Nationals Baseball

Friday, September 04, 2015

The lead up to Labor Day

Pessimistic Nats fan : We went 10-6 and lost a game and a half of ground to the Mets
Optimistic Nats fan : The Mets went 11-4 and didn't put us away.

God, the Braves look bad right now, don't they? I know it feels like a sweep is coming but sweeps are hard. Four game sweeps even harder. 3-1 is fine. So don't get all crazy if the Nats lose one.

I'm just going to repeat myself at this point. Right now the Nats are in a zombie like state. Not dead but not alive. Too close to write off the season, too far away to get excited for a comeback. That Mets series sits out there and it's has more potential than any series up until now to change this. Bury the Nats or give them new life, either is completely possible.

Of course the boring option happens more often than not, meaning the Nats won't go into the series 9 games out and last gasp desperate, or 3 games out and rolling. They'll go into it 6 games out. They won't get swept or sweep, they'll win like 2 of 3 and set up a slog of trying to make up 2 games in 3 weeks, to give the last series some meaning.

That last series. More than "6 H2H" that last series is what gives this chase seemingly unending hope. A Nats sweep is admittedly unlikely - let's say you give them a 45% chance to win each game - they would have 9% chance of sweeping. But compare that to say the chance the Nats win three games vs Team X while the Mets lose three to Team Y to end the year.  Even if you give the Nats something like 55% chance of winning and the Mets 55% chance of losing (and really why would you do either?), that chance drops under 3%.  And again - that's with unrealistic odds here. It's not close. A sweep, even if you don't like the Nats chances against the Mets, isn't crazy. Two sweeps is.

So we're set up for a long slow death because they Nats don't have to get close to first place ASAP to maintain hope. They only have to reach 3 games out by game 159.  They are 6 games out of first with 29 to play, but they are 3 games out of having a chance with 26 to play.

Side note :  Just to note in case it becomes something the Nats have picked up 2.5 games on the 2nd Wild Card Cubs in the past 9 days. The Cubs are still 7.5 games ahead of the Nats but if they go into free fall.... like I said just putting it out there in case it matters in a week.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Exactly where Nats were supposed to be

Why can't we be more like the Mets? The Nats took on The Cardinals in Saint Louis. The Mets took on the Phillies at home. The Nats went 1-2. The Mets went 2-1. Those would probably be the most likely scenarios coming into these series. The Mets though, had the courtesy to do it with little drama. 8 innings of shutout ball from Colon, then two games that were pretty much blowouts. Isn't that nicer than three straight games of 7th-8th-9th madness?

It's now fairly clear that the Nats bats are healthy and hitting. Since the Colorado series here are some of the lines the Nats have got going

Ryan Zimmerman : .318 / .347 / .864
Wilson Ramos : .368 / .400 / .632
Bryce Harper : .342 / .490 / .526
Jayson Werth : .313 / .411 / .583
Anthony Rendon : .340 / .426 / .532
Yunel Escobar : .381 / .480 / .429
Ian Desmond : .302 / . 362 / .465

Ian's line would have been praised for most of the year, given how anemic the offense could be, yet in the last two weeks that ranks as the 7th best hitting for the team. Even Taylor isn't doing too bad. Only Espy is struggling. Now before you say "See! This is what the Nats can do when healthy!" understand there is another qualifier there. This is what the Nats can do when healthy... and hot.  You don't usually have 7 guys hitting well at the same time. Enjoy it. It won't last.

Of course there are only 4 weeks left in the season, so it doesn't have to last that much longer. A couple more weeks with the starting pitching backing it up and the Nats could get a run going that's impressive, not merely good as this 9-6 run has been. A run like May's 17-4. Play like that and you force the Mets to keep their game up. They can do it (they had a 19-6 run that ended a week ago) but that's tough for any team.

Any optimism has to be tempered with the bullpen issues though. Here there are no injuries or surprise disappointments to call out and expect improvement on. The talent is mediocre and the usage is terrible. Last night we got a glimpse of fair usage, what Williams can do with a few more arms. Really it's just play the matchups to an insane degree, but given what he was doing - hanging pitchers out to dry - it's a vast improvement. Could the pen get hot? Sure, they probably only have 30-40 innings in them for the rest of the season. But I'm thinking if you want the Nats to get on a run the SP/Offense way is a better bet.

Next up for the Nats is the Braves at home. It's a four game set so you want the Nats to go at least 3-1. The pretty much have to considering how bad the Braves have been. An insane 12-37 since July 7th and 3-19 more recently. The Mets are at the Marlins and even though it's away you have to figure the Mets win the series. Yeah the Marlins have won 3 in a row but were 2- 8 in the 10 before that. They aren't good. Let's say Mets take the series 2-1. So the Nats come into the Labor Day series 6 games out? I'll take that right now.  Of course, I bet the Mets would take that too.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Broken

I have nothing really new to say. The series is lost. The season grows ever closer to being the same.

Matt Williams repeats the same mistakes over and over again. I can sit here and guess once more at what he was probably thinking. How he wasn't crazy (well until Janssen came in in the 9th), how these weren't terrible decisions, just bad ones, etc. etc. The same stuff I've been doing for the past few weeks. But what's the point? When someone makes a mistake, however minor, you hope they learn from it. Matt Williams isn't learning.

It's not even to the point where these things are happening infrequently so you can maybe understand why he would stick to his guns. These things are happening day in and day out. Pitchers are disappointing necessitating early hooks that never come. Crucial situations are happening in the back half of games crying out for expanded roles for your two back end relievers which they never get. The Nats are playing close games more often that not, meaning each at bat should be carefully considered, but they never are.

Behind the fact that he keeps making these mistakes is the realization that no one must be telling him otherwise. Matt Williams isn't a maverick. I don't see him outright rejecting help from his coaches. I expect he tows the line with the GM. Why isn't someone grabbing him by both shoulders, shaking wildly and saying "Stop saving Papelbon for save situations that never come" But why should we be surprised that the team isn't doing this? The Nats are in fact only highlighting his weaknesses by limiting their September call-ups. It's a mess from the top down.  This is what makes the comeback potential of this team, even when healthy, limited. They have to win on talent alone, because nothing else is going to give them a boost. No trades, no hot hands, no smart managing.

The Nats may still pull off a miracle. You work backward. They need to be within 3 of the Mets by that last series. There's 20 games between that and the first Mets series. Picking up 4 games is, very unlikely, but not insane. To do that they need to be within 7 coming out of the first Mets series. That means you could even get to the Labor Day series 10 games back and hold out hope. That's a little bit into "every last thing must go right" territory for me. I prefer 5-6 out coming out of the LD series, and 8 games coming in, which gives a loss or two of wiggle room (but really - just a loss or two). But if you want to write off the team because of Williams and everything else... I can't tell you that's insane either. Missing the playoffs is the safer bet for sure.


Notes

If that inanity wasn't enough in comes "Joe Ross should be shutdown" talk. If he's going to get injured, he's going to get injured, be it this year or next, unless you are planning to pitch him 100 innings for the rest of his career. If you want to shut him down because he looked lost and you think Fister gives the Nats a better chance next time around, fine. If you want to shut him down to protect his arm then brush up on your Washington Nationals history.

Bryce Harper was walked for the 100th time last night. The next closest Nat has 33. THIRTY-THREE! That's another point in the 1000 points of darkness that have covered this season in eternal night. The injuries took away all the other walk threats in the Nats line-up.

I promise you Trea Turner will get a hit. I won't promise you Trea Turner will be a good major leaguer next year. Would I bet on him being at least usable, like slightly below average or better? Yeah, I'd bet on that. Would I promise you though? No. Not next year.

Drew Storen stinks (hitting a guy 1-2? come on man) but since you were probably watching the Nats broadcast, I'll let you in on something the Cardinals TV broadcast picked up on immediately, and Storen explained post-game. Lobaton was shouting to Storen "Three Three Three".  Why? Don't know. But I do know as a pitcher in that situation you trust your catcher. Storen can't see what's going on behind him. The runner on 2nd could have tripped. Rendon could be way late covering first. Lobaton has to tell him where to go.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

I SAID KEEP ON TRUCKIN

Like this guy

Look at him truck!

Nats lost, Mets won. Nats lose another game of ground. I can't say it doesn't matter, because it does, but I can say it happened. It'll happen again. Get over it. Win series.

As for the actual game. Yeah, it was another Matt Williams "Ok I can see what you were trying to do" special. After a standard Gio performance the Nats grabbed the lead on the Zimm homer (the offense does look much better in the past week or two... if anyone cares). In came Casey Janssen. This is no surprise, as he's been designated the 7th inning guy. Someone had to be, I guess.

Reynolds starts off with a very typical single and then Moss follows with a broken bat slow roller. He should have been out. Zimm probably shouldn't have broke on it (if it was too fast and too far out for him to reach, it was too fast and too far out for him to go) but he did leaving Rendon to Janssen as the only option. However, Janssen was slowed by the broken bat looping over his head and wasn't able to beat Moss to the bag. So goes 2015. Still Janssen pretty much got the results he wanted two times and followed it up with a 3rd GB that got a double play. So you can understand why he gets to pitch to Carpenter. He walks him on four pitches. This is where it gets dicey.

Janssen still has only really had one bad at bat. Him facing Piscotty is reasonable, even if Piscotty has been hot, because the majority of scenarios (out, walk, single) here still leave the Nats with a lead to protect and two outs. In a normal situation only warming Rivero to face Heyward would make sense. But the Nats are at a point where they can't afford any lost games. Every game is a playoff game. With that mindset you have to realize that if Piscotty gets on in any way, it's a real tough call to let Janssen face Peralta. That would be 4 guys getting on base in 5 PAs, and even if they were fluky his pitch count would likely be over 20 for the inning. The smart call is to get Storen warming too. If Piscotty gets on, sorry Casey, but we can't take any chances.

Piscotty did get on, with the Nats playing to take away doubles and the lead, they gave up a single on a soft liner. Janssen, not Storen, faced Peralta and even though his hit wasn't impressive, it did the job and the Nats ended up giving up the lead once again with their best pitchers remaining on the sidelines. Rivero would come on to face Heyward, and Heyward would hit a ball that the statue that is Jayson Werth couldn't be rolled to fast enough by park employees. Over his head, two runs in, game over.

Matt Williams, despite being skewered and roasted today really didn't do anything WRONG. Janssen was getting the types of hits he wanted. You could argue he didn't give up a hard hit ball all night. But even though it wasn't OMG WHAT ARE YOU DOING WRONG to leave Janssen in, it wasn't the best option either. Storen was. This team needs the best option out there and Williams isn't giving them that. (Which in turns makes Williams himself not the best option either)

Williams is plagued not only by some sort of unearthly ability to pick the wrong arm and the wrong time, but by his own lack of urgency. Perhaps it's an overconfidence in the team, god knows Rizzo feeds that beat. Perhaps it's just his nature. But at this juncture every game is urgent. You can't worry about who's going to hold the lead in the 8th, you have to have all hands on deck to hold it in the 7th. You can't worry about who's going to be available for the next game, you have to burn through all your arms this one if need be. Stop playing as if it's May. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Quickie : Keep on Truckin'

After a fair outing by Scherzer led to an defeat on Friday the Nats needed to win two in a row to win the series. They did it. That makes 4 series wins in a row and an 8-4 record in the last 12 games. They even gained a game back on the Mets who lost the series to the Red Sox, one of three lost series for the month for the Mets.  For those of you bemoaning the fact that the Nats have actually lost a game to the Mets during this recent streak (were 4.5 out, now 5.5 games out) understand that if the Nats played another middling stretch and went 6-6 or 5-7 they would now be around 8 games out and we'd be really stretching to keep them in this pennant race. It's a longshot as it is, but the recent hot streak keeps it from Hail Mary territory.

Now comes probably the biggest hurdle that sits between the last Mets series and the next one. The Mets host a three game set versus the still terrible Phillies while the Nats travel to St. Louis for three against the best in baseball Cardinals. Nothing has changed. Win the series. Hope the Mets don't. Pick up a game. However, this three day set is probably the best chance for things to go quickly south for the Nats besides the H2H match-up. If the Nats can come find themselves Thursday morning no worse for wear I'll consider that a moral victory. But I do hate moral victories, so win the series.

NOTES

Boz blames the starters. Have the starters underperformed? Absolutely. Do they share part of the blame? Of course. Are they the "biggest problem of 2015"? HA! Imagine you're driving a car on four bald donuts, out of steering fluid, with a windshield you can't see through but you do have brand-new brakes. Now you see at the last minute you need to avoid an accident, you can't steer out of the way so you hit the brakes... and they don't work perfectly. SMASH! Do you blame the brakes?

Despite Strasburg battling injuries and Fister collapsing in a heap of "we knew this would happen, we were just hoping it would be next season"  The Nats starters have an above average ERA of 3.84.  I'm going to go ahead and list the teams ahead of the Nats in ERA. Cardinals, Dodgers, Mets, Pirates, Cubs.  Notice a pattern? And right behind the Nats? The Giants. The Nats have a playoff caliber rotation, the fact that it's not near the best in the NL is disappointing but it can't be singled out as THE issue.

The rotation was supposed to be so good it would help overcome other issues. Guess what? THAT'S A TERRIBLE PLAN. Maybe try not to have other issues instead. It's baseball. Any aspect can be completely undermined by a couple injuries and a surprise bad performance. Any aspect.
  • I told you I'd hold off on Jayson Werth to see if the thin mountain air helped him get back on track or not. Since the Colorado series (not counting it) he's hitting .294 / .415 / .559.  Will he keep it up? Will he hit for power in September? Don't know. What I feel safe in saying is that he's as healthy as he's going to be for 2015 and therefore needs to be playing nearly everyday. I still want Robinson playing but the Span injury makes it easier to find time for him in a Taylor/Robinson quasi-platoon (Bryce takes over CF when Robinson plays).
  • Strasburg is hurt. That's not good. I think he needs the whole offseason to rest, but he's not going to get it. Since it's not his arm, I say shoot him up, get him out there, and go for it. At least until the season is decided.
  • One of Boz's points is that the offense is fine because the Nats are going to score about the same number as runs as last year. Yeah except offense is slightly up this year. The offense is actually down in comparison to the league. Slightly true but he's insinuating it might be slightly better. It's not. Context matters. 
  • You know if Ian hits in September like he did in August, turning down that 7/107 extension may turn out to be a wash. That would almost certainly put him Top 5 in the NL, maybe Top 10 overall in offense for a SS.  And that's just overall, if you want power Ian looks even better. If you need a SS next year either him or Asdrubal will be the top target. If Asdrubal fails down the stretch and Ian keeps it up, 7/107 might be a stretch but 5/80, with some team options on the back end? 
  • Weekly reminder how awesome Bryce is. Trea Turner hasn't got a hit yet. That's ok. He's still a top prospect and will have a couple years to show what he can do. He's is also only 9 months younger than Bryce who is currently hitting .331 / .457 / .629.  And we aren't being too kind to Trea.
Win the series.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Into the weekend

Nats win. Mets win, but hey at least their bullpen gets stretched, and right before facing a pretty good offensive team in Boston. The Mets aren't going to win the next 30 games in a row so just keep doing what you are doing Nats.

Meanwhile TICK

Another game is off the schedule and no ground gained. That's not necessary a bad thing though. The whole idea that the Nats need time to catch the Mets is based on a simple, but now probably flawed, assumption. That idea is that the Nats are better than the Mets. That might have been a decent assumption to make in June, that a healthy Nats team would simply overtake the Mets like a strong runner overtaking a weak one, once everyone got back healthy. However after seeing the additional players the Mets added (and Nats didn't) at the trade deadline, and seeing how the Nats players have played post-injury, and noting that it seems likely the Nats will never actually get everyone back healthy, that assumption is much harder to justify.

If the Nats aren't better than the Mets then you might not really want a lot of games left in the season. If the Mets are better they will simply use all those games to lengthen a lead. Instead you might be better off with FEWER games left in the season. Remember when we talked about streaks before. Every team goes 3-7 at some point. Every team goes 7-3. If that lines up at the right time, that's 4 games gained by dumb luck. Sure you want to gain games in the standings, but if the Mets are actually better, not losing games is a positive. Holding ground until you get to a point where fate and timing can stake you a tiny lead and the season can run out on the Mets might actually be a more reasonable thing to pray for.

Think this is a silly idea that fewer games might be better. Perhaps* But here's something I found out yesterday when digging for comebacks. There are (at least) two big September comebacks for division titles in the past 10 years that come up when you look for such things. The Mets in 2007, as I'm sure you all know, lost a 7 game lead they held on Sept 12th. The Tigers, in 2009, also lost a 7 game lead that they had as late a Sept 6th.

Got that? Ok. Now guess how many division comebacks of 5-10 games starting on Sept 1st have there been in the same time frame? You'd kind of assume given that definition maybe a couple more. There's more time involved than either of those two comebacks and the team trying to catch up only has to make up 5 games. So four or five maybe?  Nope. One.

Minnesota in 2006 was down by 6 games on September first and made up the ground on the Tigers to take the division. Note that by one I mean one. Neither the '07 Mets blown lead or the '09 Tigers blown lead qualify here. The Mets were only up by 3 on the Phillies on Sept 1st, the Tigers by 3.5 on the Twins in 2009.  The fact they were closer on Sept 1st allowed the Phillies and Twins the ability to lose a little, but not too much, ground, and then let said dumb luck in the timing of streaks carry them to a division title.

You might try to bring up the WC collapses of the Red Sox and Braves here but I'll caution you. These needed the "plays like the best, plays like the worst" scenario we've talked about before. That is far more likely to be seen in a WC race where the "plays like the best" can be any of a handful of trailing teams, than in a divisional race where you are generally talking about two specific teams**. In 2011 if either the Angels or Giants played like the best team in baseball down the stretch perhaps they could have taken the WC. Essentially that's doubling the chances of seeing it. It's doubling very bad odds, but it's still doubling it.

To put the divisional thing in another perspective at least 59 teams (probably one or two more) were 5-10 games out of the division lead on September 1st in the past 10 years and only one took the division. This is for the reasons I was talking about above. You've played 5/6ths of the season. If you are 5-10 games in front of a team at that point, well you are very likely not lucky, but better than that other team. If you are better than that other team you'd expect that in 30 games to expand your lead, not to see it shrink.

What does this mean for the Nats? Basically at some point down the line, probably after Labor Day you switch the miracle you are hoping for. Right now you are hoping that the Nats are better than or at least equal to the Mets and that in the games left things will break in a way that the Nats can overtake them. Win series, gain games, sweep H2H. If after Labor Day the Nats still find themselves 5+ games out we can probably put that miracle to bed and start hoping for the other one, that dumb luck takes the Nats to a title. Stay close enough, within 7 games, and pray.


*I'll try to work out the actual math on this. As much as it can be done.

** Not that it hasn't happened. The Twins (19-11) / Tigers (12-16) in 2006 is close, if not that. The 1995 Mariners (20-9) / Angels (11-17) was like that. In 1978 the Red Sox didn't even have to play that poorly (14-15). The Yankees just caught them (22-8). But I hope you notice we're zooming past dozens of divisional races that didn't end up how we want them to just to find an example here and there.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Series series series

Nats lost. Remember - series at a time. Win tonight. 

On August 16th the Nats fell to 4.5 games back. Since then they won a series in Colorado and they won a series at home versus the Brewers. They are 5-3 in their last eight and if they win tonight against the Padres they'll take their 3rd straight series, going 6 of 9.  That would be great.

On August 16th the Mets lost their 3rd in a row keeping the Nats at 4.5 games out. Since then they split a 2 game set at Baltimore, swept the Rockies, and won the first three in Philadelphia. They are 7-1 and if they win tonight that'll be seven straight wins and a 2nd straight series sweep. That would be near perfect.

Hence the problem with playing catch-up. You can only catch-up if the thing you are chasing goes slower than you. Right now the Mets might be the hottest team in baseball.There's a reason why you have to pick and choose great comebacks through history, not just say "Oh yeah, last year 3 teams came back late from big holes to win their division"

Look on August 16th the Nats were 58-59. If they were to win every series they had left which is the goal I set, let's estimate that by saying they play .667 ball, they go 30-15 to end the year. That's a great finish. They are probably playing the last month and a half better than anyone. 88 wins? I'd take it right now. You can't really ask for more from that point on.

But it's still just 88 wins. An unimpressive total for a year where 98 was thought as a possibility. You can complain why you didn't get more before now (a reminder that games in other months count too!).

Other things - Storen was used to keep the game close! Papelbon was used to keep the game close! Great! Werth batted 2nd... not so much. I won't comment on Werth in the regular lineup too much until the next series is done with because it's hard to judge anything on a couple of games. Maybe he did really get his swing back in Colorado. The Brewers series was fine. However I will say since I never would have had him leadoff he'd still be a question mark batting at the bottom of the line-up, not the top. That's a better place for question marks.