Nationals Baseball: King of the NL... Central

Friday, May 04, 2018

King of the NL... Central

The Nats have yet to lose a game to the NL Central, opening the season with a three game sweep of the Reds and yesterday completing a four game crushing of Pittsburgh. One one hand these are probably the two worst teams in the Central* but on the other you don't go expecting 3 game sweeps on the road or four game sweeps at home versus anyone.

A hat tip to Davey on moving Bryce up in the line-up. It was a late move and not where I'd put him (I'd put him 2nd) but he did it - making Bryce feel better and maybe giving him a few more pitches to see when the lineup extends behind him more than one batter. Hey, if I'm going to blame him in part for the slow start (and I am) I am going to credit him when things turn around a bit.

Now comes the fun part.  The Phillies.  For all the talk of the Mets and Braves, who actually have better records, the Phillies were the hot team coming into the season, signing the big name free agents in Santana and Arrieta and seemingly setting up the team for 2019 with a run at 2018 possible. The season so far has been a mixed bag

They started slow (1-4, 3-5) which, since no one really likes Kapler, led to numerous stories about the clubhouse being a problem, etc. etc.  The things that may or may not be really true, but you expect to hear when a team is down (see the Nats 4 games ago) Then the Phillies went on a tear winning 11 of their next 13 to get to 14-7 including familiar sweeps of the Pirates and the Reds. But a recent 3-6 swing has dropped them back to Earth and now withing striking distance for the Nats. 

The offense hasn't found it's stride yet, relying on timely hitting to make up for the fact the young players aren't doing to well. JP Crawford on the DL with "forearm strain" and Scott Kingery have stumbled badly.  Jorge Alfaro had too but is starting to come out of it. Worst Carlos Santana, who was supposed to stabilize the lineup with his big bat, has been only offering walks to the line-up hitting .151 currently but drawing 22 base on balls. What's keeping the Phillies from complete collapse is the continued hitting of last year's phenom Rhys Hoskins, and a resurgance from the "old" new players Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera. There's also the "wait, he's actually good" thing going on with Cesar Hernandez at second. It's a mixed bag but one that's enough to win... when the right guys are on the mound.

Aaron Nola is good. That's no surprise. Jake Arrieta is doing just fine. That's no surprise. Nick Pivetta is picking up slack as the third big arm. That's no surp... SAY WHAT? That's right, the Nats trade piece in the ill-fated Papelbon trade has had a great first month striking out plenty while walking next to nobody and keeping the homers down. The walk thing is important. Pivetta has never been unhittable, but he has always kept the homers away, meaning his development was going to hinge on developing an ability to K guys and developing control. Well after being traded to the Phillies , Pivetta was able to immediately up his K game and keep improving on it. However, he didn't immediately get the control down. This kind of slotted him as a back of the rotation guy. But early in 2018 he had a nice run of three games with no walks and 0, 2, and 1 runs given up respectively. A breakthrough? Well if so it didn't last long. The last two games though control has re-emerged as a problem. This is going to be the key in facing him tonight. Is his control off? Can the Nats  (1st in walks - but in a very Bryce heavy way) take advantage of that.

Beyond these three Vince Velazquez and Ben Lively have both been hit pretty hard. Velasquez is the guy the Nats will face (along with Pivetta and Arrieta) and well, he's an imperfect pitcher. Great stuff but wild and hittable. The pen was fortified with Neshek and Tommy Hunter, but neither have made much of an impact. But that doesn't mean the Phillies have struggled in the pen, in fact they have shown themselves to go pretty deep, even with several losses.

It'll be interesting to see which of the Phillies are hot or not at the plate in the first two games. With Nola not pitching this series and Arrieta matched up against Max there isn't a game you point to here and say the Nats should lose it. They should win game 2 (Velasquez vs Roark) and then all they need to do is take one of the others to accomplish my goal. I think it should happen.

This is where the Nats are. 5-2 for the homestand so far, back to .500 and potentially able to climb over the Phillies with a sweep. Couldn't have asked for a better set-up a week ago. Now follow through.

*Yeah I know the Pirates were in first but I said just a couple weeks ago I didn't buy into them.  Don't you remember?

14 comments:

Donald said...

At this point, do you think the Phillies are still the mostly likely team to challenge the Nats this year?

Mark said...

I'm feeling a lot better about Davey than I was a week ago. Just hope he didn't break Madson. Putting him that third day was a really, really bad decision.

Fries said...

I'm still itching for Rizzo to go out and get a true middle relief arm. Not necessarily someone GOOD, but someone who you can throw out there for more than 3 outs. Looking at yesterday, it was nice to have all of the Law Firm available, but that won't always happen and Hellickson will always get the hook 3rd time through the lineup

But I do appreciate having Harper moved up, and I'm not going to lie I kinda like Difo in the 9-spot, even if it may not be optimal from a fancy stats perspective.

At this point I have to think the Barves are the biggest threat. Their pitching is only okay, but they're raking and they're young and they're hungry. We'll see how long it holds up but I think the Mets and Phils are beginning to come back down to preseason expectations.

Harper said...

Donald - I think I always had a healthy Mets team as the biggest threat. As of today I'd say the Braves but that's a completely in the moment thought - not looking at anything.

Mark - I never bought the clubhouse dissention and honestly if he has hurt the Nats it a game or two. I'm not sure I feel a lot better but if this team is together and healthy (even sans Murphy) it should be a ship anyone can steer to the playoffs.

Fries - You're gonna have to wait until trade deadline for any additions.

Jay said...

I'm hoping Wander Suero helps. We'll see. I'd love to have Stammen or Petit back as guys that can throw multiple innings. Having said that Torres hasn't looked too bad. I'm hoping for 2 out of 3 this weekend but that may be tough to do after their recent hot streak.

Bjd1207 said...

@Fries - Like Difo (or another hitter) in the 9 spot if Bryce is hitting leadoff just so there's not an automatic bunt in front of him.

I'm kind of in the same camp as Harper though. Never in a million years would I have put him leadoff, but it seems like it's just what the kid needed. For all of my love of stats and sabermetric decision-making, it takes examples like this to re-ignite my humility towards the game of baseball.

blovy8 said...

I would love a deal with the Padres for Stammen, as long as they don't start asking for someone like Turner...

Jay said...

Mets to DFA Harvey tomorrow. Wow.

Robot said...

So I'm liking this Harper at leadoff thing.

Ole PBN said...

Baseball is such a funny game. The logic in the following situation is pretty bizarre in any other setting, but it’s a baseball move, so it’s “understandable”: Uo 1-0 in top of the 7th, Max gives up a hit and then strikes out his 15th Phillie. Runner steals second on the strikeout. Coach: “111 pitches. Time to put in Solis. Damn, didn’t work out. Kintzler, make it better. Damn. Now we’re losing 3-1.” So you preferred to take out a guy who was giving the opposition fits all afternoon for a guy not even close to being as good. So you’d rather give the opponent another look, essentially helping them out? Because the guys with 4 ERA’s and struggle get 3 guys out should replace a guy with a 1.74 ERA who gets 21 guys out with relative ease and consistency. Huh? Surprised this didn’t work out? Actually, I’m surprised when this does work out, to be honest. Aside from a closer or a solid Madson-type reliever, every one of those guys in the pen is worse than your ace starting pitcher. And with Max’s pedigree, he should be losing that game on his own, not at the hands of someone who may be out of a job later this season. But like I said, this happens all the time, but the principal on what this logic is rooted in is hilarious sometimes!

Alan Wiecking said...

I don't know how accurate the guys on the radio were, but they had Max's two fastballs in that last at bat down to 92mph. I guess you have to play in fatigue and chance of injury. It also sounded like Davey MAY have given Max a chance to talk him out of it but he didn't. So I don't think it was just a "baseball move."

In any case, that was a great win. That flight to SD looks a whole lot better.

Lou said...

I thought it was not only the right move but the obvious move. For all of the strikeouts Max was laboring and getting hit pretty hard. Bullpen just sucks. Nats brought out a parade of pitchers with eras in the 4, 5,6 range

sirc said...

Max throws a couple of fastballs. But for any pitcher, you move one of your gripping fingers a little and the fastball slides or cuts a bit, and also drops a few mph. I think that's all they were seeing on those last few fastballs. Max can grip and rip a 4 seamer as well as anyone in the game, even past 100 pitches.

Mark said...

How many teams have won the division after being two games back on May 7th?