Nationals Baseball

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Marlins

Next up for the Nats is the Marlins. The Marlins actually are a decent pitchng team.  Even with three guys donw for injury they had the minor league depth to bring up some decent arms to replace them.  The Nats will face Trevor Richards - a normal veteran starter who is perfectly ok; Zac Gallen, a rookie who wasn't a major prospect but has done well at every level and looked major league ready in his first ever start; and Sandy Alcantara,who was a propsect and since being beat by the Nats a month ago has gotten great results in 5 starts.  This is not the easiest group to take on. Backing that up is an unimpressive, borderline functional bullpen. The Nats will always have a shot late but if one unimpressive arm isn't on, Mattingly can always try another to find who's good tonight. It's a bunch of C- arms.

The problem for the Marlins is that this decent staff is balanced by a terrible lineup, the lowest scoring line-up in the NL a good third of a run lower than the 2nd worst Giants,who themselves are a good half a run worse than the 3rd worst Reds. In other words - they are garbage. Making things worse is two of their better hitters - Neil Walker and Jorge Alfaro are currently out and may not play this series. This leaves them with distant 4th place ROY vote getter Brian Anderson - who's fine and Garret, almost certainly a fluke, Cooper, who has been great in limited play.  Both these guys are hot which is something I guess. Holaday and Riddle are both hot too but are average bats at best. Granderson is washed up. Castro doesn't want to be here. Brinson looks like a never-was. 3rd to last in average, 2nd to last in OBP, last in SLG (last in homers by 10, 35 fewer than 12th place STL, who themselves are only 40 behind 1st place Milwaukee. They have no patience. They have no power. They put the ball in play but with no power and no one on base to open holes all that means is a lot of outs. There's nothing here other than a real chance at a no-hitter from Max, Corbin, and/or Strasburg.

The Nats really should sweep this, even with it being in Miami*, but we are setting the goal merely at winning each series, so 2-1 is the bar.

As for yesterday - I may have been overestimating the Phillies, but it's been more a horrid stretch now then way overplaying before June. I still think all these bats can't stay below their averages for the whole season - but maybe Kapler's leadership can prove me wrong.

While we talk about the Nats crawling back into it - winning 8 of 12 in this set to get them to the point where we can merely plan out what needs to be done after the All-Star break to get into the playoffs (basically play like this for 8 of the last 10 weeks against a tougher schedule - with perhaps reinforced opponents with the Nats unlikely to be as reinforced) the Nats are still walking that tightrope and at any moment the season could be over.  What would do them in here? Anything 6-6 or lower and I'd put the fork in them, assuming all else equal**

*The Marlins are actually far worse at home FWIW. 

**If the WC teams in the lead go 4-8 and 3-9 and the Braves 1-11 well of course we don't write them off with a 6-6 but we have to assume teams keep on as they have been this season

Monday, June 24, 2019

Monday Quickie - Don't screw it up

27 games later the Nats have made it to the last stretch of their journey back to relevance. They ran through a relatively easy part of their schedule to start, going 14-7 versus the likes of Cincinnati and the White Sox. They overall won enough games at home versus the NL East rivals to keep them alive. Now comes the straight up easiest part of their schedule, 12 games with bad teams with nothing to play for leading right into the All-Star Break.  A good team wins all these series. A good team goes 8-4 or better.  Nats go 8-4 or better and they are over .500, likely no more than 3 games out with 1 team between them and the team in the 2nd WC.  It's not an ideal position but the Nats have been fighting off "SEASON OVER" for over 4 weeks now. This is what they did to themselves.

The series at home suggest the Nats are better than the Phillies, enough so that as of right now you don't see any reason the Nats can't pass them in the standings. You don't want to get complacent though. The Nats have been bitten by the "right now" bug before - watching a Mets team not as good as they were trade for Cespedes, become equals, and then knock the 2015 Nats from the playoff picture. And you don't want to think this is enough. The Phillies are an upper 80s team at best. With some poor luck or managing they are a low-mid 80s team. Beating that doesn't mean the playoffs.

The series at home also suggest the Nats aren't better than the Braves. The difference isn't enough that if you started the season over that you couldn't imagine the Nats winning the East. However, it IS enough to make you believe that overcoming an 8.5 game deficit in half a season is not worth planning for.  No the Nats need to keep an eye on the WC and hope that while they are climbing back into that race, two teams don't separate themselves from the pack. Sometimes teams do go 10-2. If the wrong two do it while the Nats are going 8-4 the season may end despite the Nats doing what they need to.

But you can't worry about that. It's head down, take care of business, see where you are for another two weeks. 8-4.  Do it.

Other Notes

Rosenthal is gone. After two decent outings to coming back from "injury" Rosenthal started to lose it again last week versus the D-backs. He had a 4 pitch one out outing as they eased him back in but Saturday he couldn't find the strike zone again walking the three men he faced on 15 pitches and that was that.  After his first few outings in April it was apparent that Rosenthal was not ready to pitch. He needed more time to clear up, if possible, whatever issues a year long lay-off had created. A long minor league stint, maybe months, was the prescription. But the Nats didn't have the luxury of letting him do that. He held a roster spot and every day he was in the minors was a day that they couldn't fill that with someone.  He could go on the 60 day DL I suppose but then he couldn't rehab in the minors. No the Nats were stuck - they had to release him and now maybe he'll get the minor league deal he honestly needs.

This was a big screw-up by Rizzo. It was supposed to be a low-risk, high-reward deal for both parties. If he was merely ok, he'd get paid like it and fill a bullpen role. No one gets hurt. If he was great, Rosenthal would get paid and the Nats would have a dominant reliever. Both win. But it was assumed when they made it that they must have a pretty good idea he was at least ok.  They did not. Given that it was really a high-risk deal with the chance of Rosenthal busting out being at least a possibility and that meaning the Nats wasted (1) the money for a useful bullpen arm and/or (2) the chance to sign a much better arm going after Rosenthal. This was a move the Nats had to have right. They did not.

Some will point out that free agent relievers have been spotty. They usually are. But you can't choose the worst one. That's not a high bar to set for a GM.

Rainey is pushed. We praised Rainey's performance, rightfully, last week. but Davey started leaning on him perhaps too much Rainey would pitch in 4 of 5 days (19, 20, 22, 23) and get progressively worse while doing it.  There are ebbs and flows to a relievers season. You are rarely dominant all the way through so some forgiveness can be made for trying to get a guy to pitch through it. Give him a day off - see if that rights the ship. But after a day off, pitching on the 22nd Rainey still did not look good. The promise of sitting two days should have won out over the hope to squeeze in a decent inning before the off-day. For Davey it didn't. Now you hope Rainey wasn't pushed too hard and that Davey and circumstance can keep him from pitching tomorrow. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Almost There

Almost There!

Actually though I love that animation this is the money song from that movie. 

This will be quick bc work is work but the Nats are almost there. After playing like one of the worst teams in baseball for 50 games, they've played like one of the best for the past 24* going 17-7.  They haven't quite made up the ground but they are just a couple weeks away from it.  What do they have to do now? Let's review. It's pretty simple actually.
  1. Don't get swept by the Braves
  2. Beat up on the bad teams before the break 
The plan would be go at least 1-2 in these 3, then go 8-4 in the following four series. Get to one over .500 at the break. Beat Miami (27-46) away. Beat Detroit (26-44) away. Beat Miami at home. Beat KC (26-49) at home. This is honestly merely meeting expectations. This doesn't mean that they are set up for a playoff spot - after the break they'll have to beat expectations to get over that final hurdle - but it puts them in a position to attempt that.

Get swept and the Nats are back to 5 out, needing a 9-3 run in those 12 to get to one-over. A more likely 8-4 keeps the Nats under and anything less... we're back to what are we doing?

The 3.5 out of the playoffs is a bit of a mirage. It is based on the idea that 85-86 wins will get a playoff spot, which it could but is unlikely, and ignores the fact that there are 4 teams to overcome to get that spot (and three teams within 2.5 behind the Nats also at least thinking about it). This isn't a catch the Mets scenario. It's a harder road to hoe. A good comparison would be the 2013 Nats who after being injured much of the year (with a laughable bench to replace the starters) found them themselves at 54-60 a week into August and then reeled off a 32-16 run (basically double what this Nats team has done so far) which got them to 86-76... and 4 games out of the second Wild Card.

So take nothing for granted here. It's still a slog. But better to be working through the slog than to be drowned in it.

One Note :

I noticed this last night so wanted to put it down.  Here are Phillies' performances the year before Kapler, with Kapler, and year after Kapler as applicable

Hernandez 110 93
Altherr 122 ~50
Herrera 103 88
Williams 111 87
Hoskins 162  127
Alfaro 127 95 99
Santana 112 105 147
Cabrera ~115  80  92
Realmuto 130 98
Segura 111 94
Bryce  134 109

Some of this is small sample size and there are a couple of counter examples. Franco has been a little less awful under Kapler. Ramos had a nice run in Philly.  This even extends to the pitching somewhat. Basically players go to the Phillies and under Kapler they get worse. There seems to be something going on here and it isn't something good (for the Phillies. Great for the Nats though!)

*The Dodgers have been the best in that time frame going 19-7. The Nats would be second followed by the Rockies at 18-8 and then, unfortunately for Nats fans, the Braves at 16-8. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Sweep Them!

Being a soulless automaton giveth, but at times it taketh away. Last night was a prime example of that. Max's performance, one night after breaking his nose, inspired many, many not even Nats fans, to wax rhapsodic. But to the cold numbers and analysis programming that two days ago said the Phillies lineup stinks right now and yesterday said a broken nose shouldn't be a big deal for a pitcher* Max's performance was merely expected. It was great and all, because Max is great, but that's it. Strip the emotion out and there's nothing special here.

And that's why you come here! Strip the emotion!

The Phillies look dead right now. They signed Bryce and Cutch so they wouldn't have to use more than one of their clearly AAAA OF and they were probably expecting that to be Herrera. But then Herrera showed himself to be a criminal, they traded for Bruce, but then Cutch got injured, and now Bruce is on and off playing. Instead of zero, they are 1-2 deep into a mess they were hoping to leave behind. But this is what happens when you "plan to" and not "plan through". To start the year they set up a situation that was favorable... as long as everything went well. But everything rarely goes well for 154+ games in baseball, especially with each additional position you look at. "We don't want to dig into terrible OF depth so we have three OF we like" is a terrible plan.  It may also look familiar to Nats fans as this team has tried its own version of this, especially in the pen, for years now.

A few days ago the Yankees traded for Edwin Encarnacion. The reaction was mostly "Why? They have almost enough good players now and two coming back soon!" THIS IS WHY. Too many good players is a feature, not a bug. And maybe one day more teams will understand that. The Rays won't win a prize for being close to the Yankees and Red Sox and spending a lot less. There's no banner for most marginal wins per dollar. Arrrgh. Oh no emotion! Buzzzzz. Zzap!

As it stands right now, the Nats are clearly better than the Phillies. Just across the board better. We said that two days ago. It was set-up for a 3-1 series, and with a game gone 2-1. They have the 2 already so that third win and a sweep would be a nice bonus. I'll also note that Kapler is showing why he is also a bad manager. The Phillies have one good arm for the year in Hector Neris and one good arm right now in Juan Nicasio. They did see Nicasio for an inning last night, but haven't seen Neris at all. Instead Kapler tried to hold onto close games with an injury returning Pat Neshek and some guy with like a 6.00 ERA I've already forgotten his name.  Look, sometimes you have to do stuff like that. Throw guys in the fire to see if they've gotten better or to find someone who can handle it. Big games against your rivals is not that time though and the Nats are better for this mismanagement.

There is a couple of interesting players currently for the Nats.

Brian Dozier is rounding himself back into a usable player. His defense isn't plus anymore but he's recovered from last year and is doing ok. He's hitting homers at a nice rate too.  Of course we have to remember context. EVERYONE is hitting homers this year. I have 6 and I don't even play. So even with 12 now and on the pace for the high 20s he's not even average on offense yet.  BUT it's not important for Dozier to be good. He just has to not be bad. As long as he (and Robles) can chip in every once in a while from the bottom of the line-up, that's all the Nats need to keep pitchers working. Right now he's doing it.

Tanner Rainey has made himself into the set-up man with several effective outings. But you can't blame a Nats fan for having less than full confidence in a bullpen pitcher not named Doolittle. Is it real? Mostly yes. He's got swing and miss stuff and when he can harness that he's effective. Although it's limited his relief work years showed a depressed BABIP which suggests he can keep that down.  Not .214 down, where it is now, but on the lower end. There is a little worry that he could be homer prone - in very short stints in AA and the majors he was bombed hard, but you'd probably look at his GB/FB history and think at least that it won't be a major issue. Rainey's issue is going to be walks - which are still up there and likely going to keep him from being a true great relief arm. But we've talked about it before Hits, Homers, Walks.  If you can control 2 of three you'll be ok. Preferably not the hits/walks controlled, homers not combo but even that guy can be used. The best combo is the hits/homers controlled, walks not. It's still only 13 IP this year - he had more innings in AAA and they weren't as good. So we'll see. ultimately it's gonna be living and dying on control

*I mean, there are ways it COULD matter - it could effect his vision or breathing, or if for some reason they didn't manage the pain of it. But none of that seemed to be the case last night. in general it shouldn't. I'd imagine a standard cold might even be harder to pitch through. Not nearly as cool looking though.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Game Thread!

Since we last talked nothing happend.  Well not nothing. The Mets have split two with the Braves which is ok. Keeps the Braves from pulling away.  Max broke his nose, which isn't good, but is not your typical injury that you have to worry about him being out a long while or try to compensate and create another injury elsewhere.  He may even pitch tonight (I'd personally hold him off until tomorrow but that's me). It's something to talk about and will make a great story if he goes out and pitches today but it's more symbolic than important.

Did you know Ian Desmond was good again? Well not good for the year but in his last 30+ games he's hitting .351 / .414 / .649. I knew Murphy would hit (he has but for 10 games fewer than Ian and he dug himself a deeper hole to start) but didn't see this coming. Good for Ian!

Have at it.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Monday Quickie The first turning/breaking point

Technically any point in the season can be a turning / breaking point.  Go on an 0-11 or 11-0 run and have the team you're chasing do exactly what you need and suddenly things change.  But these are very rare because you are relying on unrelated events. You win, that's one coin flip landing heads. They lose, that's another.

But when you play head to head games - that's just one coin flip going your way to make things work for you. Your win IS their loss.  The Nats have 7 H2H games this week so they can make a move. But let's be honest about what this entails. Even if the Nats go 7-0 then are not going to be the favorites again. The other series for the Phillies are the Marlins in Philly - likely 2-1. The other series for the Braves is the Mets in Atlanta - likely 2-1. So a 7-0 run leaves the standings looking like this

ATL 44-34
PHI 41-37
WSN 40-38

So even the PERFECT run likely leaves the Nats still in third, a game behind Philly and 4 games behind Atlanta. Every game worse put the Nats in a worse position. 5-2? That's probably the goal we are looking for 3-1 vs PHI and 2-1 vs ATL making up games on both.

ATL 45-33
PHI 42-36
WSN 38-40

That's 4 games behind the Phillies and 7 behind the Braves. That's still an uphill fight. 3-4? Let's say they split PHI and lose the ATL series...

ATL 46-32
PHI 43-35
WSN 36-42

Now you are 7 behind Philly and 10! behind ATL.  I'm gonna say with half a season left - ya done.

So this is pretty much what I see barring some surprising bad play by their rivals* outside of the Nats series.

0-7  DONE
1-6  DONE
2-5  DONE
7-0  IN IT

For the series, here are the match-ups.

Arrieta vs Corbin.  Arrieta, an Eatonesque pitcher living off one great season and being part of the 2016 Cubs, goes first for the Phillies and he's been struggling. He's an average pitcher. Unfortunately for the Nats Corbin has been matching him. The Phillies are a fairly patient squad and mostly right-handed so it's not the best match-up for Corbin.

Eflin vs Fedde. This might be the biggest mismatch on paper amazingly. Eflin has been great this year with only a brief blip of issues. Fedde has oppostiely been bad this year with brief showings of decency.  Fedde's last few starts have been filled with phrases like "he really escaped that jam" so I don't like the Nats chances here

Pivetta vs Scherzer. This is actually NOT as big a mistmatch as it seems to be. Pivetta, since coming back from AAA seems to have figured things out. Not that I like him that much but the overall ERAs don't properly reflect this match-up. Of course that holds for Max too who has been Max. Just because it's not as big a mismatch, doesn't mean it isn't a mismatch.

Nola vs Strasburg. If this was one start ago we'd be saying an easy win for the Nats as Nola hasn't been himself all year. But Strasburg's bombing last starts gives you pause. Still you can't lay everything on one start and have to like the Nats here.

It reads pitching wise as a split, with the Nats slightly more favored to take 3 than the Phillies. How are the lineups doing?

Phillies - Kingery is super hot. Hoskins is getting on base and Realmuto is hitting. Bryce is walking again but basically getting one hit a game. The rest of the team is doing poorly.

Nats - Adams is super hot. So is Rendon. and maybe Howie. Suzuki is hitting well. Eaton. Soto. Turner. There is a little break at the end of the line-up with Dozier/Gomes/Robles struggling but the Nats are clearly hitting better than the Phillies coming in, caveats of course noted**

Bullpens? Nats have a couple guys (Grace, Guerra) doing well and the rest is.. well it's the Nats pen./ But two guys doing well is one more than the Phillies have right now (Nicasio)

So every way you look at it - you like the Nats better. A little better pen. A little better in pitching match-ups. A lot better line-up right now. This is set up for a Nats series win 3-1.  Make it happen

*Could they lose those series to the Mets and Marlins? Sure. They could also sweep em! So surprisingly good play could kill this as well.

**Aren't playing the same teams in the same places over the past week. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Trap Series

Four days from now (or five depending on how you look at it - or three if it's how my daughter choses to count days till) the Nats will start a 7 game set that will likely determine their path for the regular season. Seven games against Philly and Atlanta in DC.  Dominate (7-0) and the Nats will be back to .500 on the legitimate fringes of playoff consideration. Merely win (5-2) and the Nats will move ever closer with the easiest portion of their schedule straight ahead to put them over the top. Lose (3-4) and the Nats are now forced to hope for a "best of the season" pre WC run (like 10-1 against that easy stretch) to keep hope alive. Get dominated (1-6) and it's time to pack it in.

But that's four days from now.

In the meantime the Nats will start the homestand with 4 games against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks are 6-1 in their last 7 8-3 in last 11. Like the Nats it's a stretch where the they have won convincingly and lost by a few runs.  If you look at the whole season you see a team that's better than their record (40-29 pytag, 36-33 real) who is dealing with overcoming some bad one-run luck (11-16). The Nats will catch Greinke tonight, a better performing Ray tomorrow, and likely an "all-hands on deck" bullpen game on Sunday covering for an injured starter missing a turn. This is a team that can come in here are win 3 out of 4. And if that happens shift everything I said above down. Even merely losing that stretch 3-4 in 7 would probably put an end to the Nats season.

I worry about this because I think focusing the Nats is probably Davey's biggest weakness. He aims to loosen the team but seems to distract the team.

The D-backs are simply solid.  The offense actually has scored the most runs in the NL by having only one real weakness at the plate (Nick Ahmed). They have 5 guys who will hit 20+ homers and a catcher who has similar pop. They will put it in play more than strikeout while doing this and while they don't walk alot nearly all their regular will take it if it's given to them. The relief pitching is more spotty but they got a great closer in the “Nats had him” Holland. It’s a team that can beat good teams. It certainly can beat a surging but flawed Nats team.