Nationals Baseball: What, you worry?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What, you worry?

The Nats have lost four in a row for only the 2nd time all year. Unlike the last time, a sweep at the hands of the potentially historic Cubs, these games have been against more normal competition, the playoff caliber Dodgers and the cellar dwelling Padres. It almost feels like it hasn't happened, since these have pretty much all gone in the books after midnight on the East Coast, but it has. Is it concerning? Nope.

Good teams, great teams, lose 4 in a row.  The 2014 Nats, who ended up winning 96 games, went 0-4 twice.  The 2012 team, which won 98 games, did it three times including a 5 game slide. It's not going to happen a lot but a couple more times this year is easily possible.

If you shouldn't worry now (and you almost certainly shouldn't) when should you? That depends on what you are worrying about. 

I'm worried about making the playoffs

We are 72 games into the year and the Nats are playing at a 96/97 win pace.  Basically that means that the Nats would have to play around .500 for half the year* to be in the danger zone of missing the playoffs.  Regardless of how you parse the season**, that's a worse Nats team than we have seen. For me, that means we need some kind of run that would fundamentally change how I view this team. A five or six game slide is certainly not enough.  I'm thinking maybe something like 0-10? 2-13? Something that drops them to that under 90 win pace. Something that makes one stop and go, "woah, maybe this isn't the 90+ win team I thought these guys were"  We're a long way off from this right now.

I'm worried about winning the NL East

This one is a bit tougher because it involves other moving parts; how the Mets (and ok, we'll throw in a Marlins mention here) are doing. The Nats could go 6-5 but if the Mets go 11-0 then it's a dead heat. The Nats could go 3-8 but if the Mets go 0-11 then the NL East feels wrapped up. So there can be nothing really definitive here, unlike the playoffs where generally things end up a certain way.

We could set the bar only at what the Mets are pacing right now - which would be 87 wins. However, if you are worried about losing the East, I think you are worried about the Mets playing better rather than the Nats sinking down to finish the season with 85 wins.  I think the safest bet is to make that bar a little higher than the last one, maybe like 92 wins.  In this case the losing is a little less dramatic as those that would cause a playoff miss. These are streaks that would likely bring the Mets back into close contention.  If you figure the Mets to be a little better than .500 than extending this streak to around 0-8 would probably do it, or something like 2-10.*** Basically the Nats have to repeat what they just did.

I'm worried about home field advantage in the playoffs

Ok if you want to be a worry-wart, here's a legitimate thing to worry about. The Cubs have slowed down a bit, but just a bit, and are still on pace to win more than 110 games. To put it another way - if the Cubs play .500 ball here on out, they'll finish 93-69.  No one expects them to play that "poorly" so to have any chance to keep up with the Cubs the Nats basically can't afford to fall much off a 95+ win pace, which they are only a little bit above now.

If the Nats keep winning as they are and I'd give them a puncher's chance to overtake the Cubs, but they are on the cusp of being in real trouble. So maybe a couple more losses? 0-6? 2-8? That would likely put them 6+ more games behind the Cubs with a half-season to go. I wouldn't like those odds.

To recap, four losses in a row ain't nothing. Unless you are aiming for 100 plus wins, it's going to happen (and I'm sure some of those 100+ win teams had it happen too). The Nats have stumbled which hurts their chance at home field, but given how they, and the Mets, have played so far, it affects little else.  If they continue to stumble, or worse fall flat on their face, there would be something to worry about**** but as of right now there's nothing.

*Depends where we draw the line but if we say "under 90" we're looking at something like an 83/84 win pace for 90 games. 

**If you are positive about the Nats then they are who they are, a 96/97 win team. If you are negative you might say they lucked into a Braves team who couldn't get out of their own way early and really they are more like the record the team has put up since mid April. That is more of a 88/89 win team. Either way it's a long way from .500

*** Of course we are getting into a Mets series during this time frame so that's a little different but I'm talking vague generalities here. 

**** Also unspoken is after the Dodgers comes the Brewers who currently are only slightly better than the Padres. The likelihood of continuing a long losing streak against them feels really unlikely.  After that is the Mets, but then Cincy and Milwaukee at home. You can slip up against anyone but it's a lot less likely against teams like these. So most of this is more things to look at heading up until the stretch run rather than what could happen right now. Most. The 0-4 is here now so that counts for something. 


Froggy said...

On the other hand, five losses in a row...

Sammy Kent said...

New scouting report is if there's two outs, walk the bases loaded to pitch to Zimmerman....even if the bases are empty and you have to walk Werth, Harper, and Murphy. Just do it. Every manager in the NL is now just sticking it to Zim. Last night the Dodgers not only walked the bases loaded to get to him, they walked left-handed batter Daniel Murphy to get to right-handed batter Zimmerman, even though Kazmir is a lefty. I've been saying for two weeks to sit him for two or three days and give Clint some steady work for a few games. He's sitting on the bench getting rusty while Zim's padding his average with the bases empty and not much more.

What's Dusty got against the sac bunt? He's not much more interested in small ball than Matty or Davey were. Roark got his first hit last night, a sixth inning leadoff double with a 2-0 lead. To me, this is a no-brainer. Move him over and let Werth get him in. But instead of Revere bunting him to third where a sac fly (or hit) scores the third run (without making your pitcher run the bases hard in the late innings, I might add), he grounds to second and Utley promptly throws Tanner out at third. When that happened I knew we'd pay for it. Leadoff double wasted, and three batters later Zimmerman does his now patented bases-loaded K. I get so frustrated watching teams like the Cubs and Cardinals that have no qualms calling on any batter in the lineup to give himself up to move runners over. Dusty, like the others before him, acts like sacrifice bunting is beneath the dignity of his lineup unless you're a pitcher or your name is Danny Espinosa.

Baseball doesn't have to be overly complicated. Get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in.

Harper said...

Sammy - I think Dusty thought that Revere had enough bat control to get a GB to the right side of the field to move the runner over. Maybe he lucks out and puts one in the hole or drives one down the line. If you think your player can do that - it's pretty much bunt equivalent. You don't really plan on the man on 2nd getting thrown out at third. Roark's lead was a little short and he started too slow on the hit. The ball was scorched right at Utley. Perfect storm. You could blame baserunning coaching I suppose if you want to go down that road but he's a pitcher. How often are you going to coach this and how often is it going to be put into practice? There are better things to worry about.

sirc said...

This isn't the manager's fault. In fact, it almost never is.

Jay said...

I agree that it isn't the end of the world. It is some what frustrating though. At what point does Zimmerman move to 6 or 7 in the lineup? I agree watching him strike out badly every few nights is getting old. It would be different if looked better in those at bats, but he's striking out in 3 or 4 pitches and the third strikes have been pitches outside of the zone by over a foot. Just really ugly at bats. The bullpen really needs some help in my opinion. I still think Dusty is leaving starters in about 10 pitches too long. After the lead off guy draws the first walk of the night, that should have been your sign to get someone up. Finally, how many more times is Bob Henley going to get Ramos thrown out at home? Ramos is by far the slowest person on the team. Revere probably would not have gotten a hit, but you never know. (maybe that was why he sent Ramos - our pitcher may be a better hitter than Revere, oh well).

Chas R said...

I'm not really worried given the Nats lead, how well the starting pitching has been, and how well the offense is now performing, especially with indications of Bryce's resurgence. BUT, we do have 7 H2H games against the Mets before the All Star break, which will be BIG.

PotomacFan said...

Harper -- I like your blog and your posts, but you are way too focused on short term winning and losing. It's a long season, and winning or losing any series in June is not going to make or break the season. What is far more important is the roster, and how the players are doing. I'm worried about the following: (1) injuries (cannot be predicted, but losing Scherzer, Strasburg, Murphy, Harper, or Ramos for any extended period of time would be difficult); (2) the bullpen -- I just don't see this as a play-off ready bullpen; (3) Gio; and (4) Joe Ross, who is terrific, but cannot be counted on to pitch 200 innings and then the playoffs. I'm not worried about Scherzer, Strasburg (assuming no injuries), Roark, Harper, Murphy, or even CF, LF and SS.

And I fully agree with the concern that opposing teams pitch around everyone to get to Zimmerman. Dusty helped Harper by moving Murphy behind him. Now Dusty has to take Zim out of the #5 slot, and move him to #6 or #7. Ramos should be #5, and Rendon (if he starts hitting again) should be #6. And Clint Robinson should get more time, too.

Sammy Kent said...


For the record, I'm not just complaining in hindsight. You can probably ask my neighbors; when Tanner landed on second I was saying quite loudly to the TV "BUNT HIM OVER!!!!! BUNT HIM OVER!!!! Managers that don't want to bunt can always come up with a reason to not bunt. "We figured this and that and blah blah blah." But it is a fact: the sac bunt is the HIGHEST PERCENTAGE STRATEGY TO MOVE RUNNERS. Yes, it gives up an out, but it greatly reduces the chances of a "perfect storm" that costs you the lead runner or maybe even a double play.

IMO, having the runner on second instead of first with no outs makes the decision even more of a no-brainer, even with a left-handed hitter in the box. Maybe you don't do it in the first inning or the third, but in the sixth, with only two runs and your starting pitcher doing the base running, you want to get him home and do it with as little exertion as necessary. Yeah, there are more macho, flashy ways to move a guy from second with nobody out. But the sac bunt is the surest and safest. In this situation I vote for the lowest risk, surest reward. A man on third with one out puts SERIOUS pressure on their pitcher. One ball in the dirt or anything Jayson Werth can drive and it's 3-0.

Jay said...

Plus with Revere's speed it could have ended up a hit. I'd have to say he has been a big disappointment at this point. When you're getting outplayed by MAT, that is not a good sign.

I think part of the problem is that they have sort of had a let down after taking 2/3 from the Cubs in front of a packed house. Hopefully, they can win tonight and get it going again in Milwaukee. If they win tonight and take 2/3 from Milwaukee they are fine. Eventually Zim will hit, right?

SM said...

Sammy has actually opened a very wriggly can of worms that goes straight to an issue about which baseball tacticians, strategists, sabermetricians and barroom cognoscenti have never reached a consensus: The sacrifice bunt.

Earl Weaver had this to say about sac-bunts: "If you play for one run that's all you'll get."
And: "Don't play for one run unless you know that run will win the ballgame." (Virtually impossible to determine unless you're the home team in the last inning of a tie ballgame.)

The alternative, of course, is to play for the big inning. But the tone and tenor of last night's game--all those fruitless doubles--suggested there would be no breakthrough for the Nats, and that every run would be critical. And the Nats needed that run.

(Expecting Revere, of all people, to ignite a big inning, rather than bunt, was straining even Dusty's faith-based managerial approach.)

There may be no consensus on the strategic value of the sac-bunt, but in last night's game, Sammy's assessment is absolutely right.

JE34 said...

I feel the need to come to Dusty's defense about Revere not bunting. How many times have we seen Revere hit a slow roller to the right side? I certainly lost count, because it happens multiple times a game! Why not see if he can sneak one through, instead of conceding an out from the get-go? Revere does not strike out a lot, so having him swing away at that point wasn't a huge risk.

The age-old sac bunt debate usually comes down to giving away outs - you get 27 outs per game, so when you give them away, you should have an excellent reason. The way Revere has been rolling things gently to the league's second basemen all season, I'd have done like Dusty did there.

Chas R said...

Rough crowd today. Seems like the natives are restless all across the Nats Blogosphere today!

SM said...


"How many times have we seen Revere hit a slow roller to the right side? I certainly lost count because it happens multiple times a game!"

When Revere should be driving pitches to get on base (since he doesn't draw walks), he hits slow rollers to the right side--"multiple times a game!" no less. But when he needs a slow roller, he hits the ball hard to the right side.

I would conclude he cannot do what he is supposed to do.

And yet . . . and yet . . . maybe Dusty KNOWS Revere cannot do what he is supposed to do, and that giving him a bunt signal would have been futile. Ergo: Faith-based managing.

Kevin Rusch said...

Can I worry now?

Froggy said...

Five non-Papelbon related losses in a row. But we can still make it a 5-5 road trip with a sweep in Milwaukee.

Time for the 'Great teams lose 5 in a row all the time' column Harper.

Jay said...

Last night was pretty bad, but do you really think if Taylor fields that cleanly it makes any difference? First and third with no one out up by one, they win that game? Taylor's error just ended the game faster, but the Dodgers were going to win.

Oh well. That's baseball. You win some and you lose some. We'll go get 'em in Milwaukee on Friday.
(just kidding - just figured it was time for some old MW quotes)

Anyway, in my opinion they need bullpen help last week much less now. They look like a team that has lost their closer and hasn't adjusted. Unfortunately, Papelbon didn't look that great when he was pitching. Also, I think they are past the point of needing another outfielder. Either a CF or move Harper to CF and get an OF. Either way, their leadoff CF is hitting worse than any other team's 8th hitter (with the exception of two teams). At some point don't we have to accept that Revere isn't going to hit this year? I mean he's been back for 2 months. It would be different if he was hitting .300 in the last two weeks.

Ultimately, it is up to Rizzo (assuming the Lerners will let him take on payroll). That is why he makes the big bucks and I am just a fan.

Harper said...

Potomac - I hope you don't mean I put too much importance to short term wins or losses because the post itself basically said "don't worry about short term losses". Now do I right about them too much? Probably so, certainly this year where I've spent the first 60 games trying to decide if the Nats were a very good team just futzing around or a good team that got a lucky break to start the year. But now it's better. Now I've decided they are a very good team... and now they go on their longest losing streak of the year. PULL OUT OF IT DAMMIT.

KR - no

Froggy - I just mentioned the 2012 team did it. Once. And just 5. But they did it.

Jay - Revere is hitting .300 in the last two weeks! I'm not sure if you walked into that on purpose or not. I'll assume so.