Nationals Baseball: April 2018

Monday, April 30, 2018

Monday Quickie : On Target

Hey look.  On Friday I said 1-2 vs the Diamondbacks.  The Nats went 1-2 vs the Diamondbacks. I can't go back and today say that's not good enough. Sure you can point to this game or that point and say "They should have done this and won" but that'll happen like a few times every week in the baseball season and the baseball season is LONG. You'll drive yourself crazy thinking like that. The Diamondbacks are playing like one of the best teams in baseball. The Nats are injured and not doing that. 1-2 is a perfectly acceptable outcome.

What does 1-2 mean? It means they are less likely to have some sort of crazy positive streak start this homestand and it means they don't have any leeway for what's to come. They can't split a homestand like this so they need to win 5 more games. They don't want to fall farther behind so they have to take at least two games from the Phillies. In short, they need to win the series versus the Pirates* and they need to win the series versus the Phillies. It's a shame that they didn't get leeway because Pirates are pretty hot right now but that's the position they are in.

But it's not a bad position. It could be by the end of the week, but not today. Not yet. I mean they went 1-2 and lost all of a half-game in the standings to the first place Mets.  Big picture people. Eyes on the prize. You want to panic? Fine. But can you wait until the second Pirates loss happens and the homestand is officially derailed first?

The thing is - coming back from the hole the Nats dug is usually a long slog. You gain a game here, two games there, lose a game here, get it back over there. At the end of a couple months you are back where you should be. I think there is a lot of impatience with Nats fans. The firing of Dusty was made so the team could supposedly take the next step. They were supposed to be better than all these teams ahead of them. They don't want anything worse than last year. And so right now they want an immediate correction. They want the Nats to roll off 8 wins here, 6 wins there and be back in the hunt in two weeks not two months. That can happen (see : NYY) but that's not typical. You are just going to have to get used to appreciating minor victories and small steps.

Other notes :

Atlanta took 2 of 3 from Philly and given their relative positions that was probably the best case scenario for the Nationals. Mets took 2 of 3 from the Padres but lost on the Thursday the Nats were off so the total ground lost since coming back to DC is a half game. Mets take on Braves next so another likely place for the Nats to gain ground on someone. Cespedes is out for a few games with a thumb injury.

We're here! We're at the end of the month and is Zimmerman in "usual bad" or "OMG this is new territory"? We said we'd check and.... it's only "usual bad"! So that's good news I guess. And it's not just that one 2 homer game that's carrying him. After that game he's hit .250 / .294 / .438. That's not good but it's kind of in the realm of what you may expect.

There were a ton of injury updates coming back from the homestand and here's the quick rundown
No news and that's ok
No update on Koda Glover but right now we're just assuming he's out for a long time. This changes nothing

No news and that's not ok for him, for you maybe though
No update on Matt Grace. Not sure any fan really cares that he comes back soon though.

Good news
Rendon is progressing as expected. I wanted him back today. That seems unlikely but the Phillies series to me seems like the longest he'll be out.
Benoit is throwing for anyone that cares. Which does suggest he could be back this year.
Kelley is still throwing suggesting that this isn't necessarily a 60 day DL situation like initially thought. Maybe. 

Neutral news
Murphy is still doing what he's doing. No setbacks noted but no plans currently on whether to send him for a rehab assignment. Given we set the new line at Memorial Day this changes nothing.

Bad news
Eaton and Goodwin who both should have been back for the Diamondback series are both in "day to day" limbo. Essentially it seems like they have no idea what's going on with either of these two and they could just as likely be out a few more days as a few more weeks. 

*OK yes they could split - then sweep the Phillies, I guess.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Putting goals through the paces

OK so what do we want out of this 10 game stretch? Or really what do I want and how do you react to that? Three vs Diamondbacks, Four vs Pittsburgh, Three vs Phillies.

You want to beat your intradivision rivals at home. That isn't something you can really waver on. That means I want the Nats to take two of three from the Phillies. The Pirates and Diamondback series are tougher to call. The Diamondbacks are one of the better teams in the National League with pitching that's strong enough to carry an offense that's just ok to 90 wins. Normally the Nats are clear SP favorites but in this series the biggest mismatch is Corbin vs Hellickson. Pencil that in as an L and understand they are probably right now better than the Nats and you see 2 of 3 as an iffy proposition even at home. Pittsburgh right now is bashing its way to an above .500 record but it's hard to see that holding up given the only fair starting pitching and the tire fire bullpen. If the Nats are healthy they should handle this pitching and this four game set should feature both Max and Strasburg. Still 3-1 is a lot to ask. If the Nats played 162 games against the Pirates they wouldn't win 75% of the games.

You gotta end up somewhere so I'll say 1-2 vs D-backs, 3-1 vs Pirates, and 2-1 vs the Phillies for a bar of 6-4. A couple notes - first, really I see it more as 4-3 vs the D-Backs and Pirates than those separate series results. Second, there isn't leeway here for a 5-5. That's not good enough for a team that started as the Nats have and is facing the competition it seemingly is. You can't lose a series at home to the Diamondbacks, then split one vs the Pirates and think you are a better than .500 team. You can't go 5-2 vs the first two but then get swept by the Phillies and think you are ok in your quest for a division crown.  6-4 is the bar to get over but it's a bar set on the ground. To go under 6-4 is the dig yourself a hole.

As for the rest of the NL East, let's talk about paces. The Mets have slid back to the pack (as expected - they weren't going to win 110 games) but the Phillies and Braves didn't similarly stumble. Instead of a series of teams for the Nats to catch and pass, there is now one big clump. I've seen some talk about the Nats pace needed and I always like talking about that because I think it's a good way to see the remainder of a season until you get to a couple weeks left.

The Nats sit at 11-14 with 137 games left. Let's say they need... 91 wins.  How good will they have to play to hit that goal? Well simple math tells you they'd have to go 80-57. That's a .584 winning percentage or a 94-95 win pace for the year.  Doable? Sure. You wouldn't say it's a given but that's about the win total we expected from the Nats to begin with. Let's say you give the Nats a 90% chance of doing this.  Great!

But now what are the chances the other teams end up with 92 wins (or more?) and simply beat out the Nationals?

The Mets sit at 15-8 with 139 games left. To get to 92 wins they need to go 77-62, a .554 WP% and a roughly 90 win pace
The Phillies are 15-9.  They need to have a roughly 90 win pace as well
The Braves are 14-10. They need to do a little better, a 91-92 win pace.

Ok so let's say you didn't like any of these teams to be this good. Maybe you give the Mets a 30% chance of doing this and the Phillies and Braves 10% chances each.  Seems pretty good for the Nationals, right? Well

90% chance Nats win enough to get to 91 wins x  70% chance Mets don't get to 92 x 90% Phillies don't get to 92 x 90% chance Braves don't get to 92 = .5103 or 51%

It's a coin flip whether the Nats can take the division in this scenario*.

Now probably it's not really a coin flip.  These probabilities are interconnected. If the Nats are likely to win more the rest of the NL East is likely to win less because some of those Nats wins will come at their expense. But you get the idea. It's not easy even if you really like the Nats and really don't like the other teams. That's why say the Fangraphs playoff odds page has the Nats as only 58% chance of winning the division**. This is reality. This is the hole the Nats have dug I keep talking about.

You can see here how the Phillies and Braves matter.  If it were just the Mets and Nats it would be 63% from the above numbers. Even if you don't like the Phillies and Braves they've banked those wins and now to make the playoffs or win the division they don't have to be as good the rest of the year. They can play closer to what you think they are talent wise so it takes something that looked very unlikely and makes it less so. Enough less so that it takes a chunk out of the Nationals chances. Not a big chunk but a chunk nonetheless.

So bringing it back to this home stand. The Nats do what they supposed to do, win at home at a better than .500 clip, and it starts them down the path they need to travel on to fulfill their end of the bargain up there (and it helps Phillies do their part in not reaching 92). They don't do that and they've just lost a home stand and 10 more games to make it happen.The Nats necessary pace goes up to 95+ wins. Likely one of the teams ahead of them sees their necessary pace go down. The Nats' odds get worse. There's wiggle room but with three teams ahead of you by a few games there is not a lot even this early in the year. The Nats need to start winning like they need to soon*** and this home stand would be an ideal place to start.

*Yes I realize this allows teams to tie the Nats at 91.  Let's just forgive that for now, it doesn't mess with the point.

**Baseball Prospectus has the Nats even lower. I don't buy that. Not that I can't see a Nats below 50% scenario but I don't buy giving the Phillies that big a shot and that's driving their numbers. Especially when they have their playoffs odds move around as much as they have. This looks like something that needs more time to settle before taking seriously. Which I assume they would agree - but then again they put it out now so who knows? 

 *** Or have the other teams start losing!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A good plan, spoiled.

See?  4-5 road trip that included in the middle a West Coast swing NOT to San Diego, gaining a half-game on the Mets.  Who isn't taking that when we start this thing? Now there's the losing a bunch of ground to the Braves and Phillies in there that we did not agree to, but next time we'll have to be more specific in what we are accepting.

Now though it gets serious. The Nats are back home, should be starting to get healthy, and they need to start winning. For series at home this means 5/6 wins every 9 game stretch, 6 wins every 10 game stretch. Can they figure their way out to 90+ wins and an NL East title with another 4 weeks of putzing around? Maybe. But I don't want to try to figure that out.

We've seen a lot of anger trying to figure out where to put the blame for the slow start. Is it Rizzo? Is it Martinez? Is it just injury luck?

Of course I'm going to say "a little bit of everything" but I think the overarching story of the season so far is this:

Everyone thought the Nats were a shoe-in for the division title.  The Nats saw this same discrepancy in talent and decided it could use the beginning of the season to start the process on deciding how to reset the team for 2020 and beyond. They would cycle through some 5th starters and middle relievers. They would let the OF situation, with 4 questions marks of various sizes, solve itself. They would run out the clock on the C situation hoping to get lucky.  After getting a feel for those things (maybe by Memorial Day?) and if there was something to actually worry about in the NL East, they'd look to the trade deadline to shore up this season while starting the actual implementation of the "next window" process. This plan would be fine unless for some reason the Nats started real slow AND the NL East was a bigger threat than everyone thought.

Of course the Nats did start real slow AND the NL East has been a bigger threat than everyone thought. 

So now in hindsight that plan to continue the "focus on winning now and winning later" strategy of the Nats looks foolish. Maybe the take-away should have been learned in 2015, but it's definitely learned now. Assume no shoe-ins. Focus on winning now from the start. If you get a sizeable lead then go ahead and start doing other things using that cushion, but don't assume a cushion will be there. But it's too late to apply that to 2018 so buckle up and try to enjoy the Nats fight back into the division. Honestly this could happen very quickly. Just a week might be enough to put the Nats bacak in a favorable position (say 2 or so games out). But for now expect at least fighting for games until we get to that easy stretch we talked about.

I think  the whole 2018-2019 FA situation is shaping up to be far more interesting than the 2015-16 was. By the time we got to 2015 a lot of the questions about the Nats approach were answered and problems were diminished. Would the Nats spend the money necessary to keep winning? Yes - look at the Scherzer deal. Could they weather the potential loss of two starting aces? Not as pressing an issue. Got a new one in Max so they only would have to sign one and found one or two other decent rotation arms to keep ML depth up. Could they weather the potential loss of Desmond/Espy/Ramos?  Yes, got a Desmond replacement and neither Espinosa (talent) or Ramos (health) ended up important enough to really worry about replacing. It also was obvious that the best hitters, Bryce, Rendon, would still be on the team. Could they weather the potential loss of Clippard/Storen/etal? They wouldn't really bother trying.

In 2018 though the same questions don't really have answers. Can they weather the potential loss of Bryce/Murphy/Rendon? Don't know. Hoping Robles and Soto will cover but don't have any idea how soon they'll make it or how good they'll be. And these are the BEST hitters that are leaving. Can they weather the potential loss of Gio/Roark? Similar to the Desi/Espy/Ramos Q before this is less important because the aces are still here but Fedde better be 3rd starter good or else there is no replacement lined up. Can they weather the potential loss of Madson/Kintzler? Nothing lined up - not sure they will even try given past, but finally putting $ into relief arms this year might signify a change.

By the time 2015-16 started there remained worries but you could see a path through. Sign one of Strasburg/ZNN and there's probably enough here to keep things going.  Now it's murkier. Signing one of Bryce/Rendon/Murphy alone probably isn't enough unless a good starting pitcher shows up and a young hitter develops quickly. If not they'll have to put more money into FA, and that's before addressing what once again looks like a hole in the relief corps.

The Nats have weathered this storm once before so I'm not going to write off that they can reset again. A smart deal for Rendon, Fedde shows as a #3, Robles or FA signee are a star and the other is a compliment, one FA pitching arm to set-up Doolittle while someone else has developed to be reliable (Solis?).  There are ways. It's not grim. But the chance to map this out early this season is gone. It'll have to be done on the fly while fighting for a division title.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Everything's Fine

Now for some reason I want to sing "Mother, Mother" You old people get it! But not you really old people, or even you normal olds. I mean you early olds.  You get it!

I know this is going to fall on mostly deaf ears but things aren't necessarily going badly. Well sort of.  Let me explain.

This roadtrip was a difficult stretch at a time when things were arguably as dark as they could be for the Nats. They were down 6 games already, just off losing 3 of 4 to the Rockies and having a 3-7 homestand. The Nats could have spiraled out of the picture. They could have gotten swept by the Mets, gone 1-9 on the swing and found themselves 10 games out. But that didn't happen. They beat the Mets and have a chance to come out of the road trip 4-5 which is more than acceptable against this level of competition.* They could be 5.5 games out coming out of this which would mean gaining ground on this road trip which is actually pretty good! And if they lose... well losing some ground is expected especially for a bad team trying to turn around the ocean liner drifting into the iceberg. As I said to start, this trip isn't about getting back to NATIONALS, KINGS OF THE NL EAST. It's about not falling apart, and then going home where they can hopefully starting winning at a playoff clip again.

The Nats are suffering through offensive injuries while playing in pitcher's parks and it shows. The last 4 games the Nats have scored 8 runs total. But overall the picture isn't that grim. Take out the 11-5 loss and in the other 7 the Nats have scored as many as they've allowed. No that isn't winning baseball but it's not bad and that's what you should be aiming for right now. Get through this. Get back Rendon and Eaton. Get good.

This is what I mean when I say things haven't gone badly. The "stay close enough to the Mets that you can slowly chip away at the lead they have gotten over the next couple months" part of the plan has gone ok.  However, I have to explain that "sort of"

You see, since the Nats lost to Colorado to finish that homestand the Braves have gone 4-4.  The Phillies have gone 5-3. They've both played more games at home than away but still they haven't begin to lose like you'd hope. Instead of pretenders falling by the wayside so the Nats could catch the Mets, the Phillies and Braves (now with Acuna!) look to be real hurdles. Both teams have enough talent where you think they might compete (unlike last year's hot start Phillies). If either of these teams catches lightning like the Nats did in 2012 then the Nats are facing a near impossible task.

The Mets are the enemy the Nats know. A team with a unexceptional offense dependent on a healthy and strong rotation who have gone 3-4 since the Nats have gone on the road. We get what the Mets are and can pretty much figure out what needs to happen for the Nats to overcome them. The Phillies and Braves are the enemy the Nats don't know. Are Swanson and Albies stars who along with Acuna and Freeman are ready to give the Braves an lineup that can carry a ace-less rotation and a pen of questionable depth? Is Jake Arrieta really back to form and is Nick Pivetta the real deal so that the starting pitching matches up with anyone and can combine with a solid pen to carry an timely-hitting but not actually good offense? If either of these teams are real in 2018 then the Nats have to fight to make up that ground as well. If both? Part of catching the team ahead of you is relying on them to have some bad luck. You aren't likely to watch three good teams ahead of you all have the fates turn on them.

This is where the Nats are - trying to set the ship right watching not one, but three ships fade into the distance. If they hope to catch all three then they either have to hope for the breaks to go their way or they need to start winning soon. Like next home stand soon.

Other news - 

Victor Robles injury update. Robles hyperextended his elbow diving for a ball in the outfield. This isn't great news but it's good news because they feared a break or a tear which would essentially have meant Robles would need Tommy John surgery (it does happen for regular players - d'Arnaud is probably going to need it). What that means for recovery is still uncertain, as they wait for the swelling to subside, but you should fully expect (and want) the Nats to take it cautiously. What I'd want to hear is a timetable given by the end of the month, giving a general idea of when they expect Robles back. I'd want this date to be no later than the ASB so Robles has plenty of time to return to form before a September call-up.  We'll see.

*3-6 would clear the low bar I set earlier but that is really just a putting a tourniquet on a massive leg injury type of bar. It keeps them from being in big trouble but that's about it

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Injury Update!

With Shawn Kelley going down yesterday officially but a week ago unofficially it seemed like a good time to go over who currently in the Nats MASH unit and what is there status. 

Adam Eaton - bone bruise
What you wanted to see - Adam Eaton was put on the 10 day DL so the hope was he'd be out for 10 days and then be back. That was Friday. It did not happen.
What you saw - Eaton has been gradually upping his activity. He's taken BP. He's played catch. He maybe has run?  There was talk about him being available to PH but he hasn't been activated yet. Nationals maintain he won't be back until they can be sure the ankle won't bother him again.
What adjustment - When you miss enough time it starts to be a question on whether you can jump right back into the majors or need a couple minor league games to get your rhythym back. I'm not sure what the time frame for that would be but obviously the more time he misses the more than becomes a possibility. Still I don't think we're there yet. I tend to adjust in series and stands chunks for things like this so I'll kick him down the road until the Nats are back home
What you want to see now - Eaton in the OF on the 27th to face the Diamondbacks

Anthony Rendon - fouled a ball off his big toe
What you wanted to see - There was no structural damage to the toe, and Rendon said he was going to be right back so you wanted to see him in the lineup within a couple days
What you saw - Instead he lingered on the bench, unavailable for action while the Nats played short-handed for 8 days. Finally the Nats put him on the 10-DL a couple days ago. It's backdated the max allowed meaning he won't have to sit out 10 more days but 7 more is given.
What adjustment - I'm completely flummoxed by this one. A week of rest wasn't enough to heal his toe.  Will another week due the trick? Presumably so, but you would have said that for the first week. At this point we have to accept what we're told but I don't like it 
What you want to see now - Talk later this week about how Rendon is ready. Rendon in the line-up as soon as he can be (Mon vs Pirates?)

Daniel Murphy - recovering from knee surgery
What you wanted to see - Murphy progressing to the point where he'd be ready for some minor league action soon after those games started (April 6th) which would put him back in the majors right around now.
What you saw - Lost in the shuffle of the new season and the slow start was a slower recovery than hoped for Murphy to the point he could do nothing really in Spring Training to prepare for real game action. Instead, he progressed to extended Spring Training* around the 16th, where he's currently playing what barely qualifies as Spring Training ball taking a few "real" at bats a day and fielding a couple dozen ground balls.
What adjustment - He's gotta be ready here and then go on a minor league assignment. If he were ready by the end of this week then maybe he's back before the mid-point in May but that's the earliest you can put him. I've since re calibrated and put his return date at Memorial Day.
What you want to see now - Continued progression - more at bats and groundballs taken, confirmation of playing fully in a live game. Then a minor league assignment sooner rather than later. Before the end of the month would be ideal, but don't count on it since we haven't heard much right now. I'm hoping for one before the week of May 13th.

Those are the big ones.  Now the rest :

Shawn Kelley -nerve issues
What you saw - After basically sitting out a week to rest, Kelley came in, gave up a homer then couldn't get any extension on his arm and out of the game he went. Afterwords we heard it was ulnar nerve pain
What adjustment -It's almost certain he'll spend time on the DL. Given the choices are 10 and 60, expect 60.  They aren't going to rush him back because hurt Kelley is bad Kelley and does no one any good.
What you want to see now - A clean MRI and Kelley to sit out for a while.

Brian Goodwin  - wrist bruise
What you saw - Goodwin hurt his wrist diving. Gave it a couple days but then went on the DL. Talk was they needed the spot with Rendon out and Goodwin could have been back sooner than that.  However yesterday Martinez told everyone Goodwin was still sore after taking some cuts back in Florida.
What adjustment - Technically none. He wouldn't be ready until Friday anyway, but given how they talked about it you'd have expected him to be 100% by now.
What you want to see now - You want to see him back at the same time Eaton will be - the 27th versus the Dbacks, but keep a close eye on this. This isn't as fuzzy an injury as Eaton's or Rendon's which could explain some missed deadlines. They had a good handle on this and something went wrong. If they don't say he'll be with the team as they leave SF be concerned.

Koda Glover  - shoulder pain
What you saw - You wanted to see him on a mound before Spring was over. You didn't. He still hasn't gotten on the mound as far as we know and was working on long tosses last we heard. 
What adjustment - Given we know nothing it's hard to put a timeline on him other than "weeks" At this point June looks very unlikely so let's just go ahead and say the All-Star Break and consider that optimistic until we hear some news that sounds like progression.
What you want to see now - Any update would be nice. Glover throwing off a mound would indicate he might be a couple weeks away from a minor league assignment. So hopefully we see that sometime before May is over. If not then the ASB becomes iffy.

Joaquin Benoit - forearm strain
What you saw - In early Spring while getting into playing shape Benoit hurt his arm. That meant he wouldn't have the time needed to join the team to start year and he'd stay in extended Spring Training, but as of a couple weeks ago he wasn't throwing 
What adjustment - You ever see Major League? Remember when the owner tells them to cross the dead guy off the list of potential players. I'm not saying do that but sharpen your pencil.He's months away I'd imagine if he's not throwing now and had limited Spring action to start. I'll just throw ASB out there too but it's pretty meaningless
What you want to see now - Anything that suggest Benoit will be able to pitch this year. So he needs to start throwing before the end of May.

Matt Grace - groin strain
What you saw - Grace hurt himself on Saturday and went on the 10-day DL. Nats say this has been bothering him for a while.
What adjustment - He just went out. No adjustment needed.
What you want to see now - Nats to say by end of the week that he's on track to be back whenever he's supposed to be back.

So in short new "expected back" timeline for the hopeful

April 27th : Eaton, Goodwin
April 30th : Rendon
May 1st : Grace
May 28th : Murphy
July 19th : Glover, Benoit? 

*What is extended Spring Training? More time in Florida (or AZ I guess) doing drills for anyone not assigned to minor league camp. This is a motley mix of injury recovery guys - both major league and minor league, late signed FAs, and young players hoping to fill out whatever holes exist in short-season A-ball rosters after the draft. The quality and effort aren't ST quality but it's something. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday Quickie - Matt-Tinez?

Look - it's going to plan. They beat the Mets. They took a game against a good team on the road. Going into the road trip I only asked for 3-6 and they could get swept by the Giants and still hit that. That might have been a low bar, so let's assume they win one against SF.  A 4-5 road trip in a stretch that featured the Mets, Dodgers, and Giants and a mid-trip swing to the West Coast? You can't be unhappy with that. Road trips like that aren't the problem. The problem is the 3-7 homestand that preceded that. That should never happen for a playoff team, not even against good teams.*

The Nats don't really have a break soon - in part because there are really only three BAD teams in the NL and in part because they don't start playing Miami until relatively late in the season. Right now it looks like the next nice Nats stretch is heading into Memorial day when they close out a homestand with the Padres, then go on the road to take on Miami, Baltimore and Atlanta, then back home for Tampa Bay and San Fran. This is what looks like their easiest stretch of the season. It's that 18 game stretch where you'd want the team to go like 12-6, 13-5 and make up some serious ground. Until then it's about surviving the road trips and gaining a little ground at home. A step at a time. Anything more is appreciated but extra.


Rendon went to the DL! FINALLY! It was a big swing and miss by the Nats medical staff. If Rendon went on the DL any time in the first couple days he could have been back today and the Nats could have had a full compliment of players to work with for most of the road trip. No, they aren't good players but they are better than no players. Now Rendon has to wait until the 29th (I think - maybe 28th, maybe 30th) to come back. I think Rendon has shown he's not a quick healer (remember the 50+ "day-to-day" diagnosis in Spring 2015?) so DL is probably a safe bet for the future ok?

Zimm looks right which is great. Can't be happier to be wrong about his health status assuming he isn't shot up with horse steroids or whatever. It also shows that skipping ST didn't do a damned thing to make him start out better. The proof that it was worth it now shifts to "July and August". Given he had a great September last year, basically he's gotta come through the entire 2nd half or big in the playoffs to sell this. Good luck to you sir.

MAT's hitting now too. Great!

Who isn't hitting? Most everyone else. Like really. There is not enough talent here to survive guys going cold at the normal rate. Nats need everyone back healthy soon.

Among the not hitting. Hey! Pedro Severino! Huh, Who would have thunk it?

Nats pen is spent with only the back end (Doolittle and Kintzler) working right now. That's the point of depth. The Nats aren't crashing in the pen like last year because they bothered to get 3+ reliable arms in there. But they need more.  Will it be the renewed Gott? Will Solis bounce back? Will Madson be fine after rest? Is Austin Adams ready to give something? Hey, didn't the Nats have a guy named Shawn Kelley? Let's see how it shakes out/resets in the next week and then we'll talk about "needs".

One this else to sit and think about. In the last 20 games, the Nats have gone 8-12. The Nats never went 8-12 in any 20 game stretch in 2017 or 2016.  Dusty > Martinez? Well, obviously. Should go without saying. Dusty is borderline HoF. But that doesn't mean Martinez is bad. Jury's out all year probably but the very first notes back from the foreman are not as positive as you'd hope.

*Oh it will happen, but it'll happen like once. Having it happen this early is not a good sign.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Around the league

With our first break in a good long while, why not take a step back and take a look at what's happening in the National League that's not DC or the Mets. Remember as we roll through that the same thing I said about Zimm - wait until the end of the month - applies to everything here too. 

Rest of the NL East

Braves - The Braves have the best offense in the NL right now. Seven of Eight starters are not just hitting but are hitting it well.  Some of this can be ignored. Ryan Flaherty isn't going to hit .352 the rest of the year. Kurt Suzuki is not a dark horse MVP candidate. But before I said if Ozzie Albies or Dansby Swanson were leading the charge that there may be cause for worry. Well... those guys are hitting now. Hitting it real hard.  The pitching has been good, but the starting pitching may keep the team from being a real threat. Teheran hasn't been good and Anibal Sanchez just hurt himself. The other guys are ok but depth is going to be tested.

Phillies - After a slow start the Phillies got hot and are challenging like we thought they might. Their offense has been led by a "player of the month" type of performance from Rhys Hoskins, but a lot of other bats are worryingly silent. Franco does look below average. Crawford might not be good. Alfaro might be awful. It might take Santana a while to adjust. Kingery might help but the problem is Cesar Hernandez is one of the few bats hitting, so they have to find spots for Scott. Pitching wise it could hardly be better. Arrieta looks good. Nola looks good. And Papelbon tradee Nick Pivetta looks good. Ben Lively hasn't gotten results but his peripherals are pretty decent. Velazquez is a good arm to be talking about 5th. If the pen doesn't fail them this looks to be a good enough staff to challenge for a playoff spot

Marlins - Do we need to talk about them? They're garbage.  Really all you care about is how well the trade bait is doing (Bour is doing fine, Castro is struggling to care, Realmuto just got back) and how well the young players are doing (Brinson is struggling mightily, the rotation is a hideous mix of guys slated to be "never-was"es). Nothing to see here.

NL Central - You'll find that the NL is strangely deep in competitive teams this year, which may not bode well for a Nats team that could be bumped down into the Wild Card hunt. The Pirates are on top but shouldn't hold up. The offense could be fine. But anyone you don't know in the pitching staff (which would be most) is bad.  The Cards sit a game behind and you could see them fly in any direction. They are being carried by things that may not last - surprise older bats and the usual good but injury prone starters - but there's other talent underperforming right now. The Brewers look like a team good enough to win with Yelich, but not so much without him. The surprisingly good 2017 pitching staff is probably just average and it's showing. The Cubs are, like the Nats, floating around in 4th. Like the Pirates in reverse they should come up. The hitting is better than the runs they are getting and that's with an injured Rizzo. All 3 starters who weren't on Cubs to start 2017 look awful but they won't strike out on all three. The Reds are a Raisel Iglesias delivery squad for some better team.

NL West - the D-backs lead but you can see cracks in the armor. The offense is being carried by a few hot bats and there isn't really a lot of talent hiding behind that. It's a pitching led team and the pitching looks good but Walker just went down for the year. We'll see if they can replace that.  We saw the Rockies and they are ok. They've got enough live bats on offense to do damage, but are carrying a couple early aged ones that'll keep them from mashing.  They spent a lot of money on the pen and right now that's working but there's not a lot of starter talent. The Dodgers join fellow favorites Cubs and Nats in early season floundering, but for them it really comes down to one thing - Kenley Jansen is terrible right now. I'd expect them to move back up pretty quickly unless this lingers and they accept it lingering. The Giants are trying to hang on until June when Bumgarner comes back and hope the pitching can carry them to the playoffs as it's done in the past. They might be able to do it if the outfield stops being so bad. Like so bad. Like McCutchen is bad and he's the best one out there. The Padres flirted with relevance for a second but there isn't enough here to keep it up. Maybe next year.

Other notes
  • Pirates trade for Corey Dickerson looks like a steal and Colin Moran looks like he could be a long time major leaguer. Pirates are an interesting team because most of the good talent (Polanco, Marte, Vazquez) are locked up through 2021. There's a chance here for a quick reboot.
  • Ozuna is not doing what the Cards expected, while Bud Norris has turned into a top flight closer. 
  • Matt Albers is doing fine in Milwaukee and the Nats totally should have brought him back. 
  • Addison Russell looks like he might never be the player the Cubs wanted him to be. He was a Top 10 prospect for a couple years. Let this be a lesson to you. And while I expect a Cubs starter to bounce back Quintana, Darvish and Chatwood have all been legit awful. 
  • It's hard to believe in the Diamondbacks when their back-up plan for Jake Lamb going down was Daniel Descalso.  This team has no depth
  • If the Dodgers have a problem it's the 3rd OF spot. You could have walked into this year thinking Chris Taylor was good, Austin Barnes was good, Joc Pederson is still young and thought it could work out but them each being below average was more likely. And they are. Reminds me of my Nats OF take that half of you refused to listen to. But Matt Kemp! Look at that guy go! 
  • If you hated Hunter Pence I have some good news for you. 
  • Austin Hedges strikes me as a guy who will have one good year somewhere down the road but I don't know where. Prospects, huh?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Well, it was a big day for Zimm at least

All in all, it was the start to the road trip you want. Took two of three from the Mets in New York before heading to the West Coast. Still you hate losing and you hate losing when you can see losing coming.

The Nats had not had a day off in a while and the team had leaned pretty heavily on its relief arms over the past few games. Every decent pitcher (KMD and Solis) had gone at least twice in the past three games and Kintzler had gone three times. The strange thing is - the Nats needed at least 7 innings from Roark and they got it. All they had to do was close out the 8th and 9th, with Kintzler out. Smart money would have assumed a Solis - Doolittle finish, because Madson had pitched twice in a row and would normally only be available in the emergency sense. Also Conforto, a lefty, was leading off the 8th.  But Martinez went with Madson, perhaps because of Cespedes and Asdrubal*, and Madson blew up.

Why not replace Madson then after three straight single with lefty Jay Bruce coming up? Or let Solis try to get out Adrian Gonzalez? I can't give you a good answer. But by the time Solis came in and issued two walks the damage was done. Cole's "Send this ball and me to Syracuse" pitch to Cespedes was the icing on the cake.

The Nats now have some time to regroup. They have a travel day going to CA and a travel day back, so a couple days of rest in a week. That'll help. But long stretches without days off happen all the time in baseball. This 12 game stretch is not unusual, and they'll face longer stretches this season.  A 17 game stretch after the West Coast swing which includes NO break going from Philly to San Diego, for example. Nor were there like 3 back to back extra inning games that would explain a tired pen. This was a rookie manager making some mistakes. It happens. Hopefully he learns you can't play to win 162. 

*Better righty bat in recent years

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A win and a Zimm

The Nats win again and are in pretty good position to sweep which would pretty much make the road trip an unqualified success 3 games in unless they lose the last 6. One of the key things is Turner is hitting again, which gives the Nats that desperately needed third bat until the injured guys get back.  For some reason Gio loves to pitch against the Mets (2.90 lifetime ERA in 150 innings, 1.78 in 100 innings at CitiField before last night). I don't get it but I don't care to get it. I'm just happy it's a thing.

One of the biggest at bats of last night was a two out single by Zimm in the top of the 7th. At the time the Nats were only up one and the Mets kept threatening. It was a needed insurance run and Zimm drove it in.

When I talk about giving Zimm the rest of the month before we start judging him, it's not that I'm expecting him to break out. It's that it's not fair to judge a player on 60PA (where he was at about last night) For an example I looked at Rendon last year.

April 5th - 18th : 50 PA : .191 / .240 / .234
August 2nd - 13th : 41 PA : .118 / .220 / .235

or Daniel Murphy
Aug 16th - Sept 3rd : 67 PA : .196 / .313 / .232

or Bryce Harper
May 17th - June 7th : 66 PA : .155 / .242 / .310

Now, you might say "These aren't as long" or "These aren't as bad" and I'd agree with you. But they are close enough for comparison (and really Zimm isn't the hitter these guys are so his streaks should be worse). The point is, even good hitters have fairly long stretches, 2 weeks or more, where they hit terribly. It could be that Zimm is just having his at the start of the season. Is it likely? No. But it could be.

But look at any of these guys and try to stretch it out to a month and it just doesn't happen. You run into games where they are hitting again. Good hitters don't have incredibly bad months. We know this just looking at Zimm over the years. He's a fairly competent hitter most years. But like the guys above, he's had some bad month. He's had slow starts. He's had some in season months where he put up an OPS in the high .500s.* But he hasn't had a flat out terrible month, a low .400s OPS month, ever.  That's why I put the bar out there. If he gets "hot" and gets his stats up to bad, well bad months happen. It's not a good sign for the rest of the year but it doesn't necessarily prohibit Zimm from being a useful to good bat in 2018.  If he can't, we're looking at something we haven't seen before and we can't really use the past for judgement.

Other Notes
The team and the fans are convincing themselves that Pedro Severino is the wave of the future. Good luck with that. The guy has hit .240 / .321 / .320 the past week. That's very likely a best case and would only squeak by what Wieters made you cry over last year. I mean, you start Severino but don't let a good month (if that happens) convince you that he's anything other than a back-up

Goodwin went on the 10-day DL.  Assuming he heals up as they expect, keeping him off of it for a few days cost them a few days of having a player they could use. Will the same be true of Rendon? That's the thing. If Rendon comes back after 9 days that's not a win. That means you traded one-day of Rendon for 9 days of having a full bench. That's a bad trade. If Rendon misses today that's 5 days of Rendon out. That's probably as far as I'd go and say the Nats made the right move keeping him off the DL. Rendon is good but a full bench is at least as important.

*If you ranked Zimm's worst months like 2 of his Bottom 5 partial ones and Three of his Bottom 5 full ones would be from 2016.  Makes you wonder if he should have even been playing that year.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I've read this script before

After a lousy start to the season the Nats needed a win like that. An improbable win, an impossible win.  Down big yet getting key hits from role players and coming back despite the odds. Winning late like that, it just changes things doesn't it? And the Mets losing too - you get exactly what you need - a game in the standings and hopefully a turning point for the team to take off from.

Oh, you thought I was talking about last night? Sorry this is a flashback to the "Uggla Game" in 2015. The improbable win that would turn around the year for the early floundering Nationals. Until it didn't. The lesson Boz taught, by accident, came to fruition. That lesson, for those that hate clicking links, is if you fall far enough behind you can play well and still not catch the team infront of you. The Nats did play well after that Uggla game. Well enough to pass the Mets. But it wasn't well enough to put the Mets away and the Mets made the moves and won the games down the stretch.

Last night's game was a fun one but it took all the bad luck the Nats had gotten over the start of the season turning into good luck in one inning. Sierra's hit was a ground ball where they ain't. A few feet in another direction and it's an out. This describes Turner's hit, too. And Bryce's. And Difo's. Both Kendrick and Reynolds were walked on four pitches. The Nats didn't do much different in that inning than they had all year long, except for one glorious three out stretch the balls didn't find gloves and the other team was missing their spots. For me it's hard to point to that, even in the glow of a needed win, and say the Nats did anything special.

Of course this is baseball. This is what happens. You put the ball in play as hard as you can and hope to get it in the air between players. Seven out of 10 times you don't. But the season is long enough that sometimes those three out of 10 times line up just right. This happens for everyone. Better teams more than bad ones, but everyone. This season it seemed like it was happening more for the Nats' opponents than the Nats regardless of their quality (Reds excepted. Ugh the Reds. Don't look at them!).

Take that win and don't think of it as a turning point. Think of it as a gift. The Nats could have lost that game. They won it. Great. It's in the bank now. The goal for today and beyond though is still the same. Get healthy. Play better. Beat the Mets. You got a break now take advantage of it. 

Notes :

Bryce's homer is impressive but it's not like he muscled out a ball on the handle of the bat. He squared it up for the most part and hit it hard and the bat broke. There was probably a crack in the bat already. Not all bat breaks are jam jobs. It still takes a bunch of strength to put something like that out or else you'd see it more often so cheer him rightfully but I still like to make sure reality is respected.

Severino's hit was the realest of the 8th inning - a line drive into left. Do I think he'll hit? Of course not. Do I think the Nats should ride whoever's hot behind the plate? Yes. Right now, oddly enough, it might be both guys.

Zimmerman should have been protecting the plate on that call. It probably just missed the zone but it's one of those "too close to take" pitches.

Kendrick's homer was his first second of the year and the Nats big rally didn't have an XBH. The problem for the Nats is that their power is expected to be Bryce, Rendon, Murphy, Zimm and maybe MAT. With Rendon and Murphy out and Zimm and MAT struggling that means the Nats power is down to just Bryce. He can almost do it himself, but almost.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday Quickie - Divisional Panic

The Nats are 7-9. That's disappointing but as we keep saying - it isn't anywhere near impossible that a 90+ win team starts 7-9.  It's a bump to overcome, not a mountain.

But also as we keep saying the Nats do not play in a vaccuum. They can move forward and win 90+ games and still not win the division if another team just flat out beats them and right now the Mets are just flat out beating them. They are 12-2 with a six game lead and have an opportunity, not to finish off the Nats, but to make that bump into that mountain. Even with 145 games or so left, nine games is a lot of games to make up.

Let's do a couple flashbacks

In 2015 - the season we almost have to compare this one to - the Mets started out super hot (13-3) while the Nats did not (7-9).  Seems familiar right? A hot Mets team with a 6 game lead a couple weeks in.  Well what happened next? Immediately things got worse. The Mets would start playing .500 ish for a couple weeks but the Nats would start out in the middle of a six game slide putting them 8 games out at 7-13 as the last week in April started. Then the Nats would catch fire. They'd go 18-4 over the next three plus weeks and would be up 1.5 games before May was done. It helped that the Mets would have their own 4-10 slide.

So you can make up even more than 6 games in the matter of a month. It does take you playing your best baseball of the year, and the other team playing maybe its worst but it's possible. And at that point all the Nats had to do again was outplay the Mets down the stretch. They wouldn't do it of course but it wasn't a crazy thing to expect they would.

That last point is important. Does this series matter? Yes, but let's not get ahead of ourselves thinking that winning it, or even sweeping it, fixes anything.  Really all it does it keep the wheels from coming off right now. In 2015 the Nats were looking at a 6 game deficit to the Mets heading into a H2H series with them at CitiField, a week and a half later than this year. The Nats would take three of four (even losing the Scherzer game!) and would come out of there only 4 games down. While it would help in the catching of the Mets, it didn't mean the Nats would put them away.As noted the slightly better than the Mets 2015 Nats would every so slightly expand the lead until the end of July when the Mets would bring in Cespedes, even up the talent more, and then sweep the Nats in NY.

The Nats don't NEED to win this series - it's an away series against a good team that's hot. That's asking too much. But they need to not get swept and hopefully that means a series win.

Right now the Nats are playing like their record suggests. They can beat awful teams, but can't hold ground against good teams at home. That's a recipe for struggling to keep .500. This is a hard road trip for the Nats. They take on the Mets, then they have to fly across the country to take on two desperate teams, the Dodgers and Giants, who expected to be doing better than they are. What am I asking from the Nats... I can't believe it but I'm just asking for 3-6, and to not get swept by the Mets. 10-15 is a pretty lousy start but at this point it's about slowing the bleeding, and a road trip like this is one where the team could bleed out.

Other notes 

Remember before the season when I said I was worried about the OF because Eaton was a risk because he was still an injury recovery situation and MAT was questionable because last year was the only year he did well and he was hurt in Spring and you all said don't worry about it?

Just wondering if you remember that.

An encouraging sign. Trea taking 5 walks over the weekend. If he's going to lead off he needs to do that. Now how a guy with his speed gets on base at least 7 times and steals one base is something we need to talk about  (Commenter noted - Trea had guys in front of him for each of three walks yesterday.  Went back and looked at other times and basically there was only one straight steal of 2B that wasn't tried out of the seven. So there you go. 1 stolen base is fine.) but the foundation to a good guy to have in front of the big hitters is there. 

I've heard people say Bryce is trying too hard to compensate and suffering. That's just us projecting. Bryce just went 3-7 with four walks and a homer in the last three games. He's being Bryce. The Nats have enough real issues without making up ones.

Zimmerman is now batting .122 / .204 /.224. Slow start? Perhaps it's not unusual as they said for Zimm to get off to a slow start. But slow starting Zim would OPS about 650 or so. .428? That's crazy and if he keeps it up for another ten days - be worried

I don't know if the lack of Stras-blame for yesterday's game is an encouraging sign (you get that he pitched ok and he's not a choker - see NLDS) or discouraging (too beaten down right now to care) 

Friday, April 13, 2018

The tinkerer

The Nats lose G1 of the series and now they have to win the rest to even split the home stand. They do have both Max and Stras going so the chances aren't zero, but winning three games in a row is hard in baseball even for good teams

Before I take off for the various errands I have to do I wanted to note something.  Dave Martinez has now managed 13 games. He has put out 12 different defenses and 13 different lineups. The Eaton and Wieters injuries are part of this - I'd be surprised if he could have gotten more than 4 given the usual subbing. But to have 12 different defense and 13 different lineups? That's just stupid. That's tinkering for tinkerings sake.

Get better at your job Dave

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Mets Problem

We talked about this in 2015 when the Mets got off to a hot start and the Nats did not. It does matter.

Our final totals should be adjusted because of what has taken place so far. You think the Mets are an 85 win team? Well then they should win the rest of their games at an 85 win pace. That means going a modest 79-72.  But the 10-1 they have now? That's in the bank. There's no changing that - so your 85 win team is now an 89 win team. Along with this is any change in expectation. Is there something about the Mets that made you say 85 that you like better now? Maybe you think Adrian Gonzalez could put up a good year or Michael Conforto could be a star player. Maybe now they are an 86 win team or an 87.  That 79-72 becomes 80-71 or 81-71 for the rest of the year and 90 or 91 for the season because of what's in the bank.  It does matter.

You can reverse it for the Nats though the Nats start at 6-6 won't have as big an impact as the Mets start. If you liked the Mets at 85, then they "should" be 6-5 so 10-1 is a four game positive swing in the bank. If you like the Nats at 95 then they "should" be 7-5 so 6-6 is just a one game negative swing. It does matter but just barely.

We can talk about a number of things but let's focus on the two most important ones. First, the Nats need to finish the home stand strong. 3-1 at least versus the Rockies. That only gives them a 5-5 homestand, and failure to hit either of the homestand goals (6-4 and/or a Mets series win) but it's the best you can expect after an 0-3 start. Then the Nats need to go into NY and not get swept. As of today they don't need to win that series. They might have to if things go wrong against Colorado and the Mets keep streaking, but as of today a simple 1-2 series would be acceptable. Get one win in their place and say "see you in July" and then let the season play out.

But first things first - beat up the Rockies. That's not a given. The Rockies are not a bad team. But it's a necessary thing.

Other notes

Montero is out. There are some rumors about why he was here and why he is gone so fast but it doesn't really matter does it? He hasn't been a regularly good player on offense since 2012 and a good player on defense since hurting his back in 2016. I'm not as high on Pedro Severino as... well as probably anyone, I think he stinks... but if your choice is play the stinky vet or play the stinky 24 year old, you play the stinky 24 year old and hope you get lucky. Why do I think he stinks? Because years of minor league play tells me so and his current major league bat is being held up by an unsustainable BABIP.  I suppose if his increase in BB-rate is real and he can settle down on D he's worth playing. Otherwise he's a placeholder for whoever will really be the Nats catcher in the future.

Matt Adams homer was his second of the year tying him with Adam Eaton for second on the Nats... with 2.  It's still early but right now the team's home run power is Bryce on an 80 home run pace and a bunch of pop guns. This needs to, and should, change. We'll come back to it if the problem lingers until the end of the month

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


That's the Nats record in 2016 & 2017 when Max or Strasburg have been on the mound.  That's a 73.5% win percentage or a 119 win pace. This is why, if these two are healthy, Nats fans shouldn't worry too much.  To counter this pace - a pace 25 wins better than 94 wins which should comfortably win a division most of the time - the Nats would have to be a below .500 team in all their other games. While Roark and Gio aren't perfect, they should be better than .500 pitchers.

That leaves the fifth spot to be a complete disaster, like a win a quarter of your game situation. Last year the Nats had a mess at 5th starter. They still almost went .500 in that spot (20-21).  Even taking out Ross (they went 9-4 in Ross games, which is better than you'd expect) they still went 11-17 which is simply not bad enough to counter all the above. Take out Ross, stretch that to a full season and the Nats win 93 games.

This is the cushion the Nats have. As long as Max and Strasburg are healthy and great, Gio and Roark don't have to be any better than a little over .500. As long as Gio and Roark are healthy and good the 5th spot just has to be not the worst in the league. I think the Nats can manage that. This isn't even noting that the bullpen should in fact be better this year.

I guess you could worry that the offense may not be as good. Eaton is now looking at a DL stint. Murphy isn't closing in on coming back like we'd hope we'd start to hear about by now. Zimmerman, Turner and MAT all are struggling. But Bryce is a star and Rendon keeps doing what he does, so as long as they don't falter it only takes one or two more bats to create a couple runs and a couple runs is often enough with this pitching staff.  I wouldn't make this a formula for winning in the playoffs, and yes, all this being wrong all year would probably mean a fight for the division title, but enough to knock the Nats out of contention? Nah it would take more than that.

You might be thinking - hey but in 2015 they had Bryce being BRYCE OMG and great Max and didn't even have that faltering a 5th starter and they didn't stay in contention. True. But they scored the 3rd most runs in the league with little else than Bryce. The second best hitter on the team was Escobar as Zimm, Werth, Ramos and Rendon all battled back from injuries. They had the 6th best ERA in the league despite fighting a faltering pen. That's usually a team that will compete for a Wild Card. What they also had was a little bad luck - Runs scored and runs allowed suggested an 89 win team, not an 83 win team; a little bad timing - the Mets would win 90 games that year the one of two times from 2014-2017 an NL East team other than the Nats would break 79 wins as well as the WCs having 98 and 97 wins crazy numbers possibly never to be repeated; and a little bad clutch performance - 8-11 vs the Mets, including 0-6 during stretch run series. It was a better team than it showed. In a normal season that team is competing for a Wild Card down the stretch

The short of it is - give me healthy Max, healthy Stras, healthy Bryce, and healthy Rendon and don't have everything else become a complete mess and that's enough to challenge for the playoffs and likely the NL East crown. Win it? Well that has something to do with the other teams competing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Max - AaaAaaa - Savior of the Universe

Listening to the first inning, I thought "Man, the Nats fans better appreciate Scherzer because he's possibly the best pitcher in baseball right now and at some point he won't be. He'll either get injured or lose a little on his pitches and suddenly we'll all be grasping at the occasional masterful start rather than the one that happens two out of every three nights".

Then I thought - "Idiot. The Nats fans get this already"

Fans have love affairs with certain players. Max is one of those guys. Nats fans love Max and Max has given the Nats 3+ seasons of the best starting pitching they could ask for.

Hidden by another Scherzer gem last night though, was a team that scored 2 runs. I know I said the offense wasn't a problem and it wasn't, but then Eaton stopped hitting all of a sudden and no one else has stepped up. Bryce has been good. Rendon's been good. Kendrick's filled in well. We'll skip catcher for now as that's been split this year. The other starters are struggling. Who's doing poorly and who's getting unlucky? To the Fancy Stats!

Ryan Zimmerman (.097 / .176 / .194) - Zimmerman's plate stats are a little worse than usual. K-rate is up, his swinging strikes are up, and his BB-rate is down.  But all these combined are not enough to explain this start. His batting stats tell more of a story with his soft hit rate way way up (22.7%) and his opposite field hit percentage being way way up (45.5%). From this you'd guess he's late on pitches and not hitting them well. Almost as if he didn't practice enough hitting real live major league pitching before the season. Huh. Must be coincidental. He's also hitting far more line drives which is usually good but because he's got no power behind them they are melting ropes to the outfield instead of doubles to the gaps. Still even with all these negatives Zimm shouldn't be doing this bad. His .095 BABIP is crazy low.  I'd say Zimm looks like we'd expect a guy to look that didn't really have a spring training. He's not up to speed yet. Zimm should see a bump in average just from his bad luck going away. After that - well it could go either way. Because of the whole fog of ST around him I don't want to say he'll definitely hit once he's ready but the line drive percentages are encouraging.

Michael A Taylor (.176 / .222 / .206) - First thing I want to check with MAT is the K-rate. That's his biggest weakness. Indeed it is up but it's also not that far away from last year. Same with walk rate and his swings and misses. Minor shifts but not explanatory ones, at least for a drop this big.  Unlike Zimm though MAT's .273 BABIP is maybe a little low but not crazy. Put a pin here though. MAT has barely hit any line drives (10%) - instead everything in GBs or FBs and he hasn't been able to hit any fly balls out yet. His pull stats suggest he's behind (usually dead pull hitter - around 50% - is pulling only 36%) and he's hitting the ball a little soft. I kind of see something similar to Zimm, in that MATs time off in Spring Training put him behind and he's trying to catch up. So eventually, probably pretty soon, he'll get to where he belongs. But now back to the pin. MAT had a BABIP of .363 last year . That would have been good enough for 6th in the majors if he played. MAT isn't THAT fast and doesn't hit the ball that hard to think that that's going to continue. MATs going to hit his homers but he's going to hit .230-.240 while doing it.

Trea Turner (.216 / .370 / .297) - Trea has walked a lot this season (9 times already when he walked 30 times last year) So much for putting him in a spot where he would just hit. His BABIP is low (.250) especially for someone as fast as he is who generally beats out GBs.  He's another guy hitting balls away more, but he's also still pulling them.  How hard he's hitting them is the same. Swinging Strikes are down. I guess the one this I see is that despite swinging at fewer balls outside the zone he's making a lot more contact on them. Making a wild guess is that pitchers are feeding him fastballs outside the zone and he's hitting them suboptimally (or just walking). Then again his pitches in the Zone % is only down a hair. This is just a mish mash of stuff which makes sense for 10 games into the year. I think honestly think this is just random fluctuation of stuff making him a below average guy right now but I also think that Trea is more of an average hitter than we want to believe.

Eaton Part Two (.125 / .263 /.188) - At one point Eaton in G3 was hitting like .650 with 2 homers and 2 doubles, but since that moment he's cratered. As this isn't even the tiny 10 game sample (he missed a couple games and part-timed a few) I don't even want to dig into it. Just something to notice going forward.

So a quick look doesn't give me any particular reason to worry. I'm actually surprised by that because just 10 days of stats can throw some funny things at you. I'd expect all these guys to hit better. That's the good news. The bad news is I can't guarantee that when they have ML readiness and get over the luck hump that they'll be actually good. The question of whether Zimm is healthy will linger until he starts hitting. Eaton, who did look ready, faces the same thing now coming off his tweak. I think the expectations for both MAT and Trea are probably a little outsized.

Still if these guys can get back to normal, with Bryce and Rendon hitting as they should the offense shouldn't be a problem. Make it easy Eaton - hit a bunch today and look right.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Monday Quickie - Sticking to my guns

"Perhaps if they got swept by the Mets and followed that with losing 2 of three to Atlanta you could start to sweat"

Is it getting a little hot in here? Yes. Yes it is.

What is going on?  A couple things. First and foremost you have the magnification that comes along with a start of a season. It's only been 9 games and a 4-5 record in 9 games is pretty unremarkable. But have it be the only 9 games you see and you can't help but think "well maybe this is the team - a .500 bunch".

Second you have a rare event - the other NL East teams starting well.  Let's look back for a second at last couple of years.
  • In 2017 the Nats started 3-3 and 6-5. At the time they were tied for first, and a half-game behind respectively. 
  • In 2016 the Nats started 9-1. They beat up on the Braves, but only won 2 vs Philly and had split 2 versus the Marlins. Still they found themselves up by 5 games. 5! A mere 10 games in.
The Nats didn't ever really have a chance to feel threatened because they haven't started this slowly in a while, nor has the NL East had this fast a start in a while. In combination with this is the sweep at the hands of the Mets, who the Nats have handled in the past two years at a 25-13 pace. This all reminds Nats fans a bit too much of 2015 where a 13-3 Mets team jumped out to an early lead on a 7-9 Nats team and then were able to hold on as the season progressed.

But this still doesn't get to the why and stat-wise it's simple. The Nats have given up a ton of runs. No starter has been dominant. Because of that the bullpen has been asked to do more. While some have been fine, the last few arms out have been iffy as expected with Gott and Romero blowing up and more importantly the key piece of Brandon Kintzler, the guy most likely to put out fires in the 6th and 7th has been terrible. He's made the fires into infernos.

The Kintzler work will sort itself out. If he keeps struggling he'll lose that role and it'll go to a Shawn Kelly, who's looked pretty good in his few appearances, or Sammy Solis who has been solid lately. The last arms situation though will not. That's fine if the starters reset themselves and give the Nats a ton of very good innings. But if they can't this couple arm short pen could plague the Nats as the season goes on.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Well that went well

Don't panic. I repeat don't panic.

OK Eaton tweaked something BUT they took a quick look at it and said that there is no damage, so he should be back in a few days

OK the second straight Nats' ace put up a mediocre game BUT neither of the games were worrisome or terrible. They left the Nats with a chance to win which is where you want your ace's bad games to be.

OK the Nats dropped another game to fall to 4-3 and 1.5 games behind the Mets BUT it's game 7 dammit. The Nats win the next two (easily could happen) and they are 6-3 with a half game lead on the Mets and you aren't worried at all anymore.

OK Miguel Montero looks terrible BUT he's the back-up catcher. You can count the teams with good back-up catchers on one hand. 

OK the guys you worried about in Spring, Ryan for sitting out and MAT for getting hurt, are doing poorly BUT it's been a week. Sure it's not what you want to see but before you decide that something is really up here can we give them at least two weeks of games?

The Nats have started playoff years not great. Just last year as the Nats worked through their bullpen issues they started 6-5 and looked up at the Mets in the standings. And in 2014 they started 41-38 and were tied with Atlanta before popping the clutch and telling the NL East to eat their dust. We have a long way to go to be worried for real. We can point out differences but let's stick to the script. No worrying unless the Mets sweep and the Braves take 2 of 3, ok? We can revisit after the homestand.

It's early in the year even for "early in the year" talk. Take the AL East. Boston is 6-1, Tampa 1-6. You could say "oh Tampa is in trouble". But let's say Tampa goes 3-0 this weekend and Boston 1-2.  7-3 vs 4-6 you don't think much about. Right now, when a single weekend can flip even the most extreme cases, you have to hold off and let the season mature just a little bit more. By next weekend we might be able to start to say some things. For now you should still be in "Baseball is back!" enjoyment mode.

Of course it would help if the Nats' play cooperated with that enjoyment mode but it's still baseball after a long, cold (not over yet!) winter.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Are the Braves a threat?


Well... maybe. But it more depends on the Nats not being as good as they thought. The Braves have played well but they've been bolstered by a league leading offense. That might be worrisome if it were Freeman, Swanson, and Albies leading the charge, but it's Freeman (well of course), and Ryan Flaherty and Preston Tucker and Nick Markakis. Flaherty and Markakis are long time major leaguers. We know who they are and it ain't this. Tucker, while being less experienced, still looks to be a 4th OF type. This won't keep up.

You've probably heard they have a lot of young guys waiting to break through and that is true but outside of Acuna, an OF who should be a very good player, they are all starting pitchers.  When's the last time you heard of a team lead down the stretch by several rookie starting pitchers? I suppose there is a first time for everything but I need to see it first. A good Braves team this year would be around .500 with eyes on 2019.

If the Braves aren't a threat just yet, that doesn't mean the Nats are in the clear. The Mets have made it through one cycle of pitching and no one got hurt! More importantly Matt Harvey looked good. If Matt Harvey is good then the Mets 1-2-3 is as good as any in baseball and they have enough depth to figure out 4 and 5. They are still not as talented on paper as the Nats but that hasn't stopped the Nats from losing the division before.

This is why the next three games matter. Things happen. The Mets could be close to the Nats at the end of the year. The easiest way to ensure that doesn't happen is to beat them outright. Give them a loss and give yourself a win. Take away any thoughts of "tie-breakers" going against you. The Nats are home for the next 10 games and should look first and foremost to take this series versus the Mets. Set the stage as it should be set, with the Nats as the team to beat and the Mets looking up at them.

What am I looking for this home stand? It's 10 games versus the Mets, Braves, and Rockies. Two decent teams and one that might be. I'd like the Nats to not lose a series - and while that may not happen exactly as planned I think no worse than 6-4 is probably right. Also, I'd like them to win the Mets series. Give me those two and it's a successful homestand. Is there panic potential? Perhaps but this early in the season it has to be a wipeout situation. Perhaps if they got swept by the Mets and followed that with losing 2 of three to Atlanta you could start to sweat. That would make the Nats like 2-7 in last 9 and looking up at the Mets by like 4-5 games and the Braves by a couple. Those aren't nearly insurmountable hills but they aren't where you want to be. So that's the low low bar the Nats are trying to stay over.

Other news

Nats extend Rizzo! This says more about Mike than anything. The going rate for a successful GM is a 5 year contract. Maybe Rizzo doesn't get that without a title, but 3-4 years would be fairly assured at most places wanting a new GM, but Rizzo sticks around for 2. Why? Well one, because that's how the Lerners deal with management positions - see every manager ever and every contract Rizzo ever signed. Rizzo wanted a longer deal but understood in the end he wasn't going to get it here. So he sticks around not because it's the best or fairest deal for him, but because he really wants to get it done. He ranks first in credit for turning what was at best a bad team with some reasons to think they could be ok in a few years into a perennial contender* He has expressed numerous times how he sees it as his job getting this team over the hump. That may be spinning it a bit overly selfless. It may be more, "I don't want to walk out of here and then watch someone come in and win with my team" but either way he thinks he should be at the helm when this team finally does what it should have done by now.

This is good news because the Nats are out of the set it and forget it years and now deep into the kind of every year machinations that teams usually face. This year is Bryce and Gio and Murphy. There's Rendon and Roark to deal with after that. There's a possible hole in SP talent coming up. A catcher issue that needs a solution. This is less than most teams have to deal with but they are still things that need to be handled correctly and you gotta trust Rizzo to do that.  

*Who ranks 2nd? Lady Luck - giving the Nats two straight generational #1s and a division that parted like the Red Sea.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

5th starter was always likely to be a problem and that's ok

The Nats suffered their first defeat last night and it was because AJ Cole was beaten into submission. The Nats perennial starting prospect - one of the rare four time Top 100 prospect list players a testimony to both his talent and his inability to develop it - gave up 10 hits (2 homers) and 3 walks in 3 and 2/3rds which lead to 10 earned runs. Not quite a Jeremy Guthrie but not that far off.

Having THIS bad a game is uncommon for AJ but he's never really shown promise in the major leagues. Just using Game Score as a general guide his career is littered with mediocre starts that would barely hold onto a 5th spot for most rotations. In the Nats rotation, where 1-4 might be the best 1-4 in the majors, such a drop stands out even more.

It's not like the Nats didn't understand they may have a 5th starter problem. They brought in three major leaguers who might have fit the bill for other squads with Tommy Milone, Edwin Jackson and Jeremy Hellickson. It's that the Nats didn't care. This is part of the plan.

The Nats will likely let Gio walk at the end of this year which frees up one rotation spot. Roark is set to be a free agent the year after that. Like it or not, the Nats have to get a bearing on the guys they think could help them before 2021 and the best way to do that is to give them real time in the major league. Erick Fedde, the TJ surgery guy, is the guy they like the most. Scouts loved his arm out of college and he showed decent progress in the minors. However, Fedde has options left and the Nats are a team driven by options. AJ Cole, with no options left, by default has to be the first player tested. He's also the oldest (not old though - 26) and the first to be arbitration eligible (2020). Despite being around seemingly forever, AJ only has 18 major league starts under his belt, just over half a season's worth and a low number to make a judgement on, especially given his usual blah, but not awful, outings. Another month or two with similar results and he gets relegated to long man duty and then Fedde gets his shot.

Because this is Fedde's first real go, he may not get a full chance of like 5+ starts. They might see something they don't like and send him back down more quickly. If that's the case expect the Nats to turn to one of the FA guys to soak up innings until the trade deadline, when the Nats will have to make a decision. Having four good starters seems like enough, but it's a long way from the end of July to the playoffs. Plus Gio doesn't seem to be able to replicate any in-season success in the post-season. This doesn't mean they have to trade for someone. It does mean though that Cole works out or Fedde works out or one of the FA guys look sharp or else they should probably trade for someone.

So this isn't a failing - it's a plan. The Nats will probably win about 60% of their games with the other four starters. That alone is about .500 baseball. If they can play .500 ball when the 5th starter is on the mound - that's another 15 wins or so and a 96 win season. That should be plenty of wins. In the meantime they can figure out what exactly they may need to do in FA and trades over the next two years. Do they need no starters, one or two?

So is this nothing to worry about? Well no, I wouldn't go that far. Having a AJ Cole for your 5th starter shows about where your pitching depth lies. I like Fedde better so I won't say that Cole is the tops of the depth, but he's probably #2. That means the Nats starting pitching depth for 2018 is  pretty weak. So an injury to another starter could have a big impact, the better the pitcher the bigger the impact. But this is true for almost every franchise in baseball. Teams don't run 6-7 good starters deep. So I can't blame the Nats, unless they run into injury problems AND fail to address them at the trade deadline. But that's for later.

So while you may not like to see AJ Cole out there understand it's part of a larger goal and it's actually a side benefit of having such a good team. They can afford to check out Cole and Fedde and still feel confident in making the playoffs. Now if Cole throws up another middling 8+ starts and then we see him AGAIN, well then you can start getting mad. But let's hope we don't see that.

Other notes:

Bryce is awesome

The Nats bullpen lacks a real long man and that can be a problem. For one, Matt Grace, the defacto one, is both not very good and not really a long man, used for ~1 inning stints for most of the past year. But because he was out of options the Nats wanted to keep him in the majors and the best way to justify that was to try to stretch him out into 2+ inning guy. I'm not convinced. But you might have noticed that Grace didn't even pitch last night. That brings us to the second point, if Grace is your long man then Grace has to be available for the 5th starter games. No exception. Martinez pitched Grace for no real reason two days ago - his third night in a row - meaning he couldn't go yesterday.  It's not hard to make sure the one long man you have isn't on a required day of rest the day your worst pitcher takes the mound. Rookie manager mistake. Don't let it happen again. 

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Media Roundup!

Usually I put this out before the season starts but I didn't get a chance to. As the Nats continue to play subpar competition through... well October? Now's as good a time as any to get it out

NL East Champ : 29 of 29
NLDS winner : n/a
NLCS winner : 10
WS Champ : 1

NL East Champ : 6 of 6
NLDS winner : 5
NLCS winner : 2
WS Champ :0

NL East Champ : 5 of 5
NLDS winner : n/a
NLCS winner : 3
WS Champ : 2

NL East Champ : 7 of 7
NLDS winner : 5
NLCS winner : 3
WS Champ :0

NL East Champ : 8 of 8
NLDS winner : 4
NLCS winner : 2
WS Champ : 1

NL East Champ : 55 of 55
NLDS winner : 14 of 21
NLCS winner : 20 of 55
WS Champ : 4 of 55

Also MLB did a poll and only released the winner - the Nats take the NL East and split repping the NL in the World Series with the Dodgers.

On the NL East 55 of 55 is impossible to beat but you can see why it's so. The Nats are on paper 10+ games better than their next competitor. The won the NL East by 20 games last year. 20! You can work out ways that they don't win the NL East but you have to work it out. If you don't predict injury (and I don't see how you can in doing something like this) you have to pick the Nats unless you are trying to be contrarian.

While we don't see the full NLDS winning picks, we do see it for about half the picks and a full 2/3rds are saying the Nats do it this year. On one hand you can say that's a lot for a team that has now failed four times to pull that off. On the other hand...  well that is a lot considering the above and the fact that the odds for winning an NLDS is probably 55% for the best of teams. What seems like an oddly strong belief in the Nats carries on for NLCS picks with more than a third of the pundits putting the Nats in the World Series. But despite 20 putting the Nats in the series only 4 of them have the Nats winning. What I think this says is that most pundits don't really believe in the Nats, they just don't want to be left behind as a doubter when the Nats finally break through their DS walls.

If the Nats were any other team we'd probably see about 8-10 putting them in the World Series, and 15+ having them win the NLDS. But because the Nats have lost so much it creates an odd perversion where you get more credit if you pick the Nats to win some series. At least now, let's see if these high percentages stick around when these guys are making picks at playoff time when people will more remember what they do.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Monday Quickie - Back in Whatever Color It Is I Am In To Work in My Office, Today It is a Green Striped Shirt

I'm back from vacation and the Nats are back where they belong and where they will probably remain for most of the season - atop the NL East. Nothing about the results of the first series should shock you. The Nats won 97 games last year and are effectively the same team with a healthy Adam Eaton taking over for a hurt Daniel Murphy in the lineup.  The Reds won 68 games last year and lost their second best hitter to free agency.  Still, being on the road you'd probably have the Nats pegged for 2 wins and they got 3 so they are ahead of the game.

What can you glean from one game? Well here's your annual early season reminder that it's not much.  One game is meaningless. One series is also pretty meaningless. One week is almost meaningless. Two weeks is still better off ignored. Three weeks? Ok now we need to start talking. A month? Hey we've reached relevance!

To highlight that fact here's a couple of weeks from last year

Player A (April 5th, 2017 through April 11th) :  26 PA,  .450 / .577 / .800

Player B (May 29th through June 7th) : 26 PA, .095 / .231 / .143

You know where this is going but Player A was the worst regular hitter on the Nationals last year, Matt Wieters, and Player B was the best one Bryce Harper.

That's not to say that all weeks are equal. This is the ONLY regular season information we have right now so you can weight that a little more in your head than a week pulled from the middle of the season. However, that Matt Wieters week above should show you that you do that at your own risk.

So if we can't look at what the Nats have done so far what can we take away? Health. Vague overall team trends. You know I had my worry about the OF given Adam Eaton's return from injury, MATs limited amount of good play and also injury. Well Adam Eaton looks fine. Jury is still out on if MAT is right though (again - can't say anything about his stats too early).  Zimmerman too has the jury out after basically skipping Spring Training. One telling thing could be the lineup tonight. If Zimm or MAT are out again - once again failing to play back to back games it will look a little suspicious regardless of the reasons given.

Despite some guys not clicking you see the depth in the Nats starting lineup. Bryce can carry the team. Eaton was a very good offensive player before losing a year to injury. Trea seems to have a similar "at least ok" floor. The Nats have 6-8 guys you want and are usually going to have 3+ guys going at the same time. Against a bad team that's enough. You also see the top half of the rotation remains strong. The bullpen? Well it should be fine, but you also once again understand the extensional worry of not having that one guy you rely on to be dominant. Could Doolittle have a bad year? Yes! Could Madson have a bad year? Yes! Could Kintzler have a bad year? Yes! Could all three? Well, yes technically but it's pretty damn unlikely. But that last answer is the one you want for your main guy alone. The Nats don't have that. Still it'll almost certainly work out - at least the back end. So the questionable showings from some guys is more a "dammit, don't play with me like this. Not after last year" than a "OH NO DOOM" situation.

Onto the Braves and the first games that may actually matter in more than a counting sense.