In 2016, the Washington Nationals won the National League East Division crown for the third time in the last five seasons.
There were just four early May days in which the Nationals did not lead the division. Winning 14 of 18 from late May through mid-June, the club opened a healthy lead that it would never relinquish.
In the end, Washington finished at 95-67, eight games ahead of the second place New York Mets. This left them with the second best record in the National League, and gave them home field advantage in their NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In that NLDS, the Nats dropped a tough 4-3 opener, but then captured the next two games to move within a game of advancing.
But then a clutch RBI single by Chase Utley in the bottom of the 8th inning broke up a Game Four tie at Dodger Stadium, giving the Dodgers a narrow 6-5 victory to tie the series.
In the decisive Game Five back at Nationals Park it was another former Phillies star who helped do them in. Carlos Ruiz‘ RBI single in the top of the 7th broke a 1-1 tie. Ruiz then scored on Justin Turner‘s two-run triple.
The Dodgers would go on to a 4-3 win, their third one-run victory, and advance to the NLCS. The Nationals thus again came up short in their drive to reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
WASHINGTON 2016 OFFENSIVE LEADERS
The Nationals had a half-dozen players with 20+ homers, but no one reached the 30 homer mark this season.
Second baseman Daniel Murphy was the club’s top overall offensive performer. Washington signed the 2015 NLCS MVP as a free agent from the division-rival Mets in January.
Murphy hit for a .347/.390/.595 slash line with 25 homers and 104 RBI, leading the club in each of those categories. He was an NL All-Star for the second time, won a Silver Slugger, and was runner-up for the NL MVP Award.
Right fielder Bryce Harper had what many considered a down year. Many players would take his .373 on-base percentage, 24 homers, 86 RBI, 84 runs scored, and 21 steals and be more than happy. The 23-year old Harper was also an NL All-Star for the fourth time in his five seasons.
26-year old third baseman Anthony Rendon produced 20 homers, 85 RBI, 91 runs scored, and stole a dozen bases. He also hit .291 after the MLB All-Star break.
Catcher Wilson Ramos was an NL All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner. He hit .307 with 22 home runs and 80 RBI.
Trea Turner finished as the NL Rookie of the Year runner-up after hitting for a .342/.370/567 slash line with 13 homers, 40 RBI, 53 runs, and 33 steals in just 324 plate appearances.
NATIONALS 2016 PITCHING LEADERS
Right-hander Tanner Roark has a breakout year at age 29, finishing 10th in NL Cy Young voting. He went 16-10 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.171 WHIP, allowing 173 hits in 210 innings with 172 strikeouts.
Stephen Strasburg once again missed time due to injury issues, making 24 starts. He was fabulous when available, going 15-4 with a 3.60 ERA and 1.104 WHIP, allowing just 119 hits in 147.2 innings with a 183/44 K:BB ratio.
Jonathan Papelbon began the year as the closer, leading the club with 19 Saves. But he lost that job, replaced by trade deadline acquisition Mark Melancon. After coming over from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Melancon registered 17 Saves with a 1.82 ERA and 0.809 WHIP with a 27/3 K:BB ratio over 29.2 innings.
A pair of righties were strong out of the Nats bullpen. Shawn Kelley had seven Saves while pitching in 67 games. He allowed just 41 hits over 58 innings with an 80/11 K:BB ratio. Blake Treinen pitched in a staff-high 73 ball games, allowing 51 hits over 67 innings and registering a 2.28 ERA.
MAD MAX IS THE NATS TOP PLAYER
The Nationals best overall performer in the 2016 season was starting pitcher Max Scherzer. In his second season after signing as a free agent, Scherzer became the first pitcher in franchise history to win the National League Cy Young Award.
The 31-year old Scherzer was also an All-Star for the fourth time in his career, and even finished 10th in the NL MVP voting. On May 11, Scherzer tied an MLB record when he struck out 20 batters in facing his former Detroit Tigers club.
Scherzer went 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA and a 0.968 WHIP mark that led all MLB starting pitchers. Those 20 wins as well as his 228.1 innings, 34 starts, and 5.07 K/BB ratio all led the National League. His 284 strikeouts led all of baseball.
Having previously won the Cy Young Award over in the American League back in 2013 with Detroit, Scherzer became just the sixth pitcher and the first in a dozen years to win the honors in both leagues.
“For some reason, this just means so much more to me. It just verifies everything I try to go out there and set out to achieve,” said Scherzer per Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post. ”Winning the second one confirms that everything I tried to do works.”
Everything that Scherzer tried did quite obviously work in the 2016 season. For that he takes home the Nationals Player of the Year Award.