Nationals Baseball: Is this last year or not?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Is this last year or not?

I know it feels sometimes that the Nats are like the Pirates - a consistently terrible team that hasn't won in forever. Truth be told though really there was only a three year stretch (2007-2009) where Nats fans couldn't fool themselves into thinking there might be something more in a given season. We all remember 2005. In 2006 the Nats overcame a 2-9 to 9-20 start to pull to 30-34 on Jun 11th. Given they competed the previous year and that the NL Wild Card leader was the Reds (they haven't been good in years!) a fan might hold out hope. And last year a number of people got excited about a team that was hovering around .500 (30-31 on Jun 10th) with a stretch of games against bad teams coming up and the debut of Strasburg.

We also know what happened in 2006 and, more relevantly 2010. 3-14 and 3-13 stretches respectively that pushed the Nats out of any relevancy for the season. The 2010 results interest me the most because up until now this is pretty much the same team having the same level success with the same formula. Solid pitching carries a offense that's just good enough. The question is are we looking at the same crash somwhere in 2011?

If you are a doubting type of person there are a lot of reasons to believe that a crash has to happen at some point.

The Nats offense was bad last year. It's much worse now. The '10 team had ok lines in April and May (.257 /.336 /.413 and .262 /.331 / .413) before crashing down in June (.246 /.308 / .361). The 2011 Nats haven't even matched the crash. They have put up lines of .226 / .305 / .353 in April and .223 / .272 / .325 in May. Looking at the positional line-up right now it's hard to see where the Nats are clearly better outside of Werth.

On the mound, fans would like to believe there is a big advantage for this season but the Nats pitching staff was just as good last year. It's hard to believe it but the bullpen was fantastic last year (3.35 ERA - 4th in the NL - closer to 1st than 7th) and the starters sandwiched a decent middle around a bad start and finish. Strasburg was really good. Atilano, Stammen and Martin all started strong. Livan was very good for a lot of the year. Lannan and Marquis came back nicely.

If the hitting is worse and the pitching is no better how can the Nats avoid a crash? They have better gambles in play this year.

While last year the Nats had has-beens and never will-bes giving them terrible offense for much of the season, this year they have a couple of young players with potential. Ramos and Espinosa might actually be good major leaguers. And while the pitching staff was good last year, you have to like the guys they have going this year better. Zimmermann is better than Atilano, Stammen or Martin. Olsen was a guy trending in the wrong direction. Gorzelanny is a guy that has a control issue. Lannan and Marquis are dependable if nothing else. This isn't even talking about the possibility of Maya coming in, or the chance that Bryce or Strasburg or Wang help this year (mainly because they won't)

I also like the fact that the shot in the arm coming in June is at the plate (a returning Zimm) rather than on the mound.

I do think this team is a lot like last year and if you ask me to put down money I'm definitely betting the under on 80 wins. I might be that way if they sat at 79-77 going into the last two series. However, if you want to get behind this team in mid-May, I think you're in a much better position than you were jumping onto last year's Nats bandwagon.


Nattydread said...

What about defense?

If this is the "same team", how does a much improved infield and outfield factor in?

Simple defensive comparisons:

C: Improved.
1B: Vastly improved.
2B: Vastly improved.
SS: Same (more experienced?)
3B: Same
LF: Vastly improved.
CF: Improved.
RF: Improved.

Not to mention clubhouse chemistry...

Harper said...

ooh I don't know about those

C: Maybe the same (For all his offensive faults Pudge was arguably one of the best defensive catchers in the league last year)

2B: Improved. (Kennedy was better than you think)

LF: Maybe the same (but moving toward "improved" as Nix plays more. Morse was as bad as Willingham)

CF: Improved (but only right now - it took an off year by Morgan in 2010 and one of his better ones by Ankiel in 2011 so far to get us to the point where he's an improvement. Not sure that'll last)

Clubhouse chemsitry will remain good as long as they do ok. Remember no one was talking about a bad clubhouse with the Nats until the season beat down on them.

Lee said...

Agreed that Kennedy wasn't a bad fielder, but it was Guzman and not Kennedy playing at 2B this time last year to make way for Dez at short.

Also, you wrote, "If the hitting is worse and the pitching is no better how can the Nats avoid a crash?" It's really hard to believe that the offense will get any worse. If anything it will stay the same, but I think it's unlikely that they don't get better with Werth finally coming around and Zim coming back.

It's pitching that I'm worried about. Marquis and Gorzy really aren't this good are they? And ZNN will be shut down for innings eventually.

Hoo said...

3b is down right seeing how Cora/Hairston have more GP than Zim.

We're winning b/c our starters are good enough to get us to a lights out bullpen. Storen/Clippard are probably the best tandem in the majors with Venters/Kimball next. You can win a lot of games by a QS and then turning the keys to the pen.

Trescml said...

I think this club is in better shape that last year because there is hope that the offense will improve a bit and lets be honest, it would be hard to get worse. As for the long term question about if the Nats are going to become the mid-Atlantic version of the Pirates it is going to get down to can the club consistently draft and trade for good talent and are they willing to spend the money when needed to keep the right talent. I don't think the Nats are sinking to Pirate level, but a couple of bad years and it will tempting just to take the lux tax money and put a bunch of AAA players on the field like the Pirate did the last couple of seasons.

As an aside I agree totally that Harper will not contribute this year. I went up to Hagarstown to watch him play and he isn't ready for the majors yet. He's talented and next year may contribute. He needs to spend more time learning when to try for the extra base or when to hit the cutoff man without having a bunch of people dissecting his every move. I think Nats management agrees as well or they would have him in Potomac already.

Harper said...

NattyD, Lee, Hoo - Defense is shifting. Nix is better than Wham, but not Morse. Who's going to play the most going foward? Hairston / Cora are no Zimm but how long do they start? Werth should be great in RF but so far hasn't been. Different people were playing different spots at different time.

I think the final verdict is that the defense IS better - but not massively so. It can be by year's end but it isn't right now.

Lee - No they aren't but they could be almost this good without it being crazy

Hoo - for fun sum rank QS + relief ERA -> PHI SD ATL FL SF WSH PIT LA STL MIL CHC ARI COL CIN NYM HOU

Trescmi - right now I think it would take a massive injury to turn this team into big losers the next few years. And no need to start the clock on Bryce if he's this good - maybe not even next year even if it kills fans.

Anonymous said...

One thing to keep in mind is that the club is likely to get worse after the trading deadline. Jason Marquis is very likely to be gone.