Nationals Baseball: Breather

Thursday, June 14, 2018


Another day, another team held to 4 or less by the Nats pitching staff. Fedde wasn't great but he managed to not be terrible and the bullpen of Miller, Madson, and Doolittle, plus whoever else is necessary finished the job. A couple scares here and there but the job got gotten done. The Nats offense, or more accurately Juan Soto, plated 5 runs and the Nats were able to get out of New York splitting the series.

One thing we have maybe only skirted at mentioning, what if the Nats don't win the NL East? I think we all just assume "well they'll have the Wild Card".  Will they? Currently the answer is Yes but only by a half-game. The Brewers, Braves, and Diamondbacks would take the titles and the Cubs (+2) and Nats would be the Wild Card game* The Cardinals though, sit only a half-game back of the Nats, the Phillies 2 games behind and the Dodgers 3.  Having teams fall into haves and have-nots so clearly means there is going to be a bunch of teams all crammed together at the top. This has all the makings for 1-2 90+ win teams to be shut out of the playoffs.

For a team used to cruising this year will almost certainly be different. How used to cruising are the Nats? Well at this point last year - the ideal year - the Nats were up 9.5 games.  They'd "fall to 7.5 by July 1st but that would be the low point from here on out. In 2016, they'd be up 5.  They'd go on their worst stretch of the year in a couple of days and be only up by 2 on the 25th but that would be the low point. There'd be one more minor scare - the lead would go to 4 going into August, but pretty much smooth sailing. In 2012 they'd be up 5. This was a more contested year** and the Braves would stick around through August but would never get closer than 2 games and would spend most of that time 3-4 games out. They'd close just enough at the end to make you think about it, but not worry.

Only 2014 wasn't decided by this point in hindsight. The Nats were tied at this moment, at a middling 35-32 and would take some small leads and fall into second here and there. It wasn't until August where the Nats would first separate a little as the Braves crashed then run off 10 in a row and 12 of 13 to put it out of reach.

Oh the non-playoffs seasons? The 2013 would already be 5.5 behind and would only breifly climb to 5 games back. 2015 Nats would be back by just a half a game. They would take a lead of as much as 4.5 games on July 4th before losing it getting swept at CitiField to start August. They'd collapse after that.

So historically the question is - is this a 2014, where the Nats would fight and then cruise, or 2015 where the Nats would fight then crash? Or is it something different entirely - a season where the Nats fight to the end?


Soto I said I'd talk about later - end of June. But it's obvious he (1) can hit major league fastballs, and (2) understands the strike zone. Working him away doesn't work either. I imagine he'll start seeing a lot of in the zone junk or maybe a concentrated effort to work up or down, but so far they haven't found a hole

Murphy looks unplayable. The swing isn't terrible but they were right - he seems ok sprinting but hobbles in a jog. That can't be good and I would not trust him at all in the field when moving over a few steps at a moderate speed is a requirement.

The day off helps the Nats avoid answering the Strasburg/Hellickson question for the time being. It's Gio Max and Tanner for the next three starting tomorrow, so it's not until Monday the 18th where someone has to be ready. Currently they are both on double secret injury probation - aka 10-Day DL with indefinite descriptions of the severity of their ailments. If one is out that's survivable. Strasburg would hurt more obviously. It's not only the talent but Hellickson is a limited innings pitcher so he doesn't do much to protect the pen. Strasburg can. If two are out though the Nats are dipping into their very shallow SP depth. That's not only bad for those games but bad overall as Gio isn't a gimme to go deep even when pitching well. You can't rely on Max going 8 and resetting the pen every go through for the next month.

Commenter Bx called me out on Trea and yes, he could be a star. Yesterday was about at the plate and when I said it's looking like Trea won't be a star I mean there. It doesn't look like he'll hit well over .300 and develop ~20 homer power, which I'm sure was running through heads about 21 months ago. But can he be a little better than last year? .280-.290 with 15+ homers and some patience? Sure! And if he does that because he can field and run he'd be an arguable star player. He won't compare well with his peers but we are in a strange super SS period in baseball where if Trea manages to be the 5th-7th best SS he's still putting out star production.

Of course watching last nights game showed you the difference between an elite fielding SS and Trea who's pretty good. That play by Didi in late innings was the 2nd place "Wow" moment of the game (after Soto's BOMB).  Here's Didi's play.  Trea's not doing that. Here's Soto's BOMB. Trea's not hitting that. Of course no one is asking him to.

Here we go. 30+ in 31 days leading up to the All-Star Break.

*I already hate this Joe Maddon filled scenario with all my heart and it is not real. 

**The Braves would essentially mirror the Nats for the next two months. The Nats went 15-16 for an extended stretch, but only lost 2.5 games to the Braves. The Nats would then go 17-4 and somehow only pick up 2 games!


G Cracka X said...

Any guesses on how long Stras and Hellickson will be out? I don't think Fedde can be traded at this point since he is needed for SP depth. Will Rodriguez be SP5?

Harper said...

Hellickson - hammys are very individual but let's take a guess and say 3 weeks? so maybe next weekend (23rd-25th)? I don't think it'll be sooner. Hellickson isn't young.

Strasburg - you want my honest opinion? I'm not very strong on him pitching more than an couple starts again this year. I think 95% he doesn't even try to pitch until after ASB. They do not want a Koda Glover repeat. (and they were careful with him!)

JE34 said...

I've seen the words "extended period" and "not resuming throwing" and other such lingo re Strasburg. I'm guessing we don't see him before the ASB at minimum.

Jefry Rodriguez and Austin Voth are the only options on the 40-man currently, so yeah, Jefry.

Josh Higham said...

I was proud of the Nats not going big on Arrieta. If Harper's gut feeling about Stras is right though, we might be looking back on that as the fundamental mistake that undid this team. I've long since left the "Stras is more important than Max" wagon that I foolishly jumped on when Max was giving up bombs left and right a few years ago, but Max-Gio-Roark is a merely above average top 3. A Strasburg injury that eats most or all of the season dwarfs even the sum total of all other Nats injuries this year.

Treaples69 said...

Stras shoulder did not have any structural issues. The Nationals are one of the best teams in the majors in being careful with injuries. I expect them to take their time and bring him back around ASB and probably after but will still give him 2.5 months before playoffs. Last year he took a month off and was the best pitcher in baseball in 2nd half. Lets wait to jump to conclusions about stras being out for significant portion of time

PotomacFan said...

Stras almost never makes it through the full season. It's all about the timing of his injury. In this case, the timing is pretty good. I figure he'll come back after the ASB, well-rested, and hopefully ready to be an ace pitcher like last year. I've always thought the Nats should shut down Stras for 4 - 6 weeks in the middle of each season. Of course, they'll never plan it that way, but it seems to work.

In the meantime, the Nats will have to start hitting because they just can't replace Stras in the rotation.

Mark said...

Just because Murphy "looks" terrible jogging, doesn't mean he is unplayable. My wife hates it when I bring up high school, but I tore up my knee playing football and once it was healed... meaning, there was no more pain, I still found myself limping under certain conditions because it takes a long time for the mind to get used to the idea that making a certain move no longer causes pain. Murphy as said he doesn't feel pain, so what is happening is mental and what many people returning from a knee injury go through.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harp: well said. I think you’re Trea clarification is right on. Few quick points:

1. That play by Didi.....I played SS in school. I literally do not understand how he made that play. I don’t. I don’t understand how he had the arm strength, i don’t understand how he threw it with ANY accuracy while collapsing down like that; I just think that was one of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen in recent memory if you really watch it in slow mo.

2. Ok. I’m sold on Soto as a star. Maybe not as a star THIS YEAR. I’m sold on him barring injury or something being a star in the majors starting fairly soon. As in, a middle order, cornerstone offensive player for the Nationals for some stretch of time. Not from the slash line or things like that bomb, which was AWESOME. From watching him and his idea of the zone and his K/BB ratio (crazy for his age. CRAZY. And those stats stabilize FAST), and his reaction to pitches, and the way he doesn’t bail AT ALL against lefties (has any teenage LH hitter looked this comfy against filthy LHP?). He may not be a good fielder now, but I imagine he’s athletic enough that he will be an average or bit better corner OF defender once he’s played more than literally like 100 pro baseball games. I mean jeez. Getting instantaneous good reads off major league hitters bats off major league pitchers at this level when youve barely played a minor league or college game? Takes time.)

3. This is the first time all season I’ve thought the Nats should probably no longer be clear favorites to win NL East. The reason is two names. Strasburg and Murphy. I’m worried about Stras. Shoulder inflammation is very very bad news, even if it’s not career threatening (nothing structural). He’s going to be out a good long while, and that’s a big blow. Lop 2-3 games off our projected win standings. And Murphy. I mean. Hope for the best but I feel comfortable at least saying this: he won’t be beast Murphy this year. Can he work his way back to being better overall than Difo? Yeah maybe. But I would be truly shocked if he hit at his Nat Murphy level in a Nat uniform again or fielded acceptably decent. Lop another game or two off the standings. (Then again, I think it’s fair to add a game or two based on Soto!) anyway...not as a result....

4. All of these things (Soto’s emergence+injuries to Stras and Murph+of course our catcher woes) make me think a big trade is possible. We have a bit of an outfield surplus going into next year IF we think we have a decent chance at Bryce. And even if we don’t. I don’t think it’s impossible Robles gets dealt for a pitcher or catcher or both. I wouldn’t I don’t think and would try to use Kieboom (a legit touted prospect now). But still.

Anonymous said...

The doom and gloom on Strasburg is premature (just as it was last year, Harper, when you stuck to your guns that Strasburg's post ASB break portended DOOM until it didn't).

Yes, shoulder inflammation is bad news, in that concerns about the shoulder are more significant that concerns about the elbow and soft tissue. But Strasburg was still hitting 95 MPH before he came out of the game, and it's not like he came out of the game in the middle of an inning. Both of these factors suggest a less serious problem. I agree that it's unlikely we see Strasburg in MLB until after the All-Star Break. There is an ENORMOUS gulf between that and "he won't make more than two starts again this year." We need to wait and see.

And let's not compare Stephen Strasburg, who has thrown almost 1200 innings in MLB with season of 215, 183, and 175 IP, with Koda Freaking Glover, who has 39 major league innings to his name. Strasburg clearly has trouble pitching a full season and shouldn't be counted on to do so. But if he is "injury prone," then Koda Glover is something else entirely.

G Cracka X said...

I'm really happy about Soto, but I think that it is one more contributor to the fact that B. Harper isn't going to return. There's no room in the outfield next year with Soto, Eaton, and Robles. Certainly one of those guys could be dealt, but it doesn't seem likely

Huzzah! said...

In terms of Bryce, I think we’re going to see what we have been seeing with the Lerner’s (I hope) - that they are going to set a limit to the $$$ amount that they think he’s worth and if Bryce’s team goes over it they’re gonna let him walk. We can’t mortgage the future on a player as unpredictable as Bryce. However, I won’t be surprised if we do sign him for the other reasons such as tickets and marketing. This will be very interesting, and hopefully Harper understands that if he wants to win a World Series he won’t make his future team (be it the Nationals or someone else) sink $40m/yr into him.

Bjd1207 said...

@Anon 11:57 - PREACH

@The Rest - There's 2 lively discussion threads on Nats reddit regarding our crowded outfield once Robles is back in the mix.

BxJaycobb said...

Well. Unless you consider the fact that
1. Robles will be coming off a serious injury.
2. Soto has missed most of a season due to injury in the past.
3. Eaton will still be not far from a BAD BAD injury
4. And Bryce gets injured sometimes.
That outfield is not going to be all healthy all the time. If you were the Yankees you would just keep all 4 figuring they all will be full time players. But nats don’t operate that way. And it goes without saying i think Michael a Taylor’s time as a full time starter (on the Nats at least) is over. If you were going to trade one of those three to make room for Bryce, it would be Eaton because you wouldn’t trade Soto and Robles u need to play CF. So I think actually it is relevant how good a season Eaton now has that he’s back. Because you wouldn’t want to trade him at bottom of value. But look I agree with you. The sensible move here is to let Bryce walk, role with this potentially phenomenal outfield, and use the money saved to extend turner or rendon or buy pitching or a catcher or a replacement for Murphy (unless that is Kieboom). One thought I’ve had: and I’m totally serious. Would Bryce consider moving to 1B? That solves everything (if you’re fine making Zim a bench bat). LONG SHOT SCENARIO THERE I KNOW!!!!! But come on. Nobody in their right mind would count on Zim being both good and healthy for next couple years.

Harper said...

Mark - Well if he can't jog normally there's going to be SOME issue getting to balls in the field and he wasn't great to begin with.

Anon @ 11:57 - Normally I consider myself pretty straight and even but my estimate on Strasburg was decidedly pessimistic.

Want something more even handed - He'll probably be out until after the ASB not because he necessarily HAS to but because they aren't going to want him to sit for 2 weeks, work his way back in to pitch for two weeks and then sit again for a week. So expect him to get a nice long rest just because. Then he'll probably pitch for as long as he's ok.

BxJaycobb said...

Harper’s prognosis on Nats pitchers who are either struggling or hurt is generally much darker than similar such prognosis on hitters.
Harper thought Max was broken and about to collapse or at least decline big time when he had that 2 month HR spree. Since then he’s been Jesus basically. Stras came back last year and threw the best pitched game in Nats postseason history and finished 3rd in Cy Young voting after just not giving up a run for like 40 innings. Gio was given up for dead 2 years ago (I’ll be fair—-I was ready to help you Harper with the shovel). And you didn’t see Justin Miller coming!!!! (Just kidding LOL).
Meanwhile, when hitters look different or get injured or are struggling I feel like Harper is more inclined to given the hitter time to dig out of it. Maybe this is just the nature of pitching and hitting: pitching is so much more risky and hitting has so much more random variation and large samples (e.g. Max Scherzer is not going to have a game with less than 4 K this year or more than 6 ER I bet....but Mike Trout may have an 0-12 over a series.)
So. Let me be dark about a hitter and optimistic on a pitcher for a change: we will not see Daniel Murphy of 2016-2017 this year, period, and he may be legit BAD or not make play that much; while I bet Strasburg makes 25 starts this year.

G Cracka X said...

If Murph won't be able to play the field this year due to injury, then maybe we can find a rental (like we did last year for Kendrick). Then, next year we can go back to Kendrick, or if he's still injured, we can begin with Difo and then transition to Kieboom

JE34 said...

The emergence of JuHan Solo and his insanely good plate discipline has made one thing more obvious: Bryce's plate discipline is GONE right now. He looks like he can't see the ball and is guessing, especially with 2 strikes on him. He is mashing mistake pitches, yes (but so did Ian Desmond until pitchers figured out they could throw him 3 sliders down and away). It hurts to watch Bryce swinging 3 feet over a pitch in the dirt, as he did on his last K in NY.

Where can one find league average splits in different counts (BA/OBP/SLG on 0-2 counts, 1-2 counts, etc)? My eyeballs say that this year, Bryce is basically done when down 0-2 or 1-2... and his splits reflect this, but I don't know if his performance with 2 strikes on him is appreciably worse than others. Thus the question.

Ole PBN said...

^^ Bryce's K on that curve in the dirt even makes MAT's swings look sensible. Wow. Sometimes players go through a funk, but I don't know how your pitch-recognition skills go completely out the window... That was a "as long as he doesn't throw it in the stands, I'm swinging on this next pitch" kind-of-approach. I do honestly think this is rock bottom for Bryce, but knowing what he's capable of and seeing him so far from that is very irritating. Thank god for Soto.

I'd like to see some more from Jefry Rodriguez. Big frame, nice velocity. Didn't get a good enough flavor for his offspeed, but I think he's someone who could offer decent value for us (either as a spot SP or in the pen).

G Cracka X said...

@JE34 Nice nickname! I propose we call him Juan Solo for here on out as a compliment to his defy-the-odds, buck-the-trend Han Solo style

Bjd1207 said...

Bryce wouldn't be the first one to have pending FA negatively impact his approach. Hope he gets his head on straight soon.

On the nickname front for Soto, my 1-see is "La Verdad" and my runner-up is ChildishBambino, neither of which I'll claim original credit for

Mark said...

BxJaycobb ... RE Trout going 0-12 over a series... HE HAS NEVER GONE 3 GAMES IN A ROW WITHOUT GETTING ON BASE. NEVER.

Funny that at one time people debated would you rather have Trout or Harper.

moshrabbi121 said...

An fascinating dialogue is value comment. I think that you should write extra on this subject, it might not be a taboo subject but typically individuals are not sufficient to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers online casinos for us players