Nationals Baseball: On the cusp

Friday, June 06, 2014

On the cusp

The Nats are finally coming together... maybe.  The Rangers are beat up.  The Phillies stink.  The Padres, who the Nats play next, are also kindly referred to as flawed. (Remember that "team of Frandsens" I called the Nats during their slump a while back? - Meet the reality of that statement) So you take the current (and possibly future) winning with a grain of salt. But the plan is coming together.

The pitching is beginning to be the dominant force that we expected it to be.  No team in the NL has allowed fewer runs in the past month.  And they've been consistently good. No team in the NL has allowed fewer runs in the past 2 weeks or 1 week either.

The hitting is on a nice little roll as well. The past two weeks, with first LaRoche and now Zimm back, they've been a Top 3 force in the NL (let's not look before that). The combination of those two has lead to a 6-3 stretch and the Nats being back to 1 game out of first.

It's here that we notice how important it is that the Braves (or Marlins, I guess) didn't run away during that early stretch. If the Nats had a 6-3 game stretch and found themselves 5 or 6 games out the feeling would be a lot different. Less "Here we come" and more "What do we have to do?"  Given the peaks and valleys of a usual season coming back from a big deficit (8 games or so) can take a couple months, even if you are the better team. You gain 3 games over 10 games, then lose one in the next five. Rinse repeat...  the fact that they never fell further than 3.5 out is huge.

Last year the Nats were in a similar situation at the end of May - 4.5 out rather than 3.5, but rather than climb back up they dropped back and hit that 8 game deficit on June 5th. They would claw their way back to 4 games over and 4 games out over the next month but a 6 game losing streak after the All-Star break would end the season. They would follow that with a 11-7 run and would LOSE 5 games in the standings.

This should serve as two points going forward.  One - that plunge in July this took place with the full team in place. These things can happen even with everyone here so it's important to maintain strong play all year long. The Nats spent the first two months screwing around, half dealing with injuries. It hasn't cost them, but it could. Two - they have a tough stretch coming up after the Padres series but if they can make it out of that within 3-4 games out, they should be in good enough position for the rest of the year. We (or I really - I can't speak for you) didn't think they'd be here if they didn't take charge during their weak stretch, but sometimes things work out for you.  Didn't in 2013, but looking like it might in 2014.


Chaz R said...

It's early, but none the less, an important road trip to test a mostly healthy Nats team against some very good pitching, as well as face the Nats nemesis St. Louis Cardinals. 5-5 is acceptable, 6-4 would be awesome and definitely do-able.

Donald said...

The Braves and Marlins have a much easier stretch over the next 10 games but maybe we'll get lucky. The Cubs just swept the Mets and the Diamondbacks just swept the Rockies, so those teams might help us out a bit more than expected, given they are both in last place in their divisions.

Also on a positive note, I think we'll have Strasburg, Fister, Roark and Gio pitching in SF and Znn, Strasburg and Fister for StL. It also looks like Znn, Strasburg, Fister and Roark are lined up for Atlanta.

Still, I'm very nervous about the next two weeks. The Nats should be happy to go 5-5 on the west coast but that could put them 2-3 games back of both Atlanta and Miami. We then play 4 against the Braves. If they sweep or win 3-4 we could be right back in that deep hole. On the flip side, I just don't see much chance that we emerge from that stretch in first. Sure would change the whole feel of the season if they could go 6-4 or 7-3 out west, sweep the 2 against the Astros and then win the series against Atlanta.

What are your predictions?

Anonymous said...

Have you watched the Nats? it was obvious they were missing the middle of their order. They would lose every game by a run or in extra innings and couldnt hit with risp. Its not complicated.

Bjd1207 said...

@Anon - Not sure who you're asking but yes most of us on this board watch the Nats very regularly, and the last...dozen or so posts have been exactly about that: surviving with the heart of your lineup gone.

We just like to go a bit more in depth, thanks for the knowledge drop though. Here I was thinking it was complicated...

Lee said...

You should go OOB during that June series vs. the Braves.

Just kidding.


I like your heartless automaton style. You keep me up when I'm feeling blue and ground me after a series like this one against the Philthies.

Anonymous said...

Harper are you contractually obligated to never say anything positive about Span's offense?

Harper said...

Chaz R - that's what I'm thinking .500 should be the baseline (2-1, 2-2, 1-2)

Donald - YOu just never know, do you? But I'd expect to lose 1-2 games during this stretch. One of those teams should go 8-2 or 7-3.

I like 6-4 for the streaking Nats losing a game to whoever goes 7-3 and catching the other team. I'll think about the rest after that.

Anon - Certainly but there was a thought they could hold their own without LaRoche and Zimm. Maybe with say Werth and Desmond shouldering the load. but Ian has been slow to warm up, Werth is only doing fair, Ramos took time to recover (unlike Zimm or LaRoche) and Rendon took at real dip. 6-12 isn't what this team should do even without the heart of the lineup.

BJD - I kind of get what this type of fan is getting at - the "of course the Nats would struggle with those guys out" but even with those 3 out you can't be as bad as they were. 6-12 is like a 53 win team. That's underperforming.

Lee - your human thoughts are appreciated. Beep. Boop.

Anon - I wish! What would that pay?

He's been extremely hot. Funny thing is Rendon and LaRoche? Even hotter.

Look even hitting like an All-Star for two weeks Span has brought up his yearly stats all the way to... average. He's around that so the build up was to be expected. If he can be hot for another two weeks... then I'll give it some play. I promise that.

Eric said...

Harper, I have a topic a request, if you find it interesting and if data are available.

Has defensive positioning helped us or hurt us overall, and to what extent? I have a sense that it's been a somewhat persistent problem, but that might just be because I only notice it when it fails.

Kenny B. said...

Well I would say the weekend went pretty well. The sweep of the Padres and sole first place would be amazing, but honestly, I didn't expect to tie the race so quickly. And it's great to see the pitching staff strutting again.

Giants series should be an interesting one. I don't know why, but I feel like the Nats are well-matched for that team. Still, SF is having an excellent year, and if you offered me a guaranteed split right now, I'd take it.

John C. said...

A very good weekend overall; 2 of 3 and a share of first place to cap a run of 7 Curly W's in 9 games. I expect comments to drop off here because: (a) success is less interesting/fun than second guessing failure; and (b) no one wants to jinx the mojo. I respect that.

It was nice of Kimbrel to blow a save at the same moment that Soriano did - it prevented the pitchfork-and-torches crowd from really getting started. I'm no Soriano fan, but I don't get the intense dislike he generates. Sure, he's paid too much. But he'll be gone after this season so he isn't hamstringing their payroll long term, and in the meantime he's been remarkably effective.

After June 8 games last year the Nats were 29-31 and 8 games out. Hm ... maybe this isn't 2013 all over again. Although I wouldn't be surprised if the Nats slipped back a couple of games on this road trip. There's still a long, long way to go.

Anonymous said...

Plus the Braves have a powder puff schedule until the All-Star Break. Since their ridiculous start at 17-7, the Braves are 15-22. But...we HAVE to beat them head-to-head.

This is going to be tough series, split and I'll be happy.