Nationals Baseball: I said stay calm

Friday, April 29, 2016

I said stay calm

It's a good rule of thumb to say you want to win 2/3rds of your games versus the "bad teams" and 1/2 of your games versus the "good teams".* This amounts to winning every series against the dregs of the league (with an occasional sweep thrown in there to compensate for the occasional lost series) and winning every series at home and grabbing a game on the road versus quality opponents.  If your schedule breaks down evenly between the bad and good this is a 94/95 win pace. That's usually good enough to challenge for a division title, and almost certainly good enough to make the playoffs.

The Nats didn't get to 15-6 but they are 14-7 against the "bad teams" and that's 2/3rds. They remain on target. It's a little disappointing given that at various times they were 9-1, 11-3, and 14-4 but such is a baseball season. It ebbs and flows. It does not follow a strict pattern.

So do the Nats need to go .500 in this road trip? No, they need to go .500 in these games and say the DET series at home after it and the STL series at home in late May and the Cubs series at home in mid June combined. The better they do on this trip the easier that will be. A good goal would be a 4-6 record. That means they either won a series or they took a game from everyone and two from the Cubs.  3-7 would also be acceptable. Anything less would be trouble. Anything more than 4-6 would be a success.

3-7 is not a big hurdle, no. But let's reiterate - this is the hardest stretch the Nats will likely play this year. It is 3 quality teams, including 4 games against the best team in baseball right now, all away, with no days off leading up to it or during it. They may not have a stretch again where 3-7 is ok. In fact let me check... no probably not. There's a CLE/SFG/ARI road trip at the end of July where 3-6 might be a goal if those teams keep their heads above water. I suppose PHI/CIN/CHW might also fit that at the start of June but you'd have to assume the Phillies stay around .500 and the Reds stop crashing. And still 3-6 is better than 3-7 so they still aren't getting to that level. This is the lowest acceptable stand a good Nats team will have all year.

Just as important as winning 3 games though, will be scoring runs. The Nats haven't scored in 22 innings and have only scored 11 runs in their last 5 games, which includes an extra 7 innings so it's almost like 6. They have an OPS as a team of .553 over the past week, which means the team is hitting like 2015 Dan Uggla. They are still only 9th in R/G which doesn't seem that bad but they are a full half-run behind 8th place which is a HUGE gap. Better to say there is no difference right now between the Nats and middling offensive teams like the Reds, Brewers, Padres, and Marlins that make up #s 10 through 13.  The Nats have 5 starters with OPSs under .670 (if you prefer BAs under .235).

We keep grasping for someone to heat up. Maybe Zimm... no. Maybe Werth... no. Now it might be MAT (4-7 with 2 walks over the course of Sunday and Tuesday)... but probably not. The Nats had survived these guys not hitting earlier. What's killing the Nats now is Murphy has cooled off a bit. The pressure now is completely on Bryce and you can see him taking it in. A bit to anxious at the plate in a big spot. A bit too slow in the field on a big hit.

This first two games of this trip are crucial in my mind. Right now the Nats are on a slide but a new series is a fresh start, especially in a different location. The Cardinals, unlike the Royals (very good) or the Cubs (great) are only good pitching wise and the Nats catch the consistently mediocre Mike Leake and the inconsistent Jamie Garcia to start the series. If they are going to hit anyone in St. Louis it'll be these two. They match up against Stras and Ross who should provide the Nats with their best chance of winning assuming they can score some runs. Lose both of these and all of a sudden you are leaning on the struggling Max to beat the fantastic Carlos Martinez in the last game to avoid a sweep. You don't want that.

OK, let's get this party started. 

*Basically if you hear anyone say the Nats "should have" gone say 16-5 or 17-4 to start the year versus these teams that person is an idiot and you shouldn't listen to their opinion on this subject.


Chaz R said...

Thanks Harper. I'll come in off the ledge now. It is truly disappointing as they could have had an amazing to start to the season, but it's still fine. They just need to HIT for chrissakes! I still feel like if Zim, Rendon, and Werth are healthy, they will hit... but when is the big question???

Bjd1207 said...

I'm out on the ledge, and I'm staying here.

G Cracka X said...

One positive: Tanner Roark is pitching really well, isn't he? Aside from his first start, which can be discounted due to the rain interruption breakup, he overall has pitched better than expected.

Can he continue to look like '14 Roark for the remainder of the season?

G Cracka X said...

One negative: When was the last time the Nats won a series in St. Louis?

Anonymous said...

Me too. As a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist, I think they're headed for a 2-8 road trip.

I also think there's at least a 50-50 chance that 14-4 ends up being their high water mark on the season, and that when they fall out of first place in the next 24-48 hours or so they never see it again the rest of the year.

Anonymous said...

Furthermore, I think that if the worst case scenario happens and the team does so badly over the next month that they practically fall out of the race, I think there's a chance the Lerners might decide not to pick up Rizzo's option.

Rob Evans said...

Kornheiser just mentioned something on his ready show about a little flair up between Bryce and Pap after Bryce whiffed with the bases loaded. Any body hear anything on that?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else feel like the wheels may come off every time Papelbon comes into the game? I know he's towards the top of the league in saves so far this year, and last night was a ridiculously tough situation to come into with the bases loaded and no outs, so I'll allow that it wasn't on him. That said, I'm still not sold on the strength of our bullpen with him on the back end. I don't think there is another great option out there, either in the market or on this team (Treinen? Rivero, even though he got roughed up last night), but I just wonder how long his leash is as the designated closer given the somewhat rocky start to the season.

Overall, I'm not completely off the ledge, but there are ebbs and flows to the season, so I won't start to panic until after the 6 H2H with the Mets. The struggles of the past week are magnified by the fact that the Mets have gone 6-0 in that same span, but they won't continue to sweep through opponents when they hit tougher competition than the Braves and Reds.

Harper said...

Anon - @ 7:43 : So 50/50 that they don't ever get past 10 games over .500? I'd give them better odds than that - just bc rest of NL is so weak.

As for the latter... that I'd give a 50/50 shot. Mets are good.

I think the Lerners might not pick up Rizzo's option but I don't think it's performance based. I think it'll be money reasons.

Rob - didn't hear anything after K. He did make a "come on" type gesture after the play in the OF, but that's all I saw (and I'd say that was completely understandable and not done in a show-him up kind of way)

Robot said...

@Anon - I think you are overstating the problem. Last night, he came in with bases loaded and no outs. True, he failed to deliver, but the deck was stacked against him there. His other bad game (also against Philly, notably) was as much attributable to the statute of Jayson Werth that we insist on keeping in left field. He certainly hasn't been at his best, but he's been dependably solid. I don't think there's much to worry about here at the moment.

Don't get me wrong, I loath Pap and would love to send him packing, but I think he's the best we can reasonably expect right now.

Froggy said...

Barry Bonds: hitting coach of the Marlins

Dee Gordon: popped positive for testosterone and Clostebol = 80 game suspension.

Is it irony, coincidence, or...

Twitter - Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 29, 2016

Mr. Bill said...

Since BRYCE never gets any criticism here: What the heck was that effort on the fly ball over his head in the 9th? Seems like he was running in slow motion. Seen Jayson Werth do that so many times, I had to double-take to see it was our MVP.

I'll forever be a pessimist unfortunately. Living in DC all these years has done that to me. So while we won't see championships, we can enjoy little moments. Like Sundays crazy Nats win over the Twins, Oshie's hat-trick in Game 1 last night, and many other Bryce Harper heroics. Gentlemen, enjoy these for what they are, little victories in an otherwise dismal dark cloud of a sports town.

Andrew said...

its so strange, at the end of the year, with runs per game, the O looks fine, but man if it doesn't feel like the past few years and definitely the playoffs, the O is the issue. Does runs just cover up all the big spots with all the blowouts? the fans always wanting a bat at the deadline and wanting the hitting coach gone comes from something right?

Anonymous said...

Yes. When they head to Colorado, they'll probably score like 18 runs per game for the series. That's how they roll: scoring insane amounts of runs when they're not really needed that much, and none when they're needed the most.

These guys are the hitting version of erectile dysfunction. When the pressure to perform is really on, they go completely limp. That's why Tim Hudson wasn't afraid to openly call them a bunch of choking dog losers a couple of years ago; because he had them pegged.

mike k said...

Froggy -looking at Dee Gordon's stats, one can pretty easily pinpoint the exact time he started doping. His babip, ld%, and IF/FP% go berserk compared to his career averages starting during the 2014 season, which was with the dodgers.

Andrew - perhaps this is because "fine" isn't good enough when you have playoff/championship expectations. Ideally you want the offense to be top 5 (3?) and to hit great pitching in the playoffs. Merely fine offenses don't do those things.

I too am worried the Nats won't surpass the Mets this year. But they might. They will absolutely win more than 86 games (10 games over .500) though, barring major injuries.

Kenny B. said...

This is the point at which you realize that this is a DC sports blog. A single tiny bad stretch after a very positive season so far, and everyone is already on the ledge.

The Nats have been good. Turns out the Mets are also good. There is nothing here we didn't know or at least suspect before the season started. If I had quoted you the current standings and records before the season, you probably would have been pleased. This is just the recency effect taking hold. I too would love to cruise to an easy NL East title, but we didn't think it would happen in March, we shouldn't be surprised that it doesn't look likely heading into May.

In other words, as our host said, "stay calm."

Bjd1207 said...

I don't understand how a good start precludes me from being on the ledge/pessimistic in general. By the same token, if I told you that Zimmerman, Werth, and Rendon would all be posting wRC+ under 80 would you be pleased?

Bjd1207 said...

I should clarify my last one:

I'm "on the ledge" when it comes to our hitting/offense

Sammy Kent said... has the headline "Nats' Bats Look For Spark On 10 Game Road Trip."

My headline would read more like "10 Game Road Trip Looms Large--and Menacing."

In either event, we would both have no trouble identifying the Nationals' current (and perennial) problem:

To make matters worse, Washington hasn't scored in 22 innings. The last time the Nationals scored was Tuesday in the fifth inning, when Ryan Zimmerman singled to right field, sending Rendon home for their third run of the game.

Rick Eckstein wasn't the problem. Matt Williams wasn't the problem. Dusty Baker isn't the problem. Rick Schu isn't the problem. As always, plenty of great starting pitching, and pitiful offense. Thanks, Rizzo, for once again giving us a menu filled with exquisite bread delights, raw vegetables, old meat, and plenty of Bob and F.P.'s mustard to give it that nice yaller coating. When in bluejohnhell are the Lerners going to become learners and wise up to the fact that we need a General Manager?

Puck_Fapelbon said...

This team under the great Dusty Baker has swagger, maybe to a fault. Baseball just doesn't feel fun again when you drop 3 in a row to he Phils.... When The Nats take down the Cards tonight the RTOD will seem a little less daunting. Note: Yadi Molina is back in the lineup tonight that adds a wrinkle. I was one of the fans who booed Papelbon on opening day and I still loath him so and his performances as of late make me hold my breath. He crumbles half way through the season ala Soriano and then Rivero takes over.

Sammy Kent said...

Wow. Nice game 1 win on the road against the nemesis Cardinals. Stras did a great job once he got settled down. SOOOOOO happy to see Danny Espinosa make his first dinger of the season a game winner. I'm telling you, though, that team (the Cards) have a bunch of hitters. You have to be Stephen Strasburg good to keep them from scoring six or seven runs.

Joe Ross gets the ball today. I love our starting rotation, but I believe the biggest key to success this year is scoring early. They way they're dealing so far, when Ross, Gio, Stras, and Tanner pitch with a lead, it puts a lot of pressure on the other team and they're generally not as patient at the plate. And you have to believe Max will get back in that kind of groove. OTOH, when they go out and pitch seven or eight innings giving up zero runs or maybe one and still can't get a win, that's demoralizing.

Bryceroni said...

Fire rizzo! Make sure we don't get guys like Joe Ross!

Josh Higham said...

I'm with you, Bryceroni. If only someone had had the foresight to fire Rizzo before he traded a bag of balls for Trea Turner and Joe Ross.

Josh Higham said...

I'm with you, Bryceroni. If only someone had had the foresight to fire Rizzo before he traded a bag of balls for Trea Turner and Joe Ross.

Mythra said...

The Souza Jr trade will go down in history as one of the biggest thefts in MLB history. Joe Ross is a young Jordan Zimmermann and clearly why Rizzo was willing to let Jordan go. Add Trea Turner and the trade is even more in Nats' favor.

Oh, and I will take back my early view of Tanner. He seems much more 2014 Tanner than 2015. I will need just a hint of salt for this crow.

I think the questions about the bullpen are settled. Far, far better than 2015. Series won in St Louis. That'll help get us closer to 4-6 that would be a success on this roadtrip. Max is pitching in his hometown, something Dusty always does when he can for a player. Hope it brings us some more Dusty magic today with the sweep.

Sammy Kent said...

I admit that I am surprised but deliriously happy about the start of this road trip. I sure hope it continues. Two wins in St. Louis, scoring 11 runs, and all with Bryce Harper doing pretty much nothing at the plate. He's in a bit of slump. Fortunately, Daniel Murphy is still hot, and the team is certainly hitting Cards pitching a darn sight better than they hit Phillies pitching. Speaking of pitching, how about Joe Ross? That kid is the real deal. Scherzer goes today before his hometown folks. I'm sure he grew up a Cards fan...but so did Bob Carpenter. Sometimes I wonder if Carp still pulls for the Cardinals a little bit when they play the Nationals, or if he wants some come-uppance for them letting him go.

As for Rizzo, well, it's going to take a lot more than two road wins to persuade me he can put together a championship team and not just a winning team. He places too much emphasis on starting pitching to the complete detriment of the other side of the coin. As a result, every single year we have a lineup that consistently falters against merely moderate pitching and loses a bunch of games scoring one or zero runs, with the occasional double-digit blowout to keep the runs-per-game average up. I do not believe you can advance to and win the World Series with a bunch of .250 hitters gotten on the cheap and one power guy no matter how good your pitching is. Rizzo's tried it for six years running. I do hope to heck he succeeds this year. I'll be the first to say job well done. But doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the first sign of insanity.

You can win 85 or 90 1-0 or 3-1 games a year if your pitching is superior and you have guys that can hit mediocre or mistake-ridden pitching staffs. Those are NOT the kind of teams you face in the playoffs. You're not playing the 2016 Minnesota Twins or Atlanta Braves in October. You can have all the pitching in the world, and if you can't plate runs you will not win. Period. 0-0 scores don't get you anywhere but extra innings. As Jimmy Dugan would say, there's no tying in baseball.

We still don't know which Nationals team is the real deal, the one that has beaten the Cardinals two in a row on the road with timely hitting and good pitching, or the one that got swept by the Phillies at home with good pitching but hitting like dog turd. I'm very hopeful, but still skeptical. We're weren't hitting all that great against the Marlins, Braves, and Twins, and we're really not getting any more hits against the Cards. What we ARE getting that we didn't get vs the Phillies is hits in bunches, and aggressive base running, and those things I absolutely love.

Bryceroni said...

@sammy The only proven way to win the WS is to have as many good players as possible and then get lucky. Rizzo has taken the Nats from being doormats to expecting playoffs every year under rather unusual financial constraints (MASN dispute, big offseason contracts but no adding payroll during the season). Rizzo is probably more of an above average GM than amazing GM when you consider things like manager choice (ole PBN and I personally am not in on Dusty). In my mind that's someone you want to hold on to unless presented with a slam dunk improvement.

Unknown said...

The technical term for the Souza Jr. trade is actually "trade rape"

Josh Higham said...

So, did the Nats just do something huge, or is the Cards' record just about reflect the kind of team they are? Either way, it doesn't look like the NL Central has both wild cards locked up this year.

Robot said...

Three wins, you say? Uh, let's see...check, check and check!

DezoPenguin said...

Goal achieved! Now let's try to get a couple more off of KC and Chicago before we go home.

Nice to see us win games even when Bryce doesn't hit. The pitching still looks good. Roark now has one bad game, one weird rain game, and three stellar games. Stras looks all the way back, Ross has been excellent, Gio has been good, and Max finally had a good start. The bullpen still makes me nervous, but in "major league bullpens have volatile results" ways instead of "oh, God, we're only up by three runs; we're doomed" like last year. (Also, Storen continues to stink it up in Toronto, which makes me unhappy because the Blue Jays are my favorite AL team, but happy because he's not doing it in Washington.)

When Revere comes back, I wonder if MAT needs to go back to AAA to work on his hitting. Heisey and den Dekker don't have Taylor's glove, but they are functional 4th and 5th OFs and "able to be a defensive replacement for Jayson Werth" isn't a high bar to cross; Heisey's even hitting a little.

Hopefully Zim and Rendon can wake up with the bats; we have replacements for Werth and Danny (speaking of which, yay for finding his power in St.L!) ready to go but having to go to Robinson full-time wouldn't be a good thing and even the current version of Rendon is still better than we could expect from Stephen-"I'm keeping Turner's seat warm"-Drew.

The biggest takeaway from April, I think, is that the Phillies may well be a .500 team ahead of schedule. Their lineup is still a mess, but Nola and Velazquez give them a chance to win any game against anyone, so they may equal or surpass the Marlins in that "meh" category in the middle of the league instead of being utterly awful like the Braves. At this rate, the NL West may actually be a worse division than the East.

Ric said...

@SammyKent: "We still don't know which Nationals team is the real deal, the one that has beaten the Cardinals two in a row on the road with timely hitting and good pitching, or the one that got swept by the Phillies at home... "

How about the one that is 17-7 (8-4 home, 9-3 away)? Look, every team is going to lose to a bad team numerous times in a 162-game season. Every team is going to be swept at home by a bad team at some point in a 162-game season. Baseball, more than any sport: big picture.

Ric said...

@Bryceroni: "The only proven way to win the WS is to have as many good players as possible and then get lucky. Rizzo has taken the Nats from being doormats to expecting playoffs every year... "

Correct. You can't ask more from a GM than to put together the best team possible on paper. Nats have maybe the most wins in all MLB in last four seasons? Rizzo has put together constant contenders that can reach the playoffs every season. Beyond that, it's on the team.