Nationals Baseball: Second Place!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Second Place!

Great run there! "Wire to wire" if that wire extended from about 12:30AM to 10:00PM, May 6th.

Really the loss isn't a surprise. I'd bet on the Nats losing to Kershaw regardless of who's pitching. Make it Blake Treinen and there you go. Easy money. In fact I fully expect the Nats to be in 2nd (or 3rd - since the division is so tight) by the time May 11th rolls around. What I also expect is the Nats to be within a game or two of first and staring down a 25 game stretch where they play only one "good" team (Texas visits at the very end of May). Quibble if you want about who is "good" or not, but it's by the end of that run where I'd like to see the Nats with a couple game lead on the rest of the East. (Braves will start that same stretch with 11 games vs the Giants, Cards, and Brewers).Don't get too worked up over losses over the rest of this week/weekend.

One of the big questions brought up yesterday was "Is this run of losses by the Braves telling?"  Good teams go through losing streaks all the time, even ones that go 7+ games. Of course bad teams do to, and they do it more often. So what does this mean about the Braves?

Is the offense an issue for the Braves? Yes

Freddie Freeman is the best offensive player in the NL East. I don't trust your age Utley. I don't trust your "you" Stanton. And there's no reason Justin Upton (26) couldn't be having a "best year" type season. But beyond that things are shaky. The problem is no one gets on base for these guys to drive in. a .296 OBP for the team. Of the other guys doing ok, Gattis and Simmons are POP guys (I know you probably think Simmons is a singly Joe because that's what SS are but no - he's a decent POP guy) but neither gets on base (Gattis .290 OBP, Simmons .300) and nothing in their history suggest major improvements are coming. BJ Upton and Uggla (at least in the past) are a little more patient but it really seems like hitting this bad is their new normal. There's only so much you can do with an average hovering around .220.  The above taken for what it is, leaves the Braves in a bit of a problem spot. That's not enough offense to win.

The offense, then in effect, comes down to two guys - Heyward and Chris Johnson. Johnson is hard to read. The .321 average he put up last year was obviously a fluke, but the guy looked ok for .275 and 15 homers. If he gets back to that he's ok but if this year is a "correction" for 2013 then it's trouble (think Nats bench 2012 to 2013) His age (29) puts a drop in production, even one pretty large, a possibility.  Heyward is even harder to read. The guy has talent and has shown it but he'll slump and it'll feel like he'll never come out of it. These arent your normal 2-3 weeks slumps either, his seem to last a long time, even season long. In 2011 he never really did bounce back after crashing in May.  This has kept him from having that break-out year everyone, including me, thought he would soon after that rookie campaign.

If both these guys right the ship the Braves should have a passable offense. Good whenever Heyward is hot, struggling when he's not, but overall good enough. If either of these guys doesn't turn it around though... and well you're seeing what it looks like right now.

Is the pitching a fluke? Not like you probably hoped

Let's start with the bullpen. It's good. Not top to bottom good like the Nats but top to a floor or two above street level. Kimbrel, of course, and Walden shut down in the 8th and 9th. Avilan might be broken and Carpenter a bit over his head but Varvaro has good stuff and Schlosser's unlucky self was optioned out and replaced by Hale, who could really flourish. I'm not really seeing a weakness here.

The starting rotation's crazy good start was a fluke but that doesn't matter now with Minor and Floyd set to join the rotation. Minor is very good. Teheran is great. Santana could put up a 3.00 ERA moving AL-> NL. Wood at the very least can hang, if not thrive. Sure Harang will come back down to Earth and Floyd may not be good anymore but if those things happen, there's Hale ready to hold down a #5 spot.  Are we willing to bet they are all going to do poorly? And even if they do that's just the 5th starter.

So the pitching being THIS good is a fluke, but the pitching being good is not. The rotation isn't going to carry a 2.50 ERA for the season but could it lead the NL? Certainly.

The Braves are either going to SF Giants 2010 and pitch their way to 90+ wins with just enough offense, or they are going to SF Giants 2011 and watch their offense keep the team just out of the playoffs. Either way they aren't a bad team in hiding. They are a good team that could be very good if Heyward and Johnson come around.

What I'm saying is that you shouldn't be hoping the Braves are in for a collapse. I don't see it happening. As bad as it is to lose 7 in a row the last 5 losses were by 1, 1, 2, 3, and 1 runs. A couple bloops fall in here and there and they go 2-5 and we're not even thinking about if they are in trouble. 

And as a side note : The pitching is this good without Beachy and Medlen. Their aggressive re-signing policy might come back to haunt them later in the decade but that, and the one-year deals they've got on the books, means a lot of flexibility for the next couple years. At the very least it gives them an opportunity to attack this window and it could give them time to restock a thinned minor league system. You know what they say, to be the man you got to beat the man. The Braves remain the man in the NL East and will be until the Nats put up a couple pennants in a row.


Donald said...

Thanks for the analysis. Maybe you could do something similar for the rest of the NL East teams. Should we fear the Fish? I know it's early, but what would your prediction be for the final NL East standings?

Miles Treacy said...

I instantly thought of the posts regarding batting Span first when he came up in the bottom of the 8th. That's all I'll say about that.

Harper said...

I liked MIA and hated PHI pre-season, so I'll stick with that


Something like 92, 88, 81, 76, 72 in wins?

As I said today Braves hinge on Heyward/CJ. I'm splitting the difference with this 88 win guess.

I think MIA is all about shaking things out this year and I wouldn't trust anything we've seen so far. Eovaldi could be the #2 to Jose Fernandez, or Henderson Alvarez could finally get it. Marcell Ozuna could compliment Stanton and Yelich, or he could be in AAA and Marisnick could be up. Given all that I just split them down the middle.

NYM are a year away from being where the Marlins are... if D'Arnaud can turn it on and they get a legit OF bat in the offseason.

PHI are being carried by 35+ guys hitting great. Just waiting for a collapse.

blovy8 said...

Did I miss something? The Nats were still in first last time I looked. It's not like it's permanent or anything, but still.

The Braves are arguably in a position to deal from pitching depth, maybe they could make BJ Upton the 4th OF if they could get a legit CF somehow. They have a few middle infielders hitting well in the minors too, putting Uggla on thin ice, probably of the super-2 nature. He's not a terrible all or nothing sort of PH hitter to have around if they have to keep him.

Kenny B. said...

Name of the game is keep it within a couple of games until the cavalry arrives. The first signs of light are already showing through with the arrival of Ramos and Fister.

You don't expect Treinen to beat Kershaw, and you don't expect the Braves to lose that many in a row, so here we are tied for second with a team we've beaten up on pretty bad so far this season. That's the result of not having made up more ground by beating up on the Phillies. But here we are, near the top of the race in a wide open division partway through May. Could be a lot worse. Look upon Haren today, and remember how much worse it could be.

(I know Haren is kind of a poor quality scapegoat, but man did his first half 2013 suck uncontrollably)

Harper said...

Miles - watcha going to do? Do you have a fast and slap-hitting alternative? Then go back to your books nerd!

blovy 8 - if you're looking at baseball-reference than the last time you looked is Monday night (for some reason the standings haven't been updated)

I think the injuries the Braves have suffered will make them gunshy on deals using pitching. Which is probably good for Nats fans given the state of their offense. I don't see where any BIG improvement will come from unless Heyward suddenly "gets it"

Jay said...

I agree with the posts about the Braves offense. What has killed them so far are the two huge contracts for guys that aren't that good - BJ Upton and Dan Uggla. Now they could get hot and the Braves offense looks much different. 5 years for $72 million for BJ. Ouch.

I still think the Braves pitching is at best slightly above average. Gavin Floyd is avg and coming off TJ surgery. Aaron Harang is below avg - he was cut by the Indians in spring training. Teheran is well above average. Alex Wood is slightly above average in my opinion. Ervin Santana is Edwin Jackson - ok at times but usually incosistent. No one really wanted him before last year bc he was so up and down.

I think the Braves end up fighting for a wildcard spot and I agree likely around 88 wins. Nats need to remember that and not get so tense when they play. The Braves still have one of the all time choke jobs in history falling out of the playoffs 3 Septembers ago. They went 9-18 in September to miss the playoffs in 2011.

m j b said...

What's up with Danny having 2 for 33 - with both hits being HRs - in his last 10 games with 0 walks and 15 strikeouts? Is the talk of Danny being more mature at the plate unfounded, or is this a minor regression to his HR-myopia phase?

Chaz R said...

I would think the Nats are going to have problems with Oakland and the Braves are playing the Cubs, so we could easily find ourselves back and forth in the next few days. But after that, the Braves have series against SF, StL, Colorado, and Milwaukee. Ramos is back, Fister is back on Friday, and Zimm should return in a couple of weeks. We are looking good and are almost cleared though a rough patch.

Harper- I beat you're happy TMo has been optioned back to AAA, but good grief who is going to relieve ALR, especially since he is playing hurt?

Harper said...

Jay - underrating Santana. FA-year had a HR surge that now looks fluky. Always like AL->NL moves

mjb - Danny should be Danny if healthy - that means .240 with 20+ HRs. So it's a regression/slump we're seeing now. Approach story likely bull when the results necessitated a story to explain them.

Chaz - Yep, just don't fall 3/4 back by the end of the weekend somehow and Nats should be fine.

Not "happy" - but relieved. Now Moore can be where he should be - hitting .290 in AAA with 30 homers and a strike out a game. It's that last thing that guarantees in the majors his .290s will become .220s.

Eric said...

Chaz - As I recall, Frandsen has played some 1B.

If his competence in every other facet of the game so far is any indication of how he'll do there, I'm far from worried.

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