Nationals Baseball: A good plan, spoiled.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A good plan, spoiled.

See?  4-5 road trip that included in the middle a West Coast swing NOT to San Diego, gaining a half-game on the Mets.  Who isn't taking that when we start this thing? Now there's the losing a bunch of ground to the Braves and Phillies in there that we did not agree to, but next time we'll have to be more specific in what we are accepting.

Now though it gets serious. The Nats are back home, should be starting to get healthy, and they need to start winning. For series at home this means 5/6 wins every 9 game stretch, 6 wins every 10 game stretch. Can they figure their way out to 90+ wins and an NL East title with another 4 weeks of putzing around? Maybe. But I don't want to try to figure that out.

We've seen a lot of anger trying to figure out where to put the blame for the slow start. Is it Rizzo? Is it Martinez? Is it just injury luck?

Of course I'm going to say "a little bit of everything" but I think the overarching story of the season so far is this:

Everyone thought the Nats were a shoe-in for the division title.  The Nats saw this same discrepancy in talent and decided it could use the beginning of the season to start the process on deciding how to reset the team for 2020 and beyond. They would cycle through some 5th starters and middle relievers. They would let the OF situation, with 4 questions marks of various sizes, solve itself. They would run out the clock on the C situation hoping to get lucky.  After getting a feel for those things (maybe by Memorial Day?) and if there was something to actually worry about in the NL East, they'd look to the trade deadline to shore up this season while starting the actual implementation of the "next window" process. This plan would be fine unless for some reason the Nats started real slow AND the NL East was a bigger threat than everyone thought.

Of course the Nats did start real slow AND the NL East has been a bigger threat than everyone thought. 

So now in hindsight that plan to continue the "focus on winning now and winning later" strategy of the Nats looks foolish. Maybe the take-away should have been learned in 2015, but it's definitely learned now. Assume no shoe-ins. Focus on winning now from the start. If you get a sizeable lead then go ahead and start doing other things using that cushion, but don't assume a cushion will be there. But it's too late to apply that to 2018 so buckle up and try to enjoy the Nats fight back into the division. Honestly this could happen very quickly. Just a week might be enough to put the Nats bacak in a favorable position (say 2 or so games out). But for now expect at least fighting for games until we get to that easy stretch we talked about.

I think  the whole 2018-2019 FA situation is shaping up to be far more interesting than the 2015-16 was. By the time we got to 2015 a lot of the questions about the Nats approach were answered and problems were diminished. Would the Nats spend the money necessary to keep winning? Yes - look at the Scherzer deal. Could they weather the potential loss of two starting aces? Not as pressing an issue. Got a new one in Max so they only would have to sign one and found one or two other decent rotation arms to keep ML depth up. Could they weather the potential loss of Desmond/Espy/Ramos?  Yes, got a Desmond replacement and neither Espinosa (talent) or Ramos (health) ended up important enough to really worry about replacing. It also was obvious that the best hitters, Bryce, Rendon, would still be on the team. Could they weather the potential loss of Clippard/Storen/etal? They wouldn't really bother trying.

In 2018 though the same questions don't really have answers. Can they weather the potential loss of Bryce/Murphy/Rendon? Don't know. Hoping Robles and Soto will cover but don't have any idea how soon they'll make it or how good they'll be. And these are the BEST hitters that are leaving. Can they weather the potential loss of Gio/Roark? Similar to the Desi/Espy/Ramos Q before this is less important because the aces are still here but Fedde better be 3rd starter good or else there is no replacement lined up. Can they weather the potential loss of Madson/Kintzler? Nothing lined up - not sure they will even try given past, but finally putting $ into relief arms this year might signify a change.

By the time 2015-16 started there remained worries but you could see a path through. Sign one of Strasburg/ZNN and there's probably enough here to keep things going.  Now it's murkier. Signing one of Bryce/Rendon/Murphy alone probably isn't enough unless a good starting pitcher shows up and a young hitter develops quickly. If not they'll have to put more money into FA, and that's before addressing what once again looks like a hole in the relief corps.

The Nats have weathered this storm once before so I'm not going to write off that they can reset again. A smart deal for Rendon, Fedde shows as a #3, Robles or FA signee are a star and the other is a compliment, one FA pitching arm to set-up Doolittle while someone else has developed to be reliable (Solis?).  There are ways. It's not grim. But the chance to map this out early this season is gone. It'll have to be done on the fly while fighting for a division title.


Sammy Kent said...

I feel bad for Pedro Severino. On a day when the Nationals were just clouting the heck out of San Francisco pitching, Pedro went 0-6. But he did get on base once and scored a run. What I really liked about yesterday's game was that 14 of the 15 runs were scored with two outs. That's the kind of clutch hitting we've been needing. Wish we could bank some of those runs and two-out hits and use them later.

Unfortunately, there are too many things about this Davey that remind me of the first Davey, and of Matt Williams.....and a bunch of low scoring games wrapped around one solitary offensive explosion is one of them. It drives me nuts when the Nats are scuffling and F.P. or Bob (who, granted, are charged with the job of always being positive) says the Nationals are averaging four runs a game and you know that per game average has been deceptively inflated by a two touchdown outburst every tenth day. When Dave and Matty were managing we'd have four or five series every season where the opponent scored something like 3-3-3-3 and the Nats scored 2-2-2-14. Or you could just track the scores for ten days and it would be 3-0-1-3-2-4-1-5-2-15. Then all the apologists would clamor "They're averaging nearly four runs a game!" when in truth, they were actually SCORING two runs or fewer for half of the games and three runs or fewer 70% of the time.

Next up is a ten game homestand against Arizona, Pittsburgh, and Philly. We need seven or eight of these to be wins, especially against the Phillies.

G Cracka X said...

"Everyone thought the Nats were a shoe-in for the division title."

This is mostly true, but not 100% accurate. Back on the Happy 'Opening' Day post, I included this prediction:

'2015 repeats itself. Mets win the division, while the Nats miss the playoffs. Lots of injuries and lack of chemistry. Martinez keeps his job, but Nats go full rebuild mode in '19.'

Harper said...

Sammy - 7/8 is too much to ask. There are no gimme teams here to expect a sweep. Beat the Phillies (2), Either beat the D-backs OR the Pirates (4). 6-4 w/ beating the Phillies is probably where I'll end up. But I'll say there isn't a lot of leeway here. 5-5 isn't good enough. So it's a lot firmer line, not the usual "within a game either way" type of call.

Harper said...

GCX - It'll never be everyone. I'm sure we can find someone who thought the Nats would lose 100 games if we look hard enough. But revel in your rightness. We don't make predictions to go over all the ones we miss but to single out the ones we get right.

W. Patterson said...

Just call me happy that they're back in town where I can watch games at a reasonable time. I'll retire someday and be able to watch those west coast games live . . .

Ric said...

"What I really liked about yesterday's game was that 14 of the 15 runs were scored with two outs. That's the kind of clutch hitting we've been needing."

Nit-picking here, but that's not clutch hitting at all, when most of these two-out hits were when the Nats were already up 3-1, 6-1, 8-1, 10-1, 12-2, and 15-2.

This makes your point about Severino more valid; hitters were loose, pitching was bad, and he still went 0-6. But on the other hand, anybody can have an 0-fer day any game. So I'm not alarmed.

Harper said...

W Patterson - watching sports is probably the best reason to move to the West Coast, especially as a retiree.

W. Patterson said...

@Harper - You make a good point, I left the west coast 30 years ago (grew up a Dodger fan) and don't plan to move back. Right now, as a Nats fan, I can watch every game. Folks in L.A. are lucky if they see two or three games a season on TV.

blovy8 said...

I think if this team had no expectations, we'd be saying what will they be like once they get healthy. But the thing is, since Martinez has to get this team to the World Series, all that matters is getting into the playoffs and winning - let all those other teams worry about all the injuries and stinking they have left to do, the Nats must win now!

Can anyone make the case that the starting eight guys plus the top four starters, plus the best three relievers is not a playoff team? We should not anoint the Phillies and Braves prematurely. All they really need is health and perhaps a decent middle reliever. What in hell is easier to acquire than a middle reliever? Get about five of them and see who's good.

Ole PBN said...

Unfortunately, I think acquiring a middle reliever is going to cost prospects - of which we have none. Remember how much Brad Hand cost? We aren't willing to part with Robles or Soto (nor should we). The thing with this team is health and the failure to produce in-house bullpen talent. Someone has to pitch better. Suero? Austin Adams gets his control issues... under control? Fedde to the pen? Bryan Harper? I mean...

Koda not panning out (yet) hurts, as he had some promise and would have eliminated a role to be filled. I get frustrated with guys who have had good numbers elsewhere and stink here (Solis lately, Kelley, etc.) Poorly constructed pen or poor performances highlighting bad GM decision making? Take your pick - players gotta play.

Anonymous said...

Harper - Can you do a post with some kind of team hitting and pitching comparison for every season 2014-2018 up to this date without telling initially which year is which to see if this year really is as bad as the win loss record indicates? My guess is it may be tougher to match up years than one would think.

Harper said...

Anon @ 2:17 - maybe. Easiest way would be to wait until end of April because then could use splits already out there.