Nationals Baseball: And you may also ask yourself, how do the Nats get where they want to be?

Friday, July 20, 2018

And you may also ask yourself, how do the Nats get where they want to be?

The Nats have to play better in the 2nd half. The first problem you run into though, is that the second half isn't actually a half, it's a little more that 40% of the season. That is not a lot of time.  To illustrate that let's see what happens when the Phillies and Braves, both playing well above .500 ball, struggle in the 2nd half and play only .500.

Braves : 52-42 now. Go 34-34. End up 86-76.
Phillies : 53-42 now. Go 33-34/34-33. End up 86-76 or 87-75

That doesn't seem so bad BUT

Nats: 48-48 to get to 88-74, clear of the Phillies and Braves in this scenario, they have to go 40-26.  That's not an insane pace, right around 98 wins, but it's up there. And this is figuring the Braves and Phillies both fail.  If one of them plays decent, not great just decent, the Nats will have to play like the best team in baseball from here on out to win the division. And if one of them plays great, it's game over.

The Wild Card isn't much better. While you can see one of these two having a middling 2nd half there are a number of teams waiting in the wings to take that spot. If you asked me if the Nats are going to catch one of the Braves or Phillies, I'd probably say yes.  If you asked me if the Nats are going to catch one of the Braves or Phillies... and all of the Cardinals (0.5 games ahead), Giants (1), Rockies (3), and Dbacks (4.5)... I'd have to say no.  

Probably the fairest goal for the Nats fan is for the Nats to play like one of the best teams in the league after the break (somewhere around 100 win pace - trust me a couple teams will be up around here and one or two over) and then just hope things break the Nats way.

OK so how exactly do they do that? Well...
(1) No more major injuries.  The Nats can't handle an injury to an important piece at this point.

(2) Everyone healthy plays like they are healthy - Rendon and Eaton are doing it. We need Bryce and Murphy to do it too. That alone would give the Nats a pretty strong lineup.  Pitching wise Strasburg needs to come back no worse than he left and, Gio and Roark need to pitch like last year. That's not asking for a lot given their history.  That gives the Nats back their top rotation.  Add in Kintzler and Madson and Herrera pitching at least decent and you've got a very very good team

(3) Someone needs to step up or keep stepping up.  Juan Soto keeps being a star. MAT gets his mojo back. Trea finds his star stroke. The Nats trade for a catcher or pitcher who does really well. (1) and (2) would get the Nats close - it would basically be the team expected at the beginning of the year who we thought could win in the mid 90s but the Nats need to be slightly better than that.

(4) No one is miserable who isn't planned for. Look if they don't do something at catcher so be it. They knew it'd be lousy. We knew it'd be lousy. It's an easy upgrade but at the same time they can win with that hole. But they can't win with that hole and MAT being a hole or Hellickson crashing and burning.  They can have a couple back of the pen arms do poorly but everyone past those four mentioned can't all underperform.  The margin for error isn't there.

Basically get healthy, have something go right and nothing go wrong. There are other ways to get there that allow for some wrong, like Bryce is magically 2015 Bryce or Strasburg matches Max, but the above is the simplest path.  Just everyone do what you are expected to and hope to stay on the field and have someone step up.

Scheduling wise the Nats have a bunch of H2H games left with ATL and PHI. The Atlanta games are spread out and the Phillies are bunched together. The Nats don't HAVE to win these, but it's the best way to ensure you get wins and they get losses which is something that has to happen. With 9 games a piece left here you'd love to see a trouncing like 8-1, but as long as they can keep their head above water in these games that gives them a fighting chance 5-4 minimum, 6-3 hopefully. If we look at the teams between them and Wild Card 2 they get a chance to take out the Cardinals and 3 against the Rockies H2H as well. They should plan on winning those match-ups as well (4-2 and 2-1 respectively)

If you look at the schedule overall the Nats have an easy stretch from July 26th - Aug 5th where they need to pick up games. They didn't do it in the easy stretch heading into the ASB so they have to do it here. They have a stretch against the best of the NL Central in late August into the Labor Day weekend they'll need to survive, but it is at home. The Phillies alternate good and bad pretty much the rest of the year, so there are no clear places to pinpoint gaining or losing ground. The Braves have a hard stretch right after the Nats one, so that might be a place to gain ground on them late.

Specifically the second half kicks off with 3 at home vs Atlanta, then three in Milwaukee and four in Miami.  Starting out on the right foot is a good idea so win the series at home (2-1), you probably can't expect to win at the Brewers (1-2), but then you need to take that Miami series (3-1).  But at this point - when you want to play like the best you gotta surprise here and there. So all in all it's a 6-4 stretch at minimum, 7-3 hopefully.  5-5 wouldn't end the season but it would set up some needed 7-3s (and better) down the road. 6-4 probably gains a game on Atlanta and holds ground with the Phillies.  Right now the Nats have a little bit of wiggle room. A little. A game or two. You don't want to waste it immediately or hope that fate gives you more.

Go. Fight. Win.


SM said...

Hmmm . . . No comment.

ssln said...

Great post, as usual, Harper. It would be nice if Davey read it to the team before they took the field tonight. One game at a time as people like to say when they don't have anything else to say.
The truth is the next three series will set the tone for the second half. Come out blazing or it is over. Then you don't have to worry about a catcher and can plan for 2019.
Show the fans something!

Kevin Rusch said...

Well, personally, I don't care what happens if it's another 4- or 5- game loss in the NLDS. That means if they're going to be any good, they're going to have to plow through the playoffs. That means they're going to have to win at a 102-win pace anyway. So, either that's gonna happen, or it's not.

Oh, and I've really seen enough of Murph. MAT played SS in high school, and Carter Kieboom is killing it in AA. Either of them would give you passable defense at 2b (way better than Murph) and at worst won't hit any worse than him. I love the guy, but he's not getting anything done right now. Let's cut bait and get moving on something better.

DezoPenguin said...

Seems accurate. Basically, everybody in the lineup just needs to duplicate what they did last year, Soto, Adams, and Hellickson need to be the guys they have been this year, and nobody can crash and burn. That's a team that actually has a 100-win pace in them. The problem is, the margin for error is simply gone. Like the Dodgers, we sunk ourselves in a hole with our poor play, and only great play will get us out of that hole.

Performances like Strasburg's yesterday are not going to help. The offense did adequately, but the pitching did not.

If Rizzo is going to make changes, I think that he needs to be thinking about more than a rental, though. Part of the problem with having such a narrow margin for error *and* being reliant on other teams to fail means that a rental has the potential to be of much less value (as opposed to being an improvement that will help carry us through the playoffs). The Nats are a sub-.500 team on July 21. That means that realistically Rizzo can't expend prospect capital only to make us better in 2018; he needs to be thinking long-term. Trading for Realmuto makes sense--it makes us immediately better *and* improves the team in 2019-20. But trading for someone like Ramos (injury situation aside) may not, because the price to pay may not justify the level of improvement because he doesn't move the needle enough. That's the bitter reality the Nats currently face.

(Similarly, if the Nats continue to crater and slip farther and farther back under .500, I think Rizzo needs to consider selling expiring assets at the deadline. Matt Adams, for example, is a rental player that is having a great season--a contender with a poor 1B situation may be willing to give something to get him. Hellickson has pitched respectably this year and may be worth something to improve, say, the Brewers' pitching situation. Or if Murphy gets his bat back but the team crashes in other areas anyway. Those guys aren't going to help in 2019, but the value they bring back may. We've already discussed trading Bryce a little; Soto-Robles-Eaton with Taylor as OF4 is at least on paper an adequate MLB outfield and if Rizzo doesn't intend to make a big push to resign Bryce then why not explore if he can get better than the compensatory pick that goes with the QO for him (and I doubt Bryce would be too upset to go play for Houston or something, either--Rizz could easily frame it as "he's meant a lot to this franchise, so why not let him get a chance to win a championship" to the media)? Conversely, if Rizzo is willing to move Robles for someone like Realmuto then resigning Bryce needs to be a priority.

Obviously, the outcome I want is for the Nats to catch fire post-break like they did in May and play like that through the end of the year, but if they don't, I think the FO needs to be prepared to start the reload. With the quality of players under long-term control, the Nationals' window isn't closing in the way a lot of talking heads thought before the season started (Soto being who he's shown to be so far has had a huge impact on that). The Yankees' model is the one we should be looking at (I guess that makes Zimmerman our Jacoby Ellsbury...).

CardinalX said...

2 outstanding weeks for the Nats and they're right back in it. and if anyone is due for a dozen games of 10-2 for example... it's the Nats. 2 weeks of outstanding ball by the Nats and avg. to mediocre ball by the Braves, Phillies and or both? and it's a 3 way race again. alternatively? and more painfully? just a progressive, gain a game a week, for the next 2 months and we're back. but that puts it too close to playoff time and puts a lot of stress on the lineup and management. i prefer the 2 weeks of baseball the way the Nats are SUPPOSED to be playing. how to go about it? Bryce needs to be moved down. .215 and not drawing 3 walks a game... he doesn't need more ABs. I still want him in the lineup, just not in the top 3 on an every game basis. lets see how Roark is after some ASG time off, but he makes me nervoussss. if we had the depth, i'd almost want to see him on a 10 day DL or whatever it takes to skip a couple starts. Not real interested in bullpenning him as his 1st inning or 2 seems to be the problem. batters.... stop "taking" strike 3!!! if it's close, get in foul it off mode. Rendon can do it. Murphy can. Soto is a rockstar. love you Trea, but you, Harper and MAT seem to make a thing out of getting to a 2 strike count and then watching #3 wizz by and then sulking. if you don't want the ump to ring you up. if you don't want to be the guy that leaves everyone on base and ends a scoreless inning? take that bat off your shoulder. choke up an inch or so. don't be embarrassed to follow the example of the 19 year old. work that count. get on base. keep the merry go round turning. we dont need 13 run games. we need more 6 run games and less shutouts. there needs to be a new improved plan at the plate. we have the talent. of this i am certain.

DezoPenguin said...

Interesting news today. Doolittle will miss several more weeks thanks to a stress reaction in his foot (it still drives me crazy that this happened when he tripped coming off the mound), and Brian Goodwin is now a Royal in exchange for a reliever in A-ball.

Huzzah! said...


G Cracka X said...

Soto? Yeah, he's pretty good. Got a chance to pass some guy named Bryce Harper for best MLB teenager season ever.

Kubla said...

I'm confused on how to take trading Goodwin for a prospect that's more a scratch-off than an actual lottery ticket. He wasn't great, but he was the fifth OF and he's been decent in the past. There basically is nobody else who plays OF anymore. Does that mean they need to hang onto Bryce to remain respectable for the rest of the season, or trade him, surrender to the darkness, and promote MAT back to starter while bringing a true AAA journeyman up as first guy off the bench?

BxJaycobb said...

The Nats won’t be making any major additions or subtractions at the deadline i don’t think. This seems to be lining up as a year where Rizzo says “show me what you can do” to the current roster and just hopes they play well as constituted. And that’s probably what I would do as well. (Unless they crash and burn with like a 2-5 stretch going into July 31. Then he should sell off all expiring assets.)

BxJaycobb said...

Bryce actually to me looks like he’s coming alive. I wouldn’t move him. The one guy I don’t understand why he doesn’t cut down majorly on his swing with two strikes is Turner. He’s not gonna hit 30 homers and he has such great speed that not making contact is just a huge deal. He should be doing everything he can to put the ball in play.