It seems like every day, history is being made for this team. A win in the postseason was a pretty good way for the franchise to introduce itself, and the game was an exciting one. Here are the biggest plays for the Nats from their first playoff win ever. I’ve included the Fangraphs stat Win Probability Added, WPA, and I’ve made them all in positive numbers, the only plays we’re concerned about here are ones that add to the Nats probability. But as you can see, I didn’t just rank em by WPA, because as you’ll notice, that just won’t work. Starting with the first run in Nats postseason history:
5. Kurt Suzuki knocks 1 in (WPA 10.2%)
It became the story of the night it seemed – men on first and third, one out, and someone strikes out. This time it was Danny Espinosa, who had a rough rough night at the bat (3 Ks and a strange bunt that magically ended up doing something good) who struck out, and it was up to the #8 hitter Kurt Suzuki. With the pitcher up next, he might not have thought he’d get much to hit, but that early in the game, Wainwright probably was hoping to start the 3rd by pitching to Gio. So Suzuki did end up with something to hit, and he ripped a ball through the hole on the left side, getting an RBI and putting the Nats up for the moment.
This is one of those plays that doesn’t really show up in things like changes in win probability. And it seems like the same thing in the box score – just a flyout to the right fielder. But Jayson Werth caught that ball with his glove over the fence – if he doesn’t haul it in, it’s a homer, it’s 3-1 and who knows how things unfold from there. I can promise you if he DOESN’T catch, the WPA is significantly different.
3. Mattheus saves the day, doesn’t earn a save (WPA 11.4%)
Thanks to an error, a single, and then a graze by pitch, bases are loaded in the bottom of the 7th with nobody out. At this point, you’re probably thinking that if the Nats could get away only down by 2 or 3, you’d take it. Ryan Mattheus comes in to the game and proceeds to get Allen Craig to hit a hard grounder to SS on the first pitch, which Desmond throws home. No double play, but at least nobody scored. Up comes Yadier, still with the bases loaded and only one out, with a real chance to bust the game wide open. With one more pitch, it’s over, a 5-4-3 double play. If you add in the play before, Mattheus WPA for the 2 ABs was 15.8%, on two pitches.
2. Gio comes back (WPA 1.5%)
Ok so this isn’t one play, it’s 1-2-3, which is exactly what Gio Gonzalez was able to do in the third. If you remember the torture of the second inning – 4 walks, a wild pitch, swings by the Cardinals on balls outside the zone to fly out after the walks, and what seemed like an eternity – the third inning was entered with some trepidation. But Gio got Holliday on 5 pitches (without throwing a ball), struck out Allen Craig, and got Yadier to pop up on a 3-0 count. What seemed like a poor start and a long afternoon for Gio turned into a strong (2 ER) although short (5 IP) outing and allowed them to stay only a run behind for the majority of the game. If he couldn’t have gone more than 2 or 3, it could have messed up the pitching staff for the whole series, not to mention lead to a loss on Sunday. Gio may have drove you crazy in the second, but he deserves a ton of credit for coming back and keeping the Nats in it.
1. Tyler Moore’s PH single (WPA 46.6%)
With 2 outs in the bottom of the 8th inning, down by 1 run, Tyler Moore stepped up for his first playoff appearance. The Nats probability of winning the game was a measly 27.6%. By the next batter, their probability was was 74.2%. With runners on second and third, following a Kurt Suzuki strikeout, Chad Tracy came in to hit for Ryan Mattheus. Perhaps showing the difference in playoff experience, Mike Matheny did presumably exactly what Davey Johnson wanted him to do. He replaced his hard throwing setup man to play lefty righty matchups. Bringing in the lefty Rzepczynski to face Tracey, Davey then came replaced Tracy with Moore. Moore, a RH hitter much more effective against LHPs, got a chance to face one and he delivered. This was the biggest hit of the Nats postseason so far, but it was probably the biggest managerial move as well.
One game is in the books, and the Nats are up 1-0. Undefeated. And if you recall what this team did April through June, this type of game should be pretty familiar. It seemed like back then, every game was a squeaker, with comebacks being the norm. If this series is going to unfold like the season, hopefully the bats will start to show their power soon enough.