Nationals Baseball: And now we enter en... not yet? Dammit. When are we going to get to endgame?

Friday, July 31, 2015

And now we enter en... not yet? Dammit. When are we going to get to endgame?

Despite the combination of God, the umps, and the Mets themselves conspiring to lose that game yesterday (I like to think the Padres were innocent bystanders and if they simply showed up something would have happened to give them that win) the Nats are still only 3 games up on the Mets heading into this weekend series. A sweep might put the Mets away for good but the more likely series win would only put the Nats 4 games up. I don't think anyone that's watched the Nats this year thinks they can't blow that lead.

Thanks to the Mets ineptitude all over the place the past few days Nats fans are feeling pretty good but let me bring some humility back. In all the fun of mocking the Mets, don't forget that the Nats are 100 games into the season and sit only 3 games ahead of what you consider an incredibly poorly run, snake-bit organization.The Nats just struggled to beat a dead Marlins team, scoring all of 1 run in the process. They bumbled through July at 12-12 giving them monthly records of 10-13, 18-9, 15-12, and either 13-12 or 12-13 depending. What looks like the outlier here? Yes they were moderately healthy during that 18-9 stretch but it's hard to unpack what was team health and what was Bryce Harper's adventures in putting up the greatest two weeks ever. 15-12 may be a better guess of the true Nats, or perhaps the 11-8 run with Rendon and Span playing, but these are low 90s win paces, not the paces of a dominating team. Play like that the rest of the year and you win the division, probably, but at 90 games.

That makes these games versus the Mets incredibly important. If the Nats, for whatever reason, don't have a 100 win pace run in them then they take a huge risk letting the Mets stay in it. The longer they do that, the more likely that another injury or a run of bad luck suddenly puts them staring at an 86 win season and staring up at the Mets with a handful of weeks left to play. You don't want to leave the playoffs up to the fickleness of timing,

These games, the head to head ones, they don't "count double" necessarily, but every Nats win here is a guaranteed Mets loss. Every Nats win is a guaranteed game gained in the standings (and vice versa). Win the series and the Mets have a bigger hill to climb, you have a cushion if a minor thing goes wrong. Lose the series and it's an easier road and the cushion does not exist.

I'm tired of watching this team stumble over itself. There are no more excuses. Get it done.

29 comments:

Clip&Store said...

#natspanic vs #lolmets sounds like a matchup made in heaven. Werth was ripping the ball in AAA at least of his rehab assignment so I'd give him some more time before I get worried.

BxJaycobb said...

In what context did the team stumble over itself when they weren't missing at least half the lineup? Sorry but there's no team in the major leagues that could lose its 1, 2, 4, and 5 hitters for the majority of the season and not easily exceed .500. Think the cards would be blowing away the central without peralta, carpenter, heyward, and Wong? How would the dodgers have done with bear season long injuries to Kendrick, grandal, Gonzalez and Pederson? I'm a fan Harper, but I think your frustration with the teams performance while Clint Robinson was batting cleanup is bizarre. I actually believe that the Nats staying afloat around 7-11 games over with that skeleton crew was impressive. I would be shocked if they do not now spend the last two months on a 95 win pace especially given their schedule.

BxJaycobb said...

And by the way, the lets look at the Dodgers. They're more talented than the Nats and are like 3 games better than us as we speak having enjoyed relatively decent health (injuries to puig and Ryu notwithstanding). if you're looking for an NL team that's "not winning division by enough" given the players they've had this year, I'd look there first.

G Cracka X said...

I've never understood the Mets mocking myself. Their top 3 pitchers are arguably better than the Nats top 3. They may yet pick up a bat. And despite yesterday's bizarreness, they generally play well at home. It seems like a possibility that the division might not be won by either team until the last series of the year (which is between the two teams). Nats just haven't shown enough consistency to say, 'Yes, they'll run away with the division' like they did last year. Yes, of course, they've been banged up, but it's hard to say how good the regulars will play now that they're healthy enough to play

Harper said...

C&S - Nah- I'm worried. AAA to Majors is biggest jump and the guy is 36.

Bx - we're just not going to agree on this. It is impressive that they've managed a 87 win pace so far, but it's impressive for Bryce and Max. With them just putting up ordinary "very very good" seasons the team is probably no better than .500. And do I think the Nats missing half their line-up should be better than .500. Yes, yes I do. We've seen underperformances from almost every other player they were to rely on this year. That guys they didn't count on to perform have isn't impressive in my mind, it's lucky. It's also a feeling thing watching them. The baseball hasn't been very good, the managerial decisions have felt more wrong that right. I feel there were wins left on the table to this point. That's stumbling to me.

Harper said...

GCX - I get the desire, it's fun! Rivals stink! I worry though that the Nats fans aren't worried about their own team enough. I feel there's a "We're better than that loser turtle, let's go to sleep on the side of the road" thing happening. That's not that bad - the hare had plenty of time to wake up and win that race - hell he almost won it sleeping for a good portion of it - but it's better not to sleep, right? I understand the "how would we get better?" talk, but given where the Nats are right now getting better should be discussed more. I think Nats fans are waving hands saying "let's just see how these guys come back" and if they don't it'll be too late to do anything.

Robot said...

Yeah, I've got to agree with BxJaycobb on this one. The Nats have been playing with what is, essentially, a AAAA team + BRYCE for the bulk of the season. Three to five starters have been on the DL at any given point, plus Desi (until last week) has been playing like this is his first time on a baseball field.

The fact that the Nats have not only stayed above 0.500, but are actually leading the division is incredible (attributable to dominant starting pitching, BRYCE, a surprisingly productive Yuni--at the plate, at least--and a terrible division, but still).

Donald said...

The issue with the Nats, more than injuries, is their streakiness. They all get hot at once and then they all slump (except for Bryce). I think they still have one or two good runs in them, when they score 8 runs a game for a week and go 10-2 or something. The Mets, outside of that incredible 11 game win streak, have been pretty blah. So if the Nats take the division with 90 wins, I'm fine with that. There's no way they catch the Cards for the top seed, regardless. And maybe it's better not to coast for the last month of the season. We've seen how that's worked out for them.

John C. said...

Another dyspeptic glass-half-empty blast from Harper, who has never forgiven the Nationals since he jinxed them by calling the NL East race in May. FWIW I also think that it's easy to underrate the Marlins because they now have Jose Fernandez and Dee Gordon back. Gordon has really surprised me; I thought the Dodgers were smart to sell high on him but he's been awesome when healthy. When the Marlins get Stanton back they're going to be a PITA. Interestingly, they will have a lot to say about the NL East race since they have 10 games left with the Nats, 9 with the Mets.

While there may be a few fans who are in the "LOLMets, Nats got this" camp, they seem to me to be far outnumbered by the "DOOOOOM!" fans. At least in volume. Fortunately, how fans feel about this doesn't matter AT ALL. It's how the team feels - and I see no reason at all to think that the Nationals are in the "we got this" camp beyond the normal self-confidence that comes with being a professional athlete. If the organization was in "we got this" mode they wouldn't have traded for Pivetta for Papelbon.

The Nationals so have a decent cushion - surprising, actually, given the injuries. They are not only 3 games up, they are four games up in the loss column and have two games in hand compared with the Mets. That's why they are still prohibitive favorites (76.8% to win the NL East according to BP, 89.5% according to Fangraphs). If the Mets sweep this weekend they will be in first place by percentage points, but if they "only" take 2 of 3 they will still be two games out, three in the loss column and will be playing most of their remaining games (32 of 57) on the road - and the Mets have been a terrible road team (17-32).

Relax, Harper. It's summer, and time for a pennant race. Have a cold beverage, and pray for Tanaka's, Pineda's and Sabathia's health down the stretch.

SM said...

@John C.

As usual, a welcome antibiotic for the fevered brains of those of us infected by the Nats.

A cautionary note regarding your advice to Harper: Too many cold beverages of a certain kind can actually cause dyspepsia. (And no, I'm not implying anything about Harper's drinking proclivities.)

Chaz R said...

I don't know Harper. I think you've got to count on some regression by some players every year. Not everyone is going to perform at career levels or over-perform. No doubt, the Nats have been lucky to a degree with Danny, Clint, Yuni, and MAT. Desi, Ramos, and the SP (except Max) has been disappointing (so far). But, you really can't discount the significant injuries. Oh sure, some of those guys would likely have regressed too, but some also would likely play well or REALLY well. There's no chance to see that because they were out and Nats were left with the 2015 Goon Squad. I'm very impressed with how they've done so far given the situation, and despite the horrid NL East. They've beaten some good teams outside the division too.

DezoPenguin said...

@JohnC:

Specifically, that prayer would be for Tanaka's UCL to hold together, Pineda to get back from the DL quick, and Sabathia to break something important so Girardi wouldn't have any excuses for not benching him and start Warren or someone else adequate in his place? ^_-

And yeah, seriously. Zim crashed because of health. Werth crashed because of health. Rendon's missed so much time he didn't even have time to crash. Span was as good as last year (itself defying the prediction gurus) but health stole huge amounts of time. Ramos and Desmond have been borderline awful, offsetting Espinosa and Escobar overperforming. Taylor's been superb on defense but nothing special with the bat. Robinson's been a pleasant surprise, but he hasn't been the second coming of Rizzo or Goldschmidt or anything like that. Moore, Lobaton, Uggla, and den Dekker have been exactly what they were advertised as being, which is "not much."

The starting rotation's been just as volatile. Strasburg was bad, then hurt, then good, then hurt. Fister was average, then hurt, then bad. Gio's been Gio. Znn's been definitely worse than last year. Roark's been considerably worse than last year when pressed into spot starts. Only Ross has exceeded expectations among the non-Max category of starters.

As for the bullpen, Storen has been awesome, Thornton has been good, Janssen was hurt then just OK, Stammen got hurt, Carpenter was good then got hurt, and while Riviero has exceeded expectations, Treinen, Barrett, and Roark have all underperformed.

Basically, one hitter (Bryce), one starter (Max), and one reliever (Drew) have been lights-out awesome, a handful of guys (Span, Yuney, Espi, Thornton, Ross, probably Znn and Gio) have been solidly above-average, and then it's been a freight train of the so-so, the absent, and the really, really bad.

Given the amount of trouble we've had--and how much of it has been caused by injury (Zim, Werth, Span, Rendon, Stras, Fister, Stammen, Janssen, Carpenter)--I'm *happy* to be three games up entering the last third of the season. I have to feel that we've actually done very well to get this far. Do I feel confident that we'll walk away from the rest of the division? No, because those injured guys may not come back and play well. But that is a far cry from saying "this team isn't good enough"--this team has been utterly maimed by injury luck and unforeseen crashes that at least balance out the handful of guys playing above expectations (heck, I wouldn't say Max actually *is* above expectations; you don't give a guy $30 million a year to be anything less than top-five in the league), and yet here they are, still in first place, with an improved bullpen and at least the possibility of getting some or all of the lineup back to what was expected.

Harper said...

I don't know. I think we all agree - it's great that this team is in 1st place right now. Kind of surprising, amazing. You'd be a fool not to take it too knowing what they've been through up to this point. But I still don't look at where the Nats are and think "Hey! They've played pretty well!" instead I think "Man BRYCE and MAX and Storen were awesome & they got some luck & play in a crappy division" They got hit hard with injuries (which we knew were possible and were not as well-planned for as you might like for a injury prone team), they had issues with the pen (again a complete possibility at year's start) and they had the usual ups (Robinson, Yuney, Escobar) and downs (Ian, Ramos, Fister). I feel like the team was spinning its wheels while they let a couple guys drag it up the hill. It worked well enough and now things may be able to get moving again, but it doesn't take away that spinning feeling. I want to see the team come together not some guys carry them.

But hell maybe you guys are right. I think a lot of my impressions are based on the idea that the window is indeed closing. I think the chances of division winning next year are alot slimmer and they drop rapidly (through no fault of Rizzo's - it's just baseball) after that. That puts this year into a different context, where that spinning feels like a unforgivable lack of urgency in the greater scheme of things. A "we'll get them next year" when next year has never seem so unsure to this guy plugging in the possibilities for 2016.

So maybe I'm being unfair to 2015 in itself.

Harper said...

Oh it's not like the Nats will have a poor chance at say... a 2018 NL East title when we get there, just that at this point in time you'd be foolish to give them more than say 25% chance. SO much time between

Kenny B. said...

Look like the Mets are picking up Cespedes (unless they cop out again at the last minute and leave more tears on the field). Would be interested in a hot take on how that impacts the end game as viewed from the present.

DezoPenguin said...

Do you think the Nats' chances of winning next year are slimmer because the Nats themselves are going to be weaker (Span/Ian/Znn/Fister free agency), the Mets are going to be better (Matz/Wheeler in the rotation instead of Colon/Niese), or both?

Because while the latter is certainly possible (barring injury concerns, questions about Wheeler's return, etc.), I'm not sure the Nats next year are particularly worse. Werth/Zim injury and decline concerns are there, but the first four months of this year were basically the worst-case scenario for both: absent much of the time, awful when present. Espinosa may well be an improvement on Desmond. Ross-Roark replacing Znn-Fister's actual 2015 performance (as opposed to their expected 2015 performance) isn't hopeless. Papelbon and Storen are both under team control, so the bullpen is already better on paper than 2015's (or it's roughly equal and Storen can be traded if he wants to go somewhere else to close). MAT's offense projects less than Span's, but his defense may well be better and he's less of an injury risk. So roughly, the 2016 Nats are pretty much the same as the actual 2015 Nats with the upside of being better just because we hit so many worst-case scenarios in 2015. The weaknesses are the same: obvious injury risks, shaky bench. And all that is before we make any offseason moves to change things.

Donald said...

Harper -- go back and re-read your March 12 post on 'The Don't Get Injured List'. Your top 5, in order were, Rendon, Desmond, Span, Harper and Werth. They were listed as being indispensable. 3 of the 5 ending up missing a significant amount of time and Desmond might as well have been hurt given how he's playing. If you were told then how much time those guys were going to actually miss, would you have predicted the Nats to be in first?

I understand where you are coming from though. The team hasn't played with a whole lot of passion, except for that one game in Atlanta. When they fall behind, it seems like they tend to lose. It feels like they aren't that concerned because they just assume they'll win enough or that they'll get better once the injured come back. Maybe I'm not being fair. They did come back against the Mets recently with Parnell pitching, but it seems rare. In 2012, there was that sense that no matter how far down they were, they still had a chance. I hope they get that back. Maybe when/if Span returns?

DezoPenguin said...

@KennyB:

"Mets trade for quality rental outfielder; team somewhat better in 2015, unaffected in 2016."

John C. said...

Donald, I completely disagree with the "when they fall behind, it seems like they tend to lose." Well, I disagree with the conclusion that they're coasting, anyway. When baseball teams fall behind, they tend to lose - so it's not particularly surprising that this happens to the Nats. The Nats have actually impressed me by battling back from deficits - and not just against Atlanta. They don't win all those games, but they win their share and maybe more. They're 5-1 in extra innings and 17-10 in one run games.

In my experience, fans generally interpret teams that are struggling to produce results as "not caring" or not playing with "fire" or "passion." IMHO 90+% of this is a combination of confirmation bias and hooshwah.

Where the Nats have really been hurt isn't so much laying down when behind, but has been those handful of occasions when their bullpen has given up late runs to turn a tight, stealable game into a blowout loss. Which could well be one of the reasons that Rizzo made a move to shore up the bullpen.

Harper said...

Cespedes, like the rest of the Mets pick-ups, have made them better. Clippard probably does as much for them as Papelbon does for the Nats (addressing impact not performance here). But Mets offense was terrible before.

Nats have games in hand and at least an equal team. So right now, like today at 5:14, I would say the Nats hold onto about a 3-5 game lead by year's end. Each H2H win, and injury recovery observations could change it in either direction.

As for 2016 - Marlins might surprise (that just sits there like always), Braves will probably scoot back over .500, Mets a touch better to start year. Nats a touch worse so instead of what was it? 10 games over Mets probably 15+ over others to start year? In 2016.. maybe 5-6 over Mets, 8-10 over Braves? I mean I still favor the Nats but what was like a deserved 85%+ or whatever to start year would be more like 50-60%. There's still the rest of this year and the offseason, though. but I have a hard time seeing the Nats being as overwhelming a favorite next year as they were going into 2015.

Harper said...

The key to understanding 2016 though is getting that the Nats overall talent level may be similar say 93 wins instead of 95 like this year (lets just say) but the variability widens, this year's injuries, performances, older players or 1st/2nd year players being relied upon is much bigger. This year you could have said like 90% chance Nats between 98-90 wins probably around 95. Next year it's more like 90% chance Nats around 96-85 wins centered around 93 or something like that.

Doug S said...

i would not underestimate this Mets team. They have a clear edge over the Nats in starting pitching. Tonight Harvey - 3.16 ERA; 2.01 FIP v. Gio - 3.83 ERA;3.17 FIP. Tomorrow and Sunday much the same. Bullpen ERA for the Mets is better than the Nats. And with the addition of Cespedes, Uribe, Johnson and the return of d'Arnaud the offensive gap will narrow a lot. Duda is on fire since the All Star break - 6 HR, .943 OPS. This will be a dogfight.

Bryceroni said...

I think the "at least we're in first place" talk has been a bit much. Pending players getting back to previous performance levels after injury, this has really been A wildcard type team that happens to play in the worst division in baseball.

Seemingly overnight (one season in baseball time) the nats went from a deep, balanced roster to a stars, scrubs, and question marks roster. You can win either way, but it's shocking how fast it flipped.

Donald said...

You might be right, John C. Maybe my impression is based on the number of times they fall behind and instead of coming back, the pen gives up a few more and the game gets out of reach.

Froggy said...

So, are you still "calling it" Harper? Where is that middle of May jinx...er, cocki...confidence in all things Nats we all come here to read about?

Anonymous said...

Rivero is decent, so it's hard to get mad that he was in and got unlucky, but why were their 8 innings of relief without either of the best relievers ever in? The the best pitchers are in only when there is a lead strategy is so dumb.

Mattyice said...

Didn't we just trade for papelbon so we could williamsproof the bullpen? Glad he left Ross in to face Duda a third time.

Mattyice said...

@anon another example of saving your best pitchers for a lead backfiring. Hopefully Williams gets it together sometime in the next decade.

Anonymous said...

Either MW is the worst bullpen manager, is terribly unlucky, or there is a manatee in a tank picking random colored balls with pitcher's names on them.

MW:Manatee it's 2-2 in the 8th, that's Drew Storen's shutdown inning right?

Manatee: Noses a pink ball out of his tank with #46 on it.