Nationals Baseball: The last mewling of the NL East

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The last mewling of the NL East

The Nats have been perennial contenders over the past few years not only because they've been good, but because their division has been bad. In six seasons the Nats have finished over .500 six times. The rest of the NL East has done it four times. The Braves, Phillies, Marlins, and Mets have finished with fewer than 70 wins more times than more than 80.  In the 2012-2017 time frame the Phillies and Marlins rank among the worst teams in the NL while the Braves and Mets are average at best.

There has never been a mutli-front battle for the Nationals. There has never been three teams over .500 in the same year.

This should change this year. But as the rest of the NL East kicks off the cobwebs of a half-decade of incompetence, the ghosts still linger. In a five game stretch at home against the Orioles and Reds, where the Braves should be putting away the rest of the division, they have gone 2-3. Fresh off a beating of the Nats in DC, the Phillies have been succintly handled by the Yankees.  So while the Nats have spent most of the last week and a half tripping over themselves (literally if you've watched their baserunning) they are still in it.

Still the last week and a half have been bad.  I was hoping for a 9-6 run, expecting an 8-7. But they never exceeded - only disappointed.  They split the Yankees series (1-1) . They got swept by Tor (0-3). Took one of the 1 1/2 make-up Yankees games (1-1). Beat the Orioles (2-1) but lost to the Phillies (1-2) then got swept in two by Tampa (0-2).  Meet, disappoint, meet, meet, disappoint, disappoint. 8-7 becomes 5-10. A team a half-game out and 2 1/2 over the Phillies is now four games out and a half game behind Philadelphia.

The Nats have a day off before playing 18 in a row. I don't have to tell you a repeat of this 15 games stretch .333 winning percentage would be disaster.  The Nats need to play better than average and it needs to start now. Luckily the back half offers the Nats a good opportunity to do just that.

We start with 4 in Philly.  Let's split (2-2).  They host Boston for 3.  Let's for now mark that as a loss (1-2).  Then they host Miami for 4. Gotta win that (3-1). Go to Pittsburgh who have settled into mediocrity. Should win that (2-1) and finally 4 with the Mets in NY.  Let's say they win that (3-1).  If you like they could split the Mets series and win the Boston one but I think one or the other is better than predicting both wins or both losses.  Add that up and we have an 11-7 stretch. Again it may not seem like much but 11-7 is a 99 win pace. It's a pace that probably makes up a couple games if not more. The Nats aren't far enough back yet that they need to do more than this.

The optimist run would beat the Phillies and beat the Sox and go something like 13-5.  That would probably be enough to put the Nats back on top of the East and would be a nice lead in to the hosted All-Star game.  The pessimist would lose that Phillies series and would struggle through the back end.  A split with the Mets and finding themselves unable to beat Miami or Pittsburgh. 8-10 or so.  If the Nats are lucky that would keep them close enough to have hope. If they are unlucky the Braves would streak and the Nats would have to start seriously thinking Wild Card.


On another schedule note - we can now consider the Mets bad.  What does this mean for ATL, PHI, and the Nats?

The Nats will have easy stretches from July 5-15 (MIA (4), @PIT, @NYM (4)), July 26th-Aug 5th (@MIA(4), NYM (2), CIN (4)), and not again until Sept 20th-26th (NYM (4), MIA)

The Braves will have an easy run July 23rd - Aug 5th (@MIA (2), LAD (4), MIA (3), @ NYM (4)), but that's pretty much it unless you like a PIT/MIA road trip as easy Aug 20th-26th.

The Phillies can make a big run with stretches from Jul 3rd-Jul 22nd (BAL (2), @PIT, @NYM (4), @BAL (1), @MIA, SDP), July 26th - Aug 5th (@CIN (4), @BOS (2), MIA (4)), Aug 10th -19th (@SDP (3), BOS (2), NYM (4)), and Sept 2nd-19th (@MIA, @NYM, WSN, MIA, NYM)

The other way of looking at is if you think MIA, NYM, CIN, SDP, and BAL as the "easy teams". The Nats have a bunch of Mets and Miami games left, but have mostly finished out the other games with only a Cincy series left. The Braves are done with all their out of conference cupcakes and have had more games with Mets and Marlins than either of the three. The Phillies have just a couple games fewer against the Mets and Marlins than the Nats do and still got games against Cincy, Baltimore and all the Padres ones.

If you want to look at this it's saying the Braves will need to hang on as the Phillies and the Nats make their runs. If the Phillies take a substantial lead on the Nats, the Nats will have to hope for the Phillies to burn out because the schedule favors them. 

33 comments:

Sammy Kent said...

Kevin Long is supposed to be this wonderful guru batting savant and brilliant hitting coach. Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that whatever he's doing ain't working. IMHO this is just another infuriating example of how the "science" and its accompanying sabermetrician geeks are ruining the dang game. Chemistry is a lot more fundamental to good baseball than physics. Funny how this game has been played for almost 150 years and for all the emerging technology and digital whatnot, batting still comes down to basic hand/eye coordination and the simple instruction to put the bat on the ball. Try that, Kevin Long. Simplifying is NOT dumbing down. Amazing I guess that Ted Williams, Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, Pete Rose, Willie Mays, and Wade Boggs, could hit at all without once thinking about launch angle.

SM said...

@ Sammy Kent

Alas, Sammy, not just the Nationals.

Last night, the AA Harrisburg Senators lost a double-header to Pittsburgh's farm club, Altoona, by identical 1-0 scores.

Incidentally, one of Altoona's pitchers, Taylor Hearn, was (with Felipe Rivero) traded to the Pirates for one of those "rare coin" closers you mentioned yesterday.

elchupinazo said...

Have we talked about the balls yet? Because last year along with all the talk about launch angle and teams hitting way more home runs, it was also all but confirmed that the balls were juiced.

It makes a lot of sense to focus on launch angle if the ball's going to go further once it's up in the air. Then again Murphy (long's biggest evangelist) started getting good well before the balls started leaving the park league-wide.

Has anyone looked into teams with the best run differentials to see how they're scoring their runs? Are dingers down?

Josh Higham said...

@Sammy, to be fair, Ted Williams is arguably the father of the fly ball revolution. Back in 1970 he and John Underwood published a book called The Science of Hitting, which explicitly called for an uppercut swing aimed at pulling the ball in the air. In 2016 and 2017, dozens of articles about the fly ball revolution referred to Williams and that book.

Anonymous said...

The Nationals’ situation isn’t quite dire, but it’s getting close.

If they get wiped out in Philly this weekend, then they will officially be in deep sh*t.

Robot said...

@Anon - I agree that it's not dire yet, but things seem especially bleak because of how utterly terrible the offense has been. Multiple shutouts, two no-hit bids taken 6+ innings, etc.

Anonymous said...

If the Nats do get wiped out in Philly, who will they try to rent?

Or will they begin thinking about who to sell?

Jay said...

I don't think they will be selling over the next few weeks no matter what happens. I agree that it will take up until the trade deadline before any decisions about selling are made. Any thoughts on if things would be any different if they had just kept Dusty? Everyone says look at the Caps for this year, but they kept Barry Trotz (of course he then left for the Islanders). I'm not convinced it would be any different but I do wonder. Mike Maddox did ok as pitching coach. I wonder if Kevin Long is part of the reason Harper looks so lost at the plate. (not that Schu was a great hitting coach)

JE34 said...

It will be interesting to watch this unfold. There's a part of the Nats' situation that involves the definition of insanity... doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Expecting any offense from Pedro Severino or Spencer Kieboom, for example. (Man was Harper 100% right about Severino.) You just have to expect catcher and pitcher (except Max) to kill any chance of scoring, every time through. You start every game with two near-guaranteed out-makers. The Braves and Phillies don't have this problem.

The Phillies are very similar to the Nats on offense (in the aggregate)... they strike out a bunch more, and steal a lot less. Everything else is very similar. They generate a lot of walks - they know how to make pitchers work, unlike many of the Nats lately.

Sammy Kent said...

@Josh, I'm not surprised Ted Williams had that point of view. With over 500 dingers, he had the power to make the ball travel long distances in the air AND hit for average. He was the George Brett of his generation....or maybe more accurately George Brett was the Ted Williams of the 70s and 80s. Some folks are simply more gifted than others. I'm just not sold on the idea that the technique that works for a certain sytle hitter can work for everyone. If that were the case everybody should shoot foul shots underhanded--after all Rick Barry's lifetime ratio was 90%. I suspect Long's techniques worked well with Daniel Murphy because Murph's physical (and mental?) gift set was conducive to them.

Bjd1207 said...

@Sammy - Does it impact your narrative at all that we rank 25/30 in FB%? Or that we're actually 2% LOWER than last year?

When it's a whole team struggling, the easy answer is the hitting coach. But do you have any evidence that he's pushing a 1-size fits all approach to hitting fly balls? If so, why isn't it beared out in the numbers? I don't think you get to be an MLB level hitting coach without understanding that different approaches work for different players. And should you happen to luck into that position without that understanding, there are $30M players TELLING you to back off and let them do their own approach.

Do you really believe in your heart of hearts that Long is sitting in the tape sessions going "just hit in the air....yup, just hit it in the air"?

Ole PBN said...

I think part of Kevin Long's shtick (sp?) requires a lot of internal evaluation. This is not for everyone, but SHOULD be for everyone. There is a difference between "thinking too much" and "thinking smart, often." Murphy and Max are one in the same and have fully adopted the the "thinking smart, often" approach. They analyze their performances at a very meticulous level, whereas most players (Bryce, Rendon, Zimm) prefer to not think at all, try not to complicate things, and just rely on the swing that got them there, which has some merit. But there is a difference between relying on what got you there and figuring out what you need to do to STAY, and not only stay, but to thrive. A player MUST study and adapt to his environment, which Max and Murph have shown a commitment to doing. This is the stuff that is very curious to me, because it is entirely in the individual's control: how much time are you willing to put in?

"Coachability is the willingness to be corrected and to act on that correction. When we are coachable, we are prepared to be wrong." - Timothy R. Clark, 2011

If a professor gives you a few books on a subject, how is reading those books, going to the library looking for more books, and circling back with the professor about questions you have and seeking more knowledge about the subject, detrimental to your development? It isn't - it can only help you. So why more players don't operate like a sponge is beyond me, but it does shed light on people who think they are better than they really are. Remember, just about 90% of MLB players were usually the best player on their teams before the prior to reaching the pro level. There is an ego/arrogance/self-reassurance that comes with that, which don't get me wrong, is part of the reason these pros are wired differently than you and I. But at some point, they need to adopt a sponge-mentality and start treating this as their livelihood, and not like the game they always excelled at. At some point, Harper is going to have put away the Twitter, Instagram, merchandise, block out his impending free-agency, and just play ball. Or pull up a chair next to Long, Murphy, or Max and open a book and start taking notes. His natural ability earned him MVP in 2015 - impressive by itself for sure. But the league has answered back. He is responding in kind with a .212 average. Alert: your talent is not going to dig you out of that hole, kid.

Ahhhhhh, but what does it matter? Tim Hudson was right. Max and Murphy are weird. Jayson Werth says we're the best team in the league year-after-year, and the beat goes on, and on, and on. See you for a week in October or see you next season, makes no difference to me. But I do enjoy this blog, so thank you Harper.

G Cracka X said...

ATL loses! Now 2-4 vs. BAL and CIN!

BxJaycobb said...

I’m sure that every GM and front office in baseball doesn’t know what it’s doing incorporating sabermetrics and analytics and Sammy Kent has it all figured out.

BxJaycobb said...

No. We know nothing. We’re just frustrated by lack of offense and have decided it’s Kevin Longs fault. Alternative explanation: basically every position player on the team has been injured or recovering from injury and it’s shown.

BxJaycobb said...

Never ceases to amaze me how random the opinions get on this blog when the Nats aren’t doing well. Suddenly there are various theories based on literally nothing about people being on social media too much, or can’t be coached, or being entitled. Harper’s not focusing on baseball? Supposedly he’s showing up and hitting for like 3 hours before each game and the coaches are having to tell him to STOP working so hard and relax. There’s just no actual evidence or basis for these hypotheses. Sometimes injuries and slumps just accumulate and get you. Its baseball.

SM said...

@ Jay

"Everyone says look at the Caps for this year , but they kept Barry Trotz . . ."

Really?

Drawing comparisons between other D.C. sports clearly and ultimately ignores the nature of the sports themselves.

Sure, a good argument can be made for comparing ownership, marketing, merchandising, scouting, drafting, player development, community outreach, etc., between various D.C. sports franchises. But hockey isn't baseball, and no matter how hard you squint, John Carlson isn't Pedro Severino.


The only conceivable Baker/Trotz comparison--and I get it--is that two veteran coaches of contending teams couldn't breach the championship wall. After two years, one didn't and was fired. After four years, one finally did . . . and quit. But by no logic would retaining Dusty Baker have replicated the Capitals' success.


Trotz's teams may have been outplayed during the playoffs in his first three years, but he was never outcoached. Dusty was outmanaged. And one more thing: Barry Trotz's post-season record with Washington was .571. Dusty's was .400.


Please, everyone, knock it off with the "If only Dusty . . ."








Jay said...

I don't disagree on Dusty. It is telling that Dusty kept playing Jayson Werth last year and Werth just announced his retirement bc he couldn't make it out of AAA for Seattle. My point was more that people in the media have repeatedly said about this year - don't worry, it's early, the Caps had a rough stretch during the year won the Stanley Cup. The "it's early" mantra irritates me, bc at what point is it no longer early. They all count, so more wins early isn't a bad thing. Anyway, I agree the primary problem has been injuries. It is frustrating that a 2 run deficit feels like 5. But the Braves aren't running away yet (having lost to the Reds again) and the Nats are only 3.5 out. So maybe it is early yet. Like Desmond said a few years ago, "it's not like we are 10 games out with 10 to go."

Ole PBN said...

@Bx - I don't think you read my post. I am referring to actual mechanical study and coachability. Not a players work ethic in the weight room or cage. RG3 was a gym rat. What's your point? Maybe coaches are telling Bryce to STOP, as in "stop working on repeating those bad habits." As in, 1,500 bad swings won't make you better kiddo. None of us are there, so I am not claiming to have the answer. But I do think it's an interesting take, as opposed to "its just baseball." That's a Matt Williams line for Christ sake! :)

Mark said...

Baseball is a game where most players (Mike Trout being an exception) have runs of excellence and runs of futility, and at the end of 162 games they are in the ballpark of their career numbers. Hopefully, the Nationals are getting the futility part out of the way and as they gravitate to their career numbers they will start winning more, and enough more to get to the playoffs. That is what the Cubs did last year. It isn't guaranteed, but it is more likely than less likely.

Bjd1207 said...

@Ole PBN/Bx - Bx has the right track here, I think you're (Ole PBN) grasping for explanations based on...well not really based on anything.

The league is responding to his 2015 MVP and he's not able to answer back? Did 2016 and 2017 just not exist? What was the league/Harper doing then if not reacting to each other? Or how about the fact that since the Golden Knights exited the NHL playoffs on June 7th, Harper has tweeted exactly TWICE: Once for HatsOff4Heroes and once to promote a charity bracket challenge to fight cancer. And finally, Bryce has treated baseball as a livelihood since his decision to get his GED and enter Jr College early. Everything in his life has been groomed to succeed at baseball as a livelihood.

I appreciate everyone's eagerness to find explanations, but come on, let's at least put these explanations through their paces to see if they hold up. None of these do

Bjd1207 said...

@Ole PBN - Reading your response to Bx I agree with you that "Its just baseball" is an equally unsatisfying answer. There's always SOME way to explain what's happening, even if it doesn't fully reveal itself until 2 years after (like Bryce's 2016)

Ole PBN said...

That's cool, I shouldn't have brought up Bryce as it clearly touched a nerve. It was not the focus of my argument, but in doing so, my point obviously was ignored. Last time: I'm referring to a collective lack coachability and eagerness to get better outside of repeated physical reps: actually studying what errors they are committing. Having coached and played this game at a high level, I think that has some merit. And just so everyone is aware, something as vague as "that's just baseball" will always hold water, but offer not much of anything. Roll with that if you will. In the meantime, I'll raise a glass with ya'll when we score a run.

Bjd1207 said...

Totally with you on the search for answers, and DOUBLY with you on raising a glass when we're back on top and don't HAVE to be searching for answers.

I just don't think we've found any satisfying ones yet

Ole PBN said...

Agreed... the search continues. Cheers

Sammy Kent said...

I'm suggesting simply that whatever Kevin Long is doing vis a vis working with these fellows to get them hitting the ball effectively ain't working. Even Jaycobb ought to be able to figure that much out. If some of y'all want to argue that it IS working, by all means, have at it. We don't have one gotdang starter batting anything close to .300. If you want to argue that he for some reason doesn't bear a great measure of the responsibility for the utter failure of this lineup to produce offense, then I would ask why the eff do we even have a batting coach.

G Cracka X said...

Nats rank 9th in the NL in Offense fWAR and 3rd in Pitching fWAR, so I recommend that the Front Office make position player upgrades at the deadline rather than pitching upgrades, given the limited trade assets. I recognize that next year could be tricky with several starters and relievers going into free agency, but I anticipate that the Nats will have $$ to fix those holes in free agency.

Mr. T said...

"Why the eff do we even have a batting coach"

Because it's a nice, cushy way for ex-players to stay in the game. They are "coaching" professional players who are paid millions of dollars to hit baseballs. Unless you played D1 college ball, even Pedro Severino is a better hitter than anyone you ever shared a field with.

That isn't to say that Kevin Long didn't help Murphy and others. But he isn't there to help hitters break out of slumps, or learn to keep their eye on the ball.

Cardinal Ximinez said...

here's hoping the Romo disrespect bench clearing event stirs some fire in this team and they take their rightful spot back at the top of the division again. this team needs some fire. hoping this day off doesn't act like a 2 hour rain delay momentum killer though. let's go Nats!

Anonymous said...

What momentum? You mean the half game we picked up on an off day?

Cardinal Ximinez said...

i meant the prospective momentum that the team might feel from being disrespected

Cardinal Ximinez said...

not a lot of fire in that game. could be just me, but the Nats seem like they take an awful lot of strike 3 pitches. i would like to see them protect more. if you got 2 strikes on you, you got to protect. foul off those close pitches. this is one area that Werth was really good at. oh well.... maybe we can split this series?

Cardinal Ximinez said...

in the words of the immortal Beavis... Fire!! Fire!! Fire!!
17 runs. woohoo