Nationals Baseball

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

I can't even blame Davey... much

I'd love to do it, but I look at yesterday and see this situation

Strasburg cruised and had the Nats with a one-run lead going into the 8th inning. You couldn't ask for more especially given the fact the Nats had managed all of one-run. At 94 he could have been pushed another inning but with 8-9-1 coming up, and 1 being not much of a hitter, it seemed like a good time to give Stras' arm a little break and throw another guy in there for what should be an easy inning.

So who comes in? Suero, Strickland, Rodney, and Hudson were all two days removed from their last appearance. If you think he's going to try to close with Rodney - then he can't come in in the 8th and Strickland had his face injury issue, which earned him a day off as well. So it's Hudson or Suero and now it depends on your take.

If you think anyone should get out these guys, you put in Suero. Yeah it's a close game but today you might need someone to get big outs against their good hitters late. This seems like an opportunity to not pitch either of your best arms.

If you think it's a close game, nail down the win and hope it doesn't burn you tomorrow, then Hudson would be your guy, as it seems like Hudson-Rodney or Rodney-Hudson would be the last two with Doolittle out.

I can see it either way. Davey opted for Suero and Suero couldn't do the job - a hit, a walk, and then an unlucky bunt tht split the fielders. Now you had the important at bats late against the good hitters. It is the scenario you were saving Hudson for, you just didn't expect it to be THIS game. He comes in and can't close the door, giving up the homer and the Pirates win.

Like I said, I can see the argument for Hudson to start the 8th. I can also see an argument here for "well they weren't going to hold them scoreless and it's the Pirates so who cares if they gain a game H2H" and going with Grace or letting Suero try to work his own way out of it. But neither are strong pulls for me. Davey made a choice and it was ok.  It just didn't work out. It happens. Honestly if you want to blame someone, blame Strickland who probably would have started that inning if he didn't manage to bash his face in working out.

It was never likely they were going to win all 4 games. There's the loss. Don't have another. Another forces the Nats into a situation where they have to win the series at the Cubs to come away with a successful road trip. It also keeps the PHI, NYM, and CHC all close going into a weekend where the Cubs play the Nats, the Phillies get the Marlins, and the Mets and Braves play eachother. The likely scenarios there would be the Phillies gain another game and either the Mets or Braves do too.  Keeping distance from the Phillies/Cubs/Mets - which winning the next two would ensure at least a little - is a good idea.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Monday Quickie - Keeping on

The Nats won 2 out of 3 - just as they should - coming close to the sweep but before you curse the gods for that late-inning loss, the wins were a 2-1 game and a game where they gave up 8 runs, and the loss was a 14 run allowed affair. Two out of three was right for their performance.

The big story for the weekend was of course Doolittle blowing another game, and not particularly a close one. It may not seem like Doolittle is being overworked. If you look at his appearances and IP they are up there but not that close to the top. But relievers are individuals and Doolittle as a pitcher has not worked this hard in half a decade. Factor in a oddly high number of warm-ups where he didn't come in and yes Doolittle is being overworked. Maybe another pitcher would be a no, but Doolittle yes. That's the trade-off for him. Boz goes into it deeper, ripping Davey in an excellent column that highlights the problem with Davey the manager. He doesn't seem to manage.  I agree.

Ideally the Nats would have gained a game on the Braves as they were taking on the Dodgers - but we've been saying this for a while now - the Braves are actually good.  They probably aren't catching them.  Stop thinking about it! Now is a 7 game road swing where 4-3 is the goal. The back half could be very interesting as the Cubs have not been able to hold off the Cardinals and are currently looking up at the Nats in the WC.  But until then - the Pirates!

The Pirates have been one of the worst teams in baseball since the break going an abysmal 7-27 since the break. They don't hit and they are terrible pitching. They were surviving on 4 bats - but they've traded Corey Dickerson and Josh Bell has been in a long slump.  Marte and Reynolds are the other guys who can hit. Moran has had a bad 2nd half. Newman and Diaz AND Frazier AND Cabrera have been awful.The bullpen is actually not bad, making the Pirates the weird MLB team with a decent pen (yet is still awful).  Vazquez is great holding down the 9th and Liriano, Stratton, and Feliz are all good. Kela is a perfectly fine 5th option. The last couple arms are a mess - but find me a pen that isn't true about.

The Pirates pitching was based on the idea that their guys would take a step up and form a strong rotation. Instead Archer, Musgrove, and Brault all lingered as 3-4-5 types and Williams got worse to join them.  None of these guys is terrible - they'd all probably be in most teams rotation as the 4 or 5 but you can't build a rotation based on 4s and 5s. Not unless your hitting is the best and well - it is not. The match-ups are Ross vs Williams, who is getting worse as Ross is getting better. Strasburg vs Archer, who is actually having a nice second half but with the Pirates not hitting is not getting any wins. Corbin vs Musgrove, who like Archer is pitching better though a few ill-timed homers have ruined otherwise good performances.* Then it's TBD vs Brault, another 2nd half improver. Will it be Max? That's the plan.  It probably won't be confirmed until Tuesday or even Wednesday morning.

The way this lines up the Nats will be favored every game but the Pirates should be able to squeak out a good performance with a string of runs and hold on somewhere in here.  I mean if they played 162 the Nats might be favored 162 times, but they aren't going 162-0, you know? So 3-1 is the expectation and the goal. Do that and they don't have to win the series in Chicago.

*You know like giving up 5 hits and 2 walks, with only one XBH (a homer) in 5 innings. But the homer is a 3-run shot and he gave up another dink and dunk run so he's giving up 4 in 5. That kind of game.

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


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.

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.