Nationals Baseball: Who do you want to face?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Who do you want to face?

I totally called that. Where's my prize?

Nats win. 8 games up, only the most ardent pessimists are not calling it. In the commentary talk shifted to who you want to play and who you don't want to. It's a mostly silly argument. At this point any team that gets into the playoffs is good and could take 3 of 5 from the Nats. It's not like "oh this team, that'll be a piece of cake".  At the same time you do have preferences based on your own team.

The Nats strength is its starting pitching.  Against a weak offense, like the Braves, they can dominate and win a series all by themselves. They don't give up home runs and they don't walk people (well Gio does). Maybe you could say they don't go deep in games but they haven't had to. I expect in the playoffs that would change. The worst thing you can say about the pitching is that they let the ball get put in play (only 7th in Ks) but the defense of the Nats is pretty good, with the exception of down the right field line. The relief pitching is good, too, but a little less reliable as the Nats are now leaning on a lefty waiver pick-up in Thorton and a closer in Storen who 6 months ago no one had any confidence in.

While the Nats also have a very good offense, they don't have any dominant bats. They are often quieted completely by the upper echelon of starters. (I know, "Who isn't?") and beat up on other arms. They don't have any strong righty lefty preferences and have good balance between power and patience. If they have a weakness it's that they don't get a ton of hits (8th in hits, 8th in average, 5th most Ks). They would match up pretty poorly against the Nats staff actually.

So I'd say the Nats ideal opponent would (1) have no dominant starter so the Nats bats can possibly break out, (2) their pitching in general would be inclined to give up walks and homers, (3) have a weak offense reliant more on homers and walks then hits so the Nats pitching can possibly shut them down completely, (3) have an offense that does worse versus RHP because the Nats are stronger from that side of the mound.


The Dodgers are the match-up that everyone wants to avoid because they have THE dominant pitcher in Clayton Kershaw. In a 5 game series he'll pitch twice and the Dodgers will be heavy favorites to win both those games meaning you have to win the other 3. Of course after Kershaw you have Greinke who Ks a lot of guys and isn't homer prone, and Ryu who never gives up homers and is pretty good with the walks (ok with the Ks). It's tough the see the Nats scoring a ton of runs in this series

Offensively the Dodgers are a hits and walks team which is somewhat good for the Nats but not a perfect match-up. They do better versus right-handed pitching. I don't see the Nats shutting the Dodgers down completely in a series.


The Cardinals  have Wainwright, but he's not Kershaw. He's death to home runs but can walk guys sometimes and doesn't K guys. All the Cards guys you'd expect to see in a short series (Lynn, Wacha) kill homers in fact. But they are wild and only Wacha can strike out a bunch. The Nats have a chance versus these starters.

The Cardinals offense hasn't been able to get off the ground, but they'd have a chance against the Nats as they work on hits and not walks or homers. I mean really no homers at all, last in the NL. They have lefties but given the lack of power I'm assuming the RF line would be ok and splits show they don't hit RHP all that well.


Bumgarner should be a mini-Kershaw versus the Nats. Doesn't walk, doesn't give up the homer, Ks a lot of guys. He could win two easy. Hudson, as we've seen many many times, does OK versus the Nats but since he can't work the strikeout like he used to he can be beat. Anyone else pitching doesn't specifically worry me, but overall the staff has very good control which takes away a Nats strength.

It's another decent offense (these are all playoff teams so they'll be good) that gets hits. The Giants are even less walk reliant but do like the home run. Given that, I'd expect a playoff that would be a continuation of their meetings this year. Sometimes the Giants would be shut down completely, other times they blow up. They scored 1,2,2,2,6,7,10 runs in Nats games. They are either going to be able to hit it out that day or not. They don't have significant splits.


The Pirates staff is very wild and survive with a measure of power control. But just a measure, they still aren't better than average in giving up the homers. They lack an ace and instead rely on solid pitching from good but not great arms to win enough games. I think the Nats could really punish this squad. 

The Pirates have a special bat in McCutchen who can overcome the Nats pitching, and otherwise they are good across the board. They walk, hit for power and just hit in general. The Nats can counter some of that but I'd expect the Pirates to score some runs. They hit RHP especially well as their 2nd best hitter Neil Walker is a huge homer threat against righties (17 of his 19 homers) and Ike Davis is completely useless versus lefties but a fair threat versus righties. I'd expect a lot of 6-4 type games in this series (Nats favor of course)


The Braves pitchers can be walk prone, but they are ok with the K and good with the homers which is why they seemingly match-up well with the Nats. Still it's hard to see the Nats being shut down for a series by this set of arms. If they can maintain a little patience they should score a few runs.

That should be enough the win because the Braves offense is terrible. They strike out a ton, don't hit, and aren't good with the power, meaning they rely on walks and luck to score runs. That won't work versus the Nats. They also hit RHP much worse than LHP so that's another thing in the Nats favor. Seriously, if it wasn't for the history you'd LOVE a match-up versus the Braves.


The Brewers seem to be dying and it's easy to see why. Their pitchers give up a few walks and a ton of homers and don't strike anyone out. The starting pitching is perfect matchup for the Nats. If for some reason the Nats got into their pen the story flips. A ton of high K guys a few of which are hard to homer off of. Overall they actually give up very few walks but it's more a story of only having one guy prone to walking people, as it is having a few that walk no one, so I think the Nats would find their way on base just fine in a series.

The offense is homer heavy and not much else, which the Nats should be able to handle just fine. While they are a righty-heavy lineup they don't show much in regards to splits.

OK so based on the above how would I rank them from most want to face to least? Being completely honest and cutting out "experience" and the like :

1. Braves - there's no reason the Nats shouldn't hold that offense to 0 or 1 run in 3 out of 5 games.
2. Brewers - The Nats should be able to score a good amount of runs and assuming the Nats starter that day isn't particularly homer prone, should be able to shut the Brewers down.

3. Pirates - There's a gap here as I'd expect the Nats to beat the Braves or Brewers quickly. Now we're in 5-game territory. I flip-flop the Pirates and the Cardinals because I think the Nats have the same measure of edge versus either. Why #3 for the Pirates? I expect higher scoring games in this series and I like luck to factor more for low-scoring games.
4. Cardinals - It would probably be a low-scoring series but the Nats are the better team and match-up ok so should win. Still when you are talking 3-2 a bad bounce can make all the difference.

5. Giants - I would right now make the Giants a toss-up.  Bumgarner is good enough to dominate the Nats if he's on and Hudson to keep them in it. If their offense is on that series the Nats could get swept away. If it's off they Nats could do the sweeping. This series could swing all over the place.  Now if Bumgarner has to be used for the one-game play-in I still put them as my 5th team but they drop back into the Pirates/Cards territory.

6. Dodgers - I think the Dodgers have the edge over the Nats assuming Kershaw pitches twice. If it's after a one-game playoff then it's more a 50/50 scenario. Still this is the match-up I don't want in a 5 game series.

I'd say the ideal scenario for the Nats finish with the best record, the Dodgers falter and fall into one-game playoff where the Braves or Brewers knock them off (Pirates out in this scenario). The Nats beat up on them and take on the winner of the Giants/Cardinals who went through a 5-gamer  with either Wainwright or Bumgarner pitching twice. Make it happen Fate.


Anonymous said...

I just want to make sure the Nats are the 1 seed so (in all likelihood), the Cards and the Dodgers have to play each other, and we don't have to face both of those teams. (I don't see SF passing LA although if the Dodgers have another fielding adventure like last night (w/o the benefit of Kershaw), who knows :).)

Anonymous said...

I would have us face anyone but the Cardinals. If it is NLCS, we have no choice. Cardinals is a lucky team and haven't missed playoffs many years. They are hot right now and hope they cool down in 2 weeks.

Donald said...

For what it's worth, here are the head-to-head matchups against those teams this year:

Nats are 5-9 against the Braves.
Nats are 4-2 against the Brewers.
Nats are 4-3 against the Pirates.
Nats are 1-5 against the Cards.
Nats are 5-2 against the Giants.
Nats are 4-2 against the Dodgers.

Anonymous said...

Donald, Braves are finished. No chance even for a WC. That leaves us with another headache team, the Cards. I would rather not play them even if we have home field advantage in NLDS. We just don't match very well against Cards of all teams.

Max David said...

Pirates, Brewers, or Giants would be the 3 teams I'd like to face in the NLDS with the Brewers at the top of the list.
The team I really do not want to see is St. Louis. Los Angeles would be another team I may not want to get unless they won the wildcard and had to throw Kershaw in that wildcard game.

Donald said...

The Giants and Dodgers play 6 more times, but the Dodgers are lined up to start Ryu, Grienke and Kershaw in both series. Despite the Giants having an easier schedule, I just can't see them gaining 3.5 games when they have to face those Dodger pitchers twice. But they will certainly take one of the wildcards. That leaves the Braves and Pirates to fight it out. I'd tend to favor the Pirates there, except they have to play the Braves 4 times in Atlanta. So the Braves don't have to play great to get the last WC spot. They really just have to play great in that one series. I don't think it'll happen, but I don't think it's fair to completely write them off. The Brewers, on the other hand, have arguably the toughest schedule and are playing the worst. I'm fine with writing them off.

In any case, I'm going to assume the Giants win the play-in behind Bumgarner in SF against either contender. At that point, I'd rather play the Giants than the Cards or Dodgers, particularly since Bumgarner will have been used. My second choice would be the Cards. On paper, we should be able to beat them and it would sure feel good if we did.

Unfortunately, the Nats, Dodgers and Cards are all close enough in the ranks that they could finish in pretty much any order. The only way to ensure they don't play either the Cards or Dodgers is to come in first.

Kenny B. said...

I feel like the NL field is pretty close to set. Braves and Brewers seem done. I think most likely result is PIT @ SF for the WC. Question is whether Nats play the winner of that matchup or STL.

My meaningless NLDS matchup prediction: Nats falter some, and end behind the Dodgers for best NL record. SF beats PIT in the WC play-in. Nats play STL again, while Dodgers take on SF in what is sure to be a pair of intense series. Dodgers beat the Giants to go to NLCS. Results of Nats Cards I would prefer not to predict out of a misplaced sense of superstition.

However, I have no such jinxing qualms for the AL. KC falters just enough to fall behind the Tigers, but hangs in the WC. SEA can't keep it together. A's beat KC in a one-game play-in, and go on to play the Angels in another epic intra-division battle. O's play DET in the NLDS. Angels and Tigers in the ALCS, Angels will be the WS rep from the AL.

This is all based on high level statistics such as bGUESS, EST%, and xSPEC.

Harper said...

Anon - agree that's the most likely "good" scenario for Nats. probably means a Giants/Pirates winner which isn't too bad. I'd certainly like the Nats in that scenario.

Everyone else - I can see why no one wants the Cardinals. Despite what the match-ups might seem, they have that playoff loss hanging over their head and a lack of recent success. There is an intangible element that can't be measured that can come into play and it feels like STL has a big edge there. May or may not actually be true but I get where it's coming from.

Donald - I personally only included the Brewers for completist purposes. I think they finish behind the Marlins.

Harper said...

Kenny - my xSPEC has... Minnesota in the series? I think my MAUER stat is out of whack.

Sirc said...

I wouldn't worry about facing the Dodgers in the first round if they're the wild card team. That changes the Kershaw factor a little. It is still possible that the Giants will catch them.

I'm with the first Anon, anyone but the Cardinals in the first round. That's the only matchup that makes me squirm a little. The 2012 wound hasn't fully healed, plus they've owned the Nats ever since.

Froggy said...

Although I think we are a lock for the East, we shouldn't look past that eleven game road trip and the fact that the Braves will be playing for their lives, and it seems Miami is playing pretty good ball the past couple months.

That said I like a match-up with the Giants the best, then slug it out with LA. Leading to an Left / Right coast WS with the A's or Halos.

Zimmerman11 said...

It's the playoffs... every series is a 50/50 proposition... Nats have as good a shot as anyone else who's in it... but you have to win three coin flips in a row (or four for the WCs) and that's tough.

It's surely better to win the division than to play the WC game... and it's certainly better to be able to run Kershaw out there than anybody else...

But we're talking a coin flip...whoever's bats are hot and get the bounces will win. I'm grateful to get to watch postseason baseball again :)

Harper said...

Zimm - yeah you take it as a straight combination problem - let's say you give the Nats a 57% chance of winning a game - this may seem low but it's the Nats winning percentage for the season vs all teams, now they'll be facing only good teams so in theory it should drop but we'll keep it at 57% for this argument - their chances of winning a 5 game series is 63% which conversely gives them a 37% chance of losing - better than a third.

Drop it down to say... 53% (right now they are 50% versus these teams but we all think they are better than that right?) and the raw chances drop to <56% better than a coin flip but not much

Of course there are a million things to consider (match-ups, starters, momentum, playoff roster usage) but the result is pretty clear. This is why the "Top Starter" method can be seen as propelling your team to a championship. Kershaw might change your odds of winning at game to 66% or something well above your daily winning percentage, rather than drop your wp% it actually might go up overall in a short series. This is why the A's went for Lester. Hurt them winning games overall but help them for the post-season. Just didn't expect this bad a swoon.

blovy8 said...

KERSHAW is as good as it gets lately, but he can be neutralized. If the Nats play a clean game and the Dodgers don't he can give up unearned runs. Harper could run into another FB with some guys on base. he actually pitches down the middle a bit, so it's possible to do something maybe the more they see him and get a sense of his pattern. Plus, there is now the fact that once he's out of the game, the team has finally the experience of scoring off Kenley Jansen.

WiredHK said...

In the end, you have to beat good teams to win it all. There's no lucking into a title. As the odds/probabilities show, even a series vs the least of these teams being discussed isn't much better than a coin flip.

It's almost a mortal lock that to win the NL, we will need to beat either the Cards or Dodgers to do it. Maybe both. It pains me to think that, but that's the deal.

So be it, Jedi. It'll be that much more memorable when we do it. I want to see Stras best Kershaw. Fister trump Wainwright. Storen closing out Holliday, Adams and Molina to preserve a 2-1 win. That will all be incredibly sweet....

Donald said...

@WiredHK -- I agree. As scary as it would be to face the Cards, beating them would be SWEET!

Anonymous said...

Anyone but the Dodgers

Richard Parker said...

I don't think the Dodgers would necessarily be heavy favorites against the Nats in games in which Kershaw starts and focusing on the other three games is exactly the wrong attitude to take. Would Kershaw vs. Fister or Zimmerman in DC make the Dodgers a heavy favorite? I don't think so at all.

You have to have the attitude that you're doing to come out and pound no matter who's pitching (like the Nats did against Hernandez recently) and, if not, rely on your pitching to hold you until the late innings (which they're perfectly capable of doing). It's the playoffs and that's the attitude you have to go in with.

Kenny B. said...

@Harper: Well played, MAUER.

Minnesota's still got an elimination number of 2, plus there's the all star game host factor to consider, so they are still very much in this thing. Everybody forgets the ol' Knickerbockers of eighteen dickety three pulled off a stunning late-season rise like that, and this Minnesota team is constructed the same way.