The Nationals have now won 14 straight Strasburg starts, dating back to last season. Strasburg improved to 8-0 in 2016, which is the best start in franchise history since Pedro Martinez did the same as a Montreal Expo in 1997. Strasburg and the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta are the only two qualified starters who have not yet been beaten. All of that speaks well of Strasburg, of course.
But wins are not always the product of good pitching alone. Luck, quality of opponent and run support can all factor in. So what does 8-0 say about Strasburg’s season, and what does 14 straight wins in games started by him say about his efforts?
“Eight-and-oh matches some pretty good pitchers around baseball,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “. . . And that means he is one of the best out there and he’s pitching like it. A lot of people say the wins don’t matter, but the wins matter to the guys on the team and the wins matter to the person that’s getting the wins.”
Strasburg looked as good early on Tuesday as he has all season, his fastball reaching 97 mph, his curveball dipping to the low 80s. He carried a perfect game into the fourth and had six strikeouts through three innings — at least one finished by all of his pitches, the fastball, the cutter, change-up and curveball.
“Adjectives are tough to describe how well he’s thrown the ball this year,” second baseman Daniel Murphy said. “I’m glad he’s on my side.
The first 10 Mets headed back to the dugout, unable to reach. Then Strasburg left a 2-1 fastball over the plate to former teammate Asdrubal Cabrera, who hit it out to right, ending the brief no-hit bid and giving the Mets a lead. Strasburg allowed one more run in the seventh, when Yoenis Cespedes led off with a double and scored on a forceout at second. Strasburg struck out at least 10 batters for the fifth time in 10 starts. Only Arrieta and Clayton Kershaw have better ERAs since Strasburg returned from the disabled list last season.
“There’s definitely some highs and lows. Obviously, there was quite a bit of lows last year for me,” Strasburg said. “I learned a lot through that process, so I’m just trying to ride the roller coaster and stay consistent and be a good teammate every single day and do everything I can to help the team win the game.”
One thing Strasburg cannot control is run support, though he had been the beneficiary of the fourth-most runs per nine innings (7.82) of any pitcher in baseball entering Tuesday’s start. That number went down, because when Strasburg left the Nationals had only scored five runs against Harvey, though that was plenty.
Harvey has been struggling so much the Mets considered skipping his turn through the rotation. He lasted five innings, his effectiveness dwindling as the game went on. After the Nationals hit three homers, Harvey’s ERA reached 6.08. The Nationals got to him in the fourth.
Ryan Zimmerman, scuffling early on, showed signs of improvement over the weekend in Miami and had two hits in Monday night’s loss, both to the opposite field — the kind of hits that don’t come easily to hitters out of rhythm at the plate. After he singled in the second inning Tuesday, Zimmerman hit a 2-2 change-up over the left field fence to give the Nationals their first run.
Then came Anthony Rendon, who also homered. Rendon is hitting .407 since being moved down in the order before the series with the Mets in New York last week. Despite the numbers, Rendon said afterward that “literally nothing” feels different at the plate now than it has all season, and that where he hits in the order does not matter.
Ben Revere doubled off Harvey in the fifth and scored on a sacrifice fly. Murphy hit a two-run home run later in the inning. The Nationals did not seem overpowered by Harvey early, when he was throwing 95-96 mph in the first few innings. They seemed to overpower him later, and by the third inning he was sitting around 93.
Murphy singled again once Harvey left, securing his 23rd multi-hit game in 45 games. Murphy is hitting .392. Revere hit his fifth career home run — off lefty Antonio Bastardo, his former teammate in Philadelphia — in the seventh. Wilson Ramos hit his fifth home run, off Jim Henderson, in the eighth. On one of the warmer nights of the year so far, the Nationals hit five home runs, the most they have all season.
“Like I said all along, this is a warm weather team. These guys are swinging like it,” Baker said. “That ball was jumping out today. That’s the first time we’ve seen that.”
The extra runs became important when Shawn Kelley allowed a two-run home run to Mets first baseman Eric Campbell in the ninth, the first runs Kelley has allowed this season. But by the end of it all, Strasburg was a winner again. He has not lost since Sept. 9. Whatever wins say about a pitcher, their meaning to the Nationals as a team is clear: They are 10 games over .500 again, and the Mets have one more loss because of it.