Nationals Baseball: NL East called.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

NL East called.

Finally there has been movement. After months of what felt like the entire NL taking two steps forward and two steps back, finally a couple teams started making real moves. Unfortunately for Nats fans it's the wrong teams moving in the wrong directions. The Nats have lost the last 4. The Braves have won the last 5. The NL East deficit is now at 9 games.  The Nats are not making up 9 games. The NL East is not going to be won by the Nats.

This doesn't mean the Braves will win it. The Phillies are only 2 games behind and could still pass the Braves. But if the Phillies pass the Braves that just means two teams will finish ahead of the Nats rather than one.

Is the playoff dream dead? Not quite. 7 games is on the very outskirts of possibility for me fitting the Nats into "Nats are the best. Everyone else does exactly what's needed to fall out" sort of thing. But I have them right at the edge. One more game fallen behind? One more week without making up ground? Over.  So tomorrow could be another calling. This is the soulless take. The raw computer take that still has the Nats with 15% playoff odds or whatever. I'm sure many of you called it earlier because there isn't much reason to believe this team will do something special.

One of the things I've heard is if the Nats were better in one-run games things would be different and sure they'd be "in it" but they'd also still be out of it. Out of the WC spots. Out of first (or second) in the NL East. I suppose it would help Martinez seem like less of a problem. Maybe make you feel a little better. But a change of one-run luck wasn't going to save this season. 

How do you positively spin this year? I suppose the Nats have been in trouble for a while and didn't collapse for 6 weeks? They didn't make a run and it was against pretty weak competition but it could have been worse. You can also say that nothing underlying has changed with the talent expected this year and if you swap out Soto for Bryce you can still see the base here that would allow them to compete going forward.

Eh. That's an end of the year discussion. Right now focus on the now for the brief time we still can. I guess beat the Cardinals today. Sweep the Marlins. See where you are.


blovy8 said...

I'd call the playoffs too. My feeling is 7 is too much, and draw the line at 6. Too many clubs ahead of them and the Cardinals will likely beat them again today. This is going to really sting a lot when a 88 wins or so is all it would have taken.

Chas R said...

Yeah, hard to see this team making a move now, ti would require a complete change in their recent behavior of 1 step forward, 2 steeps back. I think though this mess is more than bad luck in 1 run games, it's bad luck with injuries and coming back from injuries, bad luck in extra inning games, bad luck with the Herrera trade, combined with poor Starting Pitching depth, a big fat zero at the Catcher spot, and some other surprising under-performance (Bryce, Gio and Tanner combo collapse). I am still optimistic about 2019 and think with some key acquisitions and a little retooling, we will be back in it.

blovy8 said...

I have this suspicion that DM is just kind of dumb. Plenty of managers have been successful despite that, LaSorda comes to mind, but it is certainly a drawback.

CardinalX said...

i think it's time to start looking forward. what moves will the Nats make. expiring contracts. much as i like Bryce, i cant see the Lerners dishing out a $300+ million contract for a player we've had and had zero playoff success with and are barely a .500 team this year with. especially in light of no TV deal coming soon and they've already dealt out $220 to Max i think and $170 to Stras. I'll miss Harper, but an OF of Eaton, Soto and Robles with MAT as a #4 seems just as potentially viable for far less cost. spend that money on Rendon extention, bring back Murphy, Adams and address the catching and rotation depth. i love Gio. but he's a #5 guy at this point on a winning team. Roark seems to have found his stuff. Hellickson might have a future and Ross coming back might work. but Stras is just not dependable enough to give us a solid 1,2 punch. love Eaton, but man... Chris Sale might have been the difference. Robles is having some difficulties in AAA, so in hindsight... what a difference that might have made? I have a feeling that keeping Dusty may have been the right move as well. so do we expect Davey to grow into a manager? a LOT of questions. inconsistency seems to be our biggest bug a boo. when the bats are working, they score double digits, but too often they're 2 hit for the first 7 innings. and pitching is either great starter and poopoo bullpen, or the starter gets run and the pen does well, but too late. i dont know. we're treading water and thats no recipe for success. long term or short.

billyhacker said...

Pitching coach is definitely the next blame target. We're talking about Martinez being bad based on what looks to me like the pitching coach's failure to manage the pitchers off the field and advise Martinez wisely on-the-field.

W. Patterson said...

Calling before Labor Day makes it pretty obvious - to Harper, the experts responding to his blog, and to me. Too bad, but one can still hope for some decent baseball.

On that note, and speaking of teams that will be watching post-season baseball from home, I've a spare ticket to the Marlins on Sunday if anybody wants to trade a beer and a brat. Decent seat, in the shade.

Also one for Wednesday vs the Phillies.

NavyYardSteve said...

Blame the Lerners for overreacting to a fluky Game 5 loss and declining to renew Dusty's contract. Blame them also for not opening the pocketbook once it became clear the Nats wouldn't get under the luxury tax threshold.*

Blame Rizzo for hiring a rookie manager with zero managerial experience.** Blame Rizzo for failing to adequately addressing the catcher situation (I assume y'all saw Ramos' debut for the Phillies last night?), a lack of starting pitching depth. Blame Rizzo for having paper-thin skin at the trade deadline and dealing away two relievers who were reasonably effective.

Blame the front office and minor league staff for too many players who failed to develop in the organization only to flourish elsewhere. Maybe also blame Rizzo for giving up on some of them too early.

Blame the rookie manager for needing time to learn how to manage a bullpen. Blame Davey for not knowing how to handle internal dissension.

Blame injury bad luck, and blame the prognosticators for assuming that Eaton and Murphy would ready to go out of the gate, and then that they'd be ready to go immediately once they got back into the lineup.

*I can see how a team like the 2018 Yankees can operate so as to get under the threshold, but I believe once a team (especially one owned by people as wealthy as the Lerners) is going to be over the threshold, there's no reason to hold back.
**There's probably something to the idea of managing in the minors (I think Cora managed Winter League ball) and learning to be The Guy managing everyone's workloads and playing time.

The frustrating thing is that I don't know what changes this winter? Hopefully everyone lives and learns. I don't think they fire Davey or Rizzo - it's more likely that some coaches get scapegoated.

Johnny Callison said...

NavyYardSteve: Just had the same thought about Martinez's lack of experience as a manager. Sure he was a bench coach, but that's ALL he's done. I remember when Frank Robinson would manage in the Puerto Rican Winter League in the off-season to get experience (of course, back then, a black man had to prove his credentials ten-fold, so he was building a much-needed resume). I get that some guys have been okay without that seasoning, but DM might have benefited (or we would have seen what he lacked) from actual managing. DM does not project command, not at all, and when you are making peanuts compared to your stars, you need a BIG personality, like Dusty or Davey Johnson.

Also, good point on the Lerners' refusal to go all-in. And this time around, Rizzo also did poorly--his blowing up of the bullpen to send a message to the clubhouse and passing on Ramos, and not adding any key pieces (Milone? Holland? Yikes.) I think he should have suspended Kelley for three games to send a message without weakening the team long-term. The Kintzler thing was just stupid--he THOUGHT Kintz was the source.

Just took a look at Nats' ten game stretches starting June 1, and it underscores that they don't look like they are about to put together any sort of hot streak:

1-4 (first five of the current stretch).

Three slumps, and no real streaks, just treading water when they aren't losing. They are mediocre to bad. Except for a good May, they have underperformed (or maybe we thought they were better than they are).

A very disappointing season.

I really don't want Martinez back. I think a strong manager is needed, not a guy who is so friendly and even tempered to a fault.

G Cracka X said...

What are the general thoughts regarding 2019? Should the Nats try to re-load, given that they project for about 80 wins (as currently constructed) for 2019? Can free agency and trades get them to a projected 88-90? Or should they try and rebuild a little, maybe not a complete teardown, but maybe trade some guys on shorter contracts like Scherzer (I know, seems crazy, but maybe the Dodgers or Yanks are interested and you could still get nice value in return. Think sell high) and Eaton to get some talent back and try to make a run in '20 or '21? Braves and Phillies look like they will be around for awhile, while I am expecting the Marlins and Mets not to be good in '19.

Silver Fox is Drunk said...

For the Nats in 2019, it depends on what they can get in FA. If they can get enough, then I'd say reload, if they can't, they could possibly do a mini-rebuild and deal Eaton and Scherzer. They don't need an Astros level rebuild given that they have a long time remaining with Soto and Robles, but I think they have too many good pieces in place to not just re-load. Add two starting pitchers, some bullpen help and re-sign Harper and you've got a 90+ win team. Hell with a better manager and a non automatic out at catcher this team could've won 90 games this year though.

Max David said...

What I’d for 2018:
Sign Dallas Keuchel
Sign Craig Kimbral
IF Harper ends up resigning pull off the Robles + other trade for Realmuto,

This can still be a decent to good team in 2019. Question is, will the Lerner’s open the check book?? I don’t think it would have mattered this year anyways but I thought the biggest FA they should have went after last year was Wade Davis, but never really seemed like they were in the mix.

Unknown said...

Nats and Braves are in equivalent but reverse roles to 2012.


Nats are now the good, talented team but the farm system is a bit shallow.

Braves are now the better more talented team with the much better farm system.


Nats have burdensome contracts and are on precipice of losing key pieces.

Braves are losing no one and can add pieces with plenty of cap space.

Starting in 2012 the Braves were able to make the playoffs and win one division title but clearly not the best team 2012-2014. They then decided to rebuild and gave up competing with Nats in 2015-2017.

The Nats are really in a similar spot. They won't be the best team in the division without huge amounts of spending or luck going forward.

They really have too much controllable young talent to rebuild but also too many holes to be elite anymore. Hope they can keep Harper, such a great player to have in our city.

G Cracka X said...

All, thanks for sharing your perspectives.

@Ty that is an interesting comparison, and I hadn't thought about it in terms of a role reversal before. Something to note there is that despite not being as good of a team, the Braves went on to win the division rather handily in '13 (though by '14 they wouldn't even finish the season at .500).

Back to the Nats, I'm really not sure what direction they should pursue going forward. However, I am confident that Rizzo will make a good choice. Not all of his decisions have panned out, but overall he has soundly guided the direction of the team and I continue to trust him to do that for '19 and beyond. Since the start of '12, they've been one of the winningiest (is that even a word??) teams in MLB

Froggy said...

I'm going to disagree with most here and say Davey Martinez did a passable job for a rookie manager. To that point, I would like to see a comparison to how other (great) managers faired in their first year as well.

I'm sure DM learned a lot more this season than he would have if everything had worked perfect and there hadn't been the plethora of injuries and bullpen issues, etc. I'm sure he is aware enough to see if and where his coaches let him down as well. I wouldn't be surprised if there will be some tweaks of the staff during the off season.

On the upside I don't have to go through the end of season 'discussion' to convince my wife to let me shell out $6K for post-season tickets. Thanks Mike Rizzo!

Ole PBN said...


Blaming the Lerners for overreacting to game 5: I think all of were pretty frustrated with the game 5 result and put a lot of blame on Wieters. But are we forgetting Dusty's insistence on starting Werth over Kendrick? He had to go. We traded proven regular season success for analytics and an open mind to change. Martinez was a great candidate for that and was also cheap. All this talk of Showalter or Girardi... you think they'd take the equivalent of stripper cash from the Lerners?

Blaming Rizzo for the manager/catcher situation: I believe Rizzo's spending was constrained and no one thought Martinez was a crap candidate when he was hired. I agree with the catcher debacle. We should have never let Ramos go and should have re-signed him even after his injury. Since his lasik surgery, he's the best hitting catcher in the game aside from Realmuto and Posey.

Blaming Rizzo for trade deadline moves: Did you think this team was going somewhere? Where exactly? They cleared salary and I like the return for Kintzler - not so much Kelley, but I was happy to see him go. I also think the front office thinks they have a shot at Bryce and will overspend to bring him back (much to my disappointment). What Rizzo wants and what the Lerners want are two different things. We end up getting fed Lerner burgers with some Rizzo seasoning to make it palatable.

Blame the organization for players being successful elsewhere: no one can know these things. I think Treinen, Goodwin, Cole, needed a change of scenery and something DC couldn't provide. Span for Alex Meyer, Roark for Christian Guzman, Cole/Treinen/Krol for Mike Morse, Lobaton/Felipe Vazquez for Nate Karns, Turner/Ross for Souza, Austin Adams/McGowin for Espinosa, Kintzler for Tyler Watson, Jhon Romero for Kintzler, Howie Kendrick for McKenzie Mills... I think Rizzo has done alright. And there's plenty of other that would say the organization does just fine at player development. Quality SP on the otherhand... I agree. Too many TJ-recovery high-school pitchers drafted.

Blame the rookie manager for bullpen mgmt: I agree, but I don't think Lilliquist is free from criticism here either.

Blame injury: Absolutely. But some players heal slower that others (Zimm out for 3 months with a "sore back"). I think Murphy unfortunately ran into some of this. Plus we had Kendrick, so it was fine. But then he went down. So you're saying we should have signed like Brian Dozier to be a 3rd string 2B? Some things you just can't prepare for.

My hope is that the bad eggs leave this team. No way to know who they are, but the ones who leak to the media (like the one's we'll hear as "unnamed sources" in a Barry Svrluga story in a couple months) should be pointed out and shown the door. That stuff is a clubhouse cancer.

ssln said...

I was going to say you had finally become a realist until you wrote the last paragraph. Still can't truly face the reality of the poor performance of this team. How about saying sweep the next three series and see where you are.
The Nats haven't won more than three games in a row since May. Forget about eleven in a row, they now need thirteen in a row to get back in it.
As usual, hope I'm wrong but so far I haven't been.
A final thought, when you start tabulating the reasons for the failure of the team, don't forget about Harper swinging for the fences on every plate appearance because it is a contract year. now he is going to left field more and his average is up 25 points. It would have been nice to take that approach earlier in the year but that would have made him a team player. There is much more wrong with this team than you may suspect.

SM said...

@ Ty Miller

Interesting comparison. You might want to add that Alex Anthopoulos is an energetic and determined GM who won't hesitate to seize every opportunity, even risky ones, to win it all. And given the farm system he inherited, the Braves are on the verge of becoming a force yet again.

Anthopoulos, of course, is the last of the GMs who worked his way through the Montreal Expo pipeline. (Boston's Dave Dombrowski is another.) Which brings to this (for those agitating for a no-nonsense, smart, play-and-act-like-a-man manager): Felipe Alou is available, and he's only 83 years old.

Johnny Callison said...

I think we are all beginning to realize that baseball has sort of passed the Nats by. Even if they could win the NL East, other teams are better at assembling rosters and are willing to bolster those rosters in-season in ways the Nats are not. Also, the reboot model teams in Houston and Philly and Atlanta have also passed the Nats. There was a feeling of inevitability that one of these years the Nats would break through, like those even year Giants (who had a really good BP, by the way, year after year, and some really savvy teamwork, and a couple of guys who had huge series at the right moment; the Nats have not been able to have any of those things happen). Now we're not so sure about that inevitability and the Nats' model doesn't seem to be the cutting edge. And the Nats couldn't even pull off a good WC run in year of NL parity, so we're all in shock and trying to figure out if it's injury luck, just plain poor performance, too cheap Lerners, bad personnel moves by Rizzo, or Davey.

Someone posted that the Nats have tried to sort of thread the needle of staying competitive year after year without being a big spender and that probably isn't sustainable. I'm hoping the Nats can figure out how to stay highly competitive in this new baseball era of super-teams, rebuilds, and tanking.

Fries said...

And that 3rd inning is a perfect microcosm of the season. Heart of the lineup, bases loaded, 1 out, and you manage a single run. That's not luck, that's a lack of execution when you have all the talent in the world. That's a failure in approach. That's poor coaching. I don't know if it's Davey or Long, but one of the two needs to go. Yes you can point to the 1-run game record to try and explain part of the Nats predicament, but the Nats are on the losing end of that this season because of innings like that

Kubla said...

As much as the BP is the scapegoat most of the time, they're apparently not that bad. I looked up wins above average by position, and the Nats are 6th for both SP and RP (6th and 7th in WAR). My the takeaway is that everyone's bullpen always sucks and will always be the scapegoat (with the exception of a luck-driven super bullpen like the WS Royals). Maybe relievers are not starters for a reason.

Robot said...

Perhaps, Kubla, but Madsen's grand slam loser really felt like the nail in the coffin for the season.

G Cracka X said...

Nats pick up a game on the Braves and Phillies (who lost 24-4 to the Mets!). The Phillies pitchers have a box score combination I have never seen before: One guy gives up 7 earned runs in 1.2 innings, while another guy gives up 0 earned runs in 1 inning, but 7 unearned runs in that same inning! I wonder what the record is for most unearned runs given up in one inning?

G Cracka X said...

Mets scored 10 runs in 1 inning, and went 10-24 with RISP

G Cracka X said...

Next up: Scherzer at home vs. Straily

Max David said...

Probably too little too late though. And if Atlanta lost that just means Colorado won, so we lose in the WC anyways no matter who wins in that series.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. “1 run luck wasn’t going to save this season.” Uh. Come again? Unless I’m mistaken the Nats are 11-22 in 1 run games and then 3 games under .500 in extra inning games that aren’t 1 run games. Am I wrong on that? Somebody can correct me. But .500 in those games puts them like 7 games higher in standings. More actually, since multiple of those 1 run and extra inning losses are against braves and Phillies. you’re wrong. A decent record in 1 run games (by decent I mean even luck...and yes it’s luck. There’s no indication managers over the course of large sample sizes can be “good” in 1 run games compared to other managers) puts them squarely in the division race and squarely in the WC race. That’s an overstatement by you, sorry.

BxJaycobb said...

If I’m wrong and they’d only be like 6-7 games better max, I mean....come on. Then they’re probably the odds on favorites to come out on top by end of season.

G Cracka X said...

I think both Harper and BxJ are right:

Nats record: 61-61. Nats Pythag: 68-54 Nats 1-run: 12-21
Braves record: 68-52 Braves Pythag: 70-50 Braves 1-run: 16-8
Phillies record: 67-54 Phillies Pythag: 62-59 Phillies 1-run: 20-12

I think this statement is spot on:

"One of the things I've heard is if the Nats were better in one-run games things would be different and sure they'd be "in it" but they'd also still be out of it." The data bears this out

"But a change of one-run luck wasn't going to save this season." I think this is the main thing BxJ is reacting to, and I think that is fair. A change in 1-run variance, especially if you expand that to regress the Phillies and Braves, would definitely change the state of the season up to this point

blovy8 said...

The hole in the Braves system is how they won't be getting anyone good from the International pool for the next couple of years. They will need the guys in the system now to work out, because they'll be behind most other clubs after that without a lot of US draft luck.

blovy8 said...

Has a team won and lost by 20 runs in the same season before this year's Mets?

Chaos56 said...

Short of finding someone foolish enough to pick up Zim's 18M hit next year, some rebuild is inevitable. Potential salaries being allowed to come off the books is the only way they can spend for FA's, since they're risking a third year (50% tax) over the cap. They've already been "big spenders". Boston and the Nats are the only teams that started the season over.

Zimmerman 18 mil
Murphy 17.5
Gio 12
Holland 14
Herrera 7.94
Madsen 7.67

Z-man isn't going anywhere, not without keeping his salary on our books. Do you trust Hendrick to come back and take Murphy's spot? Gio would be okay, but only as a #5 starter and they don't get 12M. Holland, Herrera, and Madsen can all go as far as I'm concerned. I think they were 20M some-odd over this year's cap before they signed Holland. If they choose to keep Murphy, even at his current rate, they're still really close to going over again. And there's that Harper guy to sign.....

Anonymous said...

Aren't the Cardinals paying Holland his $14M for this year?

G Cracka X said...

I believe Holland is making the vet min. for the Nats. Here are the salaries that are coming off the books in '19:

Harper 21.5M
Murph 17.5M
Gio 12.0M
Wieters 10.5M
Werth 10.5M
Madson 7.5M
Kintzler (was due to make 5M in '19)
Herrera 4.4M
Adams 4.0M
Benoit 1.0M

This will be offset by Arb raises, but still: lot of money coming off the books for next season.

JE34 said...

"1-run luck." Maybe it's because I'm old... Bad 1-run luck is, to my old brain, often due to poor timely hitting. Sometimes it's luck (the 9th inning line-out double plays of recent memory, hard smashes that happened to be right at fielders), but *way* more often, it's repeated missed opportunities like in the Wed night game.

Anonymous said...

Nats have been a great team since 2012. Decline is inevitable. Free agents depart. Players retire. Others are resigned for a big payday, leaving less money to acquire other pieces. Winning puts you last in line for draft picks. Player personnel strategies are from building-for-the-future to winning-now.

I'd rather have a slow two to three year rebuild process than a restock one last time. That rarely works. Now is time to pay the piper.

Permit me one blasphemous comment.. now would be the perfect time to trade Scherzer. He is as good as he will ever be. Father time has an appointment with him shortly. We don't know whether its next season or beyond, but its coming. Nats would be selling Scherzer at a high. They could market it as an opportunity for Scherzer to go to a winning team and have a shot at the World Series.

Josh Higham said...

Nats are about $14m over the tax threshold this year.

I think it would be really, really hard to sell ownership and the fans on a rebuild to start in 2019 when Max, Stras, and Rendon are still under contract.

There's also the fact that the Braves and Phillies will end this season with legitimate weaknesses. I suspect both teams will be stronger in 2020 than 2019. With that in mind, I think unless ATL and PHI manage to snag some tremendous upgrades in the early part of the upcoming offseason, the Nats should push through 2019.

I see the point that stripping the team down after this year allows the Nats to get good value from a lot of assets who have one or two years left on their contracts. But by the same token, if you go into 2019 expecting to contend, you can sell guys at the deadline.

It's worth noting that even if the Nats decide they want to trade Scherzer, he's been paid about $60m of his $210m. Boras specifically didn't fight hard for a no-trade clause because of how the payment is deferred. It would take incredible negotiation to make a Max trade work, even if you could convince the Lerners to do it.

Kubla said...

If Scherzer goes to Cooperstown (which I think he will unless he fails a PED test or turns out to be an ax murderer), I hope it's with a Nats cap. Beyond just the WAR he brings, he performs in a spectacular fashion and is an interesting character. They have someone who is at least in the top three of his generation's pitchers who makes the Nats interesting, gets them on national TV, and keeps them in other players' minds as a legitimate destination in FA. I don't think it's going too far to compare Scherzer with Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson, both of whom pitched pitched effectively into their forties. If you look at his stats and accomplishments, you keep seeing those guys show up in the same lists. He could get his 3000th K in a Nats uniform. How cool would that be?

If the do trade him, there better be a really good plan. Otherwise it's just Stanton to the Yankees redux. Giancarlo doesn't keep it a secret how low his opinion of the Marlins is. I'd hate for the Nats to similarly burn Scherzer. If they let Bryce walk in FA and trade Max for anything less than the world, it becomes a clown show and they may as well trade Soto, Rendon, and Robles and appoint Screech as the interim manager.

CardinalX said...

scherzer and bryce are 2 different animals. you dont let a scherzer go. he's 110% every inning he's out there. and he's probably pretty close to 100% even in the dugout. you keep him until the well is dry. harper? if you can afford him and it makes sense? then you try.