Nationals Baseball: Just one of those day or a start of something?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Just one of those day or a start of something?

I must start with a confession. I've got a little BCSadness today. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the way college football anointed their champ because they really didn't allow a fluke team who didn't deserve it to be crowned. Along with bikini tan lines and guys who talk to much about themselves, that's one of my pet peeves. A team who is obviously not the best team in a season makes the playoffs, gets hot, and wins it all. Then everyone acts like they were the best team all along (and acts like the best team wasn't all that good).  It's really that last part that cinches it for me, because playoffs are great fun and I can get behind great fun... as long as everyone agrees that's all it is. Playoffs are great fun that crown not the best team, but the winner of a small tournament filled with good teams.  Unfortunately the narrative is "the champion is the best" so that never happens.

By basically having a 2-team playoff (and that is what it was - ALREADY a playoff) college football made sure you had two deserving teams playing for the title. The thing is, out of all sports, college football is the one you could most easily argue needs a playoff.  It has a huge number of teams, that play the fewest games and thus have the least amount of common opponents. With the worst possible league to make this stand making this stand you knew it wasn't going to last. So hello "completely reasonable" 4-team tournament.  Enjoy your short life before "not really justifiable" 8-team playoff comes into play, followed by the final, "Really? This team gets to play for a title? That's a joke" 12 or 16 team playoff settles in.

Anyway the Nats felt like touching you and busting loose and absolutely killed the Rockies last night.  It could be the start of an offensive surge that was taking way too long to get here, or it could be just a fluke night. I don't know. What I do know is, that however wise the plan is, shot-up Ryan Zimmerman hits the ball a lot better than in-pain Ryan Zimmerman. At the very least that'll help.

Tonight the Nats face their 2nd question mark of the series (the first being injury returning Jeff Francis.  Don't let the 7.00+ ERA fool you.  He isn't that bad and actually pitched ok the two starts before the Nats.  It was a hideous first start back that has given him that ridiculous ERA)  They get Edwar Cabrera in his major league debut. Maaaaaaybe the Rockies 4th best starter prospect in the spring, injuries and ineffectiveness to the others have bumped him up to this role. He is supposedly a change-up guy with good, but not dominant, minor league numbers. It's worth noting he's been consistently old for his league (24 in AA when called up) which makes his stats a bit more suspect but he seems to keep people off base at least.  Versus ZNN the smart money is obviously on the Nats. After that they get Josh Outman who is terrible so really the Nats have no excuse not to win these last two.

A game like last night is such an aberration it's only good for one thing.  Well two things. A nice enjoyable blow-out game to watch with no feeling of pressure and USELESS FACTS:
  • Most runs Nats scored since May 10th of last year, 2nd most runs scored since an offensive explosion at the end of 2010, when they scored 11, 14, and 13 runs in the course of 10 days. 
  • 21 hits is the most since the Nats drubbed Houston 13-2 in 2009. 
  • The Nats have only scored exactly 12 runs in one other season.  In 2007 they did it twice. 
  • Desmond had 3 doubles last night.  The last Nat with 3 doubles in a game? Alberto Gonzalez in 2009. 
  • It was the most homers (4) the Nats have hit in a game since September 5th of last year when Werth, Desmond, and Morse (x2) went deep vs the Dodgers. 
  • The Nats were the 28th team to score in double digits this year (still waiting : KC, MIA)
  • Yesterday was the 20th game all year where a pitcher got a hit for the Nats tied with Cincy for most in majors. The Nats are the only team with multi-hit games from the same pitcher this season.  They have 4. (2 ZNN, 1 Stras, 1 EJax)


calindc said...

Harper, here's a fact for ya':

The Nats have lost 3 of their last 5 and 7 out of their last 11 games, and STILL surpassed the Dodgers for the best record in the NL.

DezoPenguin said...

The comment about the Nats' pitching reminds me of something I read in regard to the Kevin Youkilis trade, that thus far this season the White Sox third basemen had actually produced less across the board than the Nationals' pitchers. That says something about why the White Sox were willing to take a flyer on Youk (since, after all, even his 2012 stats, poor as they are, are better than what they were getting), but also that the Nats are at least getting the benefit of an extra bat (sub-replacement-level, but hell, better than Nady or DeRosa). Heck, there have been plenty of games where Strasburg's stat line was the best in the batting order.

Harper said...

the AL did a number on the NL in the last stretch of interleague. Only 3 NL teams have a winning record in their last 10 and the Dodgers are on the biggest slide. That's something the Nats have avoided.

Hoo said...

Nats hitting improves with loss of Nady, benching of Ankiel and the Moore/Lombo platoon. (although Lombo has fallen off a bit).

Very worried about Zim. Wonder how much another 15 day DL over the all star break would help? Nats are getting a cushion so they DL him a bit.

Surprised that Wang didn't pitch 7-9 last night. Perfect time to use him in a laugher where he could have 2 innings to warm up. Guess he'll only be used if someone completely falls apart in the 1/2nd.

Finally, you're biased against Desmond. He's an above average SS hitter this year. Poor OBP but his slugging makes up for it. So he's perfectly positioned in a 6/7 spot.

Excited to see more of Moore this year. Like a quality organization, Nats have a lot of good potential players but the trick will be parlaying them into great. Corey Brown should probably get a shot at this season given his numbers.

Jeff Hayes said...

You make a good point about the NCAA playoff decision. It's long struck me that the "Any Given Sunday" phenomenan (sp) is a bit unfair. That's one of the things I most appreciate about the MLB. Things are settled over the course of series, not single games (except the new play-in game).

Despite all of this, in the end I'd rather have things determined on the field rather than off. If you can't do it on the field, then it doesn't matter how well you look on paper or how well you did against other teams. Anything other than a game is just a way to assess a team's capabilities. It's like when you sell something and get much less (or more) than you expected. Somethign is only worth what someone is willing to give you for it.

Furthermore, losing a Conference Championship game or another game late in the season can be just as flukey as losing the first game in a playoff. And winning your Conference Championship and all the other big games, only to lose the National Championship Game, can also be a fluke, in either direction. It's the nature of the game.

As for the Nats, one game isn't a trend line, but a trend has to start somewhere. I have no doubt our offensive numbers will climb. My only question is how far.

Harper said...

Hoo - I don't think they know how they want to use Wang. At the very least I don't think the'll make him a mop-up guy because that'll kill any trade value.

Biased against Ian? We'll see - he has two seasons of below average hitting that trumps 70 games of good play, but if he keeps it up all year obviously we have to re-evaluate.

Jeff - but you did determine it on the field! 10-12 times! (I also don't think conf championships should come into play) My issue is if you go 12-0 vs the hardest sched in the league winning each game 30-0 then you play some random 11-1 team and lose by 1 on a hail mary - you aren't the champ. They are. That's silly the first team is obviously the best.

Sports playoffs are fun but illogical. We can't believe both anything can happen in any game (a truism that makes sports fun, hell even possible, to watch) and that in important games the best team will find a way to win. Those are not compatible view points. Yet that's the basis of all sports championships.

calindc said...

You must really hate the NFL playoffs. How about them 2007 18-1 Pats??!!

Lee said...

I know this is a baseball blog, but I have to weigh in on 12-0 team losing to a 11-1 team comment. That scenario is very rare. I don't know that it even exists in college football history. And there have been a number of title games in recent history in which both team playing aren't even perfect. Too, how many times in recent years have there been 3+ teams left unbeaten at the end of the year?

You aren't a bitter Ohio State fan are you? That's the closest scenario that I can think of. Yes they were the only team to survive undefeated that year and they largely blew out a weak Big 10 schedule, but got crushed by Florida in the 2006 season.

Also...go Nats. Not sure if I like a shot up Zim either, but I like the results. Why do I feel late summer stint on the DL is inevitable?

Bryan said...

I'll tell you this: I saw where they describe Zim's problem as "bone on bone." That isn't good, and I'm shocked it hasn't gotten more play. That is chronic and unlikely to go away, and very likely to get worse. Tendon soreness you can manage through rest and treatment and strengthing other parts, bone on bone has no remedy, other than rest and shots.

WiredHK said...

Although I put decent value on the champs that come from the sports that force teams to play multiple games against the same team (need multiple series wins - ex. MLB, NHL, NBA) as opposed to single-game tournaments (ex. NFL playoffs, NCAA Men's Basketball, etc). But it's not practical for those sports to play it any other way, and so, that's how it goes (and, of course, it's great fun, as you say).

I feel like the NHL and NBA playoffs seem to last almost as long as the regular seasons for those sports - so it doesn't feel quite so flukey.

Still, being a fan, nothing beats the do or die, single elimination game in the playoffs. As an Indiana Hoosier basketball fan, I'll never forget IU beating #1 seed Duke on the way to the Final Four in 2002. That Duke team would have beaten IU 95 times out of 100, had they played it that much - but not that night in Lexington. Flukey, but tremendously fun. And in the end, who cares who was really better? Sports is a diversion and entertainment. Purpose served (though not in Durham that night :).

Jeff Hayes said...

Bryan, Zimm has made it clear that after years of carrying bad teams, he isn't willing to sit out on the first team with a strong chance to make the playoffs. I just hope he isn't mortgaging his future to ensure his chance to play now. Given how the team has handled the Strasburg situation, it seems unlikely they would let Zimm do that to himself, especially since they just gave him that huge contract extension.

Harper said...

calindc - Hate is too strong a word. Like I said I like plaoyffs, and I love that the Giants beat that Pats team for several reasons. (primarily "Yay NY, Booo Boston")

But I'm not going to believe for one second that the Pats weren't the best team that year. Sure we all know that now because it's fresh but 30 years down the road they are going to be nothing but a footnote. A staple on the occasional "best team to never win" list as opposed to being seen as what they really were - one of the best teams ever.

Lee - Nope - couldn't care less about Ohio State. I know that's pretty much the worst case scenario I'm bringing up. I'm an exclusionary guy. It bothers me more that say... the 2006 Cardinals (83 wins, a winning record vs 1 team above .500, combined 2-11 vs teams faced in the playoffs) can win a WS than it does say a 2004 Auburn team not getting the chance to play.

Lee / Bryan - I think they are playing a dangerous game with a guy on a long contract. I guess we have to trust the docs but based on Nats history...

Wired - well almost everyone cares about who's better and uses titles to lay claim, but I guess that's my problem with not being good at ignoring these types. You're right it's supposed to be fun and playoffs are fun.

Bryan said...

Harper - I'm not sure your thinking on playoffs holds up.

To be the champion you must do X, that includes winning in the regular season AND doing whatever is required in the playoffs, whether its one game or a series.

Declaring yourself the best because you won 12 games 30-0 and lost on a hail mary in the championship game (against a team that in almost all cases will have done nearly as well in the regular season) ignores the fact that winning 12 games by a big margin isn't what decides the championship.

Winning 12 games by big margins only solidifies your place in teh final game. Assuming anything else (like it makes you the best team) is a little like declaring Desmond the best hitter eva because he want 3/4 for 3 doubles. It ignores the fact that to be the best you also need to another thing or string of things.

Baseball is a marathon finished with a long sprint. Its a little like a triatholon. Crying that you can do one part the best but aren't considered the best at it overall is a losers lament.

That's why I hated the one-game takes all BCS, but was generally OK with it. I say let them play it out. But to think any playoff system is going to solve the problem is silly. Basketball allows 65 teams in their tourny and teams still feel snubbed.

Were the Phils "better" than the Giants a few years back. On paper, almost defintely. But the Phils hitters were bad enough not to be able to get to the Giants pitching, and the Phils pitching was bad enough to get dinged.

On paper you give that series to the Phils 3 out of 5 times. In reality, the Giants probably win it 3 or 4 out if 5. Being good enough to smash the bad teams during the regular season but not good enough to beat a good team does not a champion make.

Zimmerman11 said...

Love the Nats... but last night's game was BORING! I much prefer sweating out every pitch all game long and seeing a dramatic finish... either way. Although, with the late start, at least I was able to go to sleep at a decent hour :)

calindc said...

Harper - I was just having a little fun with a set-up question. I could have went with the more recent 2011 Packers, but I knew your affinity with NY and went with the 2007 Giants beating the "best" team Pats.

Best just dosen't win championships lately. Take our big four sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL).In the last season of each of those sporting bodies, none of the "best" team won the Championship. Packers, Bulls, Phillies, and Vancouver all lost in the playoffs.

BTW, the Nats may be first in the NL, but "only" third overall.

Crossing my fingers!!!

calindc said...

Oh, one other thing Harper, the Yankees are the "best" team in baseball right now.

Harper said...

Bryan - the argument is that the playoff requirement is not fair.

We accept that any team can lose any single game. In baseball we understand that same logic expands out pretty well to at least 3 games. The Nats could be swept by the Cubs. It's possible. Doesn't mean the Cubs are better, just that 3 games isn't enough to overcome the natural variability in outcomes. So rather than a 1 game season or a 3 game season, etc. etc., we play as many games as possible to try to overcome that variability and figure out which teams are actually the most talented.

By adding a playoff we go right back to playing a short series, which we already deemed insufficient to determine the best team even when played between teams of wildly varying talent level, and make that the deciding factor. It is a nonsensical requirement.

The SF/PHI argument makes no sense to me. If SF would in reality beat PHI 3 or 4 times out of 5 why were they not clearly the best team in the majors let alone the NL? You say the Phillies maybe pounded the little guy but had trouble with the big guy. Does that mean SF could handle the bug guy but didn't do that great vs the little one?

NG said...

I hope the Nats don't underestimate Cabrera.

I saw him pitch against Hagerstown (and Bryce Harper) last year. He was dominant -- 8 innings, 7H, 1BB, 8 K. Bryce was 1-4, and the 1 was a swinging bunt that the third baseman misplayed. I remember thinking one guy on the field that night looked like a future big leaguer, and it wasn't Bryce.

Impressed enough that I looked a bit into his background and have been following his progression. He's always been chronologically old for his league, but also didn't sign until he was 20 and this is his 5th season of professional ball, so that's a pretty normal progression.

He lead all of MiLB in strikeouts last year -- 217K in 167 innings. Probably the best changeup I've seen; induced huge # of swinging strikes with it. Exactly the kind of guy that historically has given the Nats fits.

WiredHK said...

On the flip side, there are teams that underperform for a variety of very legitimate reasons in the regular season (injury, poor coaching, etc) but get things right late in the year and put their talent together during the playoffs to do what they likely could have/should have been doing during the regular season. They may not be less deserving of bragging rights, should they win titles. Just food for thought.

I use titles as much as the next guy when comparing greatness, so I'm certainly not going to pretend to be something I'm not. But, we have to find some common ground to measure greatness on, don't we? Titles seems like a fair piece of a larger puzzle, as long as one doesn't forget their are other pieces too....

Donald said...

I'm not sure that there's any fair way to pick a winner. While looking at whose on top after a 162 game season might be a good measure of the best teams, it misses a few things. One is that they all play different schedules or catch different pitchers on the same teams. Also, teams might slump because of an injury or two but when healthy are dominant. So they might not end with the best record, but have the best team at the time. Because there's no perfect way to pick the best team, the playoff system at least adds the most excitement to the process.

Harper said...

Donald - quickly - I think there is a fair way but it'll never happen. It is basically changing the playoff system based on the team's performances that year. Got 4 worthy teams? - 4 team playoff. Got 1 obvious best - no playoffs. Got 3? 10 game mini-season each team plays eachother 5 times.

yeah these involve the imperfect short series but if you can't tell teams apart after 162 and need to crown 1 a champ you have to make some concessions.

DezoPenguin said...

Annnd...back to baseball, once again the offense puts up a football score, and this time the starting pitcher has a decent game, too. Major ouch for Wang that he actually managed to get yanked out of a mop-up assignment, though. Like Harper said above in response to much trade value is there in a guy when the manager basically says, "We don't trust you to hold an eight-run lead for one inning."

Looks like the cortisone has definitely given Zimmerman's offense a shot in the arm. ^_^ Pun aside, hopefully this indicates that he can have some improved performance, rather than just it being due to the Coors Field effect and the really bad pitchers he's been facing there.

...Moore's putting up some quite nice numbers. Too bad he'll be blocked when Werth comes back, but it's nice to see him play well.

Anyway, here's hoping the Colorado resurrection continues for the offense tomorrow.

Donald said...

Harper -- what's your take on Moore? Zuckerman has an article up today about him. He's certainly having a great run, but so did Espi in his first few weeks in the majors. Is he for real?

Hoo said...

I've thought of Moore as a bit more athletic Adam Dunn. He's hit bombs at every level and was the Nats minor league player of the year a little while ago.

I'd have guessed him a .260 30HR type guy. High HR/high walks, high ks.

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