Nationals Baseball

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

27 outs away

First off let me get off my chest that the idea that Strasburg up at 231 IP (previous high 220 in 2014) and 90 pitches in this game should come out for the 7th inning with a 6-0 lead is criminal.  You are risking the health and usefulness of Strasburg for anything beyond this point for literally no reason. You are almost certain to go all hands on deck for the next series. You need all these guys at their best. You get a rare chance to build up such as lead that you can rest a precious starter and you let him get to 117 pitches. That's reckless.

This is why you need me soulless automaton because the crowd reaction was basically "COOL!"  Right now, the Nats could put Gomes in CF, watch him make 4 errors, but if he hits a swinging bunt that the 3rd baseman airmails into the crowd and a couple runs scored the fans would be like "DAVEY PUSHING ALL THE RIGHT BUTTONS!"  You aren't thinking straight in the euphoria of winning. This above. This was BAD.

OK but the Nats easily take the win and move onto Game 4 tonight.  I was speculating on what I'd ideally want and figured I don't like sooo many days off before playing again. So if I could control things I would lose tonight with Corbin going 4, Suero, Elias, Guerra, Voth - whoever is on the roster - eating up the remaining 5 innings. This way Corbin isn't pushed and everyone gets a chance to throw because you never know who you are going to need. Then either late tomorrow (rain) or Thursday Anibal goes an easy dominant 7, Doo and Hudson finish out the win.  But of course I can't control everything, so hope for a win to get it over with.

What's happening now is an average offense in a slump is facing great pitching. The results are what you see - dominance.  The Cardinals can't score first, they can barely score, and they can't then match-up like they would like to keep the game in their hands.  Instead they have to play catch-up.  Honestly what I think happened with the Cardinals is they went into Game 1 thinking "We don't need to gameplan Sanchez and get him out early! Our bats are on fire! We'll knock him out!" and then Sanchez was game for that aggressive approach. They went down and woke up thinking "Jesus, we gotta beat some great pitchers coming up. We really screwed up" and started playing VERY tight.  Just look at last night.  One bouncing single through the infield by Eaton and they start choking. There's no leeway for the Cardinals. They are ready to pack it in at a moment's notice now.

On the Nats side - if Kendrick is Hot Howie - that helps the Nats tremendously.  You can work around Rendon and Soto but you can't work around 3 guys without giving up something. In fact Soto is totally struggling right now. But Howie has picked it up and honestly that's all the Nats need with the Cardinals looking as dead as they can.

I know how it works. Nats lose tonight with the Cardinals actually scoring runs and the thoughts become "ok gotta win tomorrow because we want to win at home and oh no, the bats have woken up and if they get back to St Louis they just have to win one to get back to Flaherty and he's not going to be off twice and have bad defense..." and the usual spiral into the strange world of "favorite depression" So win tonight. Get it done. Get it over.


Monday, October 14, 2019

Looking ahead

As a soulless automaton I don't have to worry about believing I will jinx the Nats.  They will win or lose independent of whatever I do here. So let's talk about the World Series.

Ok, ok let's first talk about the NLCS. Both teams failed at an objective I laid out.  The Cardinals didn't get to Anibal Sanchez.  The Nats didn't beat up Adam Wainwright. But you saw how that plays out.  The good but not great Cardinals team can't win that game.  The great as long as you don't look behind the curtain Nationals can.  And so we see how the rest of the series will probably play out. The Cardinals may win tonight, as they have their legitimate ace who might out ace the Nats ace, and the Cardinals may sneak a win from a late game Doolittle or Hudson beat up. I don't think anyone here is convinced those guys are untouchable. But can they do that three times? Or twice and have Flaherty out ace the Nats twice? Seems very unlikely.**

That means the Nats will end up in the World Series and I don't know if you've been watching the ALCS but those teams are very good!  Now the Nats just beat a very good team in the Dodgers, so it's not like it can't happen but to do it they had to go Defcon 5, all starters throwing relief innings, only 2 crucial outs being made by the regular non Doo/Hud pen basically. You figure to win the World Series they'd have to do something similar. And if you want to do something similar you have a particular hope. The Nats need rest.

I've said this multiple times, but I'll mention it again. Strasburg is beyond his max innings pitched for any season. Corbin is beyond his max innings pitched for any season. Max, isn't but he is 35 and pitching hard after a late season injury.  These things take their tolls.* And the more rest the better. So the Nats need to win as quickly as possible. 4 or 5 games.  Do they care if the ALCS goes long? Yes, but not for scheduling (the World Series is a set date 10/22). The longer the ALCS goes the more those arms get tired. So root for that as well. 

Is there a team that the Nats should hope to face? Well either team is top-level but I would imagine given the Nats plan (Aces ace, get lead, hold on) you'd rather face the Yankees than the Astros. Why? Two reasons. The first is the Astros, in Verlander, Cole, and Greinke, have real aces. So even if the Nats' aces ace, the Astros ones could match them. You have to hope that doesn't happen. The Yankees on the other hand have good pitchers, but ones you'd expect to beat if the aces ace.  The second is the Astros walk the most and strikeout the least in all of baseball. That goes directly against the Nats aces strength of King everyone and against the goal of trying not to get deep into the pen.  The Yankees are a poor consolation prize. They take the most pitches per plate appearance and their pen is outstanding. But if you have to pick your poison...

Joe Torre used to say that G3 was the most important game in the seven game series. That the momentum was really decided at that moment. Obviously a team taking a 2-1 lead would be important, as well as the 3-0 team preparing for a knockout. But a team winning 1 after being down 2-0 would feel again that they were in the series. So that whoever loses G3 would be knocked on their heels a bit.  Don't get knocked on your heels. Keep dominating this average line-up. Get your lead. Hold on.



*I am VERY worried about how that all plays out in 2020 and beyond but win a World Series and no one cares. 

**Of course this is still just guessing. Maybe the Cards win 4 in a row? Maybe the Nats make the series play the Astros and sweep them! It's a small sample size, with new rules, and weird things happen.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Game 2!

Yesterday an on his game Anibal converged with an off their game Cardinals and the result was almost history.  Still Nats fans will take the win.  Can Max win today and put the Cardinals really behind the 8-ball? Or do the Cards pull one out and set-up being one Flaherty start from being back in control? Is Max the last Max we saw or the one from the few games before that?  Can the Nats get some big hits, rather than none or just enough?  Will the Cards make Suzuki look foolish?

Friday, October 11, 2019

NLCS Preview

Who are the Cardinals?  They aren't a team you thought much of during the regular season until all of a sudden they were past the Cubs, in first in the NL Central in a position they'd seemingly never relinquish.

The Cardinals in fact started out red hot (20-10) but a terrible run after that brought them back to 2 games under .500 at the end of May and they were a .500 team at the All-Star break. There was another back in forth with a strong run (12-3) followed by almost an equally weak one (2-8) before the Cards figured it out and basically cruised the rest of the season. (32-12)

Over the course of the season they look like a flawed team the offense doesn't have any standouts and is half average. The rotation has Jack Flaherty at the head and then a bunch of decent arms but no one you immediately worry can shut you down.  The pen... the pen is pretty strong. But what's the team look like in the last 60 days?

Paul Goldschmidt found himself in the second half hitting much more like slugger we remember from Arizona.  Tommy Edman emerged as a hot bat for the moment, that can be used all over the diamond. Yadier Molina had a renaissance and Kolten Wong rebounded nicely.  The offense went from a .720 OPS in the first half to a .757 in the second. From bad to average.

The starter ERA went from 4.33 to 3.15 (better than the Nats in the 2nd half) Flaherty was unhittable (0.91 ERA! 0.715 WHIP) as Hudson - hard to hit and Mikolas (great K/BB) had very solid second halves and Carpenter and Wacha were very reliable as well, though not in a way that makes you excited.  The relievers held firm at being very good. Gallegos, Webb, especially finished strong.

Another thing to consider is the defense. It's rated second in defensive efficiency in the NL. First in FLD%.  All the fancy stats love them.*

So basically the first half Cards were a team with a bad offense, ok starting pitching, and great relief - that got them to .500. The second half Cards were a team with an average offense, great overall starting pitching, and great relief. That got them a division title.

What do the Nats need to do to beat the Cardinals?

1) Aces gotta ace. This is going to hold for as far as the Nats go and it will only get harder as the Nats get less breaks and these arms, ridden in starts and in relief, get more and more tired. But they have to do it.  The middle of the pen is weak and it has to be exposed as little as possible. It may hold here and there but if the Nats are digging into it 3 or 4 times that's a big problem

2) Beat up on Wainwright. Wainwright is "crafty veteran" which is code for tries to use control to get through things. He doesn't walk anyone but he doesn't strike anyone out and you can hit him, you can hit him hard. Nats need to win that game (G2) which should be a pitching mismatch in theory.

3) Stake out leads. The Cards pen is quite capable of holding onto a lead and the Nats can't hope their manager gets brainlock about matching up like Roberts did.  If the Nats go into the 5th/6th down its likely the game will end that way. Guys like Mikolas and Hudson are good , but they aren't aces so the Nats should be looking to get 2-3-4 runs off of them while the Nats pitchers hold STL down.

4) Hope they get bad Carlos Martinez.  He's an enigma who looks great and looks terrible depending. He looked terrible against the Braves. Let's hope that continues.


Bonus : What do the Cards need to do to beat the Nats?

1) Beat up Sanchez.  Yeah it's late in the season but aces are aces for a reason. You can't rule out a dominant performance at any time. The Nats have 3 aces which makes it imperative you take it to the one non-ace out there. That he's likely to be forced to start twice if the series goes long makes it even more important

2) Step on the neck of the aces when you have a chance - Strasburg, Scherzer, and Corbin are aces but Stras and Corbin are at career highs in IP, Scherzer had an injury near year's end and they are all being asked to do a lot more. You've seen some wobbly performances from them with Strasburg and Scherzer being homer prone and Corbin getting wild. But as aces do they recovered and held the games close. Don't let them. Get 3, 4, 5 runs in that inning and get into that pen as early as you can.

3) Pitch around Rendon, Soto too until you establish you got a loogy you can get him  - the Nats have a great offense but it's deceptively top heavy with a 6-7-8 that shouldn't be too problematic. You can't pitch around 1-5 but you can make Turner, Eaton, and a Kendrick that's looked dead tired in the field beat you instead of letting an MVP and a star do it.

4) Run on Suzuki all day every day - Yan Gomes is a decent defender but hasn't hit, meaning Suzuki plays most of the game. Suzuki though can't throw anyone out. The Cardinals like the SB both straight up and being crafty about it (Molina has 6!). Run on Suzuki. Get guys in scoring position, Take the pitcher's focus off the batter.



Let's go!

*Nats are somewhere between average and "not BAD"

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The three most important points

Well you can tell from my last post that I think the most important point was a decision by Roberts to keep Kelly in But let’s forget that for a moment and try to make it more Nats-centric.  

1) Stras settles down.  The Dodgers got to Stras early but like several other games this series - couldn’t deal a knock out blow.  This is impt bc of the runs scored yes but it’s also impt bc the Nats can’t stem the tide after something like that. 6-0 will become 8 or 10 at some point and that’s the ball game.

2) Rendon homers. I honestly think this moment broke the Dodgers.  I think Roberts was fully ready to let Kershaw have the last 7 outs.  I think Kershaw lost focus and gave up a meatball to Soto and had to be pulled and that caused the chain reaction that ultimately ended up with the Nats winning. One swing to set it all in motion.

3) Rendon doubles. When Rendon turned a two strike AB into a double it set up a situation where the Nats were almost guaranteed to score. In extras that’s all you need

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Congratulations!

It’s deserved after being so good for so long.

Turns out what the Nats needed to get over the hump was a terrible managerial decision that will be remembered by fans in general for decades and Dodger fans for lifetimes. But they got it!

Somewhere Joe Kelly is still pitching everyone!

NLDS Game 5 - Take 4.

I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around what might be bothersome going into this game.  Of course there is the ever present sword of Damocles that hangs over the team, the chance the Nats have to use their pen beyond Doolittle and Hudson. And of course there's the chance that Buehler is ON tonight and the Nats can't score at all. Those games happen. But beyond that?

I guess what I'm most worried about is Doolittle and Hudson haven't been great. But they've been good enough and if all goes well they hopefully won't be tasked with holding a slim 1-2 run lead. If so, I'd feel tense but I'd also know they could well do it. 

The line-up hasn't been great but MAT had two hits (well sort of) and Zimm came up with the big bomb and honestly that's all the Nats need.  They need 6 through 8 not to go 0-12 or 1-14. That should be doable, or if not the top of the line-up should be able to plate 3-4 runs themselves.

Strasburg is up near his career tops in IP but with 85 pitches last game and full rest I'm not too worried about it.  Maybe he can't give the Nats 7 but 5-6 great innings should be possible.

Davey has been real iffy when faced with tough choices, but the Nats have a fair amount of decent PH choices and if all goes well - like Games 2 & 4 - he won't be asked to make any tough choices. Even if I question him on the spot he's at least proven he's not going to overthink and do something out of left field.

So here they are again. With a real chance to win and move on, but a real chance to lose once more.  Each NLDS G5 loss has been unique.  2012 was a cursed game - a huge lead (6-0!) chipped away at until finally a series of questionable decisions (using Edwin Jackson in the 7th, not using Storen in G2) and close calls going the other way ultimately led to a 9th inning breakdown.   2016 was the solid game between two powers.  There were tough calls, some right some wrong, made by both teams, most notably the infamous Werth send. But the game was 1-0 into the 7th. The Dodgers punched in the top of the inning - scoring 4 as nearly every pitcher Dusty tried failed to do their job. The Nats countered in the bottom with a homer by Chris Heisey of all people to bring it back to a 1-run game.  After that Perez and Melancon, Jansen and Kershaw would win every battle they needed to and that's the way the game ended.  2017 was madness, nearly the exact opposite of 2016 with both teams looking like they were trying to lose the game.

Obviously a win would be the most different outcome, but if you are a pessimist here's how can the Nats lose differently in G5 tonight?

They can be blown out.  The Nats have lost G5 by 2, 1, and 1 runs respectively.  In 2012 they had leads of 6-0 (end 3), 7-5 (e8); in 2016 1-0 (e6); in 2017 4-1 (e2). They have never finished an inning down by more than 3.  If the Dodgers crush Strasburg and put the Nats in a big hole, like 5+ runs, that'll be new.

They can lose in a walk-off. There's good reason that hasn't happened yet. The Nats have hosted all three game 5s they've played. So this is the first time it's even possible to lose a G5 in a walkoff. The 2014 SF series did end on the West Coast. But while it was also a close game (3-2 loss) it did not end in a walk-off either, the Giants holding onto a 1-run lead gathered in the bottom of the 7th.

They can be shut out. The Nats have scored at least 2 runs in every NLDS loss and at least 3 runs in the G5s. Hell in 2012 and 2017 the G5 loss was their highest run output for the series. They have been shut out in general though (by Carpenter+ in G3 in 2012 and by Hendricks+ in G1 in 2017)

They can never have the lead.  You may have noticed in the "blown out" one that the Nats have lead every G5 they played in.  In 2012 they led going into the 9th, in 2016 going into the 7th, in 2017 going into the 5th.  If you believe in patterns the Nats will lead going into the 3rd - then lose a close game. For something different though they can simply fall behind and never catch up


If you are looking for a nightmare scenario the Nats can't really do ALL of these at the same time. Mainly because losing in a walk-off pretty much requires they aren't being blown out.


What do I see? I don't see any reason it shouldn't follow the usual pattern of a close game. It doesn't feel like 2017 which was the proper ending to a series that itself was kind of crazy (Mold Strsaburg!) So I expect a fairly well played game as well.  Who wins? Like I know. All I do know if the Nats manage to do it this time they'll be plenty of "it had to be this way" stories. 15-4 blowout? Had to happen like that. 3-2 squeaker? Had to happen like that. Strasburg 9 inning shutout? Had to happen like that.  12-10 madhouse bullpen special? Had to happen like that. I'm girding myself for the bad takes already. That's what happens when you don't cover the team you root for. You worry about the takes more than the game.

Anyway see you at 8:30! Stay sane until then.


Tuesday, October 08, 2019

MAXimum something that finishes this quip

You really can't ask for more than what Max gave the Nationals last night. 7 innings 1 run. He did give them an early deficit but he kept them at that single run down until the Nats were able to take a lead.  Right into Doolittle and Hudson and that was that. I can't even think of a decision that needed to be made? Max hitting in the 4th? Nah - two outs and a man on first that early isn't a have to situation. Keeping Max in after rains? They barely slowed the game down.  Such a nice and easy game for everyone!  I have nothing negative to say. The bottom of the line-up came through (Matty October lives!) Zimm got a big homerun that pretty much was the game.  What's to feel bad about here?

The Nats now go to LA and we'll get Buehler vs Strasburg both on full rest. Nothing changes, thanks to the days off afforded in this short series. Stras for as long as he can go, hopefully 7, then Doolittle and Hudson.  Kendrick in the line-up somewhere. Suzuki starting not Gomes.

The pressure is on the Dodgers, but it's also on the Nats. There's some freedom not being a 106 win team who's goal in WS or bust, but the Nats know they haven't won a DS and they understand the slim margin they have with that pen. My guess is the first team down by 3 (or 2 when it gets late) will get real tight. Why 3?  Well whenever anyone gets on there's a chance for two runs to be made up in one swing and guys do get on occasionally. So 2 runs doesn't feel that big until you get later and worry that maybe no one will get on for the rest of the game.

Enjoy the win.  Watch Astros / Rays if you want. Tomorrow we'll get to the worrying.