Well, the season's over--dramatically, in the case of the Washington Nationals--and so is this series. At this point, the relevant teams are the ten that could still win the World Series. Nine of them are the Orioles, Tigers, Royals, A's, Angels, Cardinals, Pirates, Dodgers, and Giants. Washington's the tenth. As a reminder, for each team, I'm looking at how they've done over the past 30 days.
How Are They Doing Lately? The Nationals have the best record in the majors over the past 30 days, 20-9. They scored 4.0 runs per game, seventh in the league, and gave up 3.1, the third fewest. (The league averages were 3.9 per game). At 96-66, they tied the Orioles for the second-best record in baseball.
What's Going Right? They're seventh in batting average (.254), fifth in on base percentage (.325), and fifth in slugging percentage (.397) over the past 30 days. The league average slash line, by contrast, is .249/.310/.379. They've walked in 8.5% of plate appearances, second most in the league, indicative of their good plate discipline (swinging at 30% of pitches outside the strike zone, fourth fewest in the league). They're fourth in the league in homers with 30, as is their percentage of fly balls that go over the fence, 12%. The latter, well above the league average of 9%, suggests they may have been a little homer-lucky, as their full season average is 10.6%. Complementing their power, the Nationals led the league in stolen bases over the past 30 days with 22, and they've been more successful at their stolen base attempts (73%) than average (68%). All told, the offense has been good and balanced.
The pitchers' 2.59 ERA over the past 30 days is second in the league. The starters' 2.32 is easily first (the Pirates are second at 2.56) and the bullpen's 3.23 is seventh compared to the league average of 3.73. The pitchers have also epitomized the On The Field Of Play mantra, it's good to throw strikes, it's better to get strikes, as they've been the best in the league at throwing strikes over the past 30 days (51.3% of pitches in the strike zone) and the best at getting strikes (opposing batters swinging at 33.6% of pitches outside the strike zone).
What's Going Wrong? The starting pitchers have probably been a little lucky. Three of their indicators of luck--batting average on balls in play, home runs as a percentage of fly balls, and baserunners stranded--are so far below the league averages over the past 30 days that they are likely to revert toward the mean. The starters have allowed just a .262 batting average on (non-homer) balls in play compared to a league average of .307, they've allowed homers on only 5.6% of fly balls compared to a league average of 8.5%, and they've stranded 76% of baserunners compared to a league average of 72%. I'm not suggesting they'll revert to the mean--this is a talented rotation--but their seasonlong averages of .292, 8.5%, and 75% seem more realistic. Not to worry, though: Washington's 3.04 ERA for the full year is the best in the majors.
Who's Hot? The Nats' outfield, that's who. Bryce Harper in left, Denard Span in center, and Jayson Werth in right have combined to bat .308 with a .398 on base percentage and a .488 slugging percentage over the past 30 days. Again, the league average slash line is just .249/.310/.379. Werth, who's drawn 20 walks, second most in the league, has a league-high on base percentage at .470. Third baseman Anthony Rendon has also been hot too, batting .319 with a .406 on base percentage and .484 slugging percentage.
As for the starting pitchers, the big question going into the postseason is which one goes to the bullpen. The starting five is Jordan Zimmermann (4-0, 1.32 ERA), Stephen Strasburg (4-1, 1.13 ERA), Doug Fister (4-1, 1.87 ERA), Gio Gonzalez (4-1, 2.48 ERA), and Tanner Roark (3-2, 3.09 ERA). Drew Storen took over as the team's closer and didn't allow an earned run during the month, compiling ten saves.
Who's Not? The only hitters with a cold bat over the past 30 days are second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, acquired from the Indians at the trade deadline (.211/.287/.344 slash line) and catcher Wilson Ramos (.185/.202/.272). The bullpen, despite Storen's September, is probably the team's weak spot. Storen got his job because Rafael Soriano blew up, compiling a 6.48 ERA in the second half of the season after a 0.97 ERA up to the All-Star break. Over the past 30 days, no Nationals reliever with over seven innings pitched has an ERA below 3.50 except Storen.
What's the Outlook? The Nationals don't seem to me to have any noticeable holes. The bullpen's not great, but with that starting rotation, they aren't overly reliant on their relievers. They'll get the winner of the Giants-Pirates wild card game for a five-game series starting Friday. They will be favored to win, with good reason. Which probably means they'll get swept or something.