The best way to look at the Mets / Nats games is an extended 6 game home and home series. We assume these teams are fairly evenly matched so the expectation for each team is 3-3 going in, 1-2 away and 2-1 at home. If one team manages to go 4-2, they'll claim a slight psychological advantage. Go 5-1 or 6-0 and you put the other team behind the eight ball early.
So last night was pretty much par for course. Mets at home, with their best pitcher in 2016, won. We haven't ruled out anything other than a Nats sweep. Lose tonight, though and something tangible changes. The Nats lose their chance to really put the screws to the Mets over these six games, and Game 3 looms ominously.
How did Max do last night? Well enough. Very good, even. He walked his tightrope successfully. You can say "oh once Max stops giving up homers he'll be dominant". Sure. You can also say "oh once Max starts giving up some hits he'll be in big trouble". Both are true. The guy gives up WAY WAY too many home runs. That's not a good thing. It means he has to do everything else right. Last night he pretty much did. How long can he keep it up? Don't know. But given how good he was last year, and how successful he's been before that, you give him the benefit of the doubt when he performs. After waiting a month, he's performing now. He's built up a bad game cushion. Time to worry about something else.
And there are things to worry about, such as the blah offense. I'm not going to say anything about last night. It's hard to judge the team fairly against a great pitcher on top of his game and that's Syndergaard right now. Colon, though, is nothing special and should be scored upon. If they fail to get 4 runs tonight, I won't be happy win or not.
Now how about some more player check-ins? Anthony Rendon is arguably the most disappointing bat in the line-up right now. He's not the worst but Werth we all understand is old, and Zimmerman we all have seen get injured time and again. Rendon though, we've only seen one injury and he has yet to turn 26. What's up with him?
Well I'll start off by saying just because we haven't seen it doesn't mean it didn't happen. Rendon had two serious injuries in college and one more in the minors before getting to the Nats. In seven years he's had 4 major injuries. You have to keep that in the back of your mind. That means there is potentially more permanence to the decline with each broken bone and strained muscle.
OK with that said Rendon is hitting .229 / .314 / .314 right now, showing both a lack of average and a lack of power. Is the average bad luck? His BABIP is low but not crazily so (.270). I think the key here is that last year his BABIP was .321. That was similar to 2014 (.314) and 2013 (.307). Unless you think he got more injured in the offseason, it seems likely that number will go up. His LD/GB/FB percentages, and soft/hard percentages are right in line with past years, lending more credence to this belief.
If there is a flag, it's the pop-ups. Part of the reason his BABIP is low is a big increase in pop-ups, basically automatic outs. If this is something that carries forward the BABIP likely won't get to the .310 range of past years. Nothing suggests that he's being fooled. Swinging strikes are up a bit but aren't high. K's are similar. He isn't swigning more at pitches outside the zone. My first guess was it could be a pure "can't catch up to high heat" issue, but the data doesn't agree. He's popping up balls in the middle of the zone. Soo... I don't know. Looking at the zone charts it just looks like his effective area has shrunk.
The lack of power is more concerning. His HR/FB rate dropped from 10.2% (ok) in 2014 to 6.2% (bad) in 2015 and is at 4.3% now. Rendon never had great power (he was "Tony Two-Bags" and not "Tony Four-Bags" for a reason) but he was a decent threat and there was hope he'd develop a little bit more. Instead he has backtracked. This isn't something we can really predict going forward. All I can do is mention May hasn't been any better than April in this regard.
You play Rendon. His average will bounce back and he'll hit around .280. I'm willing to bet on that. The real question is whether his power can come back. On that I have no idea. The current Tony would be a solid infielder but no where near the MVP type of season he had in 2013. All we can do is watch, wait, and hope.
Let's get into something positive, Wilson Ramos. After years of struggling through injury, apparently bad vision, and even a kidnapping, Wilson has put together a great start to 2016. He's hitting .340 / .376 / .524 and is one of the things keeping what constitutes the Nats offense moving. Important things have changed in comparison to last year. He's making far more contact, swinging and missing less, and cutting way down on his strikeouts. He had gotten progressively worse in these things over the past few years. He's making better choices (his swings outside the strike zone are way down). All in all just has a better approach.
It's important to see what he's hitting change because how he's hitting hasn't really. He's hitting it not as soft, but not as hard, and he's making the same split of types of balls in play as previously. What may be telling is a big increase in the balls he is pulling in play. Is this a concerted effort to turn on pitches he can hit? Or is this a reaction to seeing the ball better and no longer swinging late? I'm not sure.
Of course there is a huge red flag out there in the form of a .369 BABIP. For a guy as slow as Wilson that is ridiculously high, especially when not linked to a big increase in LDs or hard hit balls or something. So he is getting lucky and that .340 number is going oto go away.
What do I think is the end for Ramos? Well I think it's something a lot like 2013. That year he put up a .272 batting average and hit 16 homers. His K% is very similar to that year and while he's not hitting the ball as hard he is hitting more like drives. I bet that balances out. Wilson's power is real and if we're willing to bet drop-offs in the past two years were due to injury and other things, it could bounce back a bit. Not quite to 2013 range but better than the recent years.
I'd expect something like high .270s in average (thanks to this fast start) and maybe something around 20 in homers in about 125 games? The more games he plays the more likely he is to get more homers. The kind of season that'll make it tough to watch him go in free agency but also expensive to keep.