Nationals Baseball: Playoffs far away but in sight

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Playoffs far away but in sight

I mean they are going to make it now, right? This isn't 2005 when we all knew that this was all just phony baloney.* We've moved past the point where you are trying to figure out how the Nats are going to make the playoffs and are now are thinking is there anyway they can't make it.  
  • Could ZNN, Gio, Edwin or Wang pitch worse?  Yeah.  In fact I'd bet two do.  But they aren't going to pitch THAT much worse.  Even if all fall back to career averages that's still a good staff. 
  • Could the relief staff start pitching worse?  Yes they can.  Mainly because the IP is small enough that you can get some variability.  But the arms are good and when you deal with 7-8 guys they can't all go bad at the same time.
  • Could the offense completely collapse? I suppose - it's really being carried the past 2 weeks by Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa, and hot batter of the day. A Harper slump alone would be pretty impactful. But it's never going to be worst in the league bad.
  • Could they get unlucky? Sure - they've been a game or two lucky so far, but just a game or two.  They aren't playing with fire like 2005, when they had a crazy 1-run game record and were losing all these blowouts. There's no big regression to come here.
  • Could there be an injury? OK yeah - this could hurt the Nats a bunch.  Bryce, Strasburg, Gio... But you can't worry about that. 
So what do you end up with as a believable miss the playoff scenario?  The pitching gets a little worse, the hitting get a little worse, the Nats get an little unlucky and they are a game or two under .500 the rest of the year?  Ok that would probably do it, but for how much longer will that be the case.

With each series win they have to pitch and hit that much worse, they have to get that much more unlucky, to miss the playoffs.  We're getting to the end of credible doubt as it is, where you can say the Nats missing the playoffs is a legitimately reasonable expectation. A few more weeks of play like this and the Nats missing the playoffs shifts over to the incredible.  Of course the incredible does happen, ask the Red Sox last year, or the Mets teams of few years past, but like an injury you can't worry about that. All you can do is just stand there like you're watching a car crash (or flip side - like your lotto numbers are coming up.  For someone to be losing out, someone must be unexpectedly winning in these incredible situations.)

If that seems crazy, to call a playoff spot in say... Mid July, thank not only the level that the Nats are playing at but the extra Wild Card, too. There's that much more cushion for the Nats to back in, if they need to and it makes a big difference.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  It's still another month of great play that's needed.  You've waited 7 years.  You can wait one more month.

*Though for funsises at this point in 2005 the Nats were 35-26, had just gone 8-0, and in the middle of a 23-5 stretch.  23 and 5! They'd be 50-31 when they were through.  This Nats team would only need to go 12-8 to hit that spot and would almost certainly not completely die down the stretch like that team did.  This team isn't adding Preston Wilson and Deivi Cruz and acting like that's enough.  At the very least this team is getting back Jayson Werth and Drew Storen.  Those are players whose presence won't actually hurt the team!  


Lee said...

I love this 5 game cushion that's come courtesy of beating the AL East while the other AL East teams beat up the NL East. But another thing to consider is that the NL East will stay super competitive while the Dodgers and the Giants feast on the dregs out west. Granted, there is the extra wild card this year, but I don't think any team sitting in first place right now wants to fall into that wildcard position. Especially if the Giants cruise into the best record among teams not called the Dodgers. I don't want a 1 game series in San Francisco. I want home field against the Reds. At this point the discussion should be about winning the East. Making the playoffs will be a great accomplishment, but it could also be short-lived.

Go Nats! Can't wait for this weekend.

Positively Half St. said...

Speaking of 2005, a 5-game cushion was as large a lead as that team ever built. I will feel a superstitious confidence that this is not 2005 again once they get one more game added to that lead.


Anonymous said...

I called playoffs this season in September last year, so it's never too early to hop on my bandwagon.

Even non-Nats fans are welcome to join me, so tell all your friends that they can be fans of the best team in baseball if they want.

Donald said...

I'm pretty sure they'll make the playoffs, but there's another way they miss out that doesn't involve any of your scenarios. Lee touched on it. All it takes is for one other NL east team to get hot and win the division, while two other teams across the NL get hot enough to knock them out of the wildcard.

For example, say the Nats finish the season going 51-50 the rest of the way out, reaching 89 wins. Atlanta needs to go 55-44 (.556) to reach 89. Miami would need to go 57-42 (.576), San Fran 53-46 (.535), St. Louis 57-42 (.576), Cincy 55-46 (.545), Phillies 59-39 (.602).

It may be too late for the Phillies, but it's not impossible to believe some of those other teams listed above playing that well. It would only take 2 or 3 to make it really close. Not saying it's going to happen because I think the Nats will get closer to 93 wins, but...

Anonymous said...

Injuries? How about already being on the DL Storen, Werth, Zimmerman, Morse, Kimball, Mattheus, H Rodriguez, Maldanado, Leon, Derosa, Tracy, Wang, Ramos, Bernadina, yeah I hope injuries dont pop up. Bad luck? How about Henry Rodriguez blowing 3 games because he cant throw a strike, 3 games where he needed one out to get and 2 of those were a strike away, meaning we should be 41 - 20. What team are you watching?

Jeff Hayes said...

Okay, Harp, you've made some great points here. It seems you're more optimistic about where the Nats stand now than you were last week. I dwelt on your willingness to stick with your "6-9 vs the AL East and 3-4 on the road stretch after that for a less than impressive 9-13 finish" prediction for several days. Although I guess it is still possible, I'm glad you've changed you're mind.

A sliding scale of confidence makes sense and I am relieved that you think it could be as early as July when we'll have enough confidence (contigent on some level of continued success) to know if we're going to make it.

Lee's right - the wild card should be avoided, if possible. The creation of the second Wild Card and the single play-in game makes both Wild Cards significantly less attractive than the single Wild Card format. Too many things can happen in one game. That's the glory of the regular season. There are enough pitches, plate appearances, outs, innings, games, and series over a season to truly get a sense of things. Deciding who advances based on a single game is simply too difficult to predict.

Kenny B. said...

Playoffs?! You can't talk about playoffs! PLAYOFFS?!

michael k said...

Harper, a question:

This anonymous guy who periodically shows up and criticizes your negativity and unabashedly declares the Nats to be the greatest team ever: it's gotta be you, right?

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

Kenny B stole my thunder.:) Still, I will repeat, Playoffs? Playoffs? We can't talk about no stinking playoffs!! NATS will win 90 though.

Harper said...

Lee - fair enough. Here's a q - if I offer you a WC now, you take it?

+ 1/2 st - you can have your superstitions. I'll take Strasburg, Gio and ZNN showing me it's not 2005.

Anon - You're a rarity. The long time fan welcoming the bandwagoners.

Donald - I think when I looked at the WC history only one (maybe two) times would an 89 win team miss a 2 WC playoffs. Sure it could happen but it's not likely.

Anon - They have had more of their share of injuries but in terms of impact it actually hasn't been too bad.

As for Henry you can't pick out the games the Nats should have won because of closer failure, without also picking out the games they should have lost because of the other teams closer blowing it. If you do that you set up expectations that can't be reached. You have the Nats as a 41-20 team and that's "injury-riddled" in your argument. So healthy they are even better? That's making them out not only to be the best team this year, but one of the best teams of all-time. Maybe you believe that. I don't.

Jeff - That's how flexible I can be - changing my mind when the situation becomes untenable. If the Nats continue to play this well till the AS break they'll be 51-32. At that point even if they go 1-game under the rest of the year (39-40) they win 90 and that's a virtual lock to get at least the WC. And why would you assume they would go 39-40, when (1) they went 51-32 to start the year (2) everyone had them as a better than .500 team before the season started. You'd have to be looking for failure at that point.

Kenny / 204 - souless automatons know nothing about jinxes and curses only the cold hard unforgiving facts.

michael - Nope. I'd be much better at picking apart my own arguments. Some guys thrive on confrontation I guess. Whatever. Doesn't bother me so if it makes him happy, more power to him.

B said...

Great post. It’s very interesting to give some thought to the Nats’ postseason prospects.

With that in mind, how should the Nats plan for the postseason pitching rotation with Strasburg's 160 inning limit in mind? He’s pitched 77 innings in ten starts thus far. He’s probably got five more starts before the All Star break, which would put him somewhere in the range of 105-110 innings.

One solution would be to extend the inning limit. Personally, I think that’s a bad idea because it could shorten his career and the Nats long term outlook.

Should the Nats limit his innings in order to get him on the mound during the playoffs? Bench him for a month or two? Hard to see how either of these options could work without creating havoc among a rotation that’s performing really well.

The more I think about this, the more apparent it is that he won’t be pitching for us in October. That means you keep him on the mound and his talent helps us to get 90+ wins and, hopefully, the NL East title.

But what then? What are the options for adding another pitcher to the rotation?

In Syracuse, Yunesky Maya’s ERA is 3.38 and Zach Duke’s at 3.77. Sad to see Lannan’s ERA up at 5.27. I don’t know a thing about Maya or Duke. What are your thoughts about their ability to start at the Major League level?

They could also trade for somebody, but who do they give up?

Mike Rizzo’s got an interesting chess game to play. There are some tough decisions to be made, but it’s great to see the Nats in this position.