Nationals Baseball

Friday, July 31, 2015

And now we enter en... not yet? Dammit. When are we going to get to endgame?

Despite the combination of God, the umps, and the Mets themselves conspiring to lose that game yesterday (I like to think the Padres were innocent bystanders and if they simply showed up something would have happened to give them that win) the Nats are still only 3 games up on the Mets heading into this weekend series. A sweep might put the Mets away for good but the more likely series win would only put the Nats 4 games up. I don't think anyone that's watched the Nats this year thinks they can't blow that lead.

Thanks to the Mets ineptitude all over the place the past few days Nats fans are feeling pretty good but let me bring some humility back. In all the fun of mocking the Mets, don't forget that the Nats are 100 games into the season and sit only 3 games ahead of what you consider an incredibly poorly run, snake-bit organization.The Nats just struggled to beat a dead Marlins team, scoring all of 1 run in the process. They bumbled through July at 12-12 giving them monthly records of 10-13, 18-9, 15-12, and either 13-12 or 12-13 depending. What looks like the outlier here? Yes they were moderately healthy during that 18-9 stretch but it's hard to unpack what was team health and what was Bryce Harper's adventures in putting up the greatest two weeks ever. 15-12 may be a better guess of the true Nats, or perhaps the 11-8 run with Rendon and Span playing, but these are low 90s win paces, not the paces of a dominating team. Play like that the rest of the year and you win the division, probably, but at 90 games.

That makes these games versus the Mets incredibly important. If the Nats, for whatever reason, don't have a 100 win pace run in them then they take a huge risk letting the Mets stay in it. The longer they do that, the more likely that another injury or a run of bad luck suddenly puts them staring at an 86 win season and staring up at the Mets with a handful of weeks left to play. You don't want to leave the playoffs up to the fickleness of timing,

These games, the head to head ones, they don't "count double" necessarily, but every Nats win here is a guaranteed Mets loss. Every Nats win is a guaranteed game gained in the standings (and vice versa). Win the series and the Mets have a bigger hill to climb, you have a cushion if a minor thing goes wrong. Lose the series and it's an easier road and the cushion does not exist.

I'm tired of watching this team stumble over itself. There are no more excuses. Get it done.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The last appetizer

Nats win, Mets lose. Nats back up 2.

I wish that were the story of the night.

The Mets almost completed a trade for Carlos Gomez (for Zach Wheeler & Wilmer Flores) but it was nixed at the last minute because of injury concerns (could be Gomez' or Wheeler's for all we know right now)

I wish that were the story of the night.

Wilmer Flores got upset, cried on the field, and the whole world wanted to offer their take on how the Mets should have properly handled a guy getting upset because he thought he was traded because the word leaked out to early and how it was an indication of how the franchise was run or machismo in sports or something or other.

Jesus, people. That was the story of the night. Thanks for nothing.

As you can tell, I don't care. He can cry. He's a person. Mets can handle it however they want. Being traded is part of the game and you are well compensated for that possibility. Like an imaginary Oakland there's really no there there. Fin. Let's move on. No? I've gotta suffer through a whole day of hottakes? Oh well, there's always music.

Anyway the Nats did win and like we talked about the focus should be on the three injury returns since their performance is likely to be key down the stretch. If they are close to pre-season expectations the Nats could run away and hide. If they offer muted performances the Nats will still likely pull away from the Mets but it'll take more time. If they struggle the Nats are in for a dogfight. That is unless Bryce Harper becomes ULTRABRYCE again which is what he looked like last night.  He'd been on his longest HR drought of the season (tied with right before he exploded in May) of 9 games. Keep it up Bryce, make everything else moot.

What do I think so far? Well I think it's only been two games (4 for Rendon) so everything is just feeling but I think I like what I've seen from Zimm. There doesn't seem to be an issue driving the ball or moving around. Rendon, I'm not really sure about. Remember he was hitting ok before the injury but he didn't have much power and I'm not seeing that power right now either. Werth? Toast. The next ball he doesn't drive into the ground will be the first one. All in all if these early feeling are right, that'll still probably be enough.

The Nats are still not in "must win" territory but this is a game they really should win, with Max on the mound. The rotation wasn't adjusted so he'd get the Mets so if they can't get a win with him versus the Marlins it'll feel doubly wasted. He has not been particularly sharp in July but not every month can be perfect. I'm not worried... yet. A rough outing versus a usually punchless Marlins team? That would get the mind going places I don't want it to go. On the mound for the Marlins is ol Dan Haren who's had a little bit of a rebirth this season. He's still susceptible to the long ball (paging Dr. Harper. paging Dr. Bryce Harper) because he's spent the year getting guys to hit fly balls outs. It's worked though. Given my general feeling about the Nats pop right now (contained to Desmond and Taylor, who you can pitch to and Bryce who you should pitch around) it may be a long night of nothing fly balls. 

Speaking of Desmond - .387 / .457 / .839 with 4 homers and a triple in his last 9 games. His overall stats still look bad (that'll happen if you have two terrible months) but he's already 2nd on the Nats in homers and I don't know if I'd guarantee that he wouldn't still be there if everyone was healthy. This is why he plays. The Nats need that threat from someone.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Papelbon Q&A

Q: Let's start with the most important question: Does this make the Nationals better?
A: Without a doubt. Papelbon is a All-Star level closer with little in his stats to indicate that he won't continue being so for the next couple years. Over the past three years he has a WHIP of 1.008, a BB/9 of 1.8, and a K/9 of 8.6.  He's only given up 11 HRs in 168 innings of work. His numbers have been stable over that time. As a closer or a set-up man he would provide an instant "no thought required" option for getting through an inning regardless of the batters coming up.

Q: Did the Nats really need him though? Aren't relievers fungible?

A: OK yes relievers are fairly easy to replace. Given a whole year most teams will be able to find one or two solid relievers that they may not have been sure of before. But note the conditions on that sentence; "Given the whole year" and "most teams". The Nats had not been able to rely on their middle relievers over 100 games. Whether it's because of the talent on hand, Matt Williams' feel for how to use the talent, or some combination of the two, the Nats have to deal with that reality. Is it likely that something would work out in the last 40% of the season? Yes. It's it certain? No. Right now the Nats need certainty if they want to hold off the Mets and feel confident about the bullpen if they make the playoffs.

Q : Was what the Nats gave up too much? Is Nick Pivetta going to be a star? 

A: Unlikely. He was of mild importance in the Nats organization and barely on the radar for the league. Tall, but not gangly, big, but not heavy, the 22 year old Nick is seen as having the ideal frame for a pitcher but that doesn't take you very far. He's a hard, but not overpowering, thrower whose control has been an issue. He has been able to work around that in the low minors but his limited time in AA has been far less successful. His development as a starter will likely be determined by his ability to develop a couple other pitches over the next couple of years. Otherwise he'll likely be converted into a relief pitcher focusing on the plus fastball.

Q : Why would the Phillies give up Papelbon for that? 

Well, for one, they wanted to get out from under Papelbon's contract, for which they'd have to pay him 13 mill next year to close for a going nowhere team. But that's only half of it. The other half is why didn't other teams offer the Phillies more? The answer is it's the world we live in now. Prospects are (too?) highly coveted by almost every team because what matters most today is not performance on the field but flexibility off. What GMs and presidents want is a stable of usable players they are able to pay relative peanuts to for 5 years or so. This makes it easier to add payroll when necessary and avoids the situation of having a loser with a high payroll that can often cost them their jobs.

Personally, I tend to believe this attitude lets the owners, rich men who purchased expensive toys that gain ridiculous value over time, off the hook on putting money back into the team. I also think, as I've made note of recently, that it fosters an almost "anti-sports" attitude in sports. Winning should be paramount in sports, not budgetting. However both the owners inside the sport, and the statistically minded outside, for who winning with a budget gives them a problem to solve, agree on this approach, making it unlikely to change anytime soon.  Anyway, off my soapbox. Good for the Nats - didn't give up much.

Q : OK, Grandpa. Let me wake up now and ask you - so how about that money? Doesn't this prove that the Lerners are in it to win it? 

A: Far from it. The Phillies are kicking in 4.5 million this year. Papelbon is owed 4.9 million for the remainder of the season. Meaning the Lerners are adding only an additional 400K to the Nats current payroll. That's an increase of less than half a percent. As for the 11 million owed for 2016 in the future (8 million in 2016 and 3 million deferred to 2017) we'll have to see what the payroll is like next season before deciding.

Q: The Lerners really have a problem adding money in season don't they?

A : Yep. And I have to imagine it does hamper Rizzo's ability to "damage control" the team. But he's a very good GM so he has been able to work around it so far. Of course in three seasons the Nats have missed the playoffs once and have won 0 playoff series, and they are fighting for the playoffs right now, so you have to wonder if a more generous budget would allow Rizzo to produce better results.

Q: So what happens to Storen now? He doesn't seem happy. He's in the 8th now right?

A: Storen does indeed become the 8th inning guy now and I wouldn't be happy either. When he lost his closer role to start 2013 one could at least see the reasoning behind it. He was relatively new to the role and he blew the last playoff game (though Davey didn't help him out). The owners saw an opportunity to bring in a proven, veteran closer and did so. It was sketchy logic but it was there. Now Storen, with another 70+ games finished behind him and arguably pitching the best in his career (and possibly the best in the league), is forced to move because a whiny, but talented, closer on another team refuses to pitch in set-up. It shows a complete lack of faith and support in Drew Storen the player.

For the Nats it doesn't matter, Papelbon to Storen or Storen to Papelbon, the last innings should be hell on opponents. The question remains though will it matter to Storen (or if he ends up in the 8th before all is said and done, to Papelbon) and will that effect their performance.

Q: They could trade one right? They don't need two closers.

A: Then what was the point? You brought in Papelbon to address an issue. Trading one would only recreate the same problems the Nats were facing before the trade. No, Storen isn't going anywhere in 2015, nor should he.

Now in the off-season you can see one of these guys being shipped out. They will owe a lot of money to these two relievers next year. Money was a good part of the reason Clippard was traded last year.  But again, the pen question hangs over that as well.  If they do deal Papelbon or Storen aren't they just starting 2016 in the same position they started 2015, with a pen with one reliable arm and a bunch of question marks? Isn't there something about learning from history? That's an offseason question though.

Q: Anything else happening? The Nats still have a lot of trade pieces left, I imagine. Can we get help for the bench? 

A : Possibly. The Nats don't need much, in theory, when healthy. With Taylor, Espinosa and Robinson manning the bench it will have speed, some pop, IF and OF defense, and a left-handed bat. To be a completist though, Taylor and Espinosa are swing and miss types so the Nats could use a contact bat on the bench, preferably left-handed. Right now with Span's health being a concern an OF makes more sense than an IF. That's all I can think of. I'm sure Rizzo is looking for whatever bargains he can find.

Q: So the Nats are set? Full speed ahead? 

A : Well.... look. The Nats have had problems all year. It's easy to dismiss them as related to being forced to use the bench, but you look at what happened and you'll see that Werth, Rendon, Zimm, Strasburg, they were all playing poorly at various points in the year. They were part of the problem.  IF it was injury based and IF they are completely healthy, then yes full speed ahead. But it's far more likely that some of that with Werth and Zimm (and maybe Stras) was related to aging. And it's far more likely that rather than 100% they are at some percentage of health less than that, a percentage that let's them play but does not let them max out their performance. The lower that performance is, the more the rest of the season remains a dogfight with the Mets.

Do I like the Nats better than the Mets? Yep. I don't see how you couldn't right now. Whether that holds up will depend on the injury returnees performances, but just going with modest performances for those guys, I'd still have the Nats with an edge. Can the Mets be better than the Nats with the right pick-up? Maybe. It have to be a pretty big pick-up though. Do I feel confident that the Nats will hold onto first? I guess I'd say no, I'm not "confident". I'd put my money on the Nats. You wouldn't even have to force me to do it, but I wouldn't feel like it was a sure thing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Give him time

As much as it seems like I'm concerned over the Nats lack of movement, I'm really not. Mostly because I think it's just because we haven't gotten to the end of the trade deadline yet. Most deals take place right at the deadline. The Nats still have time to do something. They haven't in the past but like I said, there were stronger arguments that they didn't need to. Now there's a stronger argument to at least make a few minor changes so I'll expect them to do it until they don't.  They earned the benefit of the doubt with the Scherzer signing - as odd as the payout may be.

So we wait.

The Mets got Clippard which is good for them. The Nats could have done that. Did the Nats want to do that? Maybe. Heyman seemed to think so. I think more likely the Nats heard the Mets were interested, poked their head in to see what the going rate was. A-ball prospect probably didn't scare them off. Take his contract probably did. With no will (and no reason) to up the prospect to an actually good one the Nats walked away. At least that's how I see it.

There are better arms available and certainly more arms available. I trust the Nats will get one.

In the meantime let's focus on watching Rendon and Werth hit and seeing what we think. 

Oh just for funsies I got a hypothetical for you :

Strasburg never gets healthy. Fister never gets good. Gio gets inconsistent again. Roark never quite gets it going. The Nats in mid September look real good for the playoffs and Scherzer, ZNN and Ross are their clear Top 3 guys. Rizzo sits Ross because he reached his pre-set innings limit. How do you react?

(There are plenty of ways this doesn't happen. Plenty. But it isn't impossible so I'm curious)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dead at the Deadline?

In July of 2012 the Nats were playing great baseball and were in a fight to keep the Atlanta Braves off their backs.
In July of 2013 the Nats were finally healthy and struggling to get back in the playoff picture
In July of 2014 the Nats were playing middling baseball and were in a fight to keep the Atlanta Braves off their backs

In 2012 - August 3rd - the Nats dealt David Freitas to Oakland for Kurt Suzuki and cash to cover remaining 2012 salary. It would be their only trade of the deadline.
In 2013 - July 8th - the Nats dealt Ivan Pineyro to the Cubs for Scott Hairston and cash to cover some of the remaining 2013 salary. It would be their only trade of the deadline*.
In 2014 - July 31 - the Nats dealt Zach Walters to the Indians for Asdrubal Cabrera and cash to cover his remaining 2014 salary. It would be their only trade of the deadline.

Notice anything similar? Only one deal made. A minor leaguer of little to no consequence dealt. Most importantly - the Nats always got cash back.  Why is that important?

Aroldis Chapman - due almost 3 million
Craig Kimbrel - due over 3 million
Jon Papelbon - due almost 5 million
Tyler Clippard - due over 3 million.

The Nationals don't seem to get a lot of deals made. You can rationalize that if you want. In 2012 the window was opening - there was no impetus to deal young players for an old player. In 2013 the Nats were rather far out of the Wild Card and would stumble going into the deadline making deals closer to the end of July look foolish. In 2014 the Nats, much like this year, seemed to have the talent to separate from their next best competitor, they just didn't yet.

However, rather than rationalizing each year with a separate reason, it makes more sense to look at the thread going through all of them. The Nationals don't add salary for the current year. Hairston was the only one who didn't cost the Nats $0 in their current year. He only cost 1.5 mill or so AND the Nats got 500K for the following season. Also - the Nats would actually end up dropping the payroll later by dealing Suzuki.

This fact alone naturally limits the type of deals they can make, explaining both the low number of deals and why these deals lack the impact you might expect from a contender over three seasons.  Teams may throw in salary for a good player but either you have to up the prospect (Zach Walters was at least on the outskirts of propsect radars) or you have to eat other money. For both Hairston and Suzuki the Nats were committed to paying them the year after the deal as well. It wasn't a lot for the following year but it was something.

If this holds up - what does this mean for the Nats at this trade deadline? Clippard isn't owed anything in 2016. To get him back and pay nothing the Nats would have to up the prospect.  Papelbon isn't technically owed money for 2016... yet. There's a vesting option that he's in line for right now, but not so obviously in line for that the Phillies couldn't weasel out of it. The Nats are helping the Phillies out if they take him in a deal, but more out of a difficult situation than eating money. So the Nats would have to up the prospect, maybe not as much as with Clippard but somewhat. Either one then would be a pretty good prospect.

Chapman will be owed money in 2016 - he makes 8 million now and is due for arbitration, making a 12 million due not unlikely. So Chapman in theory could be had with cash without causing the Nats to up the propsects needed. Problem is of course the current asking price for Chapman is very high. Not upping it doesn't mean that much. Kimbrel is owed the most. 11 million for 2016 and 13 for 2017 plus a million buyout in 2018. His current cost is high but not as high as Chapman. That makes Kimbrel the most likely target for the Nats. Of course right now they supposedly asked for Turner so the cost isn't low, it just isn't the current asking price for Chapman.

The other possibility is rather than getting cash, getting the other team to take Fister or Desmond, two guys making a lot and not likely to sign next year, back in the deal. Desmond would be pretty unlikely. Despite the fans turning on him, the management never did (and luckily never were in a position to) and he seems to be coming back into form. The Nats need pop more than any other offensive attribute and that's what he gives them. Fister though... if Strasburg is healthy you have to like Ross at least as much as Fister. So Fister could go. But it would be just like asking for cash. The effect on the prospect asked in return would be the same.

In the end I can't bet on the Nats do anything of note. They haven't in 3 other seasons. This season is different though - being at the end of a window - so maybe that spurs them on, but I have to put a lot of weight on what we've seen so far. But if they do do something, what could it be? I still think Rizzo tries to pull a deal - decent prospect for a good young relief arm (potential Storen replacement). Maurer in SD, Blazek in MIL, Smith in SEA. Something unusual this time of year, getting a young guy from a team dealing. But the Nats have some SP depth - certainly enough to toss Cole into any deal. Sure wish he didn't look like crap and have a history of teams being half-heartedly behind him.  The other option would be getting Uehara or F-Rod, both owed money, but not an onerous amount, in 2016, from their prospective clubs.   Uehara especially is interesting and the Red Sox just want live arms and the Nats have that.

So there you go - have me bet on one thing? Uehara in to fill in that 8th inning role for say Cole and some A ball guy (Pivetta)? Voth+?

*Later in August - far after what I would consider the deadline - they'd do the funky DeJesus deal where they got him just to flip him. They'd also give up and send Suzuki back to the A's. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Now what?

I said it constantly over this series of the games but this Mets team does not scare me (for an NL East title) The Nats team I expect to see over the course of the rest of the season is better than the Mets team I expect to see over the course of the rest of the season. There are 60 games left. That difference will show. That doesn't mean I like this Nats team, the one on the field for the series, better that the Mets. That's kind of a push. It means that with Strasburg, Rendon, Werth, Zimmerman all likely back soon and Span maybe back later, that team is certainly deeper and almost certainly better than the Mets. So while the comeback victory was super fun it merely confirms what I had already thought.

I'd like the Nats to pull away now so we don't have to even talk about this anymore, but with Washington playing Pittsburgh, a pull away is probably not happening. It'll have to wait until the next series versus the Mets in a little over a week. Oh well.

The question then is 'What do the Nats do now?' Yunel Escobar seems slated for a DL stint, perhaps a long one, but with Rendon back that's not so much of a problem with the line-up as with the bench. Ian might even be hitting again (maybe... maybe)! Do the Nats make a move to get better when they likely don't have to to take the division?

I say yes. 

I've talked about this before, but it bears repeating. In my opinion, the point of athletic competition, as opposed to athletic endeavor, is to win.  In professional sports the dual nature of winning, winning games versus winning championships, can be seen as leading to conflict between now and later. But most understand this is faux conflict. Everyone agrees that the winning of championships take precedence. If you are not in line for a championship, it make sense to sacrifice the winning of games now to try to set up the future. If you are in line for a championship, it make sense to sacrifice the winning of games in the future to try to set up the now. That is in large part how it worked in the past. However, in today's baseball, a third type of winning has been introduced, the winning of theoretical championships in the future, and that type has for some reason assumed the top position. Now even teams in one piece away from the playoffs or one fix away from fielding the best team possible refuse to deal prospects of value. The future must be protected. 

In reality, the future is extremely volatile. In baseball, you have 30 teams, each trying to do the same thing, where a good team wins 56% of their games and a bad team wins 44%. With that slim difference between success and failure, an injury or two can derail a season, and a break out or two can turn a maybe team into a powerhouse. Planning for future success is smart, but depending on it is a fool's decision.

Don't believe me? We can even look back in the Nats brief history to see that it is true.  In 2012, the Nats were in arguably the best position a team could be. Heading toward the high 90s in wins. A very young pitching staff (23, 26, 26, 26) with three guys pitching like aces and a 4th guy that looked almost as good. A lights out closer just as young (24) and a decent group of not old set-up men. At worse top 5-ish young position players at 2b (25), SS (26), and 3B (27), another with that potential at C (24), and the league's best offensive prospect, who was still a teenager, in the OF. The only "old" players that were important were a 30 year old OF masher, a do-it-all veteran who had been injured but came back to put up a solid half-season, and a dependable 1B bat.

The questions for 2013 were limited - could they find a LHRP? Who would be the 5th starter? And the biggest one - do you re-sign the OF masher or dependable 1B because both are up for FA and you'd rather move the teenager to a corner OF spot? That's it. That's the list. All those names I mentioned above that weren't FAs to be? Only one would be a free agent before the 2015 season was over. You could hardly find a team in recent history better set-up for a window of success.

So when time came to potentially sit one of those aces because he was returning from injury it seemed like a safe move. Strasburg sat. They sacrificed the now in some measure for a future that looked completely secure.

In 2013 - Strasburg pitched well but the Nats missed the playoffs
In 2014 - Strasburg pitched well but the Nats won the NL East by 17 games. They did finish 1st overall in the NL by 2 games. He pitched a decent Game 1 but the Nats lost the game.
In 2015 - Strasburg, arguably injured, pitched poorly, sat out, pitched well briefly, went out again. He has barely helped a team struggling to overcome injuries to take the division.

So in 2012 the Nats looked to the future and saw the potential need for a healthy Strasburg to lead them to multiple titles. In mid-2015 we can look back and say if Strasburg did pitch in those playoffs and blew his arm out, that it would have had nearly no impact on the Nats fortunes since then. It would have probably cost them the #1 seed in 2014, that's it as of today. And that was as sure a scenario as I can possibly come up with.

Let's go with a classic and timely example - Doyle Alexander for Smoltz. You certainly know Alexander didn't get the Tigers another title and Smoltz became a Hall of Famer. You probably know Alexander did basically all he could and without him the Tigers don't make the playoffs that year. What it's doubtful that you think of is what Smoltz on the Tigers would have been like. The Tigers would miss the playoffs by one game in 88 but Smoltz was seen as unlikely to be playing for the Tigers by then and in fact struggled in a brief major league outing with the Braves. The Tigers wouldn't come close to the playoffs again before Smoltz would hit FA, though I suppose with Smoltz that maybe the 91 squad would have been close enough to make a move around the trade deadline. Maybe. Getting Smoltz helped the Braves, yes. But losing Smoltz really did nothing to the Tigers.

I can pull out a deal where things worked in reverse too. Deals where a guy was dealt for nothing and helped the team win (McGriff, Schilling, Lee got the Phillies to WS). But the reality is most trades are CC Sabathia for Matt LaPorta, Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson and Michael Brantley.  Did the Brewers win? Nope. Did all those players become good? Nope. Did the player that did become good help the team win any championships? Nope.  Or they are Matt Holliday for Clatyon Moretnsen, Shane Peterson, and Brett Wallace. Did that player help the Cardinals win under his current contract? Nope. Did any of those players become good? Nope. Holliday would help the Cardinals in later years but they still had to sign him to a big contract. The trade merely got them an inside track. Most trades are nothings.

With most trades being nothings you may say "why bother trading?" Ok that's fine if that's your opinion, you nihilist. But for me it comes down to the point of athletic competition again. There is no one out there that thinks that hoping these guys all hit coming back from injury and hoping the pen works itself out is the best option for the Nats winning this year. How can you look at the players and say "You give it 100% to win it all. We in the front office are going to give it 90-95%! That should be enough! Team!"

This doesn't mean trade everyone for anything that helps a little in 2015. It means that the balance needs to be set correctly. The guys that are B-Level prospects who might be ok next year or down the road should be actively shopped. The A-level prospects who are already helping or seem like good bets to be good next year shouldn't be untouchable. The Giolitos... well there's a reason why people go back to Smoltz/Bagwell for lopsided deals. The "seem like sure things" aren't traded often.

I may be a soulless automaton, but I'm a soulless automaton who was programmed to understand that winning it all is what matters. The caution that made sense in 2012 when the window was clear, does not make sense in 2015 when the window is muddy. There are big changes coming to the Nats in 2016 and beyond. They could be good. They could not. All that I am sure of is they are very likely to make the playoffs this season and based on those facts above they need to act in a more urgent fashion. Anything less is an antithesis to the reason you get into competitive sports in the first place.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hard Pard?

Come on, it was Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard. You couldn't in your right mind expect a sweep. Hope, sure. Expect? Nah.

The question of the night was why did Matt Williams pull Ross for Barrett. If you squint you can kind of see where MW was coming from. Barrett had pitched well recently. Ross had been limited (on purpose) in his minor league starts, I'm guessing so if needed he could pitch for the Nats down the stretch and not increase his innings too much. Ross had been missing fewer at bats and has getting hit harder this time through the line-up. Matt probably thought that Barrett had the better chance of getting the K and keeping the Mets from tying it. Still Ross wasn't getting crushed, they hadn't reached the top of the order again, and more importantly the Mets don't have any threatening PH to bring up there. Eric Campbell? I think the kid should have had that shot to get Campbell out.

After that MW's second mistake was conceding the game in the 9th when he shouldn't have. After a single and walk and single, most relievers would be pulled to try to keep the game within a bloop and a blast. (especially with Bryce and your second best HR threat Espinosa up the next half-inning), but Matt stuck with Roark and the Mets put the game out of reach.

It's just another indication that whatever "feel" managers have for when and where to use what bullpen guys, Matt Williams still doesn't have that. Which again makes getting another arm that's unhittable important so down the stretch and in the playoffs, MW isn't forced to make these decisions. Give him an 8th inning guy he desperately needs. Let him try everyone in the 7th until someone clicks (one person will, right?) and then if the Nats need a guy before the 7th, well, the starter failed, good luck.

Ross in general? I think a good team would have gotten to him early last night when he didn't seem to have great control. I also think that he's 22 and there's something about the way he pitches where he seems able to raise his game. It's not all there yet, but it's ZNN esque. I like more about him than I don't like, but I also feel like the fanbase likes him way, way more than I do. If he pitches for a while he'll have some interesting games - rematches vs Pittsburgh and the Mets, then the D-backs, Dodgers and Giants, all good hitting clubs - that'll give us a better indication of whether he's a stud for 2016 or a rookie with some nice games and potential.

A lot of people are again on Desmond for a couple key Ks. I don't like it either but there can be a shuffling with him and Danny (middling for a month now) when Rendon comes back. What's more worrisome to me is Michael Taylor. He had a great catch in Game 1 but he's 1 for his last 23 with 10Ks and 0BBs. Makes Desmond look like Miggy. And Denard Span is the only guy not starting his rehab which means he'll play. If he keeps playing poorly the other option is denDekker which is to say there isn't another option.  Desmond's issues stink but there are solutions for today and tomorrow. Taylor's issues don't have either.

This game tonight is important.  The game tonight is not important. To me it's important only for "what if?" scenarios. What if Bryce gets hurt? What if the Mets go out and bring in a bat or two? The Nats are better. The Nats should take the NL East. Simply losing to the Mets isn't going to throw me into a panic. What it will do though, is make me very worried about the unknown.