropping the past two games to the Phillies, the Nats have won 12 of their last 15 contests, with 5 of them being decided by a walk off. The Nats, have now surpassed the O’s , who got swept by the Cubs this weekend for the largest division lead in baseball. As I am writing this, they are 7.5 games up on the Braves in the NL East, so there is comfort going into September and (hopefully) the postseason.

The Nats are on the road now for 9 games, after finishing a 10-game homestand.  We learned a lot of things over that time, as they played 7 games against the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona D-Backs, and 3 pivotal games against the Giants.   Here is a recap of some of the lessons the Nats taught us fans over the past couple of weeks and a way to remember these great games.

AUG 15- Nationals 5, Pirates 4 Don’t be so confident with your lead. The Nats jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the 5th inning, but the Pirates made a comeback making it look like Pittsburgh would break the Nats 3 game winning streak.  The Pirates comeback was highlighted by a 2 run home run by Starling Marte off Tanner Roark in the 4th inning and a RBI single by Pedro Alvarez in the 9th with two down to make it a 5-4 game – it looked like the Pirates would make the Nats walk the plank. Luckily, Rafael Soriano got Josh Harrison to pop out to end the game. You can not be comfortable even with a lead playing against a team like the Pirates.

AUG 16- Nationals 4, Pirates 3 Believe in the bottom of the order. Oh sure, he regularly bats 7th or 8th on a daily basis, but never count out the lively bat of Wilson Ramos! The Nats fell behind 3-0 in the 3rd inning, and it stayed that way until the eighth inning, when a Kevin Frandsen RBI single and an Anthony Rendon double play set up a game tying two run home run by Adam LaRoche, and in the 9th, Wilson Ramos laced a RBI double into the bullpen in right field on a bounce to end the game.

AUG 17- Nationals 6, Pirates 5  It’s OK to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them.  When the Nats were down 2-0 on errors by Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond hit an RBI single that closed the gap and made it a 2-1 game. It seems like the Nationals learned from the errors but the Pirates didn’t, because Ike Davis and Pedro Alvarez made back-to-back blunders to give the Nats 3 runs and a 4-2 lead. In the 9th, Rafael Soriano threw a wild pitch to make it a 4-3 game, and then Gregory Polanco hit a RBI double off the wall to score two and to give Pittsburgh a 5-4 lead. The Nats didn’t give up, though.  Luckily, Asdrubal Cabrera came through big time with a RBI single and in the 11th, Scott Hairston walked the Nats off with a sac fly. Sweep!

AUG 18- Nationals 5, D-Backs 4 Don’t get discouraged. Rookie outfielder Jake Lamb started the scoring for the Diamondbacks with a sacrifice fly in the 5th, but Wilson Ramos answered with a two run liner off Vidal Nuno over the 402 sign in centerfield. Didi Gregorius put Arizona on top with a two run home run in the 8th, but the Nats’ Bats answered in the bottom of the inning with a RBI triple by Rendon and a sacrifice fly by Werth to put the Nats ahead 4-3. That lead didn’t last long. David Peralta hit a home run to tie the game, and no one scored until Adam LaRoche unloaded for a walk-off home run on a big, fat curveball by Will Harris.  The Nationals didn’t get discouraged and give up.  Instead, they stayed in it the whole game and walked off the winners.

AUG 19- Nationals 8, D-Backs 1 Extra-innings “free baseball” and walkoffs are fun, but sometimes easy games are more fun.  After Stephen Strasburg battled with David Peralta in the 1st and eventually gave up a solo shot to him, Stras settled down. However, the Nats’ bats didn’t. They scored six in the 3rd, highlighted by a bases clearing double by Asdrubal Cabrera. Ian Desmond added with a 2 run single, and Jerry Blevins K’d Aaron Hill to end the contest.  It was a nice, normal and high scoring game, and it didn’t take 4 hours like the last 2 games.

AUG 20- Nationals 3, D-Backs 2 But walkoffs are fun and exciting too! Wilson Ramos opened up the scoring in the 2nd, beating out a potential double play by Bryce Harper’s takeout slide. In the 6th, Jayson Werth doubled in Asdrubal Cabrera to make it a 2-0 game. However, Ender Inciarte hit a home run to right field to tie the game in the 8th inning off Tyler Clippard. Anthony Rendon singled near the chalk past the diving Cliff Pennington to end the game with a series-clinching walkoff.  Three of the last four games ended with this kind of excitement.

AUG 21- Nationals 1, D-Backs 0  Sometimes you just get lucky.  With all the goose eggs on the board through 9 innings, this game didn’t look like it was going to be as exciting as the last few games. Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez were locked in an epic pitchers’ duel. There was a lot of loading the bases then striking out to leave the runners stranded. In the 9th, Denard Span singled and stole second, then Anthony Rendon grounded a ball to the third baseman Jordan Pacheco, but he threw it away.  Because Span was running on contact, he was in between 2nd and 3rd already. The ball bounced into the camerawell and Span was awarded home.  This proves that there are lots of different ways to walk off, and sometimes you get lucky breaks.

AUG 22- Nationals 3, Giants 10 Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The Nationals jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a missed catch on a stolen base attempt by 2B Joe Panik, but he would make up for that. In the 4th inning, Panik lifted one over the centerfield fence for his first MLB home run, scoring three and giving San Francisco the lead. Jayson Werth productively homered on a laser to left field, but the Giants answered with Buster Posey’s 15th homer of the season in the 6th. Travis Ishikawa made it a 6-2 game with a two run double, and Ross Detwiler struggled in the 9th, to give San Francisco a commanding 10-2 lead. Wilson Ramos hit an RBI double in the bottom of the 9th, but pitcher Juan Gutierrez shut the door in the 9th for the Giants, ending the Nats’ ten game winning streak.  This just shows that sometimes you win big, and sometimes you lose big.  Hang in there!

AUG 23- Nationals 6, Giants 2 Never give up on your team. After Hunter Pence tomahawked a 0-2 pitch over the out of town scoreboard in right-center field, the Nats may have seemed to lose confidence. But they tied the game on a double play in the bottom of the first, and tacked on three more runs to make it a 5-2 Nats lead. Asdrubal Cabrera then hit home run number 11 for the season (CLE/WSH). The game remained 6-2, and after Tim Lincecum was pulled, Yusmeiro Petit pitched 5 1/3 innings of perfect ball. He has been shutting down, but Jordan Zimmerman was a tad better, only giving up the Pence home run. In the 9th, Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse singled off Matt Thornton, but he grounded Joe Panik into a double play and got Andrew Susac to fly out with a runner at third to end the game.  It was a nice way to make up for the big loss the day before.

AUG 24- Nationals 14, Giants 6 Did you hear me?  Never give up on your team!  I was at the Sunday matinee game, and it was a great one!  Gregor Blanco led off the game with a home run into section 141, where my family was actually sitting at the time. The Giants added another run on a Travis Ishikawa dinger, and the Giants tacked on three in the 3rd to make it a 5-0 game. That’s about when we decided to get up from our seats and move somewhere else in the stadium for a change of view.  Adam LaRoche and Asdrubal Cabrera doubled in runs in the 4th to make it a 5-2 game, but Hunter Pence hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-2 in the 6th. It seemed like the game was slipping away, but here is where the excitement started. Ian Desmond crushed a solo shot over the bullpen off Ryan Vogelsong, and Bruce Bochy quickly changed Vogelsong to usually good lefty Jeremy Affeldt. Against Jose Lobaton, Affeldt threw a wild pitch to him AND gave up a RBI single. Scott Hairston doubled to tie the game at 6, and Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche had back-to-back RBI singles to make it a 8-6 game. The Nats actually batted around the order.  Denard Span added on with a RBI single in the 7th. Ian Desmond hit a RBI single in the 8th, followed by home runs from Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa. Rafael Soriano K’d Michael Morse to end the game.  Even when it looked like the Nats would lose the game and the series to the Giants down by 5 in the 3rd inning, they didn’t give up and battled back to a commanding win by over 8 runs in the end.

 Now that most kids are back at school, or will be going back next week, these are some great lessons to take into the last month of the season and the playoffs.  The Nationals lost Monday and Tuesday to the Phillies on the road and have a tough road trip against the Dodgers and Mariners ahead.  Even with a current 7.5 game lead going into the stretch, they play the Braves 6 more times and have a couple of series against other NL East rivals.  If they don’t do as well in the future, we need to keep these lessons in mind, because this may have been the greatest stretch of baseball in Nationals history and it was so much fun for the fans!

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