Nationals Baseball

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

E is for Eighth Inning

The Nats are 11-9 with 5 home games against beatable opponents directly in front of them. Things could be worse. At the same time, they lost a game last night and it felt like it was all their fault. It felt like errors in the field and in the dugout were the cause rather than where the balls happened to drop in or not. Not quite as bad as an implosion game but one that leaves a bad feeling in the gut, like the team isn't ready to win. Of course that's nonsense, but hey, people have their ideas and are going to fit what happens into what they already believe to be true. That's even the case with me saying it's nonsense.

So what are the stories from last night? The 8th inning decision making is one. Taking out Storen after getting one batter out is kind of iffy. I probably wouldn't do it given that Storen has been the Nats most effective reliever (that they've decided to keep in the majors) this year, but I understand the want to pinch hit late in the game. I can't kill Matt for this.

What I can kill Matt for is letting Clippard face Ibanez. Normally, I don't mind Clip facing a lefty in a big spot. Clippard has always been tough versus lefties (.184 / .268 / .320 for his career which is pretty amazing). In this specific occasion, Ibanez hits righties better but over the past few years he hasn't been an automatic out vs lefties (this year yes but it's early).  So if say Ibanez was leading off the inning, I'd say fine. But at this point Clippard had thrown 19 ptiches. The last two batters got a single and a walk. He was starting to struggle and that should be accounted for. If that means burning through another pitcher so be it.

Matt's explanation is even worse, hinging on the idea that Clippard is his "8th inning guy".  If you are still a believer in the closer role, I'd hope the idiocy of this idea expanding to earlier innings will bring you around. The relief staff is the only place, outside of pinch hitters, where things are not set before the game. This means the manager can use his players where they are most needed, rather than where they happened to be slotted. To assign roles like "8th inning guy" is to forcibly limit your options. It's ridiculous. In this situation it lead to a struggling Clippard both being saved for the 8th inning and being kept in the 8th inning, because that's "his" inning. It's a terrible way of directing a ballgame, one that requires no thinking and in fact aggressively wants you NOT to use judgement. It's a coward's way to manage. (which is why it's gained popularity - job security is first and foremost)

Other notes :

What's up with Clippard? He's walking more and everyone is scoring when they get on base but why? I noted last night that he has pitched in more games in the past 5 years than all but one pitcher (Matt Belisle) so it could be just wear and tear. There's nothing immediately telling in the fancy stats. This requires more digging.

Ian Desmond could use a night off. He has nine errors in his last 12 games and he's not hitting (.234 / .268 / .416).

Mike Trout's existence is one of the bigger problems Bryce faces. Everyone had Bryce pegged as a generational talent and he's actually not far off pace of that (if he even is off it). But there's a guy now who not only is that good, he might be better. At the plate, only two guys have been as good as Trout in their first 4 seasons in the last 50 years (Pujols and Frank Thomas) and both of those guys were a few years older when they did it. No one has been this good and this much a threat on the basepaths in 100 years.  And this isn't mentioning that he's at least a good fielder.  Trout has had 4 seasons that keep him in the argument for the best player in the history of the game. How does Bryce compete on that level? He doesn't.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Quickie - Boz and Bryce

Back to the Boz.

What he gets right.

In the "Matt Williams Managin' Moment of the Weekend" (sponsored by the Greater Phoenix Convention and Vistors Bureau - Visit Phoenix. It's Rising!) Bryce Harper was benched for failing to run out a ground ball back to the mound. And by "failing to run out" I mean he literally stopped 30 feet down the line and went back to the dugout. I think most everyone agrees Matt Williams was right in doing what he did. Baseball forgives a lot for the injured and the special, but there is a minimum level of effort expected and a moderate jog to first base on balls where you are going to be out 99.9% of the time is one of these benchmarks. This is pretty much "show up, punch clock" territory. It's the least you are expected to do, and if you can't even do that, you need to be told you do.

Did Matt Williams have to show him up? Maybe not, but it was public lollygagging so I have nothing against public shaming. As Boz says, it should have been done and Bryce should have been started the next game and he was so all is well here.

What he may or may not get.

Lines like "But authority must be asserted toward Harper to get his attention, not just assumed" and "And that notoriety, that constant spotlight, leads him into believing — or perhaps unconsciously acting out the part of — someone who should never fail, whose outs didn’t quite really happen." are nonsense lines. Boswell doesn't know Bryce. We certainly don't know him.  It's armchair psychology at it's worst.

The team could be feeding Boz these lines and this impression, but if that's the case (and let's face it, it likely is) it doesn't make it better. It makes it worse. Boz should be a reporter, not a mouthpiece. What is the purpose of this then? To shame Bryce again? To turn the fans against him? The situation was done on the field and was dealt with on the field. Leave it at that. 

What he gets wrong.

Boz wants to make Bryce look bad, or at least silly for getting all this attention without really doing anything yet. There's a problem though. He HAS been doing stuff. He's been having seasons at 19 and 20 that are among the best seasons anyone that age has had in baseball history.  How, in that scenario, do you make Bryce seem lesser than he is? You quote stats based heavily on playing time.
Harper has not driven in 60 runs in either of his two seasons. He has only five RBI this year. He’s never had more than 157 runs-plus-RBI. Ryan Zimmerman has had between 163 and 216 six times. Adam LaRoche, no big star, has had 175 or more three times. Fourth outfielder Nate McLouth once had 207.
If the point was "hmm Byrce isn't staying healthy" these would be fine stats to use but that's not the point he's trying to make. He's trying to make it seem like Bryce is not as good, on some level, as these players. Of course runs and RBI are, like I said, based heavily on playing time and a month+ in the minors in 2012 and an injury in 2013 have cut into those numbers.  How does it look instead if we look at R+RBI per PA? We'll scale them all back to the most PAs of these numbers.

Bryce: 190, 187
Zimmerman's best years : 205, 190, 224, 203, 211, 185
LaRoche's best years: 232, 205, 196
McLouth's best year: 218

So there is something to the idea that Bryce's years so far aren't as good as these years above. But it's not as big a difference as the raw numbers would suggest (McLouth was never 33% better than Bryce) and think about what you are saying. Bryce's rookie year and second year in the majors at 19 and 20 aren't as good as the handpicked best years from veteran players. Gomer Pyle is not surprised by this. Plus there are a number of things we didn't factor into this, like how the players in front and behind you drastically effect these numbers (part of the reason LaRoche and Zimm have their last big number year is because THEY WERE DRIVING IN BRYCE). I remember 2006 like it was yesterday and you know what? Ryan Zimmerman had 110 RBI that year in large part because he had at least 10% more at bats with RISP than all but two other guys in the majors.  Yes Bryce only has 5 RBI. He also has only 15 ABs with RISP. He's 4-15 with a triple and HR. That's fine.

This is a faulty stat designed not to illuminate but to mislead and Boz should be ashamed of himself for using it.
Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. 
He might be. But that's pretty unlikely.  Desmond is the only one who's clearly been better in the past  years. You can argue a starter (any of the three will do) but most baseball people will agree an everyday player is just going to be more valuable. Werth maybe if you give him health and a full season. Then again if you give Bryce health and a full season he's likely to be easily better than everyone but Desmond. I'm at a loss for who the other one would be. I guess Rendon. 
If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice
I suppose. I wouldn't think twice but it's certainly isn't a crazy thought. Then again it's not like Rendon is chopped liver. He was pretty much considered a very special hitter coming out of college who's major concern was injuries.  If he could stay healthy people liked him as an All-Star level player. It's like comparing Bryce to Zimmerman in the R+RBI thing above. Zimmerman was a Top 5 player for a few years there. An injury free back-half of his career might put him in the conversation for the Hall. (probably not but you can't say I'm completely out of line here). Not quite hitting Zimmerman's best seasons before you are old enough to drink isn't some how a mark of failure.

Anyway this is a long-winded way to say this: Bryce should have run out the ball to first. Matt Williams was right in pulling him. All this other nonsense? Embarrassing-level blame shifting.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Homestand / Homeland joke

Sorry - never watched the show.

The Nats have a very important homestand coming up. They are roughly a 1/10th into the baseball season (I know!) and have played all of three teams. They've dominated the Marlins and the Mets, who are fighting to prove they are .500 teams and they've been dominated by the Braves, who are fighting for division and league titles. Seems pretty cut and dried, but the Nats are also very familiar with these teams and vice versa so facing some outsiders helps to really figure out the course of the team. This homestand features three teams not in the NL East and by the end we should have a good idea of who the Nats (minus all those injured guys) are. We should also have a much better idea of when all those injured guys are coming back. All in all we'll know by the end of the month if it's time to panic, if the Nats have got this, or likely if the team is somewhere inbetween.

The Nats themselves are dealing with some difficult injury issues.  They've managed to hang on but there are a lot of questions with how they are doing it. Is Danny Espinosa really back? (not sure) Is Zach Walters this good? (no of course not) When is Ian Desmond going to start hitting? (soon I hope) It doesn't look good - but it doesn't have to be good for long. A couple days hopefully for Bryce. Maybe a week for Span. Just get lucky and get a hot bunch for a week and things are ok. The pitching is more of a concern but it's more an "watch it" than "panic" thing. We'll be watching each start fearing another crash, most notably with Strasburg, but the talent still seems to be there. The bad starts are probably flukes... probably.

The first opponent is the toughest one. Four games versus the defending NL champs, the patron saints of constant competition (for those not willing to break the bank), the St.  Louis Cardinals.They come in at 9-6 and playing pretty well, taking 4 of their last 5 and 2 of their last 3 versus the division leading Brewers. Offensively, the team was ice cold but the bats are coming around, hitting .285 / .338 / .425 in the last 7 days. Jhonny Peralta, who was particularly terrible to start the year is now particularly red hot, along with Molina.  The remaining issues are when will Allen Craig come around and is Kolten Wong ever going to show he belongs at the major league level.

Pitching wise the team doesn't really have any issues. Shelby Miller is the only starter with bad stats but he's been improving each time out. Rosenthal has been a bit shaky but everyone still believes in him.  If either of these guys falters Carlos Martinez is there to be awesome and stuff.

The short of it is - they are good and they are playing well so this could be a tough series.

The Angels are the next appointment and they are mired in expected mediocrity. The offense is clicking enough but they lost another cog in Kole Calhoun. Adding that to Hamilton eventually that's gotta catch up with them, especially since the early success is in part because of freaky good bench perfromance. Meanwhile the pitching is struggling.  The bullpen is kind of a mess, they don't have a 5th starter, and Jered Weaver is getting killed by the long ball.  This has all the looks of a team about to bottom out.

The Padres are the polar opposite of the Angels - they can pitch but can't hit. You'd expect the hitting to get better. It's a lot of guys way underperforming and the good performances aren't crazy.  On the flip side you'd expect the pitching, well at least the starting pitching, to get worse. Cashner could be a very good pitcher but the rest don't scare anyone. They are certainly capable but I see them as also capable of being killed. The pen is full of talent though.  Doesn't that always seem to be the case for SD?

The Nats face the Cardinals and could be out Zimm, Ramos, Span and Bryce? Good luck with all that. I'm going to go ahead and predict 1 win in four games.  Hey, this team is kind of reeling and was a couple of Saltalamacchia brain freezes from losing two of three to Miami. I see the Angels though as ripe for the picking, injured themselves and starting from a lower point. Sweep? The Padres pitching should keep them in the games but the Nats are better. 2 of 3 3 of 4 there. So I'm thinking 6-4 7-4.

Best (likely) case : 7-3 8-3 for the homestand.  Nats split with Cardinals, sweep one of the Angels or Padres and win the series versus the other.

Worst (likely) case : 4-6 4-7. Cards take 3 of 4, Angels take 2 of 3, Padres split. (or what I actually like better Cards win 3, Nats win series v Angels 2 games to 1, but Padres win 3)

As long as Bryce and Span are back by the end of the Cards series I think they'll be fine. 6-4 7-4for the stand 15-10 16-10 for the season and we can evaluate what the future looks like as dates for Fister, Zimm and Ramos' returns all get clearer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What samatta with Strasburg?

No one has pitched particularly well this season for the Nats. Not ZNN. Not Gio. Not Roark or Jordan. But it's still early and bad games happen to good pitchers every year. It may just be a touch of bad luck that both Gio and ZNN both had one of their 5 or so bad games in their first 3 outings. Jordan and Roark, well who knows about them? Could be the same bad luck or it could be that they aren't all that good to begin with (I know where I lean).

Strasburg though is different. He's had 4 starts so far with one mediocre outing and two certified stinkers. Strasburg started 30 games last year. If you use Game Score (a rough way of ranking game performance based on various things) these 2014 games would have ranked 21st, 28th and 29th last year. In other words he's thrown out a whole lotta bad in a short period of time. The million dollar question is why?

Of course the problem with trying to diagnose the problem this early is that you have enough variation in stats that things can change dramatically in one start. Broad, macro level ideas are just coming into focus while micro-details still are fuzzy. Add to that there are thousands of ways to attack pitching data. Is his velocity down? Is his location off? Is one particular pitch less effective? Is it a certain type of batter that's causing the problem? Is it a certain type of situation?

Is it both velocity and location for a certain type of pitch to a certain type of batter in a certain type of situation?

Gah - so teasing out information that's meaningful just from data points is hard at this point.  Here's what I feel ok with saying.
  • There really hasn't been a change in overall mix of pitches thrown... factoring in the slider. 
  • He is missing more bats (contact rate both in and out of the zone are way down) - but he's missing for two reasons; his strikeout rate is up 14.1 K/9 vs his career 10.6(good), his walk rate is up 3.9 BB/9 vs career 2.6 (bad). The bad here is worse than the good.
  • His velocity is down but he's still very fast. 
What this tells the novice pitch stat analyzer is that it's not his stuff. Even with the very mild (and still early in the year) velocity drop, it's still fast enough to strike people out and he's doing just that. Instead it's the location. He's wild and that's causing him to get hit.  If that's the case then we should see a difference in location of pitches thrown, especially the pitches he's getting hit hard by.  Righties are killing his fastball for example. What do we see there?

Last year (thanks to F/X by Texas Leaguers)

You're looking from the catcher's POV.  There's a distinct grouping a little bit on the outer half of the plate when throwing low. (up high it mattered less) This year?

Way less data but you can see he's missing that outer half of the plate spotting he had last year. What about the curve? That's getting hit hard too.  Last year

He was in the zone alot but mostly nailing low and away off the plate. This year

It's not getting off the plate enough.

Now I can't say anything for certain. Look at the number of pitches we're dealing with for this year.  It's tiny. Plus I don't even know if the above include last nights game. (I think so) But given the things I feel good about saying - this makes sense and honestly it's nothing special in terms of analysis. He's wilder than he's ever been so far this year. That means he's not hitting his spots. Part of that is leading to more walks. Part of that is leading to balls left over the plate.

This is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out why he's wilder and fixing that. Good luck with that one, McCatty.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Low on health but the enemies here are weak.

The Nats are in a bit of a sticky wicket right now, with three starters and an starting pitcher out.  Span, with a concussion, should be back soon, but concussions are tricky. We'll assume he's back in the lineup up sometime this week and move onto the big three. When will they be back? What do the Nats face during this time? What are reasonable expectations?

Let's look at the schedule. The Nats will play two more games away against the reeling Marlins. Strasburg vs Koehler and Roark vs Fernandez both look like obvious wins - so let's say split for those two (giving the Nats 2 of 3 away - a good outcome) and move on.  We'll do quick looks here - save the real analysis for the actual start of the stands.

Homestand 11 games, 4 vs STL, 3 vs LAA, 4 vs SDP

Pretty standard homestand but it starts on the 17th which is way too early for anyone to comeback. By the end we're at the 27th and Fister becomes a remote possibility as would a super fast healing Ramos but this is a weird part of the schedule, you'll see.

Away Trip 5 games; 2 @ HOU, 3 @ PHI
Homestand 3 games;  3 vs LA
Away 6 games; 3 @ OAK, 3 @ ARI

See? Home on the 27th of April, then Houston on the 29th, Philly on the 2nd of May, DC on the 5th, Oakland on the 9th. It's a ton of travel, but it's not too bad on the team as there are days off right now on either side of the Houston trip, before heading to Oakland, and after the last game. Still, it seems unlikely they'd bring guys in to be bounced around like that especially with Syracuse on a homestand from the 1st through the 8th.

The way I see it Fister (and Ramos if healthy - I'll guess not, but if) will be in Syracuse for that homestand then join the Nats out West. Makes sense for Fister to start vs Oakland sometime during that May 9th series. He's familiar with stadium and team, and the late West Coast start time could ease him into the rotation, as opposed to a prime time DC start. Ramos, it makes more sense in my mind, to wait until the next homestand which starts on the 16th. Syracuse does not travel far (Columbus, then Toledo) so a short rehab stint with them is possible. Given his slow healing history I think that's more than fair. (6 weeks would be about the 14th). 

Homestand 6 games; 3 vs NYM, 3 vs CIN
Away 4 games; 4 @ PIT
Homestand 9 games; 3 vs MIA, 3 vs TEX, 3 vs PHI

It's a nice long time in the area, basically 3 weeks interrupted with a short jaunt to Pittsburgh from May 16th through June 5th. A good time to acclimate players. Zimm in theory could join the team when I think Ramos will at the start, (4 weeks would be about May 11th) but I'd bet on him being back with the later homestand, which kicks off on the 26th.

What about expectations? The stretch they face before Fister would come back vs Oakland has some tough teams, but they get them at home. I think if they can go 11-10 during that time (tonight through Oakland) I think that's fair. Won't put them in first, but they won't be out of it. (unless ATL pulls one of those 15 game winning streaks) I know I said .500 till these guys are back may not cut it, but I was saying till they ALL come back which would be the very end of May or into June.  .500 for the next couple weeks would be ok.

Post-Fister the schedule looks pretty soft. Split the games away then Ramos is back for easy teams and easy travel for 3 weeks.  You have to like the Nats to start moving up here 6-4 w/Ramos, before Zimm? 6-3 in that homestand with everyone?  Now we're looking way far ahead but 34-25 at that point would feel pretty good. 

Boiling this rambling down - we're looking for the Nats to go basically .500 from now until that easy stretch begins (hopefully with Ramos returning).  That's 27 games so something like 14-13. Then something like 12-7 during that long stretch when by the end of it, everyone should be back and healthy. Two separate goals. Maintain over the next month. Impress over the 3 weeks after that. Neither goal seems unattainable.

The injuries matter but the Nats catch somewhat of a break with a schedule that's toughest section looks to be months from now during the stretch run. Right now they might be able to muddle through a perfectly average stretch then dominate an easy one as guys start coming back.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Quickie - I love Mondays!

because the Nats are not playing the Braves anymore!  (and the Yankees took 3 of 4 from Boston but I doubt that concerns you)

The Nats have been terrible vs the Braves. Going back to late 2012 that makes the Nats 7-22 in their last 29 games vs Atlanta. Why? Well, the big part of it is Atlanta is good, in particular was really good last year, while at the same time the Nats were off last year. It's pretty simple.You can have an off year versus a good team and get slaughtered. (Hell you can have an off year versus a mediocre team and get slaughtered if the chips fall the wrong way) 

Of course this would be easier to take if the Nats weren't also 0-6 vs the Cardinals last year and 1-5 versus the Dodgers (3-4 vs Pirates, but hey! 4-3 vs Cincinnati!) Like I said at the end of last column, with the Nats sitting at 1-5 against Atlanta the question becomes -  Can the Nats beat good teams? Unfortunately for the Nats, the question is asked at a time when the answer is most likely "No". Fister, Ramos, and  Zimmerman out. Span potentially out. This is an ailing team that has passed the point of its preparation.  At that point perceptions change.

Did we like the Nats better than the Braves? Yes.
Do we like the Nats better than the Braves? No.
Will we like the Nats better than the Braves? I don't know.

If the Nats all come back healthy in 6 weeks than sure. That would be the same team to start the year. Or perhaps if the Braves, who have reached their own limit in preparation, lose another starter. But I don't want to say it looks good for the Nats right now. Have they ever had guys come back exactly on time and perform up to expectations? I'm seriously asking. It at least feels like everyone comes back late and comes back hurt. A Nats team with a third of the team guarnteed to underperform is not a playoff competitive team unless Bryce and Rendon become Mantle and Hornsby overnight.

The ball is now in Rizzo's court then.  The easy solution, the one Rizzo has taken mid-season in the past, is to do nothing. Sit, wait and assume everything will go according to plan. The Nats will hold court going in the neighborhood of .500. Zimmerman, Ramos and Fister will all be back by about June 1st and the Nats will play the next 100 games as they should have played 162 if healthy. Seems like an ok plan. Of course that assumption - that everyone will be back healthy on June 1st is a big one. Then there is the assumption that no one else will get injured. That's a big one, too. Then there is the biggest problem :

That scenario doesn't guarantee playoffs

62 games at a .500 pace is 31-31
100 games at "original" pace* is 58-42

That's a 89-73 team. 89-73 did not make the playoffs last year. Used to be 89 would at least give you a shot and the thought was that in the expanded playoffs it could be a lock. Turns out though the competition steps up and tries harder with a goal in reach. Water finds its level. 90 wins is needed for a good shot. 92 for a lock. 

If Rizzo does nothing again - the Nats are probably in for a dogfight just to make the playoffs. 2014 has turned into 2013 alarmingly quickly.

*Using 94 wins pace

Other notes
  • The sweep will bring out the idiots shouting "SEE! YOU OVERRATED THE NATS!!!!" These are probably the same people that would act like you were stupid if you didn't pick the Rockies to finish at least 2nd in the NL West in a season where they only managed that when California fell into the ocean because of a massive earthquake.  Ignore them.
  • The injuries matter far more than the losses do.  The worst part about the losses is that the Braves now have a one-game lead and the Nats have "only" 13 H2H games to make that up.  That's not bad - that's fine. Then there are the 137 other games still left too. As the season wears down you like to have H2H because you are only hoping for one event, not two. That matters, but this far out it doesn't matter a lot.
  • Bryce is heating up. Danny looked ok.  Maybe the Nats can do this? 
  • Rendon is cooling down. So is LaRoche. Desmond didn't look good either. Maybe not?
  • The Nats SP ERA sits at 4.81.  Clippard and Blevins both have ERAs over 5.  That's not going to get it done. (It will get better though)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Braves Preview

First - since I haven't mentioned it for a year - if you are so inclined I am on twitter - mostly baseball stuff, more than I originally thought it would be, but not all.

The Nats are killing relievers. They are hitting them at a .315 / .397 / .519 clip by far the best in the National League. (Nats OPS is .915, next best is .835, then .774 - the AL has a couple teams a little closer but the Nats are still easily #1).  Is it that the Nats have just faced lousy bullpens? It didn't seem that way going into the Marlins series, but that is certainly a possibility. But so what? You want to kill lousy bullpens and the Nats have at the very least done that, if not beat up on ok ones.

I do believe though that the starter/reliever splits (Nats are about mid-MLB vs starters) gel with my idea of the Nats offense. It is not a murderer's row. It is good, and with Rendon and LaRoche, arguably the two biggest question marks coming into the year, both hot, there are no easy outs. (well maybe Lobaton right now but back-up catcher isn't a field flooded with talent. Honestly this guy was the best the Nats could do.) It doesn't have a guy yet who you feel you just have to pitch around. Yet.

Atlanta's relief staff has not been great. Kimbrel is Kimbrel, but getting to him has not been easy. Can the Nats take advantage of that? Speaking of Atlanta - there's a series this weekend!

The Braves come in on a bit of a slide, losing 3 of their last 4. They haven't played poorly over that time but it did highlight some flaws. The biggest overall issue is the fact their offense can go ice-cold seemingly at the drop of a hat. Nine games into the season and they already have 4 games where they've scored 1 or 0 runs. Freeman is still killing it (.419 / .514 / .677) but no one else is. Justin Upton is doing ok and Simmons, who may be limited in the series, can get singles but nothing else.  So forget Blevins pitching to Freeman. Pitch around Freeman would be the better plan versus this bunch.

The starting pitching is the biggest strength.  I'm not sure any starter has had a bad game, the worst one likely being David Hale's outing in the last game where he gave up 3 ER but in only 4 1/3 innings thanks to 5 walks. That's not good, but when it qualifies as your worst that gives you a sense of how good their starters have been. The Nats could likely be caught in a series of games that remain tense and low-scoring until the later innings. If the Nats could knock a pitcher out early their is a soft underbelly here. Of course the Nats scored all of 1 run off that underbelly last series so take that for what it's worth.

The Nats, as you know, are red hot. They did throw out their 3 best pitchers versus the Marlins though. Got two great starts from Gio and Stras, and one terrible one from ZNN.  The pen has looked good, though with a shaky moment or two.  Of course what does that all matter when you score 22 runs in 3 games? Desmond, Werth. LaRoche and Rendon have all hit exceptionally well the past week. Bryce looks to be heating up. Zimm has been a little off, and Span, you know the guy who leads off all the time and is probably the one hitter in the lineup you can't even say "well he used to be good" isn't hitting well. Surprise. Lobaton is also struggling in his role, but you have an endpoint with him. This doesn't matter when 4 guys are killing it but something to keep an eye on.

Pitching Match-Ups
Roark v Teheran
Teheran is a good pitcher. The Nats just faced him, presumably not at his best (4 walks and 111 pitches), and managed 3 hits and 2 runs over 7. Like I said - he's good. When he's on he's among the best in baseball with great control and strikeout stuff. A bit susceptible to the long ball perhaps. In theory Roark "owns" the Braves but I think that's a little bit good timing for him and wishful thinking.  Still this offense looks like it could be owned by anyone right now.

Jordan v Wood
This was the match-up last week too. In that one both guys pitched well. You could argue Wood actually pitched a bit better than Jordan but Taylor gave up 1 run to Alex's 2 and that was all either team would score. Alex could be wild, but doesn't give up the long ball. Jordan also "owns" the Braves. Like I said - I don't know if that can be disproved this time with the Braves collectively hitting so poorly.

Gio v Harang
Harang has done very well in his first two starts, almost no-hitting the Brewers and handling the Mets. But it's smoke and mirrors. His BABIP is .133 (which means he's getting lucky with GBs NOT finding holes)  His LOB% 88.9% (which means he's getting lucky with said GBs NOT finding holes at the right time). and his GB% is 27.6% which means those aren't acutally GBs he's getting lucky with - more like FBs not going out of the park. 0 HRs so far this year. He's pretty good at keeping guys in the park, but not that good.

The first two games should be toss-ups. The Nats could be held down just enough for the Braves to squeak across a couple runs, get to Kimbrel and get the win. OR the Braves could continue to be punchless, the Nats could scratch a run or two off the starter, a run or two more off relievers, and win 4-1, 5-0.  Either way I think through 7 these games are going to be close. Given that I don't feel good either way, I'll go with the split. As for the third game - Harang is a time bomb. I think the Nats win in a blow out.

I'll say the Nats take 2 of 3 and extend their lead in the NL East to 3 games. If that happens... well I'm not going to say wire to wire just yet. The Nats do have to finish an away set vs the Marlins then play STL for 4 games, but you start to think that maybe the Braves don't have what it takes to hang.

I think either way both teams have the same goal. Don't get swept. For the Braves that would really put them in a hole. With no common games until June 19th, they wouldn't have a good opportunity to close what would then be a 5 game gap until then.  It could be setting them up for trailing all the way until that 4 game set which would be the only time the play before the break. That would make that series huge... if the Nats hadn't already gotten too far ahead. If the Nats get swept "the Braves own the Nats / The Nats can't beat good teams" idea starts to get play. It could get wiped out as soon as they play the Cardinals, but then again - they Cardinals are really good.