Nationals Baseball: Tuesday Quickie - my magic number

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Tuesday Quickie - my magic number

At the end of the Braves series I had the Nats "Harper-approved magic number" set at 8.  Not 8 more Nats wins/ Braves losses, but instead if the Nats got an 8 game lead I'd call the division for the Nats. Since then, I've lowered it to 7 (with fewer games left to play it has to go down) and the Nats almost got there twice. First the Nats blew it to the Cards on Saturday, then Papelbon melted down like a popsicle clutched in a toddler's hand. Oh well, while the Nats can presumably win most, they can't win them all. I bet some people are probably glad that didn't happen, just so I couldn't call it and jinx the team.

What the next week and a half amounts to is this. The Braves have to keep the Nats close enough so if they were able to sweep the Nats in that next series, making up the remaining games is feasible. The first part "Braves keep Nats close enough" is not likely but it could happen. The second part, the "sweep the Nats" part is where we start to drift into fantasy. Atlanta is 5-10 versus the Nats and is far more likely to get swept than sweep. But hey we've all seen teams lose series, so we have to maintain that as a possibility.

Anyway since we didn't do it on Friday

If the Nats went .500 for the rest of the year (which isn't likely) they would finish 96-66.  The Braves then, would have to go 21-6 to take the division (since a tie would go to the Nats)

We've already put the Nats in the playoffs over a month ago, but to prove that point even further, in the above scenario with the .500 finish, the Cardinals and Dodgers would have to go 23-4 and 23-3 respectively to force the Nats into a playoff for the wild card.

What else is there to talk about? Strasburg I guess. His last start is now penciled in for September the 12th.  That's pretty much what I figured.  I thought he'd make it to the last Braves series, and it just works out that he's going to miss it entirely. Whether you are in favor of it or not, the real shame of the shutdown is that whatever happens after that, the whole season will be framed by this decision. Any playoff series loss, outside of four epic 2-1/1-0 losses, will engender a "What if?" scenario.  A World Series win will take on an air of overcoming adverstiy/Rizzo can do no wrong. Instead of a good team, playing well getting the accolades it deserves for what will be in any case a successful season, we'll get even more armchair psychology than normal.*  Few things bother me more than lazy sportswriting that ignores analysis of the games and instead focuses on hazy concepts and hard to define, impossible to prove feelings as the drivers for results. This shutdown is going to bring on the laziest of lazy.

*Since the Nats have never been in the playoffs before the two story possibilities are as follows.  If they win it'll be "They didn't know that they should feel pressure" and if they lose it'll be "They weren't prepared for playoff pressure". 


Carl said...

What's even more maddening about the Strasburg thing is that if they do anything other than win the World Series, they will be second-guessed even if Lannan and/or Detwiler win all their starts. It's just like people carping that the Nats should have Strasburg for the Braves series--even if they weren't shutting him down, he wouldn't be starting any of those games.

Hoo said...

Read Boswell today on Det. Talks about Nats re-changing Det's mechanics back to his old mechanics. Makes a pretty good case on why Ross is suddenly very good this year and why he wasn't so good in the past. Of course, everyone who has a good season has stories like this (rededicated work-out training, suddenly just enjoying the game and relaxing). But this is one of the first times, I've read that the Nats changed their mind on his pitching style and letting him re-claim is old, inferior/dangerous form.

DezoPenguin said...

Carl's quite right. With the Strasburg shutdown, lazy sportswriters are all over the place and going to scream about how awful it was regardless of what happens in the actual games. Lannan wins all of his starts in Strasburg's place? Irrelevant. Nats lose in a playoff series because the offense does one of its temporary disappearing acts agsinst someone's really good pitching (and as Carl points out, it's entirely possible in a seven-game series that we could win EJax's 2 games and Det's 1, lose Gio and Znn's 4 to drop the series 4-3, and idiot sportswriters will be howling about how Strasburg's shutdown was why we lost the series, even though the games he pitched would replace pitching performances he won anyway--although it gets even more complicated, like if we lose a Gio game 5-4, one could argue that Stras would have started that game and maybe we win it 4-2 with him pitching instead... @_@ ).

Of course, if we *do* win the Series, then we have to put up with "Rizzo's a genius!" stories all summer. Which I could happily endure. ^_^

Speaking of which, you'll probably notice how ESPN's flavor of the day is how the Braves are somehow geniuses for having the same innings limit on Medlen as we have on Stras, but for starting Medlen into the rotation late so that they get his IP at the end of the year instead of the beginning. David Schoenfield at least balanced that out by pointing out that maybe with Medlen in the rotation in the beginning of the year the Braves might not be 6.5 back of the Nats (and that the Braves are kind of talking through their hats about it anyway, that they more-or-less lucked into Medlen's excellence this year), but the on-air talking heads aren't going to be anywhere near as sensible.

nicoxen said...

I know this a dumb question, but have Nats explicitly said the Strasburg will not be available for the post-season? Nothing I have read says this. They have only referred to the regular season, or his last start. Although I don't know the motivation, is it possible Rizzo is going to pull a fast one on everybody?

JWLumley said...

"Melted like a popsicle in a toddler's hands." Fantastic metaphor and I agree that it would take an epic meltdown for the Braves to catch the Nats and usually those types of meltdowns are reserved for teams that don't have enough starting pitching.

The storylines that sportswriters are pursuing regarding the Nats--and will likely continue to pursue--are nothing short of pathetic. One thing I would love to hear more about, is DJ's insistence and encouragement that Nats hitters dip their toe into the Ted Williams/Barry Bonds school of hitting and pull the ball. Even Kurt Suzuki--after a poor start--seems to be benefiting from this and Ian Desmond may have turned himself into the 2nd or 3rd most productive SS in baseball because of it.

If nothing else, hopefully StrasNoMas will shine a light on what a great pitcher Ross Detwiler is turning himself in to. If he ever regains the curveball he had in college or is able to add a plus breaking pitch he could be in the same conversation as Strasburg, but even without it, he's a solid #2-#3 pitching out of the #5 slot.

ags said...

What are the odds the Nats keep Stras on the playoff roster? Can they possibly do that and keep face?

Are you concerned with our closer situation? Clippard has been scaring me for a month now, and Storen has been given only a handful of save opportunities. Maybe this is the razor edge all teams live with, but it hurts more when the games matter this late!

Anonymous said...

Even though it isn't looking like it won't come into play, I'm pretty sure you're wrong in your playoff calculations by figuring in a tiebreaker. Last I knew, any ties would now have a tiebreaker game because of the difference between a division and a wildcard under the new rules.

bdrube said...

Here's a fun fact: if you combine last year's 14-4 finish with this year's 82-52 record so far you get 96-56, meaning that the Nats have been playing at over a 100-win pace for nearly a full season now.

For me, winning the division and having at least one championship banner to hang up in the stadium next year is the main thing. Given that this was supposed to be the warmup year for a championship run in 2013, everything that happens in the playoffs after winning that title is gravvy.

DezoPenguin said...

I was about to make some pithy remark in response to bdrude's comment about how we're lucky that everything's gone right this year to put us in position to win a year early...except that I realized that there's so much that HASN'T gone right:

1. Morse started the season injured and hasn't been the .900 OPS "BEAST" that we expected.
2. Zimmerman started the season injured, played through it, and hit not unlike Jesus Flores for two months before cortisone saved the day.
3. Werth missed significant injury time in midseason.
4. DeRosa and Nady, picked up as cheap "who knows what might happen?" reclamation projects, stank on ice.
5. The sophomore slump bit Espinosa, especially in the early season.
6. Ramos's season-ending injury (followed up by further injuries to Leon and Maldonado, just to make things worse) left us trading for a .650 OPS guy as an *upgrade* at catcher.
7. Wang's return was a total bust.
8. Storen's injury left us reshuffling at closer.
9. Lidge was another failed reclamation project.
10. HRod started with flashes of adequacy, even brilliance, then gave way completely to his inability to make those 100-mph fastballs go where he wanted them to go.

Against that, we have breaks that went in our favor:

1. When healthy, Werth has basically been the guy we hoped we were overpaying for when Rizzo signed him. (As a bonus, Davey's been bright enough to bat him leadoff, where he's the one guy with an adequate OBP to hit there in the whole lineup!)
2. LaRoche was godlike for the early season, helping the shaky O when it so desperately needed it, before regressing to more expected levels.
3. Desmond has been far better than expected all year.
4. Similarly, in a lesser role, Bernardina.
5. Gorzo, Stammen, and Burnett have all pitched to their upside.
6. Mike Gonzalez has been a *successful* reclamation project.
7. Tracy has been a reliable pinch-hitter.

And why are we sitting in first place? It's as Harper's pointed out all year: The starting pitching. And, other than the lack of injury issues, that wasn't luck at all--those guys really are as good as they've been (EJax and Det, okay, slightly lucky and/or pitching to their upside, but only slightly...and Strasburg's actually been *unlucky*; that one left my head spinning!). So...yeah, this team has *not* been lucky; arguably, they had some serious *bad* luck in the pre-July months that they had to work hard to overcome. @_@

JWLumley said...

To echo DezoPenguin, the Nats have not been lucky and things haven't fallen into place perfectly. They are a very good team that has played like it. In addition, some other things that went wrong for the Nats

11. Desmond has pretty much been hurt or playing hurt since the All-Star break.
12. John Lannan, threw a temper tantrum in Syracuse and pitched like Yunesky Maya most of the year, which precluded the Nats from using him as a trade chip at the deadline.
13. Bryce Harper hasn't hit in the second half. I'm not blaming Harper, mind you, but it isn't exactly something that's gone right for the Nats.
14. Storen's injury, means that Clippard--the Nats best reliever--is now the closer, so he isn't pitching in the most high leverage situations, thanks to the almighty Save statistic.
15. Finally, Bob Carpenter has become an even worse announcer.*

*Thankfully, this has lead to FP openly making fun of him. Now that's serious jammage.

JonQuest said...

The big thing that broke our way this year was that our 5 starting pitchers were not injured. I think that's pretty rare, and considering how good those guys are, it was a HUGE bonus for the team. I know we're going to rely on Lannan a bit here at the end, but he can't single-handedly blow it for us. If we had been forced to use him the bulk of the year to fill in for an injured starter, I think we'd be in a much different position right now.

cass said...

In my opinion, it's pretty clear that the #1 thing that has gone right this year has been a lack of injuries to the top five starting pitchers. That's huge and quite unexpected. If not for the Wang expiriment, the Nats would be rolling out the same five starting pitchers every single day. That is a massive case of luck.

The Nats actually had an insurance policy in Lannan, but oddly never had to use it. I'm sure Rizzo is quite surprised by that.

JWLumley said...

It may be splitting hairs, but with regards to the 5 starting pitchers never getting hurt....CMW would like to have a word with you. Just because Det's been great, doesn't negate the fact that CMW wasn't and got hurt....again.

eatthelump said...


Yes... thanks for not jinxing us! I will feel a lot better about our chances once we get past that Braves series.

Interesting tidbit from Boras on Strasburg... Scotty seemed to intimate that if the Nats played Stras all year and then got hurt, the insurance companies would have a case for non-payment, based on the medical recommendation to shut him down.

Harper said...

Quickly - Anon you're right - they announced that on the 10th and somehow I missed that. Can I say that I'm just really sure the Nats would win that one-game playoff vs the Braves?

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

Have the NATS not just beat the Cubs best pitcher? I say a sweep may be in the offing with Houston wining (Atlanta blowing)

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

Please add "one" to prior comment.

Froggy said...

All this chatter about what might or might not happen and whether Rizzo will be a genius or a goat is irrelevant. I don't think keeping Strasburg on the roster guarantees anything. The Nats could still win everthing by playing the way they have all year and have Strausburg losing every game he pitches for the rest of the season. It isn't one player that makes the team. Those other four guys are pretty good too.

As a season ticket holder who just got suckered to renew four seats for next year AND buy 6 strips for the playoffs, I just wish Rizzo had enough class to allow Strasburg to pitch his last game of the season in front of hometown fans.

PS: @pig.pen...Carpenter is sure a hell of a lot better than those two guys on WGN! Wholly moolly...

cass said...

Froggy -

I wouldn't want the Nats to mess with Strasburg's schedule just to get him to end his season at home. He'll make his final home start this Friday - we can give him a proper send-off then. Perhaps he'll pitch a perfect game and it'll end up being his last start. Or maybe he'll get demolished and pulled in the 2nd and he'll make two more starts after that. Ya never know.

Harper said...

CtBF - Well in spite of facts people can say they just didn't have the confidence that a team that is going all in has. Who's to say otherwise?

Hoo - possible. I will say that Detwiler is a 3.30 starter who had an ERA of 5 in his last 4 starts before shutting down an offense that is bad and impatient and not powerful. (In other words - let's see another one)

Dezo - Yep, Strasburg's shutdown isn't just a physical thing but a psychological one too which makes it to blame in any case.

Shhh about an earlier Medlin giving the Braves a better shot at the division. If they lose the WC game this should matter but it won't.

nicoxen - I don't think officially but unofficially everything I've heard is he's done done. I'll see if I can find a quote

Pig Pen - It's hard to say that when at least for the team it's not actually true. Last year the Nats pulled 26.7% of their balls in play. This year it stands at 26.9%. (now it could be legit true for an individual player haven't looked at that)

age - 0% That's my opinion. Or else I wouldn't have bet beer on it.

as for the closer - I wouldn't say concerned but I do think with use and some more typical performances it's floating back from a dominant pen to merely a very good one and a very good one can be beat.

bdrube - can't have too much gravy though. Unless you are that dog in that cartoon.

Dezo #2 / PP #2 - A lot of stuff there - totally agree that the pitching is key but there is some luck at play. Except for a few minor role players no one has underperformed for the year. That's pen, bench, starters, everyone. H-Rod is probably the only one with significant games/innings that you can say truly disappointed when healthy. That's more than balanced out the slight bad luck with offensive injuries.

JonQ - yeah the Nats would be better off! Lannan 4 ever!

but seriously - it's true starter injuries are much harder to overcome because they play such a big role (20% of the staff) and they are replaced by someone usually far worse than they are.

pig pen - as for CMW, he didn't start the season in the rotation (he could have) and he didn't lose his spot after they wanted to kick his tires because of injury. He's an injury but an injury to your "first choice for 5th pitcher because you signed him a few years ago and sat through his rehab, but in reality was probably like your 7th best pitcher coming into the year" is not crucial.

eatthelump - yeah the financial aspect of it is pretty interesting. There was also a short ESPN article on Strasburg's shutdown basically meaning nothing to the Nats financially. You can't discount that as a factor.

Sec 204 - yes. that was probably the best chance for a Nats loss, but you'd have to think the Nats have a 85% chance of winning each of the Next 3 games to make a sweep more likely that at least one loss. It's all about your next pitcher and how he's feeling... I'd still bet on the Nats losing 1 of the next 3 (though only 1. I'd bet on sweep probably before losing 2)

Harper said...

Froggy / cass - Froggy can correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think the idea is stretch him out for one more start but rather if you are going to shut him down, just do it in one start at home.

Also I think he gets 2 starts regardless of the outcome of the next game. 120 pitch perfecto or 2 inning blasting. 2 games.

Donald said...

@Harper -- "Except for a few minor role players no one has underperformed for the year". It might be a quibble, but we've definitely way underperformed at catcher given the expectations for Ramos. I would also say that we've underperformed in LF if you were expected last year's Morse all season. I'd even say Zim has slightly under performed when looking at the full year because of the early issues.

Also, I kind of agree that Stras won't be on the playoff roster since they'll want to fill that with someone who's really going to play, but imagine the scenario where we're tied late in game 6 or 7 and Davey sends Strasburg down to the bullpen to start warming up. Even if he had no intention of bringing him in, it could lead to some serious gamesmanship. It would be interesting to know what it would take to keep him loosened up enough between 9/12 and the end of season to have that as a possibility.

Harper said...

Donald - Well what I meant was "when playing" no one has underperformed, the injuries were unlucky - but no performance has been. Ramos was Ramos, Flores was Flores, etc etc. But you're right catcher has been a big hole that it didn't need to be thanks in large part to injury.

I had Morse pegged at .275 25 pre-season, and thought the lofty expectations of most (close to .300 average, close to 35 homers) were unable to be backed up by anything substantial, so I don't by that as unlucky. Zimm for the year is exactly like he was last year and even his injury can't be considered unlucky. The guy has missed an average of 35 games the four years before this one.

Froggy said...

@Harper-- yes I believe he gets to go to the mound two more times, with his last scheduled trip to the hill at the Mets.

Are you kidding me Rizzo...the Mets?!

So, hypothetically, say we stretch our lead over the Braves to 8 or 9 games by Sept 12 (his last start), why not skip his start or pitch him for 3 innings so he can end the season at home?

@Donald-- I agree you have to keep him on the roster out of respect for his contribution during the season and for the gamesmanship scenario you outline. Unlike DeRosa who just has to go.

JE34 said...

If they have to shut Strasburg down, fine. But do we have to get explanations as inane as:

"I'm not sure any of us understand," Johnson said. "But it's the right thing to do."


"I've listened to all the gurus. I've had all the advice. None of it made much sense," Johnson said.

All Davey has to do is say, "Doctor's orders." He doesn't have to say, "I have no idea why we're doing what we're doing, but I'm sure it's right, because, um, it's what we're doing."

eatthelump said...

Alright, we hit 7.5 with a month to go, so we are virtually guaranteed to win the NL East...Wait...what was the Yankees lead a month ago?

Donald said...

@eatthelump -- worse failures have happened, so we can't call the season yet, but at this point it would take both a monumental collapse by the Nats as well as an incredible push by Atlanta. If the Nats even finish 14-13, the Braves would have to go 20-6 to force the tie. Odds are against either of those things happening, but let's wait another few weeks before celebrating.

eatthelump said...

Just ribbing our good friend and Yankee fan, Harper Gordek. I agree that the Nats are a virtual lock for the playoffs and a near lock for the division title. The Expos fan in me keeps waiting for a strike, or contraction, or relocation though :)

Maybe this year's travesty really is the decision to cancel Strasmas.

Harper said...

Froggy - and you keep him on the plaoyff roster to pitch to that one batter, right?

JE34 - Rizzo doesn't seem to care about proper media relations for himself or his charges.

eatthelump - 6.5! See and there isn't even a month left for the Nats!
The Yanks are facing the same kind of offensive injuries the Nats had a few weeks into the season, (Nix, Dickerson and Stewart started last night) but more importantly their SP has suffered too. Pinieda out for season early, Pettitte only getting in 9 starts, CC is nicked. Starting Pitching injuries / underperformance is the hardest thing to overcome.

Donald - too late! Well I guess I'm not celebrating just stating and telling YOU to celebrate. Does that make a difference?

eatthelump said...

I went and looked, and as usual, Harper is right. 6.5 games on August 5th. The Yanks were up by as many as 10, but that was all the way back in the middle of July :)

None of you saw my blog post on how it was "over" back then and how the Yankees should pop the corks and celebrate, but that's only because my Yankees blog doesn't exist.

Agree the Yankees have had to deal with a lot of injuries. That they're still in first is testament to their team.

Froggy said...

One pitch is all I ask Rizzo!!


But just in case, what was that beer you like again? LoL

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