Nationals Baseball: 2019

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Shaking the WC contenders

The Nats swept the Reds and look every bit the team they have looked like for what is now the majority of the season. Not good enough to challenge for the best teams in baseball, but in that second tier. Beating up the bad teams, playing .500 ish ball against the good ones. Unfortunately for the Nats the Braves are also in that 2nd tier and by virtue of not having a terrible first 50 games, have a lead that they are not likely to give up.

As was noted before the Nats have an easier stretch and the goal now is to hit those bad teams hard, strike up a good lead, and then survive a September where they are likely to play close to .500. But we're to the part of the season where we can stop with the "keep your head down" talk and pick our heads up to look at the scoreboard. In order to build that lead the Nats need to do their job, but the other teams need to cooperate as well.

Let's say the Nats do what I want with the remaining schedule. We'll adjust for the sweep and say 10-5 the rest of the way. That's dominant play over the Marlins, Pirates and Orioles, and splitting the Cubs and Brewers serieses. 75-60 going into Labor Day.*  What do these other teams face? Would we expect the Nats to have that lead we want to see? I think it's reasonable to think a couple, maybe even three of these teams can make up 3+ games on the Nats in that last month. But will the Nats have too big a lead? Will it be the "right" teams?


Cardinals (1GB Nats - in NL Central lead). Remember when I said a couple of posts back the Cardinals will hit a easy stretch? Well they are in it and it seems now we are getting real separation from the haves and have nots. Teams with easy schedules are going on runs and the Cardinals are the latest example. They swept PIT and KC.  They'll take on Cincy next then MIL, COL, MIL, and CIN going into Labor Day.  I see... 11-7 (Yes they play 18 games) and 73-62. Much like the Nats two series against contenders.

Cubs (1GB - perc pts out of NL Central lead). Finish with PHI tonight then @PIT, SFG, NATS!, @NYM, MIL.  I got them at 9-7 (I have them beating the Nats at home and the Nats beating MIL at home FWIW). So 73-63

MIL (2.5 GB) - a death march @Nats, @ STL, ARI, STL, @ CHC. Optimistically 7-8. 70-66.

PHI (3 GB) - we can argue if Philly is any good or not (maybe tomorrow), but we can't argue that they are not in it. They are.  Finish with Cubs then an easy stretch for them which actually will extend through a Labor Day series with their spiritual opposite the "good" Reds who just keep losing. But for now through Labor Day- SDP @ BOS (2), @MIA, PIT, NYM. If you take the Phillies at face value (again we will argue tomorrow) that's an 11-4 type run.  72-62

NYM (4GB) - finish with ATL then a mixed bag @KC, CLE, ATL, CHC, @PHI.  Hard but mostly at home with an easy start. Still I'll say 6-9. 67-68.

ARI (4.5 GB) if they are better than San Fran now's the time to prove it. SFG, COL, @MIL, @SFG, LAD. Most likely they make a mini-run but 4 game against the Dodgers knocks them back down. 8-8. 69-68.

That would put the standings like this going into Labor Day

WSN 75-60 
STL 73-62    2 GB Nats
CHC 73-63   2.5 GB
PHI 72-62   2.5 GB
MIL 70-66  5.5 GB
ARI 69-68   7 GB
NYM 67-68  8 GB


Hmmm not quite where the Nats want to be. BUT now we have to look at the remaining schedules. We know the Nats have a hard Sept but how many of these teams, if any, have an EASY one that is a good bet to make up 3+ games on Nats...

NYM - mixed bag, tough start, easy finish
ARI - super easy 9 Padres games, a Marlins set at home, 6 Cincy
MIL - reverse of Mets, easy start, tough finish
PHI - just a touch less harder than Nats, certainly not easy
CHC - on the easier side, but I'd hesitate to say easy
STL - similar to Milwaukee, if one of Cubs/Cards dominates other they'll have an easy sched

I'd say it's probable one of CHC or STL outplays the Nats by 3+ games down the stretch, as well as ARI. but ARI will be too far out and the CHC/STL team that does that will win the division. So that means the Nats look pretty good for that WC vs either PHI, the CHC/STL survivor, or a not dead ARI. 

Team by team - here's what I'd say

NYM - very likely to fade out of the picture over next month but if somehow, on the off chance they don't they could be dangerous at the end. But again - most likely to fade. Nats could really finish them off Labor Day if things go like I think.

ARI - If they can put together two good weeks here and stay in the 4 games out range, they can make a serious run. They'll likely drop too far and fall a couple games short but I wouldn't necessarily dismiss them right now.

MIL - Probably will agonizingly slowly fall further and further out of the picutre, with a brief reprieve at the start of September that gives them false hope. 

PHI - They will continue to be a thorn in the Nats side. They have the easiest schedule in front of them for the next couple weeks which means they are unlikely to fade away regardless of what you think of them. Then if they start to slip they have that 5 game set versus the Nats at the end of the year. The good news/bad news is that this will likely come down to how the Nats and Phillies play each other.

CHC - They'll likely be neck and neck with the Cards the rest of the way and eek out a small lead by the time we get to the final 10 games when they play each other 7 times. If they can keep it 3-4 or better they probably make it

STL - basically same as Cubs but probably a game behind entering that last 10 games.


We're in unprecedented territory here. Unless the Nats just tank - and I'm talking like a 1-9, 0-10 type swing, we're getting important games throughout September.** Stretching the definition you had important games in early September in 2014 and 2015 but they were of the "keep a season alive" type. The Nats killed the Braves in 2014 and died themselves in 2015 both before Sept 10th.  It's hard to see the Nats being in that position again this year.

This is fun! And because the Nats are leading and not chasing, a little less anxiety causing for you guys I bet so you can enjoy it a little more. At least I hope.***


*the NL East? The Braves are currently 71-50 so for the Nats to get within a series of the Braves you are looking for them to go 7-8 or so. Not impossible but with 9 games vs MIA, COL, TOR, and CHW in there... I don't see it. It's most likely the Nats remain around 4-6 games out the rest of the year. But H2Hs are there to change that. 

**And if they go 9-1 or 10-0? Then they have important games against the Braves. You can work out a scenario here where the Nats have a boring Sept. Basically they and the Braves both go like 16-4 in the next 20 games. Nats have a big lead in the WC but can't catch the Braves for the East. But who expects that?

***and remember - I'm very likely to be completely wrong on at least one team here - possibly two. Which ones and in which directions? Go ahead and guess

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Poisoned!

By food!

Mended mostly now but gotta catch up on some stuff so real brief -

You can look at the road trip positively (the Nats did what they needed to going 5-4) or negatively (the Nats lost ground to the two closer WC competitors in H2H matchups). That's up to you. Regardless they are still in the WC spot and the schedule breaks down as follows. Rest of August : Pretty easy.  September : Pretty brutal.

The Nats need to put some ground between them and the other WC contenders over the next 2 1/2 weeks. CIN/MIL at home - need to go 4-2.  PIT(4) CHC on road - need to go 4-3.  BAL(2) MIA home - need to go 4-1.  That's 12-6 (Well 11-6 now) and probably a nice 3-4 game cushion on the WC.  No excuses anymore, no "we'll make it up later". This is later and the Nats need to play with urgency. Because if they are in the same spot now on Labor Day they won't be making the playoffs.In September they have to go through NYM, @ATL, @MIN, ATL, @STL, @MIA, PHI (5!), CLE - that's one gimme series in 26 games. Some WC contender is going to play better then they will during this stretch, maybe 3 or 4 will. So get that cushion now.


Friday, August 09, 2019

The Mets

If we want to be completely straight the goal for the Nats is "don't get swept".  Even losing the series 2 games to 1 wouldn't impact the Nats much.  They sit now 2.5 games up on the Mets (and Phillies), 2 games up on the nearest WC competitor. Worst case going 1-2 in the next three is that they are 1.5 games up on the Phillies, 2.5 on the Mets, and still tied for the top WC spot.  That's fine.

But really the Nats would be well served to blunt the Mets momentum.  I don't know why it feels this way but the Mets are a team of runs. Maybe that's a 26-12 run at end of 20-15 to help salt away the division. Or maybe it's a 5-11 run at the end of 2007 to fall out of the playoffs. Whatever it's the top or the bottom, it seems like the Mets are always streaking there. To me, irrationally, it feels like the Nats can stop the momentum and maybe put them on a streak back down. Just because that's how the Mets play.

The Mets offense is clicking now with three above average, young(ish) talents.  Alonso is the masher, McNeil is the bat on ball guy, Conforto is the all-around hitter. But beyond that they have issues. They keep trying to fit in Dom Smith and something keeps getting in the way.  Currently he's hurt. They like JT Davis but unlike the first three there isn't a strong belief he can keep this up.  Ramos, Frazier, and Rosario are all average production wise. The 8th guy out there, be it Guillorme, Hechavarria, or Lagares is terrible.  (Sometimes it's not just the 7th guy though as you may see two of these guys at the same time for the defense). It's a top heavy lineup that can be survived by dominating the bottom of the lineup.

Relief wise the the Nats have one pitcher performing well in Seth Lugo. Justin Wilson has a decent ERA but that's not backed up by the fancy stats. Gsellman looks like filler. Diaz is fighting his head. The rest has been terrible.  If you can get the starter out in under 7, or really if you have it close late, you got a chance to take the game.

Match-ups. 
Strasburg vs Stroman - After a long dominating stretch Stras was awful last time out. But I like to give guys one bad start here and there without turning on them.  Stroman did not have a good first start but is a solid pitcher and you know I love AL -> NL moves.  Anyway, you give the edge to Stras here.

Corbin vs Syndergaard - Corbin, like Stras, was off last start, but you still got to respect the like 8 game stretch with a below 2.00 ERA that preceded that.  However, Syndergaard has been that dominant and didn't have a bad start last time out. So he gets the slight edge.

Sanchez vs deGrom - Sanchez bounced back after his worst outing since April with his best outing since June.  But still he's not deGrom and deGrom is 15 starts into a 2.00 ERA run with 115K and 21 BBs in 91 innings.  This is a game the Nats could win but not a game you want to go into with the Nats having to win because the SP has to favor the Mets.

Pitching match-ups go 2-1 in favor of the Mets but the line-up and bullpen, amazingly, both favor Nats.  it's useless to predict baseball but if I have to put something out there I say the Nats win 2.  It should be a very fun series with low-scoring pitching dominance giving way to late inning fireworks (which means it'll be 3 blow outs against the starters and dominant RP bc that's the way it goes)


Thursday, August 08, 2019

Joe Ross isn't good but you shouldn't care

In a 3 game set in 2018 Jefry Rodriguez gave up 3 runs, allowing 18 baserunners in 16 innings and holding opponents to a .182 / .286 / .255  line

In back to back games in 2017 AJ Cole gave up 2 ER in 11.2 IP throwing to a .214 / .340 / .286 line

These things happen. You shouldn't read too much into short bursts of competence by starting pitchers because occasionaly the line-up you face and the BABIP you get works in your favor and maybe you just do have it that day. You are good enough to get a major league start - that means you have some talent. Is that what's going on with Ross? History says - probably!  He actually could be ok but he's three years out from being anything but a poor 5th starter so why not let him throw say... a month of starts out there before we get excited?

And you shouldn't really care about it either, and by that I mean whether Ross is good in the long run or not doesn't matter nearly as much right now as whether Ross can get good results the rest of this year. In 2005 the Yankees sprinted to a division title. How? Because Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon went 17-3 down the stretch. Neither were really any good but who cares! Worry about 5th starter after the season when you need to evaluate such things.Right now just hope he keeps winning, whether he walks a man per inning like he did last time or is bouyed by a .154 BABIP like he has been over the last 2 games.  Enjoy the results - without telling me I should look at how he's improved.

The big news of yesterday is Rendon was pulled after a ball hit his foot. They say it was nothing. They've said that before. They said Max would be fine and no one has ever seen him again. Rendon tweaked his knee one spring and was "day to day" for 70 days. He broke his toe recently. Let's see him in uniform and playing tomorrow and no "Precautionary x-ray" news today. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

That's more like it

This isn't hard. The Nats aren't battling a bunch of world beaters for the Wild Card.  The Nats have gone 11-11 in their last 22 and have gone from being in WC1 with a 2 game lead all the way to being in WC1 with a 1 game lead. When we say the Nats control their own destiny it's meant in two ways - first they'll play all these teams down the stretch and can put distance between them in H2H games but in a broader sense I mean they are staring down a half dozen .500 teams who didn't make a strong push to get better at the trade deadline. If the Nats can simply play like they should - a few games over .500 in the remaining 49 games - say 26-23, that will be enough to make the WC game.

Winning now is good in part because the Nats haven't caught a hot team in a LONG time.  Here's how the teams they have faced in the second half (starting with BAL bc PHI starts off fresh in my mind) fared in the series (for BAL) or two (everyone else) before playing the Nats

BAL 1-3
ATL 4-2 (but lost last 2 going in to Nats series)
COL 1-6
LAD 3-2 (but ditto - lost last 2 going in)
ATL 2-3
ARI 2-4
SFG 2-4*

The Mets though - even if they lose today the Mets are undeniably hot.  The Mets are a rival. The Mets will be at home.  That's a series where if the Nats win, and they throw out at least Corbin and Strasburg, will be a great jumping off point for what is a mostly benign rest of August. The offense has awakened a little - really started in the Braves series - the pitching has been all over the place after carrying the team for a while. It's also a series that if the Nats lose, assuming they win today, it's not a big deal. They'd still be up at least a game and a half on the Mets, almost certainly in a WC spot. But win today.

Suzuki had a big night last night and the Nats are finally using him as they should.  He's had 3 of the 4 catcher B2B outings since July 20th. He does need rest but he should be playing at least 60% of the games. He's about there now.  Hitting wise this is still the team you know it is Rendon and Soto lead, Turner does his thing and then you see who is hot.  Right now it's Suzuki and Parra.  Gomes was hot for a bit before that.  There are cold batters. Eaton is fighting through one of those tough weeks (.167 / .265 / .267 in last 8).  Robles is up against a real slump (.143 / .238 / .196 in last 16 games).  Dozier is becoming very hit or miss - 5 multi hit games in the last 12, but only a .244 average. But as long as they have their Top 2, Turner isn't slumping, and someone else is stepping up it works out.

Elias got hurt and Strickland has been whatever but Hudson has been great and honestly if they have one of these three work out to be good - it's a win. Again three lotto tickets to scratch off in place of three scratched off losers.  Doolittle has rebounded after a little bump, as has Rodney, so the Nats very much have a back-end of the pen currently. I don't actually trust Rodney in the long haul, but use that arm up while he's feeling good, then worry about who might replace him. As long as they have this that's one less inning to survive a game.

Win this game. Keep the Mets, and the rest of the WC group, at arm length. Give yourself the leeway for an on target road trip even if you lose to the Mets.  The Nats aren't rolling anymore but they don't have to.  Great baseball isn't needed anymore, just good. Keep it going



*when was the last time the Nats played a team that was definitely hot.  Well, if you want you could say the Marlins in last June.  They were 5-2 going into the Nats series. Of course they are the Marlins, and they won the last 4 in that stretch by a total of 6 runs.  If you wanted to say then the Braves the series before that - who were 4-2 going in and not with a bunch of close wins, I wouldn't blame you.  How'd the Nats do? 1-2 but baseball isn't a very predictive sport in the short run.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Monday Quickie - Tough start

I always try to be fair and the optimistic take on the Nats weekend is - look they weren't planning on winning every series in this road trip. They were going to lose one and you can argue the Diamondbacks, despite having the worst record of the three teams they were going to play, are actually the most complete team. So it happened first. No biggy. Win the next two series and we're good.

Anyone buying that?

The realist take* is the Nats lost a series where they threw Strasburg and Corbin, losing those two games in fact, against a Diamondbacks team that is a .500 type squad.  They weren't going to win every series but given the fact those two completely miss the SF series, the idea was that would be the one that they might lose. Instead now they have to rally and win a series they maybe shouldn't? Meanwhile the WC race gets super tight - 7 teams within 3.5 games of eachother - and there's a very hot Mets team that's one Marlins series away and Max still hasn't thrown off a mound. The season, that after looking lost, looked like a WC favorite run, is slipping back into a complete unknown.

But Hudson's been great!

So onto the Giants and a series that isn't must win, but it would make things so much easier if they did. The best case scenario if the Nats lose the series has them in this position :

WSN +0.5
STL
PHI -1
SFG -1.5
ARI -1.5
MIL -3
NYM -4.5

And this with STL, MIL, and the Mets getting swept (PHI and ARI are playing eachother) If you instead say the Mets beat MIA 3-1, MIL beats Pirates 2-1, STL loses to LAD 1-2...you get

STL +0.5
WSN
PHI -1
MIL -1
SFG -1.5
ARI -1.5
NYM -1.5

Talk about a scrum.

Anyway onto the Giants.For real this time

The Giants are a capable offense with a couple big holes. Crawford is haivng a terrible year and whoever is playing the 3rd OF slot - be it Pillar or Duggar are also well below average. Even a hot July can't hide this. But they were a team with four holes and the rise of Austin Slater and the acquisition of Scooter Gennett have put two more decent bats in the line-up over terrible ones. In fact right now you could argue they have some bat log jams. Vogt can hit but is blocked by Posey and Belt. Sandoval can hit but is (sort of) blocked by Belt and Longoria who just returned from injury.  It's not like there is a great bat being held back here but it must be frustrating to see two obvious holes in your line-up and have two decent bats on the bench but have them not line-up at all in a way that you can make that fix. It does end up giving the Giants a very healthy bench though and the 2nd best OPS for PH in the NL. Remember that if it's close late.

Where the Giants excel is having the best reliever ERA in the NL.  They aren't exactly the same post-trade deadline but they still go four deep. Will Smith is great. Reyes Moronta is nearly so as is exhibit #24 in relievers get better after leaving the Nats, Trevor Gott. Tony Watson isn't as good as his ERA but he's still decent, certainly for the fourth man out. This depth gave them the ability to trade away Sam Dyson (also very good) and Mark Melancon (good when healthy and even good for the Nats!)  The rest of the pen is filled with new arms replacing some of the ones they sold off. Sam Selman is the key - as he's always had great stuff - unhittable swing and miss stuff, but been incredibly wild. This year he seemed to get that under control but has had a rough start to his Giants career. If he can get it together that's 5 good ones and that's enough. The other guys are Blazek types - not good in AAA but hey - someone has to be here. 

The match-ups are as follows

Fedde vs Samardzjia.  You know - outside of last year's injured campaign, Samardzjia has been mostly good.  You kind of got a feeling like him and Cueto didn't come over and do what they were supposed to but they mostly did when healthy. The line-up dying is what killed this team. Anyway. He's been REALLY good in July. There isn't anything particularly good about him, he just pitches well mixing up 4+ pitches to keep hitters off balance. Fedde was terrible last time out - if you can remember his brief shellling. Giants edge

Sanchez vs TBD  Last cycle it was Dereck Rodriguez but he got crushed by Philly. Their long man in the pen is Andrew Suarez who has been terrible this year. I got no idea who it could be and haven't seen anything about it. Against that you have to favor Sanchez even if he wasn't all that good last time out.

Ross vs Shaun Anderson  Ross had one good start (not great - he did walk 5 remember) and everyone is ready to say 5th starter might be solved. Well maybe but let me see him do it again. Shaun Anderson is a former Nats draftee (didn't sign - it was a HS low rounder thing, not a Nats failure) who's a rookie. He was good enough in the PCL and looks to be a decent long-run back rotation type. Hittable but as a groundbally control guy that's expected. With a tweak in his control and K will be a fine #4, but might not be there yet.  I don't like Ross but I can't exactly give the Giants the edge here in starters. So push... but Giants at home so an ever so slight edge to them for the game if you twist my arm

Seems like this could easily go 2-1 in either direction.  Make it the right one


*The pessimist take? The Nats are 9-11 in their last 20 games. The "tough stretch" fooled us into accepting an off set, but more importantly without Max and with no major trade cavalry this is a team headed back down slowly but surely - only kept in the race for the next few weeks by the fact the rest of the NL stinks too.

Friday, August 02, 2019

A very interseting road swing

Last swing was supposed to be clearly the toughest one for the Nats. Even though it featured a lot of home games, coming out of the ASB the Dodgers and Braves were the best and the Rockies were a reasonable WC contender, plus - no breaks! But the Rockies collapsed and the Nats caught a rain delay so it ended up a little bit less intimidating than originally thought. Still you can only go by what you see going in when you set those goals and they hit them so good for them.

The Nats are tied for the WC spots with the Cubs and the Phillies right now, with STL holding onto a 1 game lead in the Central and Milwuakee one game behind in the WC race.  Those are the main teams who are going to battle out for the NL Central crown and the two WC spots.  But they aren't the only teams still in it. In the next 9 games the Nats will run through the rest.

This road trip is a little daunting in its own right* as the Nats face their last West Coast swing and a series of fringe WC contenders. They'll take on Arizona first (3.5 behind the Nats), then SF (2.5), travel day, then the Mets (4) The Nats have a good shot to end each of their runs as serious contenders as being swept at home by a team they are trying to catch would probably do any of these guys in. But they also could let any of these guys move up to the first group with a sweep of their own. It's not that important that the Nats do well, simply maintaining ground is now a running out the clock situation, but they need to not blow it here.

To set the stage Arizona is running through a defining stretch (WSN PHI @LAD). The Giants get to play Colorado before taking on the Nats and having their own defining 20 game run of decent or good teams (includes their 4 interleague games vs a game OAK team). The Mets on the other hand have PIT and MIA up next before the Nats then take on the Braves but then get KC. They have one of the easier recent schedules**. I'm getting very excited for this August. Ideally, you want the Nats to come away from this stretch with a winning record, 5-4. That means they put space between at least two of these teams when given the chance and likely contribute to them falling off the radar. They still might lose a game in the WC standings doing this but that stretch I talk about below in the footnote should be where they make up 2-3 games.

Now onto tonight and Arizona - the Dbacks made themselves worse by trading Greinke but Mike Leake is a decent pitcher to fill those innings so they aren't digging any deeper into their SP depth - which was only three pitchers deep to begin with, with Luke Weaver on the DL though Alex Young is ok.  Other than that it was minor leaguers so the team is pretty much the same. The offense is solid. The have a big hole in the MI as 2B (currently Wilmer Flores) is terrible and Nick Ahmed at short is below average. So pitchers do get an end of line-up reprieve (though in the 6-7 hole, 8 is their catcher Kelly or Avila who are both hitting). Jones is not doing well but everyone else in the lineup is clearly above average, though they lack a superstar. Some may argue Ketel Marte is there, I'd like to see more than 100 games of this before I give him that. There's nothing they do poorly. Don't strike out too much, walk ok, got some pop. It's just very balanced. Right now Walker and Kelly are hot Escobar is ice cold. Marte is slumping.

The relief pitching is fine.  It resembles the line-up in that it's a lot of guys above average but no one great, mixed in with a few stinkers.  Holland is a weak closer, Bradley, Hirano, and Chafin are all better than their ERAs. Lopez worse. Bradley is probably the best and is control away from being dominant. He's been lights out lately. Crichton has been very effective as has MacFarland. Lopez has been bad.  Godley is the white flag. It's a high K group with a penchant for giving up bombs. It's fine.

The Nats catch these match-ups
Robbie Ray vs Joe Ross - Ross is Ross. Ray has been strong. Ray's a high K bit wild HR guy himself. but the first two tweaked a bit better than the pen, and he also doesn't give up as many hits. When he's on - as he has been, he's close to an ace. Easily favors the D-backs.

Strasburg vs Alex Young.  I told you Young has looked pretty good and he has. But he's a guy who is relying on a crazy low BABIP right now - .171.  That can't keep up.  He's not an overly heavy GB% guy either. This dam should burst. On the Nats side, Strasburg has been fantastic.  Easily favors Nats.

Corbin vs Merrill Kelly. Kelly is ok. He's the three deep but a clear back of the rotation guy. You can make contact against him so he tries to keep the walks down and  hopes you hit it where they are. Corbin has been great. Easily favors Nats again.

So should be a series win. If the Nats can manage to win tonight it's a good chance at a sweep.


*when do the Nats have it easy? Well I told you the 2nd half schedule was a lot harder. They'll get a mix of easy games after this for the rest of the month vCIN (easy), v MIL (not), @PIT (easy), @CHC (not), vBAL (easy), v MIA (easy), v NYM(???)  so about 2 weeks of on an off then a stretch at home going into Labor Day that could be a real boost if the Mets are floundering.  Then it's hard again in Sept with only one gimme series @ MIA

**who else has it easy? well it's hard to tell with so many teams still in the mix but the Cardinals will get an easy stretch in a couple of series.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

The deal and the deals

"The deal" is that the Nats plugged along perfectly for their WC aspirations. They played their (likely) toughest stretch of the second half and ended up moving from 2 games up in the WC to 0.5 game out of WC1 and a 0.5 game ahead of WC 2. This was always a possibility in a run that would likely skirt .500.  Now they play easier games and should pick that ground back up* For division fans though, the Nats went 3-4 versus ATL, they went 4-6 over against the division leaders. They did make up a game (the Braves had a little slip-up during this time) but not enough to inspire confidence that the division really is in play. They beat up on Colorado, but the Rockies are in free fall - not having won a series since the first one out of the break. The Nats are what they are. They are better than the bad, but not as good as the great.

And so they will stay because "the deals" made yesterday were pretty insignificant.  Let's start with the fact the Nats bullpen is bad, but it isn't really historically so - or at least that historic number is because they were TERRIBLE for one month and bad the rest. It's a pen that's pitched to a high 4.00s in ERA in June and July which is about average. Given this fact adding more average arms won't do much of anything.

Daniel Hudson** is the best piece sporting an even 3.00 ERA and a reasonable 1.271 WHIP.  But it's likely a mirage caused by a mix of a low HR/FB rate and a high LOB rate. Crank those up to normal numbers and he's around 4.00.  If you want to get dark, his BABIP is low - now it was low last year too but this year his swinging strike rate is down significantly and his hard hit rate is way up. So either he is secretly found a way to avoid line drives or he had the potential for an even harder fall. It's not impossible he has - he's introduced a sinker which hasn't really induced more GBs but it could explain the LD loss.
Best case*** is he's the guy the Nats wanted Barraclough to be. Go out there, face not the best part of the line-up and get 3 outs before you give up a run 4 times out of 5.
Worst case is that all the above comes back to bite him and he's no better than Kyle

You might have seen that Roenis Elias has a weird reverse split this year, doing much better against righties than lefties. The thing is, Elias failure to do better against LHB extends well past this year. It's kind of a characteristic of him now. Another characteristic is that he gives up homers. In fact last year he was really good because he only allowed 1 HR in 50+ IP of pitching. But this year he's back up.This has been something about Elias as long as he's been pitching. If you can get past these things. He's not particularly bad. He's hittable but not that hittable. He's wild but has upped his K-game to match. Is he better than what the Nats have? Probably? You can at least try to believe in that .182 average .238 OBP line against righties. But I kind of think probably not..
Best case he keeps on getting out RHB and is a functional, maybe even good, reliever to put in a game when used judiciously
Worst case is that he doesn't and he isn't. Grace with a new face.

Hunter Strickland is the last guy brought in and he's the perfect modern reliever. And by that I mean he wings a flat fastball as fast as he can toward the plate until his arm falls off. You may recall that in his early years that didn't work against Bryce and he was a big baby about it. Over the years, his fastball speed has waned, as one would expect, batters got around on it more and everyone, not just the good hitters, began hitting him. Not to the point of knocking him out of baseball, but to the point he was just another filler arm waiting for the day when his fastball loses enough speed to put him out to pasture permanently. This year he was hurt - but it was a strained lat, not his arm. He's only pitched 6 innings total this year at any level so it's hard to read anything into what we've seen. 
Best case with extra time off he can dial up the FB and be a big spot K guy for the Nats
Worst case is that his body isn't right and he's a batting practice pitching machine 

What about the guys traded away? They are the 15, 21, and 27th best prospects in the Nats system (or there abouts).  Occasionally a guy that far down will end up being good, but they tend to be really young guys you don't have a handle on yet (Luis Garcia was down there his first year).  For the most part guys down this far are names you'd eventually hear as guys who might be brought up but aren't really any good. Chances are one of these guys works themselves into a decent reliever for a couple years at some point down the line, but that's likely it.


What the Nats did isn't necessarily get better but add hope. We're kind of done thinking Barraclough will be what the Nats want. But Hudson could be.  We're done thinking Grace is anything but bullpen filler. But Elias might be better than that.  A guy like Blazek is there because someone has to be. Strickland you can imagine a world where he is productive. Chances are none of that comes true. I'd bet Hudson ends up a little better than Barraclough, Elias no better than Grace, and Strickland not good at all. But a lottery ticket you haven't scratched is better than a losing ticket in hand, even for low payout games. 


*Max health dependent

**If the name sounds familiar to long-time Nats fans Hudson was the piece Rizzo wanted for Dunn. It fell apart though because the Dbacks would only do it straight up and Rizzo wanted more. In the end Hudson would pitch great in 2011 but his arm would break twice and he'd move to a relief role. FWIW - Dunn rejected the qual, Nats got a pick, was Alex Meyer, who became Span who gave the Nats a couple good years.  All in all a wash probably. 

*** as usual this is best/worst REASONABLE case. Obviously best /worst case would be awesome and unusable.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

TRADE DEADLINE

We said earlier buying into the Nats as a WC leader with an outside chance at a division should be easy given how they team has played for the past 2 months. But Max's injury makes every thing a question. Add to that a crowded WC field (4 teams within 1 game, followed by a quixotic but not selling SF team, a still underperforming ARI team, and a Mets team that is looking to re-configure not sell) and the Nats playoff chances are more wobbly than you think they would be for a team playing like the best team in baseball for 60 games.

They need a 5th starter. For one they need someone to cover those 10 remaining games so they aren't 8+ losses. For another if Max is out longer than the 10-day IL that doubles and they need another arm DESPERATELY. They also need relievers. The relief pitching isn't historically bad as it looked to be midway through May but June put up a middline 4.54 ERA and July so far is at 5.06.  The peripherals might have given the pen some slack in June, but in July they look bad again.

The Nats don't have many resources to acquire these things. They are closer to the cap then they would like and their farm system is one of the worst in baseball. (checks on Luis Garcia again)  Yep. It will either take creativity or gumption to get things done. .

If you do want to buy the argument against you is : No Max, likely fighting for a WC. The farm is weak as it is. You are buying to fight for this year, and maybe next but quite possibly setting up a real dry spell for the start of the 2020s as the pitching ages.

If you don't want to buy the argument against you is : there are no promises for next year, the pitching is older and only going to be more prone to injuries, there isn't help coming from the farm. The Braves are good and deep. The Phillies will be committed for a few years. If you aren't selling the drop off is likely coming regardless.

Look at the Nats and plot me a way forward for the next few years.  It's hard. Next year will free up some cash with Zimm and likely Gomes' options not picked up. But almost all of that would go into signing Rendon and paying up Turner's arbitration. You got out with the same squad as this year, a year older and hope for health the entire year and another set of really good years from your stars? (Stras, Corbin, and Rendon are pretty much performing optimally this year) And how long does that buy you? The other option is don't sign Rendon and do something like sign Garrett Cole. Go all in on pitching, but that offense is relying on step ups from Soto, Robles, Turner to cover for Rendon being gone. 

I'm not going to say the Nats can't do it - but the stretching of this window was due in part to the unique set up the Nats found in 2012 - so good, so young - and then a run of luck - Max being not just great but becoming the best pitcher in baseball. Murphy, the at best 2nd choice, becoming an MVP candidate. Dusty guiding the bullpen during the season with some acumen.

I say go for it now. You say what you want. But if you don't say go for it - tell me how you think the next few years play out with the Nats staying competitive.  Just through 2021-2022 (anything beyond 3 years is a waste of planning)


Oh yeah - there's still a Braves game. Like last post - win and it was a good 16 game stretch. Lose and it still wasn't a bad one.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Monday Quickie - Braves again

Real short bc work

The weekend series didn't go well but the end result of the 7 games - 4-3 vs Rockies and Dodgers - is what a WC Nats team wanted. Right now they are sitting exactly where they should be in this run. They lost an extra game to the Orioles but were able to split the Braves series in Atlanta. If they beat the Braves they'll accomplish two things (1) they will go through this 16 game stretch at 9-7 which was the goal and (2) they'll have won 4 out of the 7 games against Atlanta.  The latter isn't enough to start thinking about the division but is a game more than planned which is nice.

Even losing to Atlanta isn't a big deal.  Go 1-2 and well they are just a game off in likely the hardest 16 game stretch of the season and they went 3-4 vs Atlanta which is what was expected going in.

Now an Atlanta sweep? Ok that's bothersome but worry about that if you go down 0-2, not before.

Of course the big news of the weekend is Max looks like he's going to miss another start and the season gets that much harder when you are replacing Max with a rando 5th guy.  Adding to that is the Nats could pretty accurately set themselves as WC favorites with Max in the rotation, given how they've played the last 60 games, where they stand now, and what the schedule looks like going forward. But without Max? Who knows? And if you can't accurately set yourself then how do you approach the trade deadline?

Braves bats have been hotter than not this past week. Pitching more guys doing well than not. They went 2-3 but lost a couple close games and a big one that could be put on a poorly performing Gausman who won't be pitching the Nats series

Match-Ups

Keuchel vs Corbin - Keuchel had a nice start in his last go, but Corbin was better and has been really good for a month and a half now.  He and Stras can't do much about the 5th starter innings but are filling in the Max ace role. This favors Nats

Teheran vs ??? - Max or no Max I'm giving this to the Braves. Teheran is on a run, and when he's on a run he's very good. Max would be pitching on a weird rest pattern and on a short leash if he does go. More likely he doesn't and anyone else is a clear step down.

Soroka vs Sanchez -Last starts were flipped experiences.  Soroka cruised until the 5th where he couldn't get out of it. He luckily only gave up a run but it was on the brink of being blown open.  Sanchez was almost beat in the very first inning against the Dodgers, also snuck out with a run, and then dominated.  You like Soroka better than Sanchez but not by much.

2-1 Braves is the call, but 2-1 Nats is clearly in play, especially if they win the first game as expected.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Nats lose?

Yesterday wasn't ideal. Max was merely ok - which is fine if he makes his next start on time - you gotta give the guy a start to get back into it. But that meant a short outing and reliance on a pen who Wednesday threw out 6 pitchers, Rodney and Doolittle twice. Where is Javy Guerra? We don't know. Let's say dead. But we do know after Grace, Rainey, Sipp, and Suero had their second actions in two days the Nats were left with a choice. Rodney or Doolittle for the third time in two days?  Rodney had thrown more pitches (36 to 28) but Doolittle is both more important and more fragile. So Rodney got the call and looked like a guy pitching for the third time in 2 days.

The series didn't quite work out like I thought. Buddy Black leaned heavily on the worst pitchers in his pen for some reason (Davis didn't see the light of day until the last inning of the last game) and used them in questionable spots, effectively negating his team's one advantage. This ended up accounting for the Nats outburst in G1. The Rockies didn't score much but that was more a product of bad timing than bad offense, leaving men on base all over the place until G4.  If the Nats weren't rolling it would have felt worse - a series win but not one that inspires much confidence going forward. But since the Nats ARE rolling - well it keeps that going.

Now the Dodgers

The Dodgers are good. Check that. The Dodgers are very good. Nay! The Dodgers are great.

They have the most wins of any team in baseball. (percentage points behind the Yankees for best record). They are actually underperforming their Pythag by a game, in part because in this post ASG 7-5 stretch, they've lost the last 4 by one-run.  Thanks to the Rockies road swoon, they have the best offense in the NL, scoring 5.41 R/G AND they have the best pitching in the NL allowing a mere 3.85 R/G

The lineup isn't 8 deep, catcher is an issue, but everyone else is at least good. Cody Bellinger anchors the lineup with an MVP year, hitting .331 / .431 / .638. Max Muncy is having a good year. Turner and Peterson are hitting well. Verdugo and Seager are above average. Pollock is getting worked back in and is hitting up a storm, though slowing lately. And Enrique Hernandez, who had been struggling at 2nd has been on a tear since the ASB. In fact along with Pollock and Hernandez, Turner, Bellinger and Muncy are all OPSing over 1.000 since the break and their Howie Kendrick, David Freese is at .957.  You survive 7 batters here and then you catch a two batter break and start it all over again.

The relief pitching is deep.  Kenley Jansen isn't the dominant force he used to be but he's still very good and a couple of the usual names, Pedro Baez and Yimi Garcia are doing well (though Garcia is pretty home prone). Julio Urias has converted to a lights out reliever. JT Chargois is effective and Casey Sadler has been great after getting the call.  Even the bad pitchers - Caleb Ferguson is young with a ton of talent, just hasn't produced yet. Kelly doesn't have bad peripherals and as "mop-up guy" well that's a great mop-up guy.

What are the pitching match-ups?

Tonight it's Ryu vs Sanchez.  Sanchez has been very good since his injury reset but there is a clear decline in his performance from very good to good. Ryu on the other hand is a Cy Young contender who, if you remove an errant game at Coors, has allowed 8 ER in his last 14 games. He's not a K guy but he's walking nobody and got the homers down low.  The next game is Kershaw against likely Ross, with Voth out and Fedde moved down for relief help. Kershaw hasn't been KERSHAW for a couple years but he's still one of the better pitchers in the league with swing and miss stuff and great control. He's been even better since the ASB and is a good bet every time out to give the Dodgers 6+ innings with 2 or fewer ER. Sunday will pit Buehler against Strasburg.  Strasburg had some minor worries with him after a few ok starts, but he looked great against the Rockies. Buehler is the K-man for the Dodgers now and he also has great control. (don't expect a lot of walks by the Nats this weekend). He TOO has been even better since the ASB.  It's the best 3 pitchers the Dodgers have (though Maeda and Stripling are good too)

The Dodgers will likely be favored in every game with the offensive advantage overcoming the slight Strasburg over Beuhler advantage.My take is simple - don't get swept. If the Nats win the series - FANTASTIC. But a 1-2 loss is in line with what was planned and with the Braves and Phillies playing 1-2 would keep the Nats from being too far out in case the Braves pull a sweep.

The Nats are tired now, bullpen is pretty taxed, that day off seems a long time ago now that they've played 4 games in 3 days. It'd be easy to slip up. Don't let it happen. Don't get swept. Then the Braves

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Catching a break

Early in the season the Nats played the Rockies and lost the series 2-1. They caught the Rockies during their first hot stretch being part of the initial 10-2 run.  While bad play marred the start of the year for the Nats and not everything can be explained by bad timing, it didn't help that they caught the Pirates during part of a 11-3 stretch, or the Padres during a 9-5 run. The Nats were playing stumbling, but they were catching some bad breaks.

Now we see the opposite. A rolling Nats team has its offense sputter a bit, but in comes a Rockies team crashing and burning. A Rockies team that would go 3-29 with RISP during the first 3 games. A Rockies team that would give up solo homers and walk in a run accounting for 4 of the Nats 5 runs in the past two games. Winning constantly is not just being good. That's the base. Winning constantly is getting lucky too. Winngin constantly is catching a rain postponement breaking up an otherwise long stretch. The entire script has flipped and the Nats are 2 series from making this the season they thought they would have.

Of course no game is more pivotal than today's.  If Max is not fine then the Nats can't hope to win the division, and the Wild Card will look precarious, despite what they've done without him.  Long haul you can't replace a Max with a Fedde/Ross/Voth combo and expect things to work out. So let's see what we want today - it doesn't need to be a dominant Max, just one that looks fine - gives the Nats 6+ innings of strong pitching - right velocity, good command, and a clean bill of health tomorrow. Give us that and let us see what happens in the next two home series vs the Dodgers and Braves.

Almost there. 8 games away from the summit*


*which doesn't have to be on top the NL East.  I'll take anything within 3 games of first at the end of that Braves series as getting all the way back to where they want to be

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A couple notes on trades

So the Nats need help. They need a reliable 5th starter (especially with Max being hurt - even if he comes back it's something that could linger). They need bullpen help. They probably could use a bat too but there isn't an easy way to plug in a fix at say... catcher, so we'll ignore that for now.

We've seen (and some have predicted) what will be the general way this works. The Nats ask for a good reliever. The other team looks at the Nats farm system and says "The only good prospect you have is Carter Kieboom.  We would like Carter Kieboom" The Nats say "Carter Kieboom is too good for that guy" and the dance begins. Both teams are right. 

Kieboom lines up with a solid reliable relief pitcher with years of control. Think Sam Dyson but 2016 Sam Dyson. Closer by default, good results but underlying stats a bit worse, lots of control. He might also line-up with a very good closer with a few years of that level of talent but FA looming (think 2016 Mark Melancon) in a buyers market but this isn't a buyers market and there isn't a very good closer out there.

Shane Greens/Sam Dyson line up with a middle of the road prospect. Someone older in the 40-60 range. The type most likely to be an average contributor for a decent number of years. Garcia, arguably the Nats #2 prospect, doesn't really fit the bill. He falls just out of this range right now, and a recent slump in AA (plus no homers and like a dozen walks) doesn't help.  But he's super young so you may say "most likely to have minimal impact in majors" but you concede the ceiling is higher than it would be if he were 22. To do a trade for Garica require a little more in the package but the important thing is it would require leaps in faith by Detroit - that Garcia will move up a step, and by the Nats - that Garcia won't move up more than that.

The rest of the Nats prospects are "worse". Crowe, who at 24 is likely to slide into the Voth/Fedde/Ross roll over the next few seasons. Denaburg and Rutledge who are nearly pure unknowns. Cate who might be the most intriguing of the bunch but doesn't set the world on fire.

So what do the Nats do? Do they "give up" on Garcia if they find a willing trade partner? Again the gamble would be that he doesn't get much better, which is a big one to make on a player in AA who just turned 18. Do they try to load up a package that is two of those pitchers, plus say one of their mid-tier hitting prospects - like draftee Drew Mendoza (plus maybe an low A throw in), effectively gutting an already weak farm? There's not a good answer here.

That's why I see the Nats doing something less interesting. I mentioned a Fedde for Buck Farmer deal. A middling guy having a good year with some years of control left. That's the target they are probably going to end up getting.


Another note I DID mention trading Robles, but it's a thought exercise. The idea was if you could get back a very good hitter with 2-3 year of control and a playable CF (because in this OF Robles in CF is necessary) that you could jolt the Nats offense and focus on winning during the Rendon/Max years you know you have. But the package has to line up and it doesn't.  I want a Whit Merrifield but to make it work am I trading Eaton in the package and getting back... Billy Hamilton? No thank you. Domingo Santana might be a good fit but do I want Mallex Smith? Nope. Kiermaier, who's basically classic MAT now, is an interesting fit in CF but do I want to do that gambling on Tommy Phan or Asivail Garcia to spark the offense? Can't say that I do.

So basically it's a non-starter. The trade is getting offense in the next couple years in exchange for the later production of Robles who will likely get better but may never be the All-Star type. You can do that. But the Nats also need to fill in that defensive hole and I can't figure a way to do it that I say with certainty "Yes, the Nats are better for 2019 now that they did this". Now if I thought the Red Sox were willing to deal Betts and Bradley Jr... 

Anyway just because it's interesting, or even makes sense in a planning way, doesn't mean deal talk should be taken seriously because it needs to work out in reality as well and that means trade partners lining up who have exactly what you need to make it work and the want to trade for what you want to give up. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Monday Quickie - A Tale of Two Nationals Teams

For the Wild Card Nats the weekend went well. These guys ignore the Braves as a direct competitor and see this stretch as simply a tough 16 games they have to survive. With the majority of games at home, 9-7 would be great, but 8-8 would be fine. It's not the pace the Nats want, but playing .500 ball when you are playing this many straight including 10 games against division leaders would reinforce the Nats are continuing to play at a high level. It would probably put them just outside of the WC when it's over but with the toughest stretch of the season likely over they'd be a good bet to pick up a few games on the rest of the field.

For the NL East Division Hopeful Nats the weekend was a failure. These guys see the Braves as the team they have to catch and they already had dug themselves a 6.5 game hole. It's a tough ask to expect the Nats to make up that many games over the course of the rest of the season. They just played the best baseball in the majors for 44 games and only made up 3.5 games. The saving grace though was 14 head to head games remaining in which the Nats could control their destiny. The more they make up on the Braves head to head, the more reasonable how much better they need to play better than Atlanta in the non head to head games. But to do that, to go say 9-5 at least in those games, the Nats need to win series against Atlanta. Instead 4 games have passed and the Nats made up no ground. Now they have to go 7-3 in the remaining 10 to make up the 4 games

Now it's on to the Rockies and the hope of a 3-1 series win or better because anything else puts pressure on winning the Dodgers series.

The Rockies have been a roller coaster ride this season. 3-12 to start the year, then a climb featuring runs of 10-2 and 11-2 to get them into the WC hunt before a recent 2-13 swing took them right back out. It's a hard team to read because of course the Rockies hit well and pitch poorly, but the Nats are catching them in DC so we can see how these guys hit/pitch away from home which is the flip. They have an ERA of 4.21 which would be Top 3 in NL and an OPS of .658 which would be dead last.

Offensively Arenando can hit, Story is pretty good too and away from home the catcher tandem (Wolters/Ianetta) does better. Maybe catching in Coors is a bit of a mind-sucking experience.  Murphy and Desmond aren't particularly good on the road, while Dahl and Blackmon suffer real dropoffs. McMahon and Tapia are not good anywhere.  I'd say it's a pretty ineffectual lineup where you have one star hitter in Arenando who's having an off year and one star hitter in Blackmon who's only a star at Coors. That isn't enough to balance the rest. Story is a decent bat. Murphy, Dahl, and Desmond aren't awful. The rest are. It's sort of a lineup I'd expect to fall as "worst of the teams who aren't truly terrible" if they had a regular home field. Like a Reds/Giants/Padres are now.

Relief pitching is a biog strength away from home. Davis and McGee have ERAs under 1.00. Oberg is at 1.71. Diaz, Dunn, and Estevez under 3.00.  It's actually a real solid group that can hold a lead given to them when you aren't dealing with this superball and playing on the moon. The Nats will catch the following pitchers.

Lambert - (3.00 ERA on road - 2 starts) rookie that's hard to read as he's only had two starts away from Coors, but pretty good numbers in those two and it was against the Cubs and Dodgers. Then they it's Jon Gray (4.29 - 11) who has figured out how to pitch in Coors but that's made him middling outside of it. After that is Kyle Freland who got beat up in NY and hasn't had an impressive season home or away. Game 4 would have been Senzatela but he's been demoted.  Hoffman will likely pitch and he's not been good. The Nats luckily miss German Marquez who is honestly a good starter.So in short they get Lambert - an interesting control-heavy prospect, Jon Gray -  perfectly solid middle rotation guy, Kyle Freeland - last year's hotness who is struggling in 2019, and likely Hoffman - a one time big time prospect who now seems like rotation filler (why didn't he match up with Fedde?)

The Nats counter with Fedde, Stras, Corbin and then hopefully Max.  The pitching match-ups would probably favor Rockies, Nats, Nats, and almost certainly Nats again even if they run out Ross or Voth. I like the Nats to take 3 of 4 in a lower scoring set then you'd probably expect. However, if the Nats find themselves behind going into the later innings things could get ugly. They need to jump on the beatable starters then let the bullpen hold off a less than impressive Rockies away lineup.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

No rest for the weary - or the Nats

The Nats are moving on so must we. The Nats blew the final game of the Oriole two set. On one hand, if you played the Orioles 4 times you'd want to win 3 and if you played them 2 and 2 you'd want to win the 2 at home so this is just in line with targets. On the other hand the Nats bullpen blew up and the offense scored two runs against a bad pitching team, highlighting the known issue for the Nats and the less dire, but still relevant issue that I've been harping on for a few weeks.

But these two games were supposed to ease the Nats into a 14 game stretch and instead they've now worked the pen a little bit and lost a game. Ugh.

Anyway how are the Braves? It's been a while!

Since the Nats last played the Braves the Nats have rolled going 13-4 against schedule that featured four of the worst teams in baseball in five of their 6 series. The Braves though haven't folded. They went 12-7 against a schedule that was more balanced - Cubs, Mets, Phillies, Marlins, Padres, Brewers and kept a healthy lead on the Nationals.

Their lineup is kind of a better version of the Nats one. There's a couple stars they rely on, one stalwart and one youngster - Freeman and Acuna. They aren't hitting as well as Rendon and Soto, but while the Nats have one guy you like in Trea, and a bunch of other guys you don't hate, the Braves have a bunch of other guys you like and one position (McCann/Flowers) you don't hate. Albies? He's ok. Swanson? ok. Riley? ok. Markakis? ok.  Any single comparison - say Markakis to Eaton, wouldn't be a big deal but line up 4 of them where the Braves have that slight edge and it adds up. Plus there's Donaldson who gives the Braves a solid third bat to rely on which the Nats DO have but it's on a "who's up" basis. Right now it's Dozier. Before it was Kendrick most of the year. If there is a bright side for the Nats the Braves bats have been colder. Donaldson is MVPing it, but Freeman is in a slump and Swanson and Riley are too.

The pitching is better. The pen is still pretty solid. Luke Jackson is good. Newcomb keeps the ball in the park and the pickup of Swarzak looks like it may work out. Losing Webb, who's out until later in July, hurts, but there is more hit than miss in guys like Tomlin, Minter and old friend Jerry Blevins to make the pen more reliable than not. The rotation keeps fighting between coming together and falling apart. Keuchel has come in and settled in nicely for the most part and Soroka is still doing well.  Teheran's up and down status fits the number 3 spot better than trying to fit him in 1 or 2, but after that injuryies to Fried and Gausman who were good, and a decent 5th spot inning eater respectively, have left the Braves scrambling a bit. Touki can't get it right and they got one ace and one decent pitcher from their vast minor reserves so far. Asking for more is a bit much. Ian Anderson in AA is probably the best guy in the minors now for them, but if they are winning they'll probably wait until next year to give him both AAA seasoning and of course more team control. However, the Nats might see a Kolby Allard, who rose fast last year and had the bumps then that guys like Wright and BrySe Wilson are having now. He's rebounded finally and might be ready for his second chance.

That gets to the match-ups!  First is Stras vs Teheran. Stras had been a question but looked real good against the Phillies and has done well against the Braves this year. Teheran is a box of chocolates but the Nats seem to handle him well. Then Corbin gets the bad luck of matching up with the ace again. Soroka is the real deal and the Nats lucked out last time (he got hit with a line drive and left the game early). Game 3 is TBD right now but Sanchez is all but set to start that game for the Nats. Sanchez has pitched fine for a while. His best game of the year came against the Braves but his worst game since the Nats started rolling also came against them.  The Braves are a question mark but Allard would naturally slot in here if he's coming, which is what I'm thinking. If it was Kyle Wright he'd probably pitch tonight given his starts.  This leaves Sunday which is a huge question mark. If the Nats and Braves have their ways it will be Max vs Gausman. If they don't it'll be Voth vs Wilson... probably. Though other guys are probably in the mix until they aren't.

ed note - if it is Wright tonight it becomes Nats edge, Nats edge, Braves edge, ? and nothing really changes. You still pick a split. Though I think this works out slightly better for the Nats in theory because the Braves don't counter one of the first two with Soroka meaning the Nats have a good shot at winning first two and putting a ton of pressure on Braves/Soroka in game 3, especially if Max looks ready for G4.  Of course this all holds for as long at 1 game

You give the Nats an edge Game 1, Braves a slight one in Game 2 (they also hit lefties better). Game 3 goes to the Nats again and 4 right now is a toss-up since we know nothing. If Max was definitely starting you might be tempted to give the Nats 3 here. Certainly they'd be favored in 3 and have a good chance of winning Corbin vs Soroka. But since we don't know we definitely can't make that leap. I don't see any reason not to think this will be a split. But the onus is on the Nats to win tonight. Lose tonight and suddenly you NEED Max in there to have the split be the likely outcome again.

Nats Sweep : ATL 58-43, WSN 54-44.  It's a whole new race.

Nats win 3-1 : ATL 59-42, WSN 53-45.  Nats gain a couple of games and we start to look at the next match-up in 7 days and if the Nats are going to make some moves between now and then to make a serious move on the division.

SPLIT : ATL 60-41, WSN 52-46.  We start to play the series by series game. Can they make a run on Colorado? If they don't can they sweep LA? What happens next ATL series?

Braves win 3-1 : ATL 61-40, WSN 51-47.  Tough to see the Nats taking the East. Time to take stock of WC position

Braves Sweep : ATL 62-39, WSN 50-48. Race is effectively over. Nats are probably not even in the playoffs if the season ended that day. Big question if they should bother doing anything with 10 more tough games lined up that look like they'll push Nats under .500

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Why Gomes? Why no Kendrick?

Two things have become clear over the course of this season.  Yan Gomes can't hit anymore.  Howie Kendrick wasn't done in by his injury and can still hit.  Yet four games into the 2nd half and the Nats line-up have been a lot like they were leading into the All-Star Break.  We've seen Gomes twice and Suzuki twice as they have pretty much split time and Kendrick hasn't managed to start a game yet (though I'd suspect we'll see him tonight). While it could be written off as "resting the guys for later" I think these are two unique situations.

The Gomes situation is hard to read because catching is hard to read. It's a unique position that's difficult to evaluate defensively and a lot of the reason some guys play is because starting pitchers like them. This has been my conceit with Gomes. If he's putting up a 53 OPS+ and playing about 50% of the time, the starters must like him. If you are curious I think I went over it in a comment or tweet but the catching match-ups work like this right now

Sanchez goes with Suzuki
Corbin goes with Gomes
Max used to go with Gomes, but now goes with Suzuki
Stras and the 5th starter mix it up with a little more reliance on Gomes than Suzuki.

I mean there's rest for Suzuki, but every third game should be sufficient. Or even 60%. Other than the pitcher preference I'm not sure what would spur on this split we're seeing. And assuming it's that - I think it's fair to say "OK we can cover for this one position that doesn't hit a few games a week". Starter comfort is nothing to be messed with. This isn't ideal but the ideal situation would be "Gomes hits a lot better" or "Pitchers love Suzuki". Neither of those are reality so the Nats are working with what they got. I think it's fine for now, as long as we see more Kurt during a run coming up. He did play back to back games twice in the ARI PHI ATL stretch in June (Gomes had them after that). If that happens again now during ATL COL LA ATL then great. I think they got something right here.


The Kendrick situation is unfortunate.  He can't really play OF anymore. If you were to play him - you'd want him in left, but left is where Soto plays and frankly Soto, as we've discussed, is no good. You don't want to shift him over to right every few games when you are hoping something catches on with him in left. I suppose Kendrick plays left when Soto sits, but how often do you really want Soto sitting? In fact Kendrick hasn't played OF all year. So don't expect this.

So if the OF is out - that's fine Kendrick can play 1B and muddle through 2B and 3B. With 3B well - that's like taking Soto out. You might rest Rendon a game every month, maybe. He hasn't had a day off yet since returning and I don't see any reason to make him take one. So consider 3B pretty much out except for a couple of random starts between here and season's end. Like two.

Once Rendon was back Kendrick appeared in games by playing against LHP at first and coming in occasionally at 2B.  He'd probably only play say every other game like that but toss in a few DH stints and it felt like just enough. But then Zimm came back and he needed the time against LHP at first. If you want Zimm back into the swing of things you simply can't give him more than a random day off for a while and in fact he's played against every LHP and some RHP so far, basically splitting time with Adams.  All that's left right now for Kendrick is 2B. The Nats like what they have with Dozier. He holds down 2B well especially since neither Zimm or Adams are particularly good fielders at 1B. He's also been hitting just well enough to keep playing. So Kendrick is effectively squeezed out.

I suspect that once we see Zimm get comfortable - maybe in a week or two - we'll see a more set rotation for Kendrick. Something like over the course of 10 games he'll play 1B once and 2B twice. But beyond that he's an extra piece. If you want to look at it from a positive angle, that's a good problem to have. "Oh where do we play this good hitter who can't field" It's a problem good teams SHOULD have.

Now if the offense begins to struggle against the upcoming decent team stretch, will I be annoyed if Kendrick still isn't playing? Yes. But the Nats are winning and as long as they keep doing that it gives them the cover to do what they want. Which includes sitting the better hitting Kendrick so the better fielding Dozier can play and Zimm can get his recovery at bats.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Don't screw it up - Part 2

The next 16 days feature 16 games, the last 14 against two of the best teams in baseball and another that is decent. The only break the Nats catch is that most of this stretch will be at home.  Still it's a brutal stretch and while it likely won't decide the Nats playoff fate entirely it could decide their NL East fate.

The Nats just opened up the 2nd half by beating the Phillies on the road. They also fell 1.5 further out of first place because the Braves have won 4 in a row. Now they stand at 7.5 back of the Braves and a bad run will leave them well behind going into August.  Impossibly behind? No. Historic comeback behind? Possibly. Go 2-5 or 1-6 and they'll likely be over 10 games out at the start of August. I don't think it's too much to say you can start gearing up for All Wild Card Race All the time. (In fact even 6+ out is probably enough but we'll deal with that at the appropriate time)

Around that these games will help set up the circumstances of the big Braves series and first off is two against the Orioles that they frankly can't lose. Not because they can't afford it schedule wise but because the Orioles are a garbage team and the Nats should beat them.


The Nats offense is still stumbling a bit. Rendon and Soto had a good series, so did Robles. I've been trying to say this for a while but the Nats offense is just not quite clicking and I think it's carrying over. Not that it's bad - it's been good enough in fact. But good enough won't cut it... eventually. The staff has been fine so far, with the bullpen doing it's job for all but one inning against the Phillies.

The Orioles are a bad hitting team with terrible pitching.  They are actually decent against LHP but may not face one. Voth tonight. Maybe Fedde tomorrow? Strasburg? Either way not a lefty. So they should be contained. Contain the offense and you win because the pitching is terrible. The bullpen is top to bottom bad with one guy Paul Fry reaching "ok I can see him on a major league staff as bullpen filler" level. And he's not good, he's just got a skill (inducing GBs) and does it so well you can work with it. They have some live arms like Givens, the assumed closer, and Armstrong but no one you can rely on regularly.

Which brings us to tonight! Because the other starter is Wojciechowski, who fits the "live arm you can't rely on" bill to a T AND they have to rely on him to try to get 5 innings. At his best "Woj" can strike you out and not walk too many but he can't overcome the fact that he also gives up way too many homeruns. At 30, he's generously org filler who for the Orioles means like 4th starter. If the Nats can hit their 2-3 homers with someone on base (which is quite possible because he isn't great with control and can be hit) it should be an easy win even if Voth gives up a little.  The next day the Nats get Aaron Brooks who has decent control... and that's it. He doesn't strike anyone out, gives up way too many hits and homers. He's also 29.  Ugh. This is terrible.  I guess occasionally things work out and they don't hit a homer and keep hitting it where they is and he gets a win but most likely he'll get knocked out in the 3rd or so, with the Orioles only hoping he can go 4.

The Nats should win and no excuses for the offense. They should beat up on this team scoring 6+ each game.

Kick this stretch off right.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Monday Quickie - mission accomplished and OH NO

First things first - the Nats did what they needed to do AGAIN. Went on the road to a division rival and won the series. Sure they were one run away from a sweep which might have tailspun the Phillies. They also were one out away from a series loss and losing two games in ground toward the Braves.  All the pitching was solid. All the hitting was enough - though again - and I keep saying this. the hitting isn't doing too hot and it could really cost the Nats over the next couple of weeks. 11 runs in three games against a mediocre pitching staff is not heartening.

What's up next? The Orioles and 2 games they should win. Even a split would be disappointing.

But even if the Nats had swept the Phillies that wouldn't have been the big story of the weekend. The BIG STORY is Max is hurt. The timeline isn't worrisome yet but it does start you down that road.

Max pitched great against the Royals then begged out of playing in the All-Star game on Sunday, citing back stiffness. The team said "Great! Perfect Timing! We'll even throw in a couple extra days off and not have you kick-off the 2nd half, but instead catch that third Phillies game. That's a full week off!" But on Friday night things still weren't right and Max said the Phillies series was out, but starting in Baltimore (Tomorrow or Wednesday) would likely happen. Then Saturday he was put on the DL retroactive to Jul 10th, meaning he couldn't pitch in Baltimore and would hopefully catch the third of 4 ATL games.

So again
July 7th - can't pitch the 9th
July 12th - can't pitch the 14th
July 13th - can't pitch until the 20th.

Right now I'll be cautiously optimistic. Pitching the 20th means out two weeks but because of the break it's only really one missed start if you want to see it that way (ATL game will be game 8 of the 2nd half).   Better to be cautious now and maybe lose a start vs PHI, who you are clearly better than, then lose him for at least two games against Atlanta and Los Angeles.

But miss the ATL series entirely and things get dicier. Because now he's missed two starts, two division starts versus rivals, and you know that isn't happening because of being careful. That's happening because somethings wrong.

Baltimore series preview and the start of a 16 game slog tomorrow!

Friday, July 12, 2019

It's Go Time (or stop time, depending)

A couple quick things before we get into the Phillies.

With Bubba Starling getting called up, it brought renewed attention to the 2011 draft which was a hell of a draft. In recent times it's probably just passes the 2005 draft for the best, though that gap will probably widen with time. But those drafts are important because they signify the first and last drafts in the Nats... say "building window" where the Nats almost always had single digit picks. So 2 out of the 7 drafts when the Nats were looking to put together a franchise were historic. That's some good luck. Also let's not forget that when they found themselves with back to back #1 picks the picks those years were thought to be generational talents. That's some good luck too. Suffice to say that things came up Nats pretty much right when they needed it to.

I say this in part because of something from the comments yesterday. I noted that once Kieboom is up for good, which should be September at the latest, there is no one in the Nats organization that I will place a bet on being a good major leaguer.  This hasn't been the case for me since before Strasburg was drafted. (For those of you not around then there was a lot of trying to convince Nats fans of the talent of Kory Casto and Chris Marrero).  Stras begat Bryce begat Rendon begat Giolito begat Robles begat Kieboom* begat... ?

It was supposed to be Luis Garcia, but his AA perfomance has been poor. At his age it's not anything that would make you write off him making the majors. The fact he was so young and doing well in A ball that that is why he was supposed to be next. He could be two years older and you would still be ready to give him another year of evaluation in AA.  But this season does take him off the "next up" track and puts him back to merely an intriguing prospect.**

I don't mean this to be an indictment on the Nats drafting acumen. More to say - drafting is hard and the Nats, when they needed to draft well, got a handful of breaks in terms of the talent available when they were drafting. Sometimes it pays to be lucky as well as good.


On to the Phillies series.

Offense 
 Since the Phillies series the primary story for the Nats was that Rendon and Soto keep hitting but the offense had been cooling. The Royals series though, with some poor pitching to feast on seems to have righted the ship. There's been promising developments - Dozier hitting better, Robles hitting better, Zimm doing ok upon return. But Kendrick, Adams, and of course Gomes struggling. There are ways to juggle it so none of those guys plays but it's going to be a bit of a guessing game on who's hot or not here and it may effect the Nats scoring. On the Phillies side you begain to see some waking up. Yes, Bryce was hitting but so were Bruce and Hoskin and Realmuto. Even Segura was knocking around singles. This was more the offense the Phillies expected to see this year.

Of course how much does the all-star break effect momentum?

Pitching 
I've talked about the relatively easy road for the Nats arms but you can only evaluate based on what's been done.  To that effect Grace and Guerra are currently holding down the pen. Doolittle, Sipp, and Rodney have had good results but the stats are shakier on them.  It's still not a full pen.  The Phillies pen has gotten some excellent performances recently, most importantly from a returning Tommy Hunter. The bad news is they've come from random guys. Arms like Nicasion and Morgan who they were more expecting to lean on have been bad. It's a worse version of the guessing game the Nats have to do with the lineup. There using the wrong guys might lose production, here they might lose games.

The starters for the Nats are going to be Stras, Corbin, and Max and the reset after ASG matches up exactly with the Phillies series. No hard decisions required. Max has been dominant against the chumps, but so has Corbin - who's pitched to a 0.96 ERA in his last 4 games. Stras has been shakier only looking great in his very last start on July 3rd. For the month of June he actually put up a 5.70 ERA, gave up 6 homers and watched the other team slug nearly .500 against him.

The Phillies counter with Pivetta, Nola, and likely Arrieta. Pivetta is all over the place. He came back from the minors awesome (3 hit 6IP 0ER vs Dodgers!) but recently he's looked like the guy who got sent down. He's given up 9 homers in his last 4 games. If he was pitching on normal rest I'd expect the Nats to shell him but the extended rest makes him a complete Wild Card in my book.  Nola has finally seen a return to form pitching to an 0.61 ERA in HIS past four games. Arrieta might be pitching injured and frankly was only ok when he wasn't. Rest may help him and he did handle the Nats pretty well last time, but there were a lot of ball hit where they were that may not happen again.


The match-ups don't look as favorable to me this time. The Nats are hitting better then they have been, but the Phillies are hot. The Phillies pen isn't in great shape but neither is the Nats. The Max game against the gimpy Arrieta is a pencilled in win, but the other two are more toss-ups then you might have thought.  Still, even in Philly, you like the Nats taking two of three here and gaining another game on at least the Phillies.

*Soto? He passed Robles all while we still liked Robles.  He's a chain bypasser.  

**Another way to look at it is if Garcia doesn't have a strong finish he's likely to drop in the prospect rankings. That's something none of the other guys really did. Ok technically Robles did but that was more people passing him than an indictment on him. Going from like 5 to 10 isn't bad. Giolito did at the end too but after four seasons of increasing expectations. No one went from "oooh let's look at this guy" to "eh maybe not". That's more of an AJ Cole experience

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Three to get to fourteen with a two opener

The Nats schedule before the break presents them with great opportunity but it is not kind.  They will open at PHI for 3, then get a day off, then play 16 games in a row with no break. It's not a terribly taxing trip travel wise - BAL to ATL to DC, but anytime you play that many games in a row you open up the possibility of things getting out of whack.

We've talked about "an average team" recently and you figure this stretch an average team would love to go 10-9. The Nats are now aiming higher than that but 12-7 is a lofty goal. 11-8 is where I sit. You win both at BAL, either win the PHI series in PHI or split the ATL in ATL, take 6 of 10 at home with some combo of outcomes. 11-8 against this run would be a decent run indeed.  Where would 11-8 put the Nats?

58-50. Which is ok. Let's assume the beat Philly in Philly and beat ATL at home but split with ATL in ATL.  ATL... back of the envelope 9-9 so 63-46.  Philly...  9-8? 56-51   Cubs 10-7, 57-50. Brewers 10-8. 57-52...

This combination would have the Nats 4.5 games out of first, but with a 1.5 game lead on the WC over PHI and MIL. Let me check ARI... oooh looks a little easy... not easy enough though to definitely propel them past anyone.

OK that's a good estimate of where they Nats should be. You can see though a lot of variation. If the Nats go 9-10 and let's say that happens specifically because they lose the PHI series at PHI and ATL series the Nats would be 56-52. That's not terrible. But the Braves would be 64-45. 7.5 games up and close to effectively safe. The Phillies would be 57-50 and the ones with a 1.5 game lead on the Nats.

I'm getting lost in the weeds here a little but the general sense is that the
  1. The Nats will still be in it, by the trade deadline, especially so in the next week assuming they don't get swept by Philly and then they catch those 2 Orioles games they should win. So they should be active.
  2. The most likely scenario is the Nats continue to make modest gains. 11-8 would be great. 10-9 is also very much in play.
  3. Big gains (12+ wins) are unlikely, big losses (12+ losses) even more so, but even small losses (going 9-10 or 8-11) could have big effects. 
  4. Since there are a lot of H2H division games it does matter who beats who
It's a fascinating set of games really because right off the bat the Nationals, if they were to sweep Philly in Philly, would put the Phillies in a hard position. Nearly .500, probably trailing 2-3 teams for a WC spot... it's hard to see them leaning into a big trade deadline move. Then with 2 games against Baltimore the Nats should be close enough to catch the Braves in the next series. Granted that would require a 4 game sweep in ATL and this would be rolling off 9 wins in a row and no one expects it - but it COULD happen.  Flip it though and have the Phillies sweep the Nats and the Nats stumble and lose one to the Os and now the Nats are just over .500 trailing 2-3 teams in the WC and getting ready to head to ATL where they will likely lose 3 and fall under .500 and probably clam up at the deadline.

SO MUCH CAN HAPPEN. It usually doesn't BUT IT COULD!

I'm very excited here.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Nats at Midseason

Let's run through the players

NO CONCERN

Max - heading toward another Cy Young, stamping his 1st ballot HOF entry pass, and generally being awesome and the best thing about this team

Strasburg - Last year was a little off for Straburg but the first part of this year is on the same path that he's been following since he came back from Tommy John (that's right the "he needed Max as a #1" stuff is nonsense. But dummies will believe what dummies want to believe.) which is Cy Young vote worthy. And he's hasn't missed time yet!

Corbin - Is he as good as last year? No, and I hope you weren't expecting that. Is he better than 95% of #3s out there and maybe 80% of #2s? Yep.

Rendon - Having his best season at the plate ever

Soto - The guy can't field but he's definitely a star.

Kendrick - Super sub can't hold down a position but also can't be held out of the line-up

Suzuki - Doing what was expected which is hitting well but not playing a lot because pitchers don't like to throw to him I guess? There's a reason a catcher hitting above average can't get a starting job.

MILD CONCERN

Turner - He was out a good bit, so that is always worrisome, but otherwise is fine.

Doolittle - If you are the type that demands a shutdown closer, Doolittle isn't it. But he's good. Right now he's living off his HR/FB rate which he has always kept down but he's giving up more FBs than ever and his walk rate is up. It feels a little precarious looking at fancy stats but really the problem is if he goes the bullpen cannot survive it.

Adams - He's been what you basically want but you'd like him to be even better to force Zimm to the bench if needed.

Robles - Sorry he's not Soto. This is not the season to concern yourself with Robles unless he's terrible and he's not. Still striking out a bit much but overall keeping it around average and anecdotally I feel he's been fielding better.

Eaton - Accept the fact he's truly a Singly Joe and accept that that's ok if he keeps hitting over .300 and walking.

Parra - I mean take what you can get.

MODERATE CONCERN

Dozier - The guy is living off homers which is kind of how he plays. But the Ks are up and man did he look tired as the year ended in 2018.

Zimm - had a couple good games but we all know Zimm runs hot and cold. And that throw home... What to do?

Sanchez - He's been good recently, but the Nats have also been running through some garbage offenses. Against better teams earlier he looked pretty bad.  Much like with Doolittle there's an extra concern that what's behind him can't pick-it up if he fails.

MAJOR CONCERN

Gomes - still can't hit but the pitchers like him so he plays.

Whoever is 5th starter - the Nats have no depth and this needs to be an target area for trade if the Nats do anything.

The rest of the pen - They aren't historically bad but who here gives you confidence? There's still guys in it (Venters now) that shouldn't be but there isn't anyone better to take his place. We all are enjoying Rodney but I assume he'll bust at some point. And again it's been a MIA DET MIA cakewalk recently.



What's the takeaway? The Nats have the holes you know - 5th starter and pen, that are nearly universal in baseball.  They'd be better if they could add some help there. It's especially concerning because 4th starter and closer don't feel as set as they should be and if those go down problems you can get past become season ruining ones. The top of the rotation though is humming along and the line-ups concerns are ones you like to have - how do the Nats use their better players more? Can they convince pitchers to throw to Suzuki? Can the Zimm/Adams situation clear up fast? Can we get Kendrick in as much as they'd like?

It's a strong team that if they can be supported and things go their way shouldn't have issues staying in the WC hunt all season long. The NL East is a tougher road because the Braves are actually good and the Nats dug themselves a big hole but we'll evaluate that as the season goes along. It should clear up one way or another by the end of the month.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Monday Quickie - Exceeding Lowered Expectations

19-31

47-42

It's an amazing 28-11 run that any team should be proud of.  But it did come at a cost. The cost was the Nats easy games.

If you looked now at the Nats schedule you would earmark what games for the "garbage gimme wins" of the season? The Marlins. The Orioles. Knowing the Nats would play the AL Central the Royals and the Tigers. 29 games in all.  Three Marlins games were done by the time 19-31 was "achieved", leaving 26 easy games in the remaining 112 games. That's a pretty nice set - almost a quarter of the remaining games were against teams you'd expect an average team to beat and a good team to dominate.

Today that stands at 10 for the remaining 71. Now only about 1 in 7 games fit that bill. They catch those first Oriole games early so it will quickly be 8 for the remaining 66, or fewer than one in every 8.

Looking at it the other way - after starting 19-31, the Nats had 16 easy games in the 49 games between them and the break. That's one in every three. It was an ideal situation in which to come back. They had that and they had health. There was no excuse NOT to make a run.

But to the Nats credit they didn't merely make a run, they crushed it. They might have lost an extra game to ARI and ATL at home, but they won extra games in sweeps against the Marlins twice, in a two game set at ATL early on, and in that sweep against vs the Phillies. They took 3 of 4 against the Marlins early and in the White Sox split set. That's probably an extra win too. There were no real stumbles. You might have pegged a division winning team to go up to 24-15 here. 28-11 is a real accomplishment. They did everything they had to and more.

Now do it again.

At 19-31 the Nats were staring maybe at the easiest remaining schedule in the NL. In 5 games - whatever their record is - the Nats will likely be staring at maybe the hardest remaining schedule. Maybe the Mets crash and burn can make a difference? True, they are stumbling but the Nats have played the Mets 13 times already.

In a way they will have it in their own hands. 14 games remain against the Braves and if the Nats can win... say 9 of them that will put them in the driver's seat. But 8 of those games are away and the Braves also still have KC, and 7 games against MIA, and 9 games against the Mets, and their set vs the White Sox - who probably aren't good as much as feasting on the Royals and Tigers (13-7 so far) (and if we inlcluded them in the Nats easy games makes the easy/hard schedule disparity even greater). The Nats have Baltimore? The Braves have little better, probably about to sell Toronto. The Nats still have three games against moribund San Fran? So do the Braves, except they get them in Atlanta. Nats have 3 vs Cincy at home left? Braves have 4. 

All that is to say - the Braves have maybe the easiest schedule in the NL from now on so if the Nats want to catch them the Nats will have to do their own work to make it happen. 

Friday, July 05, 2019

New Post just because

I'm on vacation but I hate crowded nulti-day comments. So here's a new post for the Royals series.

The Nats are already at 8 wins so they have reached my target and have a very good chance at meeting anyone's target who wasn't hoping for an 11-1 or immaculate run.  How are the Royals? Not good, but not as bad as the Tigers and Marlins

They niether hit nor pitch well but the offense is merely bad, a half-run plus below average - not the OMG HOW FAR BACK ARE THEY?!?! lineups that the Marlins and the Tigers were putting out there. I think I talked about it before but it's half a line-up with big holes at first, second, short and an outfielder. The rest of the guys are ok but certainly not enough to carry the rest to respectability.  Dozier has been a great hitter for half a season. Merrifield is solid (and will likely be gone in a month) and Jorge Soler is the best bet to strike out 3 times against Max on 9 pitches then hit that 7th inning homer. Gordon, while slumping, is still a major leaguer.  They are a fast team that tries to compensate for the lack of OBP and power, by stealing bases which will be interesting to face too.

The pitching is bad but only a third of a run off the AL average. The Nats face Keller, Sparkman, and Junis. Keller is probably the best of the bunch and is middling. Junis has the best stuff but is also hittable and prone to homers. Sparkman is a guy who let's you put it in play, which is normally good, but not in the air for far distance. The pen reminds me of the Tigers - no one really good (Kennedy the closer is decent) but no one outright terrible. This is bad - because you'd rather have someone good, but it can work in the favor of a good manager - feeling no particular commitment to certain arms in certain situations. You can waste the guys doing poorly on lost games and try to work the guys feeling it when it matters. Is Yost good? Probably not - I see him more as a guy who leaned into having a bunch of guys he could ALL count on. But you know.

The Nats will be favored in all with their worst game (Voth) tonight and their best game (MAX!) tomorrow. They should take two of three and finish this run 10-2 and 47-42.  A sweep would be great. A 1-2 run would be disappointing but fine. Being swept would give a bad finish to what should have been a triumphant run.

Let's see what happens.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

The Davey question

The Nats have been the best team in baseball for a month plus.  They just had their second best month ever and they are above .500 and in the thick of the Wild Card race. This turnaround has a lot of people feeling good about the team and feeling good, or at least less bad, about the manager. What do I think?

Fire Davey

What gives me pause is a name from the Nats past, Matt Williams. Handed a mild favorite (remember 2013 did not go well) and a mostly healthy team*, Williams proceeded to guide the Nats to 96 wins (2nd best in baseball), a division title that was wrapped up with at least a month to go. It's not hard to manage when you are given a good team and little resistance.

If you twist my arm I'd say Davey has shown something Matt hasn't - he didn't let it all go to hell, which is what Matt did at the end of 2015. Despite a disappointing 2018 and 50 games of crap in 2019 the team didn't pack it in, he didn't lose the clubhouse** and the Nats have managed to find their way back.

But still look at the above. Thats 200+ games telling me Davey, even if he is learning, isn't right for this team - a team that will forever be aiming for 90 wins, not 95. This year, he lost Trea Turner and managed the team to an 8-7 record as if he was George Brett on the '85 Royals (look it up). He lost Rendon and they were 3-6. Take this team, drop Trea and Rendon and they aren't a playoff team, but a well below .500 mess? No.  A great 30, and they have been great, isn't enough to change my mind.

When could I change my mind. Here's a couple of scenarios

The Nats continue playing this well for basically the rest of the year. Put up an over 100 win pace for a large chunk of the season. Win mid 90s in games in total. Possibly (probably) win the division.

The Nats get into the WC - then make the World Series.  If your goal is winning playoff series, you can't really count the WC game, and the DS could be a fluke, but the WC, DS, and CS? Ok you got me.

There you go - that's where I keep Davey. Now of course there are split the difference type scenarios. Nats win low 90s are WC1 and go to the CS... ok probably keep him. But in general I don't want to see him back unless the Nats do something special either baseball wise (playing like this for 112 games would qualify) or for their franchise (winning a few playoffs series). 



*He'd lose Ramos and Bryce, and the team would go a disappointing 8-9. He'd lose Zimm at the end, which when added to the cooling bats from a lot of players would doom the Nats playoff chances. 

**though I think the lack of a certain scraggly bearded OF matters a lot there.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Monday Quickie - doing the job

The Nats didn't keep the winning streak alive, but they did win the series, as they should, not "giving back" the game they picked up in sweeping the Marlins. They are on a roll and while AGAIN I'll mention the work is far from over - they are at least still working.

Since the Nats have comfortably settled into winning as they should - a little bit more than that actually - but not historic fans thmselves are kind of getting settled. Outside the usual and deserved Max love sessions, other things are being lost like...


Zimm is back! The question is how much to play him. In Detroit it was fine because of thee DH but back in DC it becomes an issue. If Zimm plays first in a platoon with Adams, that kicks Kendrick off off the bag and over to second. That's ok, but Kendrick isn't the fielder that Dozier is.  If Zimm takes over again as the main, first baseman, that robs Adams of some at bats. Neither of these guys have been great recently but they both have been decent and had key hits and homers. The fact that they haven't been great gives Davey some cover but the Nats don't have leeway to let Zimm have a couple weeks to get back into the rhythm of the season. He needs to hit. If not this week against the last of these easy teams, then as soon as the Nats come out of the All-Star Break.

MAT is gone! To AAA actually.  Did Dusty work him the best? Or was he just a beneficiary of MATs best prime year season? Probably a little of both. But a MAT with limited playing time is clearly not good at the plate. He's almost certain to be back in a couple months when rosters expand and they need a fielder, or if someone goes down. Of course the question is - right now do they need another PH bat like Parra more than they need MAT's late game fielding? My guess is no, but we will find out over the next few weeks I guess.

The Nats offense slowed way down in the past week, putting up a .233 / .306 / .408 line. It's been hidden though because the runs have kept coming at least versus the Marlins. Against Miami they packed hits into innings. In game 1, 7 of their 10 baserunners came in two innings, yeilding 6 runs. 5 hits, and 2 homers came in one 5 run inning. In game 2, they had 15 baserunners - 5 in the 4 run 6th and 5 more in the 3 run 9th. In game 3 6 of the 12 came in their big 5 run inning. In some respects this is how you score - but in a larger macro sense it shouldn't work out for you like this every game - that half your baserunners come in one inning. There's more of a distribution across innings and based on that line they've put up? Fewer runs. Only Rendon and Soto are hitting right now so there may be more close games, win or lose, in these next 6 than you are probably expecting. Or maybe they just have a killer instinct right now?

Dozier has been particularly bad so I would expect a healthy dose of Kendrick at 2nd.

While it'll be interesting to see if Venters and Rodney can keep being effective, it's the re-birth of Wander Suero that is more important. He gives the Nats the all important reliable 2nd arm behind Doolittle for important points in the game or the 8th inning. Unfortunately Davey is treating him as just a set-up guy but if it works, ok.  Just hope there aren't games blown before they get to him. (like there have been across this time frame)