Nationals Baseball: No rest for the weary

Thursday, July 05, 2018

No rest for the weary

Another loss

Another shutout loss

Another shutout loss losing ground to teams ahead of them.

The Nats have played terribly for nearly a month now. They were 11 games up on July June 9th 37-26 with a half-game lead over Atlanta and a 4.5 game lead over the Phillies. Since then they have gone 5-17. They are now one game under, seven games back of Atlanta and 5.5 behind the Phillies.  The Phillies also currently hold the 2nd Wild Card spot so the Nats are 5.5 out of that as well.

There is no room for error left. If the Nats, who have played like an 80 win team through more than half the year, play like a 100 win team the rest of the way they should sneak to 90 wins. The Braves, on a 93-94 win pace only have to play like an 86-87 win team to hit the same level. The Phillies, looking at 91 wins, have to play like team winning 89 games.

The short of all that is that the Nats have to play much much better AND hope the Braves play worse AND hope the Phillies don't play better.

But beating this drum again, now is the time to do it. 4 against the Marlins, 3 against the Pirates, 4 against the Mets. If the Nats want to be relevant after the All-Star break they need to crush this run*. 7-4 minimum, 8-3 hopefully.  You get one loss per series.

The Nats know this, too. If they had been floating around thinking it would just click and they'd come out on top, those thoughts are gone. They met as a team yesterday and all that came out was they understand it's do or die time.

Some tried to paint it positively, noting that they might need adversity in the regular season to win in the playoffs.  Who knows? I'm sure it helps some teams and hurts others. And some teams lose despite the help or win in spite of the hurt. Whatever happens, we'll craft the narrative to fit the ending.

What if the Nats can't do it? What if they are 10 games out at the All-Star break? What then? Well we'll have a lot of time to talk about it then.  Right now we focus on the Marlins. 4 games. Hellickson, Gio, Max, and Roark. The Marlins have been about .500 over the past month. They are pitching better, hitting a little better, and getting a little luck. Pitching wise it's mainly been a big improvement in the relief pitching, finding a few arms to compliment converted starter Adam Conley and Bear Claw who have been good all year.  Urena is the only starter to worry about and since he went on the 4th the Nats are going to miss him. There truly is no excuse not to score on these starters.

Batting wise JT "Should have been a Nat" Realmuto is having an All-Star season and has upped his trade value a good deal. Dietrich, last OF standing, is also a good hitter doing well. Bour is fine. Castro is fine. The making of a good line-up is there. It's just that everyone else stinks. But to be fair to these guys - none of them should be good. It's almost entirely older prospects who aren't quite major leaguers. A half line-up of Brian Goodwins. Lewis Brinson is kind of the key player - the one true prospect currently up. He's doing better but that's only in the macro sense. He's not doing well. This line-up should score a couple runs but shouldn't do any blowing out.

It's there for the Nats. Start it out right. 3 of 4, minimum.  Go.

*and again again I'll note that baseball is crazy and this might not actually be the case. The Nats could go 7-4 and lose ground or 5-6 and gain it. But we're trying to come up with the most likely circumstances.


cass said...

As I recall, the asking price for JT "Should have been a Nat" Realmuto was either Robles or Soto. I believe you said the Nats should hold on to Robles but be willing to trade Soto. Granted, no one knew what Soto would become but the Nats did have the best scouting information on him so perhaps they had reasons not to make the trade.

I think it's really hard to regret not making this deal now. At very least, the Nats could still certainly trade Soto for Realmuto tomorrow, not that they'd be willing to.

W. Patterson said...

Good posting, Harper. I think that the Marlin series will either put the last nail in the coffin, or it'll be the breath of hope for the team (to at least make 'em think that they can perform).

Certain teams always play each other hard - and I think the Marlins are that team for the Nats. (Of course, EVERY team playing the Nats has made it look do-or-die for the other team.)

Harper said...

cass - yeah well, should have traded Robles!

WP - until they get closer every series is the series that can do that.

G Cracka X said...

This season has been strange (and sad). It started out with a 2015-type vibe, with the Mets coming out of the gates with a +10 and the Nats scuffling. But then the Mets crumbled, the Nats surged, and it started feeling like 2014, where a 25-27 Nats team would kick it into high gear, and surpass the Braves to win the division with 96 wins (while the Braves looked good for much of the season, but then finished the season under .500). Now, the season has 2013 overtones to it, where an injured Nats team digs itself too big a hole to overcome in the 2nd half while the Braves take the division (note that year that the Nats were 48-53, but then surged to finish with 86 wins, but it was too little, too late).

Of course, it would awesome for the Nats season-vibe to continue the backward trend and go from 2013 to 2012, but that is just not realistic at this point.

Sammy Kent said...

"Sporting News" reports that Max Scherzer yelled at his teammates in a players-only meeting after the game yesterday afternoon. Good. If anyone has a reason to yell it's Max. His last five starts have been anywhere from good to masterpieces, giving up 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, and 3 earned runs. For all that effort he's gotten 0 wins, 1 no decision, and 4 losses.

Kevin Rusch said...

I remember thinking in 2005 that when someone like Zim comes out and starts producing well at 21, those are the guys who end up in Cooperstown. Well, that ship sailed 7-8 years ago, and now I can't help but think it's time to admit that his days as a regular are over. He's just hurt entirely too often to allocate a premium bat position for. I know he's making a lot of $, but that money's gonna get spent whether he's hitting .300 or .100. Bite the bullet.

Let's call up Carter Kieboom. He's a SS slashing 382/433/564 in AA. He can't be worse at 2nd than Murphy is.

Also, while I'm talking about guys who'll be gone soon, put Harper back at C. Not like we have to care about his protection anymore, he's checked out. His production in RF isn't good enough, but at C, that's fine.

Oh, and whodathunkit, but Shawn Kelley's been a productive reliever lately.

Nattydread said...

Harper at catcher might work. Just saying.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Bryce can restart his career from behind the dish? After sitting in the miserable heat and humidity of Nats park the last series and watching Severino we can't do any worse.

Besides it then opens up an opportunity for Robles to get some looks.

Ole PBN said...

First: player-only meetings are the earliest signs (aside from losing) that your ship is going down. Though well-intended, it turns into a blame-game/grandstanding affair for players to voice how much they care about this "team" when there is so much frustration with one another under the surface. Whatever the players told the media was just a mayonnaise sandwich of a company line: "this team is capable of great things, we just have to put it together." Some guys even said "it's do or die time." Oooooooooo. Well now us fans are ready! Man... NL East, you thought you knew the Nats... just you wait!

In other news, I think we all know that Zimm will be immediately inserted back at first base once he's off the DL, regardless of if it's deserved or not. Then we'll putz around that issue for a month or while the Nats (and Zimm) continue to slide into a black hole. Then, when we're officially eliminated from contention around mid-September, someone else will play 1B and that guy or a FA will take over 1B duties next year and so on. So, for all those Zimmerman fans out there, cross your fingers that he comes back soon. Not for the sake of team success of course, but just to see him play regularly again, if that's your thing. Out 2 freaking months with "sore back." It's not that him playing would help this team, its the idea that this guy has fooled our front office into thinking he's reliable for the better part of 5 years. I guess I shouldn't be mad at patty cake #11. It's really Rizzo having this dream fantasy of Zimmerman hitting cleanup behind Bryce (facepalm).

Leave Carter Kieboom down. The 25 children we have on this roster today are going to dig us out of this hole, if anyone is even capable. Kieboom won't save us, and neither will any of our 2018 draft picks.

Candidly, I do think this is a lost season, but I will still say wait until 7/31. That's my "call it" date for whether this team is toast. But I am not optimistic in any sense.

cass said...

Y'all really want Harper at catcher defensively? He's had no experience since he was 17 in junior college. I'd wager he'd make Matt Wieters look good.

And Harper, that's hindsight talking! I believe we all agreed Robles was too valuable at the time but Soto should be traded. That would not have ended up well.

Some prospects you want to trade at max value before they're exposed though, like Giolito would've been good to trade while he was in the minors. But the Nats need to know who those people are. That's a scouting thing, I imagine.

Anonymous said...

I think it's pretty clear by now that what this team needs the most is a total change to a win at all cost attitude, or nothing else will matter.

Case in point. Yesterday it's 3-0 in bottom nine and we are fortunate to get the leadoff guy on base. Bryce is up and the Sox shift THE ENTIRE INFIELD to the 1B side.

If Bryce lays one down there he can crawl to first if he wants and we have the tying run at the plate with no outs. Heck, he can probably get a double if he just punches a weak ground ball to the 3B side of the infield. And I'm sorry but every hitter in MLB should be able to stick the bat out and punch a ball to that side of the field, let alone a former MVP. The alternative? Even if he hits a bomb we are still a run behind and starting the rally over.

So what does Bryce do? Tries to hit a 500 foot home run and Ks, effectively ending the rally. Now maybe Bryce bunts and the rest of the team flames out. But the point is you have to do everything at every moment to win.

Now I'm not blaming Bryce for all of this, per se. This lack of team play is something that has plagued the team the whole year. Maybe it's the players, maybe Davy, maybe both. But if it doesn't change it's all over for sure.

At the post game presser (on Tuesday I think), Davy said something about accountability but didn't respond to a follow up question about what he meant by accountability. So what do you mean, Davy?

It's time for action. If Davy is serious about an attitude change he should sit Bryce for today's game and say to him and the team that this is what is going to happen going forward if you don't put the team first and play smart, winning baseball. If Bryce is starting tonight, then Davy is giving tacit approval to the action in the 9th and you may as well turn out the lights.

Rant over.

blovy8 said...

PBN, so was the front office also fooled into thinking Matt Adams was durable? Or that Adam Lind was done after last year? I'm pretty sure they've taken appropriate steps for depth in most areas, it's just been decimated. Teams that go four deep at a position like first base, probably have to go light in areas that are harder to fix. If a guy is good and not hurt, why is he going to AAA? Well, besides being old...I mean, would we all rather see Murphy play MORE second base currently? First is not an issue. Pitching depth kind of was and now is, but look at the guys they traded away and the returns. I don't see that as a difference either. The 8-9th starting pitcher on the depth chart is going to be dicey, but sure, that's a problem. The worst thing has been sticking with what they have at catcher, anything else is just going to be a change to wake up the team and plug an injury, not to get more talented. And let's face it, they just don't have the prospects to get THAT much better. Soto is playing, Robles is hurt, Kieboom isn't enough on his own. If I'm another team, I already had my scouting report on Romero and it's been more than proven by his behavior. Fedde's shoulder is a mess. Who else can you spare that anyone wants?

blovy8 said...

Anonymous, there is no such thing as "team" play anymore. Money wins. No one but pitchers and weak hitters trying to break out of slumps bunt. Anyone can hit 20 homers now, stealing bases is for suckers, and striking out a lot is the price paid for a few double plays avoided. Batting stances and pitching motions have been homogenized into finite equations. I believe robots will be playing baseball undetected before I die.

blovy8 said...

Lest I end on a complete negative - as much crap as I've given Strasburg over the years, if he comes back and pitches like his stuff (and now experience) says he should, along with reasonable health - I still think this team has an excellent shot at being good. I would put Strasburg and Scherzer against anyone in the NL right now in the playoffs.

Then just trade somebody for Ramos, and never let Zim throw home.

Johnny Callison said...

Just heard Mark Zuckerman on one station and then Brad Lidge and Jeff Joyce on MLB radio. Both hinted at Harper's poor fundamentals and how his contract run is distracting him. No one said he's dogging it or he's selfish or his head's not in the game, but Zuckerman actually said, "The next three months cannot be about his contract. It has to be about how he can help the team win each night." Zuckerman specifically referenced the "five run homer" trope, and Lidge and Joyce referred to the team not doing the little things right because guys just believe their talent will supersede everything and so they don't have to play the mental game, too. They actually mentioned Eaton on the foul ball sac fly not being ready to throw home. Harper's poor defensive reactions are a sign he is relying on talent and isn't gaming out every situation so he is READY.

If you can blame Dave Martinez for anything, I'd say he's letting guys rely on their talent and not getting in their face when they don't run hard on a homer that turns out to be a double (should have been a triple). And like Boz said Monday, he's trying to get guys a "win" when they clearly need to be taken out. Gio threw a fit, so now DM won't take him out unless Gio is going down in flames.

I agree with Old PBN that Zim should NOT immediately assume his starting role. If he does, that shows that you don't have to earn it anymore. I get that he earned it in the past, but that was years and years ago, and with the exception of last year, he's been mediocre for five years now. The Nats need to be willing to eat a bad contract once in a while.

Anonymous said...

blovy8 - that is exactly what I am saying. No, it is not lost on me that the front office has taken appropriate steps to add depth at 1B. Or should I say, backfill 1B in Zimmerman's assured/eventual long-term absence. With Lind, Adams and later with Reynolds, Rizzo has really impressed with the piecemeal patching of 1B. When Zimm goes down, luckily we have had a backup who performs adequately. But why not eat the contract then have to settle for a bench player (even if the bench guy is pretty good)? That's my point. It's that Zimm (because of the $$$$ attached to him) is and always will be penciled in at 1B, until we relegate HIM to the bench and get a better player.

1B is not the problem, never said it was. Just really infuriating that a guy who has full pockets, can't hit, and can't throw is out for 2 months because of a sore back. And... with no mention of just how serious it is. What the hell? That's like showing up at your job after being MIA for a weeks and tell your boss "oh yeah, sorry about that, I had asthma." It's infuriating because with his contract, and his fanfare, HE is supposed to be THE guy starting 1B. But instead we have to watch his backup everyday. That's not the way this is supposed to work. Get on the field dude, and just suck so we can fully justify you not playing, as opposed to waiting for your return after months of being out with silly injuries. (Special shout out to Reynolds/Adams/Kendrick/Murphy/Bryce??? for picking up the slack for this broken player).

Ole PBN said...

^^ sorry, that was me. Didn't mean to post as Anonymous.

Sammy Kent said...

Bryce behind the plate? Sure. At the very least I think he can throw guys out trying to steal. His bat has withered but not his arm.

JE34 said...

11:35 Anon has it. As PBN said, the players-only meeting is an early death knell, but I heard the "playing for each other" line coming out of it... and there is something to it. If the other team is surrendering the left side of the field, the hitter must take what he's given, period. (I'm sympathetic to Matt Adams... he was finally trying to do this when he broke his finger.) Next guy up must put the friggin ball in play. Hitters in front of the pitcher's spot or Severino have the extra burden, but Harper has a good hitter behind him. If you burn the opponent's shift enough, they'll stop shifting and then you can really go off.

The Nats cannot solo-homer their way to the playoffs, especially with the starting pitching as-is.

Johnny Callison said...

I see Harper is batting fourth tonight; there are absolutely no consequences for anything he does. Does DM have orders from Rizzo (who may have orders from the Lerners) to treat Bryce with kid gloves because of some dim hope he will show DC some love for their indulgence and sign a deal to stay with the Nats? I can't figure out anything else.

Robot said...

Well, that's not a good start

NotBobby said...

Harper: "This line-up should score a couple runs but shouldn't do any blowing out."

Hellickson: "Hold my beer."

W. Patterson said...

Interesting game. No more bench else theyd pull Bryce. Maybe put Max in RF?

BxJaycobb said...

I would like to get a few things off my chest.

First things first. Folks. Let’s chill on blaming the season on Bryce Harper. Do you all realize he has been hitting very well over the last couple weeks? He’s taking his walks and collecting doubles and bombs again, and has an OPS of .840 on the season. Now I’m not going to sit here and say Bryce Harper isn’t having a bad year. He is. But Jesus. If leading the league in homers (yes, those count too) and walks and getting on base a ton is the worst year of your career, you must be pretty good. Bryce isn’t why the Nats have been terrible. He’s a small piece of it but not close to the answer. The Nats have been great when Bryce has been mediocre (2016) and bad when he was incredible (2015). And guess what? He’s been a well above average league hitter this year. Let’s hope he becomes the real Bryce again in the second half. If he finishes the year at .260 with 45 bombs and 100 RBI were all going to look idiotic. Enough on Bryce. The problem (well, 95% of it) is injuries to the offense—C that hits like a pitcher, nothing from 2B, nothing from 1B, DL stints galore elsewhere and 2 rotation injuries at the worst time (and Gio and Roark turning into pumpkins in June). End of story. The difference between Bryce this year and 2017 bryce is legit 2 games. He apparently is working his ass off and the coaches think he cares too much and is killing himself that he is letting everybody down (Chelsea James on BBTN podcast). So chill. Hopefully he comes around. I’m frustrated he’s not raking like Freddie Freeman too. Trust me.

On the FO: Rizzo has made lots of rational moves. Be he committed 2 unforgivable malpractice level sins this offseason that we called a mile away. He went into a season in which we were ostensibly trying to win a title with a garbage can at C and worse than a garbage can at backup. As in. Zero catchers. And he had zero 5th starter, which means even less rotation depth. Surprise! Both those things killed us. And were hilariously predictable.

On Zim: If you have a limit on the amount of money you can spend from the Lerners it’s no use railing about sunk costs because if there’s even a 50% chance of a productive 1B being on the roster, you can’t spend your extra money there. Not sure what they could do differently. They signed him to a horrible contract.

BxJaycobb said...

The plan is as follows (and I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody). We have a crazy easy schedule leading up to the deadline. It is entirely possible we get to July 31 and the Nats are like 1 game out of the WC and 2-3 behind ATL. It’s also possible they are 6-7 games out of the WC and done in the division. If it’s the former, you trade for Ramos. You don’t need to give up kieboom or Robles. (BTW, let kieboom develop. He’s not gonna save us and if this continues he’s a key part of the next few years being competitive). Ramos isn’t gonna cost most than Herrera. Probably less. Second, you see if you can pick up a rental starter on the cheap, because I don’t think we will be rocking 5 reliable starters by 7/31 (JA Happ? Somebody like that). Honestly, assuming no injuries, I think Ramos at C and a mid rotation dependable rental starter is all this team needs, especially if we get to September and Murphy can’t handle 2B. Then you can bring up kieboom for a taste. Who knows...maybe he goes off. But I would be having him get occasionally reps at 2B starting after the AS break.
DOOM SCENARIO: you flip Herrera. You try to flip Gio and Murphy. Flipping Bryce is more complicated. My personal view is that the Nats are probably better off as a team if they let him go and spend the saved $ on some combo of Rendon extension, C, SP in offseason (shoot for a 2019 lineup of something like Robles CF-Soto RF-Rendon 3B-Eaton LF-Turner SS-Zim 1B-Kieboom 2B-FA C). That said.....if you’re not going to get much back for a Bryce rental anyway, I can see being sensitive to not dealing him if you want to resign him and go another way, like dealing Eaton and Taylor for pieces, etc. Don’t forget how special a player Bryce has been and likely will be. Guys going to accumulate 30 WAR by age 25 with an MVP in tow. That’s superhuman. You will probably never see another Nationals player have a year anywhere close to his 2015. It would suck to see him go to the Dodgers or Phillies and win 2-3 more plaques. But honestly depending on the price I think it’s a rational choice to keep him (6 years 200m...and yes I honestly think it’s possibke his price will end up falling that low) and to let him go (any commitment in years or dollars above that.)

Anonymous said...

@BxJaycobb...I am the anon from 11:35 yesterday that called out Bryce's choice not to bunt or push a ball to the L side of the infield. I post again to call attention to the part of the post where I specifically said I'm not blaming Bryce for the season.

My point was that Bryce's choice in that key moment was indicative of an attitude and approach to the game that is what is - and could ultimately - doom the season. Bryce is not the only one who is playing this way and it's not Bryce's play alone that is the problem.

I know one-run games are often down to luck but I'm 100% convinced that our record would be better if players made more choices using a win-at-all-costs mentality. They just don't.

And although Davy can't do anything about the injuries or the roster composition, he can and should hold players accountable for the choices they make during the game. And he said it is a time for accountability. And then did nothing. Bryce not only in the lineup but in the 4th position, sending a clear signal that all is well.

Last night notwithstanding, I think the team will continue to play the way they have because they are not being coached to play differently, or if they are they aren't being held accountable for their choices. And for some reason don't play differently on their own.

Besides some walk-taking thanks to crappy Marlins pitching and Juan Soto, I didn't really see a difference in play last night. Time will tell, I suppose, but I'm not hopeful.

W. Patterson said...

@Anonymous - I believe that it was my comment about putting Max in for Bryce. It's just frustrating when Bryce doesn't hit 1.000, ya know? The strikeouts are frustrating.

Last night was cool to watch, but giving up over 10 runs to the fish? C'mon!

DezoPenguin said...

On Zim: If management has the guts to pencil Zim in as the short half of a platoon at 1B (because Adams has never been able to hit left-handed pitching), then I'm fine with that. It's not like Reynolds is tearing up the world. If they sit Adams against RHP, then it means management has made a commitment to stroking one player's ego at the expense of the team.

On Harper: Honestly, I have to agree with BxJaycobb on this. He's a special player and has the potential to be a transcendent one, but except for 2015 it's not who he's been. He's just not worth a mega-contract. Soto and Eaton in the corners, with Robles as the preferred CF option and Taylor as the backup option/OF4 is a better outfield than most teams can sport, and it frees up money for a Rendon extension and/or addressing 2B and pitching concerns.

On trades: Obviously Ramos looks like the best choice on the market, but the question is whether he's going to be available. Pitching-wise, J.A. Happ would be perfect (he's clearly good enough to be the third starter); I wonder if the Jays would let him go for less if we took Russell Martin off their hands for salary relief (the painful truth being that his abysmal hitting this year is still somehow better than the guys we have out there now so we're about the only team that could actually make use of the guy even if the RoS projections are overrated)?

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