Nationals Baseball: The landscape 2 weeks in

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The landscape 2 weeks in

The Nats are also 7-5, which isn't great. But baseball isn't absolute, it's relative and today the Nats find themselves in first place. How did that happen? And how is the rest of the NL East shaking out a couple weeks into the year? Is there anything surprising that may be real?

NL East

The Mets offense has been a little better than expected, even with Jose Reyes apparently forgetting to bring a bat up to the plate, but the back of the rotation is in a bit of trouble with Gsellman getting crushed and the depth on the DL. One could say they should be better after figuring out that but it's hard to see them keep hitting at these paces. The recent Marlins series, against some relatively weak starters, is probably more their speed. Really though this is the Mets. 7-6 over the course of the season is an 87/88 win pace.

The Marlins aren't terrible?  The bullpen has come around since the Nats series to be the strangely built Achilles heeled force I thought it would be. The offense has been fine enough even with Ozuna and Stanton switching bodies a la Parent Trap. The real surprise has been the rotation though. It hasn't blown up. However FIP suggests it's a temporary situation, so unless you think JT Relamuto can keep hitting like Mike Piazza the Marlins are looking at a fade.

The Braves started the season with three series on the road and it showed. They are undefeated since coming home. For the most part the offense is as expected. Freddie Freeman and a bunch of other decent guys. But Swanson being terrible is a surprise. The pitching looks ok  Teheran is back to being great and Colon and Dickey are holding up their ends of the bargain. I get a feeling that the offense should be better so if they can find any solution to the #4/#5 rotation spot they could be interesting. If not, won't get over that hump

Remember last year when the Phillies started hot? Funny. The Phillies offense isn't any good with Maikel Franco still in his 2016 form.  They are getting some unexpected contributions (Nava, Hernandez) to keep them afloat but that can't last. Meanwhile their pitching is a story of haves and haves not. Like every other team they have a back of the rotation problem. Unlike the other teams they also have no depth to the relief pitching. A couple of decent arms were brought in and they've been decent but I worry about any time they have to get 6th/7th innings out of these guys.

So nothing terribly surprising in the East. Swanson's bat should heat up. Marlins rotation should collapse. But things are pretty much as they should be which is why the division has kind of lined up right.

NL Central

This division is all topsy turvy with Cincy and Milwuakee with early leads and STL crashing out.  Is it lasting? Cincinnati... doubt it. Unless Eugenio Suarez is truly a superstar. They could very well have a decent pen but beyond that I don't see this being anymore than a mediocre team that's sort of hot. Milwuakee might have a bit more staying power as Thames might actually be really good and we all know what Braun can do. There isn't any particular reason to believe in the cast around them but they aren't garbage either. So maybe if they all get a little better at the same time? Career years or such? The Cubs are suffering from an offensive dip but here's a secret for you. That might continue. None of these young guys HAVE to hit better (except maybe Bryant) They could all be kind of average. Age out Zobrist and accept the new normal for Heyward and you have an ok offense at best. Pitching should still take care of them though. Pirates aren't any good as the replacement bats for McCutcheon's slide never really worked out. Still have a young rotation that could come together though. To me the most real thing here is the Cardinals might be bad. Their best reliable bats are over 30 and their other bats aren't super young either (one player under 26). The rotation is good and looks good but the apparently have no pen. Defense is pretty bad too. This is 1/3rd a team.

NL West

The DBacks being ok shouldn't surprise you. They were built to win last year and then... didn't. But a lot of the same pieces are still there. It has a young offense that could surprise, a potentially solid rotation, a workable pen if they can find a closer (Archie Bradley might be that guy). Out of all the surprise contenders I like them the most. And for the flipside here are the Rockies who are completely powered by 1-run game luck. The Rockies, like the Marlins, went all in on the pen and it's very very good! But I don't know if the rotation holds up. Maybe it does. Maybe Bud Black is a genius who kept the Padres from years of 50 win seasons. Offensively though I don't see this group keeping pace. CarGo is done. Story was never that good. LeMahieu is at best a very good Singly Joe. The bench is garbage.  The Dodgers are fine. Again back of the rotation issues but offense, bullpen, and presumably the first three arms will all be good. They'll be back up. Padres are not fine, but we knew that. The pitching in particular is top to bottom awful. The only thing that'll probably keep the offense from being as bad is Wil Myers finally getting it, assuming he has (I think he has). The Giants fixed the pen (Melancon has been fine since the first outing) but not really anything else. They are still trying to work Matt Cain in for god's sake. If they can sneak into the playoffs Bumgarner and the experience make them dangerous but I'm not sure they can. Maybe they can hit their way in - you can almost see that if they can find that last OF. But they certainly can't do that without a healthy Posey.

I never made predictions but I'll give you some standings on Memorial Day guesses and see if they hold up

NL East
Nats - Mets - Braves - Marlins - Phillies
NL Central
Cubs - Brewers - Pirates - Reds - Cardinals
NL West
Dodgers - D-backs - Giants - Rockies - Padres


Ethan Stone said...

Why do you say 7-5 isn't great? Is that in the "good not great" sense? Obviously it could be better, but a 94/95 win season is a great season in my mind and that's what they're on pace for. We can't all be the Yankees and win 112 games this year.

Anonymous said...

Fun fact of the day - Greg Holland so far: 7 appearances, 7 innings pitched, 7 saves, 0 runs, 3 hits, and 2 walks allowed, 11.6 K per 9, which is right in line with his career average of 12.1.

Aaaaahhh, who really needs a guy like that in their bullpen anyway? (eyeballs to the ceiling)

Josh Higham said...

Ethan, I think 7-5 would be a much better sign for the future if the Marlins weren't the best team the Nats have played so far. If they were 7-5 with a series against teams expected to truly contend for playoff spots (we can debate the Cardinals but right now they're digging a fine hole for themselves) it would be something to feel really good about. Instead, they've won 3 of 4 series against teams that are at best mediocre, and haven't swept any of them. 4 series wins or at least one sweep would put them at 8-4 and looking more dominant, and I would be willing to talk about a great start.

That's my take anyway.

Harper said...

Ethan - 9 of 12 games at home, and Josh says STL (might be terrible), PHI (is terrible) take up 9 of 12 games. So a 94/95 win pace against teams like that is a little low. But really it's just the pace vs time frame. What's great for a full season isn't necessarily great in a short time frame. It's not just in your head, it's math too. As the time frame (number of games) increase, variance decreases and a pace that wasn't great before becomes great, if you can keep it up.

Anon @ 8:17 - Melancon's last 3 appearences - 3IP, 2 singles and a walk, 0 runs. Kenley - one bad appearance, other 4 - 3.2 IP, 2H, 0 walks (0 for season), 0 runs. Bas appearances matter but I'll give more leeway to first ones (Melancon) or one in Colorado (Jansen)

Zimmerman11 said...

Josh is right. Can't call splitting the first six with PHI good, much less great. Have to beat up on the NL East, hold our own against the rest. That was the presumption coming into the season. If we go 10-9 vs the Philthies, then we have to make up 2-3 games elsewhere, same for season series against MIA and ATL.

Plus with 6 guys OPSing around 1000 we should have gotten better results than 7-5... feels like we "wasted" a couple games during this hot streak (go home, bullpen... you're drunk).

Bjd1207 said...

And just to pile on, David Robertson 5 appearances with zero walks and 10 K's

Anonymous said...

Familia's imminent return should significantly improve the Mets, no?

Fries said...

Have to agree that while 7-5 is a good pace, it isn't against this competition. Before the season started, you could argue the Nats should have won 3 out of 4 series, with the one they lost being against the Cards. You'd say 1-2 vs the Cards and then probably 7-2 against the rest. So 8-4 is the benchmark you'd want to meet. They helped themselves out against the Cards, but hurt themselves on the rest of the competition.

That being said, there's so much variability in baseball, losing a game right now isn't that bad, you could easily make up a game later in the year during a more difficult stretch.

The issue, though, is why they went 7-5. Bullpen looks horrendous. You have to give them until May, but if things are still looking rough then, it's time to restart talks with CWS.

Fries said...

On an unrelated note, fangraphs has a good piece on Souza today. I'll always love him for his epic catch and solid bench presence, but I'm totally happy to have gotten Trea and Ross outta the deal

Harper said...

Anon @ 10:22 - It'll help but pen wasn't a huge issue for them really (even if they had a couple shaky outings).

Fries - the Souza . Myers . Ross/Turner trade has the Nats as HUGE LOSERS (note : 2017 stats only stats used for this analysis)

Robot said...

Is this team's base-running ability as atrocious as it looks? I feel they frequently make really sloppy errors on the base path

JE34 said...

I cannot deal with Blake treinen as closer. Please make it stop.

Fries said...

I'm thinking Treinen only has one more bad outing left in him before it's Kelley's job

Josh Higham said...

It seems to me that Kelley is the closer. Dusty brings in Blake for some drama, then gets puts in Kelley to end it.

blovy8 said...

I think it is kelleys job, but he needs a break at least every third day. Buckner is the worst umpire in the friggin world.

blovy8 said...

Treinen is working slower than Wieters runs.

BxJaycobb said...

Sorry. While you are almost always spot on, I strongly disagree with your take on the Cubs offense. It's more likely to improve than regress from last year. Let's take a trip around the field. Contreras is an offensive improvement at C and not a small one. Rizzo is probably not going to improve, but he's in his prime. Why would we expect a worse year? I will say I agree with you on Baez--I'm not confident he will improve his hitting, though he made such a large jump last year that it's more likely than going backward. Russell is likely to improve. He's like 22 and made a big leap in power last year--wouldn't be surprised to see him hit 25 homers this year. Bryant also is frankly more likely to improve than regress. Then you have Schwarber effectively replacing fowler---a big improvement in both OBP and power. Sure heyward MIGHT be as bad as last year, but I would bet almost anything he is better. Then you have zobrist--yeah, more likely to regress from age. And their bench is better this year with montero as the best hitting backup C in baseball and almora, who is sure to be improved in his first complete season. So really I only think Zobrist is likely to regress. I would bet on every other position player to stay the same or improve on offense, plus schwarber for fowler and added depth.
Frankly I think the most likely scenario where the Cubs slide back to the pack in 2017 is their starting pitching which way over performed last year. Hendricks was lucky. Lester is older. Lackey is really older. And most importantly---arrieta has had arguably the most concerning drop in velocity of any starter in baseball (almost down a full 2 mph). If that's not just the weather, that's the end of arrieta as an ace level pitcher. So no. The offense is not the potentially mediocre part of the cubs. I think the rotation is, the start to the year notwithstanding.

Josh Higham said...

You gonna take that, Harper?

Anonymous said...

RE; Treinin

“This ain’t working.” - Dusty Baker

I'm thinking they will use the rest of this month to re-tool and exchange some roles in the bullpen.

Robot said...

Has C.B. Bucknor been fired yet? (And by "fired," I mean "incinerated by Jayson Werth's magical fire-breath," of course.)

Paul Hewitt said...

Well, as of this morning the Nats are 8-5, a 101 win pace. This is despite horribly shaky performances by practically all of the relievers -- including those whose career stats predict improvement. Small sample size and all that. I think the bullpen will improve, but the lineup's top to bottom strengths are probably real.

Treinen is a case study of the Peter Principle (he was promoted to the level of his incompetence, the inability to channel the psychic pressure of closing). If he'd performed as advertised, the Nats would have only about three losses -- the fewest in MLB (kudos to the O's, with 4).

Generally speaking, the teams that spent heavily on their closers are not doing all that well. The Dodgers (Jansen) and Giants (Melancon) have 8 and 9 losses, respectively. The Cubbies (Davis) have 7 losses and the Yanks (Chapman) have 6. The point being that every team has its priorities and, since nothing is free, a budget. It's too soon to say Rizzo blew it.

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