Nationals Baseball: Lost opportunity

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Lost opportunity

In the comments for a while now some have been saying that the Nats have to make a move now. I've tried to be very reasonable about it. They didn't HAVE to then. They are still in the hunt now, despite not making a move before the ASB, or sweeping through the Marlins in their last series, which were both set up as "have to" moments. They don't HAVE to now. They could lose the next two games and still be in the hunt. With 47 games after that they could go say... 33-16 and make up 6 games on teams going 25-22. This type of run happens every year.  "Have to" is "have to" it means that if you don't do it you are out. That's not what's happening to the Nats when they tread water.

What's happening is the Nats are losing the time necessary, and our confidence that they have the ability to do it.

The time matters because we all understand the ebb and flow of a season. You go up and down. Precious few teams win at a very high rate for long stretches of time. The Nats going on a run now means not needing that huge run later, maybe even allowing them a slip up or two down the stretch, which will almost certainly happen.

The ability matters because well duh. But seriously the schedule is tougher. They have 15 games against cupcakes Mets and Marlins. If they dominate those games (say 12-3) it still means that going .500 here on out against the good teams (including these two Braves games) only puts them at 29-20. That's a good stretch but only makes up 6 games on a team going 23-26. Everyone in front of them isn't going to suddenly play bad baseball. So in order to get a few more wins they are going to have to go over .500 against the good teams. 19-15 instead of 17-17 and if they can't do it now, and haven't done it since mid May, why would you believe they are going to do it in the upcoming weeks?

We spelled it out before talking about the NL East but with the Wild Card 4.5 games away and a number of teams in the way it applies there too.  Coming back takes at this point for the Nats will take two things
1) Nats play very well - among the best few teams for the rest of the season
2) Nats opponents do not play very well - .500ish or worse

Both those things are reasonable in a way (talent wise you can see both the Nats and the other teams doing this) and unreasonable in a way (season so far has told us the opposite is more likely).  Part of the reason the Nats have held on is because first the Braves and Phillies played pretty mediocre baseball, then the Nats played like the best few teams in baseball with an 8-3 run. But they didn't have both things happen at once and as the season goes on and these things continue not to happen at the same time what needs to happen becomes more extreme.

The Nats need to be the best team for the rest of the year and the guys they need to catch have to play below .500 baseball.

The Nats need to have one of the best finishes of all-time and they guys the need to catch have to tank.

The Nats need to go 8-0 and they guys they need to catch need to go 0-8.

You go from a being able to overcome a couple series not going your way, to being able to overcome a couple games not going your way, to not being able to overcome anything going wrong. And these extreme shifts happen faster if the opposite of what the Nats need happen - if the Nats play poorly for a stretch and the teams they need to catch play like the best teams in baseball.

Basically what I'm saying is that while I'm not agreeing with you - the Nats don't need to take this series with the Braves, I completely recognize the bind it puts them in. The Nats are in a precarious position on the ledge of falling out of the playoffs and each successive game they don't make up ground the ledge gets a little smaller. At some point they have to make a move or they are going to fall off.


blovy8 said...

BxJaycobb - has anyone mentioned to the Braves' announcers that Nick Markakis must have a wily chemist on retainer? He hasn't hit like this in 10 years.

Anonymous said...

I would say that you "have to" win a game where Max gives up only 1 run in 7 IP against a team you're trying to catch. Game 1 was a pleasant surprise, but it was marred by the lack of offense in Game 2 (other than the HR by Soto, who may be anywhere from 17-24 years old).

blovy8 said...

I'm buying into the Rizzo hubris now - there's no way they should have traded Kintzler, be he in the way or in. Kelley is no great loss, but if Herrera is out, you're looking at Madson as your closer who has established that he can't be a workhorse. If Glover is going to be the answer, someone should have rephrased the question.

JE34 said...

Does anyone have a clue re the return timetable for Sean Doolittle?

Froggy said...

Gotta agree with the post that essentially the only way the Nats gain a WC or division playoff spot is IF:
1) they play out of their minds
2) and everyone else plays worse than they have been playing all year.
AND 3) they make some sort of "move" (but who?). Thinking ALL three of those things will happen is just beyond crazy.

The weak links that need to be addressed in a 'move' are catcher and SP. No way Rizzo does anything to directly address those holes during the remainder of the season. No. Way.

Bote Man said...

Does anyone have a clue re the return timetable for Sean Doolittle?

I don't think foot amputees can pitch in the Major Leagues.

blovy8 said...

I would imagine the return of a strong Strasburg and Doolittle would move the needle, but time is running out for them to be enough. The work that needs to be done in the next bunch of games to make September matter is difficult to imagine without the continuation Sam Milone and Jeremy WhatTheHellickson pitching it where the barrel ain't, along with Roark's resumed mastery of his fastball.

My answer to the "why would you think it" question is the same as predicting a doubleheader outcome. It's like Joaquin Andujar logic, man. You never know.

Yeah, wrong blog.

blovy8 said...

C'mon, he can doo it - Jim Mecir pitched with a clubfoot! Maybe he'll come off the DL able to throw a good screwball.

W. Patterson said...

Doolittle comes in to save. You get a save only when you are in a save situation. That means more runs on the board than the other guys. IOW, math.

In other news, hit it where they ain't.

Sign me: Captain Obvious

BxJaycobb said...

Good point. I would also ask whether Joe Simpson is also concerned that Ronald Acuna is older than 20.

BxJaycobb said...

It’s definitely not beyond crazy. The teams run differential compared to actual record suggests the Nats will almost certainly win significantly more games rest of year and the other teams will win less. It’s a matter of how extreme those two are. My concern is that the Nats STILL aren’t healthy enough to fire on all cylinders. Stras is out. Doolittle. Now Herrera. That’s 3 incredibly important pieces.

Harper said...

blovy8 - I find this also reasonable!

JE34 - Doolittle has no timetable. He got confrimation that there's no fracture and that it isn't getting worse but we haven't heard about him throwing at all so he's not close. Think 2 weeks minimum and keep that moving as you don't hear anything.

BxJaycobb said...

The reason I don’t think the Nats can come back is simply that given their very mediocre depth (Rizzo’s fault) they are still too injured to fire on all cylinders and make a run. Strasburg and Doolittle are 2 of the Nats 3 best pitchers on a team that doesn’t have a ton of pitching depth. Now Herrera. It’s hard to get white hot in those conditions. And before everybody says “everybody has injuries!” Nor really. The Braves and Phillies have been two of the healthiest teams this year. They’ve had virtually no injuries to pitchers or stars. Basically a brief absence from Hoskins and then Acuna was out a bit. And of course part of it is they’re young. But still—-they’ve had awesome luck and we’ve gotten killed. This isn’t some excuse. Just a rational explanation of where we are and where we’re not going. I still believe the Nats full roster is superior to these other teams. But they’ve played with about half their key players for most of the season, and even now they have much more if it, but still missing critical pieces. People can say what they want. But the story of the season when you look back at the whole thing start to end will he injuries and Rizzo’s terrible job at building rotation depth. This team collapsed PRECISELY when strasburg and Hellickson went down. When the rotation was intact the team was awesome and in first place. But that was like end of May. Again,
1. not enough depth Rizzo.
2. No half decent catcher Rizzo.
3. Plus extra bad injury luck.
4. And regression from Gio and a mediocre Bryce year.
5. And if u want to blame Davey Martinez fine, but it goes below the 4 items above in importance.

Jimmy said...

I really have a hard time faulting Rizzo for pitching depth. Who were these great pitchers that we should have signed that were better than our in house options? not too many major league starting pitchers want to play in the minors. Our bp had more depth than we've ever had. Catcher sucked but the pitching criticism isn't exactly fair. There is a total dearth of starting pitching throughout the league, so much so that Gio Gonzalez is going to be one of the best starters available next year. I guess you can fault the fact that we don't have guys in the minors but how could he have addressed it in the offseason?

Fries said...

Fully agree with you Bx. If you have a halfway decent catcher and one more major league ready SP on the roster, that's good for 3-4 wins on the year. That puts the Nats in a virtual tie with the Braves and has them right in the thick of the playoff race. And that completely ignores the terrible luck the Nats have had with respect to injuries and 1-run game record. This is a very good team that had TERRIBLE luck on the year, but should have been able to overcome it with proper depth.

Rizzo is a great GM, I hope to never see him leave, but this was a down year for him and the Nats SHOULD have been in a position to take the division, even if it took more work than previous years

Jimmy said...

There is not a single pitching prospect we've traded in the last three that has would have helped us this year either. Maybe Luzardo, maybe. this is so hindsight is 20/20 garbage.

G Cracka X said...

I think the season can simply be explained by injury impact and variance.

On injury impact, the Nationals still are #1 (aka most impacted) on the Roster Effect Ranking List (, so they have been negatively impacted by injury more than any other MLB team. That's not whining, that's just interpreting the cold hard statistic.

Then, variance. Nats are now a full six games behind their Pythag. By the way they've performed, they should be 64-49, which would tie them with the Phillies (who, by the way, should be 61-52 per Pythag) and put them ahead of the Braves (who would be 62-48 with Pythag). So, even with the worst injuries in the league, the Nats have outperformed the Phillies and Braves overall, but the record doesn't show it.

I don't blame Rizzo for the holes because we don't know exactly what limitations he has to work with. I think he filled the holes he could with the budget and authority he was given. And while I don't think Davey is perfect, I don't think he's the main issue either.

I don't blame Gio or Bryce regression either (though both players have had down years relative to 2018 expectations). For every regression, there's been progression (see Hellickson and Soto, Juan)

Injuries and variance. I think its that simple.

By the way, nice to see Rizzo confront the Braves announcer about Soto.

Jimmy said...

I'm 100% with you G craka this team had the best roster top to bottom we've ever had. Our bench was absolutely loaded.

Jay said...

Part of the problem is the salary cap ... I mean luxury tax. I think Rizzo wanted Arrieta (that would have solved the pitching depth problem). Lerners said no. Next year they will drop huge amounts of salary off the books, so they can add more depth. I think this past offseason they were really hamstrung by salary. Also, I think Rizzo in small part and the Lerner family in large part felt the division this year was a gimme. Thus Dusty goes and Martinez comes in to get us over the play off hunt.

Is Wieters the worst free agent signing in Nationals history? He cost us game 5 last year and has been pretty horrible last year and even more so this year. That was a Lerner decision as well. Good thing Mark sent us that open letter about how they couldn't quit on the team. I really wish owners would just shut up and realize I don't root for the Washington Lerners. I don't really care what he thinks.

Anyway, I think Rizzo would have loved more SP depth and a different catcher. I think the Lerners interfered.

Jimmy said...

@jay I agree totally with the catching criticism. I just don't understand where could we have gained sp depth? We had the fifth spot open which forever reason they started aj cole to start. But they had added Helickson and Jackson as depth in addition to Fedde. We just haven't hit on any of our pitching prospects in a long time. The last guy we drafted and developed that had any kind of success as a starting pitcher was Stephen Strasburg.

Froggy said...

Jimmy @ 9:48,

To answer your question: Verlander.

Many of us were chirping the same refrain last year when he came available and the Nats playoff prospects were dim due to lack of pitching depth.

Astros sign him instead and well, you know...

Jimmy said...

I guess, the astros did't exactly get Verlander for free and as I recall he wasn't setting the world on fire and his contract was starting to look like a possible albatross.

Jimmy said...

NVM I recant Verlander was still a stud at the time of the trade.

blovy8 said...

Maybe the Diamondbacks will lose eight in a row and Greinke will become available...

billyhacker said...

Jay nailed it with the Rizzo/Lerner comments. We can't blame Rizzo for catcher when he fought hard against Wieters and was overruled. What's he supposed to do now? Show up his boss by trading for another catcher to play ahead of Wieters? That won't fly. Hopefully the Lerner's learned from that. I do wish they'd let him swap harper for prospects. Rizzo should be able to do some magic in that trade.

Harper said...

GCX - Injuries, variance, and Improvement in Opposition. I think Nats thought they could ride out injuries and variance. Injuries hit them harder yes, but if Phillies/Braves are .500 teams Nats get a couple more wins and are probably 60-53 with a few game lead.

Anonymous said...

Bullpen injures may be partly attribute to overuse. I was hoping this was a Dusty thing, but Davey hasn't been any better and may be worse. Its likely an organizational issue. Rizzo seems to have no qualms starting the season with bullpen question marks, giving the manager
the unenviable decision of overworking the effective relievers or risking the game to the ineffective ones. Nationals will have many bullpen roster decisions this off season.

Strasburg and Zimmerman will be on the roster next season. These two are prone to injuries.

Scherzer is no spring chicken. He has thrown a ton of innings. He throws serious heat. The wear and tear on his tires may be strong.

Gio (yes he may be a goner next year), Roark, and Hellickson are all over 30.

If the Nationals have higher than average injury rate next year, would be it bad luck or expected value because they have some older players and a few non durable vets?

Huzzah! said...

Davey Martinez looked totally lost on that Soto ejection. I honestly cringed a little and felt bad for him—it’s so obvious that he doesn’t know what to do in a lot of these situations, but knows everyone is looking to him to act.

That being said- love the way the jays players handled it though. Wieters and Harper especially.

Anonymous said...

Yea, if ever there was a time to go Earl Weaver, than might have been it.

Max David said...

I know this is a down the road issue, but am I the only one thinking Scherzer should be starting Monday night in St. Louis and not Sunday night in Chicago?? As it’s set up no matter what days he starts he will still wind up with 2 starts against the Phillies the end of the month. My reasoning for throwing him Monday and NOT Sunday is simple: the Cards are one of the teams we are competing with for a Wildcard and the Cubs frankly are likely going to win the division, so the best pitcher should be getting as many starts against the teams we are competing with for a playoff spot. And really if they lose first 2 at Wrigley, Scherzer starts Sunday they win, but then lose on Monday in St. Louis that is actually worse off then getting swept in Wrigley, but then Scherzer coming back to win on Monday. Yes, it’s the same record, but you’ve gained a game on a team you are chasing.

Of course it doesn’t matter who starts because if they can’t score any runs they could have 1924 Walter Johnson pitching and it wouldn’t matter.

Huzzah! said...

Ya I don’t know why we are still assuming Max starts are wins. Ever since 2012 this team has demonstrated that they refuse to live up to even the smallest of expectations.

Max David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Max David said...

What a complete disaster all around. I figured once the first 3 of Eaton, Turner, Rendon got on in the first and they only managed that single run that things probably weren't going to end up well, and unfortunately, my instincts turned out to be correct :(

The fact that we need Gio to manage to get just a split of one of the biggest series we've played this year tells us all we need to know about 2018, ugh.

ssln said...

As I reported yesterday, Davey's camel was placed on IR with a reported hump strain that could keep him out of action until Feb. Unfortunately, the MRI's came back and showed ligament damage. He is now slated for Tommy Hump surgery and is out until at least next July. Everything that comes near this team winds up on IR sooner or later.
Plan, scheme, or hypothesize, but this team is not very good now. At some point reality will sink in that we aren't going to make the playoffs.
Analyze it all you want, but in the end it doesn't make any difference. At some point you need to confront reality, and just accept it.

G Cracka X said...

I agree that the playoffs are almost gone now. It is time to shift focus to 2019 and decide if the team should still go for it, or think about a rebuild. As several have noted, next year's team as-is projects to be about an 80 win team. So they could spend a lot of money in FA/make big trades to try and get to the upper 80s in projections, or sell and try and rebuild the farm system. Or I suppose they could hold (though that doesn't seem to make sense).

I don't blame Rizzo for this year. The Nats projected for about 92 wins this year, the Mets 84, and the Phillies 77 and the Braves 73 (source: Rizzo put together a winning team. He didn't go 'all in' because he likes to try and build a playoff team every year. I think his goal each year is to put together a team that projects to win about 90. I can't argue with that strategy.

Max David said...

I have pretty much no faith in this team making the playoffs, but with that said if they can actually play fundamental baseball (I know I'm reaching there though): get a runner home with a leadoff double, hit and run, steal bases, throw to the correct base, etc. don't quit or pack it in, and see what happens. I really don't see it, but maybe this team has a 23-7 run in it over it's next 30 games, if they do if they aren't already in a playoff spot they'll probably only be a game or half game out and they'll be right there. Starts with a win by Gio and than no worse than a 5-2 road trip, but even that is cutting it close.

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