Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Playoff week!

Monday, October 02, 2017

Monday Quickie - Playoff week!

Wooo! The Nats had kind of a slow finish and while some will offer excuses (more on that in a minute) it doesn't particularly matter. There are 4 days off between now and the first playoff game and that's the longest break you'll have for your entire team during the season. There's time for injuries to heal, for loose joints to stiffen, for hot streaks to cool, and for cold streaks to be forgotten about. It's a new season.

How did our watches finish up?

Werth : 3 for 12 with a double and a homer, 1 walks, 3 Ks.  More than good enough for him to start.

Bryce : 2 for 12 with 1 walk and a strikeout.  He does not look "back" but are you sitting Bryce? Because I'm not sitting Bryce.

Robles :  0 for 1 with a K.  Seems doubtful that a guy pegged for off-season duty would just get one at bat over the last weekend, but we'll see.

The big news of the weekend was Scherzer walking off the mound again. Based on the neck injury thing, I assumed it was an "over abundance of caution" action, which is completely the right way to go for your last start of the season. However, then he had to go and get an MRI which is scary because this team does not do unnecessary MRIs. It arguably doesn't do necessary MRIs. Whatever the reason it happened though the results sounded positive. It was a tweak and Max should be ready for the playoffs. However, they wouldn't commit that he'd start in Game 1.

It could be a fake-out. Max could be completely ready and they might be trying to psych out the opponent for a couple days. It may be a reverse fake-out and maybe he's really injured and they are trying to get the Cubs thinking he will start. Most likely though it's just Max being 100% realistic. It's one-day out. He's pretty sure he'll be ready to go on Friday but let's cross all the Ts and dot all the Is. Let's see how the throw days go. Then he'll tell you for sure.

Now about that excuses comment earlier. A few people will note that the Nats offense didn't exactly end the season on a high note. They had been comfortably leading the league but ended up getting edged by the Rockies and the Cubs (!) and almost caught by the Diamondbacks too. The "Lineup Truthers" will tell you it was just because Dusty was putting in some AAA line-ups into the games cutting into the Nats scoring. But the numbers don't back that up.

First the Nats "slump"* is a half a season long. They were first in the NL by a lot with a .811 OPS in the first half. They were 8th in the NL with a .744 in the 2nd half. It was 5th in July (.802), 10th in August (.724), and 11th in September (.712).  Sorry but Dusty hasn't been rolling out AAA lineups for 2 and a half months.

Second  Dusty has mostly been trotting out "1-guy out" lineups when he can. By that I mean he's giving one starter the day off for rest. True AAA line-ups where more than 2 starters**, beyond injury replacements, are few and far between. Since 9/13, when Werth came back from his minor setback after his original comeback, there have been 18 games and only in 6 of them did Dusty sit more than one guy.

Ok you say but that still could have made a difference! If they were dragging in those AAA line-up days that could have brought the team down! OK

Average RS in "AAA lineup" games : 4.3
Average RS in non AAA lineup games : 3.75

Now you say It's the injuries then! And YES! THAT'S THE POINT!

The Nats were crushing on offense until the injuries happened. Even losing Trea and Werth, they were able to keep chugging along. Maybe they weren't at the same level as before that - where they were running away with the scoring lead, but they were a solid offensive squad. Look at the July OPS. I can tell you the scoring in August through the 12th was 4.5 runs per game, still an average value for this crazy year. But they Bryce went down and things changed and they've never gotten back. The bats have come back in body but only one has come back in performance.

Werth 2nd half : .213 / .296 / .348
Bryce since coming back : has 3 singles and 7 Ks since coming back.
Trea 2nd half : .297 / .371 / .525

If Werth and Bryce can't hit then the Nats have a problem. As well as the other 5 guys may hit (and they've all had Septembers ranging from excellent to good) there is a 4 player gap in that line-up that is going to keep the Nats from putting runs on the board and that's exactly what we've seen in this past month. If you're counting on "regular at bats" to get the guys going after injury stop. It's the playoffs. There are no more regular at bats.

This is where the Nats are going into the NLDS. Are they good enough to win? Yes. Are they at top form? It doesn't look like it. If they do lose what is going to be the most likely culprit? The injuries hampering the offense to the point where they can't score enough.

This is all just a guess. Turner, Murphy and Zimm all catch fire and it may not matter. Or maybe Max can't go and that's the issue. Or maybe luck goes the Nats way with the bats but the late pen blows the games since, as we've seen recently, they are not dominant. But the way I look at it the issue is going to be scoring runs if injuries mean the Werth and Bryce the Nats need don't show up in the NLDS.

*Slumping is really just "hitting like an average team" here. 

**I'm not counting C replacements here because Wieters has been so bad that there's little functional difference between him and a replacement bat.


Fries said...

While Bryce's numbers aren't great, you can tell over this weekend series that he was starting to find his groove. Same can be said for Werth to an extent as well. Lots of hard contact, just unfortunately ending up in the wrong spots (Bryce's one hard hit groundball up the middle with the bases loaded hurt, since it looked like such an obvious hit). All in all I'm not worried that these two won't contribute at all. Will they contribute enough? Who knows, it's the playoffs and there's only a max of 5 games in this Cubs series.

I think the big piece in the puzzle is going to be Tony 2 Bags. I'm too lazy to look into the splits, but it seems that when he's on, the team is on. But when he goes 0-4, the team struggles. Again, completely anecdotal, but to me (outside of Bryce), he's the key to this team's offensive success.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I kind of like Stras starting Game One. He's been lights out, and of all our SP, he's the one who would probably go on short rest the best (he's not as fragile as you think he is!)

KW said...

I loved the weekend lineup of Turner/Harper/Rendon/Murphy/Zim. There's less pressure on Bryce at #2 to push for big power, he's guaranteed to see fastballs if Turner is on base, and there's no way Maddon is going to walk him with Rendon behind him. Two Bags against the Cubs this year: .318/.393/.682. (And if we get there, Two Bags against the Dodgers: .412/.583/.882.)

Fries, here's your splits:

Rendon in games Nats won: .350/.450/.634
Rendon in games Nats lost: .226/.329/.377

blovy8 said...

That lineup works if Bryce hits.

Tom Mentzer said...

We sure used Edwin in the relief role in 2012 and that didn't work out too well.

PotomacFan said...

I'm not a big AJ Cole fan, but he earned his way onto the post-season roster. Same for Sammy Solis.

So, for the 7 relievers, I have:

The big four (yes, four because, really, Albers is better than Kintzler): Doolittle, Madson, Kintzler, and Fat Matt.
Oliver Perez (not my choice, but Dusty likes him, and he'll purely be used as a LOOGY except in a blowout), AJ Cole, and Sammy Solis.

Cole will be ready for long relief for Gio and Tanner, or if our Big 2 get cramps. And it's going to be warm this weekend.

Not making the cut: Joe Blanton (this is a close one; I don't trust the guy at all), EJax, Matt Grace, Enny Romero.

Sammy Kent said...

I am not very optimistic going into the series against the Cubs. They've been hot, and we've been not. The offense has pretty much returned to the pattern of every other year before 2017: poor hitting against anything but mediocre pitching, and absolutely awful numbers with men in scoring position. Eight guys left in scoring position with two outs yesterday. If we get only half those home we win the season finale instead of losing 11-8. Bryce Harper in the lineup but not hitting well would be worse than him just staying injured and missing the post-season altogether. Well, Dusty's got four days to get these boys ready. We'll see.

Anonymous said...


While I am the consummate pessimist like yourself thanks to the pain caused by Washington sports teams, I'm not so worried about the hitting because NOBODY hits in the playoffs. Cubs may be hot to close the season, but then they have 4 days rest. Everything resets. Keep that glass half full

Unknown said...

Not sure I see how Werth has "earned" his start. Why would you start a guy hitting .150 in the month since he returned instead of a guy hitting .290 since joining the team (Kendrick)? Besides I believe Werth was only hitting .260 in what was considered a great year when he went down. I just don't see it.

BornInDC said...

"What could work? Limiting defensive shifting and expanding parks could make GBs more advantageous and the HR mentality a little less so. Making a reliever face 2 batters, might give a manager more pause on how he uses his pen."

One thing that might work, but would not be aesthetically pleasing for many fans, is to have more parks with artificial turf infields that favor GB hitters. Whitey Herzog was able to favor a "speed strategy" with the Royals and the Cardinals, because of the artificial turf field at the parks in Kansas City and St. Louis that helped make GB hits easier. I even read that St. Louis may have kept its artificial turf slightly worn out to even further aid their GB hitters.