Nationals Baseball: First Place

Thursday, May 31, 2018

First Place

It didn't quite take as long as I thought it might, and didn't come as quickly as others wanted but the Nats are back in first place. Since bottoming out at 11-16 they've gone 21-6, so it was mostly the Nats crushing it. First a 13-2 run against some solid teams and now an 8-1 run against the bottom of the barrel. The first run had some luck to it. 8 out of 13 were wins where the margin of victory were two runs or fewer. But that's to be expected. You have to get some luck to go 13-2, especially against decent competition. They haven't squeaked out a bunch of 1-run wins in this latest run. They've won 5 of 8 by at least three runs. This is what you want to see. They are clearly better than these teams, even with some injury issues.

But remember they were 4.5, 5.5, and 6 games back of the Braves, Phillies, and Mets respectively. They still needed other things to go their way to get to this point in 4 weeks instead of 6 or 8.  They got those things as the teams ahead of them performed inversely to their position at that point.  The Braves have gone 17-12 during that time. That's very good! The Phillies a respectable 14-13. That's ok! The Mets 11-17. That's garbage!  If the Phillies went 16-11 or the Mets 16-12? The Nats would be in 2nd still (by a half game).  The Mets laid down for them, the Phillies played like we thought the Phillies should, and the Braves were just close enough to be caught.

So everything is coming up Nationals, but again it needed to. The Nats strength of schedule, which was Top 5 after the Yankee washout - is now down at 23.  (Phillies 14, Mets 3, Braves 1, if you are wondering).  They've feasted on the dregs for two weeks. It can only get harder.

The Phillies being the .500 ish team? We can pass that off to expectation. The Mets being garbage is something that deserves a moments time.  The Mets were a fragile team to begin with, but it hasn't exactly gone down like you'd think. They were expected to be propped up by their rotation but had  rotation injury questions. But deGrom and Syndergaard have mostly made every start. Instead the injuries struck the bullpen, which now only goes 3 pitchers deep.  This was exacerbated by the fact that beyond the Top 2 the rotation has been an issue. Harvey flamed out. Wheeler's been terrible. Vargas worse until last night. Matz has been ok but can't go deep. At the plate the injuries have taken their toll just as strongly with only Asdrubal playing a full season so far. Possibly because of injuries Cespedes, Conforto, and Bruce are all underperforming. If you think the Nats have it bad the Mets have it worse and the Mets were starting from a more precarious position as the season started. Can they come back? I suppose but they need to get healthy and why would you believe that would happen at this point?

But we're not here for the Mets. We're here for the Braves! They are on a mini slump (4-6 in last 10) but still they are doing way better than expected. What's up? Well, things have mostly shaken out as expected. Ryan Flaherty and Kurt Suzuki's fast start? Not so fast anymore. Preston Tucker superstar? Nope. But the Braves are deeper than just Freddie Freeman. Markakis and now back Flowers (yes it's been 2+ years now - we have to accept Flower is this) are good offensive bats. Albies is a slugging star as a rookie. Swanson and Inciarte aren't performing as you'd like but they've proven to be not holes in the lineup. That's 6 deep. Acuna made 7 somewhere inbetween the ok Swanson and good Albies, but he's temporarily out. In his place the Braves have gotten solid play from Charlie Culberson and Johan Camargo has spelled Flaherty enough that that spot isn't terrible. It's not necessarily an impressive line-up but it's a deep one that can hurt you from any spot right now. Assuming Acuna is back this will probably hold for the season.

Joining the offense is a killer bullpen who's back end of Vizcaino, Carle, and Winkler has been great and there's more arms that are decent, if not better, like Sam Freeman who dominates lefty bats.  So the key to beating the Braves is getting to their rotation. They don't have an ace pitcher.  Folty and Sean Newcomb have finally matured but right now they are merely good. Teheran still can't get it together. The back of the rotation is equally in flux. McCarthy is more of a Colon type, filling out the back of a rotation and they haven't nailed down a 5th guy yet.  They want it to be Anibal Sanchez but it's more likely he's no better than McCarthy.  It's not a bad rotation, but it's a rotation a good offense should be able to get to.

The Nats offense and pitching have been humming along recently but on some of the worst pitching in the majors and THE worst batting in the majors**.  How will they do matched up against decent pitching and some good bats. The starting pitching I don't worry about. We've seen them for years, but this injured make-shift line-up I'm not convinced is ok. So I think that's the key. The Nats will give up a few more runs because of the better offense but probably won't get blown out. 3 runs? 4 a game? 5, maybe? Can the Nats offense score enough against the Braves starters to negate their pen?

The match-ups are
 Stras - Folty
 Gio - McCarthy

Let's go find out.

*basically this is the contrast to the Nats - who's deep and healthy and performing rotation helps cover up a bullpen that may also be only a few arms deep.  

**seriously the Padres Marlins and Orioles and the last three in the majors in runs scored per game.


Chas R said...

It would be awesome to see Murphy and Goodwin come back in this series

G Cracka X said...

What's the goal for this series, especially sans Scherzer? Split? Not get swept?

Steve said...

Chas R: Here is yesterday's Harrisburg Senators lineup*:

Here is today's Senators lineup:

See if you can spot the differences.**

*Apologies if there is a way to create hyperlinks in comments

**Sure, I guess they could be with another affiliate, but given that Eaton's rehab plan is to go to Harrisburg this weekend then Potomac next week when both affiliates are home, my guess is Murphy and Goodwin are traveling to Atlanta.

Minor Concern said...

RE: Harrisburg lineups

Oy. Those batting averages...

Anonymous said...

I'm just glad without Murphy, Eaton, Zim, Wieters, Howie, Madson, Glover, Grace, Robles, and others they are still 10 games over 500.

W. Patterson said...

Ah, the crux of the season for me, regardless of standings. Growing up a NL West fan in southern California, the only games I ever attended were LA vs Atl. So of COURSE I wanted Atl to lose.

Now being a Nats fan and Atl in the NL East, it's awesome to watch "my" team beat Atl. No tickets for the games but Tivo's primed and ready.

Harper said...

GCX - I had it as a split to start and will keep it at that. If it was in DC I'd probably aim for a win. If it was a 3 game set I'd aim for a win.

BxJaycobb said...

Shame to not have Scherzer. That said, we needed every inch of Max yesterday to win and move ahead of Braves. So anyway. We are capable of winning any of those 4 pitching matchups. Bonus if Murphy is ready for those games.

JDBrew said...

I remember predicting Nats in first by July 4th. Is it too early to say that I called it? Or do I have to wait until Independence Day?

JDBrew said...

Spoke too soon.