Nationals Baseball

Thursday, August 16, 2018

NL East called.

Finally there has been movement. After months of what felt like the entire NL taking two steps forward and two steps back, finally a couple teams started making real moves. Unfortunately for Nats fans it's the wrong teams moving in the wrong directions. The Nats have lost the last 4. The Braves have won the last 5. The NL East deficit is now at 9 games.  The Nats are not making up 9 games. The NL East is not going to be won by the Nats.

This doesn't mean the Braves will win it. The Phillies are only 2 games behind and could still pass the Braves. But if the Phillies pass the Braves that just means two teams will finish ahead of the Nats rather than one.

Is the playoff dream dead? Not quite. 7 games is on the very outskirts of possibility for me fitting the Nats into "Nats are the best. Everyone else does exactly what's needed to fall out" sort of thing. But I have them right at the edge. One more game fallen behind? One more week without making up ground? Over.  So tomorrow could be another calling. This is the soulless take. The raw computer take that still has the Nats with 15% playoff odds or whatever. I'm sure many of you called it earlier because there isn't much reason to believe this team will do something special.

One of the things I've heard is if the Nats were better in one-run games things would be different and sure they'd be "in it" but they'd also still be out of it. Out of the WC spots. Out of first (or second) in the NL East. I suppose it would help Martinez seem like less of a problem. Maybe make you feel a little better. But a change of one-run luck wasn't going to save this season. 

How do you positively spin this year? I suppose the Nats have been in trouble for a while and didn't collapse for 6 weeks? They didn't make a run and it was against pretty weak competition but it could have been worse. You can also say that nothing underlying has changed with the talent expected this year and if you swap out Soto for Bryce you can still see the base here that would allow them to compete going forward.

Eh. That's an end of the year discussion. Right now focus on the now for the brief time we still can. I guess beat the Cardinals today. Sweep the Marlins. See where you are.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

It's not over until we say it's over

And the Nats have written the concession speech of two words "It's over." and are currently practicing intonation in the green room while their chief of staff is trying to get through to the other teams to congratulate them first before going on stage.

This is repetitive but true. The Nats are not out of it thanks to the general blahness of the NL. In the past 30 games (since game 90) the Nats have gone 15-15. But the Phillies only went 15-13, the Braves went 16-12 (streaking in the past couple of games, .500 before that), but had stumbled right before this. MIL went 14-18, SFG 15-16, LA and ARI both 16-15. PIT has played well but were far behind to begin with. So the only teams that have set themselves apart that the Nats are competing with are the Cardinals and the Rockies, both moving from the fringes of the WC race to a couple games behind.

So for playing mediocre baseball the Nats "punishment" has been a game or so lost in the NL East lead and a couple teams a couple more games ahead in the WC.  Not that big a difference.

But it's also been 30 games with no movement and the tick tock of the season has grown increasingly louder. "They'll get them later" is gone and we've moved to the point where any slip up will do it. The Nats lose the next two and the Braves, Phillies, and Brewers all win the next two? 9 games out of the East and 8 out of WC2? Even the craziest dreamer has to give it up.

Who's to blame for the season failures? We'll have plenty of time to go over that.

Who's to blame for the recent failures? It's a team effort.

You can blame Davey. He overworked the pen early in the season which may have contributed to injury. He seems to have a lack of communication with his bullpen. His inability to get the clubhouse where Rizzo liked it, caused him to jettison a couple of supposed bad apples in an attempt to set things right.

You can blame Rizzo. We talked about the pen being one arm short - better than it has been to start the season but also not set up to be as well as it could have been. We talked more urgently about the plan to have a 5th starter that would only go 2 times through a line-up set up the bullpen for a lot of work if something happened with the other starters.  We talked about the injuries forcing the need for moves and ended up getting a move. We then saw his macho razing of the pen of a couple of malcontents that at best showed mild disillusionment desperately searching for a way to fix the team for the manager as opposed to optimize the team itself.

You can blame the pen. Get some damn outs. It's your jobs.

Very little in sports can be laid at the feet of one individual. I lean toward Rizzo though because it's obvious the team needed more bullpen help and he chose to weaken it and then Doolittle going down smashed it to pieces and he still does nothing but bring in has beens like Holland.  If it's because the Lerners hamstring him with salary so be it but he has been in the job long enough to know that's what will happen. It's on him as much as it's on them.

Ok well. Sweep the 3 versus the Cardinals and then we can move off of season ending talk. Anything else and we're just arguing on what the time of death is or will be.  

Monday, August 13, 2018

Monday Quickie : Ugh

A lot of people will want to make that more than it was in the record book.  There’s no need. The Nats desperately need wins and last night in one swing a win turned into a loss. At this point any L is close to devastating, whether it was lost on the first swing of the night or the last.

What now?  Well by my goal setting the Nats need to beat. The Cardinals ya home. 3-1 or 4-0.  Anything less makes it likely they lost ground to someone and there is no room to take a couple steps back.



Soto is under .300!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Surviving, but not advancing

At the very end of June the Nats played an important series with the Phillies. The Nats went into the series 4 games out and after a pretty wretched month of baseball still had an opportunity to get right back in the pennant race. Instead the Nats would lose 3 of 4 and find themselves 6 games out on Jul 1.

Over the next 6 weeks the Nats have fallen as far back as 7 games out and have closed to as close as 5 games out, neither falling enough out to call the year, nor getting close enough to get excited. The team has remained in contention throughout the summer without providing any real interest.

This follows with the Nats seasons as a whole. A strange lack of drama for a team with 4 pennant winners and 2 above .500 teams in the past 6 years. I've probably done this before but it fascinates me so much.

In 2012 the Nats had a great start to August and eventually racked up a 7 game lead. The lead would fall to 5 before a series with 2nd place Atlanta where they could make it a race. But the Nats won the series and there was only one H2H series left that year. We kept waiting for the push, but the Braves couldn't claw any closer than 4 games until the very very end of the year when a comeback was close to impossible leaving the last important game the Nats played to be probably the 2nd win vs ATL in that aforementioned series on August 21st.

In 2013 the Nats would quickly fall out of contention, and a 0-fer run after the ASB put the Nats 9 games out of first (and 9.5 out of the WC). Any more slip-ups and the Nats would have to reasonably give up. The Nats played ok, but a surging Braves took advantage of the Nats getting swept in a mini-series vs Detroit to drive the lead to 11. The East was done. Still they chipped a game and a half from the WC race, keeping that viable, until ATL came in and swept the Nats in DC knocking them back down to 9 out on Aug 7th. The WC race was over. The season was over.

In 2014, the Nats had a slow start and were in 2nd as late as Jul 18th but the Braves faltered after that and the Nats got the lead up to 4.5 games going into a series in Atlanta. The Braves did their job this time, winning the series and moving forward 3.5 games out.  Then The Nats won 10 in a row and 12 of 13 to leave the Braves 8 games out in late August. The Braves managed to get it back down to 7 entering a H2H in early September. If they swept it, they'd have a puncher's chance the rest of the year. The Nats won game one. Season done Sept 8th.

In 2015, it looked like the Nats would finally get that exciting finish. They had underperformed a little to start, while the Mets got out fast. The two teams were going back and forth for most of the year with the Mets taking back first with the infamous trade deadline sweep in NY at the end of July. The Nats would hold close for a week or so but then they'd go on a losing streak, then the Mets had a winning streak and it was 6.5 games out at the end of the month. Worst the WC was out of reach with this being the year 3 NL Central teams would win 97 or more games. Still with 6 H2H left you could see the Nats inching ahead in the division when it counted, and when they pulled within 4 going into the first H2H series only a Mets sweep would be sure to end the year right here. The Mets swept. Season over Sept 9th.

In 2016, the Mets got injured and while they tried to keep their head above water the Nats pretty comfortably controlled the division. Given the Mets win last season you remained worried maybe even as late as having a 7 game lead on Aug 24th. I'd probably argue for an earlier date but when the lead went back up to 8 the next day and never got closer I'd say that definitively was the last important game the Nats played that year - August 25th.

In 2017, the Nats ruled. The Nats went up big, stayed up big and after a 6-0 run after the All-Star break brought the lead to 11.5 games the division seemed set. It was. The last important game was probably during this stretch around July 20th, and arguably they might have not played a game under pressure all year.*

So that's 6 seasons of contention and zero games after September 9th being important and I'm probably being generous. The Sept 9th date is solid. That Mets series was that important. Of course the lasting impression from that is watching the season went from "HERE WE GO!!!" to "and it's done" in 3 days. The other years you could probably go even further back but as fans we do tend to hold on longer than necessary.

Anyway this is just a lead up to the next set of games. Seven on the road against Chicago and St. Louis who are both good teams with things to play for. The Cubs have risen back up to the Top of the NL but are in a fight for the Central with Milwaukee.  The Cardinals are a little better than the Nats and are trying to keep the WC race from getting away from them. Unfortunately the Nats can't afford to lose ground so we can't write off a 3-4 stretch as ok.  It may turn out that way - but we can't assume it will be. So we have to set 4-3 as the goal. The Nats need to come out of this stretch with more wins than losses to make it likely that they picked up ground on someone and didn't lose more than a game to anyone else.

If they do that then maybe we can get that mid-September pennant race game we've somehow missed over the past 6 seasons.

*These are all in hindsight. What really matters is what did I think at the time, so I went back and looked 

2012- I wanted to call it after the Braves series but kept it open to a collapse. Hey, first year! I didn't know!  I would call it on Sept 5th when the Nats got it back to 7.5 games. Part of this though is not "OMG we're in a race!" but "OK we could still be in a race if X and Y happen" there's a difference between those. 

2013 -  I called it over for the division after August 5th (a few games after DET series) and gave up on the WC after August 7th

2014 - Called it after Sept 3rd

2015 - Called it after that Mets series. I mean that was obvious

2016 - Called it after August 14th 

2017 -Never officially called it. Seems like I stopped worrying about NL East on like July 10th. 

So see? Mostly generous (from a soulless automaton POV)

Thursday, August 09, 2018

It's on Gio now

It's only 1-2 so far. The Phillies haven't gone anywhere. The Wild Card opponents are roughly the same distances away. The longest winning streak currently in the NL is 2 games. Nats are still finding treading water isn't killing them. But the Braves are further away and a loss tonight would put them 6 and 6.5 back of their two division rivals and 6.5 out of the Wild Card. From there it's hard to see a slip up in the Cubs/Cardinals away trip being anything other than a season ender.

The win tonight is about preserving the likely last of the leeway. Making that 2-5 game stretch not ruin an otherwise great finish.  Yeah - I know. Great finish? But if you aren't hoping for a surprise comeback, what are you doing watching the game?

Here's my question - can we finally, finally, get a pennant race that is exciting after Labor Day?

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Lost opportunity

In the comments for a while now some have been saying that the Nats have to make a move now. I've tried to be very reasonable about it. They didn't HAVE to then. They are still in the hunt now, despite not making a move before the ASB, or sweeping through the Marlins in their last series, which were both set up as "have to" moments. They don't HAVE to now. They could lose the next two games and still be in the hunt. With 47 games after that they could go say... 33-16 and make up 6 games on teams going 25-22. This type of run happens every year.  "Have to" is "have to" it means that if you don't do it you are out. That's not what's happening to the Nats when they tread water.

What's happening is the Nats are losing the time necessary, and our confidence that they have the ability to do it.

The time matters because we all understand the ebb and flow of a season. You go up and down. Precious few teams win at a very high rate for long stretches of time. The Nats going on a run now means not needing that huge run later, maybe even allowing them a slip up or two down the stretch, which will almost certainly happen.

The ability matters because well duh. But seriously the schedule is tougher. They have 15 games against cupcakes Mets and Marlins. If they dominate those games (say 12-3) it still means that going .500 here on out against the good teams (including these two Braves games) only puts them at 29-20. That's a good stretch but only makes up 6 games on a team going 23-26. Everyone in front of them isn't going to suddenly play bad baseball. So in order to get a few more wins they are going to have to go over .500 against the good teams. 19-15 instead of 17-17 and if they can't do it now, and haven't done it since mid May, why would you believe they are going to do it in the upcoming weeks?

We spelled it out before talking about the NL East but with the Wild Card 4.5 games away and a number of teams in the way it applies there too.  Coming back takes at this point for the Nats will take two things
1) Nats play very well - among the best few teams for the rest of the season
2) Nats opponents do not play very well - .500ish or worse

Both those things are reasonable in a way (talent wise you can see both the Nats and the other teams doing this) and unreasonable in a way (season so far has told us the opposite is more likely).  Part of the reason the Nats have held on is because first the Braves and Phillies played pretty mediocre baseball, then the Nats played like the best few teams in baseball with an 8-3 run. But they didn't have both things happen at once and as the season goes on and these things continue not to happen at the same time what needs to happen becomes more extreme.

The Nats need to be the best team for the rest of the year and the guys they need to catch have to play below .500 baseball.

The Nats need to have one of the best finishes of all-time and they guys the need to catch have to tank.

The Nats need to go 8-0 and they guys they need to catch need to go 0-8.

You go from a being able to overcome a couple series not going your way, to being able to overcome a couple games not going your way, to not being able to overcome anything going wrong. And these extreme shifts happen faster if the opposite of what the Nats need happen - if the Nats play poorly for a stretch and the teams they need to catch play like the best teams in baseball.

Basically what I'm saying is that while I'm not agreeing with you - the Nats don't need to take this series with the Braves, I completely recognize the bind it puts them in. The Nats are in a precarious position on the ledge of falling out of the playoffs and each successive game they don't make up ground the ledge gets a little smaller. At some point they have to make a move or they are going to fall off.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Series Preview

In just a few short hours the first series that could legitimately end the Nats season will start. A Braves sweep would put the Nationals 8.5 games behind Atlanta with a little over 7 weeks to play and only 3 games left against them head to head. . It would also likely put the Nationals ~8 games behind the Phillies and ~7 games behind the 2nd WC team. Out of the division and likely 4+ teams ahead of them for the Wild Card it would be time to close up shop.

Of course a sweep is unlikely and anyother scenario keeps the Nats hopes alive.
1-3 : Season shifts to "Every series is important now"
2-2 : Nats use up more of their dwindling time. Got maybe a week left before critical games everyday.
3-1 : Nats continue slow crawl back into it. Next up proving it against the best of the NL Central 
4-0 : Look out! Here comes the Nats!

The series doesn't line up great for the Nats (I put little stock in predictive sites for these things. Just in general but also bc they've overrated this Nats team all year long at this point). 

G1 is Max Fried against Jefry Rodriguez. Fried is a pretty talented lefty but has only been used to spot start for the Braves this year and can get wild. That would normally favor the other team but Jefry has pitched to a 9.00 ERA after an impressive relief outing (against the Braves!) and no one expects much from him. Add in the Nats usual lefty troubles and you have to like the Braves here.

G2 is Newcomb who has looked great after the break. He's not a swing and miss guy rather he's effective at getting poor contact. And he's a lefty. You wouldn't like the Nats chances except - it's a Max night. Worst case with Max is nearly always that he's off and gives up like 4 runs over 7+ innings. The Nats gotta be favorites here.

G3 is Folty vs Tommy Milone. Folty has been a little bit too home prone recently and hasn't pitched like the pitcher he was for most of the first half. Still there are two bright sides if you are a Braves fan. His last start was ok and he's up against Tommy Milone. Milone has pitched well so far, but against the Mets and Marlins it's hard to believe in it. Also he's a guy with good control who has walked NONE and a guy who gives up a homer or two a game that has given up one so far. There's a reckoning coming. I like the Braves here.

G4 Anibal Sanchez vs Gio Gonzalez. Despite this being a match up of two of the most successful pitchers of the past half-decade it seems pretty unappealing. Sanchez hasn't shown any sign of giving up his resurgance while Gio once again threw up a stinker after looking like he may have righted the ship. Still I'm going to put this as a toss up because Gio's problem is control and the Braves are a free-swinging team. It's the prefect match-up for him assuming he keeps the ball in the park.

That's the starters

As for hitting - The Nats are hot. Over the past two weeks Bryce has been Bryce. Murphy has been Murphy. Soto has not slowed down. Outside of the catcher spot being the catcher spot and a slight slump from Eaton the Nats have been full speed ahead. with even MAT and Difo having mini-surges.  The Braves can't really compete with that Markakis has been hot but other than him and maybe Acuna the team is doing nothing special. Albies, Swanson, and Suzuki/Flowers are all in big slumps leaving a hole in the Braves line-up currently.

Relief pitching wise the Nats have had mixed results - Grace and Miller and Madson pitching well. Herrera and Solis not so much.  The Braves on the other had have 6 relievers who have yet to give up a run in the past two weeks.

To sum up everything above - the Nats have the edge at the plate. The Braves have the edge on the mound. I'd say a split is the most likely scenario with the games going ATL, WSN, ATL, WSN but I'm going to give the Nationals the edge just because they need it more. If they are going to turn a corner it almost has to be here so let's say they do it. I'll say the Nats take 3 games.

Less than 4 hours now!