Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Good news, bad news, good news

Monday, August 07, 2017

Monday Quickie - Good news, bad news, good news

The Nats were 6 outs or so away from losing 2 of 3 to the Cubs. That wouldn't have been a terrible outcome, probably the expected one playing another talented team on the road. However, it would have left the Cubs 5.5 games behind the Nats for HFA in the NLDS, continued the momentum of the Cubs, and would have set up the narrative for the time being. Instead the Nats rallied back took the game and put the idea that the Cubs might catch the Nats record on the back-burner. It could still happen. Seven and a half games in under 3 months is far from unheard of, especially when you are being chased by a souped up former champion. But as of today that's not the story. The story is the Nats setting themselves as the clear 2nd best team in the NL.

The story is the bullpen, as we got a taste of what are likely going to be the roles for the pen going forward (despite the attempts to tell us there are no roles). Kintzler to Madson to Doolittle. They pitched 5 2/3 innings in the series, seeing this order twice giving up 3 hits, 1 walk, and striking out five. Most importantly they gave up no runs. I don't personally have 100% confidence that any one of these guys isn't going to give up a couple hits, maybe a run in any outing. These aren't shutdown guys. But I do have confidence that if one does falter, the other two are likely going to be able to deal with the problem created. The Nats pen has been less an issue of individual failures, which happen, than cascading ones. A bad outing leads to a deficit that never seems to go away. The pen puts the Nats 3 behind, the Nats get back 2 runs, but the pen gives one right back. The Nats looks set up with the heart of the order for the ninth but the pen gives up 3 in the top of the inning. And so it goes. It's that kind of feeling that I don't have anymore, the helplessness of feeling the game was constantly teetering on the edge of unrecoverable disaster after the starter existed. That's gone.

The bad news? Strasburg is not listed among the Nats next 4 starters which means Strasburg is missing his next start. That's three. Does it mean doom and gloom? No but it means that we were right to think the injury was more serious than they let on. Given that anyone still want to doubt that we are probably right that the injury, which seemed to resemble last years, will take on a similar path to that one? Anyone want to doubt that the best case has Strasburg pitch sometime this weekend - after about 3 weeks off - and the worst case has Strasburg missing over a month. Anyone want to doubt that even when he pitches again it's basically a huge question mark how many starts he can go because we never actually saw that tested last year?

The other good news? Max is pitching tonight. He could have pitched yesterday but like we said Friday, that would be trying to sneak in an extra start by moving the rotation up taking advantage of the day off. It's a good idea normally, but with Max a bit hurt, letting the rotation continue as normal and giving him one extra day of rest seems a lot smarter. Assuming all goes well, and you have to think it will given the nothing we've heard about his neck since, the doomsday scenario of having Strasburg AND Max gone for the playoffs is officially back to being just another thing up to the fates, rather than something precariously close to being real.


Anonymous said...

Harper, the Strasburg news is consistent with at least two theories: (1) the one you espouse, with the Nats playing coy about the severity of his initial injury; (2) the Nats initial diagnosis is what they said it was, but since then, the Nats have been extra cautious bringing him back, plus Strasburg hasn't bounced back from his bullpens as well as they'd hoped. (2) has the benefit of tracking what the Nats have actually said, whereas (1) relies on subterfuge. I think (2) is far more likely to be true, but you've committed yourself to thinking something more sinister is going on here.

Robot said...

Oh, the Nationals misrepresented the severity of a player's injury and he's now going to miss substantially more time than initially reported?

::searches for shocked face, can't find it::

Josh said...

Having followed Harper for several years, I'll say two things. 1) he gets these things right more often than not, and 2) I don't think he thinks it's sinister, but rather he's just less of an optimistic than the Nats coaching staff, training staff, fans, etc.

Keith Watts said...

Less than TWO months. But yes, still possible. Cubbies have ten left vs CIN and a buncha games left vs ATL and PHI too. And they're good enough to rattle off ten in a row at any point.

Seven games vs MIL down the stretch still likely to decide the division winner in the NL Central.

bogcommenter said...

The problem with anonymous' framework up there is that it leaves no room for the Nats to say "we don't think it's anything major, but we're going to be cautious with him. we have a nice lead in our division and want to make sure he's strong for the postseason"

instead, they were adamant that he wouldn't miss a single start. that the injury was literally nothing.

after literally years of getting burnt with following that second approach, you'd think they'd be more cautious with going in that direction.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anybody was "adamant" that Strasburg wouldn't miss a single start. I think the Nats have presented a fairly consistent front on the severity of the injury: it's not serious, but we're taking a wait-and-see approach; we hope he's not out too long.

Here are some actual quotations:

Strasburg, the night of the injury: “I just want to be there at the end. That’s like the ultimate goal this year,” Strasburg said. “And if getting pulled after a couple innings today, if that’s going to put me in a better position to be there, I’ll take it.”

Baker, the night of the injury: “We think he’s okay. We just took him out for precaution. He couldn’t get loose. We saw he kept shaking his arm,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “So we just took him out for precaution. He’s had a little stiffness, couldn’t really get loose even though he was throwing the ball well. So we’ll analyze it when we get back home. He’ll see our doctors, and hopefully we’ll have an answer on Tuesday.”

Baker, two days later: “He was checked out by the doctor,” said Manager Dusty Baker, who did not provide the exact diagnosis for fear of butchering it. “The doctor said he’s doing fine, and we’re hoping he can progress enough to make his next start. We’ll have to see.”

So it's true that he's now missed two starts (and will probably miss a third) when they were hoping he'd miss zero, but I think this is at all inconsistent with extreme caution about a minor injury, which is what they said the night of and the day after.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to take a different look at it. I actually think the fact that Strasburg isn't starting games is GOOD news. He is obviously fragile and hasn't pitched a full starter's load in years. Even if he had no injury at all it would probably be beneficial for him to sit out a few weeks, recharge the batteries and get strong to avoid slight mechanical flaws due to fatigue that could cause injury. I'd sit him until September or thereabouts whether he's healthy or not.

It might not be a bad thing to do the same with Scherzer, frankly, except that it would cost him the Cy Young which isn't really fair to him and Scherzer has had no issue in the past getting to the end.

We're really lucky that we can roll out our #4 starter, a journeyman and an unproven prospect and take 2-3 from the defending champs in their park. Perhaps the dice rolled a bit in our favor this weekend, but at the very least we stood toe-to-toe with them with a really questionable pitching lineup.

Rest 'em all I say. October or bust!!

mike k said...

^ Strasburg not starting games, with his injury being a known constant, is good news. The problem is we don't know what Strasburg's injury is because we don't trust the Nats PR team to give us an honest response. So the fact that he's going to miss three in a row, after they said he'd miss one at most, is bad news because it means the injury might be more serious than we thought. Only if him missing starts isn't evidence that the injury is worse is this good news.

That being said, I'm glad the team is taking precautions. Strasburg for the playoffs is the only thing that's important.

Incredible the Nats are without half their starting lineup and Strasburg and are still playing good ball.

Fries said...

If not for the performance this weekend, I would be much more pessimistic about the Strasburg situation. But after seeing the Nats win a series on the road against their likely first round playoff opponent with a rotation of Jackson, Roark, and Fedde (none of whom will likely start in the playoffs), I'm feeling a bit better.

Let Stras come back slowly and be healthy in the playoffs, but I'd also like to see the front office do their due diligence (which they normally do) and keep an eye out for a potential waiver trade for another SP just to be safe *cough* Lance Lynn *cough*

Nattydread said...

Rizzo's overall strategy is to not share details of Nats' player injury. It gives him flexibility. If Strasburg is worse than they let on, his office has time to quietly explore options. If he is not so badly injured, they still manage it internally. Keep people guessing. Rest assured that the team knows much more than we do and they are handling the situation whatever it is. Its much better than announcing "Strasburg potentially done for the season" (even if that is true).

We'd all like to believe that Strasburg is more durable. Fingers crossed.

PotomacFan said...

@Fries: Unless there is a rain out, the Nats will almost certainly need 4 starters in the playoffs. Roark is Number 4 (possibly even number 3). Max did not pitch on 3 days rest last year in the playoffs, and I don't see any reason the Nats would pitch him on 3 days rest this season. So, Game 1: Max; Game 2: Strasburg (assuming he is healthy); Game 3: Gio; Game 4: Roark; and Game 5: Max. If the Nats win in 5, Strasburg opens against the Dodgers (in LA -- which is the kind of weather he likes).

Robot said...

I think it's fine to be tight-lipped on injuries. What bothers me us the near-constant understatement of their severity. whether it's mistake, new developments, incompetence, or devious motives, it gets annoying to repeatedly hear that a player's injury is minor, will only be out a week or so, then not see him again for three months.

Harper said...

I don't think it's subterfuge - outside of maybe a mild "Don't show your hands to anyone not asking about them" taking place before the trade deadline. I do think they try to spin things positively externally and you have to take that into your interpretation of what happened. That isn't atypical but also they seem overly committed to it. They are constantly resetting to the best case after each previous best case isn't met. I think it's a lot easier to be realistic to start and if things go better - great!

So instead of "It was a precautionary take out, He's ok." to "Probably going to make next start" to "Ok missing one but won't miss next start" to "He's progressing only has to throw a intense pen and he'll be ready" to "Ok he's still not ready" to....

You have "It's a similar injury to last year but we hope taking him out early will mean a faster recovery the month it took in 2016. We'll be monitoring his pitching closely and he'll return as soon as possible. We hope he misses just one start, but we have to wait and see"

Isn't that easier? By being open and honest you don't feed the beast.

Yeah I'm assuming it's a similar injury to last year but given he's on schedule to miss about three weeks I have to think that it indeed was. The other option is it was an indeed different lighter forearm injury that has happened to surprisingly linger.

Keith Watts said...

Only 7 of the last 21 teams to win 100 games made the WS. So instead of a 25pct shot they're at 33pct? It's a coinflip, folks... each series.

Fries said...


I only think they go with a 4-man rotation if they can swing it. But if Game 4 is a must win (which is completely possible), then I have to think they throw Max out there given Roark's performance this year. Now if they pick up a Lance Lynn type or Roark closes the season strong, yeah maybe you stick with a 4-man rotation. But in a must win game, Max sure as hell better be up on the hill. That's just my take on it.

Rob Evans said...

I know they have to take it slow with Stras. I'm just so over the fact that he can't give them 30-33 starts a year. I mean, the Nats paid what? $175M for this? Very frustrating.

G Cracka X said...

Max could pitch on short rest if they're down 2-1, but he doesn't prefer it and I only think they do that if Max wants to and if Stras is able to pitch G5. Otherwise, not saving Max for G5 means that maybe you have a better chance to get to G5, but then the person you 'skipped' in G4 probably is the starter in G5, so I'm not sure what that accomplishes (unless the other starter has a big home/away split or something like that).

Nats have three things left to do this season:

1) Get/stay healthy
2) Hold off the Cubs for HFA (don't forget that winning Sunday earned them the tiebreaker in case Nats/Cubs finish with the same record)
3) Make sure Gio gets to 180 innings

Bob H said...

Harper,do u think it was a mistake to sign Strasburg long term for so much money given his fragility and history.

Anonymous said...

Take the long view, my friends. I can definitely understand your frustration, Rob Evans, and your concern Bob H, but if we're being honest we don't need Stras to start 30 times. We need Stras to start 1-2 times against the Cubs and hopefully 2-3 times against the Dodgers and 2-3 times against ??. Other than getting primed up for the playoffs I don't care if he starts once more this year.

Now next year if we're really challenged and he is sitting during the middle of a heated pennant race we can feel differently.

Harper said...

Bob H - Not really. Generally you have to take a chance on one or two long-term pitching contracts to be successful. The Nats got lucky. They developed 2 great SPs and traded for another cheap one. This gave some the impression that you didn't need to spend on pitching, but its not what usually happens. If you take a look at all the playoff caliber teams, I think only Cleveland doesn't have a big contract pitcher. Well the Astros don't but that's an offensive lead team. Developing AS caliber starters is hard. After doing it once they couldn't really do it again so they gambled first on Scherzer, then on Strasburg.

Once pitchers get to FA they are generally all in the age range when anything can go wrong. Having one real big injury like Strasburg had - isn't a huge red flag at that point. And given the Nats know Strasburg well I imagine they knew the chances.

ssln said...

Maybe Stras is rally hurt, maybe not. If you think he is hurt, then why didn't Rizzo go after a starting pitcher before the trade deadline. In effect you are saying he knew Stras was hurt and made no attempt to land a SP thereby hurting our chance to advance in the playoffs and a WS. He did this to sabotage the best club we have ever had and one with a legitimate chance at the WS. Are you guys out of your frigging minds?
There are only two possibilities here. !. There are resting Stras since they don't need him to win the division or 2. They thought he was alright and something went wrong after the trade deadline.
You can forget about Lance Lynn. If he is put on waivers, some contending team with a worse record than the Nats will claim him. The only way we can trade for him IS IF HE CLEARS WAIVERS. Never going to happen.
I don't think Rizzo is stupid so let's just exhale here and wait to see how this plays out.

Ole PBN said...

I don't know if I buy the language of "why didn't Rizzo go after a starting pitcher?" I truly think that the reason Rizzo didn't LAND a starting pitcher is because the right deal wasn't out there. Not fair to assume he didn't inquire about rotation help relentlessly. Now you can blame him for not landing anyone depending on your stance of selling the farm for a James Shields-Jeff Samardzija-type SP, but I vote no. I'd love to have Sonny Gray... for the right price that benefits my team both now and in the future, while also weighing the importance of "now" vs "future."

To put this into perspective, knowing what we know about Tre Turner, would you trade Trea Turner++ for Sonny Gray? My answer is hell no. It all depends on how Rizzo feels about Robles and by all accounts he's sold on him being an EVERYDAY impact player for us for a while. He's therefore not worth selling for an impact pitcher, like Gray, who would possibly be the 3rd best guy in our rotation. Hard pass.

If Rizzo believes that Stras will be healthy by October, and the with the way Gio is pitching, plus Max - I'd have to agree that our problems were much more to do with the pen, which in my opinion, Rizzo did a bang-up job fixing.

Fans want to go ALLLL-INNNNNNNNN because its romantic. It's hard not to be romantic about baseball. But I side with the GM and say that hindsight is always 20/20, and I'm good with the group we have with one BIG caveat: The right deal was not out there to get, a) a better shortstop while Turner is out, b) another top/mid rotation SP, c) a top-tier closer, d) another power bat, e) a better catcher.

We're good enough to win it all - we just have to sack up and finally do it.

Harper said...

ss1n - I think it was more "We think he's hurt but last year we were able to get him to a point we felt like he could pitch in a month so we can probably do that again and so - we don't need a pitcher" but can buy OlePBNs type of thinking as well "We think he's hurt but that's not going to force our hand. This is a team built for the long term and we trade with that in mind not for short term gains. This is always about getting to the playoffs and seeing what happens, not about trying to figure out how to increase our chances to win the World Series a few percent."

I just can't see them taking a forearm injury and thinking "Oh this year's forearm injury is going to be so much better than last years" Maybe I'm wrong though. It's happened once or twice in my 148 years on this planet under this identity

DezoPenguin said...

One thing about Strasburg's contract: while he's been oft-injured and in that sense unreliable in a "what am I going to get from him this month? Will he be available in October?" sense, he's actually been very predictable on a year-to-year basis. Consider his fWAR totals since 2012:

3.1 (to date 2017)

$25M/year is roughly market value for a three-win starting pitcher in free agency, even a little low. Given his age, he's likely to continue giving three wins a year for several more years unless he completely breaks, and if he somehow stays healthy he's giving 4+ fWAR and we get surplus value. In essence, we're paying in annual dollars for what he's actually given the team, not for his upside; we get the positive benefit of that upside while assuming the risks of uncertainty (we don't know *when* he'll miss games, only that he probably will) and of a critical injury that he might be more susceptible to than, say, Scherzer.

ssln said...


My point is that you are simply guessing that he has a serious injury. He could be fine but the club may be shutting him down for a while just to give him rest. It is not like we need him to wrap up the division.
There may be two plus months left in the season if we get to the NLCS or the WS. He needs four or five starts before the end of the season to get in the grove. If he isn't back by Labor Day, then you were right
Until then just keep an open mind. Like I said, if Rizzo knew before the trade deadline that Stras was out for the season, then its GM malpractice not to get another starter. That just isn't his style.
Hope you make it to 150 so you can correct those errors.

Froggy said...

AJ Cole pitching to Stanton = Wilhelm scream

JE34 said...

@Froggy -- did anyone *not* see that bomb coming? With my son, listening to Charlie and Dave... I said out loud, "oh no.. 3rd time through the order". I looked down at MLB app... hmm, 5th inning, do you pull him here?... kaBOOM.

Didn't Maddux visit the mound right before that pitch? "OK kid, he's gonna be thinking you're going to pitch around him, so go get em. Right down the middle. Everything's gonna be fine."

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