Nationals Baseball: September 2013

Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday Quickie : Random Notes and offseason blog plan

The season is over!

Let's face it, that kind of sucked. If the Nats' season was a meal the salad would have been just iceberg lettuce, the soup would have been lukewarm, the entree would have been chewy, and the beer would have been flat. The dessert though, that was pretty good. You can walk out of the restaurant feeling pretty good, or you can be pissed you spent $30 on a decent piece of cake.

Davey got his 300 wins over .500, which has got to be the most useless stat to hang a hat on. Congrats on that.

I said somewhere in a comments that the biggest numbers for the 2013 Nats were 78, 118, and 129 or the number of games Ramos, Bryce, and Werth played this year. The Nats did get bit by the injury bug this year, so did other teams sure but when you take a look at quality of the player down and length of time, few teams compare to the Nats. Does this mean that the Nats are due for a bounce back? Probably, but let's not think that everything went wrong for the Nats this year. Jayson Werth hit better than anyone could possibly expect in those 129 games. No offensive starter, when healthy, crashed well below what the numbers would expect. None of their arguably five most important pitchers (Gio, Stras, ZNN, Soriano, Clippard) got hurt. Where in 2012 almost everything went right, this was more of a mixed bag year. Mostly bad, but some good.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to look at the Nats plans position by position. Tomorrow I'll look at catcher, etc. etc. That'll pass the time ok. I'll also have a mailbag or two. If anyone has any offseason ideas, go ahead and shoot them into the comments.


About that "no offensive starter" line above, you may doubt that but look at the numbers. Bryce Harper took a step up from last year, with a very minor tick in SLG (.477 to .486 with 4 of those points being BA) and a big jump in OBP (.340 to .368) . Zimmerman finished with a OPS+ of 121, exactly what he had last year. Denard Span (.279 / .327 / .380) didn't hit as well as he did in 2012 (.283 / .342 / .395) but he hit better than he did 2011 (.264 / .328 / .359). Even Adam LaRoche ending up with a OPS+ of 102 wasn't surprising given that healthy three years ago he put up a 106.

You know how it felt like Zimm really poured it on late? First half stats - .270 / .351 / .453.  Second half stats - .280 / .337 / .478.  Honestly it's pretty close production wise.

Tyler Moore's nickname should be Copperfield because he is the master of illusion. In his first 6 games back (26 PA) he hit .480. .480! In the remaining 15 games he played in (39 PA) hit hit .250 / .308 / .417. This was against lefties & mediocre righties. Given his terrible defense, the argument for platooning is weak. The argument for starting is non-existent.

Dan Haren started 30 games this year. It's nice that he finished strong so he might get a job elsewhere but remember he didn't pitch well overall and he didn't eat innings.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dead Team Walking

It's a hard end to the season for this Nats team. I really think even if the fans, the media, and the numbers didn't believe they could come back (in decreasing order of willingness to believe) the team did believe and being out of the playoffs is a shock to their system. You get over that but it takes a few games and dammit if there isn't just a few games left in the year. I can really see them losing out in Arizona, or at least the first two before thinking finally "We don't want to go out like this".  Shame.

Just a note that someone mentioned in the comments and it had been on my mind before. Prior to the introduction of the 2nd Wild Card we looked at the "last in, first out" for the single Wild Card and found that for the most part about 92 wins was where your WC chances went up a bunch, and the first out was often a little below 90.  The thought was then that winning 89 games could get you in the playoffs more often than not. Well in the past two years we've seen that that may not be the case.

Last year the 2nd WCs won 88 and 93 games respectively. This year it'll likely be 92 and 90. I'll have to do some AL checks (I've only looked at the NL during the single WC period for this analysis) but doing some extrapolation the average last team has gone up about a win, maybe close to 2.  I'm gonna do some more digging but if this holds it means the work is that much harder. Each successive win is harder to come by, forcing teams to win one more is a big deal. 

What's happening? It's probably a chain reaction. Teams are trying harder to win the division to avoid the WC game which pushes the bar higher. Other teams interested in just making it have to do better just to keep up with teams in this first group that don't win the division. This increase in play didn't necessarily happen back in 1995* when the divisions split into 3 and the WC was added. Each playoff spot held the same allure. But now that it's a one game playoff teams have good reasons to go for the division titles. Anything can happen in one game and you do not want you're season to go down like that.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Patience vs Paralysis

The Nats are now officially out of the playoffs. The question that we're going to try to see answered over and over again over the next couple weeks is "Why?", but that question had been answered long ago. The bench, back of the rotation, and bullpen had flaws that were exposed by injury. These flaws were not addressed in a timely fashion. A few months ago this was not apparent to everyone. It was hard to imagine that the Nats, a 98 win powerhouse, could be dropped to a below .500 team simply because their play at the margins was so bad. This past few months clears that up though. They are not a below .500 team. They are only going to miss the playoffs by a few games. Now you can clearly see why a few games lost when they didn't have to be 3 months ago matters.

The margins are not the only reason the Nats are on the outside looking in as September ends. Every good team has an off month. It's a long season and you can't be several games over every month (well you CAN, that's what 100+ win teams do, but I digress) The Nats were only together for 3 months this year but they still managed to have that off month. July's 11-16 record, with Bryce back and Ramos back and Werth back, is close to unforgivable. That's the type of month that could cost you a division title. You can't blame that on Espinosa or Tyler Moore or 1st half Haren.

There will be people looking to blame someone for the failure. A departing Davey makes an easy target, but really the issue lies with Rizzo. Rizzo did his job as if he was still overseeing a rebuilding team, rather than one that was already built.  Boswell notes that the team has patience and needs that consistent tone. I couldn't disagree more. Patience is for the team on the rise, the team ascending. The team ascendant needs urgency.

If you look at the job Rizzo did this year overall it can be hard to pick out the failure exactly. This team should have been very good. Like I've said before, all these baseball analysts picking the Nats are not morons. The talent was there. But Rizzo did fail and it's easier to see if you look at Rizzo's job a little differently than just putting the best 25/40 guys out on the field. Instead break the roster construction into three parts. There's the assembly of your "base team", the guys you play everyday, the rotation spots, and your main relief arms. Then there is what I like to call "disaster prep". This is putting together your bench and remaining pitching staff trying to account for where obvious issues may occur. (For example, if the Yankees start Jeter at SS next year Cashman better have a SS worthy of starting in the majors on hand. If not he's failed at his job even though he made a fine base team decision.) The third part is "damage control". This is dealing with the issues that were not obvious that pop up during the season.

Rizzo excelled at assembling the base team. While some things didn't work out exactly, it is hard to find fault in his logic at the time. Span for Morse made sense for an offense that looked like it might bust out with Bryce Harper entering superstardom and getting full years from Werth and Ramos. You could carry the average Span at the plate and he could help fix the OF defense situation. Haren and Detwiler at the end of the rotation? The Top 3 are so strong that gambles at the back end make sense. Detwiler looked really good at the end of last year. Haren could give the Nats one of the best rotations in recent memory if he bounced back. Adding Soriano looked like it was strengthening a strength. The one flaw is that their long relief man was weakened by going from Gorzelanny to Duke, but that's like the last man in the base team.

Rizzo struggled with disaster prep. The Nats had a few areas that needed shoring up. Their OF, C, CI, and back of the rotation were all injury risks. I can't really fault the choices Rizzo made in the OF or with C. Bernadina had been an adequate #4 for a few years now, was not old, and was coming off his best year. Tyler Moore at least deserved a shot at the #5 spot, albeit with a short leash given his late season failings. Kurt Suzuki is about the best you are going to do for a back-up C. Rizzo failed to do anything at the corners leaving fan-favorite but not a good player Lombardozzi and too-old to trust Chad Tracy in place. This didn't come into play really but I wanted to note it. You prepare for disasters but you hope they never come. Rizzo also blew it when it came to pitching depth. With Haren and Detwiler coming off seasons where they were injured (not to mention having two post-TJ pitchers at the top of your rotation) a good 6th starter, even maybe a reliable 7th would be crucial. Instead Rizzo looked to rely on guys like Chirs Young and Yuneksy Maya. Big mistake.

Rizzo failed miserably with damage control. During the season things happened that nobody would reasonably plan for. Espinosa's injury turned him into a AAA hitter (if that). Rizzo's reaction? No deals. Wait and see if we can't get Rendon to play 2nd. Ramos got injured again real early in the season leaving Suzuki as the everyday catcher with no solid back-ups. Rizzo's reaction? No deals. Wait it out. When the inevitable OF injuries did occur the disaster prep failed as well. Not only did Tyler Moore's bad play continue, but Bernadina crashed out - having the worst season of his career. Rizzo's reaction? No deals until July 7th (at which point everyone was back). Pitching failures and injuries lead to a chain reaction exposing not only the failure to prepare adequately for this obvious disaster, but the issues with long relief and bullpen depth. Rizzo's reaction? No deals. See if we can scrape by with that's on hand.

Mike Rizzo sat on his hands for 3 months waiting for the team he assembled to come back together and play like we all knew they could. That was far too long and it cost the Nats the playoffs. Why did he do that? I could hypothesize several reasons; money issues, may present difficult roster issues upon returns, didn't want to deplete an already weak farm system, but I think it was far simpler than that. I think Rizzo didn't do anything this year because not doing anything worked last year. In 2012 disasters happened and the preparations were weak. Morse went down. Ramos went down. Werth went down. Storen went down. To fill their roles he had Ankiel, Nady, Flores, Lidge and H-Rod. Rizzo stood around and did nothing. He watched them fail. Then he watched Bernadina and Tracy and Bryce and Moore and the guys in the pen show up and carry the team in the absence of the base guys. Other than a trade for Suzuki he did very little.

It's important to look at that Suzuki deal. Wilson Ramos, the planned starter, went down for the year in mid May. Mike Rizzo let Jesus Flores and the collection of nobodies the Nats had in the minors hold down that position for over 2 and a half months before bringing in a replacement. That's crazy. You had to know by mid-June that Flores wasn't going to cut it. But Rizzo didn't do anything.

Mike Rizzo has spent the past 2 seasons on autopilot while games are being played. Here is the team I assembled, let's see what happens. That worked in 2012 but it didn't in 2013 and I'm telling you it's going to fail more often than not if your goals are lofty. The Nats may make the playoffs a few times, but if their goals are winning pennants and World Serieseses, Mike Rizzo needs to adjust his approach. His base roster construction is great. His disaster prep is serviceable. His damage control simply does not exist. It needs to.

We'll see the team do this, that, and the other in the offseason trying to shore up the pen and the back of the rotation and the bench. All this is good and honestly I think we can trust Rizzo with this work. The real test for him and therefore for this team, comes in mid-June next year. When Desmond is out and Gio is out and the team's 3 game lead on the Braves is now a 2 game deficit. What does Rizzo do then? Does he continue to fiddle while the team burns? Or does he learn to be urgent and make the deals that might hurt tomorrow to help today?

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.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hot streaks + ? = 2014 WS Champs

Did you know that in this recent 22-7 run the Nats are 8-3 in 1 run games? Grit, Talent and Luck all have to collide to make runs like this happen (note: contains trace amounts of grit).

While we all don our Pirates hats for at least one day, let's take a moment to remind ourselves of something.

The period of time before the Nats got hot counts too. 

This means you can't assume Span is going to hit over .300, that Werth is going to be an MVP candidate, or that Tanner Roark is the next great pitcher just because it looked that way for a month and a half. Wait till the season is over review the whole thing and then make conclusions. Don't stop there. Look at the last few seasons. Make smart comments based on all the data you have, not gut reactions based on what you've seen in front of you recently.

When Span hit .235 / .279 /.337 in June? Counts. When Zimm hit 4 homeruns in over a quarter of the season? Counts. The fact that Werth and Ramos will have played about 200 and 100 games over the past 2 years? Counts. That Roark put up an over 4.00 ERA in 2011&2012? Counts.

Those aren't the only things that matter. They might not even be the most important things in evaluating these guys, but these things can't be dismissed. If everything followed on even the whole year before the Nats would be drinking champagne right now. But LaRoche did collapse a bit as his lifetime stats would have suggested. And Gio and ZNN did drift back toward more expected performances after Cy Young caliber 2012s. And Stammen and Mattheus did have off years as one might expect from guys pitching relatively small amounts of innings with only a couple of years in the majors to look at. And injury risks like Werth and Ramos and Detwiler and Haren did have issues as you might expect.

There are reasons to feel good that the Nats can be back in the playoffs next year, but the sense of giddy optimism because they went on a hot streak for 40 games? Let's control ourselves

Anyway back to your regularly scheduled desperate figuring out how the Nats could still make the playoffs this year. Tonight : Continue beating Marlins. Hope Pirates beat Reds.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Remember, I did say miracle

Yesterday, for a brief moment I heard the same thing from several directions.  "The Nats odds seem way too low" The odds at the time were hovering in the 2-4% range and were in fact completely reasonable. If you want to see the math behind it yesterday's comments have a couple good entries into that. But I can boil down the macro-level reasons down to two.

1) Cold hearted analysis cares nothing about your momentum. Going into yesterday's game you might have felt the Nats were playing so well that winning 8 of their last 11 was almost a given, and winning 5 or less was pretty much impossible. That's nice and human, but here's the thing about "momentum" and "playing well" and the like. If these things do exist (and let's assume they do because it doesn't effect what I'm going to say anyway) we still have no way of figuring out when they start and end. Teams win 5 games in a row then lose 5 games in a row. Why? What happened? What changed? We don't know. If we can't know we can't rightfully include it in analysis. There's simply no way of doing it.

The machines and soulless automatons look at the Nats and see a mid-high 80s win team playing a decently hard schedule to end the season. Just looking at that and with 11 games left that maybe means 6 wins. You've seen the scenarios. That isn't going to cut it.

2) The power of math compels you. Let's say you ignore the above. You LOVE the Nats. "Nuts about the Nats" is your ringtone. You wear warrior eye black to work. You polish your multiple signed bats tenderly with Pledge and a game worn Kory Casto jersey (about all it is good for). You think the chances they win 8 or more games in these last 10 are 75%.  (That's SO high. What is WRONG with you?!). At the same time you hate the Reds. You think the chances they win 2 or fewer in their last 10 is 25%.  Congratulations you just gave the Nats less than a 19% chance at making the playoffs.


And you are an insane person. Go with 50% and 10% (still crazy but at least not carve your own feces into little boat insane) and the chance plummets to 5%. No way out to escape the truth in the numbers.

What's left to root for?

Again, all offseason to talk about the mistakes of this year so we'll keep dancing this playoff dance until the cotillion organizer realizes that we're the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who snuck in here to try to talk to that rich handsome boy who gave us a lift when our car broke down and kicks us out. I don't want to say I told you so, because I never really told anyone anything, but I have strongly hinted several times that the Pirates could be the more reasonable option for the Nats to catch, since they have been overplaying their hand. Is it time to change rooting interests?

We've run into the weekend the Nats fans had been waiting for. The Nats play the Marlins for 4 games, while the Pirates and Reds play eachother. The Nats win and they'll gain on someone. What should you root for? Pretty simple on the Nats side (sweep!). On the Pirates Reds side? Here you go:

If the Pirates win tonight, root for them to sweep the Reds.
If the Pirates lose tonight, root for whoever wins game #1 in the Reds/Pirates series to sweep.

There you go.  Worst case scenario is the Pirates win tonight and the Reds win 2 out of 3.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

No double miracle needed

Single miracle sure. Double? Nope. The Nats have played well enough for long enough* that the need for the Nats to play like the best team in baseball and someone in front of them to play suddenly terrible is pretty much gone. Now either should do the trick.

Unfortunately for the Nats what this really means is that no one has collapsed in front of them. Since going 27-10 the Pirates have played under .500 ball and the Braves have been pretty mediocre. Thing is they were clearly the best teams in the National League at the time (16 and 15.5 games ahead of the Nats) so they could afford a little slip-up. The Cardinals and the Reds have both played very well, so while they've lost some ground to the Nats it wasn't enough to pull even with them. 

The double header was a nice pick-up but the Reds did what the Reds should do and beat up on the Astros. The Nats have simply held their ground. Which in all honestly is all I was hoping for. At this point the comeback is predicated on two things - Nats sweeping the Marlins and playing .500 ball vs the rest, the Pirates taking care of the Reds winning at least 5 of the 6 and the Reds playing .500 ball vs the rest.

Under that combination - Nats go 8-3, Reds go 3-7 there would be a tiebreaker final game of the season.

You see though that that IS pretty much a Reds collapse. If you give the Reds some leeway not to collapse, 4-6 or 5-5, then the Nats have to be close to perfect 9-2 or 10-1.  Either way another 11 "miracle" is needed. But at least it's only 1.

(The Pirates, Cardinals and Braves all still require some version of the double miracle)

What's the most likely scenario? I'll say this

Nats win 3 of 4 vs Marlins, win 4 of the 7 other games to finish with 88 wins.
Reds beat Astros tonight, take 2 of 3 from the Mets, split with the Pirates to finish with 92 wins
Pirates take 3 of 5 vs Pads and Cubs, split with Reds, win 93 games

Of course if we were dealing with most likely scenarios we wouldn't be where we are now.

Beat the Braves, Sweep the Marlins. See where you are.

*Depending on how far back you want to go 10-1, 21-6, or 27-10.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Win 1, Have a starter go Deep

Modest goals? For sure. But we're looking at the Nats to make their move with a Marlins sweep while the Reds battle the Bucs and that simply means keeping the Nats in it. 2 wins in 3 games should do that. Win 1 here and have a starter go deep so you are not killing your bullpen for the must-win finale tomorrow.

While I say only win 1, a sweep is certainly not out of the question. There's a feeling in baseball that most DHs end in splits, but that's not true. While "you win one, I win one" might be the singular most likely outcome, history tells us that the combination of "you win two" or "I win two" happens more often. Just barely but it does. (we can go over the math if you like) In fact this year 15 of 23 doubleheaders have ended in sweeps. So there's that.

The Reds won again last night but all that means is the Nats job didn't get easier. What's in their control remains the same. Right now I see the upcoming week as this : Win 2 of 3 vs the Braves, Sweep the Marlins, see where you lie. Ideally it would be 2-3 games out. We'll see.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday Quickie - the true test begins

It's very hard to be the chaser. While a loss will always be bad, how good a win is is dependent on the team you are chasing. If they lose it's great step forward. If they win as well, then your win is just a frustrating holding of ground. How am you supposed to feel? Hold on, let me check the Reds' score first.

Anyway here is the big moment for the Nats. They've beaten up the little guys. Nine of their next 13 are against quality teams. These first three are against an Atlanta team that has dominated the Nats this season. 4-12 over the first 16 contests. Meanwhile the Reds (the Pirates and Cardinals at 8 games out almost certainly uncatchable at this point) get to play the Astros. They should handle them. Then again, they should have handled the Brewers.

Let's go to the internets!

Minor v Haren
Garcia v Roark
Wood v Ohlendorf

That's right the Nats roll into a series where they need to beat possibly the best team in the National League and throw out Haren, Roark, and Ohlendorf.  All three have been decent or good recently but still its not what you want to see. There are a couple things working in the Nats favor, though. They miss the bulk of the Braves better arms, getting the fill-in Freddy Garcia and the rookie Alex Wood.  Also, the Braves bats have been pretty cold recently. .229 / .318 / .370 over the past week, worse than that the week before.

Whether or not the Reds cooperate, this is where the Nats can prove they belonged in the playoff picture. They could show that if circumstances (and management choices) had been different from the get go then they wouldn't have been fighting for the last WC spot but rather securely in the playoffs. However, lose 2 of 3 or get swept and it exposes the Nats as something less. They are the best of the rest, rather than a true contender. That is the story so far. 1-3 v Baltimore, 1-2 v Cleveland, 2-2 v Detroit, 1-5 v LA, 3-4 v Pittsburgh, 0-3 v St. Louis. This is their chance, if not to make it in the playoffs, at least to rewrite that narrative.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sweep the Phillies!

Here are the matchups

Phillies @ Nats
Kendrick v Strasburg
Hamels v Gonzalez
Cloyd v Zimmermann

Nats have the edge in every match-up, though it's not like Hamels is a pushover, or Kendrick isn't good. Strasburg though, has been Strasburg, and Gio has been one of the hottest pitchers in the league. Potential for the sweep is there, but 2-1 for the Nats is a must.

Prediction : Nats sweep. Phillies are dead in the water. The one guy that has been on and off, ZNN pitches against a guy the Nats should pound. Hamels gem is the biggest threat.

Mariners @ Cardinals
Iwakuma v Wainwright
Paxton v Wacha
Ramirez v Miller

The Mariners three have actually all settled into a nice groove. Wainwright finally pitched a great game after a couple shaky outings. Other Cardinal youngsters are doing well.

Prediction : Cards Sweep. Nats aren't catching the Cardinals.

Cubs @ Pirates
Arrieta v Morton
Baker v Cole
Wood v Liriano

Pirates have the edge in the first two (Baker has a 0.00 ERA but one start total) Liriano has been not up to snuff recently while Wood has looked pretty good.

Prediction : Pirates 2 of 3. Fall a game out of the NL Central lead, but Nats chances of catching them for WC moves close to the "not going to happen" realm as they'd have 13 games to make up 7.

Reds @ Brewers
Latos v Lohse
Bailey v Hellweg
Arroyo v Gallardo

Normally you'd like the Lohse matchup but he has not been pitching well. Bailey has been as hot as Gio vs someone who may never start 20 games in the majors.. The Arroyo Gallardo matchup though, that tilts to the Brew Crew.

Prediction : Reds 2 of 3.  4.5 back as Reds fans begin to panic as they realize they are almost as close to the NL Central lead (3.5 games) they've been focused on, as they are to being out of the playoffs entirely.

Then the real test for the Nats begins. Four series left. Two against two of the best teams in the NL (Braves and Cards) one against the pretty good D-Backs who have a decent chance at a sweep this weekend themselves vs the Rockies to keep their even crazier dream alive. To get back into this the Nats needed to dominate the bad teams and be .500 versus the good ones and get a little luck.  A sweep vs the Phillies would complete the first requirement (even a 2-1 would still be ok if they can make up a game on the Reds). The last one is out of their hands. The second requirement is going to make or break this miracle run.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Make or Break Time #16

Haren won! Granted have you looked at the Mets lineup? It's Danny Murphy and I can't believe the other guys are so bad that I've had to single out Danny Murphy. But still, these are major league (organizational) ballplayers. You have to go out there and throw the ball over the plate in a way that isn't extremely easy to hit and Haren did that. I couldn't.

The Nats should certainly finish off the Mets and Aaron "playing out my career" Harang today. A sweep was a lot to ask when it meant 4 wins in a row. Now it means win today, so no excuses. These next 5-10 games are a critical time when it comes to making up ground. Remember those teams we talked about earlier, the '07 Phillies and the '11 Cardinals? After 145 games they were in similar situations as the Nats are now. The Phillies were 7 games behind the Mets, the Cardinals 5.5 out of the Wild Card. They both used the next week and a half to make up the majority of the ground they would need to. By game 150 The Cardinals would be 3.5 games out and by game 155 only a game and a half out. The Phillies would do even better pulling to that game and a half mark by game 151. This made the end of the season catch-up possible. 

And for me they better make the playoffs, or else this season is a lost one. I have a fear that a nice finish, regardless of whether the Nats make the playoffs or not, will provide the season with a good feeling that it doesn't deserve. That would harken back to the earlier days of the team. In 2006, when a 15-13 finish made some believe the Nats were a .500 team in disguise, rather than a team in decline. The mind-numbing "since May 9th" comments that permeated the 2007 season, as if the first 35 games of a season could be dismissed. The 27-32 finish to 2009 supposedly showing that the Nats were better than the 59 win season would have you believe and that Jim Riggleman was the right manager to lead them forward.

Even if this wasn't a 98 win team it was a 95 win team and some foresight or simple mid course corrections could have kept the team closer to that path. The fact that they are sprinting toward the finish is great. The fact that they have to be sprinting toward the finish to be even relevant to the playoff discussion is a joke.

The easiest thing would be for the Nats to just win and make the anger moot. So let's move forward with that plan. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What the hell. Let's suit back up.

OK, not really. I stand by my "season over" call, much like I stood by my call of the Nats taking the NL East on September 5th of last year. As any reasoned mind will tell you it's still a super long shot that the Nats will make the playoffs* The thing is, if you're like me and think the Nats will finish in the 85-86 win range (I've upped it from 84-85 given the recent good play) they were bound to pick up games on whoever WC#2 would be. They'd probably only finish 2-3-4 games out. But like I said before, we have all offseason to talk about what the hell went wrong this year. If we can delay that for another few days with talk of magical playoff runs, why not? It's fun, right?

*Cool Standings likes the Nats the best at a super high 2.8%.  Fangraphs, which everyone was pointing at before shouting "They like us! They're the smartest! They understand upcoming strength of schedule!" proves it understands SOS all right by keeping the Nats down at 1.8% as the Nats play half their remaning games against good to very good teams

 Jayson Werth mentions that he did it in 2007 and he's right. In 2007, the Phillies erased a 7 game lead in the final 17 games to win the NL East. The double miracle, where the Phils went 13-4 and the Mets went 5-12, happened. So what was the circumstances behind that?

First off you had an exceedingly mediocre NL that year. The best team in the NL won a mere 90 games that year. With that being the way it was the Phillies didn't have any big obstacles to going on a winning streak. They got to play the Nats 7 times, along with a mediocre Cardinals team (78 wins) and an average Braves team (78). The Mets would also play an easy schedule but couldn't take advantage of it, losing 5 of 6 to the Nationals. Second, they did play eachother to end the year and yes, the Phillies swept the Mets. Third, at the time the Phillies were slightly underperforming according to their Pythag expecations and the Mets were WAY overperforming (even with the crash the Mets would still overperform for the year). Specifically the Mets starting pitching imploded as Glavine gave up 25 H and 17 runs in his last 3 starts (10.1 IP), while names like Oliver Perez, Phil Humber, Brian Lawrence (not good enough for the Nats!) and Mike Pelfrey had to start and mostly failed.

Do we see any parallels? Unfortunately not. The Nats have a tougher schedule than the Reds and they do not play head to head. This makes catching up much harder. The Reds may fall but can the Nats win 13 games or so against what they have coming up? Go 8-1 versus the easy teams and you still need to go 5-4 versus the Braves, Cards, & D-Backs. The Reds and Nats are for all intents and purposes where they should be, with possibly the Nats slightly overperforming. If anything the Pirates are the team that could come crashing down, but unfortunately have even more of a lead. The Reds pitching staff is also pretty solid and a total implosion would be pretty shocking.

What that all mean? That the odds given the Nats are 2% for a reason. They have a very tough situation in front of them. But hey, if the Nats can win the Haren game tonight, I think I can believe anything can happen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

To Tweak or To Go Big

It's easy to fix a bad team. That isn't meant to dismiss the job Rizzo has done, but it's the truth. If you are given the right resources ($$$ for FA and draft picks) you should be able to turn a losing team into a .500 one in just a few years. The holes are often obvious and more importantly deep. Take a look at the Astros right now.  You could sign a couple FA at SS and OF, they don't even have to be particularly good ones, just league average, and you'd perk up the offense. The rotation is so bad nearly anyone you can sign would improve it. Outside of picking up a catcher, you could literally do anything and this team might get better. Down this low the cost of each win is low and the answers are easy.

Where the Nats are the answers are harder to come by. You can't get better simply by signing "anyone". You usually don't have big gaping obvious holes. Instead you have good players that need to be replaced by very good or great ones if any sort of strides are to be made. The question is, are the Nats going to do that or are they going to be content to bring in one starting pitcher (the only easy fix) and make another go at it?

Here are some of the hard questions awaiting the Nats

Adam LaRoche (101 OPS+) Adam is basically an average hitter now and his fielding slipped. He's going to turn 34 in November an age where collapsing is more likely than rebirth. Do you go with Adam at a position where you normally look for great offensive production?

Anthony Rendon (96+) After a blistering start Anthony has settled down into a punch and judy place with an unimpressive average. (Whoever it was that mocked me for saying Rendon could finish hitting .250 with a little bad luck... SUCK IT) Obviously he's a rookie so expectations are he'll improve a bit next year, but what if he doesn't? His overall value is already questionable as he's not a good fielder at 2nd where he currently plays out of position.

Denard Span (98+) Unlike Rendon, Span is meant to be a fielding first type of guy, and he's coming through where that's concerned. But we've all seen what a slumping Span offers the team at the plate, a big squadoosh. He doesn't get on base or hit for any power so if he's not singling, he's not doing anything. The Nats thought they could carry a defensive guy in the lineup back when they thought they were a Top 5ish offense. Do they think the same thing now?

Do they need another pitcher or do they need another ace? Both ZNN and Gio have pitched well this year, but not to the expectations set by last year. They were at 133 and 136 ERA+ last year, respectively which is like having two #1s, to go along with the other #1 Strasburg.  They are both at 114 now, which is very good #2/#3 territory, but it's not the same "you can't beat us, THIS guy is starting" pitching as the Nats had last year. Also, you're looking at a top 3 that's been remarkably healthy recently. Strasburg & ZNN haven't missed significant time since their respective comebacks and Gio has been the same way since 2009. It's not to say it will happen. Maybe this is the one thing the Nats do right. But odds are sooner or later it won't be a Detwiler that needs half a season off.  With all this being the case, is it enough to simply grab a pretty good #4 type (for example AJ Burnett - not that anyone wants him just an example) or do you try to go out and get someone special?

The Nats can just tweak the roster and go into 2014 with playoff expectations. A competent #4, plus a complete overhaul of the bench would still seemingly leave the Nats, young and healthy, as a strong WC and possible division contender. But it also is asking for several things to go right instead of wrong and offers the Nats no cushion on those expectations. Failure to go big, might just have the Nats going nowhere again.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Monday Quickie - The Party's Over.

At least we can class this ending up a bit.

It's done. Over. Finit.

After a minor stumble, the Reds didn't fold. (In fact they played really, really well) And with their back against the wall, against subpar competition, the Nats are playing very well, but not the best any team has played this year.

Eight games out. 20 to play. You not only need an epic historic surge or meltdown but you need a bit of unexpectedly good or poor play as well. At the same time as the Nats schedule advantage ends? Sorry, no dice.

Catch the Reds? Nope - easy schedule from here on out. Catch the Cardinals? 9.5 games out? Are you serious? Catch the Pirates? First off, SHAME ON YOU. No one wants to do that. It'd be like getting the promotion you wanted because the good samaritan father of five in line for it was diagnosed ALS. But no, they have 10 games up vs Cubs and Padres. Also - Haren vs Wheeler is something that will happen for a team supposedly fighting for a playoff spot so no.  It's over. It's over when we say it's over and dammit I hope to god you join me in saying it's over.

What happens now? A slow death march as the team realizes what we know. Then comes the excuses (we were hurt!) and blaming of easy targets (it was Espy! it was Davey! it was Storen!) and empty responsibility taking which never exceeds saying "I'm the boss so I have to do a better job" whilst lighting a cigar with a $100 bill and booking a flight to see if Mark Grace can possibly be wooed over.

Tomorrow we come to bury the Nats, not to praise them. Really, really, not to praise them.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Perhaps now we probably enter endgame... maybe

The idea of a Nats comeback has always been based on the duel idea that the Nats would surge and the Reds would fold. Any other scenario you could think of would require one of these two teams to put up a historically bad/good month, like one for the ages. A week into September and the Nats aren't quite surging, but they're right there. 17-8 in their last 25, 11-4 in their last 15 (ok that's pretty surge-y). The problem is the Reds aren't folding. They went 16-11 and 8-8 in the same time frames as the records I mentioned for the Nats. They are losing ground to the Nats but not nearly fast enough.

The Reds were supposed to get beat up by the Cardinals. Instead they did the beating and it killed the Nats chances. The 3-1 series versus the Cardinals was the worst possible outcome. Even a Reds sweep would have been better for the Nats as it would have brought the Cardinals down low and the Nats have their own shot at the Cardinals before the season ends.Earlier I said a 6-4 record could suffice on this road trip. The world has changed. Now I think 8-2 will be necessary.

I said before we'd have a better understanding of where we stand after Labor Day. Well here we are. The Reds face the Dodgers (Kershaw and Greinke) for 3 games, in Cincinnati, while the Nats go out and play the Marlins in Miami. If the Nats can't get out of this weekend at least two games closer to the Reds, I'm not sure we should bother to figure out the rest of the season. The Dodgers need to sweep the Reds and/or the Nats need to sweep the Marlins (preferably both).

Why so glum? The Nats schedule advantage will have gone by the end of this weekend. The Reds follow the Dodgers with the Cubs at home, then away at Milwaukee and Houston. They will play the Pirates twice after that, sandwiching a Mets series. The Nats will play the Marlins, Phillies, and Mets again, but they'll also tangle with the Braves, Cardinals, and D-Backs. I give the Reds the upper hand here.

The Nats have played great, but if they can't find themselves on the morning of Sept 9th 5 games or closer the finish for the ages scenarios start to apply. Reds go 9-9 versus that weak remaining schedule? Nats need to go 16-4 to close out the year, even better than they've played so far. The Nats finish strong against some pretty decent competition and go 13-7? The Reds have to go 6-12 against a lot of beatable teams.  We're almost in win 'em all territory.

Of course nothing is absolute. As long as the Nats don't lose 3 games of ground I'm sure someone will still believe in the comeback, because it isn't mathematically impossible ("All the Nats have to do is go 19-1 and have the Reds go under .500 and blammo! Playoff City!") But this is where I'm setting the bar on calling the season. 5 games out or less by Monday. It's not only in the Nats hands, which is frustrating, but it's the cold hard reality of a season that went astray a long time ago.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Good News - Bad News

Good News: The Nats have passed the Diamondbacks and now only have to worry about what's in front of them if they keep winning.

Bad News: What's in front of them is still 7.5 games away, thanks to the Cardinals choking against the Reds. It's almost to the point where you'd root for the Reds to sweep the Cardinals because the Nats have their own last shot at St. Louis coming up. But at this point the difference between 9 games and 7.5 games is meaningful so still root for the Cards to win. We'll think about it again tomorrow.

Good News: ZNN's July is in the rearview. It looked for a while like Jordan was losing it posting a 7.18 ERA in July with a WHIP just under 1.60.  When you thought he might be back in form he gives up an 8-spot to the Cubs. The Cubs! But it turns out that was the exception. August ends with a 3.86 ERA overall, and that's with the Cubs debacle. In his last 3 non-Cubs starts his WHIP is back down to 1.07.

Bad News: Dan Haren is back to his old tricks. For a month he tried to tell you that things were back to normal and he put up a string of 6 good appearances over 7 games. The last two have been poor though. He tried to play off the Royals game as one bad inning (Why "My shirt was uncomfortable!" didn't get more play as a whiny excuse I do not know), but you know what? Those innings count, too.  Last game was just terrible. You probably give him the next start to see if he's truly lost it, but another bad start and its back to "pull him from the rotation" time. You can't afford a loss and Haren looks to be reverting back to the Haren that already cost the Nats too many games.

Good News: It's call-up time! Extra arms and extra bats never hurt.

Bad News: Slim Pickens' ghost came by yesterday thinking the Nats were summoning him by how people were talking about these call-ups.

Erik Davis : A fair relief arm but older, gets hit and walks too many. A mop-up guy right now.
Ian Krol : You've seen him. Got sent down and got hit in AAA as well. There might be something there especially as a lefty specialist but probably a year or two away from dependability.
Sandy Leon : Good glove who broke out in 2012 and broke back in this year. Emergency3rd catcher.
Zach Walters : Early fan fav because of the home runs. Strikes out WAY too much, never walks, can't hit for average. Makes Tyler Moore look like Bryce Harper. Don't expect much and if you do get much, think Kevin Maas. (kids, look up the Baby Bomber.)
Corey Brown : Not quite able to get over the last hump in the minors, because of his contact issues (Ks too much) could be Bernadina II for a couple years. Also, probably a terrible person
Jeff Kobernus : Kind of an outfield Lombardozzi. So sneakily useless.
Eury Perez : He's... actually a pretty interesting prospect. Still kind of young, adapted well to AAA. Ks reasonable which hint at being able to keep up with major league pitching. Let's see this guy play! (which of course means Corey Bown will play more)
Xavier Cedeno : Converted starters with a live arm but no control. H-Rod re-visited. Still useful if used correctly (spots where you need a K but a walk doesn't kill you).

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Tuesday Quickie - not too little but...

I know you don't want to hear about how the Nats can't make the playoffs. Ok, then tell the Nats to stop losing two at home to the Mets. Your anger is misdirected.

Most of the time 4-2 is a completely acceptable home stand. It seems bad because it started with a 3-0 sweep, but if you go .500 on the road, and win 2 out of 3 at home you're looking at a 94-95 win season. If this were May you'd say "keep on keeping on" and gently glide into the playoffs, maybe even as a #1 seed.

It's not May. It's September, the Nats backs are against the wall and being " generically 95 win good" is not even good enough. They need to be the best team in baseball this month. Simple as that.

Playoff Odds :
BP: 1.2%
CS: 2.3%
FG: 4.1%

Ten game road trip, the absolute minimum they can go is 6-4, but that's probably just treading water or gaining a single game. It would also likely force the Nats into a homestand where they need to lose a game maybe two or find themselves in an impossible situation. 7-3 or 8-2 would at least keep the "win 'em all" calls at bay for another week. They've already lost game one here though so it's going to be very very tough.

One note :
By now you must know that Jayson Werth has been the best hitter in the NL since the All-Star break with a .357 / .444 / .629 line. (just to note how capricious these things can be so you don't expect "Super-Werth" next season, I'll note that the 2nd best hitter in the NL in the same time frame is Wil Venable).  Did you know that Anthony Rendon is among the worst?  .209 / .286 / .299.  Forget having Espinosa around for his D. Maybe these guys should platoon.