Nationals Baseball: I don't want to hear it

Friday, June 20, 2014

I don't want to hear it

Every loss matters and losses versus division rivals doubly so because you are guaranteeing them a win. But there are others thing to consider that determine how much you should concern yourself with them, like where the teams are, where they are headed, and how much time is left.

The Nats are in first and getting healthy with Bryce Harper coming back soon. The Braves are trailing and just lost another pitcher in this "God doesn't want you to win" year for them. With 90 to go, the Nats could lose all four games and still be in good position.  No one wants it to happen. It's obviously better if it doesn't happen, but it's not going to kill this team to lose these games.

If this division was different, if the Braves were healthy or the Marlins ready, then you can go overboard with these losses because they are probably putting the Nats 5, 7 9 games back. Instead the Nats might lose the series and fall... a half game out of first. The reality of the season in front of us lessens the impact of these losses where they really matter - in the standings. 

Where they remain large is in the nebulous realm of reporting about the team. The losses to the Braves are a story. The Braves are in Nats fans heads, possibly in the Nats heads. Nevermind two years ago the Nats did beat the Braves more than they lost and won the division, so it isn't an epic years long domination. Nevermind the fact that last years team finished 10 games out of first and that they would have had to win 12 games over the Braves to make that up and take the division, so you can't single out those games for the failures of 2013. Nevermind they just were in first place despite getting beat up by the Braves earlier in the year, so you have to admit winning the NL East this year, under these conditions, can be done regardless if they win 6 games or 13 versus the Braves*. Nats fans should be able to look past these losses right now, but things like this, they have a way of getting to you.

It's insidious. It gets eyes on the page. It makes for an easy joke, which I'll admit, I'll go after. I'm not above that. It matters, but circumstances have made it not as impactful as it was last year. That's the truth. This year it's really just a battle, not the war.

Tonight is Strasburg. Tony crushed the best Braves. Now it's your turn.

*Now if they win like 1 game - ok talk to me.


Jimmy said...


Anonymous said...

We need to hit the Braves' and Cards' second and third tier pitchers. It seems that even if these teams put a monkey to pitch for them we couldn't hit them Lets get out of this funk and play relaxed baseball.

Natty said...

Its just strange, this funk they seem to have when playing the Braves/Cardinals. I dont understand it, like another poster says it really is like if they put a monkey out there it would throw a no hitter. And they look great against other teams, something is up... its definitely worthy of being talked about

Kenny B. said...

"We need to hit the Braves' and Cards' second and third tier pitchers."

That's the ticket. The starters and bullpen are keeping us in every single one of these games, but the offense just completely disappears every time.

I predict tonight's game will be another remarkably low-scoring affair. Strasburg gives up some unearned runs following an error by Ian Desmond, and reignites the stupid narratives about his mental state. The Nats score maybe one on a laboriously manufactured bunting/stealing/sacrifice series of events. Their hit numbers stay in the single digits. Lots of strikeouts on both sides.

Prove me wrong, boys. Prove me wrong.

Chaz R said...

Good stuff Harper. I totally agree this "mental block" stuff with the Braves (and Cards) is ridiculous. I don't like losing to the Braves, who have become are primary rivals, and listening to the stupid Tomahawk chop chant, but in the scheme of things this year, it really doesn't matter. The Nats are getting stronger and better, the Braves are in decline. Ultimately, I think they will be lucky to finish in 2nd.

JWLumley said...

Harper, the rational side of me agrees with you, the irrational side of me just wants to break things...the irrational side is winning.

With that caveat that I may in fact be out of my mind, there were some concerning things last night. Ian Desmond continues to give away AB's. It seems any pitcher that can locate can hang a big sombrero on Desmond. He'll hit your mistake, some times, but his front side is flying open and he just doesn't seem to see the ball well. He looks lost in his approach and frustrated. Maybe he needs glasses, maybe he's right eye dominant and should open his stance, but he needs to do something. His LD% is down almost 10 points from last year and part of the reason seems to be that he's not making contact with pitches outside the zone. His O-Contact% is way down to 47.9%, when it's been at or above 60% for his whole career. He's also seeing fewer first pitch strikes, so the league is definitely adjusting to him.

He's still a league average hitter per wRC+ and slightly below average per wOBA, which is pretty good for a SS, even a bat first SS like Desmond, but it seems to me that Desmond disappears against pitchers with a plan who can locate. He's had 3 games this year with 3 K's against Shelby Miller, Yu Darvish and Nate Eovaldi, but he's had 21 games with at least 2 strikeouts and those 24 games account for 51 of his 81 K's on the year or rather 63% of his K's came in 34% of his games. Perusing the list of pitchers he had two K's against yields names like Lancy Lynn, Kershaw, AJ Burnett, Jose Fernandez etc, but you also see guys like Gavin Floyd and Scott Baker.

Even though they got swept, the Nats were grinding out AB's against the Cardinals and making their pitchers work. The series didn't bother me that much because a good deal was bad luck and they were on the tail of a long road trip.

Also, Matt Williams, seriously, Jerry Blevins...against a right hander...who's seeing the ball big? It's not like he didn't have some guys in the bullpen that needed work. His bullpen management has been baffling, sure I know they have the best bullpen ERA in the majors, but they're very good. Most teams don't have 3 "closers" in their bullpen, that is to say 3 relievers with 3 elite reliever type stuff. He doesn't seem to get guys regular work and someone always seems to be coming into the game having not worked in 5 days.

blovy8 said...

It's BS that the Nats are getting better. You can't blame last night on being tired, or facing a good pitcher. They acted like they'd never seen a curveball. Floyd is about as average as they come, and they made him look like Kershaw. They have earned every bit of the mediocrity on display. I wouldn't mind the businesslike manner if they actually knew their business, but a guy on 2nd gets left there after three 6-3's from the middle of the order tells me they don't. The guy's own elbow put more pressure on him than any Nats hitter did.

JWLumley said...

@Blovy8 The Nats are getting better, but it's almost exclusively their pitchers. They have a collection of hitters whose reputation seems to outpace their production and Werth entering what is likely his decline doesn't help. Zimmerman's cold right now, but I think he'll turn it around. The Nats need another middle of the order bat. The bat Harper was supposed to be.

I also think that by themselves a lot of the guys aren't bad, but put a bunch of guys together that don't see many pitches and don't take a lot of walks and you can get shut down by the Gavin Floyd's of the world. Werth, LaRoche and Rendon are all in the top 40 of pitches per plate appearance, but Desmond is 80th, Espinosa is 138th and the Nats leadoff hitter is 151 out of 166. (Even though I thought leadoff hitters were supposed to be fast, get on base, steal bases and take lots of pitches so the other hitters could see the pitchers stuff). Lobaton would be near the bottom if he qualified. So basically 1/2 of the lineup doesn't see many pitches. A statistic that successful organizations like the Red Sox and Rays have been placing increased emphasis on over the last couple of years.

The Nats are pretty much middle of the road in MLB with regards to BB%, but that's what their offense is, pretty middle of the road. It's not good, but it's not awful either. The frustration comes from the fact that it looks good on paper, but dig a bit beneath the surface and you see it's pretty meh.

blovy8 said...

Well, JW, in the last calendar month they're 14-13. The pitching has been better, but the club hasn't been. Optimists will cite the +24 run differential and say they are better than their record. Pessimists like me will say, if you can't win more than that when you're "dominating", how can you expect to win when that evens out? I feel like they've actually had their share of luck to be in first. There's nothing really to say they should be any better than this.

Super Homer said...



Ditto to what Harper said. This team wins the east. It won't be pretty, but we win. And if we can't beat the GD Braves I'm never gonna hear the end of it from some people I know. But I think the good times are about to start rolling. We win tonight after Stras blanks them with double digit Ks. 2 wins at worst. 3 straight is my Super Homer prediction.

JWLumley said...

@Blovy8 I didn't say they were going to win a lot more, I said they're getting better, or more specifically the pitching has been getting better. It won't hold at this level, but I don't think it will fall off much either. This season will depend on Harper's bat.

@Super Homer I agree, they win the NL East, but they won't go far if they don't fix some of these issues.

WiredHK said...

Can we just phone a friend and let the Phils/Mets/Marlins play our games vs the Braves? Better yet, can we just borrow any other teams' uniforms? I think that would solve the issues....

blovy8 said...

Homer, if you want to hang your hat on a mediocre team winning the division, I'm sure you're right, but the conventional wisdom expecting that team to be the Nats rather than the Marlins, Braves, or even the Mets or Phillies seems to be based in some alternate reality at the moment. It seems like the end result will look more like 1973 NL east every week. But hey, the Mets beat the Reds juggernaut that year, so I would certainly accept the lottery ticket should it happen.

Chaz R said...

@blovy- well it seems that alternate reality includes Fangraphs. They not only think the Nats win the NL East, they think the Nats have the best chance of any NL team to go to the WS:

Harper said...

Jimmy - ummm Magneto

Anon #1/ Natty / Kenny B - OH geez. I actually just looked at this and off of non-Teheran, Wainwright pitchers the Nats have scored... are you ready for this?

Are you sure?

8 runs in 68 2/3 innings. The next time this year they score 3 ERs off an ATL or STL starter will be the first time this year.

As suggested on twitter - better scouting?

Chaz R - if Justin can't come back fully healthy I agree. 3rd will be hard for them

JWL - Desmond's average and Werth's power are the 2nd tier issues we've avoided having to talk about because of the injuries. Just a few more weeks boys.

Williams is still learning that stuff... which is a shame because this isn't a team that needs a manager learning on the fly.

blovy8 / JWL - well... they are getting healthier so they should be better. That's what i meant. Obviously actual results vary. Desmond isn't getting better. Werth isn't. Espy isn't. Not compared to last year.

I'll agree there isn't anything this year to suggest they'll win more games... except Bryce coming back and Gio getting in his groove. Which matter. But through 70+ games they are the 85 win team they look like.

So like you end up talking about blovy8 I like them to get a little better and take the east, but with like 89 wins. I DO think you'd expect that team to be the Nats because they would be the best team on paper in the East. Given how the division has played out I don't see how you can go on anything other than that. (unless you say Nats can't beat Braves H2H so somehow the Braves will pull out the division... seems less based in reality to me)

It's kind of a weird situation. The team itself is barely better than last year which we all agree was a terrible disappointment. However, the Braves arm troubles has forced them down below the Nats. So now they are on top. Play like crap in 2013 - get lambasted, manager fired. Play like crap in 2014 - fair chance to win the division? Doesn't add up but that's what's happened so far.

Super Homer - only 3 straight? A real Super Homer would have predicted 4 straight in 3 games.

blovy8 said...

That's what I'm talking about - fanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus have similar overstated expectations. There are three teams within a game of each other. I believe that more than projection systems that are similar in results to just using weighted past performance. Nobody outside of SF ever seems to pick them to win, for example. If you went by talent level, you'd have the Dodgers winning most of the time. I will grant you that it's 70 games and not 162, but why should we have any confidence in their predictions apart from what we could estimate ourselves just averaging out projections and playing time?

That's why it comes down to health mostly, and who can be confident of that with the Nationals? Even if you give them the benefit of the doubt, they're probably about two games worse than they ought to be, not some world beater.

Kenny B. said...

"8 runs in 68 2/3 innings"
*Runs screaming into bedroom. Closes door. Draws shades. Hides under covers.*
Come get me in October.

blovy8 said...

Understanding there are flaws on the other eastern clubs, my off the cuff predictions would be:
C)Ramos may well be no better than Lobaton because of his wrist strength and have the usual recurring hamstring issues limiting his playing time to get more consistency.
1B) LaRoche's numbers revert to his norms, his aging process continues despite better medication. He has recurring leg issues.
2B) Espinosa K's 30%, maybe gets even worse since he probably won't be playing everyday when Harper gets back, and he's just a defense guy now. Does he start bunting more? The HR's are 2B's lately.
SS) Not ready to say Desmond is this guy now, he maybe has a hot streak left in him.
3B) I don't have much bad to say about Rendon, but Zim will likely be playing here a bit, and only Williams seems to want him doing that, not Zim certainly. Rendon is young and still adjusting to the ML and I don't think it'll all be smooth.
LF)Harper will be rusty when he comes back, hasn't been able to stay on the field, might still have issues against slop-throwing lefties, will have the savior pressure put on him if the club doesn't have a decent lead by then. Put him in center and you have Zimmerman learning on the job with his arm just as bad in the OF as it is at 3B, and without the speed to overcome his bad reads like Harper manages. Small sample size alert but he's 6 for his last 41. They won't sit him if that continues, but will anyone start writing about it and make another mess?
CF) Span is probably more what you guys say than what I say. Williams won't sit him much if he even hits .260, much to most of this blog following's chagrin.
RF)Werth's power and walk rate continue their decline, and his OF range gets no better. He's about the only one grinding those at bats though. I wish it would rub off.

Chaz R said...

@blovy- ok, we have noted the time and date, and will talk in September.

Super Homer said...


Froggy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Froggy said...

We scored 3 ER off their starter last night, so that monkey is finally off our back.

Now about Desmond...

Nattydread said...

Don't look now, but Span's batting average, among starters, is now second only to LaRoche's.

BooyahSuckah! said...

Blovy, can I just ask something? You (and others) keep talking about Werth's "continued decline" like it's an actual thing. But I'm looking at the numbers ( and I don't see it. Discounting the absolutely atrocious 2011 he had, his numbers have basically gone up every single year from 2009 until now.

Was last year his career year? Yeah, probably. Is he doing worse this year (mostly because of his terrible slump the last few weeks)? Yep.

But that, to me, says slump. Or at most "beginning of decline". I don't know how a guy can be "continuing his decline" when he just had the best year of his career, everything has trended up for several seasons (except his shitty 2011), and we're not yet halfway through the current year.

Yes, it's nitpicky of me, but I feel like it matters.