Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - I love Mondays!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Quickie - I love Mondays!

because the Nats are not playing the Braves anymore!  (and the Yankees took 3 of 4 from Boston but I doubt that concerns you)

The Nats have been terrible vs the Braves. Going back to late 2012 that makes the Nats 7-22 in their last 29 games vs Atlanta. Why? Well, the big part of it is Atlanta is good, in particular was really good last year, while at the same time the Nats were off last year. It's pretty simple.You can have an off year versus a good team and get slaughtered. (Hell you can have an off year versus a mediocre team and get slaughtered if the chips fall the wrong way) 

Of course this would be easier to take if the Nats weren't also 0-6 vs the Cardinals last year and 1-5 versus the Dodgers (3-4 vs Pirates, but hey! 4-3 vs Cincinnati!) Like I said at the end of last column, with the Nats sitting at 1-5 against Atlanta the question becomes -  Can the Nats beat good teams? Unfortunately for the Nats, the question is asked at a time when the answer is most likely "No". Fister, Ramos, and  Zimmerman out. Span potentially out. This is an ailing team that has passed the point of its preparation.  At that point perceptions change.

Did we like the Nats better than the Braves? Yes.
Do we like the Nats better than the Braves? No.
Will we like the Nats better than the Braves? I don't know.

If the Nats all come back healthy in 6 weeks than sure. That would be the same team to start the year. Or perhaps if the Braves, who have reached their own limit in preparation, lose another starter. But I don't want to say it looks good for the Nats right now. Have they ever had guys come back exactly on time and perform up to expectations? I'm seriously asking. It at least feels like everyone comes back late and comes back hurt. A Nats team with a third of the team guarnteed to underperform is not a playoff competitive team unless Bryce and Rendon become Mantle and Hornsby overnight.

The ball is now in Rizzo's court then.  The easy solution, the one Rizzo has taken mid-season in the past, is to do nothing. Sit, wait and assume everything will go according to plan. The Nats will hold court going in the neighborhood of .500. Zimmerman, Ramos and Fister will all be back by about June 1st and the Nats will play the next 100 games as they should have played 162 if healthy. Seems like an ok plan. Of course that assumption - that everyone will be back healthy on June 1st is a big one. Then there is the assumption that no one else will get injured. That's a big one, too. Then there is the biggest problem :

That scenario doesn't guarantee playoffs

62 games at a .500 pace is 31-31
100 games at "original" pace* is 58-42

That's a 89-73 team. 89-73 did not make the playoffs last year. Used to be 89 would at least give you a shot and the thought was that in the expanded playoffs it could be a lock. Turns out though the competition steps up and tries harder with a goal in reach. Water finds its level. 90 wins is needed for a good shot. 92 for a lock. 

If Rizzo does nothing again - the Nats are probably in for a dogfight just to make the playoffs. 2014 has turned into 2013 alarmingly quickly.

*Using 94 wins pace

Other notes
  • The sweep will bring out the idiots shouting "SEE! YOU OVERRATED THE NATS!!!!" These are probably the same people that would act like you were stupid if you didn't pick the Rockies to finish at least 2nd in the NL West in a season where they only managed that when California fell into the ocean because of a massive earthquake.  Ignore them.
  • The injuries matter far more than the losses do.  The worst part about the losses is that the Braves now have a one-game lead and the Nats have "only" 13 H2H games to make that up.  That's not bad - that's fine. Then there are the 137 other games still left too. As the season wears down you like to have H2H because you are only hoping for one event, not two. That matters, but this far out it doesn't matter a lot.
  • Bryce is heating up. Danny looked ok.  Maybe the Nats can do this? 
  • Rendon is cooling down. So is LaRoche. Desmond didn't look good either. Maybe not?
  • The Nats SP ERA sits at 4.81.  Clippard and Blevins both have ERAs over 5.  That's not going to get it done. (It will get better though)


F said...
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Chris Weisert said...


Bjd1207 said...

I can't believe we're already back to "tread water until everybody's healthy again." I mean seriously even a month was too much to ask for?

Span's injury is the lease concerning to me, I think Frandsen/McLouth can platoon to get us back his bat. But we'll certainly loose a couple plays in the outfield while he's out.

Zimm is always consistent and even usually returns from injury well (does the week off/cortisone shots count toward your question Harper? Cuz Zimm came back tearing it up after his shots last season) so when we get him back, it should be plug and play.

The only silver lining here is that we should get everyone back (Fister, Zimm, Ramos, Span) before we play the braves again. But I really gotta watch espinosa for the next month?

Chaz R said...

All I have to say is UGH... I don't think I can get through another 2013!

BooyahSuckah! said...

Harper, you sort of hinted at it in the last line, but I think it bears repeating. Even if everything about this club stays flat with where they are now until June when everyone (theoretically) comes back, the pitching has to, absolutely HAS TO get better. This is NOT a 4.81 ERA starting rotation. It just isn't. Clip is NOT a 5.40 ERA reliever. Call it bad luck, call it small sample size, whatever. Even without Fister, our pitching should show massive improvement between now and the end of May. That alone is worth a few extra wins. Even more important when you consider the opposite (which you also hit on in the Braves preview): the Braves pitching will/WILL have a correction in the other direction. They aren't this good.

John C. said...

You're right - standing pat does not guarantee the playoffs. Problem: neither does making changes, whether minor tweaks or wholesale changes. If the intent was to criticize Rizzo for not making moves, one first has to establish that he is skipping makeable moves that would definitely improve the team's chances for the playoffs without dropping a huge anchor on the team's future.

Mid-season(hard to call an adjustment "mid-season" after 12 of 162 games, but whatever)adjustments often don't work. Davey came in and wanted a hairy-chested bench bat. Rizzo went and got him Jonny Gomes. Gomes sucked with the Nationals (except for an exciting walk-off HBP). It's not that Rizzo was wrong to pick Gomes for the role. Gomes has been pretty much exactly what Rizzo was looking for ... but only for the A's and Red Sox, his employers since he left the Nationals. It's hard to blame Rizzo for the mistake of timing his acquisition of Gomes with an atypical lousy streak by the player.

You don't kick over the apple cart on a team struggling with minor injuries after just 12 games. That kind of madness not only carries more than a whiff of panic, it guarantees that the team will be paying a desperation premium on any move that is made. No, thanks. Sometimes the best moves are the ones youdon't make.

Chaz R said...

Anyone seen Schoenfield's report today?

"The Nationals are 6-0 against the Mets and Marlins, 1-5 against the Braves ... which sounds a lot like 2013, when the Nationals went 6-13 against the Braves and 80-63 against everyone else. Until they prove they can beat the Braves, I’m going to withdraw my preseason evaluation of the Nationals as one of the three best teams in baseball."

Chris Weisert said...

They said the sa me thing last year about the braves pitching as well though, and...

Donald said...

It really is a game of inches. Not to sugar coat all of these loses to the Braves, but in our first lose at home to them, we lost 1-2 when Clippard gave up a run in the 8th. In Friday's game, we lost 6-7 when Clippard gave up a run in the 8th. Clippard obviously doesn't deserve all of the blame, what with all of the bad plays, but had the Nats won those two games, our record would be 3-3 and we wouldn't be having these conversations. I wasn't too high after last week's sweep of the Marlins and I'm not too low now. I agree that the injuries are the most worrisome. If no one else gets hurt, I don't see a need for Rizzo to make any deals. Let's keep our fingers crossed. At the risk of sounding inappropriate, I'm guessing all eyes in the organization are one Jason Werth's groin.

Chaz R said...

I am feeling a little more optimistic having just taken a look at the schedule. Only four of the Nationals’ next 19 games will be against a 2013 playoff team the Cardinals, who we seem to do ok against. Well also the Angels, Padres, Astros and Phillies, in addition to the upcoming Marlins series. If they can jump on these teams, they could quickly turn things around again.

Harper said...

BJD - Maybe Espy is back! I think the Span injury is bigger than we think because there has been no sense that Bryce/Jayson are good enough out there.

Chaz R - Go to sleep until June - wake up and I'll let you know if you have to go to sleep until next March.

BS - Agreed that the pitching should be better. This was always a pitching first club. But don't be expecting extra "correction" to get overall where you thought they should be. the "correction" is only pitching as they should from here on out. So I don't see any "extra" wins. More wins sure - but not extra.

Braves might be this good - the only thing I don't like about that team right now is that BJ Upton plays all the time and Harang is likely to crash. That's it. Rest of the team is good and Freeman is becoming a team-carrier.

JC - I don't disagree that changes don't guarantee success but the earlier you do it the more chance you have. Gomes played 43 games for Nats - a bad month and a half - that happens. A bad three months? 5? A lot rarer.

Your definition of "minor injuries" isn't the same as mine. 6 weeks is about 20-25% of a season. It's not panic to try to deal with that just because it happens in April and not July. All you're doing now is waiting to see if you have a surprise good run.

Also - at some point you have to choose now over later.

Chaz R - I wouldn't make that judgement because of performance v Braves but do the injuries knock the Nats out of Top 3? Definitately.

CW - What was said? That they couldn't take an injury? I suppose they have depth that might bouy the team through another loss, but if the Braves themselves thought that I doubt they would have brought in both Santana and Harang. Every team has limits it feels ok with testing.

Anonymous said...

But, but Mark Lerner says the team's payroll is "beyond topped out." However will they acquire any other players to tide them over all these injuries?? OMG! OMG!

Anonymous said...

Harper, would you agree that a key to making a difference between '13 and '14 is Espinosa's performance?

If he's even 75% of what he was at the plate in '12, then Nats' infield is much better able to absorb Zimmerman's absence than it was last year.

Kenny B. said...

RE Anon on Espinosa: I totally agree. You don't feel too bad about an IF of LaRoche, semi-revived Espinosa, Rendon, and Desmond if the pitching can find its legs (or arms, I suppose). OF of Werth, Harper, and platoon bench guys could be serviceable, especially if Harper heats up and Werth doesn't fall off too hard.

Agree with everyone else that the losses are tough, but the injuries are the true reason to freak out at this point. Reeeeaaally could use some pitching magic to get us through a tough spell. I prostrate myself before the pitching gods and beg for their favor.

On that note, would appreciate a note from our host on the pitching and what the problems might be, if there any we can identify.

Kenny B. said...
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BooyahSuckah! said...

Harper, no arguments on Freeman, the guy's a beast (and seems to be the only non-a-hole ever to wear a Braves hat except Chipper). But I have to disagree with the rest, especially the pitching. The entire staff (13 pitchers) has only 3 guys currently pitching above a 3.00 ERA, and those three are relievers. I just don't buy it (just like I don't buy that Roark is as good as he looked in short time last year). Not saying they're not decent, or even good. But they're not THIS good.

You're right about the "extra" wins. I guess extra wasn't the term I was looking for. I just mean that a return to normal levels of performance amongst the staff should result in a better record than one would extrapolate based on the current numbers. Even if it doesn't make up for the 12 games already played, it should be better than the same 40-ish games when played at the current 4.81 level of performance. Hence, "extra" wins.

Nattydread said...

M Williams shift of Strasburg from a scheduled match against the Braves to an earlier date against the Marlins which we won. And we got a sweep. That left us with weaker pitching against the Braves where the odds were only with us in 1 of 3. So we end up with .500 over 6 games.

The loss of Zimmerman many be a blessing in disguise. Better fielding and a chance to test Espinosa. Not sure what Rizzo can do at this stage of the season.

Anonymous said...

Chipper Jones is being held up as a shining example of a decent dude who just happened to be a Brave? You really do have a low opinion of our fair franchise...

I obviously agree that Freddie is a great guy, but what about Jason Heyward makes him an "a-hole"?

Jay said...

I'd agree with the post that most of the Braves are jerks. I maybe wouldn't include Heyward Jerks - Uggla, Simmons, Johnson, the Uptons, McCann - even though I know he's gone. Even Medlen came across as a bit of a jerk, though I do feel bad for him having another TJ surgery.

I guess it boils down to the fact that the Braves think they should be worshipped because they won so many division titles. They only won one WS. They're the equivalent of the Buffalo Bills.

cass said...

So all these guys (Not Chipper or Freddie, but wore a Braves cap) were jerks?

Hank Aaron
Dale Murphy
Tom Glavine
Greg Maddux
John Smoltz
Andruw Jones

On the current team, Jayson Heyward is definitely a class act. Very professional. I'd list up as a lot less of an a-hole than Chipper, who definitely has his moments.

The only problem I have with Braves players is the stupid throwing at Harper and instigating until we threw at J-Upton. Not sure who was responsible - seemed to be a team thing.

The Braves fans (the ones who attend games in Atlanta, not all) I have a problem with. Booing injured Zimmerman. Cheering when a Nats player (last year - who was it?) left the field injured after getting hit by a pitch. For years they were apathetic. Ever since the Infield Fly incident, they've been rabid. I'm fine with passion, but cheering on blood sports takes it too far.

Again - not talking all Braves fans - I have Braves fans in my family who aren't like that and 20 years ago I was a Braves fan - but definitely a portion of them.

And the silly booing of Harper for no reason. Add that to the list.

Harper said...

Anon - Serious : trade for guys looking for big payday... in a couple years. Like Fister.

Not serious : Sell the family's spare solid gold rocket car.

Anon - at this point definitely. A decent Espy will mean the Nats won't be passed limit, only at it. I'd put that team at being above .500 by the time everyone is back. An Espy like last year though... that's a 7-8-9 that is a black hole (and #1 aint so hot either)

KB - need that 2012 start where everyone was tossing shutouts. Top of head - probably just a bad luck stretch on pitching. Probably

BS - I think the pitching is good enough to win NL East, that's all I'm saying. I like it. I don't love it. Don't think it'll carry Braves, but don't see this 5 as a hinderance.

ND - I think your last sentence is key. Even if I think he should do something (not entirely sold but leaning that way) no one is out of it yet. Who's going to trade something really useful for a prospect at this point? Houston? Cubs? Teams willing to say "we're not contending" this early have to be limited.

Anon/Jay - I'm assuming that's a comment on a deleted comment but I can make random guesses about Heyward. He's not nice to his mother? He steps on every worm on the sidewalk after a rain? He finally reaches the register after waiting in a long line and asks "so what exactly can I get on my ice cream" even though the topping list is RIGHT THERE? Oh wait that was the person in front of me yesterday... was that Heyward? He looked a lot smaller, older and more female.

Bills never won a Super Bowl, Jay. (also I totally think you should worship the Bills - they got to 4 Super Bowls in a row. NO ONE DOES THAT. DON'T DIMINISH!)

cass said...

Donald: Sure, it's a game of inches. The results aren't really as concerning as the injuries. If Zimmerman were healthy and raking like he was before the Braves series, we'd be okay. But with him and Ramos both injured, that really hurts the power on the team. And I think outfield defense will be notably worse until Span returns.

Also concerning are Desmond's D (or lack thereof) and the bad staring pitching. So I'd say it's not the record, it's the injuries and the chronic problems so far.

blovy8 said...

It's not getting any better with Rizzo making the claim the Nats are better than the Braves going into the Sunday game. Tooting his own organizational horn is really bad form. He's got to learn to just take his lumps, because he comes off as reinforcing his reputation for arrogance.

It's not really worse than 2012, though, it's mostly expectations again. One of the remedies for a situation like this is the thing you can never predict, which is a real contribution or spark from unexpected guys like Souza, Walters, or Leon. Granted, there isn't a Harper or Rendon at hand, but there's no need to expect "treading water" with the pitching that the Nats should be featuring. The pressure should be more on the other club if the Nats merely start fielding normally, and not running into a bunch of friggin' outs.

I'm hoping things will calm down, since as far as I'm concerned any karma payment for the Wizards making the playoffs is paid for with the Caps missing them.

Jay said...

I too was a Braves fan back in the day. Everyone cass mentioned is nothing but class. The Braves being jerks thing has come up in the last year or two. Remember last year when McCann wouldn't let Fernandez cross the plate after hitting a home run. Chris Johnson ran to stand behind McCann and yell at Fernandez - punk move. Braves pitchers plunking Harper repeatedly. I after Bobby Cox retired the classy Braves left the building. IMO, they were once definition of classy, now not so much.

Sorry but I disagree on the Braves years of ineptitude in the playoffs and on the Bills. Everyone plays to win, not finish second year after year. Like I said I was a Braves fan once - I watched as year after year they fell short. 1 World Series is great. They should have had 3-4.

Just my 2 cents. I'll be quiet now as we have gotten off topic.

Anonymous said...

I like the Uptons (I mean, I kind of hate B.J. as a hitter, but personally), but I wouldn't expect anyone who isn't a Braves fan to like them. Frankly, their constant bickering over balls and strikes endears them to me. They give a shit---they get mad when they feel they've been robbed. When a guy like that plays for your team, he's easy to like.

I also love Simmons, but he is pretty arrogant (not without reason, given that he may be the best defensive shortstop ever), which will obviously not endear him to fans of other teams.

Chris Johnson is a douchebag, though.

Wally said...

Think this is jumping the gun after 12 games. Sure, we have some key injuries and ATL is a solid team, but I think their pitching will regress. They are currently #4 in team pitching WAR and wouldn't be surprised to see them in double digits by the end of the season. Love Teheran and Wood, kind of mixed on Santana, but can't see Harang and Hale keeping it up. I mean, Harang is 73 yrs old, has had 1 season above 2WAR since 2007 and he was just cut by CLE just this spring. Sure, Minor will certainly help but I don't think it is reasonable to think Floyd will just bounce back to 2011 in his first season back from TJ. Although cutting the other way, Kimbrel is on pace for 7 freakin' WAR as a reliever (but he can't always pitch against us, so that will regress).

Whereas we are 7th in offensive WAR but 12th in pitching WAR, which I think will regress positively quite a bit. But here is the kicker: we are 29th in base running WAR, and 23rd in defensive WAR (but holy hell, the Astros and Indians are almost 3 times worse than us- can you imagine having to watch that crap). I think Matty needs to slow it down for our boys, and back off on all of this aggressiveness because they are making more mistakes than anything else.

Not sure where all this 'Braves are jerks' is coming from. McCann was over the top with the 'rules of baseball' stuff, but they seem normal otherwise. IIRC, Medlen was one of the first guys to say something nice about Harper when he first broke in.

Richard Parker said...

Tonight Harper, Rendon and, yes, even Espinosa were Mantle, Hornsby and Clemente (seriously, a double and a triple each for three players? How often does that ever happen??), and that's all we can ask -- one game at a time.

Richard Parker said...

For those of you dissing Espinosa, well, so far he's .360/.429/.600. True and small sample, but you might want to save your complaints until there's something to actually complain about. Also, Bryce has "quietly" lifted his batting to .348/.412/.522 (all as of 8th inning vs Marlins).

The real key is getting the starting pitching back on track. Tonight was a hopeful sign.

blovy8 said...

Zimm had an unintentional cutter going all night, I still don't think he's where he wants to be, although he had some great at-bats himself.

I have to admit, Espinosa's swing does look re-made. While I don't think we can look for 20 HR power again after this adjustment, it's not a bad development if he's striking out less than 20 percent of the time. This incarnation looks like a .280/350/460 sort of gap- hitting double/triple machine.

Bjd1207 said...

@blovy - Was it cut movement or was it just the Miami camera angle? It seemed like every pitcher had some late sink on their fastballs. Def noticed it with Zimm, but also with Treinen at the end where I didn't notice it before. His was breaking away from lefties almost like a sinker/changeup, but was 94. Either he's got some filthy stuff (first time I've watched him this year) or there was something generous about that camera angle

BooyahSuckah! said...

Guys, relax, it was a joke. I am not, repeat not, calling Hank Aaron an asshole. It was mostly a shot at Braves fans, anyway, who cheer injured players and mercilessly boo a 21-year old kid because he's good at baseball and doesn't play for their team. That's sort of why I said "Braves hat" and not "Braves uniform". Just some good-natured ribbing of another team's fans. Everyone take a breath.

Chris Weisert said...

Well we boo harper because he still hasn't won that MVP you guys keep saying he will win every year. He's with out a doubt a dick, even to his team mates and they made it apparent last year that's the case as well. Not saying he's a bad player, he's just not what espn and national fans says he is.