Nationals Baseball: Surviving, but not advancing

Friday, August 10, 2018

Surviving, but not advancing

At the very end of June the Nats played an important series with the Phillies. The Nats went into the series 4 games out and after a pretty wretched month of baseball still had an opportunity to get right back in the pennant race. Instead the Nats would lose 3 of 4 and find themselves 6 games out on Jul 1.

Over the next 6 weeks the Nats have fallen as far back as 7 games out and have closed to as close as 5 games out, neither falling enough out to call the year, nor getting close enough to get excited. The team has remained in contention throughout the summer without providing any real interest.

This follows with the Nats seasons as a whole. A strange lack of drama for a team with 4 pennant winners and 2 above .500 teams in the past 6 years. I've probably done this before but it fascinates me so much.

In 2012 the Nats had a great start to August and eventually racked up a 7 game lead. The lead would fall to 5 before a series with 2nd place Atlanta where they could make it a race. But the Nats won the series and there was only one H2H series left that year. We kept waiting for the push, but the Braves couldn't claw any closer than 4 games until the very very end of the year when a comeback was close to impossible leaving the last important game the Nats played to be probably the 2nd win vs ATL in that aforementioned series on August 21st.

In 2013 the Nats would quickly fall out of contention, and a 0-fer run after the ASB put the Nats 9 games out of first (and 9.5 out of the WC). Any more slip-ups and the Nats would have to reasonably give up. The Nats played ok, but a surging Braves took advantage of the Nats getting swept in a mini-series vs Detroit to drive the lead to 11. The East was done. Still they chipped a game and a half from the WC race, keeping that viable, until ATL came in and swept the Nats in DC knocking them back down to 9 out on Aug 7th. The WC race was over. The season was over.

In 2014, the Nats had a slow start and were in 2nd as late as Jul 18th but the Braves faltered after that and the Nats got the lead up to 4.5 games going into a series in Atlanta. The Braves did their job this time, winning the series and moving forward 3.5 games out.  Then The Nats won 10 in a row and 12 of 13 to leave the Braves 8 games out in late August. The Braves managed to get it back down to 7 entering a H2H in early September. If they swept it, they'd have a puncher's chance the rest of the year. The Nats won game one. Season done Sept 8th.

In 2015, it looked like the Nats would finally get that exciting finish. They had underperformed a little to start, while the Mets got out fast. The two teams were going back and forth for most of the year with the Mets taking back first with the infamous trade deadline sweep in NY at the end of July. The Nats would hold close for a week or so but then they'd go on a losing streak, then the Mets had a winning streak and it was 6.5 games out at the end of the month. Worst the WC was out of reach with this being the year 3 NL Central teams would win 97 or more games. Still with 6 H2H left you could see the Nats inching ahead in the division when it counted, and when they pulled within 4 going into the first H2H series only a Mets sweep would be sure to end the year right here. The Mets swept. Season over Sept 9th.

In 2016, the Mets got injured and while they tried to keep their head above water the Nats pretty comfortably controlled the division. Given the Mets win last season you remained worried maybe even as late as having a 7 game lead on Aug 24th. I'd probably argue for an earlier date but when the lead went back up to 8 the next day and never got closer I'd say that definitively was the last important game the Nats played that year - August 25th.

In 2017, the Nats ruled. The Nats went up big, stayed up big and after a 6-0 run after the All-Star break brought the lead to 11.5 games the division seemed set. It was. The last important game was probably during this stretch around July 20th, and arguably they might have not played a game under pressure all year.*

So that's 6 seasons of contention and zero games after September 9th being important and I'm probably being generous. The Sept 9th date is solid. That Mets series was that important. Of course the lasting impression from that is watching the season went from "HERE WE GO!!!" to "and it's done" in 3 days. The other years you could probably go even further back but as fans we do tend to hold on longer than necessary.

Anyway this is just a lead up to the next set of games. Seven on the road against Chicago and St. Louis who are both good teams with things to play for. The Cubs have risen back up to the Top of the NL but are in a fight for the Central with Milwaukee.  The Cardinals are a little better than the Nats and are trying to keep the WC race from getting away from them. Unfortunately the Nats can't afford to lose ground so we can't write off a 3-4 stretch as ok.  It may turn out that way - but we can't assume it will be. So we have to set 4-3 as the goal. The Nats need to come out of this stretch with more wins than losses to make it likely that they picked up ground on someone and didn't lose more than a game to anyone else.

If they do that then maybe we can get that mid-September pennant race game we've somehow missed over the past 6 seasons.

*These are all in hindsight. What really matters is what did I think at the time, so I went back and looked 

2012- I wanted to call it after the Braves series but kept it open to a collapse. Hey, first year! I didn't know!  I would call it on Sept 5th when the Nats got it back to 7.5 games. Part of this though is not "OMG we're in a race!" but "OK we could still be in a race if X and Y happen" there's a difference between those. 

2013 -  I called it over for the division after August 5th (a few games after DET series) and gave up on the WC after August 7th

2014 - Called it after Sept 3rd

2015 - Called it after that Mets series. I mean that was obvious

2016 - Called it after August 14th 

2017 -Never officially called it. Seems like I stopped worrying about NL East on like July 10th. 

So see? Mostly generous (from a soulless automaton POV)


Carl said...

Ugh, that 2015 Mets series. On 9/9/2015 I tweeted (among other things) "ALL THE PROFANITIES."

W. Patterson said...

@Harper - So when did you, or do you expect to, call the 2018 season? You've mentioned Labor Day as a point after which you'd like to see a real race.

Fries said...

Gotta respectfully disagree about the needed record in this stretch. Adding on the 3-game set with the Marlins, the Nats have 10 games before facing Philly. Philly also has 10 games. The Nats need to start making up ground so the floor is gaining a game in that stretch. The Phils have 3 games against the Padres and 5 against the Mets. Even if you assume Boston sweeps them in their 2-game set, you have to expect Philly to be no worse than 6-4 over their next 10. The bar for the Nats then is no lower than 7-3. Therefore a 4-3 stretch against the Cubs and Cards requires a sweep of the Marlins. Possible, but not necessarily likely.

Nats need to win both series then. Probably lose today but then take Sat/Sun games against the Cubs, then take advantage of the Cards relatively weak rotation and ACTUALLY SCORE and take 3 out of 4.

JE34 said...

Why leave Hellickson in after walking Baez?
Why go to Solis for anything?

ssln said...

Because our manager ain't got a clue and our GM got rid of two decent relievers over something only he understands.

JE34 said...

Actually Hellickson hadn't allowed a hit... so I can understand trying to squeeze one more hitter out of him. Although, as Harper noted a while back, hitters are the collective equivalent of Mickey Mantle vs Hellickson on the 3rd time through the order.

Anonymous said...

I understand leaving Hellickson in after the Rizzo AB, but you do NOT leave him in after a 4 pitch walk to Baez. Idiotic.

Then the pickoff on Soto? Davey knows better than anyone that the Cubs love to do that and should have made clear to EVERYBODY to be awake

This game is a textbook example of how a manager can quite easily lose a game for a team.

Harper said...

W P - I expect to call it around the homestand against the NL Central in early Sept. I think the Mets/Marlins games help them stay in the WC race until then.

Fries - agree with everything you say except I do expect a sweep vs Miami. I think that’s more reasonable than winning either of these series. (Also as an aside I like the two team sets because the needs can change very quickly)

Johnny Callison said...

Does Rizzo have no respect for relievers? I get that relievers are notoriously up and down, and a three year run of effectiveness makes a reliever almost elite, but Rizzo's take seems to be that none can be counted on, so you just pile up bodies and maybe someone will come through. So if he has one pretty effective reliever (Kintzler) and one marginally effective one (Kelley), he seems to think he can replace them easily.

Getting Holland NOW makes no sense. Rizzo almost got him for 2017 when Holland was effective for about four months before he fell apart (overuse by the Rockies for a post-injury pitcher?). But Holland TODAY is useless and it's absurd to think he was the guy to put into a tie game against a playoff level foe.

Also, it seems to me like the game might be too fast for our rookie manager. I am not impressed by his use of Solis and Holland and his handling of Hellickson.

G Cracka X said...

Nats now 11-19 in 1-run games, to complement a 2-6 record in extra inning games.

Can't blame Davey for yesterday's loss. With Doo still on the DL, he doesn't have a single reliever who has even accumulated .5 WAR, so he doesn't have a lot of great options in tight situations.

On the other hand, this is the fourth sparkling start in a row for Tanner Roark. What's been the biggest difference for him?

Kubla said...

Roark finally realized Jose Lobaton is never coming back. He now has to pitch to catchers who can make MLB rosters. He has accepted this fact and moved on, putting him back in the right headspace instead of constantly pining for Jose.

sirc said...

Roark was good in April when Weiters was the primary catcher. He was good in May, then terrible in June and part of July when Weiters was on the DL. He has been good since mid July, since Weiters came of the DL.

Maybe it's happenstance. Maybe it's part of it. Maybe it's the lion's share. I don't believe that it's happenstance.

Weiters isn't a good overall catcher but he is the best that the Nats currently have.

Roark's era pitching to Weiters is 2.11 over 7 games. 4.48 in 14 starts with Severino and 7.63 to Kieboom.

Ole PBN said...

I agree that Holland should not have been put in the game in that moment? Perhaps Glover? Suero? Miller? I don't know. But when it comes to Solis, he has 2 LHP's in the pen, the other being Mark Grace. I don't think he has the pieces to be successful with, especially with Doo and Herrera on the mend. Don't give me "Kelley was marginally effective" nonsense. The guy was ineffective, gave up HR's at will and could only pitch every 4-5 games or so. I wasn't impressed with his mid-3 ERA that was largely accumulated during mop-up duty. The only regret I had with letting Kelley go was that we didn't get anything for him. Holland is an low-risk high-reward type. Not expected to replace Kintzler, but what if he's better? It is entirely possible and I promise you if we don't make it to the playoffs, its not because Brandon freaking Kintzler is playing for someone else.

Davey has had his missteps for sure, and I think the game might be moving too fast for him. You want to fire him? Good luck dealing with that circus again of hiring someone better*. You think Dusty could have done a better job? I think Frank Robinson could have done a better job too and Jesus of Nazareth would be the ultimate cleanup hitter, but I'd rather not dwell on the past or fantasy. We have a manager who was hired because he has an open mind to change and is receptive to advanced metrics. Our old boss wasn't. Move on from that crap. Our guys need to execute. Hellickson can't walk the bases loaded and Solis can't give up a hit to tie the game. They honestly need to sack up and treat every game like a playoff game. They all say in postgame conferences but talk is cheap: play some competitive, grind your teeth, moxie-filled baseball and get some swagger going. Hit your lousy opponent in the mouth and quit making me recall Tim Hudson's accurate opinion of my favorite team. Players play. Ours needed to start yesterday. Mannnn.

ssln said...

Pitchers and catchers develop chemistry between themselves. A good catcher knows what a pitcher wants to throw before he calls it. Everyone starts out with a game plan but catchers that can modify the plan based on what is working that night are invaluable. Sometimes the curve isn't working so you don't call it. Greg Maddux had his own personal catcher. Guy had a job for years because he understood what Greg wanted in every situation.
Looks to me like Tanner and Gio didn't trust Severino's calls while they feel comfortable with Weiters. It is a matter of who you trust and the numbers don't lie. It is all about comfort level and trust.
Games come, games go. Everyone is playing every other contender so you don't know who to root for. LA v Colorado. Who do you root for? Nats need an 11 game win streak. The time is getting short...unless you believe the time has already run out.

ssln said...

The season just ended.

Robot said...


Mr. T said...

At least we didn't have to wait until October to have our hearts ripped out this year.

OIe PBN said...

"Shoulda put in" ....?? "Davey sucks cuz..."?? Our guys fold like lawn chairs. Don't matter who Davey chooses when every guy he calls on craps his pants under the bright lights. Maybe they won't in 2019. Maybe the new guys won't in 2019. I look forward to that. See ya'll then. This season is laughably over.

Carl said...


Longtimelurker said...

Definition of a heartbreaker tonight. You can call it now Harper.

Max David said...

Ehh.....I’ll give them until Thursday. If they can somehow manage to win 2 of 4 in St. Louis I’ll leave them with a prayer. Want (need now??) better than 3-4 but with the way the Cubs series went if they do indeed finish 3-4 wouldn’t be so terrible but that’s a week lost on the calendar with probably no ground made up, but see what happens. Tough to rebound from games like last night though.

G Cracka X said...

Nats current record: 60-58
Nats Pythag record: 67-51
Nats record in 1-run games: 11-20

Plus, they likely win the game last night if Doo and Herrera aren't both on the DL. The narrative reinforces itself.

Anonymous said...

I don’t know about ya’ll, but I was crying from laughter last night. I mean, how bad do you have to be to have a ninth inning like that?! No sense in being pissed off when the circus clowns screw up. I think the funniest part about last night was that Madson was actually trying his hardest.... think about that.

Kubla said...


First as tragedy, then as farce...leave it to the Nats to give up literally the most clutch hit ever.