Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie : A now we enter... the place where we realized endgame happened at least 2 weeks ago

Monday, September 08, 2014

Monday Quickie : A now we enter... the place where we realized endgame happened at least 2 weeks ago

I've already called the NL East (for good reason) but some of you might be holding out. Six head to head games left! Six!

It's true - if the Braves sweep the Nats in those six games, it's a dogfight for winning the division. But that's what it would take. The Braves go 5-1? Not good enough. That would make up 4 games on the Nats leaving the Nats with a 3 game advantage in their other 15 games (and Braves 13).  If the Braves were super hot in those other games too and went 10-3, the Nats would have to go 8-7 to drop into a tie. (in other words you'd be having the Braves go 15-4 and the Nats 9-12 to end the year).  No, 5-1 won't do for the Braves. Leaves too much still in other teams hands. No it has to be 6-0.

And you know what? Why would you think the Braves could do that? Their offense is 14th in the NL. The Nats starting pitching staff has the 2nd best ERA in the majors and that's only because Kershaw is Kershaw. #2-#5 the Nats are the best. Someone will shut out the Braves or at least hold them to one run. You rarely win games where you score one-run. You can't win when you don't score yourself. Their bats don't have it in them to otuscore the Nats so in probably 4 or 5 of the games they need their starter to pitch a gem. That's too much to ask of a pitching staff that is good, maybe even very good, but not team-carrying great.

That's why it's over for the Braves. They can't sweep the Nats and if they can't sweep the Nats, they can't win the East.

What to watch tonight then? DET/KC in the only premier match-up for the next few days. MIA/MIL is the next best set, which quickly doesn't matter if Miami doesn't win tonight. CLE/LAA would be the third choice but really - why aren't you watching DET/KC?  It better be a blowout. (or maybe you are a NY Giants or Lions fan and are excited by how bad the other teams in your division look)

Yep Nats v Braves in September doesn't even make the watch list outside of fans of these teams.

(Sadly looking ahead the season ends with a whimper.  It's likely no two teams playing for something will be playing eachother in that last series. Fluke of the schedule. The 2nd to last series though holds a lot of potentially interesting games so I'll hold out hope for that)


Chris Needham said...

The Nats, over these last few weeks, have given us an amazing gift: the ability to watch high-quality, expect-to-win baseball with zero pressure. Wins and losses, as Harper's said, don't matter one lick. This team is going to win its division just by doing what it's done all year.

You should be enjoying the hell out of each and every one of these games and not rolling high and low like you would if this were a real race!

2006-2011 gave us lots of pressure-free baseball, but in the wrong direction. Low pressure and high quality is rare, rare, rare!

Nattydread said...

Still. It will be an interesting race between the Dodgers and the Nats for home field advantage.

Kenny B. said...

If I can't convince myself that the Nats games are must-watch, wire-to-wire affairs, I'll be forced to pay attention to the abomination in Landover. Don't make me do that, Harper. Don't make me remember why every sports fan in DC has a chip on their shoulder.

The way I'm staying focused: if the Nats fall below the Dodgers as the top team in the NL, it's looking more and more like they'll be facing the Cardinals in the division series. This is to be avoided at all costs.

And seriously, Cardinals? Seriously? how freaking lucky can one franchise be. They (and the Pirates) play mediocre baseball all year, and Milwaukee just completely implodes to end the season, leaving them as victors by default. And of course, they'll heat up right as the season ends, win playoff series, and end up in the World Series. Again. And we will be awash in stories about grit and determination and Best Fans in Baseball (TM).

Seriously, words cannot describe my hatred of that city and its baseball team.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I expect the Nats to go 2-4 or 3-3 in these games. The Nats are clearly the better team but the Braves are fighting for their pride and playoff lives right now. So, that being said, I think it would be best for the Nats if we get 2 or even 3 at home. They just lost 5 of 6 to the Phillies, demoted (temporarily?) our closer and have had some freak/boneheaded plays as of late.

I know that we don't know what goes on inside the players' heads, but if we lose this series or get swept, it just opens the door to so much negative chatter - "They can't beat good teams!" That's why I'd rather see them put away at least 2 games at home, even if we get swept again in ATL, by that point it won't matter if they take care of business this week.

Donald said...

I just hope the weather cooperates. The Nats couldn't have asked for better pitching match-ups in these next three days, so I hope there aren't any rain outs.

Other things to ponder -- the second wildcard looks like it will come down to the Pirates or Braves. The first WC will almost certainly go to the runner up out west. That's probably the Giants, but they have 6 head-to-head match-ups with the Dodgers so that could get interesting.

The Cards, as usual, seem to be peaking at the right time, too. So the play-off teams are going to be Nats, Cards, Dodgers, Giants and one of the Braves/Pirates.

Who would you rather face?

NatsVA said...

We've taken the real Chris Needham and replaced him with SBF. Let's see if anyone notices.

Mitch said...

Great post, Kenny B. I'm just taking solace in the fact that the Yankees *probably* won't make the post-season, thus sparing us the bombardment of the greatness of old #2 in his swan song.
Just imagine a Cardinals/Yankees World Series. Shudder.

cass said...

I'm going to have to disagree with Harper. I think the Nats need to win 2 out of 6 against the Braves to seal the deal. If they go 1-5, then their lead is down to 3 games and I think that's too close to call.

Of course, the Nats should easily win two games out of the next six against the Braves, so I do think we have the division in hand. But it's worth keeping an eye on.

Also, I am pleased with our new closer and hope he retains the role. I am much more confident with Storen for the playoffs than Soriano.

WiredHK said...

Kenny B hit the nail on the head. Maybe it isn't about the Braves catching the Nats, but it isn't too early to spec out what is our best DS match-up. I strongly believe our best bet is to let the Dodgers and Cards beat each other up while we take on the WC winner without their #1 for game 1. For that reason, all 6 of the Braves games matter.

Plus, I'd really like to be the team that causes their season to end without a WC birth. That's in our hands and would feel very, very good to help push along...

Jay said...

Did anyone really think the Brewers were for real? I agree the cards are winning by default and bc they have grit. I'd much rather finish with the best record in NL. Home field would be nice. But it's not a necessity.

Harper said...

Needham - Rare? The '98 Yankees gave me 81 such games! Now what's rare is low-quality, high pressure, which is what they Yanks are doing now. hard to get into playoff position playing like crap but they managed!

NattyDread - yeah but I tend to wait until the last couple weeks to worry about that, I can't really find interest in that for long period of time.

Kenny B - Lucky? Like being in a 2 team division and having the second team have it's rotation decimated before the season began... ? Just saying every winning team has a combo of luck and skill.

Anon - a sweep would be the worst. Losing 2? Eh Nats would still be up 6 with <20 games to go. Hard to feel too bad about that.

Donald - Sadly the Pirates (who as I've noted would be the next team I'd root for if the Nats flopped). Atlanta and Pirates both don't scare me in a short series (Kershaw/Greinke, Bumgarner, Wainwright...getting nervous just thinking about it) but ATL knows WSH better. Becomes about other things outside of talent.

NatsVA - I didn't tell anyone but I found out years ago they are one and the same. Turns out a minor league baseball player had a massive half-body injury due to acid and that split his personality.


cass - well their lead MIGHT be down to 3, presuming that the Nats don't gain a game on the Braves between series...

JWLumley said...

Here's what to watch for: Will Matt Williams continue the trend over the last month of mostly making poor decisions with little impact or will he continue to make head scratching WTF decisions like sitting Harper yesterday to play Hairston. I know, I know Hairston "OWNS" Hammels and if the Nats played in a smaller park he would have had 2 dingers yesterday, but they don't and he didn't. What's worse is that Span has been pretty bad against lefties, so even if you play Hairston it should probably be at Span's expense not Harper's. Of course, LaRoche had been terrible against lefties entering yesterday's game and look what happened. To me, this serves as a reminder that talent should always outweigh SSS splits. Sure, Hairston could own Hamels, but he also could have caught him on the right days. Also, days off haven't served Harper well, anecdotaly speaking, it seems like he's had some hot streaks that were thwarted by days off, hopefully Williams hasn't done that again.

Kenny B. said...

Yes, the Nats have been lucky this season, but the Cardinals seemingly get lucky in the same way every. single. year. I guess I just didn't think it would happen this many times in a row. What other team can claim the string of well-timed hot streaks and meteoric late-season collapses of rival teams that the Cardinals can over the last few years?

Although note that the weak Braves (and lately the Phillies!) have actually been a thorn in the Nats' side, while the Nats have had a lot of success against the non-Cardinals teams in other divisions. And by current record the Nats would be in first place in any NL division (and the AL Central, FWIW). So I don't see division placement as a season-making boon this year. It has made this September coast possible, but I think the Nats would be on top either way, or at least in the fight without relying on a complete Atlanta meltdown (the way St. Louis did in 2011).

It would be a tougher fight against a real ATL rotation, but I don't know how much worse the Nats could possibly be against the Braves. And the Braves did get a couple months of Cy Young pitching from Aaron Harang. That's pretty lucky for them.

Kenny B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
blovy8 said...

I think the Mets games offset the Braves game in terms of 2014 outcomes, so things should stay about as they are. Staying healthy is going to be more important than winning. So many times when a guy has slumped, it's been about a nagging injury as much as any other factor. You can't have Harper and Span running into each other again and not expect a concussion.

I'm really hoping this lack of bullpen roles can continue into October. Imagine being able to just match up with relievers depending on the opposing lineup instead of who's getting paid the most.

WiredHK said...

Blovy8 - very spot on. The common discussion thread between me and my fellow Nats-loving buddies the night of the final Soriano meltdown was purely, "Lose the battle tonight, win the war for the season." In many ways, we may look back and be thankful for what went down Friday night.

Of course, that's if Williams doesn't botch this bullpen late-game decision-making gift he has been handed (nod to you, Lumley).

Kenny B. said...

Using match ups, analysts, and generalized informed decision-making to choose pitchers instead of rigid, pre-ordained roles? You can't win games like that. Statistics can't tell you about a guy's gutsiness and mental toughness, which are totally different things that you can apparently only learn from reading a player's contract.

JWLumley said...

Yeah, it's really a gift Williams has been handed, almost as good as not having to hit your best hitter (Rendon) 3rd because he's a youngster. What will he do with it remains the question. Despite F.P.'s proclamations to the contrary, Bryce Harper is very good and seems to be finally recovering from the hand injury, although I don't think he'll be 100% until next year. If that's true then there is a never a good reason to sit him healthy, never. Doesn't matter who's pitching or what one of your bench guys has done against the opposing pitcher. Just silly.

Also, in case you missed it on Friday, it's worth repeating: I put a Soriano fathead on my door and now it won't close.

Also, Given 15 minutes, Soriano still couldn't save 15% on his car insurance.

blovy8 said...

The only thing clean about a Soriano appearance now is his attire.

blovy8 said...

Also, are we really sure Soriano doesn't consider closer an adjective instead of a noun?

John C. said...

I am impressed by the depth of knowledge of the internal Nats' medical reports (specifically, Bryce's thumb) that JWL and others here have obtained. I wish I had that kind of insider access!

FWIW (and yes, I know, we're all smarter than Matt Williams or whoever else is managing the Nats these days - stipulated):
(1) MW has sat Span against a LHP to get Hairston into a lineup this season, playing Bryce in CF. He hasn't done it much, because
(2) Span has actually been pretty effective against RH and LH pitchers (his OBP is only 20 points different). This is pretty much in line with his career numbers, where he has very little L/R split.
(3) It's a little self-contradictory to roast a manager for not playing Harper now that he's recovered while also conceding that Harper's not 100%. I have no problem at all with sitting Harper if his thumb is bothering him at all. It's much more important that he stay healthy for the next two weeks and into October than it is for him to play one game against Philly.
(4) Saying that Williams got lucky for playing LaRoche against Hamels because "look what happened" is fairly silly because ALR owns Hamels. And it's not a 3 for 6 kind of deal, either; LaRoche has more HRs against Hamels than against any other major league pitcher. For his career before Sunday LaRoche had an .899 OPS against Hamels with 4 HRs and a double in 39 at bats. It's weird, but it's true - for some reason ALR just owns Hamels. Heck, ALR just missed a third HR in his only other at bat against Hamels.

Zimmerman11 said...

I'd rather have Soriano in the 9th with no one out but nobody on where he can do less damage than in jams in the earlier innings. Assuming, of course Soriano makes the post season roster, then I'd prefer him closing. Our best relievers should pitch in the most difficult situations. We had that, (a happy little accident, but no less true) and now we don't. Soriano definitely gave me heartburn, and I'd rather not watch him pitch at all, but if he is on the roster I'd prefer he close... and not be in there in the middle innings in high leverage situations and pouting about how he SHOULD be closing and just being a distraction.

Froggy said...

I've seen enough Sorryano thank you. Put it this way, what would you do if he wasn't the highest paid pitcher (reliever) on the staff? How much madness would you need to see before being convinced? Anyone else would be sent down to 'work' on their stuff.

And even more importantly, we don't have to watch that disrespectful 'last out shirts out' BS anymore.

Adios muchacho!

Zimmerman11 said...

Curly W in the books. No sweep. Nats should win the NL EAST.

McConaughy has been up there in my book with the turn on True Detective...

Clooney's stock sliding as...Wait... were we kidding about the super hunks???

Max David said...

Going 8 up is nice. Now if we do end up losing the last 5 games (hopefully not) that still leaves us 3 up with no head to head meetings and 7 games vs. the Mets (4 @ Citi Field!) who have been our perennial punching bag the last 3 years, and even friendlier to us at Citi field where we'll have the extra game.
I haven't quite put the lock down on the division yet. Nats get the win tomorrow I'll down a celebratory beer or 2 and complete the sweep on Wednesday I'll look at playoff tickets.

Since the Braves haven virtually been extinguished from the division race I'm going to start concentrating more on who'd I want them to play in the NLDS but lots of games left before anything's set in stone.

In my perfect world you'd have Brewers as the Central winner, the Giants as the West winner and the Dodgers/Pirates in the wildcard game. In that case you have both the Cardinals & Braves both miss who I want NOTHING to do with and you'd have good matchups no matter what place we finished in the NL. Nats were 4-2 vs. the Brewers in the regular season playing 3 games without Harper. Then if they finish first and get the Wildcard you get either the Dodger who will only have Kershaw for 1 start (since he got used in the WC game) so you have an extra start against a Dodgers secondary pitcher. Don't get me wrong Grienke & Ryu are no slouches but at least you can score runs off them. Then the Pirates they finished the season 4-3 against, but the 3 losses were in May when half the starting lineup was out injured (Ramos, LaRoche, Harper & Zim).

We'll cross the playoff bridge when we get there, but for now I just want to enjoy the division title that is hopefully less than 10 days away from becoming official.

Donald said...

I'm not a huge fan of Soriano's but I don't understand the intensity of people's dislike. Before the break, Soriano was as good a closer as anyone in the game. He's definitely having issues right now that need to be worked out, but if he gets back to early season form, you couldn't ask for any more.

Still, I'd rather see a more imposing guy like Kimbrel who can just overwhelm guys. There are times where he's pitching you can tell that the batters don't stand any chance at all. I've never felt that way about Soriano. He's always had to rely too much on finesse, which creates tense situations.

I like Storen and I'm really rooting for him. If he can gain confidence and control his adrenaline, he would be a much better option than Soriano. I just worry about his nerves.

JWLumley said...

@John C Look, Harper, who was on fire took the collar after being sat for a game. It's like I have access to his medical records or something. Either that or I know the approximate window of coming back from a hand injury. Either way, I'm not going to argue with you anymore, I concede, Matt Williams is awesome, RBI's are the only real stat and pitcher wins MEAN something.

@Zimmerman11 Totally agree. I'd much rather have Soriano in the 9th when he's likely to be facing the bottom of the lineup and can start the inning with no one on base. This means that you can bring Storen and Clippard into the most important situations with men on and play matchups. If closers were really important, than I'd be in total favor of Storen as closer, but they're not. Firemen are much more important than closers and right now Storen is their best firemen.

ocw5000 said...

I want the Cards in the NLDS and I want Storen closing. Exorcise the demons!

Kenny B. said...

You might want someone with fireman capability in the 9th inning in a one-run game, depending on who's batting. There's no fire to put out, but he may be effective at fire prevention and can lock down a close game. That's what "closers" are supposed to do.

But I don't want Soriano as the "closer," because I don't want a designated "closer" at all. I want the manager to manage, and use the bullpen in the way that is most likely to win the game. If Clip is pitching to the middle of the order in the 8th, and he's killing it, let him pitch to the bottom of the order in the 9th, unless his spot in the lineup comes up and you need a batter there, or some other matchup-based reason for switching. We don't need to save Storen for the 9th if he's needed in the 7th, but if he's killing it in the 7th, let him have a hand at the 8th unless there's a good reason not to.

The Nats have the perfect opportunity to break out of the stupid MLB reliever role concepts and bring attention to the value of analytical thinking in relief pitching. I thought, based on MW's comments, that they would do that, but it looks like they're just going to assign the "closer" role to Storen.

@Donald: I can't speak for everyone, but my intense dislike for Soriano stems from his high cost, surly demeanor, and generally bad 2013. And there was a whole thing where he seemed to blame Harper for a loss because he didn't get to a fly ball that Soriano gave up. That irked many.

Even when he was "good" in 2013 and saved games, he seemed bad, always keeping just exactly close enough to keep fans on edge. In 2014, he was good in the first half, but still stranded a lot of runners and had high BABIP, indicating a fall was coming. So while my disdain was heavily mitigated in the first half of 2014, I still never feel very good when he's on the mound. I suppose he made a bad first impression that has stuck. Also, the untuck thing grates for some reason. Whether he means it or not, it seems to make the game about him, saying "look at me, I won the game." And again, it arrived in DC in a year when the Nats, and Soriano in particular, were viewed as underperforming.

Storen, meanwhile, is homegrown in the Nats system, has a really happy-go-lucky demeanor, and successfully closed for the Nats in their best year ever (2012, except that one performance, which we shall discuss no further other than to say Nats fans seem eager to offer an opportunity for Storen's redemption).

Anonymous said...

@ocw5000 - agree 100%. Was at game 5 in 2012 for the epic collapse, and i wanna see the Nats, and especially Storen, put the naysayers in their place. Would especially love if itcould be done by striking out Pete Kozma.

Anyone know when post season tickets are supposed to go on sale? I suppose actually clinching is a prerequisite?

John C. said...

JWL, I have no idea to whom you are conceding those points concerning pitcher wins, RBIs and Matt Williams, but I would certainly urge you to reconsider. RBIs and pitcher wins are more about the context than the player, and the jury is still out on Matt Williams.

Froggy said...

Kenny B - very well expressed summation of Soriano. I have zero sympathy or worry naught if my disdain hurt his millionaire feelings. As much as MLB is a performance profession it is still a game, with etiquette, and unwritten rules that should be respected. Soriano's antics strikes me as egotistical, and inappropriate and are exactly the example I use with kids on how NOT to act as a player.

I'm rooting for Storen, Clipp, et al to carry the mail, and don't care who we play, including the Cards and the Barves, we will own them.