Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Divisional Panic

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday Quickie - Divisional Panic

The Nats are 7-9. That's disappointing but as we keep saying - it isn't anywhere near impossible that a 90+ win team starts 7-9.  It's a bump to overcome, not a mountain.

But also as we keep saying the Nats do not play in a vaccuum. They can move forward and win 90+ games and still not win the division if another team just flat out beats them and right now the Mets are just flat out beating them. They are 12-2 with a six game lead and have an opportunity, not to finish off the Nats, but to make that bump into that mountain. Even with 145 games or so left, nine games is a lot of games to make up.

Let's do a couple flashbacks

In 2015 - the season we almost have to compare this one to - the Mets started out super hot (13-3) while the Nats did not (7-9).  Seems familiar right? A hot Mets team with a 6 game lead a couple weeks in.  Well what happened next? Immediately things got worse. The Mets would start playing .500 ish for a couple weeks but the Nats would start out in the middle of a six game slide putting them 8 games out at 7-13 as the last week in April started. Then the Nats would catch fire. They'd go 18-4 over the next three plus weeks and would be up 1.5 games before May was done. It helped that the Mets would have their own 4-10 slide.

So you can make up even more than 6 games in the matter of a month. It does take you playing your best baseball of the year, and the other team playing maybe its worst but it's possible. And at that point all the Nats had to do again was outplay the Mets down the stretch. They wouldn't do it of course but it wasn't a crazy thing to expect they would.

That last point is important. Does this series matter? Yes, but let's not get ahead of ourselves thinking that winning it, or even sweeping it, fixes anything.  Really all it does it keep the wheels from coming off right now. In 2015 the Nats were looking at a 6 game deficit to the Mets heading into a H2H series with them at CitiField, a week and a half later than this year. The Nats would take three of four (even losing the Scherzer game!) and would come out of there only 4 games down. While it would help in the catching of the Mets, it didn't mean the Nats would put them away.As noted the slightly better than the Mets 2015 Nats would every so slightly expand the lead until the end of July when the Mets would bring in Cespedes, even up the talent more, and then sweep the Nats in NY.

The Nats don't NEED to win this series - it's an away series against a good team that's hot. That's asking too much. But they need to not get swept and hopefully that means a series win.

Right now the Nats are playing like their record suggests. They can beat awful teams, but can't hold ground against good teams at home. That's a recipe for struggling to keep .500. This is a hard road trip for the Nats. They take on the Mets, then they have to fly across the country to take on two desperate teams, the Dodgers and Giants, who expected to be doing better than they are. What am I asking from the Nats... I can't believe it but I'm just asking for 3-6, and to not get swept by the Mets. 10-15 is a pretty lousy start but at this point it's about slowing the bleeding, and a road trip like this is one where the team could bleed out.

Other notes 

Remember before the season when I said I was worried about the OF because Eaton was a risk because he was still an injury recovery situation and MAT was questionable because last year was the only year he did well and he was hurt in Spring and you all said don't worry about it?

Just wondering if you remember that.

An encouraging sign. Trea taking 5 walks over the weekend. If he's going to lead off he needs to do that. Now how a guy with his speed gets on base at least 7 times and steals one base is something we need to talk about  (Commenter noted - Trea had guys in front of him for each of three walks yesterday.  Went back and looked at other times and basically there was only one straight steal of 2B that wasn't tried out of the seven. So there you go. 1 stolen base is fine.) but the foundation to a good guy to have in front of the big hitters is there. 

I've heard people say Bryce is trying too hard to compensate and suffering. That's just us projecting. Bryce just went 3-7 with four walks and a homer in the last three games. He's being Bryce. The Nats have enough real issues without making up ones.

Zimmerman is now batting .122 / .204 /.224. Slow start? Perhaps it's not unusual as they said for Zimm to get off to a slow start. But slow starting Zim would OPS about 650 or so. .428? That's crazy and if he keeps it up for another ten days - be worried

I don't know if the lack of Stras-blame for yesterday's game is an encouraging sign (you get that he pitched ok and he's not a choker - see NLDS) or discouraging (too beaten down right now to care) 


ElChupinazo said...

Can we really attribute this to much more than injuries and relief wobbles? I mean I know we all want to scrutinize Martinez (and their strategy, particularly on the basepaths, is circumspect), but you're talking about a team with their three best hitters sidelined. I'm not sure there's a team in baseball with the depth to overcome that.

Four hitters, really, if you were counting on Zim to blossom into anything resembling his 2017 self. Kendrick has stepped up, and Wieters and Severino (at least so far) appear to be more valuable than they were expected to be. Of course they can't play in the same lineup, and MAT isn't even flashing the power to offset his Ks. At least he's nimble on the basepaths?

The shaky bullpen is a problem, you assume that at least the law firm portion will sort themselves out. Middle relief would be less of a problem if you had an offense at or near full strength with hitters that can score runs.

Jon Quimby said...

I attended my first game of the year yesterday. Stras looked SHARP and then it kinda fell apart at the end. I don't read much into except that even the best pitchers occasionally have a bad inning. If the bullpen had held up we would have won.

Taylor looks great. He was hella fast on the bases and chased down a couple touch catches in the outfield. He's absolutely elite in the field.

Sierra looks totally overmatched.

Zimm was a complete rally killer yesterday. He also isn't helping Bryce at all who got walked 3 times in front of him and I think only really saw one good pitch to hit (which he smashed). Zimm also failed to knock down a sharply hit ball down the line. Had he just knocked it down the outcome of the game may have changed. He's a liability right now. I think he needs to sit until he gets right.

Josh Higham said...

Rendon has been sidelined for under 3 games, so the 6-7 record prior to his toe injury featured the team's #2 or #3 hitter playing well. Bryce is the team's best hitter and it isn't close. So what they're really missing is 2/3 in Murphy and 4 in Eaton. Trea is arguably a better/more important hitter than Zim. And Kendrick at .319 is a totally suitable Murphy fill-in. The offense has been bad, for sure. But they've had a totally adequate set of hitters to beat the mediocre teams they've faced. The sweep to the Mets is the only series they've played against a clearly good team. The Braves are decent and they've split. The Rockies are decent and took 3 of 4. Stras has given up 4 runs twice.

Even if relief wobbles and injuries were all that happened, those were not unforeseeable problems. Those possibilities were clear through the offseason and spring. No one should be surprised be them. Management put together this team knowing there were some coin flips that would have to come up heads.

Josh Higham said...

Should have given Howie's slash line. It's .314/.340/.490. Very Murphy-esque (.322/.384/.543 last year).Murphy-lite at the plate but slightly better defense at second.

Dmitri Young said...

I’ve never been one to blame Strasburg, but yesterday especially I thought Zim should have gotten Blackmon’s double.

G Cracka X said...

One bright spot so far is Wieters. He seems like he is going to have a better year at the plate this year (though it is too early to say for sure).

JE34 said...

Latest word I can find says Eaton and Murphy likely won't play until the end of April. The Mets dodge both Scherzer and Strasburg this week (assuming they get all the games in).

Something must be done to make other teams pay for pitching around Bryce. Who else can they put behind him but Howie or Rendon? Might as well move Bryce up to 2nd at this point, as extra at bats for Difo are helping no one. With Turner's improved patience at the plate, he can run more on breaking balls in the dirt.

Anonymous said...

"An encouraging sign. Trea taking 5 walks over the weekend. If he's going to lead off he needs to do that. Now how a guy with his speed gets on base at least 7 times and steals one base is something we need to talk about but the foundation to a good guy to have in front of the big hitters is there."

To lazy to double check, but I believe for each Trea's three walks yesterday, he had a runner directly in front of him on the base paths.

Harper said...

El Chup - Bryce is sidelined?

It IS mostly injuries and the vagaries of the season. You hope they get lucky and can overcome that with some regulars or bench players timely stepping up but that doesn't always happen. Like I said - 7-9 is off but just a little. It's not like another manager has this team at 10-6. However, the organization should have seen this as a possiblity. Doesn't mean they could have gotten a bat to compensate for the possible Murphy+ out early. But could have put more money into pen (need that one add'l arm) or 5th starter. Still I fully expect this team to win around what we thought - maybe this costs them a game or two.

JQ - MAT getting back on track would be a huge help.

JH - yes. This is a few tails coming back but you want to limit coin flips - not assume life's going to give you a fair outcomes of the flips you have. Nats management didn't do that and got some bad breaks and here we are.

DY - Zimm is a liability in the field now.

GCX - Silver Lining! But seriously - if Wieters can be average that's a big help. Catchers are hard to come by

JE34 - if Murphy is back before May I'd be ecstatic. We need Rendon back. Either that or bat Bryce leadoff and make them start the game with a runner on basically. Give yourself that every game.

Harper said...

Anon @ 8:47 - that qualifies as talking about it! Let me see....Yes. you are right. Strasburg was in front of him once, MAT once, and bases loaded up once. So there you go.

Anonymous said...

Even in his prime Zimmerman wasn’t exactly Mr. Emotion, but now he is the living embodiment of the shrug emoji. I truly believe he couldn’t really give a f*ck about much of anything at this point.

The bad news is that if Martinez continues this insanity of batting him after Bryce, it will completely kill off whatever miniscule chance the Nats have of signing him to a long term deal.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I think there's something off with this team at its core. What other team changes manager four teams in six years, while winning four divisional titles? Upper Management thinks the talent is great and with just the right leadership the Nats will win. But sooner or later you have to look at the players. The 4 divisions the Nats have won were blowouts. In 2013 and 2015 when they were pressed they lost to the Braves and Mets, two teams with inferior talent. In the playoffs, when pressed, they lost. This team is great out in front but lousy when put to the test. The alarming thing is the team they will have to deal with, the Mets, seem to be the opposite. That team tends to rise to the occasion. They did in 2015 and 2016, despite their injuries. And early on they seem to do the same thing. The Nats may have their hands full.

Mainelaker said...

I don't think Stas looked sharp. He started out 2-0 on most hitters and was rescued by BABIP. It was only a matter of time before the Rockies caught up to him, and they did.

Karl Kolchak said...

@Anon 9:10--I've been thinking the same thing, that since 2012 every time this team gets pressured they fold. The 2012 divisional race was fairly tight, but the Nats had an advantage that year they haven't had since in that the pressure was on their opponents and not them. When the pressure shifted to them in the NLDS that year they collapsed. Each divisional title since then was essentially a gift that any half-way decent team would have won easily.

It is odd that these failures have happened under 4 different managers. The only constant is the GM--and you have to wonder if Rizzo ignoring clubhouse chemistry as he did when acquiring Papelbon, isn't a huge factor.

TwoGloves said...

ElChup - if you want to chalk up this shaky start to injuries and bad middle relief that is fine, but that is exactly what Mets fans were saying last year. We are without our hitters, but they were without 4/5 starters for a majority of the year!! If we are banking on winning the division or snagging a wildcard by counting on Mets injuries good luck. They are essentially the same team that won the division is 2015 and wildcard in 2016 - which is very good.

W. Patterson said...

@Anonymous - Ya gotta bat Zimm fourth because he's ZIMM! If this was last year then you'd have Werth batting fourth, regardless of how he's hitting (or not).

The upcoming Mets series will be played in the cold. Other teams play okay in the cold but the Nats appear to use it as an excuse for losing.

(Yes, this is snark, and I can only hope that my snark is misguided and they surprise us all by winning - or at least showing some life, at Citi Field.)

S. Nguyen said...

Zimm is not great on defense. Whatever quickness he had before when he was an GG 3rd baseman is gone. But I think he's been really unlucky at the plate. He's hitting a ridiculous .143 Babip with a 27/36/36 LD/GB/FB rate. He's 3/10 on line drives which is less than half of typical average on LD. I dont know how to calculate cummulative Exit Velocity/Lauch Angle on baseballsavant but it seems like he's still hitting the ball hard. I think that once the weather warms up, his hitting will be better.

Froggy said...

To your point Dmitri weren't the Nats in the shift on that play? Doesn't that mean the first baseman should be crowding the line?

Froggy said...

I don't know what Adam's splits are against the Mets but hoping that Martinez is Maddonesque enough to put the best players on the field a la Adams over Zimmerman.

JE34 said...

Zim behind Harper is killing the offense.

Ole PBN said...

I’d love to know what Zimm is hitting, when following a Bryce walk (intentional or unintentional). I think I’ve seen him get maybe 1 hit this year in that scenario? Atrocious considering he faces that scenario at least once every game.

JE34 said...

Several Triple A scrubs are also killing this team.

Robot said...

No hustle either, Skip.

JE34 said...

That's right, Darryl!

Fries said...

That was an emotional roller coaster of a game

Robot said...

Heh. LOL@Mets.

JE34 said...

It was nice to see the Nats avoid taking stupid swings while the Mets' pen was busy destroying itself. (I think back to Wieters in the 2017 playoffs, flying out on the first pitch with bases loaded - following a 4 pitch walk - in the late innings.) In my agitated state I admit I was almost ready to say "I think I miss Dusty" when Martinez made all those substitutions, but those kids I decried as Triple A scrubs came up with some big hits in the 8th inning.

Now, if the guy who can't stop tinkering with the lineup could please make one more tinker and move Zim out from behind Bryce, that would be great. Because we have not bryce or Bryce but BRYCE right now, so let's not screw it up.