Nationals Baseball: October 2017

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Offseason Position Discussion : First Base

Last year discussion revisited

I was convinced Zimm was done. After three straight injury filled seasons and consistently degrading performance I wanted the Nats to move on. I didn't think they would. I didn't know what they should do exactly, but I felt sure it was time to bring in someone else to play that position. Adding to this feeling was the belief that Clint Robinson, ok in 2015, wasn't going to cut it as a fill-in player anymore after a bad 2016 outing.

The Nats would bring in Adam Lind, who could have served as a very effective platoon player for Zimm but Zimm would get first crack at keeping the job full-time and he responded by being player of the month for April hitting .420 / .458 / .886.  I mean that's like his best month ever. He would peak a few days later at .435 / .475 / .907.   The rest of the year played out more as expected for "best case" Zimm with more reasonable ups and downs but a line of .269 / .328 / .486. It was a bit scary there as July and August were both not good suggesting April being some sort of last gasp but September picked back up. In short, I was wrong and a healthy Zimmerman was still a capable hitter.

Meanwhile Lind was not free-falling (a worry given his 2016 performance) and smartly used would hit .303 / .362 / .513. He would spell Zimm now and again but given Zimm's production and the injury situation for the Nats he'd be used almost as much in the outfield. That's a scenario no one would have predicted or wanted to start the year.  He also was a killer pinch hitter with 16 hits and 4 homeruns in 45 at bats.

My OOB idea was interesting. I had the Nats trading for Eaton (and Quintana or Sale) and shifting Bryce to first. Would have been neat. Of course Zimm hit so any OOB idea that didn't involve him playing was ultimately dumb in practice.  

Presumed Plan : Zimmerman will play first base and I don't know. Lind is an expensive back-up at 5 million, and even if the Nats agree to bring him back he would need to buy into it as well (it's a mutual option).  I'd expect he's gone just because we have two keys that have to be turned at the same time here. I'd expect the Nats to find a cheap back-up on the FA market as the off-season nears its end

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Zimmerman has a big contract and he hit last year. Is he fielding better now? Nope. Still garbage. But that's something you can suck up from a first baseman who's hitting. The Nats have two more years left with Zimm (there's an 18M team option for 2020 but don't expect Nats to take it - I'd think they'd likely rework the deal if they do want to keep him at that point) and they are going to try to get their moneys worth. So he's starting. And he should so this is easy.

Lind should be back. There is always a place for a guy who can mash right handed pitching. He fits well as someone that can spell Zimm and play some emergency OF. He was great as a pinch hitter. And he serves as a strong back-up for Zimm who missed like 40% of 2014-2016. But as noted he's expensive. It felt like the Nats were pushing it paying 3.5 million for Drew. Paying 5 million for Lind? It's tough to see that.  On the flip side, given how well he hit last year it's not crazy to think Lind could get a DH contract from an AL team (or a 1B contract though DH is more natural) for a few years at at least 5 million per. Sticking around with the Nats would only be tempting fate.  Still for a guy that has never made the playoffs before and is turning 34 - sticking with the Nats may be tempting.

I'm not ruling out Lind coming back, I just think it's more likely not. Given that the Nats like to wait and see what they can get on the cheap (that's how they got Lind) I can see them waiting around and picking up a guy that could be starting elsewhere who had an off 2016 and is still waiting around. Lucas Duda and Mitch Moreland are two possibilities.

Problems with Presumed Plan : The issue is going to be that Zimm could get hurt and when he's hurt he can't hit and when he can't hit he's useless because he can't field. If Zimm gets hurt then the back-up matters a lot.

If Lind is back, you do have to accept that he didn't hit that well in 2016 and he's 34 next year so he could easily decline again. Also he can't field either, arguably worse that Zimm. 

If Lind isn't back you are taking a bigger risk. Guys like Duda and Moreland should be capable back-ups but much like Lind last year you are betting against recent history rather than with it. The chances of them being bad are that much higher. If you don't stop here and instead back up with a... I can't even say it... a Tyler Moore type (Bleeeeeeeech) then you are basically asking for trouble. 

My take : Zimm still has to be considered a strong injury risk and demands a strong back-up. You have one in hand. If you can, make it work.

You can't expect the team to back him up with an actual starting first-baseman because that's a lot of money to spend on a guy who may not play (and frankly may not want to come to DC if he's not playing) So you instead cover him with a guy more on the fringe of starting. The best examples would be a guy who can probably hit, with some caveats, but can't field; or a slick fielder who might have problems with the bat. Lind is the former. I don't see how you are going to set up the position better. It still might fail, but good plans fail sometimes.

Beyond Lind, Moreland is probably the better bet because he's a decent fielder. Of course that makes him more likely to land somewhere else earlier in free agency. What you don't want to have happen though is let Lind walk, miss out on any other acceptable FA and then end up with just anyone and trying to convince us that it's ok, Zimm will be healthy all year.

Out of the box suggestion : It's hard to sell high on Zim but if you are going to do it - now's the time. You may have to eat salary or ship with a prospect but you ship him out and you move Murphy, who will be even less mobile after surgery, over the first base. Assuming Murphy still hits on his return, this is your way of trying to keep him a little longer. You cleared up a space for him, now you just have to go out and sign him again. For second base you bring back Kendrick, who connected with the fans immediately on a two year deal.

Sentimentality is no way to win championships people!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Monday Quickie : It's Dave(y?) Martinez

Here's the Washington Post story

In a vacuum it's a pretty innocuous hire. Dave Martinez has been a well regarded coach in line for a managerial job for a while now. He seems to fit into the "I'm ok with analytics" mold that has been the expectation for a decade now. He seems to fit into "Oh yeah, we have all these Spanish speaking players it would help if he was bi-lingual" mold that is becoming more in vogue. The Nationals, in general, have hired several managers that have led the Nationals to the playoffs. The contract, at least in initial reports, seems like industry standard. 

See you next season?

Well this decision was not made in a vacuum. The points of interest include the fact that yes they've hired managers that have been successful - all within the past 6 seasons - which brings up longevity questions. Yes, they've paid a normal contract - this time - after years of offering less money to arguably better candidates. This brings up the question of "why now?" Presumably it's because Dave Martinez felt he could wait out for a better contract than the at best 2 years the Nats usually offer. Bud Black felt this way and walked away and did get a better offer. Dusty couldn't wait. The Nats had to up their ante to get this guy if they wanted him.

But the big lingering question is how does Dave Martinez guarantee the playoff success the Nats claim was the reason they fired Dusty? The fact is - obviously - he doesn't. Martinez is an unknown and can't guarantee playoff success anymore than a naysayer can say he'll definitely fail. 

But this is ok. The Nats wanting to win in the playoffs doesn't have to be just a manager switch. It can be a more complete attempt to build the best possible team to start the season and to react accordingly during the trade deadline. Which each successive season the Nats have done more and more of this. Last season you really only entered the year with a back of the bullpen question, and you really only exited the trade deadline timeframe with a starting catcher issue*  Of course both of those things ended up wreaking havoc on the Nationals this year so that should lead you to believe - don't do that! Don't leave holes if you don't have to.

What does that mean? Off the top of my head - get a catcher, get a closer, add another starter for depth (doesn't have to be top of rotation or expensive), bring back Lind. That's my minimum. Do that in the off-season and now I'm looking at a franchise that is committing to putting the best team on the field. Maybe they don't have a "playoff winner"** in the dugout but I'd take this over the alternative of having brought a Girardi in and then just rolling with the guys they have on contract now.

*Assuming they had good reason to believe Strasburg would be back fine. And he was so we'll assume that they did. The Bryce injury would create a new problem but after the trade deadline which makes it harder to account for.

**Is Girardi good enough to guarantee a playoff win? Of course not. But he has proven himself to be not a playoff detriment (his teams are about .500 in the playoffs which is on expectation) Dave Martinez has not proven anything - so Girardi is the hire here but there's no guarantee he would come. Farrell with two straight DS losses is hard to see as much better than Dusty even with a WS in hand.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Firday and Girardi

So I figured I'd paste what I wrote about Girardi in the comments - just in case you guys don't read those : 

I have a hard time characterizing Girardi. I guess he's like a Showalter but not as much a martinet. He is definitely a "I'm manager, my decision" guy not the type to be a player's manager type who lets things go if the performance is there, but he doesn't take that to the extremes guys like that usually do, like extra practices or dress codes. It's kind of strictly in between the lines. He also mixes analytics with gut feelings. He is not dismissive of the former, which is why talk of a "more analytic" manager is probably nonsense. You'd have to get a strict number cruncher to find a real difference.

He's good. He's flexible in his line-ups, doesn't mind benching players who aren't performing (stars or not). His biggest issues are learning to manage desperately (he's better but still not good) and, in my opinion, not being aggressive enough on the basepaths. He's a long term thinker - during a season and during a series and it tends to work out just as well as any other method but it can be frustrating if you are used to more "win every game" managing. 

If you think that, along with all those wins and a couple seasons where the Yankees did better than expected, sound good you might wonder why the Yankees let him go. A popular theory is that they wanted someone more invested in analytics, but I don't really buy that as a primary reason. Go back and read articles when Girardi was hired. He does buy into analytics, maybe not full-throated (which honestly I like) but enough so that the difference between him and most "modern" managers is slim. The other reason, which I think has more credence, is they don't think he relates to the players well. In kind of the Buck to Torre transition, the Yankees have a young team - now they need someone who will better connect with those players. Of course - one game from the World Series so I call nonsense on that as well as being a worthwhile reason to fire somebody, but I do think that's more of what's driving this.

Would Girardi be good for the Nats? Sure. He's good for anyone. Would he guarantee a NLDS victory? Eh - take away 2009 and he's a .500 type playoff manager. Like I said - I think his biggest issue is managing in urgent situations. I think he'll set up the team better going into each game, but during it isn't anything special. Of course basically anyone you hire is an unknown, so the question is will you take a guy who is as expected in the playoffs, vs a guy that will be a complete unknown? I guess you would given the time frame.The unknown could learn to be a good playoff manager - but he'd have to learn and the Nats really don't have that time right now. It's either he's good right off the bat or not.

Other notes - Trade for Ramos? You know... I do kind of like that idea. The Rays are forever rebuilding and the contract is short (1 yr) and reasonable (8.5 million). Rays also seem to like to deal with the Nats. I like this. This is fun. Let's do this.

Mike Maddux is gone. I have no idea how important coaches are in general. I have less that that concerning how this coach was important to this team. It's been said the Nats wanted to keep him so it's a shame in that regard but beyond that I don't know.

There's kind of a general feeling of... unsettledness with the Nats. No Dusty, who regardless of whether you think he should have gone or not, had undeniably become a fan-favorite face of this team in 2 years. No Werth, while Dusty was A important face, Werth was  THE important face for his time here. A chance Bryce, arguably the other important player to the fans, will be gone after next season. A chance Rizzo, the architect of a half-decade of successes, could be gone as well. This feels different than a window change. It feels like a paradigm shift. It feels like there's a chance that things will fall apart, as they inevitably always do to all teams, even the best. 

The question is - how much do we trust the Lerners? Sure they don't pay managers well but they've generally brought in good managers. You can do that with low pay when the supply of jobs is so low. We can talk about the deferred money contract hurting FA signings, but they have maintained a payroll that has been competitive, just not the most aggressive. We can say it was a good Stan Kasten who brought in the good Mike Rizzo, who did many good things, but the Lerners had to give the oks and were the ones to bring in Kasten in the first place, weren't they? 

Things could change rapidly in the next 18 months. But how it happens and how it effects the product on the field is still up in the air. The team is still set up for a 2018 division titles, and at least competitiveness in 2019, and as I've said many times, looking beyond 2 years is foolish.  Bring on the off-season!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

Last year discussion revisited

My thinking was that the Nats would trade for a starting catcher that wouldn't cost much and would cover the position for a year or two while they figured out a longer solution.

It made sense at the time. They like Severino but he didn't seem ready. That meant more AAA playing time for him. They were fine with playing out the string with Lobaton as the back-up as he was familiar with the pitching staff and cheap and here already. They needed a starter.  But starting catchers weren't really available. The best FA available was Wieters who wasn't really good and likely to get a longer more expensive contract, and after that  it was fill-in players. The Nats generally don't sign those types so I figured they'd trade for one.

Turns out they DID trade for one, Derek Norris, who I dismissed because his 2016 was SO bad. But he was cheap and available for a low-minors propsect years away*.  Then they either realized he wasn't going to be good or heard about his off the field issues (or both) and went in another direction. They would sign Wieters who didn't get cheaper but did get forced into a shorter contract, for 2yrs - 20 million. The expectation was he'd give the Nats his typical average seasons and that'd be ok, if a little pricy. If the Nats got lucky he'd maybe have a minor rebirth.

Wieters though collapsed hard and was probably the worst starting catcher in baseball in 2017. Severino wasn't ready and couldn't fill his spot. Lobaton was the diminishing back-up they thought he was and couldn't help either. The end result was a line-up hole. It could have been addressed at the trade deadline. Old friend Kurt Suzuki might have been available. Old tease Jon LuCroy was. But the Nats stood pat here and were rewarded with more terribleness and possibly a series losing performance in Game 5.

My outisde the box suggestion would have been awful as Mesoraco was an all or nothing gambit that would have gotten the Nats nothing because he was hurt.

Presumed Plan : Nats stick with Wieters for one more year because they are paying him. Severino is moved up to back-up or take-over depending. Really though the Nats are waiting out their new catching flavor of the year, Raudy Read.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Wieters has a 10 million dollar player option for 2018 and will not make anything close to that on the open market. Once he picks up that option the Lerners won't want to pay for another catcher just so this guy can sit. Lobaton is a FA and there is no reason to bring him back as his bat is too far gone. Plus it's time to see if Severino can hit, so it's time to get him 150+ ABs in the majors. Moving Severino up to the majors permanently allows for Raudy Read to go up from AA to AAA to see how real his bat is. It all works out if you can accept the fact Wieters has to be on the team in some capacity.

The fact that signing a catcher isn't likely isn't a terrible thing. The three most likely guys to garner interest are LuCroy, who's probably fading; Wellington Castillo, who is selling high; and Alex Avila, who has an injury riddled history. There's going to be one bargain here, one overpay, and one bad overpay all for average play. Trading for a catcher (that doesn't cost much) is a possibility. Though if JT Realmuto goes on the market expect the young, overall solid catcher who's still in arbitration for 3 more seasons to fetch a nice set of prospects. Likely more than the Nats are willing to give when they (again) think they have a possible replacement coming up in a year or two.

Also, if you are going to have a hole in your offense, catcher, which can be a hard spot to fill, is the place to have it if you can get some decent defense out of it. Wieters, despite his lapses in the playoffs, is generally ok. He's not seen as a good framer, but Severino is better at that and also regarded well as a defensive catcher.

Problems with Presumed Plan :Wieters stinks. He was God awful this year and he hasn't been someone you really want to see in a line-up since 2012. The best you can hope for is a return to his "I guess this is ok" from 2015. But since you give more weight to recent performance and trend lines the fairer expectation for 2018 is another terrible year. Severino, basically has had a couple VERY brief outings where he has hit in his entire career. The rest of it shows he can't hit. Could he "get it"? Sure, it happens. But we're getting closer and closer to the time you give up on Severino as a batter and again the expectation for next season would be a pretty terrible year at the plate.

Wrapping that together the expectation for Wieters/Severino would be again to have the worst offensive catching duo in baseball. That's a big problem. 

My take : If the Nats goal was different, you could accept the fact the Nats had to live with this. Sometimes you sign players and it doesn't work out. The fans and the system of penalizing high payrolls mostly allow owners to play to the "we can't afford to pay someone else" card. These are things that are part of the game. You may not like it. You may want it to change. However, you understand that's how it is. Accepting that, then yes Wieters is on the team, probably getting another chance to start and that's all there is to it.  

Continuing, Lobaton should be gone. No brainer. Severino isn't probably ever going to hit but since there isn't a better option (if you aren't going to pay for a starter, why would you for a back-up?) you might as well prove that. If Severino looks better, he can start and Wieters can ride the pine. This is unlikely as Severino's best performance with the bat with more than 48 PAs is an OPS of .705 in High-A ball in 2014. That's not a good season either. The more plausible scenario is he stinks and Wieters stinks. The most likely "getting lucky" scenario involves Raudy Read, who has hit better than Severino consistently in the minors, hits in AAA and comes up and plays acceptably in the majors with Severino back in AAA and Wieters on the bench.

Of course the Nats goal is to win the Series. That's what they pretty much said when firing Dusty and with that goal in mind you can't go into the season with a position where the expectation is worst in the majors. They should try hard to trade for Realmuto and if that costs them some prospects so be it. If they fail at that for whatever reason they should spend money on one of those three free agents and let Severino split time with Read in AAA. If they fail with that they should do something else. Again, you can't go into a season with "this position has little hope of being anything less than absolute garbage" and sell yourselves as a real contender.

Do I have faith they really will follow through on that goal talk and it wasn't just something to say to make letting Dusty go face fewer arguements? No, I don't.

Out of the box suggestion :
Name Raudy Read the starter out of camp assuming he doesn't look lost in Spring Training. What kills me up there is not only is the position expected to be terrible but there is little hope of anything else. Wieters isn't going to hit well - he hasn't in years. Maaaaaaybe he will be below average with declining defense. Severino isn't going to hit well - he hasn't ever. Maaaaaaybe he will be well below average with good defense. That's the best case I can put together in my head for these two.

However, Read? Read is a complete unknown. Sure he hasn't hit THAT well, merely kind of average. And no he isn't as polished on defense as either of the other guys but I can at least envision a scenario where we get a Raudy Read who provides the Nats with average offense and average defense from the catcher position. Maybe it doesn't work out that way but at least there is hope, in a way that squares with a team trying to win it all. Not every position can be a winner, but you can't have one that you know is going to be a loser, because something else will go wrong. It's not a great bet but at least it's a bet, not a foregone conclusion.

*Pedro Avila who did actually well in A ball. He struggled pretty mightily initially in his move to High-A but then really rocked in the stretch after that. I wouldn't be surprsied to see him in the Padres Top 10 list going into 2018. Of course that's Top 10 for an organization here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A couple things more on Dusty's departure

Do I think this effects whether Rizzo stays? Probably not as an individual item. I think Rizzo really wants to finish what he started. He took a job to make the Nationals a winner and he hasn't made it over the playoff hump. He'd like to see it happen before he leaves. I think he's at least somewhat annoyed by the constraints placed on him in terms of working with deferred money or getting Boras clients forced on him and that is something that builds over seasons. Not taking his Dusty advice would be one more thing, but it's not as if Dusty staying would have set everything right.

I think he'll go when he wants to go and that could very well be when the contract is up. But Dusty here or not isn't the driving factor.

It would NOT take a lot of money to re-sign Dusty I don't think. I think Dusty understands this is his best and possibly last chance and could be underpaid again on a short term deal. I think he might have been able to be forced to take the 1yr - 1 option yr deal with a low payout. Nothing has changed in two years.

The idea that Dusty put too much stress on the pitching staff is nonsense. Stop believing something that maybe had a kernel of truth almost 15 years ago.  Who had the top two pitchers by IP in September? Terry Francona's Indians. Carrasco and Kluber by far outpacing everyone else. Other playoff starters who pitched more than Scherzer. Gibson (MIN), Santana (MIN), Gray (NYY), Gray (COL), Verlander (HOU), Kershaw (LAD). The Nats had two starters in the top 30 of IP in September, with Scherzer at 33.1 IP and Strasburg at 32.2.  So did the Cubs with Quintana (32.1) and Lester (32.1). As a team the Indians and Astros threw more starter innings than the Nationals and the Yankees exactly the same. Gio threw more pitches than either of the two in September, but Verlander and Sale (BOS) and Porcello (BOS) threw more pitches than him.

I know that thing about Scherzer trying to stretch himself to go deep got in your heads but please understand there is no fundamental difference between how Dusty runs a pitching staff and how most managers do it. This has been true for more than a decade. The Nationals tend to throw more starter innings and pitches because they have good veteran starters. It's as simple as that. If you are reading this any other way you are lying to yourself trying to fit a narrative that hasn't been true for years (and maybe was never true). Don't be a Cubs fan, people.

One of the things I noticed about college basketball is that you'll hear CONSTANTLY, "He's a good recruiter but he can't coach".  You'll hear this about nearly every successful coach. This kind of philosophy carries on into all sports, including baseball. When your team wins and you are supposed to be good it's because of talent, if it loses it's because of poor in-game managers. Here are some links.

Joe Girardi - bad in-game manager
Joe Maddon - bad in-game manager
John Farrell - bad in-game manager
Paul Molitor - bad in-game manager
Bud Black - bad in-game manager

let's not forget the guys in the World Series
Dave Roberts - bad in-game manager
AJ Hinch - bad in-game manager

The fact of the matter is unless you are a new coach that is winning right now (Hey Torey Lovullo) or some sort of master coach in his prime, you are going to be thought of as a bad in-game coach. It's the opposite of Lake Wobegon. It's Nogebow Stadium. Is EVERYONE a bad in-game coach? Can't possibly be true. Are some? Of course. Is Dusty? I don't know. I think if you win 95 and 97 games you probably are at least average. If you blame him for the bad (say the 1st half bullpen - which I did want to blame him in part for) you have to credit him for the good (say last year's pen)

Is this type of playoff losing unprecedented? Not really. Oakland won four straight division titles with 91, 96, 102 and 103 wins and couldn't get out of the DS.  The Twins in 8 years won 5 division titles (with 90, 82, 96, 87, and 94 wins) and failed to win a playoff series. They did start by winning a DS the year before this streak, but that means one playoff series win in 6 tries. After being a perennial power and making 5 world series and 3 CSs in 8 years, the Braves would win one playoffs series in their next 6 appearances. That year they would win the East with 88 games. The times they lost? 90, 95, 96, 101, and 101 wins. Texas won their division three times from 1996-1999 and never won in the playoffs. And that's just what I thought of off the top of my head.When good teams play good teams sometimes you don't win. Getting four or five heads in a row isn't that strange.

My general thinking is this - the Nats are unlikely to be more likely to win in the playoffs next year with someone new. This isn't because Dusty is great in the playoffs. It's because Dusty is average in it and if you grab a manager from random they are likely to be average. It's also likely, in my opinion, that the Nats will win a few fewer games next season with someone else rather than Dusty. That is because I see Dusty as a great season long manager. Will those couple games matter? It hasn't in any of the last 6 seasons, but there's always a chance. Therefore I keep Dusty.

But if you want to let Dusty go that's fine. It's not a crazy choice. I can see an argument that there is enough pressure on the Nats to win in the playoffs before you add the pressure of Dusty wanting to win so badly and perhaps a guy with less to lose will free up the team. It hasn't worked before (I think Matt Williams is the only one that did a BAD managing job in a playoff series) but it could for someone not terrible. So you can justify this managerial departure if you look at it individually.  It IS however, another managerial departures in a long line of them where you have to work to see the Lerners side of things. If bad decision making isn't a single amazingly horrible decision but the culmination of several questionable ones, it's not Dusty and in-game work you have to look at, it's the Lerners and their handling of managers. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

It's getting Dusty in here

Dusty has left the building. Or more accurately, Dusty has been asked to leave the building as the Nats move to their 5th manager since Jim Riggleman officially took over prior to the 2010 season.  Being a few days out has let me absorb everything out there and the story appears to be as follows (Apologies in advance to anyone out there that wants to take Nationals press releases at gospel).

Rizzo was all in for extending Dusty before this season. The Lerners, not keen on having another Matt Williams situation, declined. Dusty spoke out over the season about his contract and that rubbed the Lerners the wrong way. They decided that if Dusty couldn't advance the team, then that would give them the out to let him go. They didn't advance. Dusty was let go.

Can it be justified as a baseball decision in general? I suppose it can. Dusty didn't manage a perfect NLDS either year and now is on a long losing streak of deciding playoff games. If I was managing a team desperate to make it past the first round and looking to hire a manager I would not hire Dusty.

At the same time that idea, that getting past the first round is a primary goal, has never been the way the Lerners and Rizzo have run the team. They have always taken the approach that you win enough games in the regular season to make the playoffs, then what happens, happens. You don't mortgage the future for trade deadline deals. You keep costs down with smart trades for good talent held for a couple years. You let Scott Boras talk you into signing... wait, digressing. For this plan of attack there is hardly anyone better suited than Dusty, who has won over 90 games in 5 of his last 6 managed seasons, and who probably has had 3 disappointing years in his last 15 managed. Dusty gets the talent he has to play to their level.

We must also consider the all important follow-up question. If you let Dusty go, aiming to hire a manager to win in the playoffs, who exactly are you looking at? There aren't a lot of available managers who have led teams to multiple Championship Series, let alone further. In the past dozen years you have :

The retired : Manuel, Leyland, LaRussa, Torre.
The youngest of these will be 73 next season (Dusty will turn 69 next year). They maybe would take a short term deal like the Lerners like to give but they wouldn't do it for cheap (and none of them seem desperate to manage).

The unavailable : Maddon, Francona, Roberts, Bochy, Gibbons, Yost
These guys are all well-regarded with their current teams and under contract. I suppose the Nats could wow these teams with a trade offer but come on, who thinks that will happen or wants that to happen? 

The probably unavailable : Girardi
Managing the Yankees can be tough, and Girardi wavers on whether he should hang it up. The team wavers on if they want him back. But the results can't be denied and if Girardi is telling the truth about having his family have a big input on the decision I don't see how "Walk away from a great team, take less money on a short deal in DC, away from us" would be what they want. Still because it's not impossible he gets his own spot.

The ones you might be able to get : Scioscia, Matheny, Washington
The Cardinals aren't exactly happy with Matheny and it certainly feels like he's got one more playoff missing season before he's gone. However, people really aren't high on Matheny as a manager so why would the Nats want him? Scoiscia dominated the 2000s and generally wins more games then you think he should but hasn't had very talented teams around his MVP. He'll probably manage out the string on his contract - which is just 2018 - and then who knows? He probably has enough pull to get out of his deal if he wanted but again you'd run into the issue with money (the Nats don't pay and these guys want $) and oh yeah, Nats fans kind of hate Scioscia. Washington is an interesting case of a very successful manager with an inability to stay out of trouble off the field.

So it's not like there are several slam dunks to choose from. There are one or two you might want and be able to get but you'd have to pay them. And let's be honest, the Nats already had a manager that won several post season series in Davey Johnson and they let him go.

So it seems most likely that the Nats are just going to go out and make a hire of someone new and hope it works out. Matt Williams was the last attempt and it failed miserably but the Nats also had a terrible clubhouse for him. Werth assumes he's the boss and has helped a couple of those managers to the door. Papelbon was a mess. This should be an easier crew for someone new to handle and an NL East that looks like a free ride to the division title.

What do I think?  I think the Nats are unlikely to find someone who is better than Dusty. I don't think whoever they will get next will win more regular season games than Dusty would have with the same talent. I don't think Dusty is a good playoff manager, but I don't think he's a bad one. I think if he was a bad one the Nats wouldn't have taken two teams of roughly equal talent to them to the last innings of the last games of five game series. In short, I don't think they should have "fired" Dusty.

I also think the Nats are going to make the playoffs next year with almost anyone managing this team. I think that once you get into the playoffs anything can happen for the most part. I think someone else could very well lead the Nats to the CS so letting Dusty go does not doom the Nats in any way. I think managerial jobs are so scarce and the Nats are so good that someone will take this job even though the organization is now known for showing managers little respect.

There is a lesson here though about firing a good manager when you are tired of him, when you probably think the end of a window may be near, and you want to try to win what's eluded you.  The Giants did this when they fired Dusty. The Cubs did this when they fired Dusty. The Reds did this when they fired Dusty.  What happened to each one of them is that they did not take that next step.  The Giants would win 100 games with Felipe Alou but lose the division series and two years later be rebuilding. The Cubs would get to two more playoffs* but get swept out of two straight DSs and two years later be rebuilding. The Reds would immediately crash and start to rebuild. You are making a single move of questionable import. Chances that it will be the final magical piece are slim.

There is also an inherent statement being made here from the Nats by this move. It's no longer about winning games, it's about winning in the playoffs. If that's the case then the "no reason to maximize playoff odds, because whatever you do is likely to have a minimal effect, if that" logic has to be thrown out. You have to make those deadline deals you shied away from. You have to empty the farm for a Stanton or Machado or whatever. If you don't then this talk about firing Dusty because you wanted to break through in the playoffs is just talk.

On a final note - I do hope Dusty gets a job because as I note above he wins games. He gets the most out of the talent he has. I think Seattle would be perfect.

*There was something about the end of the Cubs tenure that - yes - Dusty needed to be let go here. They were so ready to turn on him and he was so sick of it the situation got bad and did effect the team's play.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Lucky or Unlucky - 2017 version

I've done posts like this before but it's always fun to try to look at a season impartially in regards to luck. Most fans percieve their teams as unlucky regardless of what happened during the season. The good is expected, the bad is not. But that's not the way it goes. I don't expect to find that the Nats were super-lucky or anything. This team was built to be good, but I do expect to see a lot of lucky in there because teams don't win 95+ games without some things going their way (or NOTHING going against them)

Lucky (Better than expected)  
Zimmerman bounces back like one of those balls you can buy for a quarter at the front of a grocery store - For a good chunk of the season Zimm was sort of a "best case" in terms of reasonable recovery.  From May 1st through August 30th Zimm hit .269 / .330 / .476 with 18 homers. Forecast that out for a whole year and .270 with 28 homers? It's almost 2013 pre-injury Zimm again!  That itseslf would have bordered on lucky. But what pushed it over the top was how he hit in the other two months. .325 with 7 homers in the last month. Best hitter in baseball in the first one. These were long stretches of baseball we didn't think we'd see again from Zimm. The Nats got two of them in the same year. There was a minor slump mid-year but there was no low that matched those highs.

Anthony Rendon better than ever - It could be reasoned that Rendon doing well as he ever had done was as expected. But Rendon did better than that.

MAT breaks out - 75 OPS+, 73 OPS+, 70 OPS+.  See a pattern? We all did and those first three years of MAT in the majors all spelled out the same thing - below average hitter. But an injury to Eaton meant they had to run with MAT and in what might of been his last chance to be a starter MAT broke out. Now, for the seaosn that actually only meant he hit around average. But given his fielding that turned a 4th OF into a starter.

Rolling straight 7s on the bench - That any one of Lind, Kendrick, Starter Difo, or Goodwin, would hit like they did isn't too much of a surprise. Difo maybe a little but it was a limited time frame. The fact that they all basically gave you what you would want is though.

Gio reborn - Gio was on a slow decline and even though he'd probably do better than he showed in 2016, putting up a Cy Young vote season was beyond expectations.

Unlucky (Worse than expected)
Adam Eaton misses most of season - pretty self-explanatory. Played 310 out of 324 games past two years. 28. Every team gets this kind of bad luck with a player it's the who and when that determines how bad that luck is and Eaton going out early is pretty bad bad luck.

Matt Wieters RIP - While it could be expected that Matt Wieters would continue a decline it was generally considered that he'd float along as a below average hitter for a few more years. With the exception of a month of great hitting in 2014 that was his MO. Usually a little below average, sometimes surprising with a little above average. And at only 31 going into this year there were still a couple more years before you were sure age would play a role. Instead Wieters was one of the worst hitting regulars in baseball

Trea Turner gets injured - I can't call his performance unlucky because we only got half a year from the kid so far. However, you don't expect your young SS to miss 40% of the year.

Bryce Harper gets injured - ok this is only a mild bit of bad luck because injuries are a thing for Bryce, but he had managed to play basically full seasons the last two years so it's reasonable to think as a very young guy he could put his early injury history behind him. Also the injury itself was a fluky slippery base step thing, as opposed to gotten by swinging the bat too hard or just running around the bases.

Rolling straight 12s on the bullpen - Bullpen swings are not unprecedented. And there was a lot of things last year that were question marks going into this year. Could Blake Treinen repeat? How was Glover's health? How was Kelley's health? Why was Joe Blanton left in FA for so long?  Were one of these guys going to rise into the closer role? Talk of "best bullpen ever" was ridiculous but you sit here and look at those 4 after 2016 and think - ok worst case 2 come out of this and if they find one more arm they are passable. Instead 0 came out of this and the bullpen needed to be fixed by trade.

As expected 
Daniel Murphy - overall on target
Jayson Werth - didn't hit well and injured?  That literally happened two years ago and he's 38. If this wasn't within your expectations I don't know what to tell you.
Jose Lobaton - he's not good.
Max Scherzer - he is good.
Stephen Strasburg - I could maybe put this in lucky but anyone watching him closely could see he had this type of season in him if he could get the big outs.
Back of the rotation fails - Ross ended last year not pitching well and hurt. The Nats traded away best SP prospects. No surprise here

Tanner Roark - I'm not sure what was a fair expectation for him. As a starter in 2014 and 2016 he was better than this year but those were only two seasons with a season of mediocre pitching in between. It was a different role yes, but at the very least it doesn't give us the 3 straight years of results we would like to lean on. I could see an argument either way.

Overall opinion 
It was a pretty even season luck wise. The Nats offensive performances cancelled out the injury issues and the bench play pushed them higher. The Nats starting pitching was a little better than expected with Gio more than overcoming Roark's inbetween year. However, you can't ignore how the pen crash hurt the first part of the year. This was a team built to win 90+ games. The luck balanced as you hope for a good team and the NL East parted and the Nats were able to run away and hide.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday Quickie - Now you see why Davis pitched 7 outs

While the Nats beaters go down meekly to the back to being all-powerful Dodgers, the Nats themselves must go on. And as the team does, so does the paper of record.

Janes managed to put together the 5 biggest offseason questions without actually including the biggest one (extending Bryce). Boz wrote a column about the Nats lacking intangibles that the Cubs have that looks only more ludicrous after a weekend of losing and continued bad managing.   I could pick that column apart but Boz is reeling just as bad as any of you, so I'll pass.* **

What we'll do is go through the offseason position discussions again. Probably starting this week. Today though, because some of these decisions may be made sooner rather than later, we'll go over all the free agents the Nats have and what I think will happen with them and why.

Dusty Baker - the biggest free agent of all is the manager. While I've made no secret I don't love the Dusty persona as much as most fans (and nearly all media) it is undeniable that Dusty wins games where ever he goes.  It's also undeniable that he doesn't win in the playoffs. Why? I don't know if there is a particularly good reason. I think Dusty is an average tactician so he can get outmanaged, but more often than not it's just the breaks of a short series versus a team of equal talent.

I think Dusty will be back because the Nats and Dusty line up really well. Dusty wants to win a World Series so he can make the Hall of Fame. He needs a team that's a good shot to make the playoffs. It's hard to argue that any team is a better shot to do that next year than the Nats. The Nats are all about winning enough to get to the playoffs and using the "quantity, not quality" argument to find themselves in more important playoff rounds. Dusty wins a lot of regular season games.

What's the hold up then? Money. That's the only thing that differs between the two. Dusty would of course rather get paid like managers of his record and experience get paid (and probably thinks he deserves a bit more than that). He'd like a contract with some long term assurances. The Nats like to pay their managers around the low end of what managers make and for short term deals so they don't get locked into a Matt Williams situation again (paying a guy not to manage).

I expect the Nats to offer Dusty a deal with a modest raise for 1 year with a team option for a 2nd. Does Dusty take it? Well any team likely to make the playoffs and wanting to go further is probably not going to hire Dusty, given his track record. So right away, the teams Dusty would want to be managing to hit his goal are out. That leaves him with teams on the cusp of the playoffs who think Dusty could put them in with a solid regular season. The Mets? The Mariners? The Angels? The Orioles? It would be a gamble for Dusty and a gamble is probably only worth it if one of these teams pays out big time for him. I don't see it happening. So I think Dusty reluctantly signs back on.

Jayson Werth - Werth is gone. There's no way around that. With Eaton's return and Zimmerman's resurgance and MAT's... uhhh... "surgance" there isn't a place for Werth on the field. It's possible he could be a bench player but Goodwin showed enough that you'd probably pencil him in as the 4th OF. And we're not even mentioning where Robles ends up (likely AAA but that's not the only development path). No, the team is crowded with OF and the only way you take a Jayson Werth back is in a Chris Heisey type of role, where  you pinch hit unless on the field injuries make you play everyday. That's not a role I think Werth wants. Not when he can probably get a team to buy in an a full time DH job in the AL, at least for a year. Unless the Nats pull a trade and they suddenly need an OF, this is the last we've seen of Werth in a Nats uniform.

Howie Kendrick - He's not going to make 10 million a year but last year showed he wasn't washed up. At a reasonable 34 next year ome team will give him a deal to start in the outfield or maybe even at 3rd, for starter money. The Nats don't have a position for him out there nor are they going pay him a lot to sit the bench just in case. They might for a younger player who they may see as being able to bridge a post Bryce, post Muprhy era, but Kendrick ain't that.

Oliver Perez - Perez is a LOOGY now, but not a dominant one. When you talk about replaceable bullpen pieces, this is what they mean.  While the Nats could offer him a cheap-o deal to stay, I don't think they bother. They let him walk and Solis becomes the LHP guy.

Joe Blanton - What a terrible year for Joe Blanton. Despite a great last two years as a reliever, no one trusted him and he sat out on the FA market for such a long time that the Nats were able to sweep in and get him. Then he showed why no one trusted him as injuries and poor performance regulated him to the middle innings. There may be another year or two in Joe Blanton's future but that's for another team to figure out. The Nats aren't against taking chances, but I don't see them taking one with Blanton.

Stephen Drew - Drew is a good player but ended the year injured and is obviously nearing his career's end. Meanwhile Wilmer Difo had a very fine year filling in. I don't know if you want to go into next year with Difo/Goodwin as your top bench players though so there is room for a guy like Drew to come back. However it would have to be a minimum type deal. I think it's possible because he has a good relationship with the team, but I think the Nats will explore other options first.

Brandon Kintzler - He's gone. Not that the Nats couldn't use him but they'll be paying a cool 12 million for Doolittle and Madson next year and keeping Kintzler for the 5 million or more it'll cost the Nats is a bridge too far I think. I also think there is just a natural tendency to look away from guys who are going into their 30s and don't strike anyone out. He'll find a team, everyone needs bullpen help, and probably a team to close for.

Jose Lobaton - Why would you bring back Jose Lobaton? The Nats have to keep Wieters (he'll pick-up his option, and no one will take that contract and the Nats won't eat it). They are desperate to prove Pedro Severino can hit in the majors. Lobaton is terrible. This isn't difficult.

Matt Albers - Sometimes things just work out and Matt Albers becoming a solid reliever with the Nats is one of those things. When things do work out, a lot of times you lean toward keeping that good thing going, so I can see Albers wanting to stick around. The Nats of course would want him to stay but Albers does only have one good year behind him and isn't young (35 in January). I think the Nationals cautiously offer him a deal like Dusty. 1 + option, maybe two, for a modest cost. And I think Albers takes it. The one caveat is you never know if the reliver market is going to explode and if it does Albers could be offered a deal he can't refuse.

Adam Lind - I think both sides want Lind in Washington but I don't think it'll work out. Like Werth and Kendrick before, there isn't a good place for Werth and he has proven he can still hit like an everyday player. He probably needs a DH role though because he doesn't field well. Perhaps the Nats could still lure him by offering to pick-up the option for 5 million but that's a lot of money for a bench player for this team. In the end I don't think the Nats can offer Lind the money or the time he'll find elsewhere, not even close really, and it won't be much of a choice.

*I will note that it's no coincidence that the first player Boz blames for the loss is Bryce Harper. He's setting the fans up for a post-Bryce world.  

**I'll also agree that praising Wieters and Werth for being angry at losing while not addressing how they were among the biggest contributors to the losing is ridiculous. OK I'm done. I swear. For now.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Lost, goddammit, lost.

Last year I ended up doing a post where I went through any moment I felt was pivotal to that game 5. I feel like if I did it for this game I wouldn't stop writing until next Tuesday. So instead I'm just going to spread the blame around where I feel it needs to go.

Worst Player Ever

Matt Wieters already had an iffy play in the top of the 3rd. With men on 2nd and 3rd and with two-outs Gio threw a pitch that went exactly 60 ft and skidded off the back of the plate. With a man on third a catcher needs to block that pitch and try to keep it in front of him.  Wieters instead reached out with a backhand. It hit his glove/arm and went to the backstop and Contreras scored. This would only be a prelude for things to come.

It was supposed to be the inning where the door began to close on the Cubs. Max Scherzer, MAX SCHERZER, was coming out of the pen and he would shut down the Cubs for as long as he could giving the Nats 2 or 3 turns at the plate to expand on their one-run lead. He set down Bryant and Rizzo but then the Cubs got some breaks, an infield single, a bloop right, and a sharp gorund ball down the line to score two. The lead was gone, the momentum was gone, but the Nats were still just a run behind and in this game that didn't feel like anything.  If they could hold them here, at 5-4, surely they could score 1-2 more runs.

But they couldn't and the reason why was Matt Wieters. After a couple of errant pitches they decided to walk Heyward and reset. They'd focus on getting out the free-swinging Baez. And Max did it. Struck him out on three pitches. But the third one got away from Matt. It wasn't a particularly tricky pitch. Just a ball in the dirt that a catcher should smother in place. But Wieters stood up, protecting against a crazy high bounce I guess, and the ball went right through his legs. The Cubs scored again.  6-4. Not only that Wieters mailed the ball somewhere to RF allowing the runners to move up. Max would have to bear down again, now facing two runners in scoring position, and on a 1-1 count he got a foul ball that put LaStella behind but wait Wieters wasn't finished. He reached out too far and LaStella's bat caught his glove. Catcher's Interference. Bases loaded. Now Max had no room for error and he made his one true mistake - hitting Jon Jay - to bring in another run. 7-4. The game wasn't over but it sure felt like it to a lot of people.

Wieters wasn't done yet. the Nats would come back with two outs in the 6th. They would plate two and Mike Montgomery would IBB Rendon to get to Wieters. Montgomery had already walked one and off of an IBB patience was probably the order of the day. Of course you swing at your pitch but anything close you let slide at first to see if you can't get him into a bad position. Instead Wieters would swing at the first pitch, a fastball high and off the plate, and fly out to RF. A strong hit but not the right move on a 1-0 pitch when literally anything can score a run.

Mercifully a double switch would take him out. If this game was normal outside of these instances Wieters would be getting killed today, and maybe he still will be.

Second Worst Player

Momentum is a funny thing. It's an intangible so you can't measure or plan for it, but you sure can feel it when it's there. Gio Gonzalez had already put the Nats behind because of some bad pitching including a Wild Pitch so bad that I can't in any way, shape, or form pin on Wieters. (Believe me I would, see the one above) but the Nats exploded for 4 runs to give him a nice lead. All Gio had to do was get through the Top of the 3rd without giving up a run and the Cubs would be headed toward a bad spot, where soon half-innings where they HAD to score would follow half-innings where they HAD to keep the Nats from doing the same.  He couldn't do it.

Rizzo would get a hit and he'd walk two guys. After getting Russell to ground out, Gio would then unleash the wild pitch I talked about in Wieters thing. It wasn't all Gio's fault, unlike the first inning wild pitch, but certainly he has at least half the blame if not more.

Not only did this inning get the Cubs immediately back into the game when they could have felt out of it, it pushed Gio out in favor of Matt Albers, a move that would cost the Nats a reliever down the road and set in motion the pitching moves for the rest of the game.

This is the second time Gio has been tasked with a 5th game and a lead and all he had to do was not not blow it early. This time he was even worse than last time, when he would give up 3 runs over the course of the 4th and 5th, walking four and uncorking a wild pitch in those two innings to get himself removed.

Also noteworthy

There is this feeling that if you are going to lose in a game this big, you want to lose with your best arms on the mound. You may ask them for too much, but you'd rather lose on a Chapman or Jansen stretched out to the limit, than a Baez or failing Betances fresh and rested. Since, the data really isn't there to support either strategy (you don't usually stretch out relievers that long so there's little to look at on that end for comparison) it's a bar room argument but one where most fans would side with the original sentiment.

This is the same feeling that puts Max on the mound, despite being on short rest, not having relieving experience and having Roark ready. So anyone wanting to call Dusty out here is pretty much calling out every manager and most fans of the game in an argument based in feelings not fact.

But if the above is the case, if you want to lose with your best on the mound, then why would in the 7th inning, Dusty use Sammy Solis? Solis was a decent reliever this year with a good finish, but arguably the 2nd to last man out of the pen coming into the series. During it he had been good during a game 2 showing, but in game 3 gave up 2 hits and didn't get an out before being pulled.

More curious was the first batter of the inning was a righty, Javy Baez. Perhaps bringing in Solis to face a lefty would make sense but a free swigning righty with pop like Baez? That was asking for trouble. The most sensible thing would be to let Kintzler start the inning. Get the out or not and see who was brought on to PH for the pitcher. Circumstances would tell you if you needed a lefty or a new righty and then you go with Doolittle or Madson or stick with Kintzler.

It just didn't make any sense at the time and doesn't now unless you believe you have to save Doolittle but in a game 5, in what was now a two-run ball-game, every at bat was important even those in the 7th.  Hell in an ANY run ball-game it's important in a game 5. But Solis got the call and after getting Baez out (he tried to bunt for some reason) he gave up back to back singles. Madson would come on and get the ground ball they needed but it was just too far over, the Nats arms just not strong enough, and Bryant was just fast enough to avoid the DP. Another run, what ended up being the deciding run was scored.

We can talk more about the game some more there are a million things to talk about. I'll list them here but won't go into it

Lobaton getting picked off
The interference call on Baez that should have been made

Oh hell let's try to go in order...
  • What the Nats were doing wasting that challenge in the first
  • The amazing difference between 1st-2nd-3rd inning Gio.
  • The inability to score Turner in the bottom of the first
  • Wieters' bunt
  • Zimmerman coming up repeatedly small with 2 outs and leaving 6 men on base
  • The strike zone with no low strikes
  • Maddon not only not pulling Hendricks in 2nd but letting him bat in the 4th
  • The odd use of Robles as an early pinch hitter
  • The lack of use of anyone as a pinch runner
  • Max's inability to put anyone away. 
  • Kris Bryant dying after G2 of the series. 
  • The Nats not bothering to try to manufacture a run after Murphy walked
  • Kintzler failing again
  • Werth not scoring on Bryce's double
  • Zimm not scoring on Murphy's double
  • Why Dusty didn't pinch hit for Wieters with Kendrick in the 6th
  • Maddon using Schwarber as a PH vs Solis with no one on
  • Dusty's double switch strategy leaving Nats with Wieters - Lobaton at bats rather than likely Kendrick - Lind at bats in the 6th and 7th 
  • Dusty going with Madson and not Doolittle in an have-to get an out situation
  • The challenge on Jay's DP slide
  • Maddon using Carl Edwards AGAIN and then pulling him immediately
  • Bryce just missing that pitch with the bases loaded
  • Maddon going with Wade Davis for a 7-out save
  • How the hell Contreras let the pitch go and hit the ump square in the face  
  • The umps subsequent harder than necessary "playful" punch of Contreras
  • Why after two straight walks, Lind swings at the first pitch from Wade Davis
  • Why after two straight walks, and one pitch to Lind, on a 1-0 count MAT swings at the second pitch from Davis
  • The fact Lobaton got a hit
  • Why Turner swings at the first pitch from Davis, despite him throwing 4 out of 5 first pitch balls in the inning 
  • The challenge on Lobaton's pick-off being super questionable from what we could see
  • Why Turner swings at the first pitch from Davis in the ninth
  • The fact that Werth wanting to play, gets a chance to do something in the ninth and strikes out
  • The fact that Bryce wanting the chance to be the hero, gets a chance to do something in the ninth and strikes out
Did I get them all? I probably didn't.  The Nats ended every inning but the 9th with a man on base! The Cubs went 1-11 with RISP! The Cubs walked 18 men in the last two games! The Nats had 14 hits in this game after having 16 in the first four games of the series. The Cubs scored 9 runs after scoring 8 in the first four games. OMG I actually did totally forget Werth missing that soft liner! How could I forget that? I could go on and on.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


In 2012 the Washington Nationals informed the sporting world that Stephen Strasburg, the youngest and most talented of their three aces, would not be pitching in the playoffs. It was an understandable  precautionary measure designed to keep their most important pitching piece healthy for the remainder of his time with the team. But in protecting his arm, the team left his reputation open to attack. Over the next 5 years, that reputation would face many slings and arrows, both fair and unfair, until it was left in tatters and the narrative was set. Strasburg was a player who would never live up to his potential because he was too fragile. He was too fragile physically and too fragile mentally.

But last night Strasburg, put an end to the attacks, repaired the reputation, and destroyed the narrative. Last night Strasburg delivered a masterful performance facing poor conditions both internal and external when his team needed him most. Last night, Strasburg became the star he had never quite managed to be seen as before.

I'm not sure exactly when the narrative took hold for good. My guess is early in 2013. Strasburg's first two years were a shooting comet, spectacular but fleeting because of the TJ surgery he would need. 2012 was a year for recovery but the Nats management messed up. They didn't expect the NL East title and the playoffs so they didn't keep Strasburg limited early in the year. When it came to the end they had no choice, really. Allowing Strasburg to pitch down the stretch and in the playoffs would have opened him up to up to 70 more innings than they had planned for, or the possibility of a random infuriating stoppage during the playoffs.

Even though stopping him made sense the fans would only accept it if Strasburg then reached his potential and/or the Nationals won in the playoffs soon after. Neither of those things happened. In 2013 Strasburg had a rough start, had another minor injury midseason, and couldn't get wins. The team that was supposed to bounce back into the playoffs with a stud pitcher leading the way was instead being left in the dust by Atlanta with Strasburg sitting at 5-9. No matter that he was actually pitching well. Now the shutdown looked like it was for nothing. No playoffs, no ace.

2014 would be better but by this time it was clear that the generational pitching talent was not Strasburg but Clayton Kershaw putting up sub 2.00 ERAs and going 21-3 in LA. At the same time Jordan Zimmermann, his own teammate, was pitching just as well and more importantly, winning games. A strong playoff performance could have helped but the Nats offense died on the vine and there would be no opportunities for a defining run. 2015 was the nail in the coffin as Strasburg would miss a couple months and the team would again miss the playoffs that they were sure they were going to make before the season started.

It wasn't just the performance, nor was it just the emergence of Kershaw, but it was also Strasburg's penchant for giving reasons for his poor performances. These were not meant to be complete explanations for his rough outings but fair responses to the questions raised. Why didn't he have great command of my curve? It was too humid and he was sweating a lot. Why did he give up those big early runs? Well it's cold out and it took a while to warm up. These are fair statements but fans don't see reasons, they see excuses.

In the end, Strasburg became seen as the guy who wasn't the best pitcher in baseball, who might not be the best pitcher on his own team, who made excuses for everything, and couldn't stay healthy despite having a whole playoff series ruined for his sake. Of course that is all nonsense. Well not the "wasn't the best pitcher in baseball" part, that was true, but he was a very very good pitcher, close to great if not there for 4 years. He was a guy who if not for some niggling injuries here and there (he averaged about 170 IP per season) would have been a Top 10, maybe a Top 5 pitcher in baseball over that time frame.  But enough fans couldn't see that that his performances became a joyless slog into nitpickery as opposed to a fun watch. The struggle for Strasburg's baseball reputation seemed to be eternal.

That is until yesterday. 24 hours ago it looked like these negative fans would have the ultimate validation and that narrative would be set in stone. Strasburg wasn't pitching. He was coming up small again. He could never live this down, skipping out on a elimination game, when he still had the strength to get up out of bed and come down to the park. But that didn't happen and now we live in a world where Strasburg can be enjoyed again. Strasmas is saved.

Other notes

We can talk about the "how" he came to start later. It is its own long post. No, I still don't buy the official story being fed out there, what seemed like nonsense yesterday still seems like nonsense today but why have that argument before a Game 5 (and probably not the day after either - because we'll be recapping at the very least)? There's time later.

To wit though- the Nats who HAD to name Tanner Roark starter Tuesday afternoon, did not name a starter after last night's game (or by this time this morning) I think it'll be Gio. Why go with Tanner? I don't see the reasoning.

Did MAT come into his own last night? Ehhhh I mean that was a carrying flyball that just got over into the net. Tyler Moore got a big hit in a series, remember? MAT is much better than Moore, but next season is going to define his future far more than that one swing. The question of course is where he will play... and it's a good one. For the offseason.

The Nats as a whole swung the bat a lot better last night it seemed. A lot more line drives, if not base hits. Still everybody but MAT (and 2-2 Lind) is below .200 in their batting averages. Wieters is a big fat 0. Does Dusty do anything different? Lind for Werth is an obvious move versus the righty Hendricks but can he do it? He did (finally) pull Werth for defense last night, however it was after what would likely be his last AB of the game. I'm not sure it happens otherwise. Maybe in 9th. If you do put Lind in - well he's not better than Werth in the field. Prepare for that.

Going along with the above the Nats still need help to score. A wild pitch and an error helped bring in the first run. A trio of walks were needed to load the bases for the grandslam, two of them may have involved a total of one ball thrown in the zone combined.

It's time for more narratives to die. It's time for the Nats offense to perform big in the playoffs. It's time for the Nats to win a division series.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

You gotta know when to hold them, know when to mold them

Yesterday at this time Nats fans were universally praying for rain. Rain would set up a scenario where Strasburg, the hottest pitcher in baseball, could go on normal rest today in G4 and Gio, who's having a remarkable year, could go on normal rest in G5. It would by no means guarantee anything but it would give the Nats a better shot and that's all you can ask for down 2 games to 1.

Then insanity happened. For those of you that went to bed at 6PM last night here's Castillo's recap and Boz's take.  Strasburg would not pitch Game 4.

Immediately the focus was on Dusty making a stupid move but it soon became apparent that it wasn't Dusty's gut, but Strasburg's body that was driving this choice. Word got out that he was sick and would not be able to pitch. As Boz points out, it got out in the most confusing way, as Dusty - one of the smoother managers in front of the mic - bumbled his way through a couple explanations at one point insinuating that Strasburg took his bullpen session* that morning. That both didn't make sense strategically and informationally as no one reported a Strasburg bullpen session that morning. Dusty ended up blaming mold in the hotels for making the team sick and we were left with more questions and no answers. 

Boz's piece attempts to fill in the blanks. It paints Strasburg again as the warrior, willing to throw through pain for the team. However the team decided it was best to give Strasburg another day and that the miscommunication on Dusty's end had to be all Dusty.

The immediate question you ask yourself when presented a story is - does it pass on first glance. This one doesn't.

Strasburg's reputation aside, there is next to no reason to announce Strasburg wouldn't start on 5:00PM Wednesday at 5:00PM Tuesday. Baseball is a tough sport because of the length and grind** of the season. It's an almost everyday sport that covers half a year. Players will get sick. That isn't unusual. But sickness is typically taken as a day by day injury. Whether you can play tonight is not decided the day before but upon coming to the field the day of and evaluating then. Perhaps a morning decision in cases where the decision is an obvious one.

A decision the day before hints at two things. Either a pitcher who chose not to rise to the occasion, or an illness of such strength that no re-evaluation the next morning would change their feelings. But the latter would suggest an illness that may keep Strasburg from pitching for more than just one day, yet the team had very firmly stated that Strasburg would go in Game 5, with no equivocation about health.

So it's unlikely that it IS that type of illness.

The other thing that is bothersome is Dusty's reaction. His meandering responses are not the responses of a man who has come face to face with a deathbed ill player and now has to deliver that bad news to the press. They are the responses of a man who is faced with a decision that caught him off-guard and doesn't know how to present that to the press. Does he take the blame (Roark was slated), does he blame it on the illness effecting today's preparation (creatures of habit), does he run with a given excuse fed to him (bullpen today), or does he just say "He's sick" for some reason and have that be the end of it (mold). We've seen Dusty for 2 years out in front of the cameras. If he saw a super ill Strasburg earlier that day, if he thought that might keep him from pitching and then was in on the decision - this is not the Dusty we would have seen.What is that Dusty? Something that makes sense - like the responses to the Max injury pushing him out to Game 3.

So it's doubtful again that this was an illness so debilitating that it could be judged to be start altering the day before.

Add to this Bob Nightengale's story from an unnamed source that Strasburg said he couldn't go and you have all the facts reaching the same conclusion. Which is the story that is presented to us by Boz is not the unvarnished truth.

What we are left now with is speculation. I don't think Boz or Rizzo would flat out lie. I don't see that in any past work. But feeding you half facts to try to paint a different picture? I'd buy that.What are the likely facts then.

Strasburg is sick, perhaps strongly
During activities Strasburg did not feel right, not completing a pen on Monday and not feeling right on his run on Tuesday
Strasburg told Rizzo "I'll give you what I got"
A group decided Strasburg would not pitch.
The group didn't communicate to Dusty the exact way they wanted him to present this
Dusty talked about players being "creatures of habit"

What we can put together is a more likely picture then the one painted by Boz. In this one an ill-Strasburg comes to the park on Tuesday and is unable to prepare like he prefers to before a game. He couldn't do his pen on Monday as he liked and now he can't do whatever it is he does on the day before a game to his satisfaction. Because of that he tells the Nats he doesn't want to pitch. He's a creature of habit and simply doesn't feel like he can pitch tomorrow if he can't get his exact prep in the day before. The Nats press him and ask him if he can go to which Strasburg answers "I'll give you what I got" not in a defiant scream against the illness, but in an matter of fact statement of the situation. He'll pitch if the Nats make him, and he'll do his best, but he'd rather have things in the way he likes them. The team defers and tells Dusty he's gotta go with Tanner. Dusty who either wasn't in on this decision or was just coming from the meeting where it was decided, is taken aback, used to the idea if an athlete can stand, they are going to go out there and try. To fly the white flag a day before an elimination game is unthinkable and now he's gotta explain something to the media that he can't really expalin to himself.

Is that really what happened? I don't know. It's a story. But it's a story I think that fit the facts better than what the Nats want us to believe.  

So today it's Tanner vs Arrieta. Good luck and WIN GODDAMMIT WIN.

*Longer throwing sessions off the mound in the pen, usually done Day 2 but sometimes Day 3 of 4 day off-period. Day 4 is universally for rest of the arm.

**Available in paperback - Christmas is coming up! 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The mistakes that are made

The brink of elimination.  For the fourth time in four tries the Nationals find themselves a loss away from a long cold (well eventually cold) off-season of wondering what went wrong this time. If it's any consolation the Nats have fared pretty well in first elimination games, winning them in 2012 (down 1-2) and 2014 (down 0-2) but losing in 2016 (tied 2-2). Will they play today? Depends on the weather but baseball is determined to try to make it happen, the schedule being more important than the possibility of a prime-time showcase with no competition. Keep your eyes on the skies because a rain out changes everything by putting a Strasburg / Gio back to back scenario on the table.

But does that even matter- having these two pitchers having great years on the mound? This series it hasn't. But we'll get back to that.

Last night we saw Dusty* make his first really bad strategical move. It was NOT, repeat, it was NOT taking out Max. Taking out Max at that point was a 50/50 call. He was tiring. The previous inning he gave up a very hard and deep lineout to Jon Jay and followed it with a 5 pitch walk to Bryant. Some say he was squeezed on the walk, but the calls were all technically correct (according to the Gameday app) and what it appeared to me was that Max was just a little off where he wanted to be. That is fine when he's aiming for a corner and misses a few inches outside or low. It's not fine once he aims for the edge and the ball trails into the zone a few inches.

Presented with an extremely similar situation last year, Dusty chose to keep Max in and Joc Pederson would take him deep to tie Game 5. This year he chose what I would recommend, batter by batter usage until he lets a man on. I like this because sometimes a pitcher's effectiveness is not just because of the sharpness or speed of his stuff but because of his feel that day or how he is reading the opponent. As well, there is likely a psychological advantage where the line-up feels like they cannot hit an opposing pitcher and creates a tension that works against the batter. As long as that tension remains, as long as it appears that the feel/reading can overcome any physical slippage, why not keep him in?

That is what Dusty did and after Contreras was stuck out Ben Zobrist crushed a ball into the outfield. It not only broke up the no-no - it was the second high speed 300+ ft shot over the last two innings. It was time for Max to go. With Schwarber up next you can't take the chance of the same type of mistake now because he won't hit a 300ft line drive with it, he'll hit a 400 ft home run. But who to put in? Schwarber is a lefty and has definitive splits, which is another reason to remove Scherzer, and it figures to put in a lefty. Thing is the Nats don't have a shut them down LOOGY. You can't use Enny. He's never in his career been able to get out lefties despite being one. Perez was a LOOGY but then couldn't get the job done in 2016. He's been better this year though not dominant. About the same this year has been Solis, who was also good last year. Finally there was Doolittle. He's been good against lefties in the past two years but in very limited at bats with the Nats lefties have 6 hits in 18 ABs.

At the time I thought they should go to Kintzler. Historically Kintzler has been very effective against lefties, more so than righties in fact. Kintzler is also probably your best bet to keep the ball in the park, important against a bat like Schwarber. It would be counter-intuitive though and it wouldn't take advantage of Schwarber's splits. You could also walk Schwarber to get to Heyward - but you'd want a lefty to face Heyward who is a bad hitter either way but worse against lefties.

Of course you have to also factor in what the opponent will do and if you bring in a lefty to face Schwarber they are likely to counter with a righty bat, probably Almora. You likely aren't going to get the LvL or RvR match-up you want at first. So the question is - what is the match-up you want?  If I were to rank them I'd say

Kintzler vs Schwarber - Kintzler does well vs lefties and doesn't give up the homers.
Doolittle vs Almora - Not ideal but Doolittle is one of the guys you brought in for this and you can pitch around Almora if need be, to get to the more favorable Heyward match-up (although he may pinch hit for him too with Happ)
Solis vs Almora - not great, when he's been hit by RHP he's been hit hard but like Doolittle you could try to pitch around Almora to get to Heyward. Though same PH rules apply.
Scherzer vs Schwarber - no, the HR chances too high, imo
Madson vs Schwarber - I haven't liked what I've seen from Madson this post-season.

Perez vs Almora - God no, he's terrible against righties

Dusty went with Solis, didn't have him pitch around Almora and Almora punished him, knocking in the tying run. Letting Solis pitch to Heyward was the right move after that but Solis couldn't put Heyward away either meaning Kintzler would have to pitch across innings.

This was the game changing because of a bad move by Dusty. There's no denying it. This late in the game you have to turn to your best pitchers and Solis is not one of those guys. Even if you try to say the two most important goals were avoiding Schwarber's bat and saving Doolittle, you still don't let Solis take on Almora. He should have been pitched around or just intentionally walked. Setting up Solis vs Heyward or Kintzler vs Happ.

In the 8th Kintzler, who issued one walk in the past month, did the inexcusable and walked the leadoff batter. He still got out Jay (who was fine for Kintzler to face bc he'd be bunting) and Bryant. That set up Rizzo. As I noted before Kintzler is good versus lefties. I'll add that Rizzo's splits are basically very good vs lefties and great vs righties so there is an advantage but you aren't going to shut Rizzo down here by bringing in Doolittle. Kintzler was as good a choice as any to face Rizzo. But Dusty went to Perez. That's fine too - see everything we talked about above. They aren't pinch hitting for Rizzo so you aren't going to get to Perez vs a RHB.

Now should you face Rizzo? I wouldn't, not with a base open. I'd rather take my chances with Contreras. Again there aren't great splits here. He hits righties fine but if my choice is Rizzo vs LHP or Contreras vs RHP I take Contreras. Dusty chose to face Rizzo, which wasn't the garbage choice everyone thinks, but was probably not the best choice and Rizzo just blooped one into the OF. Rizzo then acts like an ass acting like he did something other than get lucky but you get to do that when you win. Don't want to see that? Don't lose.

So that was that. Dusty made three decisions but only one was an outright mistake at the time. You can pull Scherzer. He was probably lambasted by the same people last year for keeping him in. You can pitch to Rizzo. I wouldn't but you can. You can't go with Solis.

But the above is just a bunch of paragraphs talking about the positioning of the china in the shop and ignoring the bull you let in. The problem is not that the Nats pen and Dusty's choices have allowed them to score a couple runs late in the game. The problem is that all it takes is a couple runs to win these games. The problem is Trea Turner is pressing so hard that he can't get on base at all. The problem is that the one guy that seems to be hitting as he would during the season is batting 8th. The problem is Wieters or some other terrible hitting catcher has to play. The problem is Daniel Murphy is doing nothing. The problem is outside of one swing apiece so are Bryce and Rendon. The problem is Werth is old and hurt.

What can you do about that? Very little. Do you pull Werth, the emotional leader of the team in a win or go home game? I don't know that you can. But if you don't Lind, who kills righties, is wasting away on the bench (Zimm hasn't been great either but he's basically been the best of the worst, so you can't replace him). Can you switch MAT with Turner in the lineup? Maybe you can but then again maybe Taylor is having the success he is because of how he's being pitched with a pitcher behind him. Nothing guarantees success.

However I do know that we have to see something today. We have to see some line-up change. Three times Dusty's put out this line-up and it hasn't worked. He has to change something.

Other notes :
Does a better LF get to Zobrist's fly ball? I looked at it and my guess is... maybe. That's a ball that is caught a step in front of the wall and is coming in fast. A better LF may get there but you are almost certainly looking at a jump and crash into the wall situation. Do I think some come down with it? Sure. Do I think some miss it? Yes. Do I think some catch it for a moment only to have it jarred loose by impact? Yeah, probably that too.

Does a better LF get to Rizzo's bloop? I think so. If you watch the replay Werth pulls up about when we first see him. This is fair. Taylor is about same distance and in a full sprint and Turner is closer. Werth isn't going to catch this ball. But a faster LF would be closer to the ball at that point and probably is able to get to it on the fly on a full sprint. Of course Werth is Werth and we all know that and so do the guys in the field so it's hard to blame Werth here for just being him. Especially when (1) Taylor could have reached it . I don't know if he would have caught it. It's a full sprint slide/dive combo but it deserves a try (2) Turner really could have gotten there but he totally misreads it taking a path almost straight out from short. It's a hard play but one he didn't even put himself in position for.


*Is Dusty not the oddest manager in terms of public opinion we've seen in a long while? Some people, re: the Washington sports media, absolutely love him and seem to turn everything he says into wisdom handed down from the mount. In interviews and articles he's the coolest, smartest guy to ever put out a line-up. On the other hand, some how the 2003 series loss to the Marlins while managing the Cubs turned a whole legion of fans against him. I will accept the Cubs fan hate because fans aren't rational. But how did random people not associated with the Cubs come to think so poorly of Dusty? The truth is Dusty is a winner. The regular season numbers back that up. Can he manage a strategic playoff game? Eh - I mean he's not a savant but from what I see he's does as well as average manager in the playoffs. But soulless automatons are soulless automatons. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

The first 16.5 innings and the last 1

The truth is there aren't two separate games to look at when we look at the series so far. There are 16.5 innings that were on thing and 1 inning that was something else. 16.5 innings of great pitching and no hitting leading to an explosion and release the Nats and their fanbase desperately needed.

Game 1

I mentioned this a couple days ago but Strasburg was great. You can't have watched that game and thought otherwise. Well, I guess you can because there are people complaining about him not being able to finish the job, but it's hard for me to watch that game and think that he could have reasonably done better.  His stuff was basically unhittable and ridiculously sharp. His "failure" of an inning was an inning where he gave up two singles to two of the best hitters in baseball. An inning that should have yielded no runs (if Rendon fielded the ball cleanly) or one run (if Bryce had kept Bryant on first rather than overthrow the cut-off man). If you only judge greatness on results I can see your point, but I also think that's a terrible first way to judge greatness. Performance first, then circumstance, and the performance to me was undeniable.

On the other side the Nats couldn't piece together anything. Bryce singled in the 1st. Wieters was HBP and then Taylor singled and that was it base hit wise for the game. The Nats would walk a few times but never threaten. Dusty felt their approach was too patient. Were they? It didn't feel like it at the time but the did average almost 4 pitcher per AB which is on the patient side. On the other hand only 7 of the 27 guys Hendricks faced ended the at bat on an 0-2 or 1-2 count. So the Nats weren't forced into their bad hitting by a lot of pitcher counts*

Regardless of the reason though the Nats couldnt' get pressure on Hendricks. They only had two men in scoring position all night and none before there were two outs. They had one leadoff man get on (Murphy with a walk) and that was erased by a double play from the next batter. Hendricks had no very stressful batters and a handful with any stress at all. With only Rendon and MAT getting on base after the 4th Dusty couldn't do much either.

The only other thing to be said about Game 1 is Madson didn't get the job done, giving a leadoff double and then a 2-out double to drive in another run. Ultimately it's water under the bridge for the game but it's something that'll come back the next time we see him in the series.

Game 2

A game is still just a game. Maybe Hendricks was just at his best. That is part of what you accept in baseball playoffs. One hot or cold pitcher can dominate the outcome of a game and potentially change a series. But Hendricks was a very good pitcher all year. Jon Lester was not so continued failure against him would signal that the problem could very well be on the Nats side.

The Nats did seem to be a bit more aggressive, but I'm not sure that was a good idea. Lester is a wilder pitcher than Hendricks. Regardless of whether than mattered the Nats saw their issues continue. It seemed like things might have changed when a Rendon flyball carried over the RF fence but the next 10 Nats got out. Once again the Cubs starter was completely comfortable as the Nats couldn't get a man on base or do anything else to force some pressure on Lester. I add the "anything else" because here I do feel Dusty could have done more. He could have called for some bunts (Lester is a notorious for his throwing issues to the bag) or, when Zim led off the 5th or especially when Wieters got HBP in the 7th, he could have used a pinch runner to try to bother the Cubs starter with steal. He may have even gotten more creative, having batters drag out at bats with time called and the like. Anything to disrupt what had been an too easy half-game but Dusty didn't do it.

Gio on the mound pitched well enough to win, victimized a couple times by the HR favorable weather. There was a moment of worry when he opened up the 4th Double, Homer, Walk but he got out of it and got through the fifth without too much trouble.

Then came the Nats best chance for a big inning of the series so far. Zimm hit a seeing eye single up the middle and after two fly ball outs he started to do something. He stole 2nd. This seemed to unnerve Lester who uncorked a wild pitch sending Zimm to 3rd. Even more off his game he would walk MAT and then Dusty would choose to send up Kendrick rather than Lind, who had hit much better down the stretch than Howie, to face Lester. Dusty would get the righty on lefty match-up or he'd force the Cubs to make a move and then perhaps bring in Lind. The Cubs decided to stick with Lester and he'd walk the bases loaded. Now it was Lester vs Trea and again, with a two-run lead behind him, Maddon kept Lester on the mound and he wiped out Turner.

It felt like the end but as long as the game was 2 runs apart, a bloop and a blast, there was still hope.  The 6th would give the Nats nothing but the 7th would give them a Wieters HBP and really Dusty's only glaring mistake of the game, not pinch running here to do something.

Albers, Solis, Madson, and Perez would keep the Cubs off the board for the next three (Madson would concerningly give up another hit) and the Nats were down to their final 6 outs. When Maddon brought in Carl Edwards he knew he'd get Adam Lind. That was the choice he made and Lind made him pay with a nice piece of hitting singling down the third base line. Trea would K and then Maddon made the curious decision of letting Edwards face Bryce. Bryce is fine against lefites but he KILLS righties to the tune of .322 / .433 / .654.  But Edwards did well against lefties all year so Maddon took that chance.

We know what happened.

Edwards would walk Rendon and then Maddon brought in Montgomery to face Murphy. He singled setting up a lefty on righty match-up. Montgomery, like Edwards did well against batters from the opposite side. But while Zimm hit RHP fine, he hit LHP much better.  .331 / .385 / .654 Still Maddon didn't learn from relying on how his guys did and Zimm skied one that just got over the fence. Tie game became a three run lead and that was that.

Looking back on the two games these are the overall take-away

The Nats pitching has been great. There's a little shakiness in the pen here and there but they got through it and that's pretty much how I'd describe this pen especially the underbelly.

Corollary to that only Bryant and Rizzo have really hit the first two games, and Contreras, who bats after them, has worked himself on. There's a lot of empty at bats coming from the other side.

If you must be concerned about a pitcher - Madson has given up 3 hits in 6 batters, I think.

Bryce does have the pop still in him and he's the only man on the team with 2 hits. He's fine. Werth on the other hand is 0-7 with a walk and looks like he shouldn't be out there. My prediction (Cubs in 5) was based on these guys not being right. Bryce is. Werth isn't. So it'll come down to Scherzer. Of course that's pretty obvious at this point.

Even worse than Werth is Turner who is 0-8 with 4Ks. He looks lost and at the top of the line-up is constantly giving Bryce and Rendon, who look ok, nothing to work with. No batters on base. No pressure on the pitcher. I doubt Dusty will mix it up but a MAT / Trea flip wouldn't be a bad idea.

Could Werth come out? Maybe. If he's 0fer today and is terrible I could see somehow working Lind into the line-up for Arrieta G4 (assumptions made here) but I'm only giving that a slight chance. 10%.  Dusty will live and die by what got him here.It's why players love him. It might also be why he's died so much.

I'd love to see more aggression from the Nats. Not necessarily in when to swing, but what they do. I think Dusty DID want to be aggressive on the paths when guys got on, but guys aren't getting on. This means Dusty has to get more creative. I'm sure he'll let things go for 3-4 inning today to see if the 8th inning has any carryover. But if the Nats get to the 5th with nothing I'll be upset if I don't see something from Dusty.

It's been a pretty clean series. The mistakes haven't been egregious. There haven't been a lot of "should have"s or "could have"s. Just a lot of solid pitching and bad hitting. 
*Strasburg had 11 bats out of 27 end with an 0-2 or 1-2 count.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Off - Day Posting

Six outs from disaster.  Instead thanks to Bryce and a carrying wind the Nats are going to Chicago with a fighting chance as opposed to an outside one. We'll discuss these two games in more detail tomorrow but the general problems remained for 7 innings.  No hitting. No getting on base.  No pressure on the Cubs pitchers. No runs.* Was the 8th a sea change or a momentary respite.

*Same almost goes for Cubs. They are being carried by Rizzo / Bryant

Saturday, October 07, 2017

G1 Venting and G2 Whatever

You need to score to win. You need to hit to score. The Nats haven't hit so they haven't scored.  Simple as that.

Strasburg was great (though not everyone thinks so - you can see this looking to my Twitter responses saying he was great) but an error and a overthrow turned 0 runs or 1 runs into 2.

In 2012 and 2014 the Nats couldn't score. This feels similar.  Change things up. Blow them out today.

Friday, October 06, 2017

NLDS Preview Part 2

Let's keep going

ROSTER UPDATE :  It's out. What you expect, especially after the noises yesterday. I missed on the fringes. Romero instead of Blanton, Goodwin instead of de Aza. It's not a big different but I worry about two things (1) Dusty using Enny to get out lefties when Enny has shown no proclivity for doing that. (2) Needing a big hit from Goodwin and him not facing live major league pitching in two months. I do love Robles being on the roster for PR purposes.

Do the Cubs have any particular weakness like the Dodgers did last year? No, not really. If you want to stretch things in a way, they don't like power pitchers in comparison to others and like RH starters a little less so does seem like a positive for the Nats who have two of the better power RH starters in baseball. Of course no one does well against power pitchers really - the Nats have much worse splits in this regard. So I doubt it's telling. Same with the pitching a pretty even keel.

The Cubs don't run much. Anthony Rizzo, who's not a bad baserunner but would never be confused with the fastest guy on the Cubs, is tied for the team lead in steals. They strikeout a lot but it's the tradeoff any of us who've watched baseball in the past few years is familiar with.  They can be prone to the long ball and give up a walk or two.  The only one of those that really play into the Nats though is the strikeouts. Max or Stras or Gio might dominate through missing bats alone.

Are they bad at fielding then? Nope. They are way worse than last year's defense as a commenter pointed out in yesterday's post. But that says more about last year's team than this years. Last year's team was a defensive powerhouse, head and shoulders above the league in some stats. This year's team is simply above average. It's not bad, it's not average, it's still good. It's just a long way from "super great".

Is there anything particularly bad about the Cubs then? I mean maybe bullpen depth? Like the 5th/6th arms tend to be pretty bad so get them in war of bullpens where you are switching out a ton, or hit up the starter real early, or wear out the normal pen in a couple games and maybe you got something? But really the Cubs are a great team playing great with no particular weakness to exploit. You just have to beat them

Can the Nats do that?

We've talked all the time about the Nats but a quick refresher because sometimes things get away from you. They've been super consistent all year with their records in 5 out of 6 months ranging from a high of 17-8 to a low of 16-12. There have been no amazing runs, but the "low" point was a month of .500 baseball. They were once the most dominant offensive team in the league but injuries have taken their toll and the team is scrambling a bit in that regard late in the season. They were once the worst team in baseball on the mound in late innings, but a total bullpen overhaul has turned that into a model of consistency and by domino effect shored up the middle innings. They have arguably the best 1-2 in baseball and Gio has pitched all year in a way in the way that Roark did in years before him, making it more of a 1-2-3. The rotation depth has been an issue but that is mostly a moot point in the playoffs.  What isn't a moot point is how Scherzer is feeling.

The Nats, when healthy, are the most complete offensive team in the game. The thing they do the least is hit homers* and still have 5 guys with 19+ and Adam Lind hitting 14 from the bench. Turner and Taylor steal bases. Werth, Rendon, and Bryce work their way on base. Taylor is the only starter terribly prone to strikeouts. There are no telling splits on the pitching side either. Like the Cubs - no real split issues (other than that power pitcher thing I mentioned).

If I wanted to press like I did with the Cubs, they do have a little trouble getting lefties out in comparison to righties. This is mostly because they only have one lefty starter and a little bit because their two most used bullpen lefties, Doolittle and Romero, don't have the usual dominant lefty/right splits. But it's not like lefties kill the Nats. They do better than most against lefties. A great team with no particular weakness to exploit you are just going to have to beat.**

What it comes down to then for me is the unknown. It comes down to Werth and Bryce and Max. If these guys are healthy then I think the Nats offense is just a touch better than the Cubs. I think the Nats 1-2-3 punch is more than a touch better than the Cubs. But I can't KNOW this. The last we saw Max he walked off the mound and hasn't thrown a bullpen yet. The last we saw Bryce he was struggling to get any sort of rhythm and power back after coming back from an injury that just missed being season-ending. The last we saw Werth we were looking at a seven game run of .222 / .300 / .407 with 11 Ks and saying "good enough to start!". As long as this remains unknown I have to say the Cubs have the advantage at the plate and the Cubs have the advantage on the mound. And well if you have the advantage at the plate and on the mound then you win the series. Cubs in 5.

I will say that this will be proven right or wrong probably very quickly. We'll see how Bryce and Werth look tonight and if they look fine then the Nats get a huge boost. I'd probably switch to Nats in 5 at that point (as long as Max wasn't out for the series for some reason). But that's not really fair to pick a series after a game has been played. I have to go with what I know today right now. That's kind of why picking these things is stupid. But we do it anyway.

Speaking of stupid let's play the whole thing out then

ALCS : Indians over Houston
NLCS : Dodgers over Cubs

WS : Indians over Dodgers

Man, that's original.

Oh yeah - for those on Twitter I am also. Just my name harpergordek, if you want to follow along.

*It's true - this year has been crazy and if the Nats were really good at hitting homers they would have hit more. Again I know we've seen plenty. It's a crazy year. 

** OH WAIT! I forgot. The Nats defense is not good. Or more accurately it's got some exploitable weaknesses. The right side of the infield has no range and Werth in LF has been declining for years.  All these guys are competent fielders but they don't have the ranges in comparison to most guys in baseball.