Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - It's wasn't the Nats fault. It was the Nats fault.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday Quickie - It's wasn't the Nats fault. It was the Nats fault.

It wasn't the Nats fault.

A few weeks ago, Needham at his tumbler page posted a crazy scenario that would allow the Nats to reach the playoffs over the Reds. Despite it being crazy, it was probably the most likely way things could unfold in the Nats favor.

The Nats would have to go 5-1 playing the Marlins and Mets at home, 8-2 vs the Phillies, Mets and Marlins away, then 7-3 against the Phillies, Braves and Marlins.  How did they do? 4-2, 8-2, 7-3, one game off what was a ridiculously hopeful finish.

At the same time the Reds would do the following; finish the road trip at St. Louis and Colorado 1-4, slip at home against the Cards, Dodgers and Cubs to the tune of 4-6, and underperform on the road playing the Brewers, Astros and Pirates going 5-4. How did they do? 2-3, 7-3, 6-3, five games better than what Needham put out there.

Up to this point the Nats needed to go 20-6. They went 19-7. Close enough. The Reds needed to go 10-14. They went 15-9.  There's the season.

It was the Nats fault

One of the things we like to say is "baseball is a marathon not a sprint".  It's meant to highlight the fact that the season is so long that having a bad few weeks or even couple months can be overcome. Just keep your head down, play hard and play right, and things can turn around for you. This has a certain amount of truth to it, but let me tell you a little secret about marathoners. They don't run nine minute miles for the first half of the race and expect to catch up with a fantastic finish over the last 5 miles.

A little stumble is allowed, but great teams play well all year long. The Nats were mediocre in April, May and June, playing .500 baseball for half the year. They were terrible in July (11-16), when everyone was back and playing. Their 3rd best month is going to end up being a 15-13 May. That's equivalent to the Braves 2nd worst month. The gap between the Nats and the good teams is undeniable.

The Nats had 162 games to prove that this team belonged in the playoffs. That should be enough time for a good team to overcome bad play, a few bad management decisions, or failures by the front office. And yet here we are.

Technically there is still life in the Nats, and one single decision of leeway still exists, but no. The season can officially end any day now as any combination of a Nats loss and a Pirates win and Reds win will do it. Could happen tonight.  I'd be surprised if it wasn't officially over by Wednesday.


Strasburger said...

Hey. At least 2014 Season Tix Prices won't skyrocket....

Donald said...

There's lots of blame to go around. If Haren had pitched better, it may have overcome the anemic hitting in the first half. If Espinosa and LaRoche hit better at the start of the season, it may have overcome Haren's bad starts. If the bench had done better, it may have overcome the injuries that they had. If key players hadn't gotten injured, it may have overcome the bench weaknesses. Unfortunately, they just weren't picking each other up across the board.

NatsVA said...

Harper-I can say without a doubt that you are the best Nats blogger who is a Yankee fan that there is.

In all seriousness, you are the best Nats blogger there is. Thanks for your always interesting analysis this season. Hopefully you'll stick around for a few more...

d28 said...

At least we got a bit of fun at the end of a season that was really a bust.

Is there any scenario that we bring back Haren? Say, if they pay him as little as, I don't know, 4.5 million? (9-16 record, .5 mil per win)

NatsVA: +1

Positively Half St. said...

I have to admit that I have enjoyed having the best part of the year be the last part. It would have hurt more if they had gone lights-out to start and then gakked it up. It would have been hard to imagine them being eliminated only in the last week of the season back when they were 6 games under .500. If they are going down (and yes, they cannot pull off the comeback they would need to), at least I want to see Zimmermann get his 20th win.


Nattydread said...

The fringes of the playoff race are fun, especially when there is still a technical possibility with 6 games to go. Who would've thought that in July?

The team will eat a big dish of "World Series or Bust"-flavored crow and, maybe, be more ready next year.

Slow starts in April are no longer forgivable. Talking to YOU Adam Laroche.

Zimmerman11 said...

The Nats are 6-13 vs ATL... If they went 10-9 against ATL, they'd be tied for the NL East, right? I choose to blame ATL and I hope that the Nats have the same seething hatred for the Braves as I do come next season!

Zimmerman11 said...

I guess we're relegated to playing spoiler, and hopefully helping PITT get the division and relegate STL to the wildcard game vs CIN.

Sweep the Cards!

Chaz R said...

So true Harper. They really could have come back from the mediocre first half just by playing well after the All Star break. Look at those close games against the Dodgers, Pirates, and Braves that we lost. If we just had a handful of those turned around, we would be right in it now.

We're still going to Phoenix to see the last games. Then we talk about what can be done to make them better- go big on Cano!

What did you think of Stras' performance? Again, not looking like the old Stras.

Donald said...

I agree, Positively Half St., which is basically what happened to the Orioles. Good start followed by disappointing finish. A month or so ago, I wouldn't have bet any money that the Nats would end up with a better record.

Strasburger said...

As much as I like the possibility of having Cano with the Nats (I actually don't, he is too big of a star for the Nats to be a member of this team. Huge superstars, established ones, not budding ones like bryce, have rarely helped the nats). We don't need to bust the wallet open. We need to bring in one solid pitcher to replace Haren and have the fifth spot open for competition between Roark, Ohlendorf, and Detweiler. This would give us a great rotation. We have seen what our line up can do when they are hot. If anyone in this group has ever looked at our batting order and said "we really lack quality hitters" that's nuts. This team has a massive amount of talent, almost all on the right side of 30 years old. This is the team we want. They just need to learn how to win ball games and live with the pressure that has been put on them this past year.

Besides, if you think Cano is going to leave the Yankees (who, I promise you, will give him the money he needs, no matter what they need to do) then that's wishful thinking. I also think it would be detrimental to Rendon's growth if we throw him back into the minors indefinitely.

This is a team that can win the World Series, make no doubt about it. I think the dose of realism this season will drive them to much better results next season.

Anonymous said...

Hey Harp, just wanted to say like always I enjoyed all your articles all year. Still with all the disappointment I enjoyed the season. Love my Nats!!!!!

nicoxen said...


Thanks for a great season. Love reading your analysis and really appreciate your objectivity.
Here's my final analysis of the season:

The major failings of Rizzo have little to do with the players on the field, and more to do with players he failed to acquire. I cannot blame him for signing Haren or trading for Span (but let's not forget both were awful for the first 12 weeks). No, what's really more concerning is the audacity of not signing a left-handed reliever, failing to add more starting pitching depth (Nats started the season with exactly 5 MLB ready starting pitchers) and not adding real contributors on the bench.

Think about it. The Nats had to start Haren because they had no better option. When Detwiler went down, taking Haren out was even more difficult. We got a nice look at Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark but that's not what team with WS aspirations wants to do early in the season.

I wouldn't have recommended benching Span at any point, his glove is too valuable, but had any other hitters done reasonably well the Nats easily could have dropped him to the bottom of the lineup. But with Harper injured, and Espinosa and Suzuki hitting even worse (don’t even get me started about Espinosa), where else was Davey supposed hit Span?

Don't forget early DL stints by Werth, Zimmerman, and Ramos. Given each players history we should have expected sometime on the DL for a few key cogs, and Rizzo definitely should've expected this. But he went with the same exact bench from last season and traded Morse. Counting on the 2012 bench to reproduce the same results in 2013 was a gross estimation.

Finally, I think the lack of true left-handed reliever early in the season forced Davey’s hand. Storen was forced into many of the appearances a lefty would have naturally got, but it was clear Storen had not found his stride early on.

All in all I still enjoyed watching this team play and I’m excited for 2014 but Rizzo has a lot of work ahead of him: signing yet another starting pitcher, adding a run producing bat, solidifying 2nd base (and maybe 1st base), and adding depth. Sounds a lot like we said last offseason.

PS: Harper what do we gotta do to get your blog a makeover? You deserve it.

blovy8 said...

Great teams didn't always even get to the playoffs, Harper.

cass said...


When have the Nats ever in their history signed an established superstar? Werth and the two Sorianos are the only three instances I can think of. Alfonso was an unqualified success - we got his career year. Rafael was a slight disappointment but not a bust. Jayson was bad then injured then much better than expected, so not a bust there either. I don't see anything to worry about in our history of signing star players - could have gone much worse.

It's been many years since 2006, but Alfonso Soriano was really, really good. Bowden got himself a steal and then turned him into Jordan Zimmermann. That last part was lucky, but Sori was great.

Chaz R said...

Completely agree, Cass. A. Soriano was fun to watch and was a "team player". I don't think the Yankees are going to let Cano go easily, but he certainly addresses a number of issues for us. I wouldn't send Rendon down to the minors, but I might consider letting Lombo go (I love Lombo too)and keeping Rendon on the bench.

Anyway...again...we will have plenty of time for these discussions, there are 6 more games to play... just upgraded our Phoenix flight seats.

DezoPenguin said...

...I would love to see us get Cano, though I can't see the Yankees allowing their one, genuine superstar walk. Solves the "what do we think about Espinosa" problem in one fell swoop, though. (I just hope that if we do go for him, that we don't pay for too many years. Overpaying on, say, a 4-5 year deal would be okay; going 7-10 years would just be stupid.)

Pipe dreams aside, yeah, Rizzo must do a better job of shoring up this team at the fringes. A Roark/Jordan/Ohlendorf/Detweiler competition for fifth starter yields an above-average fifth starter and a handful of decent long relievers and depth in case of injuries and spot starts, but counting on them to be 4 and 5 is not so much of a good idea.

Ultimately, nicoxen has it right--it was never about the quality of the core players, it was the weaknesses on the fringe that cost us. Some of that was predictable failure (Zach Duke instead of Gorzo, no other lefty in the pen, Tyler Moore, Lombo), some of it not so much (Haren definitively not paying off, Bernie utterly crashing offensively, Espi being useless at the plate, Lombo being even worse than anticipated, Storen taking most of the year to get his head straight, LaRoche regressing to worse than his average year, Harper getting hurt). But because of the moves not made, there was, in essence, no Plan B. The closest thing to a viable backup plan was bringing up Rendon; almost everything else that went wrong left us with no counter-strategy.

Still and all, while this season feels a bit failure-y due to high expectations, I'd like to point out that this was only the second winning record the franchise has had since leaving Montreal. There are a lot worse things to go into an offseason as a wish list than seeking a fourth starter, bullpen upgrades, a utility infielder, backup catcher, and fourth outfielder. Many teams would be ecstatic to have the lineup issues that Nats have, where virtually any position in the starting lineup can only be improved by signing a genuine star player (and in terms of Harper, Desmond*, and this year's Werth, only by a truly transcendent talent). There are worse places to be at.

*Given Tulowitzki's continuous injury issues and Simmons's lack of hitting, it's entirely possible that Ian has become, in terms of his complete game, the best shortstop in baseball. I certainly wouldn't have believed it two years ago.

Also, NatsVA: +1

Strasburger said...

I hope you're kidding. Soriano was a total cancer on the team, and was already a huge super star coming off five straight seasons of more than 70 RBI's two of which were over 100. You are making no sense. The point is, we don't need him, as has been pointed out by Harper. We need a team that makes tweaks during the season when things go wrong to our seemingly perfect roster. I'm not knocking on you, just the idea that Cano would be a all around helpful addition to this club when it already has the pieces it needs.

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