Nationals Baseball

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Step by Step

  • Hold ground in next 6 (27-35) 
  • Sweep the Pirates at home (30-35) 
  • Beat the Mets at home (33-36) 
  • Beat the NL East rivals (PHI 2, MIA 4) away  (37-38) 
  • Survive a brutal pre ASG run (home for NYM(1), TB (2), LA (4) @SD (4) @SF (3)) (43-46)
  • Win a homestand vs SD/MIA (47-48)
  • Sweep the Orioles away (50-48)

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Sweeping the deck?

The Nats are crushing the Pirates. This is honestly one of the easy points in my plan, even though it is a sweep because the Pirates are just that bad. Even with my positive take a couple days ago they are still a clearly below average team playing away. But that's fine! You gotta do the easy along with the hard.  Splitting with TB/SF wasn't easy.  (I'd say it probably wasn't hard but again I have a low opinion of SF). A hard, but very necessary, part is up next - beating the Mets at home, then coming away at least 4-2 on a six game swing against PHI and MIA. 

The Mets of course won again keeping their lead but the Nats should see this as steps. While they are playing the Mets they aren't going after the Mets just yet. First they need to pass the Braves. Then the Phillies. Then you worry about how far they are from the Mets.  The Braves have an easier stretch coming up from the 24th through July 11th (CIN, NYM, MIA, PIT, MIA). They'll need to make a move then, which makes the Nats catching them soon of interest. Build a cushion that can survive them playing 3 games better. 

Ultimately the Nats goal should be to get to .500 when I stated - just past the ASG. Slightly build on that lead for the 6+ weeks, playing over .500 ball - which doesn't sound like much but would be big as this 42 game stretch has 31 games vs the Mets, Braves, and Phillies. Then CRUSH a 19 game stretch in September against some of the worst teams - PIT again, MIA, COL, and CIN. Go like 13-6, 14-5. Hope there's someone to catch and catch them.  This would leave the Nats with like 87/88/89 wins - maybe you get in, maybe not but it's not crazy. 

This will be hard to do with no Strasburg and now, no Max (on the IL) but that's the hand you've been dealt. Think of it this way you didn't do so hot with them.  

Finish the sweep.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Monday Quickie - didn't disappoint

The Nats could have folded up shop after Max went down but they battled... or at least the pitching did... or maybe San Fran isn't that good like I said and this is just the start of their downfall... I'm losing the point.  Oh yes. The Nats didn't disappoint! They had 4 games against the Giants and needed to hold their ground and did. They won two. Given the TB split before that the Nats have had two non-disappointing series back to back. They haven't done that since splitting with Toronto and then sweeping the Marlins at the very end of April, beginning of May. 

Such a turn of fortune, however small, needs to be taken with caution though. We are creatures of hope and thus everything pointing in the right direction seems like a turn toward brighter days instead of the randomness of a 162 game season showing itself. What we want is an extended series of GOOD play not a week of not bad. And honestly now is the time for the Nats to show it because good play over the next two weeks can (1) help make up some serious ground in the NL East where the Mets haven't pulled away yet and no other team is better than .500. and (2) can help create some breathing room for a brutal NYM make up, TB(2) , LAD (4) , @SD (4), @SFG stretch into the all star break. We marked off the likely long road back into contention going into August. One step down.  Up next - sweep the Pirates!

  • Hold ground in next 6 (27-35) 
  • Sweep the Pirates at home (30-35) 
  • Beat the Mets at home (33-36) 
  • Beat the NL East rivals (PHI 2, MIA 4) away  (37-38) 
  • Survive a brutal pre ASG run (home for NYM(1), TB (2), LA (4) @SD (4) @SF (3)) (43-46)
  • Win a homestand vs SD/MIA (47-48)
  • Sweep the Orioles away (50-48)

The Pirates are bad. Since peaking at 12-11 they've gone 11-30 and they deserve that record having a bad pitching staff and a terrible offense in 2021. Starting with the terrible offense - it's actually not that bad. The Pirates aren't without a few hitters. Bryan Reynolds is an all-around star type who can hit for good average, good power, and can take a walk. Colin Moran is a step back on everything but that still leaves him as an above average bat. and Adam Frazier, who alternates between good and average years is having a great singly and doubly start to 2021. Jacob Stallings, the catcher, has got pop and patience.  Recently the son of Charlie Hayes - Ke'Bryan, is now up and starting and producing. They've been scoring at a much more reasonable pace in June (4.1 R/G) then May (2.9!) But there was a reason that they were so bad a month ago. Everyone after that is awful. Kevin Newman or Erik Gonzalez at short, Ka'ai Tom in LF and Gregory Polanco are horrendous, terrible and terrible respectively. The best bench bat is a below average Ben Gamel. And in particular even though all those guys I mentioned can hit only Reynolds and maybe Ke'Bryan have any power. They are last in the NL in homers, last in SLG. Ke'Bryan makes them average at best.

With an average offense, their big problem becomes the rotation. The Pirates starting staff is a 4 and a 5 and a bunch of AAAA or worse types  They have 4 guys who have started more than 7 games with an ERA over 6.50. Their recent addition to the rotation boasts a 5.56 WHIP.  No one is pitching well including old Nat prospect Wil Crowe. The Nats do miss Wil and Chad Kuhl who are the worst of it. They do have a surprisingly solid bullpen though that's 7-8 deep, with a killer closer in Richard "Don't call me the guy Michigan didn't give a fair shake to because they were obsessed with playing 'Big Ten' football whatever that means so they'd get rid of me for Brady Hoke who is literally a garbage joke coach" Rodriguez. There isn't a set-up guy but everyone else is better than usable.

 

JT Brubaker vs Lester - Lester wasn't good against the Rays but he was good enough. His propensity to give up hits I guess plays poorly against this singly/doubly team but I mean he should still manage to go like 6 IP and 3 R. Brubaker has decent control and ok stuff but gets hit and can give up a homer. He's the best the Pirates got and I can see him also going 6IP and 3R. So bullpen game?

Tyler Anderson vs Corbin - Corbin beat the Rays by putting magnets in all the hard hit balls and the Nats gloves. MLB is looking into it. Tyler Anderson is a little bit worse than Brubaker.  The kind of guy you'd love to stick at 5 to eat up 5 and probably keep you in the game but maybe spin a gem.  Unfortunately he's their 2.

Chase De Jong vs hopefully Scherzer maybe Jefry Rodriguez - Max is Max. Hope for Max. Jefry is very wild and doesn't strike out many but he throws a heavy ball that stays in the park and leads to easy outs. If he has control he can do very well. If not he can be out in 3 innings at 75 pitches having walked in at least one run. De Jong is an arm that pitches innings. He's a bit worse than Anderson and you can see the progression from decent 4 to decent 5 to decent fill-in.  But again he's a 3 and not filling in. The good thing for him is it's not the hits that are worse for him as much as the homers and walks and as we discuss - the Nats don't homer and walk up to now. 

It's weird to say it but looking at this it's only a slight edge to the Nats in each game. In part this is because Lester is a 4 now and Corbin has been pitching like a 5 and then you have an injury replacement (most likely).  But the edge is there and they need to take advantage of it and sweep. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Trade Max? Wait didn't we talk about this already?

We did!  

That basically said "Good luck getting anything useful back for him" 

The other day I went through recent Hall of Fame elected pitchers to see how they fared at the back end of their careers. Max is 36 this year.

Pedro Martinez : Broke at 34 and wasn't good that year. Had a great month at 35. A bad 2/3rds of a season at 36, and then a good two months at 37 before calling it a career.

Roy Halladay : Broke at 35. Had a bad three months at 36 then packed it in (and crashed a plane under the influence killing himself which could have hurt other people and we just basically ignore that because when people die we just say "Hey only the good!" which kind of screws with our society's views on repercussions for dangerous acts and bad behavior but whatcha gonna do)

Not the best start but this is part of what you have to understand. At this age you can break and be done in a minute. Either you can't pitch well anymore or you can't pitch at all anymore. Continuing...

Jack Morris : was middling from 33-35 then had a resurgence after a trade at 36. Was very good for Minn, then solid for Toronto at 37. Then bad at 38 and bleh at 39. 

Bert Blyleven : coming off a couple very good years was only ok at 35, a little better at 36, then bad at 37. But then traded and nearly great at 38, before being bad again (39), hurt (40), and less bad (41)

Mike Mussina : was average at 35 and 36, then good at 37, then below average at 38, then close to very good at 39

John Smoltz : ok a tough example because of the stint as a reliever. At 35 he was saving 55 games.  He'd be a top notch reliever through 37. At 38-40 he was a very good starter, before getting hurt at 41 and pitching only a great month. At 42 he'd try to comeback but wasn't good

Tom Glavine : good at 35, very good at 36, average at 37, good 38-40, average at 41. bad and hurt at 42.

Greg Maddux : great at 35 and 36, a little better than average 37-40, a little worse than average 41-42

Randy Johnson : PHENOMENAL at 35-38 (that was the D-back contract - 4 Cy Youngs and a WS - the only pitching contract better than Max's in my opinion) Got hurt at 39 and merely good. Phenomenal again at 40. Then good (41), below average (42), good but hurt (43), good (44) and below average and hurt (45) 

Max was better than Morris or Blyleven - both borderline cases, Morris was never great like Max and Blyleven had a lower peak at an earlier age. So I'd compare Max more to the other guys. From them you get basically - good through 39, very good through 40 (rested arm), good through 40, better than average through 40, phenomenal through 40 - good to 44.  My takeaway from the above is if you have Hall of Fame talent, which Max does, AND you don't get injured you can be effective to 40, maybe usuable past it. 

That would put Max as a very good to above average pitcher from 2022 (37) - 2025 (40), if he can stay healthy. To me any Nats plan for getting better again has to include being WS challenging good in 2025. Why? Because if you are Juan Soto you probably are going to want to re-sign only if the team seems to be on the cusp of something. After the past two years and probably the next two going nowhere - you don't want to waste another 2-3 waiting. It seems like Max could be a positive force on 2024-2025 teams. I say keep him. It's a risk but so is any pitcher contract

But also you can ask Max. If he wants to leave to chase another WS - let him. If he tells you he's gone for whatever reason - trade him. If he says he wants to be traded but also come back - definitely deal him. There's no reason to be stupid about this. But if as most players would say - I want to stay, I want a good fair deal. Then sign him and keep him.  If you are worried about him being hurt or stinking - sorry to tell you but that's always on the table. See Strasburg (hurt) or Fedde (hurt) or Mason Denaburg (hurt) or Corbin (stinks) or Ross (stinks) or Wil Crowe (formerly high Nats prospect traded away - stinks).  These things can happen at any age at any level.  You've got greatness confirmed. Sign it and hope it keeps up. 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Nats vs the Best Team* in Baseball

 The Nats managed to win last night. Corbin didn't deserve it. He had no control, couldn't strike out anyone, and nearly every hit ball was a hard hit one. But baseball is the sport most about luck, where you try to do everything right and then you hope that the results match the set-up.  Last night it didn't for the Rays as all those hard hits were right at Nats. Also Finnegan failed, and Hudson failed, and Hand failed. But offensively the Nats did deserve to win, scoring a bunch of runs off of a solid pen. Zimm hit two homers, Soto hit one and scored 3 times, Schwarber was on base 3 times and had a sac fly in his time at the plate. Good times at the end even if the process wasn't that enjoyable because of the pitching.

Now the Nats take on the team with the best record in baseball the San Francisco Giants. The asterisk  in the title is because this fact is crazy. The Giants weren't expected to be this good and it wasn't a failing of the heads. This is inexplicable.  Let me try to explain though 

Buster Posey : at 34 having his best year ever which is MVP quality. 2012 is only year that compares

Evan Longoria : at 35 having his best year ever which is MVP quality. 2012 is only year that compares

Brandon Crawford : at 34 having his best year ever. No year compares.

Brandon Belt : best year since 2016

Steve Duggar : inexplicable one month of MVP type hitting from a guy who'd been below average before 

Really only back-up Wilmer Flores is disappointing, with a couple other guys underperforming in the usual ways. 

Pitching wise it's the same 

Kevin Gausman is having his best year ever by FAR. Alex Wood and Johnny Cueto are having good years after a couple years that seemed to be leading toward the end of their careers. Aaron Sanchez looks to be living up to some of the potential that had people excited about him 5 years ago in Toronto. Anthony DeSclafani is having an up year in an up and down career. 

I guess the bullpen isn't having the same amazing, everything go right, year but almost none of them are doing bad. 

What happens when almost everything goes right and almost nothing goes wrong? You get the best record in baseball and in nearly any other division you probably run away with things. But the Giants have the bad luck of being in the NL West with the Dodgers and Padres, two teams that can be almost as good without relying on magic so chances are they won't stay on top. A few guys are injured right now but they've kept on winning. 

The Nats will miss Longoria who is out after a collision, and Yastrzemski for a couple games as he can't come back until Satruday (he seems ready). They'll also miss Caleb Baragar, a decent reliever, for a couple games too (same IL - coming back thing) Otherwise you read what I wrote. Posey is a star again, Crawford is hitting like one, Belt is very good. Dickerson who was ok but hot is out however it seems like whoever they stick in there; Duggar, LaMonte Wade Jr, just picks up the magic. Wilmer Flores and maybe Donovan Solano are the easy outs. The pen, while not great, has been close to lights out recently. 

Probables

DeSclafani vs Scherzer.  MAX DAY! The Giants do homer so if Max is off that could be an issue. They don't strike out much either. It's not the best match-up for a guy who matches up well against anyone. As for Del - he is ok at everything but getting strikeouts. He's not a great pitcher but he gets ground balls usually and keeps the ball in the park. He avoids the big inning keeps the Giants in the game and then they win it with their bats. Obviously the Nats best chance 

Gausman vs Fedde (likely) - When last we saw Fedde he had pitched his best game of the year. This came after two mediocre outings which kept the Ross/Fedde "Who's more acceptably mediocre" debate alive. Who knows what we'll get. Gausman's good control has morphed into pinpoint, walking no one and not missing pitches that turn into homers (or hits for that matter) he's added enough Ks to make him into an ace so far in 2021. 

Ross vs Cueto - Ross was ok last time out, going 6 against the Phillies. That's probably the best he's gonna do. Cueto has become even more of a crafty control pitcher in his later years. But he's hittable so maybe the Nats can string together enough to make it a game

Lester vs Wood - The Giants are a walk and homer team but they get hits too so Lester won't match-up quite as well. Shouldn't be his roughest outing but I'd expect some runs. Wood maybe was a sticky stuff creation? He's been bad his last two outings with few Ks and little control. Still if his bugaboo is walks as it seems to be, the Nats are the team you want to face to get right.

The Nats survived the Rays. A split would be surviving the Giants and an acceptable .500 start to the homestand before having to actually start winning to do anything this year. Let's see if they can get 2.  Tonight is huge for that.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Nats vs the Worst Team* in Baseball

The Nats have a two game set with the Tampa Rays, a team that holds the odd distinction of maybe being the best team in baseball and the worst team in baseball. The first point is easy to understand. They have the most wins and only trail the Giants by percentage points. The latter is a point of contention but one I fully believe in. The Rays are the epitome of everything wrong with the modern game

There's first the way they build their team. Players, even the best ones, not as people or even investments, but as disposable parts meant to be used up and tossed aside when spent. Players who only can be around when signed to team friendly contracts. An ownership who resolves all debate over this with complaints about their (admittedly bad) stadium situation.*

Then it's the team itself. Hitters who don't hit at all. They only try to walk or homer and strikeout otherwise. A parade of pitchers who throw hard, burn out, and get replaced. Starters who don't start. Openers who don't even try to finish the 4th. A team that breaks baseball down to its raw components and tries to win not primarily by playing the game the best but figuring out how to best game the game. 

A contemptuous lot framing a lack of desire to financially back the team as an underdog story.

So yeah - beat this goddamn team into the ground.

In pure preview mode. Offensively what I said holds - they don't hit well - their .229 BA is only good enough for 10th in the AL - but they slug homers (and doubles when the ball doesn't go out) and they walk a TON. All that only swinging hard means a lot of strikeouts. Everyone but Yandy Diaz and Manuel Margot (and back-up C Francicso Mejia) will K. Because they don't hit singles and K so much this all combined should end up with a good but not great offense but the Rays tend to homer with men on base. It's odd. Usually a team hits more solo homers than multi-run homers. That's just a function of the game. Every leadoff hitter in an inning is a empty bases situation. You have a lot more of them. But the Rays have hit like 60+% of their homers with men on. Austin Meadows is the best hitter but Zunino and Wendle are hitting well for the season. The team as a whole though is cold. Meadows and replacement SS Taylor Walls the only ones hitting recently.

The pitching has been very good. They do strikeout a bunch of guys and manage to do it with solid control which is a potent combination. Add in no tendency to give up homers and it's a very good group with no flows. The bullpen, this round of disposable arms, go 5+ deep but lack a true 100% shut down arm.  Instead catching a little LOB%, HR/FB, and BABIP luck that combined keep everything in check. They only have three starters that will go any distance, while the other two serve more in an opener role. They are all usable with Glasnow being the best and potentially an All-Star and now vagabond Michael Wacha  being the worst and still perfectly acceptable


Jon Lester vs Tyler Glasnow - If anyone matches up well against the Rays... well it's Max because he matches up against anyone, but after him it's Lester who has shown good control and isn't particularly homer prone. Instead he gives up hits which we've noted isn't the Rays game. Plus he's been decent his last two times on the mound. Unfortunately he goes up against Glasnow.  He's the only guy who goes deep (8 and 7 IP in his last two games with another 8 IP before that) because he doesn't throw a lot of pitches. He is efficient despite relying on the Ks. He can give up the occasional walk and homer but not much more than a couple of either. He doesn't give up hits which is bad for the singly Nats. 

Patrick Corbin vs Shane McClanahan - Cue the Rue! McClanahan is one of their ok openers.  Expect at max 5 IP from him. He's good at getting K's but doesn't stand out otherwise. Though he's young and if he steps up in anything he could be really good. Corbin has been garbage this season no way around it. Way too hittable and homer prone and not enough Ks. He isn't crazy with the walks but this match-up will probably produce several bombs


*I'd add in the ownership threatening the city with a half-season plan but all ownership is this shady

Monday, June 07, 2021

Monday Quickie - Irrelevant

 We're past 50 games now so the 19-31 comparisons have come and gone but as long as the Nats have a reasonable chance people will feel some hope. To help tamp that down here are some targets the 2019 Nationals hit after the nadir. 28-33. 37-38. 49-42. Yep, they went 30-11 after hitting the bottom moving from almost dead to in the thick of things in under 2 months. The current Nats are 24-32.  Can they equal 4-1 in the next 5 games? At Tampa Bay and the home against San Francisco? I don't feel good about that. So in other words the Nats will likely fall behind the 2019 Nats very soon making a comeback that much more unlikely. 

If you want to try to figure out the best way for the Nats to crawl back into it it would be this 

  • Hold ground in next 6 (27-35) 
  • Sweep the Pirates at home (30-35) 
  • Beat the Mets at home (33-36) 
  • Beat the NL East rivals (PHI 2, MIA 4) away  (37-38) 
  • Survive a brutal pre ASG run (home for NYM(1), TB (2), LA (4) @SD (4) @SF (3)) (43-46)
  • Win a homestand vs SD/MIA (47-48)
  • Sweep the Orioles away (50-48) 

Easy peasy. 26-16. 

Of course there is no reason for this team at 24-32 to suddenly play like that. It would take everyone in the lineup taking a step forward AND two of the starters taking 3 steps. There's the capability there. We aren't talking a squad of garbage players here. Turner go back to hitting like a star. Corbin pitch like you did a couple years ago.  But it's everything going right at a time where the pen, which had been doing fine with a lack of top names, looks tired and beat. Can the Nats have that happen twice in 3 years? 

I think we know the answer to that. 

I think they can play better, may be even find themselves over .500 to end the year. I think it's more likely to get better than worse. But better enough to matter? I don't see it for 2021. Enjoy the summer of irrelevance. Been a while since we could say that