Nationals Baseball: Max-imum Pressure

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Max-imum Pressure

For the most part Game 4 was a lot like every other game in this series. Close and not particularly well-pitched by the starters. Kershaw pitched the best game of the series by either team so far hands down and it probably didn't break "good"*

Just so you can see the difference

Starters NLCS : 7.18 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 3.2 B/9, 10.4 K/9
Relievers NLCS : 1.88 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 11.8 WHIP

(without the Jansen blow-up the reliever stats become : 0.82 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, 12.0 K/9)

Kershaw was ok, throwing in a space that allowed him to dominate the bottom of the Nats line-up but struggle to put away the top. He wasn't being hit particularly hard so he was able to escape more often than not. Ross, on the other hand, was not ok. He was somewhat predictably unable to throw his fastball past this lefty heavy line-up. This left him trying to work the strike zone with only off-speed pitches, which really isn't what they are meant for.  It didn't work nearly enough to be effective and in a crucial moment he was left in at least one batter too long.

Why did Dusty do it? Same reason you start Ross in the first place. You are looking for innings, looking to try to save the pen. Dusty was trying to squeeze one more out from Ross, so he wouldn't waste a pitcher. In the end it didn't work, Ross would walk Reddick, then plunk Pederson; and it didn't matter, as the Nats would go 1-2-3 in the next inning saving the pitcher spot from coming up.**

However, Game 4 was a bit different. All these games are being won or lost by the pens but that hadn't meant what it usually does. Games 1 through 3 were won or lost in the 5th-9th as one or the other bullpen manages to hold on to the lead their team got off the opposing starter. Game 4 was a more typical game, won or lost in the 7th-9th as one or the other bullpen lets in the deciding run. It was almost the Dodgers - as they failed to get the single out needed to hold onto Kershaw's lead. But then it was the Nats, with Blake Treinen giving up the game after seemingly being in control.

After 4 games, here's how things stand for the Nats.
  • The bullpen arms have been very effective. The two runs scored yesterday were the first two scored off them all series and it's not like they haven't been out there. This also includes Lopez who is more of a long-man than a reliever likely to be used in any crucial late game situation. 
  • The starters have not. No reason to go into it because all that matters now is Max in Game 5.
  • The top of the lineup is getting it done - Turner is hitting .353, Werth .467, Murphy .462.  Bryce is getting on at a .421 clip. 
  • The bottom of the line-up is not Rendon is hitting .188, Espy .091, C .188 (yes with one big homer), as well as the bench, 1-9 PH (with a SF)  Drew 0-2 filling in mid-game, Severino 0-2 filling in mid-game.
What's all that mean? The Nats are playing like a normal team right now. They aren't hot. They aren't cold. This is them. And if Max is Max on Thursday, that should be more than enough to get to the NLCS. 

*line wise it won't even be that and thus it'll be another notch on the "Kershaw can't pitch in the playoffs" belt, but we all saw it. It was fine. 

**this would actually happen twice in the game saving the Nats a couple arms 


DezoPenguin said...

Well, this is it. Basically, we need Max to be good, we need the bullpen (particularly the LHP guys) to continue their dominance, and if we get that far we need Melancon to not be Drew Storen, plus the offense has to be able to do something. Four or five runs should be enough to win with this pitching staff when Scherzer starts, so if they can get that then it's all on the staff to carry their half of the load.

Mostly, I'm just jazzed about the Cubs burying the Giants yesterday and putting that even-year BS to rest at last. That leaves in the playoffs my favorite team (the Nats, duh), my wife's favorite team (Toronto, who is also my second-favorite), my mother's favorite team (the Cubs; she's from the Chicago suburbs and has been a fan since childhood), my wife's favorite NL team (LA), and...the Cleveland Indians (whom I have a soft spot for because of Terry Francona and their own 70-ish years of misery). Everybody I dislike either never made the playoffs or was eliminated, so I can just kick back and enjoy baseball from here on out.

cass said...

Thursday night is going to be a nightmare with tens of thousands all trying to get a taxi or uber home at once. Fun times. Found myself rooting for the Giants (yuck) just so we could get the early start time but they had to go and ruin that. San Francisco's final humiliation on the Nats will be a nightmare of thousands stranded.

Awful game. Thought Ross should have come out a batter earlier like you, Harper, and I understood wanting to face Utley despite what happened. Didn't turn out right but Dusty is so much better than Matt Williams.

Sammy Kent said...

I don't feel good about it at all. I'm naturally pessimistic I guess. I feel like we'd have won yesterday if Dusty had had a fourth lefty in the pen, which I STRONGLY felt all along was what we would eventually end up needing. Against those guys you just throw every lefty you got against them. Even Ollie Perez pitched successfully against them. Guy usually comes in to pitch to a left-handed hitter and promptly gives up a left-handed hit. Yesterday he went an inning and a third and gave up nothing with two Ks. Sean Burnett should have been on the roster. Dusty wouldn't have stayed so long with Trienen if he'd had another LH option besides Solis, who had pitched the day before. I got a bad feeling that roster decision cost us this series.

Sammy Kent said...

And while I'm at it, The Mayor, the Council, Metro, the Lerners, Obama if necessary need to step up and do whatever needs to be done to ensure that Metro stays open Thursday night until game end plus two hours. Period.

BornInDC said...

Before this series if anyone had predicted that the Nats would be facing game 5 at home with Max starting against Hill with the top of the lineup hitting and the bullpen pitching really well, I think that would have been considered a pretty rosy scenario given that both Strasburg and Ramos were unavailable for this series and Murphy had sat out the last weeks of the season.

Nothing is a sure thing about Thursday, but under the circumstance, I like the Nats chances of winning more than I do the Dodgers, and that says a lot for a team as banged up as the Nats have been recently.

elchupinazo said...

Nothing to add really, but did anyone else watching the broadcast feel like Harold Reynolds had just learned that DC had a baseball team, let alone a good one? I know a lot of people don't like him, but his astonishment that a 95-win team had serviceable pitching and hitting was almost comical to me.

Also, Dodgers can't feel good about Hill. Guy having an unusually good season, can't go deep, is having "blister issues," already lost a game and is on short rest. Nats certainly can find a way to blow this (and if they platoon Hill with Urias, who knows?), but if they have any mettle whatsoever they should feast.

Anonymous said...

"I'm naturally pessimistic I guess." -Sammy

You guess?

Just kidding man. Dont loose hope everything favors us.

G Cracka X said...

@Anon at 8:17am "......everything favors us."

I want to believe that, but I also notice that Fangraphs feels differently. They give the Dodgers a 55.3% chance of advancing

Anonymous said...

Eh Nate silver has us at 58% win probability.

Also Rich Hill has never pitched short rest, + old, + cannot go long into games on normal rest. Ur

Alexander Freeman said...

Rich Hill going on short rest. I think this is a mistake by Roberts. This is a great matchup for the Nats: their Cy Young contender on full rest vs a tired Hill who was ineffective last time. But as we all know, anything can happen in game 5. I'm still haunted by 2012. I don't think I can wait an entire day for this game

Zimmerman11 said...

It would take a LONG time to get over our window closing with three first round postseason exits in 5 years to show for it. Need Max to limit the gopher balls in GM5.

Harper, no mention of Zimmerman11 also hitting in NLDS? Yes, Reddick should have caught the ball up against the wall... but I'm 5/15. You mentioned LITERALLY everyone else. :)

I agree with Dezo tho... a final four of TOR/CLE/CHC and NATS/LAD is pretty good. I'll watch the ALCS and WS even if Nats go down in flames on Thursday.

John C. said...

Window closing? A team with Harper, Rendon, Turner, and Murphy locked up for multiple years, and a rotation of Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Gonzalez and a boatload of other candidates also locked up for multiple years (if they exercise Gio's option)? And one of the better minor league systems? It's not even a particularly old team except for Werth, who comes off the books after 2017. Anything can happen, of course, but isn't that kind of premature panic/anticipatory melancholia? Enjoy the day, Zim!

Kenny B. said...

I just hope it's not a late/close game. I want Scherzer to pitch another no hitter, and the Nats offense to go completely nuts in the first 3 innings. I do NOT want drama.

Whatever happens, at least the team didn't lay down and die like 2014. It has at least been a fun series to follow (even though it's been difficult to watch due to the start times and rain delays).

datadidit said...

Seemed like yesterday Dusty twice left a pitcher in one batter too long. When Ross walked two people in a row plus hit a batter I thought you had to bring in Perez there against Pederson. Then after Trienen pitched very effectively for an inning you could see he started to loose it when he hit Toles and gave up the base hit. Why not just bring Solis in to face Utley(side note Utley and Ruiz are still terrorizing us past their Phillies days.)

Looking forward to Game 5. Hopefully Max puts up one of his signature performances.

G Cracka X said...

Here's hoping that this sentence, which applies to Max's regular season performance, doesn't also apply to this series: 'Max pitched well, but frequently battled homeritis....'

Fries said...

Just please please please don't repeat Game 5 of 2012. I can't handle that...not again. If the Nats lose, I want them to lose soundly. I can't take another soul crusher

Ric said...


Yeah, that was my worst sports moment ever. I can go back and feel that moment at will. It was like being punched in the gut. Which was nothing but a silly statement to me until that game.

I've felt pretty good about this series, even before it started. Maybe because we were considered an underdog, or that we weren't behind going into game 4 like in 2012 and 2014. We've been underdog each game, and are 2-2, and easily could have stolen at least one from Kershaw. There just isn't a sense of self-destruction this series.

Chinatown Express said...

Fries: Better to repeat Game 5 of 2012 than the 18-inning imbroglio of 2014. I have work on Friday.

Although Fangraphs has the Nats as the favorite, Dave Cameron likes the Nats in his chat today:

12:18 Tomorrow basically a coin-flip? Dodgers 1-25 advantage mitigated by the Nats' home-field and having the 'better' starter?
Dave Cameron
12:18 Nats probably the favorite."

Chinatown Express said...

Shoot, Fangraphs actually DOES have the Nats as the favorite, 54-46%. Although the playoff odds shows the Dodgers as a slight favorite, apparently that's based on nothing other than depth chart and number of games left. If you look at the game-specific prediction, which figures in HFA and starting pitcher, the Nats lead:

I actually find this a little confusing. If you think the Dodgers are a slight favorite in a game with the whole roster available, played in a neutral park (which is the assumption of the Fangraphs playoff odds projection), you really think the Nats only go ahead to 54-46 based on Scherzer vs. Hill and HFA? That just seems really mild. Something more like 60-40 or even 65-35 seems more likely.

Alpha Beta said...

I also don't think Hill will last long, but remember that Urias is available. I'd expect an extremely quick hook if Hill so much as wobbles.

Ole PBN said...

The thing that frustrated me most about yesterday was our sudden change in approach against Kershaw. Patient early, made him throw 27 pitches in the first. From there, it was 9-17-9-13-14-21 (finally pulled after an 8-pitch AB w/ Bryce). Kershaw did not have his put-away stuff last night, yet all of his 11 K's were on four pitches or less = our guys swinging at stuff out of the zone. We're doomed if we repeat this approach Thursday against Hill. Loss shouldn't be blamed on Treinen or Dusty. Yes I would have preferred to see Solis out there instead, especially after HBP, but Treinens numbers against LHH are pretty good. However, if one thing is clear in the series, its that LA CANNOT hit LHP, no matter who it is. They're murder against RHP.

In short, Solis/Perez/Rzepcynski are going to win this series for us. I want to see 6 innings of them tomorrow. Seriously whats wrong with that? Tell Max we need 6 outs to start. Lefties til the 8th and have Melancon shut it down in the 9th. Offense, we need 4 runs out you before the night is over. No shadows to mess with, we FINALLY have a prime time night game. Get it done.

Anonymous said...

I am sure that Hill will have a short leash but Urias has never pitched in the post season, never pitched game 5 and isn't a relief pitcher. Hopefully all of those things matter.

JE34 said...

I fully expect to see Urias and that frisbee curveball of his at the first sign of trouble. I'd have started Urias, and used Rich Hill if Urias wobbled even a little.

Like Sammy... I have trouble being optimistic until I see this team get over this playoff hump once. Dusty's pregame speech could be stereotypical DC: "Boys, let's win this one for the narrative."

Dave Roberts' pitching changes are wreaking havoc on my blood pressure. Here's hoping the league office calls the umps, and has them squeeze LA's strike zone, just to keep Roberts and his death-by-1000-paper-cuts approach to bullpen management out of the NLCS. Adding Pedro Baez's crazy slow pace is further penance.

@Ole PBN: plate discipline has been a problem for certain guys this team for so long. Werth is at his best when fouling stuff off, frustrating pitchers, racking up pitch counts. But then you have Espi's wild uppercuts regardless of count, last year with Desmond trying to pull absolutely everything, and so on. The flipside is getting the reputation for looking at the first pitch... We see Werth and Zim stand and watch big meatballs all the time. Werth at least seems confident with two strikes on him... the others seem less so. Tough to judge vs Kershaw, b/c hitting 0-2 against him is perhaps the toughest assignment in the majors. I'd be hacking early in the count against him too.

Now then... since Harper and Murphy seem incapable of driving anything deep right now... how about a nice chilly, foggy, fly-ball-killing night by the Anacostia?

Sammy Kent said...

Urias is the guy that bothers me much more than anyone on their staff--including Kershaw. We are awful against rookies and other relatively unknown pitchers with just average off-speed stuff. If Rick Schu doesn't have a 3 gig dossier of situational tendencies in his laptop on the guy, our batters have no chance to hit him. Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy are really the only guys we have that can either learn about a mystery pitcher during the game or identify his pitches during his own at bats to figure out a way of making effective contact sometime before the game ends. Everybody else is just guessing. Schu is just guessing.

@Anonymous: I was optimistic yesterday. See where it got us? Things seem to much better for the Nats the more convinced I am that they won't. I want to believe in Max, but somebody on our staff has to play the role of Tyler Clippard. Since Kelley stopped giving up dingers about six weeks ago, the job seems to have fallen to Max.

Anonymous said...

Sammy Kent--I share your concern over Urias.

He faced the Nats twice this season, pitching 4 innings once and 5 the other. The Nats lost both games, the first (3-4, on June 22) when Kelley (courtesy of MAT) blew the save. (Seager homered off Ross in that game.)

In the second game (3-6, on July 23, at Washington), Turner homered twice off Strasburg and that was pretty much it.

Urias threw a total of 9IP, gave up 3 runs (all earned), walked 1 and struck out 10. Sure, MAT started both games, but Trea was in the lineup for the second.

None of this predicts anything, of course, but there is something worrisome. In the first game, Ross, Werth and Espinosa all doubled off Urias. In the July 23rd game, 5 singles and no walks were all the Nats could muster.

Scoffing at the notion of Urias and/or Hill on the mound is premature.

John C. said...

I don't think that the Nationals changed their approach - I think it was the tale of two lineups. The top 1-4 guys just lit up Kershaw; the bottom five were collectively terrible.

Espi's couple of decent at bats late may have saved his start for Game 5. If he had whiffed those two, I think Difo gets the start. Now I kind of doubt it.

My God, the Dodgers play the slooooooowest brand of baseball I've ever seen. It's not just coaching visits/pitching changes. It's the endless string of mound conferences when they're in the field, endlessly taking time to contemplate their navel between pitches when they bat, so many pickoff attempts, and even just standing around not throwing the ball (looking at YOU, Baez, although you're not the only one). Simply choosing a pitch to throw seems like a major imposition. I don't know if it's gamesmanship, but for a fan it's just aggravating.

Ole PBN said...

@ JE34 - Its not about confidence, its about having a plan of attack BEFORE you step into the box. All I'm saying is I saw a concerted effort to wear Kershaw down in Game 1. I've never seen the Nats play like that and I loved it. Saw glimpses of it yesterday, but mostly impatient swings out of the zone, trying to shift the tide with one swing in Chavez Ravine. Also JE, that approach of "hacking early" against a pitcher like Kershaw is a terrible idea and is probably a big contributor to his success. He pitches to the corners and tries to widen the zone, like the CY Young winner that he is. Pitchers of his caliber rarely ever give you anything down the pipe, so why swing so early? Early in the ballgame is battle for command of the zone for both the pitcher AND the hitter. If you lay off you'd find yourself in more favorable counts like we saw countless times in Game 1.

Nah, but you go ahead and throw your back out on three pitches trying to mash nasty curveballs in the dirt or tailing 95 mph fastballs 6-8 inches off the plate. Is that you Espy?

Sonny S. said...

I can't say anything about Sammy Kent who is ultra pessimistic. This is just a game and a random game. Go Nats!

Zimmerman11 said...

John C... I'm assuming the Nats miss the postseason again next year, because it's an odd number year. Ramos gone and then one more chance at a run in 2018 before Bryce and Murph and Roark all leave in 2019 and Rendon in 2020.

Strasburg's history and Scherzer's advancing age have me worried about the rotation.

Seeing as the NL East should still stink and 4 of 5 Mets starters may have had offseason surgery by opening day 2017, maybe I shouldn't be so pessimistic.

Jay said...

Make no mistake, this is why the Nats went and got Scherzer for starts like tomorrow night. I'm hopeful he can go 7 or 8 and give up 0 or 1 run. He had been better about not giving up HR his last 6-8 starts before the playoffs. He was 4-0 with a 2.43 ERA in September. He gave up a total of 2 HR in 8 starts from early August to mid-September. I think it will take going 7 to 8 with at most 1-2 runs. We'll see. I'm not hopeful, but I wasn't in games 2 or 3 too. There is just no telling. Hopefully, the Nats can grab a 2-3 run lead early. Get the crowd amped up and ride it to a big win. Another 6-0 lead like 2012 would be nice, since I think the end result would be far different.