Nationals Baseball

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Shaking the WC contenders

The Nats swept the Reds and look every bit the team they have looked like for what is now the majority of the season. Not good enough to challenge for the best teams in baseball, but in that second tier. Beating up the bad teams, playing .500 ish ball against the good ones. Unfortunately for the Nats the Braves are also in that 2nd tier and by virtue of not having a terrible first 50 games, have a lead that they are not likely to give up.

As was noted before the Nats have an easier stretch and the goal now is to hit those bad teams hard, strike up a good lead, and then survive a September where they are likely to play close to .500. But we're to the part of the season where we can stop with the "keep your head down" talk and pick our heads up to look at the scoreboard. In order to build that lead the Nats need to do their job, but the other teams need to cooperate as well.

Let's say the Nats do what I want with the remaining schedule. We'll adjust for the sweep and say 10-5 the rest of the way. That's dominant play over the Marlins, Pirates and Orioles, and splitting the Cubs and Brewers serieses. 75-60 going into Labor Day.*  What do these other teams face? Would we expect the Nats to have that lead we want to see? I think it's reasonable to think a couple, maybe even three of these teams can make up 3+ games on the Nats in that last month. But will the Nats have too big a lead? Will it be the "right" teams?

Cardinals (1GB Nats - in NL Central lead). Remember when I said a couple of posts back the Cardinals will hit a easy stretch? Well they are in it and it seems now we are getting real separation from the haves and have nots. Teams with easy schedules are going on runs and the Cardinals are the latest example. They swept PIT and KC.  They'll take on Cincy next then MIL, COL, MIL, and CIN going into Labor Day.  I see... 11-7 (Yes they play 18 games) and 73-62. Much like the Nats two series against contenders.

Cubs (1GB - perc pts out of NL Central lead). Finish with PHI tonight then @PIT, SFG, NATS!, @NYM, MIL.  I got them at 9-7 (I have them beating the Nats at home and the Nats beating MIL at home FWIW). So 73-63

MIL (2.5 GB) - a death march @Nats, @ STL, ARI, STL, @ CHC. Optimistically 7-8. 70-66.

PHI (3 GB) - we can argue if Philly is any good or not (maybe tomorrow), but we can't argue that they are not in it. They are.  Finish with Cubs then an easy stretch for them which actually will extend through a Labor Day series with their spiritual opposite the "good" Reds who just keep losing. But for now through Labor Day- SDP @ BOS (2), @MIA, PIT, NYM. If you take the Phillies at face value (again we will argue tomorrow) that's an 11-4 type run.  72-62

NYM (4GB) - finish with ATL then a mixed bag @KC, CLE, ATL, CHC, @PHI.  Hard but mostly at home with an easy start. Still I'll say 6-9. 67-68.

ARI (4.5 GB) if they are better than San Fran now's the time to prove it. SFG, COL, @MIL, @SFG, LAD. Most likely they make a mini-run but 4 game against the Dodgers knocks them back down. 8-8. 69-68.

That would put the standings like this going into Labor Day

WSN 75-60 
STL 73-62    2 GB Nats
CHC 73-63   2.5 GB
PHI 72-62   2.5 GB
MIL 70-66  5.5 GB
ARI 69-68   7 GB
NYM 67-68  8 GB

Hmmm not quite where the Nats want to be. BUT now we have to look at the remaining schedules. We know the Nats have a hard Sept but how many of these teams, if any, have an EASY one that is a good bet to make up 3+ games on Nats...

NYM - mixed bag, tough start, easy finish
ARI - super easy 9 Padres games, a Marlins set at home, 6 Cincy
MIL - reverse of Mets, easy start, tough finish
PHI - just a touch less harder than Nats, certainly not easy
CHC - on the easier side, but I'd hesitate to say easy
STL - similar to Milwaukee, if one of Cubs/Cards dominates other they'll have an easy sched

I'd say it's probable one of CHC or STL outplays the Nats by 3+ games down the stretch, as well as ARI. but ARI will be too far out and the CHC/STL team that does that will win the division. So that means the Nats look pretty good for that WC vs either PHI, the CHC/STL survivor, or a not dead ARI. 

Team by team - here's what I'd say

NYM - very likely to fade out of the picture over next month but if somehow, on the off chance they don't they could be dangerous at the end. But again - most likely to fade. Nats could really finish them off Labor Day if things go like I think.

ARI - If they can put together two good weeks here and stay in the 4 games out range, they can make a serious run. They'll likely drop too far and fall a couple games short but I wouldn't necessarily dismiss them right now.

MIL - Probably will agonizingly slowly fall further and further out of the picutre, with a brief reprieve at the start of September that gives them false hope. 

PHI - They will continue to be a thorn in the Nats side. They have the easiest schedule in front of them for the next couple weeks which means they are unlikely to fade away regardless of what you think of them. Then if they start to slip they have that 5 game set versus the Nats at the end of the year. The good news/bad news is that this will likely come down to how the Nats and Phillies play each other.

CHC - They'll likely be neck and neck with the Cards the rest of the way and eek out a small lead by the time we get to the final 10 games when they play each other 7 times. If they can keep it 3-4 or better they probably make it

STL - basically same as Cubs but probably a game behind entering that last 10 games.

We're in unprecedented territory here. Unless the Nats just tank - and I'm talking like a 1-9, 0-10 type swing, we're getting important games throughout September.** Stretching the definition you had important games in early September in 2014 and 2015 but they were of the "keep a season alive" type. The Nats killed the Braves in 2014 and died themselves in 2015 both before Sept 10th.  It's hard to see the Nats being in that position again this year.

This is fun! And because the Nats are leading and not chasing, a little less anxiety causing for you guys I bet so you can enjoy it a little more. At least I hope.***

*the NL East? The Braves are currently 71-50 so for the Nats to get within a series of the Braves you are looking for them to go 7-8 or so. Not impossible but with 9 games vs MIA, COL, TOR, and CHW in there... I don't see it. It's most likely the Nats remain around 4-6 games out the rest of the year. But H2Hs are there to change that. 

**And if they go 9-1 or 10-0? Then they have important games against the Braves. You can work out a scenario here where the Nats have a boring Sept. Basically they and the Braves both go like 16-4 in the next 20 games. Nats have a big lead in the WC but can't catch the Braves for the East. But who expects that?

***and remember - I'm very likely to be completely wrong on at least one team here - possibly two. Which ones and in which directions? Go ahead and guess

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


By food!

Mended mostly now but gotta catch up on some stuff so real brief -

You can look at the road trip positively (the Nats did what they needed to going 5-4) or negatively (the Nats lost ground to the two closer WC competitors in H2H matchups). That's up to you. Regardless they are still in the WC spot and the schedule breaks down as follows. Rest of August : Pretty easy.  September : Pretty brutal.

The Nats need to put some ground between them and the other WC contenders over the next 2 1/2 weeks. CIN/MIL at home - need to go 4-2.  PIT(4) CHC on road - need to go 4-3.  BAL(2) MIA home - need to go 4-1.  That's 12-6 (Well 11-6 now) and probably a nice 3-4 game cushion on the WC.  No excuses anymore, no "we'll make it up later". This is later and the Nats need to play with urgency. Because if they are in the same spot now on Labor Day they won't be making the playoffs.In September they have to go through NYM, @ATL, @MIN, ATL, @STL, @MIA, PHI (5!), CLE - that's one gimme series in 26 games. Some WC contender is going to play better then they will during this stretch, maybe 3 or 4 will. So get that cushion now.

Friday, August 09, 2019

The Mets

If we want to be completely straight the goal for the Nats is "don't get swept".  Even losing the series 2 games to 1 wouldn't impact the Nats much.  They sit now 2.5 games up on the Mets (and Phillies), 2 games up on the nearest WC competitor. Worst case going 1-2 in the next three is that they are 1.5 games up on the Phillies, 2.5 on the Mets, and still tied for the top WC spot.  That's fine.

But really the Nats would be well served to blunt the Mets momentum.  I don't know why it feels this way but the Mets are a team of runs. Maybe that's a 26-12 run at end of 20-15 to help salt away the division. Or maybe it's a 5-11 run at the end of 2007 to fall out of the playoffs. Whatever it's the top or the bottom, it seems like the Mets are always streaking there. To me, irrationally, it feels like the Nats can stop the momentum and maybe put them on a streak back down. Just because that's how the Mets play.

The Mets offense is clicking now with three above average, young(ish) talents.  Alonso is the masher, McNeil is the bat on ball guy, Conforto is the all-around hitter. But beyond that they have issues. They keep trying to fit in Dom Smith and something keeps getting in the way.  Currently he's hurt. They like JT Davis but unlike the first three there isn't a strong belief he can keep this up.  Ramos, Frazier, and Rosario are all average production wise. The 8th guy out there, be it Guillorme, Hechavarria, or Lagares is terrible.  (Sometimes it's not just the 7th guy though as you may see two of these guys at the same time for the defense). It's a top heavy lineup that can be survived by dominating the bottom of the lineup.

Relief wise the the Nats have one pitcher performing well in Seth Lugo. Justin Wilson has a decent ERA but that's not backed up by the fancy stats. Gsellman looks like filler. Diaz is fighting his head. The rest has been terrible.  If you can get the starter out in under 7, or really if you have it close late, you got a chance to take the game.

Strasburg vs Stroman - After a long dominating stretch Stras was awful last time out. But I like to give guys one bad start here and there without turning on them.  Stroman did not have a good first start but is a solid pitcher and you know I love AL -> NL moves.  Anyway, you give the edge to Stras here.

Corbin vs Syndergaard - Corbin, like Stras, was off last start, but you still got to respect the like 8 game stretch with a below 2.00 ERA that preceded that.  However, Syndergaard has been that dominant and didn't have a bad start last time out. So he gets the slight edge.

Sanchez vs deGrom - Sanchez bounced back after his worst outing since April with his best outing since June.  But still he's not deGrom and deGrom is 15 starts into a 2.00 ERA run with 115K and 21 BBs in 91 innings.  This is a game the Nats could win but not a game you want to go into with the Nats having to win because the SP has to favor the Mets.

Pitching match-ups go 2-1 in favor of the Mets but the line-up and bullpen, amazingly, both favor Nats.  it's useless to predict baseball but if I have to put something out there I say the Nats win 2.  It should be a very fun series with low-scoring pitching dominance giving way to late inning fireworks (which means it'll be 3 blow outs against the starters and dominant RP bc that's the way it goes)

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Joe Ross isn't good but you shouldn't care

In a 3 game set in 2018 Jefry Rodriguez gave up 3 runs, allowing 18 baserunners in 16 innings and holding opponents to a .182 / .286 / .255  line

In back to back games in 2017 AJ Cole gave up 2 ER in 11.2 IP throwing to a .214 / .340 / .286 line

These things happen. You shouldn't read too much into short bursts of competence by starting pitchers because occasionaly the line-up you face and the BABIP you get works in your favor and maybe you just do have it that day. You are good enough to get a major league start - that means you have some talent. Is that what's going on with Ross? History says - probably!  He actually could be ok but he's three years out from being anything but a poor 5th starter so why not let him throw say... a month of starts out there before we get excited?

And you shouldn't really care about it either, and by that I mean whether Ross is good in the long run or not doesn't matter nearly as much right now as whether Ross can get good results the rest of this year. In 2005 the Yankees sprinted to a division title. How? Because Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon went 17-3 down the stretch. Neither were really any good but who cares! Worry about 5th starter after the season when you need to evaluate such things.Right now just hope he keeps winning, whether he walks a man per inning like he did last time or is bouyed by a .154 BABIP like he has been over the last 2 games.  Enjoy the results - without telling me I should look at how he's improved.

The big news of yesterday is Rendon was pulled after a ball hit his foot. They say it was nothing. They've said that before. They said Max would be fine and no one has ever seen him again. Rendon tweaked his knee one spring and was "day to day" for 70 days. He broke his toe recently. Let's see him in uniform and playing tomorrow and no "Precautionary x-ray" news today. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

That's more like it

This isn't hard. The Nats aren't battling a bunch of world beaters for the Wild Card.  The Nats have gone 11-11 in their last 22 and have gone from being in WC1 with a 2 game lead all the way to being in WC1 with a 1 game lead. When we say the Nats control their own destiny it's meant in two ways - first they'll play all these teams down the stretch and can put distance between them in H2H games but in a broader sense I mean they are staring down a half dozen .500 teams who didn't make a strong push to get better at the trade deadline. If the Nats can simply play like they should - a few games over .500 in the remaining 49 games - say 26-23, that will be enough to make the WC game.

Winning now is good in part because the Nats haven't caught a hot team in a LONG time.  Here's how the teams they have faced in the second half (starting with BAL bc PHI starts off fresh in my mind) fared in the series (for BAL) or two (everyone else) before playing the Nats

BAL 1-3
ATL 4-2 (but lost last 2 going in to Nats series)
COL 1-6
LAD 3-2 (but ditto - lost last 2 going in)
ATL 2-3
ARI 2-4
SFG 2-4*

The Mets though - even if they lose today the Mets are undeniably hot.  The Mets are a rival. The Mets will be at home.  That's a series where if the Nats win, and they throw out at least Corbin and Strasburg, will be a great jumping off point for what is a mostly benign rest of August. The offense has awakened a little - really started in the Braves series - the pitching has been all over the place after carrying the team for a while. It's also a series that if the Nats lose, assuming they win today, it's not a big deal. They'd still be up at least a game and a half on the Mets, almost certainly in a WC spot. But win today.

Suzuki had a big night last night and the Nats are finally using him as they should.  He's had 3 of the 4 catcher B2B outings since July 20th. He does need rest but he should be playing at least 60% of the games. He's about there now.  Hitting wise this is still the team you know it is Rendon and Soto lead, Turner does his thing and then you see who is hot.  Right now it's Suzuki and Parra.  Gomes was hot for a bit before that.  There are cold batters. Eaton is fighting through one of those tough weeks (.167 / .265 / .267 in last 8).  Robles is up against a real slump (.143 / .238 / .196 in last 16 games).  Dozier is becoming very hit or miss - 5 multi hit games in the last 12, but only a .244 average. But as long as they have their Top 2, Turner isn't slumping, and someone else is stepping up it works out.

Elias got hurt and Strickland has been whatever but Hudson has been great and honestly if they have one of these three work out to be good - it's a win. Again three lotto tickets to scratch off in place of three scratched off losers.  Doolittle has rebounded after a little bump, as has Rodney, so the Nats very much have a back-end of the pen currently. I don't actually trust Rodney in the long haul, but use that arm up while he's feeling good, then worry about who might replace him. As long as they have this that's one less inning to survive a game.

Win this game. Keep the Mets, and the rest of the WC group, at arm length. Give yourself the leeway for an on target road trip even if you lose to the Mets.  The Nats aren't rolling anymore but they don't have to.  Great baseball isn't needed anymore, just good. Keep it going

*when was the last time the Nats played a team that was definitely hot.  Well, if you want you could say the Marlins in last June.  They were 5-2 going into the Nats series. Of course they are the Marlins, and they won the last 4 in that stretch by a total of 6 runs.  If you wanted to say then the Braves the series before that - who were 4-2 going in and not with a bunch of close wins, I wouldn't blame you.  How'd the Nats do? 1-2 but baseball isn't a very predictive sport in the short run.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Monday Quickie - Tough start

I always try to be fair and the optimistic take on the Nats weekend is - look they weren't planning on winning every series in this road trip. They were going to lose one and you can argue the Diamondbacks, despite having the worst record of the three teams they were going to play, are actually the most complete team. So it happened first. No biggy. Win the next two series and we're good.

Anyone buying that?

The realist take* is the Nats lost a series where they threw Strasburg and Corbin, losing those two games in fact, against a Diamondbacks team that is a .500 type squad.  They weren't going to win every series but given the fact those two completely miss the SF series, the idea was that would be the one that they might lose. Instead now they have to rally and win a series they maybe shouldn't? Meanwhile the WC race gets super tight - 7 teams within 3.5 games of eachother - and there's a very hot Mets team that's one Marlins series away and Max still hasn't thrown off a mound. The season, that after looking lost, looked like a WC favorite run, is slipping back into a complete unknown.

But Hudson's been great!

So onto the Giants and a series that isn't must win, but it would make things so much easier if they did. The best case scenario if the Nats lose the series has them in this position :

WSN +0.5
PHI -1
SFG -1.5
ARI -1.5
MIL -3
NYM -4.5

And this with STL, MIL, and the Mets getting swept (PHI and ARI are playing eachother) If you instead say the Mets beat MIA 3-1, MIL beats Pirates 2-1, STL loses to LAD get

STL +0.5
PHI -1
MIL -1
SFG -1.5
ARI -1.5
NYM -1.5

Talk about a scrum.

Anyway onto the Giants.For real this time

The Giants are a capable offense with a couple big holes. Crawford is haivng a terrible year and whoever is playing the 3rd OF slot - be it Pillar or Duggar are also well below average. Even a hot July can't hide this. But they were a team with four holes and the rise of Austin Slater and the acquisition of Scooter Gennett have put two more decent bats in the line-up over terrible ones. In fact right now you could argue they have some bat log jams. Vogt can hit but is blocked by Posey and Belt. Sandoval can hit but is (sort of) blocked by Belt and Longoria who just returned from injury.  It's not like there is a great bat being held back here but it must be frustrating to see two obvious holes in your line-up and have two decent bats on the bench but have them not line-up at all in a way that you can make that fix. It does end up giving the Giants a very healthy bench though and the 2nd best OPS for PH in the NL. Remember that if it's close late.

Where the Giants excel is having the best reliever ERA in the NL.  They aren't exactly the same post-trade deadline but they still go four deep. Will Smith is great. Reyes Moronta is nearly so as is exhibit #24 in relievers get better after leaving the Nats, Trevor Gott. Tony Watson isn't as good as his ERA but he's still decent, certainly for the fourth man out. This depth gave them the ability to trade away Sam Dyson (also very good) and Mark Melancon (good when healthy and even good for the Nats!)  The rest of the pen is filled with new arms replacing some of the ones they sold off. Sam Selman is the key - as he's always had great stuff - unhittable swing and miss stuff, but been incredibly wild. This year he seemed to get that under control but has had a rough start to his Giants career. If he can get it together that's 5 good ones and that's enough. The other guys are Blazek types - not good in AAA but hey - someone has to be here. 

The match-ups are as follows

Fedde vs Samardzjia.  You know - outside of last year's injured campaign, Samardzjia has been mostly good.  You kind of got a feeling like him and Cueto didn't come over and do what they were supposed to but they mostly did when healthy. The line-up dying is what killed this team. Anyway. He's been REALLY good in July. There isn't anything particularly good about him, he just pitches well mixing up 4+ pitches to keep hitters off balance. Fedde was terrible last time out - if you can remember his brief shellling. Giants edge

Sanchez vs TBD  Last cycle it was Dereck Rodriguez but he got crushed by Philly. Their long man in the pen is Andrew Suarez who has been terrible this year. I got no idea who it could be and haven't seen anything about it. Against that you have to favor Sanchez even if he wasn't all that good last time out.

Ross vs Shaun Anderson  Ross had one good start (not great - he did walk 5 remember) and everyone is ready to say 5th starter might be solved. Well maybe but let me see him do it again. Shaun Anderson is a former Nats draftee (didn't sign - it was a HS low rounder thing, not a Nats failure) who's a rookie. He was good enough in the PCL and looks to be a decent long-run back rotation type. Hittable but as a groundbally control guy that's expected. With a tweak in his control and K will be a fine #4, but might not be there yet.  I don't like Ross but I can't exactly give the Giants the edge here in starters. So push... but Giants at home so an ever so slight edge to them for the game if you twist my arm

Seems like this could easily go 2-1 in either direction.  Make it the right one

*The pessimist take? The Nats are 9-11 in their last 20 games. The "tough stretch" fooled us into accepting an off set, but more importantly without Max and with no major trade cavalry this is a team headed back down slowly but surely - only kept in the race for the next few weeks by the fact the rest of the NL stinks too.

Friday, August 02, 2019

A very interseting road swing

Last swing was supposed to be clearly the toughest one for the Nats. Even though it featured a lot of home games, coming out of the ASB the Dodgers and Braves were the best and the Rockies were a reasonable WC contender, plus - no breaks! But the Rockies collapsed and the Nats caught a rain delay so it ended up a little bit less intimidating than originally thought. Still you can only go by what you see going in when you set those goals and they hit them so good for them.

The Nats are tied for the WC spots with the Cubs and the Phillies right now, with STL holding onto a 1 game lead in the Central and Milwuakee one game behind in the WC race.  Those are the main teams who are going to battle out for the NL Central crown and the two WC spots.  But they aren't the only teams still in it. In the next 9 games the Nats will run through the rest.

This road trip is a little daunting in its own right* as the Nats face their last West Coast swing and a series of fringe WC contenders. They'll take on Arizona first (3.5 behind the Nats), then SF (2.5), travel day, then the Mets (4) The Nats have a good shot to end each of their runs as serious contenders as being swept at home by a team they are trying to catch would probably do any of these guys in. But they also could let any of these guys move up to the first group with a sweep of their own. It's not that important that the Nats do well, simply maintaining ground is now a running out the clock situation, but they need to not blow it here.

To set the stage Arizona is running through a defining stretch (WSN PHI @LAD). The Giants get to play Colorado before taking on the Nats and having their own defining 20 game run of decent or good teams (includes their 4 interleague games vs a game OAK team). The Mets on the other hand have PIT and MIA up next before the Nats then take on the Braves but then get KC. They have one of the easier recent schedules**. I'm getting very excited for this August. Ideally, you want the Nats to come away from this stretch with a winning record, 5-4. That means they put space between at least two of these teams when given the chance and likely contribute to them falling off the radar. They still might lose a game in the WC standings doing this but that stretch I talk about below in the footnote should be where they make up 2-3 games.

Now onto tonight and Arizona - the Dbacks made themselves worse by trading Greinke but Mike Leake is a decent pitcher to fill those innings so they aren't digging any deeper into their SP depth - which was only three pitchers deep to begin with, with Luke Weaver on the DL though Alex Young is ok.  Other than that it was minor leaguers so the team is pretty much the same. The offense is solid. The have a big hole in the MI as 2B (currently Wilmer Flores) is terrible and Nick Ahmed at short is below average. So pitchers do get an end of line-up reprieve (though in the 6-7 hole, 8 is their catcher Kelly or Avila who are both hitting). Jones is not doing well but everyone else in the lineup is clearly above average, though they lack a superstar. Some may argue Ketel Marte is there, I'd like to see more than 100 games of this before I give him that. There's nothing they do poorly. Don't strike out too much, walk ok, got some pop. It's just very balanced. Right now Walker and Kelly are hot Escobar is ice cold. Marte is slumping.

The relief pitching is fine.  It resembles the line-up in that it's a lot of guys above average but no one great, mixed in with a few stinkers.  Holland is a weak closer, Bradley, Hirano, and Chafin are all better than their ERAs. Lopez worse. Bradley is probably the best and is control away from being dominant. He's been lights out lately. Crichton has been very effective as has MacFarland. Lopez has been bad.  Godley is the white flag. It's a high K group with a penchant for giving up bombs. It's fine.

The Nats catch these match-ups
Robbie Ray vs Joe Ross - Ross is Ross. Ray has been strong. Ray's a high K bit wild HR guy himself. but the first two tweaked a bit better than the pen, and he also doesn't give up as many hits. When he's on - as he has been, he's close to an ace. Easily favors the D-backs.

Strasburg vs Alex Young.  I told you Young has looked pretty good and he has. But he's a guy who is relying on a crazy low BABIP right now - .171.  That can't keep up.  He's not an overly heavy GB% guy either. This dam should burst. On the Nats side, Strasburg has been fantastic.  Easily favors Nats.

Corbin vs Merrill Kelly. Kelly is ok. He's the three deep but a clear back of the rotation guy. You can make contact against him so he tries to keep the walks down and  hopes you hit it where they are. Corbin has been great. Easily favors Nats again.

So should be a series win. If the Nats can manage to win tonight it's a good chance at a sweep.

*when do the Nats have it easy? Well I told you the 2nd half schedule was a lot harder. They'll get a mix of easy games after this for the rest of the month vCIN (easy), v MIL (not), @PIT (easy), @CHC (not), vBAL (easy), v MIA (easy), v NYM(???)  so about 2 weeks of on an off then a stretch at home going into Labor Day that could be a real boost if the Mets are floundering.  Then it's hard again in Sept with only one gimme series @ MIA

**who else has it easy? well it's hard to tell with so many teams still in the mix but the Cardinals will get an easy stretch in a couple of series.