Nationals Baseball: Everything's Fine

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Everything's Fine

Now for some reason I want to sing "Mother, Mother" You old people get it! But not you really old people, or even you normal olds. I mean you early olds.  You get it!

I know this is going to fall on mostly deaf ears but things aren't necessarily going badly. Well sort of.  Let me explain.

This roadtrip was a difficult stretch at a time when things were arguably as dark as they could be for the Nats. They were down 6 games already, just off losing 3 of 4 to the Rockies and having a 3-7 homestand. The Nats could have spiraled out of the picture. They could have gotten swept by the Mets, gone 1-9 on the swing and found themselves 10 games out. But that didn't happen. They beat the Mets and have a chance to come out of the road trip 4-5 which is more than acceptable against this level of competition.* They could be 5.5 games out coming out of this which would mean gaining ground on this road trip which is actually pretty good! And if they lose... well losing some ground is expected especially for a bad team trying to turn around the ocean liner drifting into the iceberg. As I said to start, this trip isn't about getting back to NATIONALS, KINGS OF THE NL EAST. It's about not falling apart, and then going home where they can hopefully starting winning at a playoff clip again.

The Nats are suffering through offensive injuries while playing in pitcher's parks and it shows. The last 4 games the Nats have scored 8 runs total. But overall the picture isn't that grim. Take out the 11-5 loss and in the other 7 the Nats have scored as many as they've allowed. No that isn't winning baseball but it's not bad and that's what you should be aiming for right now. Get through this. Get back Rendon and Eaton. Get good.

This is what I mean when I say things haven't gone badly. The "stay close enough to the Mets that you can slowly chip away at the lead they have gotten over the next couple months" part of the plan has gone ok.  However, I have to explain that "sort of"

You see, since the Nats lost to Colorado to finish that homestand the Braves have gone 4-4.  The Phillies have gone 5-3. They've both played more games at home than away but still they haven't begin to lose like you'd hope. Instead of pretenders falling by the wayside so the Nats could catch the Mets, the Phillies and Braves (now with Acuna!) look to be real hurdles. Both teams have enough talent where you think they might compete (unlike last year's hot start Phillies). If either of these teams catches lightning like the Nats did in 2012 then the Nats are facing a near impossible task.

The Mets are the enemy the Nats know. A team with a unexceptional offense dependent on a healthy and strong rotation who have gone 3-4 since the Nats have gone on the road. We get what the Mets are and can pretty much figure out what needs to happen for the Nats to overcome them. The Phillies and Braves are the enemy the Nats don't know. Are Swanson and Albies stars who along with Acuna and Freeman are ready to give the Braves an lineup that can carry a ace-less rotation and a pen of questionable depth? Is Jake Arrieta really back to form and is Nick Pivetta the real deal so that the starting pitching matches up with anyone and can combine with a solid pen to carry an timely-hitting but not actually good offense? If either of these teams are real in 2018 then the Nats have to fight to make up that ground as well. If both? Part of catching the team ahead of you is relying on them to have some bad luck. You aren't likely to watch three good teams ahead of you all have the fates turn on them.

This is where the Nats are - trying to set the ship right watching not one, but three ships fade into the distance. If they hope to catch all three then they either have to hope for the breaks to go their way or they need to start winning soon. Like next home stand soon.

Other news - 

Victor Robles injury update. Robles hyperextended his elbow diving for a ball in the outfield. This isn't great news but it's good news because they feared a break or a tear which would essentially have meant Robles would need Tommy John surgery (it does happen for regular players - d'Arnaud is probably going to need it). What that means for recovery is still uncertain, as they wait for the swelling to subside, but you should fully expect (and want) the Nats to take it cautiously. What I'd want to hear is a timetable given by the end of the month, giving a general idea of when they expect Robles back. I'd want this date to be no later than the ASB so Robles has plenty of time to return to form before a September call-up.  We'll see.

*3-6 would clear the low bar I set earlier but that is really just a putting a tourniquet on a massive leg injury type of bar. It keeps them from being in big trouble but that's about it


Anonymous said...

So when its early-September and we're 10-12 games out, but we still have star players on the DL - is it fair to panic? Or do we live in the silly reality of "well our guys aren't back yet, so its not really not a legit Mets/Phillies division title." Yes, its true that half our lineup consists of AAA-AAAA players. Yes, its true that bryce (yep, no caps this time, step your game up kid) is slumping. Yes, its true that the only players worthy of praise at this moment are starters 1-4 and Doolittle. But when do we stop making excuses for the fact that this team can't string a few wins together and remains under .500 since the second series of the season? I can't blame Rizzo for this, and Martinez has zilch to work with. But unless we just call this season lost (which is silly), we do have to recognize this current crop of players on the field, are pretty darn bad.

Harper said...

Anon - It's up to the individual on when they want to panic. Is 6.5 out with 138 games left time to panic? Depends on what you think of the Nats then, Nats now, and the same for the teams ahead. For me - I would panic if I thought this Nats team would be around for a while, but I expect both Rendon and Eaton back before the end of the month. I would also panic if I thought more of the Mets, but nothing I've seen really changes my thought process that this is a good but not great team that got off to a fast start. Combine the two and I think the Nats have a better chance to catch them than not (but that's only like 60/40 talk for those thinking I sound too confident). That's not where I panic.

But you may. You might be the type that needs the 90/10 kind of security of 2017 Nats season. Or that thinks the Nats aren't that good to start. Or that Eaton and Rendon won't be back soon. Or that the Mets are really good. I'm not telling you how to feel really.

At 6.5 or so games out... I wouldn't panic until we start to get to the All-Star Break. Then I'd be concerned because I'd see three things working against the Nats. The lack of time to catch up. The lack of H2H games to catch up (9 after ASB). And the distinct possibility that the team ahead will get better through trade throwing off the current judgment of talent.

W. Patterson said...

Comments about ATL and PHI are a mixed blessing for me. I'm part owner of season tickets and the games that matched my schedule are heavy on these two teams. My first thought was that they're filler and will be blowouts. My hope, though, is that they're good, evenly-matched games (and victories for the Nats).

May and June are when the season gets interesting, I think. Thanks for the write-up, Harper.

Unknown said...

The last and next-to-last teams in batting average with runners in scoring position played like it last night. Unfortunately the Nats again come up on the short end. Both the Nats and the Giants were a paltry 1 for a paltry 4 in that stat. I really don't care if we don't have Rendon, Murphy, and Eaton available. Next man up, darn it. We had plenty of injuries to key players when Dusty Baker was manager and somehow still managed to win games and even lead the division with Rendon, Zimmerman, and Werth all on the DL for nearly two months. I know everybody wants to blame the injuries and the cobbled together lineup for the lack of offense, but NOPE, I ain't doing that. Not when it's the guys like Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman and the man F.P. Santangelo calls The Hitting Machine, Howie Kendrick that are leaving all the runners on base.

Anonymous said...

Bryce isn't slumping. Bryce a)is still getting on base at an insane clip and b) has faced a parade of left-handed pitchers (five of the last six games have featured a LH starter for the other team). It's true he hasn't hit for much power recently, and if he doesn't warm up it may be a slump. But right now I'm blaming a heavy dose of lefties.

For me, the Braves are the scariest 2019 and beyond. Right now they have no pitching. Supposedly they're stacked with pitching prospects, but unless any of those can contribute as starters in 2018, I predict they will fade. The Phillies are flawed in the way Harper mentions, but I think their starting pitching can keep them relevant for the whole year. The mets are the biggest threat, but remember their lineup is both mediocre and old. Injuries are coming.

Still, the Nats have pretty much already used up all their advantage in talent over the rest of the division. If injury and batted ball luck aren't distributed evenly among the teams over the rest of the season from here on out, the Nats could play well and still not win the division. Eaton and Rendon need to come back.

On the bright side: Turner and Taylor look to be waking up.

Anonymous said...

"Injuries are coming" stop counting on the Mets to get injured and man the hell up and win the division by playing better baseball. Trash Organization the Nats are with fake fans who used to like the Orioles. Go Phillies

Jay said...

I read something this morning that the Nats will have to play at a 97-win pace to get to 90 wins now. That is pretty scary. I blame the Lerners. They fired Dusty, didn't extend him I know but that is just semantics. They stated nothing but a World Series is acceptable but then didn't improve the team in any really appreciable way. They always cut corners except on big name players. I remain hopeful that they can catch up, but they are in real trouble. Kershaw said it best just before playing the Nats - you can always use it's early as an excuse but until you start winning games it doesn't really matter. Hopefully, getting back home and winning some games will help. Of course they play Arizona first series at home. That is my one reason for hope. The Nats schedule early has been really tough. They haven't even played the Marlins yet. Dodger, SF, Arizona next, Colorado. Tough way to start out. Hopefully, they can get it together soon.

JE34 said...

Bryce is 2 for 20 in his last 7 games. Even with the walks (9 of them), that's a rut. His splits are awful vs lefties so far this year... moreso than his career numbers, so one would expect him to improve over the year as the sample size grows.

I don't think we should shrug off his struggles vs lefties though. If he can't be a real threat to lefties, do you pay him $400M?

It seems like Nats hitters are only heating up one at a time.

Anonymous said...

Bryce is 2 for 20 in his last 7 games...with a .118 BABIP. Bryce is a career 112 WRC+ hitter against lefties. This year, he's at 116, which would make it the second best season against lefties of his career (2015 was much better). He hits lefties well enough, but this is definitely an area he could improve. The larger point is: BRYCE IS NOT THE PROBLEM.

"Trash Organization the Nats are with fake fans..." Phillies fans: speaking English good since 1883!

JE34 said...

^^^that is true. I didn't mean to convey that I thought Bryce was a big problem with the team. The big problem right now is their daily reliance on the bench guys, and spelling them with the Syracuse roster.

Anonymous said...

Something that doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as it should: since Rendon was drafted, this team’s draft record leaves a LOT to be desired. Beyond Robles and Soto there appears to be almost no depth in this organization at all.

On another note, has anyone noticed that since the Rockies gave him that 5 year $70 million contract, Ian Desmond has been maybe the worst regular in major league baseball? He has now cumulatively given them a -1.3 fWAR and a -1.7 rWAR. That is beyond bad!

Ole PBN said...

Not panicking. Will wait for July for that. But definitely frustrated as I look forward to watching these games, but it's not as fun when you haven't heard of half the guys playing and the guys you have heard of aren't playing well. Fact is, the Syracuse Nationals cannot compete in the NL East until Murphy, Rendon, and Eaton come back. The whole "next man up" line is cute, but these players are what you thought they were. Is anyone actually mad that Sierra, Stevenson, Sanchez, and Reynolds aren't playing like Rendon, Eaton, and Murphy? What is your expectation of those guys? Sierra sucking is different that say, Kendrick sucking. Meaning Kendrick was brought in to play a key bench/spot star role. Sierra was brought in to... do the same? Come on. Bryce is not the problem, but he is in a slump right now.

Is it just me or is this a preview of the ~2022 Nationals, if we were to sign Bryce to a mega deal? We'd have him with two, maybe three other quality hitters in the lineup. Regardless of how amazing he is, he only comes up to the plate 3-4 times a game and if no one is on for him and if no one can drive him in when he does get on, what's the point? Just my opinion, would love to have him here for sentimental reasons as it would be tough to see him in another uniform, but I don't see how we can have our cake and eat it too.

Jay said...

I agree with Ole PBN. If they can't keep other players around Bryce, then it is probably not worth keeping him. Of course you could also argue the opposite - without Bryce this team is toast. Hopefully, they can get it together soon. I will say again that the Lerners have irritated me by getting rid of Dusty.

SM said...

So . . . if Dusty were managing this year, how much better would the Nats' record be?

C'mon Dusty lovers, give me a number.

PotomacFan said...

For the Nats to win 90 games (which may not be enough to win the division or even guarantee a wild card), they will have to finish the season 80 - 58. That means they have to win just under 58% of their remaining games. A team that wins 58% of their 162 games would win 95 games during the year. So, the Nats need to win at 95 game pace for the rest of the year. And it looks like all but Miami in the NL East are better teams.

Now, if the Nats had most or all of their regulars, I would say that a 95 win pace is quite doable. But as we add more and more games (and losses) with the Rochester Nationals AAA squad, we will fall further off the pace, and getting to 90 wins gets tougher and tougher.

Remember that the current 10 - 14 record is not a statistical deviation during a long season that will resolve over time. Rather, the Nats current roster is probably not much better than a 10 - 14 team.

And while I'm doing the doom and gloom thing (although actually, I'm mildly optimistic), let's also remember that getting Rendon, Eaton and Murphy back does not ensure that they don't get injured again, or that we suffer other injuries, e.g. Strasburg and/or Harper.

I'd feel a lot better if the Nats were cruising along at 0.500.

Anonymous said...

Actually, PotomacFan, the 10-14 record isn't an accurate reflection of how well the Nats have played. On Fangraphs, you can take a look at BaseRuns records, which tries to estimate W-L record based on the component events (BB, 1B, HR, etc.) and ignores the sequence in which those events occurred in real life. In real life, 1B-1B-HR is worth 3 runs whereas HR-1B-1B is worth 1 run. BaseRuns treats them as being worth the same amount (probably 1.something or 2.something). It calculates expected runs scored, expected runs against, and using expected run differential, derives an expected W-L record. A stat like batting average with runners in scoring position tells you a lot about how a particular game might have been won or lost, but it's an exceptionally bad statistic at predicting the future (overall batting average, though not a good stat, tells you a lot more about the future than batting average with RISP). Whether a team collectively is good or bad in key RISP moments is *mostly* luck (this can be both BABIP luck and where-the-key-moment-occurred-in-the-lineup luck).

Anyway, by this measure, the Nats have been 3 games unlucky. Their record should be 13-11. Their component events suggest them scoring .4 runs more per game and giving up .27 fewer, so they've been a bit unlucky on both sides of the ball. This jibes with the very poor record in one-run games. The Mets have been 4 games lucky - they should be 11-10 (and most of that luck has come on offense). Both teams have been worse than the Phillies and Braves, however, whose BaseRuns records are both 13-9.

This doesn't change the fact that the records are what they are and the ground the Nats have to make up is real. But it does suggest that the components that led to the records being what they are - e.g., performance with RISP - is unlikely to continue in this way.

TwoGloves said...

Anon, as Bill Parcells used to say "You are what your record says you are".

blovy8 said...

Yeah, I agree with PotomacFan, just because you've had injuries, doesn't mean you won't get your share the rest of the year too. You can say the starting pitching has been really healthy so far. For instance, only Cole's pride has been hurt.

However, this early stretch of hurt gives them yet another chance to evaluate players. The slight glimmer of hope I get, is that they DID recognize that Cole was a liability and jettisoned him. They finally DID put Rendon on the DL, not that there's much of anyone to hit on the bench yet. Maybe Bautista has worked on his bunting skills and we can squeeze more runs in, that seems to work.

The best news going is that Soto is destroying the Sally League, how long do they wait to send him to Woodbridge? Hell, they could probably just skip that level and let him face junk in Harrisburg.

Ole PBN said...

Also, the sentiment that we didn't improve the team from last year and that is why we're struggling is ridiculous. After not improving the rotation in 2013 and 2014, in 2015 we brought in Max to round out a out-of-this-world rotation that caused some people to say "where's my ring?" Bryce also won the MVP and we still missed the playoffs that year. The difference is an opponent that hung around all season. Hard to draw comparisons, but this year does feel eerily similar to 2015. I'm all for bringing in another starter, but my only reason for that was to improve our odds in the playoffs - of course we have to get there first. Injuries and a better-than-we-thought Mets team may be the reason we don't get there. It won't be because the Lerner's refused to spend, or that Rizzo didn't "get the right guys," or that Martinez was bad at his job.

Bjd1207 said...

@blovy8 - He's already on his way to Potomac. But we all know Harrisburg in that pitcher's league is the real test

BxJaycobb said...

I’m far more wary of the Phillies than the Braves. I just think they have more talent. I don’t think people realize how good an offensive player Rhys Hoskins might be. And I think scott Kingery is a star, and might be a star this year. Altherr will start hitting. Santana is a good offensive player. Cesar Hernandez is good. And there is upside with people like Alfaro and JJ Crawford. And their pitching is just far better than the Braves. I don’t buy the Braves. Swanson isn’t this good. Albies won’t be this good when people get a scouting report on him (though I think both are solid players). Acuna migt be a beast. But Suzuki is not better a better hitter than Buster Posey. Sorry. I just don’t think their offense is quite good enough to cover for their meh pitching. I think the Braves are no better than .500. Are the Phillies better than .500? I think it’s possible for sure.

Bjd1207 said...

@Bx - Hoskins is an absolute monster

Anonymous said...

Who wishes (in hindsight) that Rizzo had given up Trea Turner and made the Chris Sale deal?