Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Better than the Cards

Monday, May 02, 2016

Monday Quickie - Better than the Cards

I told you to stay calm.

This series was meant to be a proving ground for not only the Nats, but the Cardinals too.  They too feasted on the dregs of the NL early. They won 7 of their 10 wins going into a series with the D-Backs against ATL (currently 6-18), MIL (9-15), and SDP (9-16) and two more came against the questionable but probably bad Reds (started 5-1, 5-5 to start STL series, now 10-15).  They lost the first game in Arizona to the "jury's still out" Diamondbacks to fall back within one game of .500 then stormed back to crush them in the last two games of the series by a combined 19-6. At 12-10 and seemingly on the right track (4-2 little road trip, 5-2 in last 7) this homestand would set everything right again.

Seemingly the narratives for this team and the Nats would begin to settle after this series. If the Cardinals took 2 of 3 the teams would probably be seen on equal footing, the Nats able to take a game from a good team on the road, and the Cardinals able to defend their home against a good team. If the Nats took 2 of 3 then the Nats would be seen as a good team that slipped up against the Phillies, while the Cardinals would maintain a sense of a good team that just isn't finding their way, a team that might remain a step behind the league leaders. If the Cardinals swept that reverses. St. Louis would be the good team that was struggling a bit to find their way but now was on track, while the Natst would be a good team still needing to prove they could hang with the best in the league.

But the Nats sweeping the Cardinals? What exactly does that mean?

Are the Nats really good? That seems to be the most likely scenario. They did shut down a potent offense limiting them to 6 runs. The Phillies sweep didn't make sense but they are rolling now sitting at 15-10. Perhaps they really are a decent squad and well, sometimes the breaks don't go your way against a decent squad - even at home. 

Are the Cardinals really not good? This though throws a monkey wrench into the Nats ascendant narrative. Not even winning one against the Nats, while being swept by the Pirates (scoring 7 runs) and losing 2 of 3 at home to the Cubs (scoring 6 runs), set the Cardinals up as no better than a middling team. Rather than prove something against a good team the Nats might just have beaten up another bad squad.

The latter is certainly not a bad thing. You want to beat up bad squads. You NEED to beat up bad squads.  But I think what we really wanted from this weekend was clarity and I don't think we got any, though I'll take strong hints in the "Nats are great" direction.

The good news though is that clarity is likely just around the corner. Kansas City may not be a division winner this year, but they shouldn't be worse than .500 and are notably defending champs. Chicago is legit great.

What's the worst case going forward? Nats win no more than 2 games, Cards flounder. Phillies flounder (though they do play eachother right now). Nats look like the not good enough team we worried they might be.

Best case? Nats win at least 4, Cards do well, Phillies do well. Nats look like a contender for best team in majors

So Nats win 3? Cards flounder and Phillies do well? Maybe followed up with a series loss at home to Detroit, who's ok? That would keep things nice and murky


Hursty said...

Wait, now I feel like I'm disappointed by the sweep. I want to know if the Nats are good or not!!

Jimmy said...


don't feel to bad, Harper, god love him, would question the strength of the nationals roster if they won the 2016 world series.

BxJaycobb said...

Wait a minute. Harper has conned us! If the Nats win 2/3 that shows the Cards are solid team and the Nats won an impressive series against a good team on the road. Wow! But if the nats SWEEP said team on the road, instead of that being more impressive, it shows that the Cardinals are bad, and thus the sweep isn't impressive?! What are we supposed to do here?! This is damnned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't territory. I'm sorry. The Cardinals came into this series with the best offense in the majors leagues (by runs scored). The Nats shut them down...not just contained them. SHUT. THEM. DOWN. How does that not lead to the conclusion that the Nats pitching is as good as any in baseball? And they beat Carlos Martinez, who is unquestionably one of the 10 best starters in the NL. And this was on the road. This was an outstanding 3 days. Forgive me if I don't dismiss the Cardinals because they haven't won their first few series against good teams. They're the Cardinals. Harpers, if the Nats take 2/3 from the Royals, given the Royals record will that mean that the Royals also suck and the Nats still aren't that impressive? Basically we appear to be arriving at the conclusion that unless the Nats beat the Mets or Cubs in a series, it was a soft opponent. Come on! (this post was tongue-in cheek...I get what you're saying. :)

Jay said...

It's all sort of relative. If the Nats swept the fills and then were swept by StL then the narrative would be that the Nats haven't beaten anyone. The Cards made the playoffs last year - won their division. They were expected to be very good this year. The Nats last won a series in StL in 2007. IMO it's a great sweep. Doesn't mean the Nats are sure bets for the play offs, bc that is baseball. Things change every day, every series, and so on. I found it to be a very encouraging series. Other people may be starting to hit, and pitching continues to be great.

Mike Maddox. He seems to be having a positive impact. McCatty seemed like a great guy, but the pitchers never seemed to progress. Now, Treinen seems better, Strasburg seems better, Ross is continuing to improve, Gio is the guy who won a ton of games when he came over from Oakland. Sherzer is back to himself. Maddox mentioned that he had saw a minor mechanical thing with Sherzer and thought they fixed it in Max' last bullpen. The results of yesterday would show that to be true.

Dusty is a classy guy. In post game both Saturday and yesterday he mentioned that he was hoping the Nats could/did sweep. He then went out of his way to talk about how tough StL is at home, and how StL had a late flight coming home Friday so maybe that affected them. I know people aren't that enamored with Dusty, but I am rooting for the guy. He is a lot like Davey - he just wins.

Anonymous said...

Harper, I don't think there's nearly as much uncertainty about the quality of the Cards and Phillies as you suggest. The Cards have a +34 run differential; the Phillies -16. If you want to take sequencing out of the equation, BaseRuns has the Phillies at -17, with a record of 10-15. BaseRuns has the Cards at +45 (better than the Nats), with a record of 17-8. According to BaseRuns, the Phillies' actual record is 5 wins better than it should be, the Cards' is 5 wins worse than it should be (the two largest figures in MLB). The Cards are good; the Phillies are not.

The good news: the Nats just swept a good team on the road. The bad news: the Nats got swept by a bad team at home.

The Nats have 3 wins and 3 losses in the last 6 games. I know wins are wins and losses are losses, but I'm glad we went 0-3 and then 3-0 and not the other way around.

Richard Parker said...

This article could be part of a Master's thesis in the Psychology of Overthinking Things.

G Cracka X said...

Is it too early to ask about starting pitching quality? Currently, the Nats starters have the lowest ERA in baseball, almost a full run lower than the Mets. But the Mets starters have a superior FIP, and four additional teams also have a better xFIP.

Right now, I would say that the Mets starting rotation is still better than the Nats. And of course, its just April, which isn't a predictive month. But the Nats starting pitching has been impressive overall, especially if Max is 'back'. It will be interesting to see if they can maintain a good quality for the rest of the season

Chaz R said...

One thing seems certain, the starting pitching seems to solidly good and likely to stay that way, absent injuries of course.

Harper said...

All - I'll say this. If the Nats sweep KC then even though that may bring Royals quality into question you start to have too much evidence that Nats are much better than a bulk of the league to deny they are good for 2016. Absolute talent matters less than relative talent. If 25 teams are no better than average, then beating up teams that are no better than average makes you a contender. We can never know how "good" Nats are but at the same time know they are a legit threat to win it all.

Jimmy - certainly! But granted who cares at that point would be the better response. Like bringing up KC's team. Fine to question how good that year they are until they win it all then you should just stop because there isn't a point.

Bx - Yeah it's kind of weird but I feel like a sweep is less definitive than a 2-1 series win. We had a sense of the teams going in. But the sense that the Cardinals were good was shaky. By losing all three you start to question that in a way you wouldn't if they won a game. However, take the three wins and worry about how "good" they were later.

Also - I totally agree about the pitching. Made that a point in a tweet. Nats great? Don't know. Pitching great? Yes.

Jay - the whole "fixed it" thing... we'll see. It's easy enough to say but I feel like I've certainly heard that before and seen no results. It's like making predictions. Say you fixed every bad pitcher and get 1 out of 10 better and people will remember that 1 much more than the 9.

Anon - So wait. you didn't clarify anything!

BornInDC said...

Guess which division not only has the best W-L record not only in the NL but in MLB as well. Sure, small sample size and the run differential for the NL East is negative and way behind the NL Central, but who before the season started was predicting that the only team with a losing record in the NL East at the end of April would be the Braves and that 3 of the 5 best records in the NL would be in the NL East?

Also, after 24 games, the Nats in terms record, runs scored and runs allowed are ahead of their pace in 2012 when they had fantastic pitching in April but had all kinds of trouble scoring runs (one of the reasons they called up Bryce):

2016: W: 17, L: 7, RS: 99, RA: 61
2012: W: 15, L: 9, RS: 80, RA: 66

Something else, that at least interests me: After the 2012 Nats got to 14-4 on April 25th, they would not be 10 games over .500 again until June 6th at 32-22.

Who knows if the starters on the pitching staff can keep it up this year, but right now they are pitching as well or even better than the starters in 2012, and that was an amazing rotation for most of the season (during the last month or so, the pitching became much more inconsistent, especially Strasburg, which is always ignored by people criticizing the "Shutdown").

G Cracka X said...

Oh, and Bjd2107, it is now safe to come down from the ledge. At least for now

Mythra said...

At the end of the day, you are your record. Many folks point to the 2012 Nats as the best team that we've seen to date. But the 2012 Nats were 15-9 at the end of 24 games. This squad is 17-7. Two games over the 2012 pace. Have they played the best teams in the league yet? Not really, but the Cards are likely a slumping good team who got off a plane at 4:30am and played flat for a game or two. That likely evened the home field advantage against the Nats, who did what good teams do and shelled the Cards while they were down.

We almost all agreed that the Nats would succeed on this road trip through hell if they finished 4-6. Either the 4-6 mark holds as a measuring stick, or it doesn't. But moving the goals because the Cards got swept tells us nothing. I say hold to 4-6 or don't make 4-6 measuring sticks. This team has very, very good odds to finish this trip better than the 4-6 mark we set before the trip. To me, this is a team on the very good side of 'good to very good' we said more than 4 wins would indicate before the road trip.

Donald said...

Great way to start the road trip, but I'd still be a bit surprised if the Nats return home in first place. While the Nats play KC and the Cubs, the Mets get Atlanta and the Padres. The Mets could easily go 5-2 over that stretch or even better.

Harper -- do we need to be worried about Trienen against lefties still? He gave up two home-runs in his two innings of work in St. Louis to Adams and Moss. Seems like he might not have his issues completely behind him yet. Or am I over-reacting?

Bjd1207 said...

@GCX - I'm inside again, staring vacantly out at the drizzling rain as I construct what our offense will look like post-Revere.

Appreciate the concern!

Bryceroni said...

I think we can say based on our priors coming into the season that the nats were going to be a good team, something like 86-90 wins. The question was whether they could over-preform instead of under. The cardinals were in a pretty similar situation. Because I like winning I would rather have 3 wins with some questions rather than 2 wins and some (I think rather misplaced) certainty.

So no we still don't know what the nats will do against good teams, but we have one series where they either beat up on a minnow, or took a good team behind the woodshed. What's not to like?

Sammy Kent said...

I'll admit I didn't see it coming. But I'm sure happy I saw it. Who's W.C. Handy? What's hockey? The Washington Nationals are carriers of the St. Louis Blues. On to KC!!!!

Froggy said...

3 W's in the win column. That's all that matters.

Froggy said...

3 W's in the win column. That's all that matters.

Anonymous said...

Success has many parents. Failure is an orphan. Amazing how yappy this site becomes when the Nats win.

Anonymous said...

The Nats have been a great team since 2012, its just about if they're healthy or not. When they are healthy they win when they aren't they lose.

Bryceroni said...

@anon 9:20 in this case sure, but this blog tends towards negative discussions usually.

John C. said...

Those noting that the Nats' rotation has a much better ERA than the Mets, but also that the Mets' rotation has a better FIP, the reason is not mysterious: for all the yapping about Espinosa, MAT and Werth, the Nats are much better defensively this season than they have been in the recent past. The Nats are currently 4th in all of MLB in defensive efficiency - they are really good at turning balls in play into outs. When adjusting for the parks they've played in, the Nats move up to 2nd in MLB (behind the Cubs). With Rendon at 3rd instead of Escobar, Espinosa at SS instead of Desmond, Zimmerman at 1b instead of Robinson, and even Murphy playing solid (not great) defense so far, the Nats' infield defense has gone from being a glaring weakness to a strength.

The Mets? 29th in Defensive Efficiency, 28th in park-adjusted defensive efficiency. But then again, the word on the street was that the Mets were deliberately going for offense over defense, figuring that their high-strikeout pitching staff would cover them.

JE34 said...

Always, always great to win against the Cardinals. Especially nice in the self proclaimed greatest baseball city in America. BTW, was listening to Charlie and Dave on the MLB app this weekend when suddenly the feed was lost. I had to switch over to the STL radio guys, who are absolutely atrocious. Mike Shannon (I think?) sounded inebriated, 5 minutes behind the action, describing basically nothing. We are very fortunate to have Charlie and Dave.

Also BTW... bryce was certainly lower-case this weekend, going Oh-for-St Louis, with an unthinkable golden sombrero yesterday (including his first two, looking! That's like Bizarro BRYCE). It is encouraging/relieving that they generated substantial offense without the MVP, at long last.

blovy8 said...

When you come right down to it, 162 games isn't even enough to tell you who's good. You rarely have the same team every day, never mind a series, a month, or a season. If you're in a crappy division and fall into a fairly good stretch in October you can be a 83-win team and become "the best". It's good to beat a franchise that can go 2 measly games over .500 in a regular season and then win the World Series. That's a special kind of luck that forces experienced pitchers to throw the ball around for a week. One that regularly picks up players off the scrap heap and gets all-star seasons. Gets former nonentities named Hazelbaker to hit like the late Stan Musial tutored them personally. Always has some prospect as a perfect replacement for a waning veteran like Diaz for Peralta. Has AAAA-type guys named Kozma dink decent pitches over the infield to score runs to win a series.

No, I'm not bitter. Not me, no sir.

Jay said...

I would agree with Bryceroni. I think this board tends toward negativity much more than overconfidence. A lifetime of DC sports has left a few of us a little too jaded. Case in point - the Caps. Best regular season in a long while and now everyone figures they are done in the Pittsburgh series. I'm trying to learn to "just enjoy the ride".

SM said...

I think Anonymous 9:20 is on to something.

That's not to say @Bryceroni or @Jay are wrong. It's just that when the Nats either play horribly or are mired in a losing skid--the two are usually concurrent--protracted elegies are usually the rule. I happen to find them more sorrowful than dismissive.

But when the Nats win improbably or surf a winning streak, the comments are snappier and happier.

A small sample, to be sure, but the comments after last Sunday's cockamamie 16-inning win over the Twinkies outnumbered the comments after the Phils completed their sweep this past Thursday.

So . . . fewer but longer agony posts when the Nats flop around like a dying fish on a dock. More, but shorter and chirpier comments when the Nats are riding high. You could look it up.

As always, I blame Harper.

Mythra said...

Our anguish clearly has more caloric value to feed the soulless automaton. When we are all giddy with a sweep or Babe Ruth trot on the line, the dozens of posts barely move the needle.

I believe this is common to DC sports in general. Watch the traffic report the day after a Skins win or playoff victory by the Caps. Hardly a problem to be seen. This blog is not immune to this phenomenon.

And for the folks down on the Caps, take it from a Red Wings fan. 25 years of playoffs, and many, many first round exits. Enjoy it while playoff hockey lasts. Sometimes it's only 4 games long after a President's trophy.

SM said...

Mythra--Ah, but you should experience Toronto in full flower: Fans and media alike agonize when its teams win.

It's because it happens so rarely.

JE34 said...

Try being a Bufffalo Bills fan for 30 seconds... they have made me hate the entire sport of football. Nats fandom has been glorious, in general and especially by comparison.

Anonymous said...

I'm more than happy to admit that I was dead wrong with my 2-8 road trip prediction last week. Right now, it certainly looks like the Phillies series was the aberration and that we shouldn't be overly concerned about it.

Hmmmm, I wonder if I start doom-and-gloom badmouthing Ryan Zimmerman if he'll start hitting and make me look stupid again. Hey Zimmerman, you suck!!

Robot said...

Wait, why the hell isn't Werth DH'ing?

Eric said...

Nice work with Zim there Anon!

Dave said...

We are at 4 wins on this road trip as of last night. The team is doing this without the benefit of Bryce on offense. The pitching has been close to dominant. Hell, Gio looks like he learned the art of meditation on the mound. This team is much more fun to watch than the one MW led for the past few years. The clubhouse looks more relaxed. Either winning is fostering that or it is fostering wins.