Nationals Baseball: You will know playoff pressure

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

You will know playoff pressure

Every playoff game is tense but it gets amped up to a whole nother level once your opponent is just a couple games from winning. It's not elimination game tense, but whereas in games 1 & 2 (thanks to the win in game 1) you might still have an ability to let the game unfold and see where it takes you, there is precious little of that going forward. You get maybe a run through the lineup before every at bat feels like it's the most important one in the world. Every out made by your team is by a player who doesn't care. Every run scored by their team is a pitcher who's terrible and a manager who's asleep at the wheel. It's intense and terrible and great all at the same time.

Of course there isn't an overwhelming reason for it to be. If the Nats lose game 3 they still only need to win back to back games at home to win the series. I'm not going to look but I imagine they've done that many many times this year. They wouldn't be favored to do so, but the odds probably wouldn't be all that low.  Fans can feel that palpable odds shift, though. From up 2-1 where you'd have to think they'd be favored to win the series 80-85% of the time, to down 1-2 where they'd be around 33% underdogs.  From "Ok we've got this" to "We're out".

Zimmermann's game was not a good omen for the rest of the playoffs, but for the series it matters little more than the loss. He won't pitch the rest of the series now. So the question of was it the Cardinals, or was it him pitching poorly like he's done a lot more coming down the stretch than he had all year is moot right now.  I'm more concerned with the fact the Cardinals hit up the bullpen. Part of the Nats strength is feeling they could go 4-5 guys deep in the pen and still get you out. Yersterday, Stammen was hit, Gonzalez was hit, and Burnett was hit. I suppose you could go Mattheus, Garcia, Clippard, and Storen, but out of those are you really confident about anyone but Drew right now? Let's just hope Jackson goes deep and the Nats get a big lead so we don't have to worry about such things.

Offensively the Nats did get some big hits, but they still aren't hitting like you'd want them to. Bryce is espeically frustrating.  He's going to get a lot of at bats at the top of that lineup, but he's not hitting, he's not walking, and he's providing a lot of empty strikeouts. I'm never in favor of line-up tinkering this late in the game so you just hope a return home will pick him back up.  The team has also only managed two walks off the Cards pen (both by Lynn).

It's not the end of the world yet. You want to split the away games. The Nats did that. They didn't take advantage of an opportunity to put the series awaym but they certainly did not blow it in any shape or form. In all honesty, the Nats are where they probably expected, if not wanted, to be.  Focus on that for now.


Kenny B. said...

I've heard a lot of commentary about "playoff experience." Is there any statistical reason to believe that is actually a factor? The narrative of this particular post would seem to indicate that it is, but just wondering if that shakes out in numbers. If so, I suppose we should be glad that Jackson is next up.

Maybe it's just playing in St. Louis. The last series we played there the pitchers had meltdowns, whereas the last series between these teams in DC was a 3-1 affair.

WiredHK said...

This is where EJax has to earn that money he is getting (and will get). Nobody needs it to be heroic, but 6-7 innings and 3 runs would be just fine.

More than anything, this team needs to be far more patient at the plate. Seems like they are constantly waving at pitches early in the count that they do not need to chase at all. Getting ahead in counts leads to XBH.

It's just going to be hard to keep this Cards team from scoring runs. The Nats have got to find a way to take some pressure off the pitching and win a game with a lot of run support.

nicoxen said...

Jordan Zimmermann is not as good as everyone in DC thinks he is. He's an average to above average 2nd or 3rd starter who depends on hitting spots. When he doesn't have pinpoint control, which has been often lately, he gets blasted because his stuff is not intimidating.

He's got no out pitch. No devastating slider like Stras or swooping-off-the-table curve like Gio. Even EJax slider is better.

I want to here from all the people during the season who wanted to claim JZimm as the Nats real ace.

Let's face, this pitching staff is not the same dominant staff it is with Starsburg. It's still very good, but not good enough to be elite lineups.

mike k said...

One thing I've noticed about Zimmermann is that he doesn't respond well to getting squeezed by the home plate ump. He lives on the corners, and we all know he is great at it (2.1 bb/9 career). But when he doesn't get the calls he wants, he responds by throwing the ball down the middle, and gets clobbered. Has anyone else noticed this?

Nattydread said...

Harper is not 100% healthwise. Didn't help that he set himself up for ridicule.

Wanna wear warpaint? Dont K 20 times and get caught in a run down.

mike k said...

nicoxen - I actually thought he did hit his spots, but was getting squeezed a bit by the ump. That being said, good pitchers adjust and throw so they get slightly more of the plate, not throw it down the middle. I agree he doesn't come off as a dominant ace, but it's hard to argue with his numbers the last two years.

blovy8 said...

Well, it's not easy to slough off the most important part of pitcher's game. Zimm throws a pretty straight fastball that he needs to control. It doesn't yield a lot of K's. The pitch to contact crap catches up with you when you get predictable, even though the shadows should have given him an edge. Granted, he did not use his breaking stuff enough, but an aggressive team is going to be troubling for him, because he's around the plate. While I think his curve and slider are good pitches, it really hurt him not having a change-up or split to use. Note how the Cards DID NOT take full advantage of Gio's wildness. I think Jackson's slider will be key. If he's throwing that for strikes, while somehow getting ahead in the count enough - it'll be a Nats win.

Think about how much the Cardinals have had to use their pen already too. We know what they've got as well. The batters still hit pretty well yesterday, even with the multiple-run advantage - I still like the Nats in close games when the starter does his job.

Harper said...

KB - I haven't read anything that confirms experience matters. Remember if the Nats win it'll be because "they didn't know enough to be tense"

Could be just St. Louis, or the shadows, but at the same time - that's a very strong lineup

WHK - At this point asking the team to be more patient is asking for too much. It's just not the way this team is built (outside of Werth)

nic - ZNN is better than that. Sure he's a control guy more than a stuff guy but he's very good at being that guy. Just look at the last two year. He's no #1 but he's as good, if not better, than most #2s.

It is not a dominant staff without Stras but who has a better one in the playoffs?

mike k - tough to say. As a control guy he is going to live and die with the strike zone more than Gio or Stras.

ND - Yeah but there's sick and there's SICK, no way to tell exactly how sick Bryce is. Some people had to leave school because of mono, I got mono and it was the best thing ever - kind of sick one day then sold my plasma for the next week and a half for $350 total. I bet if this was Strasburg people would be saying "sure looks healthy to me, jerk is just trying to make excuses"

blovy8 said...

Watch it Harper, I think you may be starting to "like" this team if you don't think every other club is immediately better since we don't have Strasburg.

blovy8 said...

The weird thing is, the Nats are still having decent atbats, well, except for most of Espinosa's. But Jay can't make that catch every night, right?

WiredHK said...

I guess you're right, Harper. But that pains me, because in the playoffs, letting a pitcher feel the pressure as you work the count seems like the right way to go (especially returning home, where the crowd will pile on a wild or semi-wild pitcher). Guess it's just a built in disadvantage this team will have to live with.

Kenny B. said...

"'ll be because 'they didn't know enough to be tense'"

LOL, yeah, that has been the A's narrative already and they haven't even won a divisional game yet.

Zimmerman11 said...

Harper... are you seeing any bump in your readership/pageviews either due to the great regular season or the playoff push? Seems like the comments have actually slowed a bit since the playoffs started?

Zimmerman11 said...

I'm just wondering if the bandwagon is growing or if that will require postseason success... ticket prices on stub hub are lower than I'd expect for postseason baseball.

Pig.Pen said...

Can't believe this hasn't been more widely reported, but apparently Bryce Harper is suffering from strep throat and had an elevated temp for games 1 and 2. Supposed to be feeling better, but who knows. The 'pen concerns me as well, but Stammen was good the day before and was pitching on back to back days.

MLB seems to be helping the Cardinals out by playing as many day games as possible for Allen Craig. Seriously, Bud? 1:05 pm on MLB Network? It's like you don't want baseball in D.C. to succeed.

Zimmerman11 said...

I'm a little miffed at all the early starts for the Nats... but I think they want the Yanks on in prime time to boost ratings, which is understandable... I mean, they ARE the Yankees, right Harper?

Guess I'll have to burn a few extra hours of vacation time tomorrow :)

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm psyched to go to a early afternoon game. Better temps, better beer-drinking weather and don't have to stare at the 2 hour drive back to the Valley after midnight. As for ZNN, I haven't gone through it team-by-team but I bet he would replace the alleged #1 starter for more than half the teams in the league. But as correctly noted, he doesn't get calls when he hits the corners, he's going to get hit.

Chaos.......wanted the split on the road, happy with it. (Just how many NL series did the Nats lose at home this year, anyway? 2. Phillies and Marlins

Kenny B. said...

Low ticket prices are probably due to the scheduling. I think the scheduling is garbage, personally. The Yankees get primetime every week, all season long. And how many times have we watched the Yanks play the O's this year?

Nevermind that our team was better, our event is historic, and our game involves last season's champions. We must have the Yankees in primetime.

Froggy said...

Boy am I glad we made it out of STL with a win!

Better start getting Strasburg warming up for the NLCS!

Donald said...

Sure hope Edwin has a solid start. We can't expect to win many games when our starting pitchers have lousy outings. We really lucked out with the first game. I really, really hope we get the win so we aren't facing elimination with Detwiler tomorrow. I'm a big fan of his, but that's a lot to ask. I'll take the winner takes all game 5 with Gio any day.

Anonymous said...

A couple of notes, here:

38-43: Cards Road Record this year. Same as the New York Mets. A couple of games better than teams like the Royals.

50-31: Cards (and Nats) Home Record. Best in baseball.

8-2, 2.59 ERA: Ross Detwiler at home.

6-6, 3.35: Jackson at home

.908: Zimmerman's OPS at home

.590: John Jay's away OPS (.949 at home)

.750: Carlos Beltran's away OPS (.936 at home)

0-2: Carpenter's road record. His two losses? Cubs and Astros.

They're still a dangerous line up with Craig, Holliday, Molina and Freese (who actually hits better away). But not nearly as much as in St. Louis.

I fully expect to win in 5.

Harper said...

blovy8 - you know I've said that several times. In the season the Nats 1/2/3 is better than other teams and their 5 is better than most 4s. The playoffs kind of kill the latter advantage, and the Nats killed the former, but all that does it put the Nats on more or less equal footing.

I also think the Nats are hitting the ball ok. Which is good (they are hitting the ball ok) and bad (gotta score when you are hitting the ball well)

WiredHK - agree totally (part of the reason for the Yanks success in the late 90s), but all it takes is Werth to work the pitcher and one hot batter after him and who cares?

Kenny B - Got my "Moneyball fails again" column ready right next to my "Moneyball rises again"

Z11 - Let me check... yes and no. Pageviews were up this season over last (according to bloggers's stats) but oddly they peaked in August and went down in Sept. Oct looks better than Sept but not on pace with August. I think a decent explanation for pageviews is how many times I'm linked on an SweetSpot articles at ESPN. As for the comments, not sure, although the playoffs are far more in the moment than the season, which doesn't lend itself to commentary I guess. Plus there are other sites. Check the game thread at Federal Baseball. Any bigger?


I think because Bryce doesn't seem noticeably sick it's not much of a story. None of the beat guys made it a big deal and they are right there (and thus should have strep shortly)

PP / Z11 / Kenny B-

As for the day games... I can understand it (all about $$$) but then why have Friday's game at night? If the Yanks and Nats are both in a elimination game suddenly the Nats are the bigger draw? If you want to have one Nats game at night, should have made it tonight's, for all the reasons eveyrone says.

Chaos - yeah I prefer day games myself (but I also have a pretty flexible job) I've got a family so I don't like my nighttime eaten up with game after game.

Froggy - but my beer!

Donald - I'd be worried to Detwiler for the series... I still think we'd see Gio in that case.

Harper said...

Anon - I said 5 game Nats win at the start, no reason to change now. I think they win this, lose next, and Gio shuts them down in G5. OR they lose this, Gio eeks one out tomorrow, and then The whole staff depth of the 'pen comes through in Game 5.