Nationals Baseball: May 2010

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Great Strasburg Shell Game

I didn't comment on this before, mainly because I think other guys got it right, but the Nats hold no blame for the June 4th "mix-up". The team never said June 4th and just because they didn't say it wasn't June the 4th doesn't mean it was their fault everyone bought tickets to that game. They told fans they hadn't decided yet. Did they need to say they really, really hadn't decided yet? No seriously. We meant it. With a cherry on top?

Now, before we start talking about how the team is a little girl skipping through the flowers in the sunny meadow, they are now screwing with the fans. A mere one start before Strasburg's debut, they should know exactly what the plan is. If they don't know now they really are a bunch of screw ups that shouldn't be running a major league team. But I don't think this group is like that and neither (probably) do you. So why not say now exactly what day Strasburg will start? If it is, like everyone thinks, June 8th, keeping Strasburg on the 5 day schedule, why not say it? There's only one reason. Greed.

They want to sell tickets to every game in that Pirates series (a series that would be slated to be very sparsely attended) to wring every dollar out of the fans. It's one thing to delay a decision and accept the little advantages it gives you. It's another to not announce a decision to purposely gain that advantage.

I keep imagining the worst case scenario. The Nats start Strasburg on the 3rd, as per every 5th day would have it, then decide on the 4th or the 5th that he'll start on the 9th or the 10th. Wouldn't that be just a total jerk move, so blatantly made to squeeze blood from the stone that is the Nats fanbase, that you'd just have to question what kind of bastards are running this show?

At least that's what I would think. The Nats didn't need to make a decision any earlier than need be, but now the time has come. Just say it's the 8th, please.

Did the Giants pull a fast one on the Nats?

Was last night Todd Wellemeyer in disguise and did Lincecum actually pitch the night before?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Right Approach - Wrong Night

Todd Wellemeyer had been his own worst enemy going into last nights game. Remember how I said that John Lannan walked too many guys? Well, Todd was worse. He walks the most in the NL averaging 5.36 walks per 9 innings. So the obvious tactic in last nights game would be to make the guy throw strikes. The Nats did that. The guy threw strikes.

Out of the 23 batters Wellemeyer faced he threw 11 first pitch called strikes and had 5 more first pitch events (hits/fouls). Only 7 times did he open with a ball. That's 18 times the Nats took the first pitch and yet Todd came through. Out of the 7 first pitch ball at-bats, he got 2 called strikes on the second pitch, and 2 events. Leaving only 3 batters in 23 to get to a 2-0 count. If you had told me the Nats would approach this game with the patience of Job and only get to 2 2-0 counts I would have called you a liar.

Wellemeyer did not have great stuff (16 called strikes and only 3 swinging ones) but he threw it in the strike zone and the Nats couldn't hit it. The Nats weren't overly patient either. While they fell behind in 2-strike counts a fair amount, only twice against Wellemeyer did they take a pitch to get to 2 strikes. They gave him an opportunity to go off the rails and when he didn't they tried to smack a base hit. Against a pitcher like Wellemeyer that's the right approach. Unfortunately the Nats caught him on the exact wrong night.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Don't worry about losing Pudge

Wil Nieves : .224 / .224 / .328
Pudge in May : .233 / .242 / . 350

As good as Pudge was in April he was basically just single-ing all over the place. That's helpful but it wasn't carrying the offense. As long as they can keep the "Big Three" in the lineup and someone else happens to be doing well at that moment, that's enough to keep them in games.

Monday, May 24, 2010

World War Lannan : Battle 2010 : Lannan Strikes Back

When we last left the happenings in WWL, Lannan had thrown a hideous opening day salvo. He has done allright since then, with only his May 2nd game vs Florida being flat out bad, and after yesterday's game he stands at the "high point" of his season (oh ok - he did have a 5.53 ERA going into the May 2nd game and now he has a 5.55 ERA - you happy now?)

Has anything changed in John's pitching to account for this return to... "ok-ness"? No, not really.

  • He still doesn't strike out anyone. His 3.14 K/9 is 3rd worst among qualified pitchers, and has actually dropped in May.
  • He still walks too many. His 4.81 BB/9 is the 5th worst among qualified pitchers, although that is at least trending downward (from 4.88 to 4.71)
  • He still gives up too many hits. The .297 BA he gives up is in the Bottom 20 of qualified pitchers.
  • He is still getting crushed by lefties. .438 /.481 / .646
  • On the bright side, he still holds righties to no power. .255 / .353 / .400

And yet instead of pitching himself out of baseball, he's still doing ok enough to stay in the rotation, and outside of two horrible games is tossing very Lannan-like baseball. Remove Opening Day and May 2nd (where he gave up 5 of his 14 XBHs to righties) and you've got a guy who's thrown 40 innings of around 4.30 ERA ball. You have to count those two games, as I always say "they did happen", but more often than not Lannan has been getting away with the same things he's been getting away with the past 2 + years.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Watch the Ks

Scott Olsen has been fan-tastic for most of the season. His last 5 starts read like a Hall-of Famer's line. 32.1 IP, 27 hits, 7 BB, 25K a .229 / .270 / .254 line against. This line is so good that when combined with the continued great pitching of Livan, the Nats have had two of the Top 10 starters in the NL over the past month.

However, Scott's last two games have not been the same as his previously dominant starts. He's only struck out 5 in the last two games. He's kept the walks down (2), and the XBH close to non-existant (2 doubles), but he's not getting those swings and misses. A little less scattering, and extra ball in the hole and... well he's still good but not Top 10 good.

Scott can be an effective pitcher without the Ks. Ks High, Walks Low, no Homeruns - any two and you should be effective, but if Nats fans want him to be great he needs all three. Of course the Nats don't need him to be great, but he's pitched well enough that there really isn't a point right now to watching if he'll collapse or not. Right now it's good or great. With Scott Olsen. What an odd 2010 it's been.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Turning Point?

The Nats have dropped 5 straight, taking them from the heights of "Did someone say Wild Card?" to the lesser heights of "Hey, the Nats lost 5 straight and are still .500". I don't think there is any Nats fan that wouldn't take 20-20 at this point in the season but a couple more losses and there's going to be that nagging feeling in the back of the head of "Here we go again."

That's why this little homestand is so important. First, the Nats face the Mets for 2 games, where 2 losses would likely put the Nats back in last in the NL East. Sure it would be only by a game or so, but it's still last place. If they can't at least split these two games, especially when the first one looks to be R.A. Dickey vs Livan!, then imagine the funk they'll be in when the Orioles come into town. The Orioles are a completely beatable team, but they'd then be catching the Nats at the exact right time. A poor showing against the Orioles, in what is usually a fairly highlighted series, and the good feelings generated by a nice start might vanish, even if the Nats sit at a respectable 21-24.

Follow this nightmare scenario with a West Coast swing which are usually difficult and the Nats could be looking at 25-30 or worse coming home (they have to at least split with Houston, right?). Instead of Strasburg coming in to take the Nats to the next level, he enters trying to "save" the season.

That's the worst case. Now imagine the Nats take the 2 games series from the Mets. The streak is stopped and better yet the Nats could retake in second place. Sure it's just by a game or so, but it's still second place. Then they go into the Orioles series with the momentum AND the better team. They show the whole area that they are the better team, the squad truly on the rise and now they are 24-21. That West Coast trip rather than a daunting drudge on the other side of the country, now looks like a road trip with a bunch of winnable games. 5-5? 6-4? The Nats could be 30-25 going into the Strasburg series. Now Strasburg doesn't have to be a savior.

Sure the most likely scenario is the Nats end up closer to 27-28 when the Reds roll into town, but if the season is going to turn into something special or something awful, I've got a feeling this little five game jaunt is going to be critical.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Quality Control

Adam Dunn sick and Kennedy at first? Nyjer getting the day off? (what is this newfound love Riggles has of a Bernandina and Harris OF combination?) Given all that you kind of got to expect an offensive output like they had last night. But even with just a couple runs on the board, once again the Nats were still in the game thanks in no small part to the starting pitching.

Last night Stammen settled down after a super-rough 2-out first inning rally to give the Nats 6 innings of 4 run ball. While not quite a quality start (at least 6IP, no more than 3 ERs given up) it was certainly enough to give the Nats a chance to win. Since April 22nd the Nats have played 24 games. They have pitched 13 quality starts, which is a good number but doesn't do justice to how well the starting pitching has been. Out of the remaining 11 "non-quality" starts:
  • Five times the Nats starter gave up 3 or fewer runs, but hit the 5 inning threshold, not 6. (5.1 & 1, 5 & 2, 5.1 & 0, 5.1 & 2, 5 & 3). While you hit the bullpen early certainly the Nats were in these games.
  • Once (last night) the Nats pitcher went 6 but gave up 4 runs, not 3. Again - not ideal but no one can say the Nats were out of the game last night.
I'd argue that all of these are decent enough starts, and that at least 19 times in 24 games the Nats starters have done thier job. (whether the Nats were in it or not depends on if there were any unearned runs to this point)

What about the other 5?
  • Twice the pitcher gave up 4 runs in 5 or less innings (5 & 4, 4.2 & 4).
  • Once the pitcher gave up only 3 runs, but only pitched 4 innings
  • Twice the pitcher gave up 6 runs in 5 or more innings (5 & 6, 5.1 & 6)
None of these games were terrible. While I wouldn't go so far to say the pitcher did his job, in none of these starts was the game a lost cause when the starter exited. Were the Nats likely facing an uphill climb either from their offense or their bullpen? Sure. But the game was never unwinnable.

It's been said that the Nats have a new attitude, coming into every game expecting to win. With pitching like this, you can understand why they feel that way. They've had that chance every game for almost a month.

Monday, May 17, 2010

No Riggles, No!

From (and thanks to The Nationals Enquirer)

Clippard pitched on three days' rest and manager Jim Riggleman felt that Clippard might have received too much rest.

"I think he's had too many days off, lately," Riggleman said. "He hasn't pitched since Wednesday in New York. He has been up a time or two. He is throwing the ball OK. He is just not locating it. He doesn't quite have the finesse on his changeup, which has been a savior for him."

It could be that he's had too many days off. I could be.

Or it could be, and this is just a crazy thought, it could be the fact you pitched him 5 times in 7 days right before the rest. Or that you had him basically leading the league in appearances AND IP by a reliever before this short 3 day rest?

I mean it could be either one. He's either pitching poorly because of an level of use that would have him on pace for 86 games and 119 IP for the season or because his arm rested an extra day. Who knows which is more likely to be the reason for his recent struggles? Flip a coin I say.

Some Quick Thoughts

Storen is called up. What's the bigger question, how will Storen do or will Riggleman run him into the ground?

Bruney gone. I was lukewarm but hopeful about Brian Bruney, and even that minor like was seemingly the most positive take on Brian. I guess there was good reason everyone else hated him. He had 19 appearences, only 5 of which he got through without letting someone reach base. He did strikeout 16 in 17 and 2/3 innings, but he walked 20. That still might work if he was unhittable, but that's not Brian. 21 hits. Time to move on.

Clippard is struggling. It's not the innings. It's the appearances. Can we reach that conclusion now? For all the talk of "they don't make pitchers like they used to", they NEVER made relievers that could pitch in a ton of games year after year. Oh ok. Mike Marshall did it. And Kent Tekulve. Anyone else? Gossage? No. Sutter? No. Fingers? No.

There have been 110 times where a pitchers has appeared in 80 or more games since 1901. None were before 1964. 75 have been since 1996, 44 since 2004. Outside of Marshall and Tekulve, Mike Stanton, Steve Kline, Ray King, and Paul Quantrill have done it more twice. So it is possible, but when 56 pitchers have tossed that many games since 1996 and only 4 have done it more than 3 times, what does that tell you?

I totally believe that pitchers can go longer than we've come to accept at this point (especially guys 25, 26+) but I don't think pitchers can go more often. Remember that with topic #1 up there.

Willingham needs to play! This team has no power. Here are the isoSLG numbers for some of the regulars. Pudge .118, Kennedy .114, Morgan .122, Bernandina (career minor) .120, Harris (career major) .109, Guzman .098. Those aren't good numbers. (major league median is about .155). Which is not to say it's a problem, some guys aren't meant to hit for power and they do other things for you. But a team totally devoid of power isn't going to succeed no matter how smart they think they are (see: Mariners, Seattle 2010). With Desmond streaking here and there, the burden falls to Dunn, Zimmerman, and Willingham. That's just enough to work, maybe. Take anyone out though and this is becomes a team that needs a great start every night. (which they've almost gotten)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Lest we forget Ryan

With all the hype over Strasburg, the watchful glances toward Desmond, and looks into 2011 for Bryce Harper, let's not forget that what the Nats have in Ryan Zimmerman. Possibly the best offensive player in the National League, and possibly the best offensive 3rd baseman in baseball.

Doubt it?

As it stands now Ryan would have the 5th highest OPS of any hitter in the National League. (with at least 50 at bats) All four of the ones above Ryan, however, are pumped up by ungodly batting averages .393 for Manny, .385 for Andre Ethier, and of course .380 for superstar Ryan Hanigan. Jayson Werth is not as an extreme a case at .345, but he's still a good 50 pts above average. So they should all come back down. Ryan's numbers are based on a high SLG percentage but a batting average that is not out of the ordinary (.319) and could rise to compensate the eventual drop in slugging. (could - it would still be his highest average ever but he's at an age where he should be peaking)

At third base the major league competition boils down to Longoria, Wright, McGehee and Zimm. (Reynolds is what he is - a low average masher. A-Rod is good but on his way down from his great heights) Right now he stands at the head of the class (though admittedly with about 33% fewer at bats). Out of those three only Wright is underperforming in some aspect (BA .279). I'm not saying that Zimmerman will hold off the wunderkind Longoria, but I am saying he can.

The best part about it is that other than Longoria, Ryan is a good 2 years younger than anyone else mentioned in this column. 25 (26 in late September). The Nats have him under contract (quite reasonably) for his best years. This is who the team should be pushing, not Strasburg. (Though Strasburg will be great by all accounts) The Nats have one of the best players in baseball right now playing everyday.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Middle Infiled review

The Nats slightly lucky start has afforded Nats fans hope, but it's afforded the front office something equally as coveted. Time.

Time where they can continue to sit and wait and see what transpires as their Tortoise Plan continues on without hearing again and again how they are failing the team. At 15-19* they'd be one week-long losing streak from being raked over the coals, with some justification, by those following the team. "Bring up Strasburg!" "The bullpen is too thin!" "Bring up Storen!" "What the hell is up with RF?" Looking at the past 2 years, they may not actually respond to these calls, but it's hard to ignore the unhappiness of fans when it's translating to a trickle of attendance. At 19-15, they can toss out a "We're always looking to improve but right now what we have is working." and feel that that is enough.

One area the Nats front office can sit back and see what happens is the middle infield. For the season the Nats production from these positions have been hovering around average, and right now it sits slightly below it (Desmond 98 OPS+, Guzman 97 OPS+, Kennedy 87 OPS+). Are we looking at a scenario where the Nats MI is ready to bust out a little, or one where they might be taking a dive? (Fancy stat warning)

Guzman - .308 / .339 / .402. As usual Guzman isn't walking or hitting for power, which means he has to keep that average up. When you are hitting nothing but singles it's a fairly simple thing to see if the players is over his head or not. Check his LD% and his BABIP. There's nothing about his LD% (19.3%) that seems out of whack with what Guzman is capable of. It's a decent number and one that I have no problem believing could sustain a .300 average. His BABIP though, at .367 is too high, the highest of his career and about 30 points higher than his next career best (assuming you ignore the 2007 quarter season). This suggests he'll drop in average. I don't think it'll be a lot, but for Guzman, who ONLY has average, a little IS a lot.

Another worrying aspect about Guzman is the success of the 2007 and 2008 was based in part on making so much contact. His K rates were at or near career lows. This year his percentage is at 15.9% close to his career high of 16.7% from the awful 2005 . He won't recreate 2005, that itself was caused by a crazy low BABIP of .254, but it's another sign that there is likely some drop here.

Kennedy - .247 / .330 / .371. A little more patience and pop than Guzman but not enough to make up for that difference in average. His isoSLG is right around what you'd expect, but that isoOBP (his "true patience" if you will) is higher than he's had I believe ever. That pans out when you look at his walk rate (10.6%) when compared to a number usually in the mid 7.0s the past few years. Fine, less walks are coming - but will he hit better? Yes. His BABIP is at a super low .263, much lower than his career would suggest. This could be caused by age and hitting more weak ground balls but his LD% is right around Guzman's (19.2%). His contact percentages are fine. He's hitting the ball ok, but not getting any breaks. I don't see any reason not to expect Kennedy to pick it up in the next couple of months.

Desmond - .250 / .312 / .430 It's hard to get a good read on Desmond because there is little to go on. He's already had more at bats this year than he did all of last year. As far as I can tell everything is right on line with expectations. His LD% (14.1%) fits well with that average. His BABIP (.293) is almost exactly the same as last year and a perfectly reasonable number for someone with ok speed who tries to hit more for power than to get on base. But if he has about the same BABIP and his LD% has actually improved (was 11%) - why is he not hitting like last year? Well in part he's getting fooled more. His contact % has gone from about 82% to about 77%. He's striking out more and hitting more pop-ups. Really though the aberration isn't this season, it's the last one. It seems like last year Nats fans caught exactly what they thought they were - a streak where Desmond was just on. He wasn't hitting MUCH better than now, but when he was he was crushing it. Streaks like that will happen.

The question now is whether Desmond can adjust or is this about all he has? I don't know. I'd like to say he can, but he's always been a big K guy in the minors so it wouldn't surprise me if he rode streaks all the time. Of course there are worse things to have at the bottom of the lineup than a streak hitter who can also put one out at any time. Certainly Desmond hasn't done anything to make the Nats move back from their position that he is the starter at short. Just about average may be all Desmond is, but just about average controlled cheaply for many years is a good thing.

All in all the MI should keep putting out what they have so far. Desmond likely won't crash or soar (though either are still possible) and while Guzman will probably slip down to somewhere around .280, Kennedy should bump up to somewhere around .270. If you're ok with what you've seen so far, you should be good all season.

*I know there are some Nats fans that hate to have it brought up that the Nats are more a 15-19 team than a 19-15 team. Like I'm insulting the team in some way, or trying to take their fun away. Last year through 34 games the Nats were 12-22. They are a better team , and even at 15-19 they'd be playing like a better team. Why is that so awful?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I swear this could be a Mad Libs column

On ESPN today, Aaron Boone has a column on why the Nats are winning. Some of it is valid points you've heard before (Clip & Save, Livan, prospects) and some of it is veteran nonsense and well whatever - that's what happens when teams win a bit more than expected. We search for reasons and a fair amount of people settle on old tropes. But take a look at this sentence.
Rizzo also has made a commitment to improving Washington's defense, adding players like Nyjer Morgan and Adam Dunn to combat the club's error-laden past.
Adam Dunn? ADAM DUNN?


Commenter Hoo brings up the point that it was probably a simple mistake meaning Adam KENNEDY not Adam Dunn. That makes a ton more sense. Aaron Boone and his bionic heart are absolved. Next case!

what the?

That happens to those gusy over there! Not these guys over here!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Worser than your worsts, but not better than your bests

A lot has been made about the Nats starting pitching this season - that a bunch of really bad starts has lead to a misrepresentation of the Nats true talent level. A lot of people have said stuff like "well if you just take out Marquis they'd be better". Of course that's true but you could say the same thing about every other team in the league. Or can you?

I took a look at games started by Game Score. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it's a real rough way of determining how good a pitcher was in a game. I personally wouldn't use it for any real analysis but for casually looking at stuff I think it's a fine way to machete down to what I'm interested in. Anyway. the Nats have 3 games with a Game Score less than 20. These are horrid games. (In case you are wondering - Olsen's worst, Stammen's worst, and Marquis' 0.0 IP spectacular) That in itself isn't an unusual amount - a handful of teams have 3 and a bunch more have 2. What's interesting about the Nats is the number of innings pitched in these games. The Nats gave up 20 runs in these games in only 3.1 innings pitched. Contrast that with say the Pirates, 25 runs in 10.2 IP, or the Royals, 23 runs in 9 IP, and you see that the Nats games are extreme.

In fact if we stop looking at game score and we look at games started where the starter pitched 2 innings or fewer, the Nats have 3 such games. Only 3 other teams have 2. (well ok Pittsburgh also has 2, but one of those was injury related). These awful games truly have been a touch worse than everyone elses. It's not going to mean the Nats will suddenly be a top 10 team in terms of starters or anything, but it does mean they are probably a bit underrated if you just look at their ERA position. They should be middle of the pack rather than below average.

Another thing people have been noting is that the Nats might be having more bad games AND more good games then other teams. A Schizo personality. It's kind of hard to say. Looking at Game Score can help, but Game Score is looking for domination. It wants no hits and lots of Ks. The Nats don't win that way, but let's take a look for the hell of it.

If we separate out games where the starter had a Game Score <= 30 (bad starts - 124 such games this year), we find the Nats among the league leaders with 8 such games (Pirates have 10, 5 teams have 7). If we look at a similar positive group, those with >= 70 (122 such games this year) the Nats don't show up anywhere near the top. But if we drop it a little to 65... well the Nats still aren't near the top, but their 8 starts are tied for the most among the six teams that had a bunch of awful starts as well.

Another way we can look at good games pitched is to simply put an innings and ER limit on the games and see how many come up. This cuts out the issues with hits and Ks being important. I did a whole bunch of sets and found pretty much what I found with Game Score. The Nats weren't near the top of the league, but compared to those other teams that had a bunch of sucky starts - they were near the tops. So, there is some credence to the idea that the Nats have had lots of pitching over here and lots of pitching over there, with less in the middle than your average team. (interestingly enough Livan has only one truly great Game Score game but if you look at games where the starter went at least 7 and gave up 2 or fewer runs only Halladay has more and only Wainwright is tied with Livan)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Bizarro Strasburg leads Lex Luthor Nats to the Braniac Wild Card

You know me. I'm not going to look at the past 4 games and see a team that gritted out 3 gritty one-run gritty wins. I'm going to see a team that scored only 13 runs in 4 games and needed 4 good pitching performances including ones from major league probably nots Matt Chico and Craig Stammen to stay in these games.

OK, so I'm negative. But how do I turn how I see the team into a positive? All along I've said that the best thing about the strong start the Nats have had is that it can't be taken away from them. They have 17 wins and it doesn't matter, up to this point, if their talent would say otherwise. If they "played the season 100 times", yada, yada, yada. They only play it once and the Nats have 17 wins through 31 games.

Let's say that we were all right at season's start and the team really is a "75 win" team or so. And let's say they play exactly to that level the rest of the year. How many wins would that put the Nats at by season's end?

162 -31 = 131 games left... 131 * 75/162 = 60.64 + 17 wins already in the books...

77 or 78 wins. So the hot start has "gained" the Nats 2 or 3 wins. That's good, right?

What's different about this year is that while we thought the Nats would perhaps be a 75 win team, that didn't mean we thought they would have the same 75 win talent all year long. One view of the team is that they'll be much better as they move forward by adding Strasburg, Storen, et al. Let's say you think the team's an 80 win team with the young guns and they play like that. That would give the team about 64 wins to add to the 17 so... 81! A run toward .500 would be completely possible.

Now let's get crazy. Another interesting thing to think about is what starting Strasburg in the minors might have (and maybe will) cost the team. This is all conjecture mind you but let's say Strasburg starts in the majors. He doesn't take out the Marquis starts, unfortunately, but let's say it's him instead of Stammen. Figuring Stammen for 5 more starts and let's say one more win (2 total). What would have Strasburg done with 11 starts? Certainly not 11-0, but would 4 wins be out of line? 5? So 2 or 3 more wins? If you are a Nats true believer and think they are a near .500 team with Strasburg, well all of a sudden you are putting them down for 83 though 85 wins. You can't win a wild card with that but you might with 88 or 89 if things fall right. So perhaps a fortuitous trade for a RF? Or if Strasburg had a once in a generation start to his career?

Of course this is crazy best case scenario thinking. Really if Strasburg started the year for the Nats he wouldn't finish it because of what I hope would be an innings limit. And there is another school of thought for the team that has them dealing players like Dunn and Willingham which would of course make them worse not better as the year goes on. No the playoffs aren't likely and .500 still would take something close to a best-case scenario. But that's what the Nats' hot start has given the team and the fans, hope for something more. The past few years they started so poorly that a comeback to anything respectable was impossible to imagine. Now fans can imagine that and more.

Regardless of whether you think the hot start is a fluke or a sign that the team is better than we thought, there is no downside to winning more games than we thought they would.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Just what they needed

Working hard but last night was exactly what the Nats needed. Not the win, but the start. If Olsen is a legitimite starter now - even just middle of the rotation - that changes things in a very positive way for the Nats. I haven't made a run at the numbers - but the K's have been high, the walks have been low. One game is a fluke, two can be a super fluke, three is a pattern.

If there is any caution to be had it's that the last game he pitched before this one was not a dominant game. A stray double or home run and the shutout streak is suddenly two shutouts sandwiching a fair, but not great, start. Of course that's the point though - there were no doubles or HRs in that game. In fact only one XBH in the past 3 games. This is a pitcher who seems (again haven't taken a close look at the stats) completely in control.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


It's funny - the Nats win on Tuesday and I can't find anything good to say. The Nats lose yesterday and I see nothing but blue skies for the club.

They scored a bunch of runs again. A 6-run outburst against Kawakami is one thing. Back to back 6-run games, including one against Tommie Hanson, is another. The offense may in fact be turning around from that two-week slump. All it needs to be like last year (in other words - completely competent) is to have RF and 2nd Base not both be wretched. Last year, respectively they had OPSs of 95 and 75. This year? 53 and 71. It's not a coincidence that those positions have gone 7 for 16 the past two games.

The relief pitching sans a fun nickname pitched well. In 2 and 2/3 innings Burnett, Walker, and Bruney gave up one weak hit and one intentional walk (I know! Bruney!). They did exactly what I said a couple times the Nats couldn't do. Hold a lead in a higher scoring game so the Nats could come back. In my face! This was their game to lose and they came through.

Atilano wasn't horrible. Oh he wasn't good, but for someone that clearly didn't have much in the way of control he didn't blow up. 6 runs is a lot, but not a game killer. 5 1/3 is too few innings, but only by a few outs. If we see Luis for what he is right now, a rookie 5th starter, this was exactly the type of "bad start" you want. One that is not game ending or bullpen killing.

So there you go. All I need is the Nats to lose to feel positive about the team. I should be predicting World Series if they Nats lose 20-2 tonight.

actually no - Scott Olsen needs to be good for the Nats to ride out the "Before Christ" time period with a winning record. He looked real good two starts ago and almost as good last start. But the Dodgers and Marlins are two of the least patient teams in the NL. Can he fare as well against the super patient Braves? It's going to be important because the next two pitchers for the Nats are Stammen and the strugglin Lannan. The pen needs a break and both Capps and the improving Burnett are out tonight. If Olsen doesn't go at least 6 we're guaranteed a non-Clippard arm, and potentially a bullpen that could be on the ropes until the next time Livan heads out.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

There it is! (and Capps? Really?)

6 runs scored! That's almost like a real team! Now three homers will make you think the Nats maybe turned a corner but really they didn't (yet). Their 8 other hits were all singles and they only got 2 walks. 6 runs is a bit low for 11 hits and 3 homers, but it is certainly better. Let's see if they can manage something similar tonight.

Livan wasn't his best but he was good enough and with Burnett is rounding into usable form and Riggleman dragging out Clippard and Capps again the Nats were golden. It's an interesting study in bullpen use we're seeing from Riggleman. Bringing in Capps last night was kind of questionable. A three run lead with one man on and one out? I know Batista is... well Batista, but it still seemed like he pulled the trigger early.

Riggleman's constantly playing for the game in front of him. It's a strategy that actually works better with a so-so team than a good one. He's gambling he's not going to get 3 games in a row or 4 out of 5, that need good relief work. This works well for the Nats because their pitchers do get shelled and their offense can't keep up. Their losses are no-question losses. He's basically assuming there's a game he can give up on every few games or so, and he's been right so far.

Of course this can only last as long as the pitchers he depends on are nearly flawless. Good thing Clippard and Capps have been so far.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Hey! Who stole the offense?

On Friday night the Nats put together a 7 run game. It was a nice game for the team to have (and more importantly, it led to a win) but it was the first time since April 21st that the Nats have managed to score more than 5 runs. In fact, in their last 10 games the Nats have only scored more than 3 runs twice, the 7 run game and a 5-1 win versus LA.

Now the Nats have managed to win half of those games, taking games of 1-0, 3-1, and 3-2 along the way, but no team can keep up a .500 record scoring 3 runs a game. The question is whether this is a blip, or are there larger issues that might be at play here that could mean a season of problems?

Unfortunately for Nats fans, there isn't a single issue bringing the offense down. The Nats are not hitting for average, and they are doing a worse job at getting on base. Their power hasn't really dipped, but that wasn't great to begin with so it's not going to carry the team through rough patches. Where's the problem at? The first two spots shouldn't surprise you.

2B - Adam Kennedy has been just awful hitting .214 / .269 / .329 for the year and .188 / .206 / .344 in the past 10 games and after a hot start Guzman has really slowed down, hitting .176 / .200 / .294 during the same stretch. (if you're wondering Orlando Hudson is batting .308 / .385 /.413)

RF - Willie Harris over the past 10 days is BY FAR the best hitter and he's only hitting .143 / .294 / .286. Bernadina is hitting .091 / .231 /.091 and Maxwell and Taveras have combined for a single hit between them.

Right now one-third of the Nats lineup is worthless (the pitchers are as one would expect). Along with that Josh Willingham has stopped hitting (.161 /.316 / .161) and Nyjer Morgan is still not getting on base enough (.333 OBP the past 10 games) when that is all the Nats want him to do.

The Nats are down to four players now, and four players do not an offense make. Zimmerman is awesome, but when he's not in Alberto Gonzalez is terrible. Pudge is still smacking singles, but he can't play everyday at his age and Nieves is not more than an emergency back-up. Dunn has been hitting a lot better, but isn't parking them over the fence like he should. Desmond is doing allright, but has no walks and only 2 doubles.

You might say "Well Willingham and Morgan should get better" and sure they should. In fact, I'll go ahead and say they will, but at the same time 2 of the other 4 should slump and then the Nats are back where they started (maybe in a worse position if the two slumpers are Dunn and Zimmerman). The Nats cannot work around the fact that right now they have 2 big holes in their offense - two holes that everyone could see coming into Opening Day. With the holes at 2nd and RF, the Nats have to hope either 5 of the 6 remaining guys are coming through at the plate or they keep winning these close games with some better than expected starting pitching and nearly flawless bullpen work in tight games. It's worked for a month - anyone want to bet on two?