Nationals Baseball: Now comes the fun part...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Now comes the fun part...

This disappointing little 2-2 homestand marks the end of the Nats' "easy" stretch to open the season. Out of the 7 NL teams currently under .500, the Nats have played series against 5 of them. They've exhausted their home series against 4 of these clubs and they are completely done with the Pirates and the weakest team in the NL, the Padres. They've played 20 games at home, which is a series more than the Braves, Marlins, or Phillies.  The parity of the NL makes it so the Nats schedule hasn't been super easy, but all in all it has been favorable to them and has contributed to the fast start.

Now what happens? Ten out of the next 11 series are against teams that currently sit at .500 or better, the Red Sox being the 11th, with slightly more games away than at home. These teams are going to provide a challenge for a Nats pitching staff that suddenly looks vulnerable.  Boston is the 3rd highest scoring team in the majors, the Braves 4th.  Colorado is a good scoring team too and they'll be playing in Denver. Hell, the entire AL East is above league average in R/G.

What can we reasonably expect from the Nats? Let's break down these series, under the same assumption I've been using all year, that the Nats are a good team:

Interleague Rivalry Weekend (no really this time!)
Orioles - Home :  For years this series has been between two dead clubs walking, already playing out the string to a season that seemed like it would last forever.  We expected the Nats would change that up this season, but the Orioles being good? Icing on the cake. As for the series, the Nats should take 2 at home against all but teams demonstrably better than them.  Right now no team fits that description. 

NL East - Away Swing
Phillies, Braves, Marlins - Most important set of games the Nats have had so far? Yep.  Every win here is a loss for a direct competitor in a home game for them, and it's the first time playing the Braves which will be huge. 4-5 is probably the most reasonable expectation.  Win one series, lose other two, but no sweeps.

NL East - Home Swing 
Braves, Mets - Seriously, when are the Mets going to start to lose? That offense can't be that good, can it? 4-2 sounds right.

Touring the AL East
Red Sox (away), Jays (away), Yankees (home), Rays (home), Orioles (away) - These are all good teams so standard procedure would be 2 wins at home, 1 away, for a 7-8 stretch, but I'm going to lower expectations by a game because I'm an AL East homer. 6-9.  This is also when Mike Morse should be back in the lineup.  Will he make a difference?

Finishing up Away
Rockies (4 games), Braves - These aren't actually part of the 11 series, but the Nats don't really face any terrible travel burdens this year.  Since this might be the worst, going from Baltimore, to Colorado, and finishing in Atlanta, I figured I'd include it in the "hard" stretch.  I'm going to say 3-4 because I can't see the Braves sweeping the Nats or the Rockies taking more than 2.

So the reasonable expectation is 19-21 for a 42-36 overall record going into an easier stretch around the All-Star break. I would take that right now if you gave it to me.

I think the real key is going to be that first away swing.  A breakdown there say, 3-6 or 2-7, and it sets the Nats up for an uphill climb.  They'll have an immediate chance to make it back versus the Braves and Mets but with a losing series vs Baltimore it would drop the Nats right near .500. That psychological barrier and the chance that any other NL East team could be on fire, would give the Nats season a sense of... desperation is too strong a word, but close to that...  it hasn't had yet. The rest of this hard stretch would seem much harder when games start to take on the "must win" label.

On the other hand, if they can manage to come out of that away swing with a winning record they'd have most likely distanced themselves from two of their challengers, and would be almost certain of reaching the "Morse is back" point in good position, several games over .500 and close to first place, if not in it. Being in first when the guys start coming back from injury and playoff dreams start becoming playoff realities.

Anyway that this stretch turns out, hopefully we'll see a lot very good baseball these next few weeks.


Donald said...

Excellent post. I come up with 19-21 over that stretch too, but only slightly differently. I see them going 3-6 over that first away stretch but rebounding to 4-3 on the last one at Colorado and Atlanta. Despite how good Atlanta looks, they're the one team that the Nats seemed to play really well against the last few years. Hopefully that carries over.

Hoo said...

19-21 would be excellent barring an early return from Morse, who picks right up where he left off. Especially with Zim cold at the plate.

Zim looks really unlucky with BaBIP average. He's seeing the ball fairly well with K in line with career and BB's way up. But he as no power right now and hitting more grounders.

It looks like his BaBIP is lower b/c his flies aren't homers, he's hitting more grounders and he's really unlucky with Lds.

He needs to get his power stroke back to pick up the loss of the injured three.

Some fun baseball ahead and big series this weekend.

Donald said...

One thing that intrigues me is the impact a single player can have on offense. We spend a lot of time analyzing holes in the line-up and critiquing Espi or the LF position, or whatever. But it seems like one hot guy can carry a team, like McCutchen last night, or Kemp when we were in LA or Votto in Cincy.

If one Nat could get hot, maybe Zim or Harper or Morse when he's back, it could change the whole dynamic of this stretch.

DezoPenguin said...


Heck, we've seen the truth of that somewhat for the Nationals, when LaRoche has on occasion seemed to magically carry the other seven guys to victory on his own. Of course, it helps when the pitching staff holds the other team to 2 runs for games like that...

Anonymous said...

"So the reasonable expectation is 19-21"

Um, no. That is a stupid prediction with assumptions that they will get worse and fail at every challenge, not a reasonable one. You give way too much credit to bad teams (Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees) because you don't watch baseball (or are being biased), you only read the box-scores.

Orioles (Likely a sweep, but sure 2-1)

NL East (5-4...2 Strasburg & 2 Gio starts means 4 should be a guarantee)

NL East (4-2)

AL East (likely 8-7, but I'll be nice and say 7-8)

Away Games (4-3)

So, a better prediction is 22-18. We'll see who is closer.

Donald said...

I don't see how 19-21 represents failing at every challenge -- it means winning every home series against some very good teams and not getting swept on a single away series, plus winning at least one of them. This is playing at virtually .500 against some of the best teams in baseball. I'd love to see the Nats go 22-18 over this stretch, but that would probably mean that they are one of the top 5 teams in baseball. That's pretty high expectations for a team that didn't break .500 last year and has some significant injuries to deal with. We'll see...

Anonymous said...

This is quite an interesting series between these two rising stars in the mlb. who would have thought that he nats and o's would be where they are now>? i did an article talkin about the rise of these two teams and also previewing their matchup so come by check it out and enjoy!

blovy8 said...

While I don't argue much with that prediction overall because I think this is a good club that is working around too many injuries to play much above .500 if I'm optimistic, I also think the reasoning within is spotty. May has shown some regression both ways, down for the pitching and up for the batting that would naturally happen over the course of the year or at least playing against the less talented clubs as you mention. But I wouldn't be too sure about penciling in series results based on these assumptions. I don't think anyone would have predicted the Pirates would score this much against our club the last couple of games. The Yankees and Red Sox are not as good as they have been in recent years. The Orioles have a few guys dinged up and I wouldn't necessarily be afraid of any of their starters, yet there they are in first. They've got Jones, and guys hitting homers, they're playing well, but if you went down the line I think we can match up, providing this offensive bump is for real, which I'll admit I'm not sure of - I think the sooner Morse is back the better obviously. This team has played well in first games of the series, if that can continue, or we get a few breaks with teams having to use their bullpens too much in the series before, the results can be .500 or better.

Harper said...

Hoo - well it's what a good team would do. If the Nats are more a .500 team (as contructed currently) we should see something more like 17-23. A rebounding Zimm would help make them more the former than the latter

Donald - One guy can only carry a team if his team's pitching is so good, or the teams offense he's facing is so bad. You can only drive in so many.

Dezo - what you said.

Anon - The Orioles, Red Sox and Yankees are far from being bad. Lucky (in the Orioles case) and flawed (RedSox/Yankees) sure. but Bad? Are you watching the 1991 season over again?

These are almost all decent teams and there are more games on the road than at home. Even a great team would find it hard to go 22-18. Think of it this way - in your heart you had the Nats going 24-16 over this time frame. So in their most challenging quarter season you have them winning games at a 97 win pace. That makes the Nats a 100+ win team easy. Does that sound reasonable to you? Maybe it does, but it doesn't to me. We'll certainly revisit this.

blovy8 - I accept everything you say. I'm basically projecting out a quarter of the season here and have to make some big assumptions to do so. It could