Nationals Baseball

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The season?

Gotta be a short one today.

The Nats put themselves in the driver's seat by sweeping the Mets out of Washington. The Mets have one strength - starting pitching - but circumstance served to dilute that strength and without that the Mets can't beat the Nats. The Nats can hit. The Mets cannot.

Now the Nats have a golden opportunity to perhaps stamp the season as "ALL BUT OVER". Seven more games at home. Four vs Cincinnati (29-50) , three more vs Milwaukee (35-42), before facing the Mets again with four in NY.

But really it's less about the Nats and more about the Mets. This is a stretch that can put an end to the Mets season easily. The Mets have to take on the Cubs for four games next then they meet the current 2nd place Marlins after that. If they can't take that series from the Marlins they could be facing a 3 game deficit to the fish, let alone a possible double digit one to the Nats going into that next Nats series. If that happens, that series becomes do or die for New York. Lose it and you almost have to write the Mets off. The Marlins* then become the competition. If things break right the Nats could quickly find themselves in a Cubs like position.

But like we've talked about all season, the Nats haven't broken things right just yet. They've had opportunities but have managed to always come back to the pack. Leading the pack sure, but still in it. Tonight is game 80.  That was the story of the first half of the year. The story of the 2nd half could begin tonight. Will it be more of the same or the story of a team preparing for the playoffs?

*In the same time frame the Marlins have games @Atlanta and vs Cincinnati, so the expectation would be that they'd be around enough that the Nats can't shift into cruise control just yet.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Separation

Given what we thought of the NL East going into this year, I can think of no good reason why a healthy Nats team shouldn't be winning the East by several games over an injured Mets team. The Nats are healthy. The Mets are injured. And lo and behold, a healthy Nats team IS winning the East by several games over an injured Mets team. It's always nice to see what you feel are basic assumptions validated.

We've talked about this time frame - starting with the Phillies road trip on May 30th and ending with the Brewers series that finishes up on July 6th -  being a chance for the Nats to really separate themselves from the Mets (and Marlins). After starting red hot* - the Nats had bopped around against a decent schedule for about 30 games**.  Now the Nats were finally getting cracks at the bottom of the divisions. PHI twice, removed from their hot start. CIN twice, MIL twice, the Padres, the falling White Sox. It was as full of easily beatable teams as the stretch before was not. The stretch started as expected, the Nats playing well and extending a 1 game lead to 5, but then the losing streak happened. What had been a possibly season defining 13-4 run morphed into another pedestrian looking 13-11 one and the lead shrunk back to 2 games.

But the stretch still was only 2/3rd done. There was time for redemption. It's odd to see it work exactly like this, a long stretch of losses in between two great stretches, but it's baseball. There's an example of everything happening. And so far what we've seen suggests we may get that second great stretch. 3 wins in a row. The time frame now reading 16-11. The lead back to 4.5 games (over the Marlins). The season of fits and starts might actually punch through at the half-way point in the season.


Last nights game  - Giolito looked capable. He struck out only one but in general looked solid. He wasn't really hit hard; one sharp grounder, a couple deepish fly balls. His control did waver. His two walks were on 8 pitches total, but the Mets didn't really press that issue, swinging early in the 2nd and 3rd innings. It would have been interesting to see what the 5th and 6th innings brought. If the Mets had finally gotten it through their thick skulls to force the kid to throw strikes combined with him getting up in pitches we might have seen a shift but I guess that's for another start.

Ramos is still hitting. Murphy is still hitting. And look out because Bryce continues to be the watched kettle, heating up ever so slowly. Werth isn't hot anymore but he is mixing in timely hits with walks - 18 in June, 16 in his last 15 games, 8 int he last 5. Even the bullpen didn't blow it. Nothing but good times.

The series looked like a tough one for the Nats. Syndergaard first game. Harvey second. But thanks to Noah's bone spur that really isn't affecting him continue to let him pitch with it please, and the weather the Nats had to only face these guys for under 7 innings. That's the Mets strength and it's been effectively eliminated for the Nats the first two games. Without that the Nats are just better. Finish it out today with Matz out for injury.  The sweep is there. Take it.  

*14-4!
** 16-15!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bury them

Noah Sydergaard wasn't himself last night.  Of that there can be no doubt.* The Nats needed to take advantage of that and for about 2 1/2 inning it didn't look like they were going to. Ross was having trouble finding a groove and the Mets had scored four times. Meanwhile the Nats blew a bases loaded no one out opportunity in the first.  Down 4-0 it might only take a few more bad breaks and failures for the Nats to lose a game that hindsight will tell them they should have won.

Those bad breaks and failures didn't happen. Instead the Nats got two big two-out hits in the third to take the lead. Sydergaard was pulled as a cautionary measure and the Nats teed off on Gilmartin. Meanwhile, the Mets offense got the bad breaks (three line drives at people) and Ross was able to get a big DP to keep the Mets from scoring again. By the time the dust settled 3 1/2 innings later the Nats were on their way to an 11-4 victory.

Now the pressure is off the debut of Lucas Giolito. If the Nats don't win tonight that's ok.

Oh yes, the double elephants in the room. Lucas Giolito is starting tonight and Trea Turner played CF last night for Syracuse.

The Trea Turner move I get. There is no doubt from how he's performed in AAA and in the majors that he is ready for a shot at a starting gig. However, the Nats chose control over contribution early in the year and Espinosa used that to his advantage to work out his kinks. Danny had a little run of decency in mid-May to keep the wolves at bay and in June has been the Nats best player. Seriously.  He's hit .297 / .391 / .635  which falls a half-step behind Ramos' line for the month. But Danny has 2 SBs while Ramos contributes 4 DPs and the assumption is Espinosa is still giving you plus defense.

So Trea is currently blocked there and in reality is blocked not only in the immediate future but for about a month at least.  Given how hot Danny has been you aren't going to give up on him after a couple of bad weeks. Where to find Trea some playing time? There are other positions the Nats have had issues with currently. First base is one, but it seems a waste to put Trea at that position. You could, perhaps, let Trea play 2nd and move Murphy to first, but managers are loathe to move players around who are doing well and it could be hard to sit Ryan. The other position where offense is an issue is CF. Neither Revere nor Taylor have very strong sentiment behind them like Ryan. So you give Trea a shot to see if he can play that position.

If you believe Trea is a bad SS this could be hurting him. He's not getting reps he'll need at the position he'll most likely end up at. However, that's not how I lean. I think he's a fine SS and a few games in CF won't hurt him. I wouldn't want him playing the rest of the season at CF (unless the Nats were sure he was going to come up as one), but a handful of games between now and the All-Star break to see if they have someone who can replace MAT / Revere down the stretch if need be? That seems like a smart play. Of course MAT or Revere could get hot and again block Trea, but that's a good problem to have.


The Giolito move is a bit more confusing to me. The Nats had two pitchers who would line up with a Tuesday start. In AAA they had Austin Voth and in AA they had Lucas Giolito.  Some stats please

Voth : 2.99 ERA 1.107 WHIP 7.9 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 2.1 BB/9, 8.3 K/9
Giolito : 3.17 ERA, 1.423 WHIP, 8.5 H/9, 0.3 HR/9, 4.3 BB/9, 9.1 K/9

but that could be all April games what about recently! June stats:

Voth : 3.30 ERA 1.264 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 11 BB, 1 HR in 30 IP
Giolito : 3.18 ERA, 1.368 WHIP,  11.9 K/9, 7 BB, 1 HR in 22.2 IP

I'd give the edge to Giolito here... until I remember he's in a whole league lower than Voth.

It's hard to read the above and not think Voth has the best chance to win tonight's game of the two and isn't that what a spot start is all about?

Well what if it's not a spot start? If they think Strasburg is done for a while - perhaps they are ready to sit him through the AS break - then it becomes more about who they think will be better overall then just who is better today. Everyone likes Giolito's stuff more so maybe they assume that in 3, 4, 5 games Giolito's advantages would begin to shine through. This is the best I can figure.

The other thing that is apparent though - you don't bring up Giolito now unless you are fully prepared to bring up Giolito later this year. Why start the clock for a game or two on a guy everyone loves but that you aren't sure will stick in the majors even to start next year? You don't.  No, you bring up Giolito now if you are ready to hand him a starting gig no later than the start of 2017. If that's the case then it brings up an interesting situation where the Nats have 6 starters for 5 slots. Stras and Max are set which means either Ross gets dealt, Roark gets dealt, or Gio doesn't get extended. Since the Gio one is the only one they really control (Rizzo is not the type to dump a player - he goes for value) then I kind of guess that decision has been made. They'd like to not resign Gio. One Gio replaces another.

That's not to say he couldn't come back. Maybe someone comes in with a deal for Roark/Ross that is killer and Rizzo pulls the trigger on that. Maybe Stras or Max goes down with TJ. In those events depth is needed and even average Gio is on a fair deal for 2017. But right now I think the Nats are ok not resigning Gio if nothing comes along that makes that necessary.

But back to Lito. Like I said, if this is one or two games, I don't like it. I don't see the point really of starting his clock for a spot start or two when a perfectly good alternate option exists that isn't making a jump from two leagues down. But if it's something longer, well then at least I can see the why there.  

*If you didn't hear he walked three in the first 11 batters and he hadn't walked three in a game since last July.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Monday Quickie - Once more

Well that was a bad stretch now wasn't it?   But look! Nats are still in first. They are still pacing for the 90s in wins (93/94 if you must know). And they still have a chance to knock the Mets for a loop. Three games at home starting tonight. Four games, in NY, right after the 4th.  In between, what should be 7 games vs patsies, Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

If all goes according to plan the Nats will be 4 games up over the Mets by Thursday morning. Five or 6 games up coming into the July 7th series. Then they are a soul crushing 3-1 series win from being around 8 games up. Season over? Not quite. But the ride on out would be smoother. This is what I'm expecting. Well maybe not the 3-1, but being up around 6 games going into that series.

That may be big talk coming off a 7 game slide but the Nats didn't actually play all that badly during that slide.  They didn't get blown out in any game losing by 4 - 3 - 3 - 1 - 1- 2 - 1. That's not usually how 0-7 teams play. I'm not saying the Nats played well. I'm just saying that the Nats played not terribly enough that it really should have been a 2-5 ish slide. If the Nats had done that they'd be up by 5 and we'd be nothing more than mildly annoyed they aren't playing better.  "Mildly annoyed they aren't playing better" had been the team slogan from Mid April until very recently.

Any way. Mets series. Win tonight. Win the series.


We won't of course, get out of here without talking about Strasburg. A weight room incident? I guess.

The Nats need Strasburg if only to help avoid streaks like they just had. Scherzer should be the stopper but showed that he's just flaky enough with the HRs this year that you can't count on him 100%.  I'd probably say the same thing sort of thing about Stras. He's just not great enough that I'm not sure he'll win. However, you give me Max and Stras back to back and I'll bet on a win. Now that there's no Stras a lot falls on Max.

Ross and Roark are solid, but they aren't stoppers. Gio, well Gio might actually be a problem to solve, which is another reason they need Strasburg back. The Nats aren't exactly swimming in SP depth. Yes there are Giolito and Lopez but both are still in AA more likely to be held back for 2017. Austin Voth is a decent enough arm to give a chance to but he's just one. If Stras is here you can work out between those three, who can replace a Gio if that becomes necessary.  If Stras isn't here, then you need two. Are there two here for 2016? I don't know.

When will we see Stras again? It might have to do with how the Nats handle the next few games. If the Nats take a nice lead, there is little reason to rush him back and for the sake of three more starts you could rest him right through the All-Star break. If it gets close there will be more pressure on him to return, certainly for that big 4 game set at CitiField. Hopefully he's not all that injured and he'll be back next go around.

The Nats need Stras this year. There's too much of the season left not to.  They can live without him though, for a few weeks, as long as they take care of business vs the Mets and some middling teams in the meantime.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Problem or not?

The Nats have lost 5 in a row. No biggie. It's a long season and the Nats are still where they want to be. In first place with a 95+ win pace. It's hard to say anything is wrong. The Mets and Marlins remain more than a double sweep (Nats get swept in 3 game series, they sweep their series) away.  This weekend is favorable to the Nats. The Mets are breaking down and can't beat the suddenly hot (7 of last 8) Braves. Miami has 3 more at the best in baseball Cubs. Meanwhile the Nats get to play the Brewers. All signs point to an expansion of the lead, not a contraction.

If the Nats do go into the Mets series closer than 4 games out well then there's the Mets series sitting there to put it right. And after that Cincy and Milwaukee again at home to pull out of any dive they may be undergoing.

The Nats schedule through the 4th is set up for them to stay in first. So if we wake up on July 7th and the Nats are staring up at someone, well then something has gone wrong.

Speaking of wrong, let's talk about Ryan Zimmerman.

Ryan Zimmerman is having a terrible June (.190 / .222 / .328). He had had a terrible April (.219 / .301 / .301), but his May was perfectly acceptable (.262 / .316 / .542). 

At his peak (2009-2010) Ryan hit nothing soft and hit a ton of flyballs. He didn't strike out much and had good patience. Then he got hurt. In his next two full years (2012-13) he would morph into more of a line drive hitter who hit nothing soft. That cost him a little power. He would strike out a bit more and walk a bit less. That cost him some average and OBP. All in all still a very good hitter. Then he got hurt again. And again. Now he's still a hard hitter but he's hitting ground balls. That costs him some average again. He's striking out even more and walking even less. Again more average more OBP.

None of these changes are dramatic. You look at how he's hit over the years there's been a gradual shift. His numbers in 2015 aren't actually all that different from 2012.  You could hope that it has been a bit of bad luck in hitting them were they ain't, but it's also likely a bit of other things. Not as much speed in the legs to beat out hits or go for two. An approach that's a little less all field.

There are things about his stats that can't be denied if you look at his full season stats. He is gradually making less contact. He is gradually being more aggressive.  He's not hitting the ball as hard. I'm not saying Ryan can't be a useful player but I do think the cumulative effect is that he's likely no more than average for a full season.

If you want to try to be more positive you can hope that this is just Ryan's streakiness coming into play. I've looked and there is something to that - at least starting out or coming back from injury. But I'm not sure I buy it and this midseason dip is unusual. I suppose you could argue his May wasn't all that great - probably got lucky in the HRs* which boosted him almost .100 OPS. If you say that than you can say there is no "midseason dip" and he just never got hot. But then again you are arguing that we're 70 games into the year and he hasn't really hit well.

Ryan is clearly not the hitter he used to be, certainly not as his peak, but not as of a couple years ago either. It's not his fault. Injuries and age have taken a toll. It happens with all players, just usually not this early in a career. Right now I'm not advocating sitting Ryan (Robinson is a great bench piece but not a great player) or replacing him. But I am saying he should have his ABs limited as there are clearly 5 hitters you want to have more ABs than him. Normally that would make him 6th in the line-up but the whole lead-off situation is it's own thing so Zimmerman should bat 7th.  If we're at the All-Star break and things haven't picked up we can discuss other options. They likely won't be taken. There doesn't appear to be a lot of affordable 1B options coming up to trade, nothing in the pipeline,  and there are multiple off-field reasons not to sit Zim. But we can discuss them

Other notes :

Since the Phillies (NOT THE CUBS) began the "walk Bryce" movement he's hit .223 / .384 / .349. That may seem ok because that is a nice OBP but the "walk Bryce" movement has pretty much ended. Starting with the Marlins series in mid-May (he was walked 4 times in a game v the Mets the series before so this makes sense as a cutoff for me) he's hit .250 / .323 / .389. That's over a month now. Now he is hitting better in June. If you want to be real favorable to him we can carve out a .288 average period, but the OPS is still under .800.  That's not fine for your superstar.  Bryce might be slowly coming back around.  If not, we're about to have a big Bryce conversation.


*HR/FB rate suggest that is the case. Looking at HR distance too. Not really killing balls. Then there's the inside the park one he got on a catchable ball that turned into a collision

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hungover

The worst part about last night for me wasn't the loss. Worry about the Nats if they can't pull out of this in Milwaukee. The worst part was staying up past that interminable Top of the 9th only to lose. You were making a deal with the devil then. I'll stay up and watch this but because I want to see the Nats win a game. And then the devil gets you.

So now what in CF?
In short : Nothing.

In long : 

It would be completely unfair to look at last night and demote or otherwise get rid of MAT. That was pretty much the lowest point for the kid and it is not likely to be repeated. However it isn't unfair to look at MAT's stats at nearly 200 PA (he's got roughly a quarter season worth) and his stats for his career and think the same things. In 2014* he OPS+ 75, in 2015 it was 72, this year so far it is 75. He struck out 39.5% of the time in 2014, 30.9% in 2015, 31.4% this year. The line on MAT has always been that when he makes contact his combination of speed and power make him a dangerous offensive player. However, he's not making enough contact. Not now, not ever at the major league level. It's easy to think that MAT should be a 5th OF. It's easy to think he should be the type of player that is a late inning D replacement (yes, I know - like good defenders don't make errors, smart guy), pinch runner, bat you send up if you are hoping for a bomb. 

Whether that is premature or not Taylor isn't the 5th OF. He's being used as a platoonish starter right now, and that's because of how Ben Revere is doing. Revere was the assumed full-time starter and he doesn't seem right. Given his overall consistency I'd guess he's still feeling the effects of injury but either way the results have been unusable. Ben is guy who lives and dies by the single and he's not hitting them.  A .206 average in a few less at bats than MAT has. He's hitting a lot more flyballs this year, worthless hits for a guy like him with no power. He's striking out a bit more. He hasn't been a good fielder in years, and his speed is only helpful if he gets on the base paths. He hasn't been starter worthy either for the season.

If the Nats were inclined to make a dramatic move or were in panic mode we might see neither Taylor or Revere starting. In fact I'm sure there'll be calls for den Dekker, as he's the type that leaves a good impression. But he's currently hitting .219 in Syracuse, and in brief outings this year he hit worse than MAT. He might be passable in a strict platoon but probably not. He's just ok in the field too and not as fast as these other two.There's not a conspiracy holding this guy back. He isn't that good. Chris Heisey is no better.

What's in the minors?  People might ask to see Brian Goodwin called up just to try it. He is hitting .294. But he also doesn't have any patience and meh power. He has been toning down the Ks as the season has worn on. He had 21 in 77 PAs in April, 11 in 77 PAs so far in June. So maybe? It doesn't feel like a smart move though. More throwing stuff at the wall to see if it sticks. Stevenson or Robles? Too far away.

So... trade? Not so fast. The truth is the quasi-platoon Dusty was throwing out there was working, at least it has been recently. Revere has hit .308 in his last 12 games.  Yes, absolutely no patience or power but he's been getting his singles. He's been sitting not because of his stinky overall numbers, but because there have been a lot of lefty starters recently. MAT has been allowed to face those guys and in the same rough time frame (since June 5th) MAT has hit .348 / .375 / .587.  That includes last night's 0 fer. How can you ask for more than this? CF the last 2 weeks has been good.

It's doubtful the position is ever going to be what you want it to be. Revere is a lifetime averag-ish singles hitter coming off of injury who fields ok. Taylor is a clearly below average hitter who strikes out too much to play everyday, but fields well and is enough of a power threat to make his bat useful. That's who these guys are.  Use them smartly and you might squeeze out a position that's a little above average. For the season that hasn't worked out but for the past couple weeks it really has. The Nats should not worry about last night and keep doing the same.

The All-Star break is still a month away. Let it play out until then. Maybe this keeps working and you ride it all season long. Maybe Revere starts hitting, MAT cools down, and you start to make Ben the full-time guy again and MAT a spot starter. Maybe they both go back to failing and you know you have to make a move. But these guys have not been hurting the team in June. To change things up now would be going after something that just might be fixed. Maybe. Possibly. Don't let one terrible night lose sight of that.

*Yes, yes. Small sample. It's more of a backward allowance. Fits pattern shown in other years so we don't throw it out like we might a 120 OPS+ or a 40 OPS+. Not really fair but this isn't high level analysis here just pointing out a pattern.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What, you worry?

The Nats have lost four in a row for only the 2nd time all year. Unlike the last time, a sweep at the hands of the potentially historic Cubs, these games have been against more normal competition, the playoff caliber Dodgers and the cellar dwelling Padres. It almost feels like it hasn't happened, since these have pretty much all gone in the books after midnight on the East Coast, but it has. Is it concerning? Nope.

Good teams, great teams, lose 4 in a row.  The 2014 Nats, who ended up winning 96 games, went 0-4 twice.  The 2012 team, which won 98 games, did it three times including a 5 game slide. It's not going to happen a lot but a couple more times this year is easily possible.

If you shouldn't worry now (and you almost certainly shouldn't) when should you? That depends on what you are worrying about. 

I'm worried about making the playoffs

We are 72 games into the year and the Nats are playing at a 96/97 win pace.  Basically that means that the Nats would have to play around .500 for half the year* to be in the danger zone of missing the playoffs.  Regardless of how you parse the season**, that's a worse Nats team than we have seen. For me, that means we need some kind of run that would fundamentally change how I view this team. A five or six game slide is certainly not enough.  I'm thinking maybe something like 0-10? 2-13? Something that drops them to that under 90 win pace. Something that makes one stop and go, "woah, maybe this isn't the 90+ win team I thought these guys were"  We're a long way off from this right now.

I'm worried about winning the NL East

This one is a bit tougher because it involves other moving parts; how the Mets (and ok, we'll throw in a Marlins mention here) are doing. The Nats could go 6-5 but if the Mets go 11-0 then it's a dead heat. The Nats could go 3-8 but if the Mets go 0-11 then the NL East feels wrapped up. So there can be nothing really definitive here, unlike the playoffs where generally things end up a certain way.

We could set the bar only at what the Mets are pacing right now - which would be 87 wins. However, if you are worried about losing the East, I think you are worried about the Mets playing better rather than the Nats sinking down to finish the season with 85 wins.  I think the safest bet is to make that bar a little higher than the last one, maybe like 92 wins.  In this case the losing is a little less dramatic as those that would cause a playoff miss. These are streaks that would likely bring the Mets back into close contention.  If you figure the Mets to be a little better than .500 than extending this streak to around 0-8 would probably do it, or something like 2-10.*** Basically the Nats have to repeat what they just did.

I'm worried about home field advantage in the playoffs

Ok if you want to be a worry-wart, here's a legitimate thing to worry about. The Cubs have slowed down a bit, but just a bit, and are still on pace to win more than 110 games. To put it another way - if the Cubs play .500 ball here on out, they'll finish 93-69.  No one expects them to play that "poorly" so to have any chance to keep up with the Cubs the Nats basically can't afford to fall much off a 95+ win pace, which they are only a little bit above now.

If the Nats keep winning as they are and I'd give them a puncher's chance to overtake the Cubs, but they are on the cusp of being in real trouble. So maybe a couple more losses? 0-6? 2-8? That would likely put them 6+ more games behind the Cubs with a half-season to go. I wouldn't like those odds.


To recap, four losses in a row ain't nothing. Unless you are aiming for 100 plus wins, it's going to happen (and I'm sure some of those 100+ win teams had it happen too). The Nats have stumbled which hurts their chance at home field, but given how they, and the Mets, have played so far, it affects little else.  If they continue to stumble, or worse fall flat on their face, there would be something to worry about**** but as of right now there's nothing.

*Depends where we draw the line but if we say "under 90" we're looking at something like an 83/84 win pace for 90 games. 

**If you are positive about the Nats then they are who they are, a 96/97 win team. If you are negative you might say they lucked into a Braves team who couldn't get out of their own way early and really they are more like the record the team has put up since mid April. That is more of a 88/89 win team. Either way it's a long way from .500

*** Of course we are getting into a Mets series during this time frame so that's a little different but I'm talking vague generalities here. 

**** Also unspoken is after the Dodgers comes the Brewers who currently are only slightly better than the Padres. The likelihood of continuing a long losing streak against them feels really unlikely.  After that is the Mets, but then Cincy and Milwaukee at home. You can slip up against anyone but it's a lot less likely against teams like these. So most of this is more things to look at heading up until the stretch run rather than what could happen right now. Most. The 0-4 is here now so that counts for something.