Nationals Baseball: Preparing to fight a different beast

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Preparing to fight a different beast

  • The Nats are better than the Braves (or anyone else in the NL East) 
  • The Nats have an easier schedule than the Braves 
  • The Nats have a 5 games lead on the Braves with 42-44 games to go. 
The Nats are making the playoffs
  • The Nats playoff odds are 97.8% here, and 95.1% here, better than everyone but the A's and Dodgers (and maybe Angels)
  • Their division winning odds are 95.2% and 92.1%, better than everyone. 
Again, see the first three sentences of this post. That's why the Nats are making the playoffs.They are near locks for their division.

So what are we doing? Watching to see if the Nats somehow blow it? Hit those 1 in 25 or so odds that a team set up in this situation somehow crashes and burns so completely that their very flawed competitor can catch up and pass? I suppose that you can think of the next few weeks that way, if you like. Not me. I'm watching to see how the Nats handle games, how they prepare themselves for the playoffs.

Can Williams use Drew Storen in a big spot before the 7th? (Yet to happen this year) Or Clippard in a big spot before the 8th? (Never has happened - used once in 7th when Nats were down 11) Can he quickly move on from a Soriano who doesn't have it?

Can he understand that bunting is generally a trade off that slightly increases your chances to score a single run at the cost of decreasing your chances to score multiple ones, thus needs to be used judiciously? Who's the first man off the bench as a PH? Who's the first man in line for an emergency injury start?

How healthy are the Nats? Is Werth ok? Will Zimm be back? Can Stras/Gio settle themselves? 

That's what I'm watching these games for, with only a half-glance at the standings.  Cocky? Not really. See above.

The first point won't change unless the Nats injuries become permanent (and maybe they get one more). The Braves had too many season long injuries and too many bats fail to be considered on equal ground for 2014.

The second point will briefly favor the Braves once we get to the end of August but then bounce back the Nats way for most of September.  The Nats should be able to use that for a game or two in their favor.

As long as the third point remains mostly true there is no reason to worry. 4 games w/ 38 to go. 6 with 35. Something like that. When you get past 6 the situation becomes dire for the Braves. Not only would they have to sweep the Nats in the mutual games versus eachother, but they would have to play better in the rest of their games as well. That's a tall order for a team struggling to maintain .500 for much of ths season. And for each game they don't take versus the Nats the mission gets that much impossbler.

I won't go as far as to say the division race is over... not yet. With 6 head to head left, and that little SEA/LAD schedule bump for the Nats still to overcome you can't do that unless things get out of hand. I'd say Sept 3rd is the first date I'm likely to call the race. Let's see where we are then. 

30 comments:

JWLumley said...

Yup, even Williams couldn't manage the Nats out of this. I'm ready to call it now barring a major injury.

I'm watching to see what Harper will do. I really believe his struggles over the last calendar year or so have been main injury related, so much so, that I even got into a bit of a Twitter argument with Jonah Keri, who I love and really respect his work. It seems to me that Harper's knee wasn't fully healed last year causing him to have to cheat on inside fastballs. So far this year, he's struggled through the first 100 or so PA's since coming back, but that seems to be the norm for players returning from hand injuries. The other thing is that the power doesn't seem to be fully back and because Harper is a power hitter, zapped power, ie flyballs to the warning track, can really skew his value. Finally, there's the mental side, Harper seems to have lost a lot of his swagger and exuberance that was so evident when he came up in 2012. We usually brush aside the mental aspect of pressure with big leaguers because to reach the big league's players have to undergo so much of it that if they don't learn to deal with it, they'll never make it. Given Harper's talent and fast track to the majors, it's certainly plausible that he's going through some of this learning process. Toss in, what I think was a horrible managerial choice for his development in the Wannabe Fake Tough Marine, and I wouldn't dismiss the high likelihood that it's having some type of negative impact on his performance.

Also, for those who might argue that the injury issues are likely to continue. Both of Harper's injuries were somewhat freakish, IMO. The first, I believe, was largely due to inexperience, both in the outfield and in playing RF. The other could've happened to any player who slides headfirst. Neither of the issues was soft-tissue related, which people like Stefania Bell claim is the likely indicator that someone will have recurring injury issues.

Bryan said...

5 with 50 left would mean ATL would have to win one more game than the Nats over every 10 game stretch just to tie. Not impossible, but as you say, unlikely.

5 with 44 left is only a bit harder, but at this point, ATL is in the same place the Nats were last year: they aren't that far back but they are simply running out of games. You almost can imagine that they need to sweep the Nats to overtake them. Making up 1.25 games/10 4x while dealing with a harder schedule and less talented roster seems nearly impossible.

OTOH, I'm worried Soriano will be the unnecassary death of us in the playoffs.

Nattydread said...

Watching to see Strasburg and Harper rise above the demons holding them back. Waiting for the return of Zimmerman.

Hoping that the team begins to perform a bit better without the brain freezes and Charlie Brown errors. And Soriano? Praying he can finish off his last season in DC on a high note.

Zimmerman11 said...

I think (hope) that we're actually using and will be using Storen and Clippard in more highleverage situations... coming in with men on base in late and close situations... and leaaving the "easy" 2-3 run leads in the 9th for Soriano... this is fine by me! :) :) :)

Donald said...

When the Braves started the season going 17-7, it was primarily beating up on the Phillies, Mets and Nats. When they rattled off a 9 game win streak, the first 7 were against the Phillies and Mets. In September, the Braves play the Phillies, Mets and Nats 12 times, plus 3 against Texas. So if I were a Braves fan, I'd be hoping to stay close through the rest of this month and hope to catch fire to end the season. But for that to work, they still need to count on the Nats playing average ball or worse. One decent hot streak by the Nats and they put this thing away.

Donald said...

One other thing to watch for the remainder of the season -- the NL Central race. I think it's a pretty good bet that the Dodgers end with the best record and play the wildcard, while the Nats get the central winner. This year, we are 4-2 against the Brewers, 2-5 against the Cards and 1-3 against the Pirates with 3 more to play.

Harper -- who would you want to see the Nats face?

Harper said...

Donald - from the Nats perspective you want PITT. Mediocre starting pitching shouldn't dominate Nats top to bottom lineup of good but not great guys. Potentially gimpy Cutch seals it. Milwuakee wouldn't be terrible either. Good but not great SP, righty heavy line-up plays into Nats RHP strength.

You don't want St. Louis. Wainwright/ Lynn / healthy Wacha? match up well and could shut Nats down. Lineup has a number of decent LHB.

(personally though - don't want them playing PITT because I like PITT and they'd be my "not Nats" NL team)

Zimmerman11 said...

harper... how many times can you hedge your bets?? yanks fan... nats are nl team... pirate are non-nats nl team? just root for EVERYBODY... problem solved!!!

Harper said...

z11 - not really hedging. I always order the teams in the playoffs in my head. Some teams I'll root for if my team gets knocked off just to have a rooting interest. It's never a "ok my team is out - this is almost as good" situation. Like I'll jump up and down and celebrate if the Pirates win. It's a "ok my team is out - now is there any team I don't hate still left?" I'll root for them and give a nice "good for them" if they pull it off. I see no harm in that. Never want to be a MY TEAM LOST BASEBALL IS OVER! SEE YOU IN 2015 STOMP STOMP STOMP kind of guy.

(now that kind of guy is perfectly acceptable when only hateable teams are left - e.g. last year's World Series)

Kenny B. said...

I'll honestly take anyone but St. Louis or Atlanta. Those teams just always seem to beat the Nats. Nats seem to do better than records would predict against LA and Milwaukee.

And isn't Milwaukee basically still riding along on an incredible early season performance, sort of like the Braves have done, but with a bigger jump? Haven't run the numbers, but I think Milwaukee has been mostly just okay since the early months, and benefits from a weaker than expected St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Those early wins still count, of course, but I'd rather play a team that's been coasting for four months than one who caught fire to end the season, which is apparently the St. Louis way.

JWLumley said...

Whatever Harper, if the Nats lose and they're are no interesting/likeable players left I'm done with baseball until next year, or rather after the season when the Hot Stove starts. /stomp, stomp, stomp

Donald said...

@Kenny B -- At this point, I don't think the Braves make the playoffs at all, so we probably won't face them. The Pirates have a pretty tough schedule remaining. I don't know how long they will be without McCoutchen but I'm guessing it comes down to the Giants and either the Cards or Brewers, depending on who doesn't take the division.

Anonymous said...

At this point, its looking more like Milwauki and we are pretty decent 4-2 against them. Took series at home and away. I like our chances against them. Their pitching is so-so.

Donald said...

I agree. Best case scenario for the Nats would be to face the Brewers while the Giants beat the Dodgers. Worst case would probably be to face the Cards while the Dodgers beat whoever they have to play.

Anonymous said...

For Nats, Dodgers in NL and Baltimore in WS are biggest hurdles. If we play any other team, I like our chances. The biggest question mark is the DH if RZ is not available. We could play Souza/Taylor and have JW DH.

Bjd1207 said...

The O's aren't getting to the WS, book it

Zimmerman11 said...

I want the Nats to beat the Cards in the postseason, but I'd get over it if they didn't and won a WS...

I'll definitely be pulling for the A's in the AL...


Donald said...

In other news, the Dodgers just beat the Braves again. BJ Upton struck out with runners on 2nd and 3rd to end the game. What's a bit odd to me is that BJ was brought in the game to pinch run for Justin Upton who was on 3rd base with 1 out in the 8th. Is Justin hurt or was Freddi thinking BJ had a better chance of tagging up? Justin doesn't run that poorly. It must SUCK to be a Braves fan and see BJ come to the plate in a crucial situation.

Anonymous said...

@Donald: The feed on the ESPN gamecast said Justin left with an injury (speculated as hamstring or lower back).

Anonymous said...

I definitely align with the "Matt Williams is the Nats biggest weakness" camp, but I found this to be incredibly interesting:

http://grantland.com/the-triangle/2014-mlb-managerial-meddling-index/

The author admits the metric isn't perfect, but it shows Matt Williams is by far the least active manager in the majors in terms of using in-game tactics. I would have thought MW was toward the top in over-managing.

John C. said...

In "preparing to fight a different beast" this post starts the expected pivot of the pessimists. From doom and gloom about the regular season (I saw more than one poster indicate that the Nats' season was essentially over in May) to the "well, they're not going to do well in the playoffs."

Here's hoping that the perpetually pessimistic prognosticators are again premature!

Froggy said...

NOW you are starting to believe me about 'All drama all the time' Sorryano aren't you! I've been saying this since last year, just because he pitches in the 9th doesn't make him a closer. C L O S I N G makes you a closer.

And if he pulls his shirt out one more time...

Kenny B. said...

No matter who the Nats play in the post season, the most important thing is POST SEASON. The only way you can be sure you won't win it all is if you're not there playing. GO NATS!

John C. said...

Bad news, Froggy, another untuck tonight in a 1-2-3 9th.

You probably prefer a guy like Kimbrel. Who has blown exactly the same number of saves, gives up almost exactly the same number of baserunners, has virtually the same ERA (1.88 to 1.91 for Soriano) and last night in a one run game gave up a walk, hit and walk before getting out of the 9th.

I know Soriano isn't Kimbrel, but he IS having a fine season. All closers have bad games.

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Kenny B. said...

Yeah, count me as among those who hated Soriano last year, but has had to accept him this year because of performance. I do feel like he has a lot of 9th inning adventures, but numbers don't really back up my anecdotal perception, and I think a lot of my anecdotal perception has bled over from last year. I would rather see a cheaper, home grown guy in that role like Clippard or Storen, but Rizzo wanted a big name.

Now I still think saves are stupid and the whole idea of a closer is holding back the entire sport of baseball, but that's not a Soriano-specific problem other than he seems to have a lot invested in his role as a "closer." But so do most of them.

Fact is, Soriano has been solid this year, and I can't argue with results. Besides, haven't you heard the new guy we hate this year is Matt Williams?

Josh said...

Clip and Storen used to close. Storen before he got hurt and Clip after he got hurt and some brief experimenting with H-Rod. Storen never regained dominance when he came back and clip started giving up lots of homers. Eventually this situation came to a head in GM 5 of the playoffs when Storen blew the game. Hence why we brought in Soriano last season. Since he's been on board though Clip and Drew seem much more dominant than before

Froggy said...

@Josh, yes...I remember...I was at the Storen meltdown game against the Cards. I have never been in a stadium of 43,000+ people and been able to hear the conversations in the visiting team dugout. That's how quiet the stadium got. Oh well...

...@Kenny B, and John C. my gripe with Sorryano is anecdotal. I just don't like his arrogance and sullen, 'it's all about how great I am' pulling of his shirt out. He just strikes me as a guy who could give a shit who he plays for as long as he gets paid. I know it's a business but at least pretend like you are a team player.

And yes, I'm in the MWH8rs club, got my secret decoder ring and everything.

John C. said...

I know that it's hopeless, but still - don't confuse mound demeanor with who the person actually is. If one cares to look at all there are signs that Soriano is not a horse's ass. His teammates have praised him, for example, and I also saw reports that he apologized to JZim for nearly tossing away a W [insert comment about it being a stupid stat] the other night. We think we know who these guys are, but we don't. For good and for ill.

It would not surprise me if Soriano's whole act on the mound was to get into the head of the opposing batter and under the skin of the opposing team. If that's what it takes to be as effective as he is with a 92mph fastball/slider combination, I say go ahead and untuck, Don Rafael. It's not what I would do, but as long as it works - that's the bottom line

GYoung said...

I'd say that I totally agree w/ your Matt Williams critiques, with the exception of one: the sacrifice bunts.

I'm with you that they're inefficient and often times a waste of an out. However, there really isn't any evidence that Matt Williams is particularly bad on this front. The Nats actually rank 10th in the NL in sacrifice hits (per baseball reference) and are middle of the pack in sac flies.

So yeah, Matt Williams doesn't utilize his bullpen well (though most managers don't, honestly), but I think the critiques of his usage of sacrifices are pretty misplaced.