Nationals Baseball: June 2019

Friday, June 28, 2019


Ok let's be honest. If you were told that the Nats would be .500 half way through the season your reaction would have been. "Ugh. That sucks" and it does! But we can't dwell on it now.  We instead move to what would have been your follow up questions*. "How's the division going?" to which the answer is "Not great" and "Are the Nats still in the playoff hunt?", to which the answer is "Yes"! 

They are still 2.5 games out of the WC (this will happen as we talked about when there are a half-dozen teams ahead of you - not ALL can lose at the same time) You can't make it up all at one time. But we have learned if you hand Davey a healthy team (only Hellickson and Zimm out) and an easy schedule (this 30 game run featured 7 games vs MIA, 4 vs the White Sox, and 3 vs Cincy along with 8 against San Diego and Arizona, though you know I like Arizona) he can win! Kind of the 2014 Matt Williams Rule. What we still need to see is how Davey and this bunch can play against good teams - and they'll get that chance after the ASB

@PHI (@BAL for 2) @ATL vCOL vLAD vATL @ARI

tha's a stretch of 22 games with 2 easy games in it. There's a run in there from the BAL games through the ATL games with 16 games and no days off either. That will probably define the season.**

But first you got to get there and up now is Detroit. Detroit is bad (26-50) and not unlucky about it (pythag 23-53). It's almost a little shame that the Nats are catching these teams NOW - where they may be showcasing the best players for trades, as opposed to a month from now when they should be depleted and possibly worse. Oh well. 

You know how the Marlins were by far the worst offense in the NL? Well the Tigers are even more by far the worst offense in the AL.  They score fewer runs than the Marlins. And they have a DH! The next best team (the Orioles) score more than a half-run more per game! They literally have two decent hitters in JaCoby Jones and probably pretty good Nick Castellanos but what's he going to do here. Miggy is on his last legs still making contact but sadly generating no power (.290 average, .380 SLG). They have a handful of below average guys you never heard of and them some worse than that.  They currently have four starters just doing terribly.

The pitching, while bad, is not the worst. The pen is ok-ish. Mainly they are propped up by a couple of starters doing well. Do the Nats catch either? Nope. Tonight they get Daniel Norris - one time big time prospect who hasn't lived up to that. He hasn't had a great game all year and mostly throws up oo short games where he only gives up 2-3 runs but can't get out of the 6th, mixed in with a clunker every few games. The Tigers are currently without a starter for Saturday, recent days off let them go with a 4 man rotation for a bit.  They have tried both Ryan Carpenter and Gregory Soto and they have been bad and really bad respectively. Tim Adleman, will probably fill the 5th starter roll for the Tigers eventually (he's old, not good, but not the worst, and can fill innings - perfect 5th guy for a bad team) but he pitched Tuesday.  Sunday is likely Zimmermann who has yet to manage a full season for the Tigers since signing that deal. He's hurt his neck (gets injections for it I think still), his groin, got hit in the face with a line drive, and this year finally it took a toll on the arm. Injuries kids, they build up. He's just an innings eater now who occasionally has runs when his body is feeling ok.

It's not as quite set-up for the sweep as the three best starters against a bad Miami team in a place they play horribly. But the Tigers are worse hitters, the Nats face worse starters, and they also do poorly at home.  It's only JUST slightly worse jsut because we still can't trust Sanchez or Voth not to get rocked.

*after "What happened?" of course

**If the Nats are in it down the the wire Sept is pretty brutal as they catch CLE and MIN then. They also end the year with 10 games in 9 days thanks to the Philly rainouts. But we're just starting to look two weeks ahead, let's not worry about over two months right now. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Keeping on

The Nats won the first two of the "should be a sweep, must be a win" Marlins series, ensuring them of a series win. Now they go for the "extra" game with Strasburg on the mound.

I've seen people say that the Nats need to win more than 8 games during this stretch, 9-3 or even 10-2. That's kind of crazy. The formula for success for division winning teams is pretty simple. Win 2 out of every 3 games against bad teams (basically win those series) and win 1 out of every 2 games against good teams (win series at home, lose them away).  If you have an equal number of good and bad teams you'll end up on a 94-95 win pace.  True the slow start means the Nats have to pick things up but they have already done some of that. They won at a 2 out of 3 pace in the 27 games coming into this stretch* against good teams and bad. That gives them leeway to simply play as a division winning team the rest of the way.  That would give them 86-87 wins.  Is that enough? Maybe! Right now WC2 is on an 85 win pace. I expect that to pick up but we can evaluate needs more as the season progresses. 8-4 keeps them on track.  That's all they need right now.

For the Nats - they should put their heads down, win the games in front of them, and occasionally check on the landscape of the league. They aren't in position yet to check out what other teams are doing and even if they squeak into a WC spot by ASB - better to keep doing what you are doing and not worry about everyone else until you have to.

But that's for the Nats. You don't have to do this. What is your fandom going to get distracted and you aren't going to cheer like you should at the games in front of you? So now that some teams are 81 games in let's check out the teams the Nats will be fighting for playoffs spots.

Atlanta - currently 48-33, pythag 45-36, 18-6 in June, 7-3 in the last 10.   What's to say? Atlanta is now on a 96 win pace and is good. Their offense lacks a second star behind Freeman, but Albies, Acuna, or Riley could all make that step, or perhaps the older Donaldson has a run in him. They have good enough depth. They brought in Kuechel to round out the rotation. If they have an issue it's that the back end of the bullpen is solid though not spectacular, and the deep bullpen has issues but there's no reason to knock them far off 96 wins. If that's the case, and you are aiming for the Nats to win the division, then yes 10-2 is what they need here because they'll probably have to be the best team in baseball the rest of the way to catch the Braves

Dodgers - 55-27 (54-28), 16-8, 7-3 we should ignore the Dodgers because they are going to win the West and not fall into the WC race, but for completeness they are the best team in baseball. The offense does have a couple holes but 1-6 is as strong as any team with the worst of the bunch still good. The rotation is best in baseball. The bullpen is 5 deep.

Cubs - 43-27 (46-34), 12-13, 4-6. The Cubs are the next team up but have enough issues you can see them falling back. Three guys, Almora, Descalso, and Zobrist are doing poor enough that they are having real issues filling 2B and CF.  The rotation is ok, but big name acquisitions Darvish and Quintana have never developed into the aces the Cubs though. The bullpen is ok too but it's got the usual back end issues. Really they are waiting for Kimbrel here which could nail it down. If I were to rate all the teams the Cubs would be the last team better than the Nats, but it's close.

Brewers 42-38 (39-41), 10-12, 3-7.  The Brewers can't get going. Offensively Yelich is now a verified superstar, Moustakas is having a rebirth and Grandal is showing everyone (including the Nats) that yes, they should have signed him. But Aguilar, Shaw, and Cain are all dramatically worse giving them nothing more than a .500 offense. The pitching is in a similar boat with a bunch of guys doing worse than last year, but that's less surprising giving the names. Bullpen is ok - would be better if they didn't have to throw so many innings (10% more than any other NL team). There's a potential for an offensive breakout and if they do trade for Bumgarner the team could be very good again, but as of now it's .500 or bust

Phillies 42-38 (40-40),  9-14,  3-7.  Another .500 team for the season. We talked a lot about this team but suffice to say every offensive player except Kingery is between mildy and majorly disappointing, though Bruce has been a good pick up. With Nola not pitching like a star the rotation doesn't work, as it's a bunch of 3-4-5s.  Bullpen is actually not terrible but it hasn't been good lately and it certainly isn't team saving.  This team needed pitching and hitting. It got one and is suffering as that one fails to carry the team.

Colorado 42-38 (42-38), 13-11, 5-5.  You may have seen me mention that Desmond and Murphy were doing much better. The Rockies are always going to score runs but early on, with those guys struggling the offense couldn't work even in Denver's thin air. Now it's back to Rockies as usual. Still it's not an offense that will scare anyone away. It's half a line-up. On the flip side the pitching staff is as expected terrible but taking the same things into account as with the line-up the bullpen looks pretty good. The rotation though is not. They have a couple good arms and a lot of bad ones.

Cardinals 40-39 (40-39),  12-11, 5-5.  The strength of the Carindals is their pen which is almost completely filled with usable arms and even with their preferred closer, Hicks, injured, they are very good. The rotation ahead of them is pretty mediocre but outside of that last starter they are all usable and the last guy is Wacha who'd you'd expect to be better. The lineup is not good, a mix of mediocre and below average bats. The saving grace is that only Molina is outright terrible (and Wieters is back to being worse than that) but all that means is they are the worst lineup of teams trying to make the playoffs. It's a team that could quickly get better through trade but it would mean kicking out guys they've relied on for a while : Molina, Wong, Carpenter. Not sure they will do it but if they will they could vault to the top of the WC set.

Diamondbacks 41-41 (45-37), 13-11, 3-7.  The D-backs are a snakebit team (ha!) having a terrible record in 1 and 2 run games (14-22) holding back what should be a solid WC team. Their offense is very good, kind of one good bat switched for a below average one from the Braves. Their rotation doesn't quite have an ace, Grienke is slowing down at 35, but goes 5 deep when healthy. Right now though it's just 3 deep. The pen is ok with the back end very strong but the rest weak. Honestly they are a lesser Braves team, though with a better back end of the pen. I'd expect a run from this squad more than any other up here.

Padres 40-40 (37-43), 10-13, 6-4. The Padres are the anti-Dbacks, looking at an 18-9 record in one run games that hides the fact they aren't really a contender - or at least haven't played like one. The offense is a beast through 5 batters, then joke at the bottom. As it stands now, pitchers can and do work around this. The starting pitching is just allright, with some surprises making the first half interesting, but that shouldn't hold up and the bullpen isn't good enough to hold on.  Most likely I see another selling of parts from this team come July to gear up for the real try at the playoffs in 2020.

oh to be fair -
Nationals 39-40 (41-38), 15-7, 7-3.  The offense can be good, the only real hole is Gomes and when Kendrick and Suzuki is in it's a deep line-up. When they are out it isn't but it isn't bad, just kind of average and top heavy.  The top 3 in the rotation are are good as any teams, but the back end, especially the 5th spot, has the expected problems. Anibal is kind of the key here. The bullpen has been better but that just means they've found some usable arms in front of Doolittle, not that they have a bullpen to worry about. Still if Sanchez is good, they have to be used less and everything kind of fits in. It's a good starter away sort of from really becoming a machine. 

What I see here is three teams right now better than the Nats - Braves, Dodgers, and Cubs, and the Cubs just barely. Out of the WC teams the Diamondbacks are about as good and I think they can stay ahead of the Nats, especially if the Padres come crashing down and give them another set of easy games. The Cardinals and Brewers both have real potential for passing the Nats (if the Nats do nothing). I see the Brewers showing more commitment to that than the Cardinals though. The Phillies are next - and I'd rank them as an annoyance. Not bad enough to dismiss and with a bunch of H2H games to go. The Rockies have to be paid attention to if only because it's a fluky place to play and things might happen. The Padres should fold.

I can see why the Nats are favored. If you twisted my arm I might have them in the playoffs (with the D-backs) but I won't say it just yet. I want to see two things (1) I want them to get to the ASB without stumbling - so far so good. and (2) I want to see what teams do after the ASB in terms of trades, including the Nats. If the Cardinals, Brewers, Phillies are still ahead of them and all get better? The Nats chances take a severe dive. If the Nats have passed them and make a move? Let's get wild.

But for now we wait. We watch. We hope they don't screw it up. It's worked for almost 30 games now. 10 more.

*exactly so going 18-9

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Marlins

Next up for the Nats is the Marlins. The Marlins actually are a decent pitchng team.  Even with three guys donw for injury they had the minor league depth to bring up some decent arms to replace them.  The Nats will face Trevor Richards - a normal veteran starter who is perfectly ok; Zac Gallen, a rookie who wasn't a major prospect but has done well at every level and looked major league ready in his first ever start; and Sandy Alcantara,who was a propsect and since being beat by the Nats a month ago has gotten great results in 5 starts.  This is not the easiest group to take on. Backing that up is an unimpressive, borderline functional bullpen. The Nats will always have a shot late but if one unimpressive arm isn't on, Mattingly can always try another to find who's good tonight. It's a bunch of C- arms.

The problem for the Marlins is that this decent staff is balanced by a terrible lineup, the lowest scoring line-up in the NL a good third of a run lower than the 2nd worst Giants,who themselves are a good half a run worse than the 3rd worst Reds. In other words - they are garbage. Making things worse is two of their better hitters - Neil Walker and Jorge Alfaro are currently out and may not play this series. This leaves them with distant 4th place ROY vote getter Brian Anderson - who's fine and Garret, almost certainly a fluke, Cooper, who has been great in limited play.  Both these guys are hot which is something I guess. Holaday and Riddle are both hot too but are average bats at best. Granderson is washed up. Castro doesn't want to be here. Brinson looks like a never-was. 3rd to last in average, 2nd to last in OBP, last in SLG (last in homers by 10, 35 fewer than 12th place STL, who themselves are only 40 behind 1st place Milwaukee. They have no patience. They have no power. They put the ball in play but with no power and no one on base to open holes all that means is a lot of outs. There's nothing here other than a real chance at a no-hitter from Max, Corbin, and/or Strasburg.

The Nats really should sweep this, even with it being in Miami*, but we are setting the goal merely at winning each series, so 2-1 is the bar.

As for yesterday - I may have been overestimating the Phillies, but it's been more a horrid stretch now then way overplaying before June. I still think all these bats can't stay below their averages for the whole season - but maybe Kapler's leadership can prove me wrong.

While we talk about the Nats crawling back into it - winning 8 of 12 in this set to get them to the point where we can merely plan out what needs to be done after the All-Star break to get into the playoffs (basically play like this for 8 of the last 10 weeks against a tougher schedule - with perhaps reinforced opponents with the Nats unlikely to be as reinforced) the Nats are still walking that tightrope and at any moment the season could be over.  What would do them in here? Anything 6-6 or lower and I'd put the fork in them, assuming all else equal**

*The Marlins are actually far worse at home FWIW. 

**If the WC teams in the lead go 4-8 and 3-9 and the Braves 1-11 well of course we don't write them off with a 6-6 but we have to assume teams keep on as they have been this season

Monday, June 24, 2019

Monday Quickie - Don't screw it up

27 games later the Nats have made it to the last stretch of their journey back to relevance. They ran through a relatively easy part of their schedule to start, going 14-7 versus the likes of Cincinnati and the White Sox. They overall won enough games at home versus the NL East rivals to keep them alive. Now comes the straight up easiest part of their schedule, 12 games with bad teams with nothing to play for leading right into the All-Star Break.  A good team wins all these series. A good team goes 8-4 or better.  Nats go 8-4 or better and they are over .500, likely no more than 3 games out with 1 team between them and the team in the 2nd WC.  It's not an ideal position but the Nats have been fighting off "SEASON OVER" for over 4 weeks now. This is what they did to themselves.

The series at home suggest the Nats are better than the Phillies, enough so that as of right now you don't see any reason the Nats can't pass them in the standings. You don't want to get complacent though. The Nats have been bitten by the "right now" bug before - watching a Mets team not as good as they were trade for Cespedes, become equals, and then knock the 2015 Nats from the playoff picture. And you don't want to think this is enough. The Phillies are an upper 80s team at best. With some poor luck or managing they are a low-mid 80s team. Beating that doesn't mean the playoffs.

The series at home also suggest the Nats aren't better than the Braves. The difference isn't enough that if you started the season over that you couldn't imagine the Nats winning the East. However, it IS enough to make you believe that overcoming an 8.5 game deficit in half a season is not worth planning for.  No the Nats need to keep an eye on the WC and hope that while they are climbing back into that race, two teams don't separate themselves from the pack. Sometimes teams do go 10-2. If the wrong two do it while the Nats are going 8-4 the season may end despite the Nats doing what they need to.

But you can't worry about that. It's head down, take care of business, see where you are for another two weeks. 8-4.  Do it.

Other Notes

Rosenthal is gone. After two decent outings to coming back from "injury" Rosenthal started to lose it again last week versus the D-backs. He had a 4 pitch one out outing as they eased him back in but Saturday he couldn't find the strike zone again walking the three men he faced on 15 pitches and that was that.  After his first few outings in April it was apparent that Rosenthal was not ready to pitch. He needed more time to clear up, if possible, whatever issues a year long lay-off had created. A long minor league stint, maybe months, was the prescription. But the Nats didn't have the luxury of letting him do that. He held a roster spot and every day he was in the minors was a day that they couldn't fill that with someone.  He could go on the 60 day DL I suppose but then he couldn't rehab in the minors. No the Nats were stuck - they had to release him and now maybe he'll get the minor league deal he honestly needs.

This was a big screw-up by Rizzo. It was supposed to be a low-risk, high-reward deal for both parties. If he was merely ok, he'd get paid like it and fill a bullpen role. No one gets hurt. If he was great, Rosenthal would get paid and the Nats would have a dominant reliever. Both win. But it was assumed when they made it that they must have a pretty good idea he was at least ok.  They did not. Given that it was really a high-risk deal with the chance of Rosenthal busting out being at least a possibility and that meaning the Nats wasted (1) the money for a useful bullpen arm and/or (2) the chance to sign a much better arm going after Rosenthal. This was a move the Nats had to have right. They did not.

Some will point out that free agent relievers have been spotty. They usually are. But you can't choose the worst one. That's not a high bar to set for a GM.

Rainey is pushed. We praised Rainey's performance, rightfully, last week. but Davey started leaning on him perhaps too much Rainey would pitch in 4 of 5 days (19, 20, 22, 23) and get progressively worse while doing it.  There are ebbs and flows to a relievers season. You are rarely dominant all the way through so some forgiveness can be made for trying to get a guy to pitch through it. Give him a day off - see if that rights the ship. But after a day off, pitching on the 22nd Rainey still did not look good. The promise of sitting two days should have won out over the hope to squeeze in a decent inning before the off-day. For Davey it didn't. Now you hope Rainey wasn't pushed too hard and that Davey and circumstance can keep him from pitching tomorrow. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Almost There

Almost There!

Actually though I love that animation this is the money song from that movie. 

This will be quick bc work is work but the Nats are almost there. After playing like one of the worst teams in baseball for 50 games, they've played like one of the best for the past 24* going 17-7.  They haven't quite made up the ground but they are just a couple weeks away from it.  What do they have to do now? Let's review. It's pretty simple actually.
  1. Don't get swept by the Braves
  2. Beat up on the bad teams before the break 
The plan would be go at least 1-2 in these 3, then go 8-4 in the following four series. Get to one over .500 at the break. Beat Miami (27-46) away. Beat Detroit (26-44) away. Beat Miami at home. Beat KC (26-49) at home. This is honestly merely meeting expectations. This doesn't mean that they are set up for a playoff spot - after the break they'll have to beat expectations to get over that final hurdle - but it puts them in a position to attempt that.

Get swept and the Nats are back to 5 out, needing a 9-3 run in those 12 to get to one-over. A more likely 8-4 keeps the Nats under and anything less... we're back to what are we doing?

The 3.5 out of the playoffs is a bit of a mirage. It is based on the idea that 85-86 wins will get a playoff spot, which it could but is unlikely, and ignores the fact that there are 4 teams to overcome to get that spot (and three teams within 2.5 behind the Nats also at least thinking about it). This isn't a catch the Mets scenario. It's a harder road to hoe. A good comparison would be the 2013 Nats who after being injured much of the year (with a laughable bench to replace the starters) found them themselves at 54-60 a week into August and then reeled off a 32-16 run (basically double what this Nats team has done so far) which got them to 86-76... and 4 games out of the second Wild Card.

So take nothing for granted here. It's still a slog. But better to be working through the slog than to be drowned in it.

One Note :

I noticed this last night so wanted to put it down.  Here are Phillies' performances the year before Kapler, with Kapler, and year after Kapler as applicable

Hernandez 110 93
Altherr 122 ~50
Herrera 103 88
Williams 111 87
Hoskins 162  127
Alfaro 127 95 99
Santana 112 105 147
Cabrera ~115  80  92
Realmuto 130 98
Segura 111 94
Bryce  134 109

Some of this is small sample size and there are a couple of counter examples. Franco has been a little less awful under Kapler. Ramos had a nice run in Philly.  This even extends to the pitching somewhat. Basically players go to the Phillies and under Kapler they get worse. There seems to be something going on here and it isn't something good (for the Phillies. Great for the Nats though!)

*The Dodgers have been the best in that time frame going 19-7. The Nats would be second followed by the Rockies at 18-8 and then, unfortunately for Nats fans, the Braves at 16-8. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Sweep Them!

Being a soulless automaton giveth, but at times it taketh away. Last night was a prime example of that. Max's performance, one night after breaking his nose, inspired many, many not even Nats fans, to wax rhapsodic. But to the cold numbers and analysis programming that two days ago said the Phillies lineup stinks right now and yesterday said a broken nose shouldn't be a big deal for a pitcher* Max's performance was merely expected. It was great and all, because Max is great, but that's it. Strip the emotion out and there's nothing special here.

And that's why you come here! Strip the emotion!

The Phillies look dead right now. They signed Bryce and Cutch so they wouldn't have to use more than one of their clearly AAAA OF and they were probably expecting that to be Herrera. But then Herrera showed himself to be a criminal, they traded for Bruce, but then Cutch got injured, and now Bruce is on and off playing. Instead of zero, they are 1-2 deep into a mess they were hoping to leave behind. But this is what happens when you "plan to" and not "plan through". To start the year they set up a situation that was favorable... as long as everything went well. But everything rarely goes well for 154+ games in baseball, especially with each additional position you look at. "We don't want to dig into terrible OF depth so we have three OF we like" is a terrible plan.  It may also look familiar to Nats fans as this team has tried its own version of this, especially in the pen, for years now.

A few days ago the Yankees traded for Edwin Encarnacion. The reaction was mostly "Why? They have almost enough good players now and two coming back soon!" THIS IS WHY. Too many good players is a feature, not a bug. And maybe one day more teams will understand that. The Rays won't win a prize for being close to the Yankees and Red Sox and spending a lot less. There's no banner for most marginal wins per dollar. Arrrgh. Oh no emotion! Buzzzzz. Zzap!

As it stands right now, the Nats are clearly better than the Phillies. Just across the board better. We said that two days ago. It was set-up for a 3-1 series, and with a game gone 2-1. They have the 2 already so that third win and a sweep would be a nice bonus. I'll also note that Kapler is showing why he is also a bad manager. The Phillies have one good arm for the year in Hector Neris and one good arm right now in Juan Nicasio. They did see Nicasio for an inning last night, but haven't seen Neris at all. Instead Kapler tried to hold onto close games with an injury returning Pat Neshek and some guy with like a 6.00 ERA I've already forgotten his name.  Look, sometimes you have to do stuff like that. Throw guys in the fire to see if they've gotten better or to find someone who can handle it. Big games against your rivals is not that time though and the Nats are better for this mismanagement.

There is a couple of interesting players currently for the Nats.

Brian Dozier is rounding himself back into a usable player. His defense isn't plus anymore but he's recovered from last year and is doing ok. He's hitting homers at a nice rate too.  Of course we have to remember context. EVERYONE is hitting homers this year. I have 6 and I don't even play. So even with 12 now and on the pace for the high 20s he's not even average on offense yet.  BUT it's not important for Dozier to be good. He just has to not be bad. As long as he (and Robles) can chip in every once in a while from the bottom of the line-up, that's all the Nats need to keep pitchers working. Right now he's doing it.

Tanner Rainey has made himself into the set-up man with several effective outings. But you can't blame a Nats fan for having less than full confidence in a bullpen pitcher not named Doolittle. Is it real? Mostly yes. He's got swing and miss stuff and when he can harness that he's effective. Although it's limited his relief work years showed a depressed BABIP which suggests he can keep that down.  Not .214 down, where it is now, but on the lower end. There is a little worry that he could be homer prone - in very short stints in AA and the majors he was bombed hard, but you'd probably look at his GB/FB history and think at least that it won't be a major issue. Rainey's issue is going to be walks - which are still up there and likely going to keep him from being a true great relief arm. But we've talked about it before Hits, Homers, Walks.  If you can control 2 of three you'll be ok. Preferably not the hits/walks controlled, homers not combo but even that guy can be used. The best combo is the hits/homers controlled, walks not. It's still only 13 IP this year - he had more innings in AAA and they weren't as good. So we'll see. ultimately it's gonna be living and dying on control

*I mean, there are ways it COULD matter - it could effect his vision or breathing, or if for some reason they didn't manage the pain of it. But none of that seemed to be the case last night. in general it shouldn't. I'd imagine a standard cold might even be harder to pitch through. Not nearly as cool looking though.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Game Thread!

Since we last talked nothing happend.  Well not nothing. The Mets have split two with the Braves which is ok. Keeps the Braves from pulling away.  Max broke his nose, which isn't good, but is not your typical injury that you have to worry about him being out a long while or try to compensate and create another injury elsewhere.  He may even pitch tonight (I'd personally hold him off until tomorrow but that's me). It's something to talk about and will make a great story if he goes out and pitches today but it's more symbolic than important.

Did you know Ian Desmond was good again? Well not good for the year but in his last 30+ games he's hitting .351 / .414 / .649. I knew Murphy would hit (he has but for 10 games fewer than Ian and he dug himself a deeper hole to start) but didn't see this coming. Good for Ian!

Have at it.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Monday Quickie The first turning/breaking point

Technically any point in the season can be a turning / breaking point.  Go on an 0-11 or 11-0 run and have the team you're chasing do exactly what you need and suddenly things change.  But these are very rare because you are relying on unrelated events. You win, that's one coin flip landing heads. They lose, that's another.

But when you play head to head games - that's just one coin flip going your way to make things work for you. Your win IS their loss.  The Nats have 7 H2H games this week so they can make a move. But let's be honest about what this entails. Even if the Nats go 7-0 then are not going to be the favorites again. The other series for the Phillies are the Marlins in Philly - likely 2-1. The other series for the Braves is the Mets in Atlanta - likely 2-1. So a 7-0 run leaves the standings looking like this

ATL 44-34
PHI 41-37
WSN 40-38

So even the PERFECT run likely leaves the Nats still in third, a game behind Philly and 4 games behind Atlanta. Every game worse put the Nats in a worse position. 5-2? That's probably the goal we are looking for 3-1 vs PHI and 2-1 vs ATL making up games on both.

ATL 45-33
PHI 42-36
WSN 38-40

That's 4 games behind the Phillies and 7 behind the Braves. That's still an uphill fight. 3-4? Let's say they split PHI and lose the ATL series...

ATL 46-32
PHI 43-35
WSN 36-42

Now you are 7 behind Philly and 10! behind ATL.  I'm gonna say with half a season left - ya done.

So this is pretty much what I see barring some surprising bad play by their rivals* outside of the Nats series.

0-7  DONE
1-6  DONE
2-5  DONE
7-0  IN IT

For the series, here are the match-ups.

Arrieta vs Corbin.  Arrieta, an Eatonesque pitcher living off one great season and being part of the 2016 Cubs, goes first for the Phillies and he's been struggling. He's an average pitcher. Unfortunately for the Nats Corbin has been matching him. The Phillies are a fairly patient squad and mostly right-handed so it's not the best match-up for Corbin.

Eflin vs Fedde. This might be the biggest mismatch on paper amazingly. Eflin has been great this year with only a brief blip of issues. Fedde has oppostiely been bad this year with brief showings of decency.  Fedde's last few starts have been filled with phrases like "he really escaped that jam" so I don't like the Nats chances here

Pivetta vs Scherzer. This is actually NOT as big a mistmatch as it seems to be. Pivetta, since coming back from AAA seems to have figured things out. Not that I like him that much but the overall ERAs don't properly reflect this match-up. Of course that holds for Max too who has been Max. Just because it's not as big a mismatch, doesn't mean it isn't a mismatch.

Nola vs Strasburg. If this was one start ago we'd be saying an easy win for the Nats as Nola hasn't been himself all year. But Strasburg's bombing last starts gives you pause. Still you can't lay everything on one start and have to like the Nats here.

It reads pitching wise as a split, with the Nats slightly more favored to take 3 than the Phillies. How are the lineups doing?

Phillies - Kingery is super hot. Hoskins is getting on base and Realmuto is hitting. Bryce is walking again but basically getting one hit a game. The rest of the team is doing poorly.

Nats - Adams is super hot. So is Rendon. and maybe Howie. Suzuki is hitting well. Eaton. Soto. Turner. There is a little break at the end of the line-up with Dozier/Gomes/Robles struggling but the Nats are clearly hitting better than the Phillies coming in, caveats of course noted**

Bullpens? Nats have a couple guys (Grace, Guerra) doing well and the rest is.. well it's the Nats pen./ But two guys doing well is one more than the Phillies have right now (Nicasio)

So every way you look at it - you like the Nats better. A little better pen. A little better in pitching match-ups. A lot better line-up right now. This is set up for a Nats series win 3-1.  Make it happen

*Could they lose those series to the Mets and Marlins? Sure. They could also sweep em! So surprisingly good play could kill this as well.

**Aren't playing the same teams in the same places over the past week. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Trap Series

Four days from now (or five depending on how you look at it - or three if it's how my daughter choses to count days till) the Nats will start a 7 game set that will likely determine their path for the regular season. Seven games against Philly and Atlanta in DC.  Dominate (7-0) and the Nats will be back to .500 on the legitimate fringes of playoff consideration. Merely win (5-2) and the Nats will move ever closer with the easiest portion of their schedule straight ahead to put them over the top. Lose (3-4) and the Nats are now forced to hope for a "best of the season" pre WC run (like 10-1 against that easy stretch) to keep hope alive. Get dominated (1-6) and it's time to pack it in.

But that's four days from now.

In the meantime the Nats will start the homestand with 4 games against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks are 6-1 in their last 7 8-3 in last 11. Like the Nats it's a stretch where the they have won convincingly and lost by a few runs.  If you look at the whole season you see a team that's better than their record (40-29 pytag, 36-33 real) who is dealing with overcoming some bad one-run luck (11-16). The Nats will catch Greinke tonight, a better performing Ray tomorrow, and likely an "all-hands on deck" bullpen game on Sunday covering for an injured starter missing a turn. This is a team that can come in here are win 3 out of 4. And if that happens shift everything I said above down. Even merely losing that stretch 3-4 in 7 would probably put an end to the Nats season.

I worry about this because I think focusing the Nats is probably Davey's biggest weakness. He aims to loosen the team but seems to distract the team.

The D-backs are simply solid.  The offense actually has scored the most runs in the NL by having only one real weakness at the plate (Nick Ahmed). They have 5 guys who will hit 20+ homers and a catcher who has similar pop. They will put it in play more than strikeout while doing this and while they don't walk alot nearly all their regular will take it if it's given to them. The relief pitching is more spotty but they got a great closer in the “Nats had him” Holland. It’s a team that can beat good teams. It certainly can beat a surging but flawed Nats team.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

What's up with Corbin?

Don't worry about the Nats loss last night.  They still won the series as far as I'm concerned and their run has gone like this

Marlins series at home? Won.
Mini-series at Atlanta? Won.
Cincy series away? Won.
Split Chicago home and home? Won.
Padres series away? Split.

Like I said they had one split afforded to them. One split is all they have so far. Now comes the Diamondbacks at home. Win this, go 3-1, and they've done exactly what they should have going into the Phillies and Braves series that will likely decide whether there really is a season remaining or if it's just a team playing out the string.

The Nats offense is humming. The Nats back of rotation and bullpen are doing well enough. But remember that one of the keys to the Nats making a comeback was the Top 3 pitching like the Top 3.  One guy hasn't done this. Corbin has now had three poor games in a row and while you see people pointing to the Marlins complete game as a possible turning point (too many pitches I guess?) the fact is he had a bad start before that as well, putting nine Mets on and giving up two homers in just 5 innings. Is there something we can note about what's going on?

1) He's become way more homer prone. In those 4 games (skipping the Marlins one) Corbin has given up 6 homers in 17 and 2/3rds innings. That's about 3 homers every nine which is... quite bad. Part of that is a GB rate that isn't as good as it was to start the year. As well he's getting hit harder. Simple enough equation to work out here.

2) He's kind of walking more and striking out less. Kind of. You know it's five games and there isn't an OMG thing here. Just a vague general trend that suggest he doesn't have his best stuff.

3) He's getting hammered when he puts men on. This is one of those stats that is hard to decipher. Could be that he's messing up somehow when guys get on base. Too distracted? Too much focus? Could be just some dumb luck not going his way.

4) He's had some bad BABIP days.  That Cincinnati game was fluky bad for BABIP. Almost .600 which likely mean a handful of seeing eye hits all getting through. Other games aren't as bad and more go along with the - just getting hit harder so there are more hits.

There's no super telling thing here. The first point is the most telling - hit harder and more balls in the air - and after that there's a mish-mosh of things that might matter, might be artifacts of Corbin adjusting for the first point, or might be bad luck.

Has he changed his pitching? He seems to think his issue is fastball location, which helps negate the effectiveness of his slider. Maybe he's throwing a couple fewer sliders for a couple more changes and curves.  But he's basically maintaining how he pitched before in terms of hards/changes. He notes that as far as the "hards" go, he's going more with sinkers recently but it isn't working the same as the sinker is usually a pitch you pitch to be chased down in zone but are also ok if it gets hit (since it induces GBs). Fancy stats agree that his fastball and slider have been ineffective, and less effective lately (Other pitches - which are thrown like 10-15% of the time are stable). Fancy stats also do agree he's hitting the zone less now than earlier in the year and batters are making more contact, both in and out of zone.  And fancy pitch specific stats show that while the slider is consistent, his fastball has more horizontal movement (which could indicate less control) and is finding itself more in to batter than it has all this year (and last mind you) and looking at hard pitches exactly you see far fewer in the zone recently.

To summarize that last paragraph - he seems to be on it.

Corbin isn't able to locate his fastball. I'm going to assume he is falling behind early (i could dig into counts to find out for sure but I don't have unlimited time people!) and so batters are more likely to lay off a suspected slider. He can adjust with more sinkers but that's only going to work if he can locate the sinker in a way I suspect he hasn't tried before - nailing the bottom of the zone. If batters aren't aggressive then he's still going to fall behind. (This is probably why he still did well in that Marlins game - they an aggressive team who also don't work walks) Then they can wait for a good pitch. It may not come but if 7 batters for every 9 gets to wait for two pitches, instead of say 3 - well you see the difference.

Is there any adjustment he can make? Probaby not. He doesn't seem to pitch the slider or sinker to get called strikes, using the fastball for that. Nor does anything but the horizontal movement of the fastball seem to have changed. If it were slower, if other things had changed, you might try to look for something bigger to fix. For this we're left with trying to watch him figure it out what minor tweak is needed to get that one thing back on track.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Monday Quickie - Keeping on

The Nats almost got derailed in San Diego. They lost the first two, Friday's loss with Doolittle blowing it was particularly agonizing, but they picked it up to win the last two behind Max and Stras.  The Nats could afford A split. This was the split. Now they have to keep winning. 4-2 in the last 6 to hit the 10-5 goal.

Again - can't emphasize enough how, if this is going to happen, it's likely to be a long slow slog.  After the Mets debacle the Nats were 19-31. Now they are 30-35. That's a great 11-4 run. They were 5.5 behind the Mets, 8.5 behind the Braves, 10 behind the Phillies. That made a good dent, but just a dent. Now they are 2, 6, and 7 games behind respectively.

Think about it. Everyone goes on same pace again.  Nats on a 22-8 run. 1.5 ahead of the Mets, 3.5 behind the Braves, 4 behind the Phillies. Not there yet. Again. 33-12. Mets in the rearview. 1.0 game behind the Braves. 1 Behind the Phillies. Still not there. Only need a third of the run then to catch them.  Something like 3-1 or 4-2.  Let's say 4-1. FIRST PLACE!  Now look around.  The Nats had to go 37-13 over 50 games. We're on the other side of the All-Star Break. And all they did is catch them.  Now it's a two month push to hold onto first.  And that's if everything goes perfectly playing as the best team in baseball for two solid months (they are at 2 1/2 weeks right now).  Slow it down and you are looking at catching these guys in August. That's after the trade deadline, after the chance to make moves, or perhaps after you yourself have given up.  It's unforgiving, but it's what lies in front of the Nats.

Thing is - if this were one team the Nats were chasing, you could feel pretty good but it's three. The Braves in this scenario are going like 28-21, the Phillies 28-23.  Again while the Nats go 37-13.

But hey - as of today this is still possible. Hang onto that. Go 4-2 or better. Get to those Philly and Atlanta series and see if you can really say something about the second half of this season (the ATL series will end with game 78) 

Friday, June 07, 2019

Kimbrel and Kuechel - not Nats

Kimbrel and Keuchel are now both off the table. Both would have ultimately helped the Nats. Both went different routes in signing.

Kimbrel took a multiyear package. He didn't get the 6/100+ that he looked like he was gunning for. Instead he got 3/42 (with the potential for 16 more or a buyout) that falls well short. Ultimately he was done in by the new unofficial age guidelines which basically throw you out the door in your early 30s. Kimbrel wanted something that no one is prepared to give a pitcher, certainly not one where you can't get some under 20 years, a multi-year middle 30s commitment. Holding out for that cost him probably that 4th year as guaranteed.

Keuchel looks to be gambling on himself with a 1/13 million dollar deal.  Keuchel was undone by the fact he wanted to be paid for how he pitched in 2014, 2015, and 2017 but 2016 and 2018 happened as well.  The first Keuchel deserved the 5 year / 100 million deal he was likely after.  The latter Keuchel is a 2 year deal guy. Based on fancy stats hes a high 3.00 ERA guy for the next couple of years which means he probably had something out there akin to Lance Lynn's 3/30 at best. Can he beat that next year coming off an age 31 year? Possibly - if he throws like 2015, but that's a long time ago. More likely he rolls out a year around a 3.80 FIP and settles for a 2 year deal next offseason for 15-20 or so million. If he can do that - well he nets himself a couple million considering he didn't pitch a third of this season but it probably wasn't worth it.

Anyway - how does this effect the Nats?

Keuchel is the obvious one to look at as he goes to a division opponent in the Braves.  The Braves rotation, hasn't shaken out like they wanted. While Fried and Soroka have come up from the mass of young starters as they hoped, Folty and Gausman haven't provided the stability in the middle of the rotation they were looking for. With a spotty pen, they need someone to eat innings well and Keuchel might be able to do that. He's been injured in the past, but not is only looking to go 2/3rds of a season. He should replace Gausman and settle things a bit. If Folty keeps pitching ok as he has been, that might be enough to keep pace with the Phillies. If someone else falters, he should keep Atlanta in the playoff mix, by making sure the staff doesn't fall apart.

That's overall. H2H Keuchel doesn't particularly concern me. He's a good pitcher but not great and the Nats hit lefties. There isn't a good reason to think he's going to beat them any more than any other good pitcher. He shouldn't be a game changer here.

The Kimbrel move is less directly impactful but the Cubs who weren't necessarily bad in the pen, did need that extra arm to complete this team.  The hitting is Top 5. The rotation is Top 5.  This makes the pen Top 5 and puts the Cubs in the Dodgers level. If given a choice I think the Cubs would have liked to gone and get an ace. The rotation is good but there's no dominance there. But Keuchel wasn't that so this was the move. What the Nats need to worry about now is how this effects the Central and how that effects the other teams currently in the hunt. Do the hot and cold Brewers make a counter move to stay with the Cubs? Do the Cardinals react to that? If the Cardinals react do ATL or PHI make another move down the stretch to stay in the playoffs. Or whoever is in position in the West? 

 A lot will depend on how things shake out over the next 3 weeks. Best probably case for the Nats is the Brewers drift off and you end up with a lot of middling teams fighting for the WC with no real impetus to spend a lot trying to catch that spot given their mediocre play not indicating a likely WS run. Something like it is now if MIL was at 33-30 instead of 35-28. That would give a closing in on .500 Nats team a punchers chance to emerge from the scrum given both WC would be in play and close.  This is a scenario where high 80s takes the WC spots.

Worst case for Nats is the Brewers stay close, the Cardinals catch fire and as they both gear up to challenge the Cubs through trade neither ATL or PHI falls back and in fact stay close to eachother and someone (ARI?) emerges from the West. In that scenario, even if the Nats are closing in .500 there'd be three teams ahead of them for the WC looking to really try to improve down the stretch to try to win the division who won't do that and will end up in the WC slot. Plus a WC team in whoever comes out of the West. I can't see the Nats managing to come back in this scenario as in here the WC spot probably ends up with a mid 90s and low 90s team.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Beat Bad Teams

The Nats are heating up. After going the first 50 games without a 3 game win streak, the Nats have pulled a 3 game AND four game (and counting) streaks out in this 9-2 run. It hasn't been a bunch of lucky breaks either. They've otuscored their opponents 74-48 over the streak, winning only game by one run, and two by two. The starter got the win in 6 of the 9 games, and in another Fedde didn't get it because he only went 4.

I asked more people to step up and they have.  Here are the past two weeks of hitting

Kendrick .444 /.448 / .889
Soto .415/ .500 / .707
Rendon .359 / .500 / .667
Suzuki  .400 / .455 / .550

If you have four guys hitting like that, you have to have a terrible other 4 to kill the productions. Instead you also have...

Adams .257 / .316 / .571
Dozier  .296 / .394 / .481

and Turner and Robles and Eaton... they aren't terrible.  Turner is right around average. Robles is under but hitting for ok power. Eaton is under but getting on base.

Now if we look at the past week Kendrick is slowing down but Dozier had a great week. Turner and Eaton are struggling but Robles and Parra have picked it up (just a tick).  And still four guys are OPSing over 1000, well over.

Now true this is against the soft underbelly of the schedule. Miami is terrible. Cincy is no better than average. San Diego, coming up, is like Cincy. They should beat these teams, and if the Nats are a true playoff contender they should beat them at a 2/3rd clip minimum.  And that's what they are doing!  They are playing like a playoff team right now.

But here's the rub.  It's 11 games. When the Nats started this streak at 19-31 they needed to go 71-41 just to hit 90 wins.  That's a 104-105 win pace. Now they need to go 62-39. That's still a 99-100 win pace*. Is this team, with a flawed back of the rotation and questionable pen a 99-100 win team? Do they have THAT in them? Is 90 even enough?

The finishing of this weak stretch will be interesting. The Padres, as we noted, aren't a good team. The White Sox, who follow them, are a bad one. But the conditions aren't ideal for the Nats. They played Tuesday and Wed, flew to SD and play tonight, then on Sunday they'll play a game, then fly to Chicago and play Monday. As far as baseball schedules go, it's a rough go. During thie 9-2 run they were at home then ATL and CIN then back home, with two days off in there. It was pretty nice.

The Nats have done what they should do, but if you broke this season into 6 parts, it's only the last 6th we can say that. Do it again and then again - which will then mean beating good teams in DC -  then they'll have done it for the last third of the season. That's nearly a month of baseball. That will be meaningful. But for now we still aren't talking about playoffs seriously.  Close a little more ground these 6 games, close a little more H2H, then run through the easiest portion of the schedule and see yourself at the ASB over .500 and a couple games out at most. That's the goal.

If you think you want to talk about the playoffs seriously, think about this instead. The Nats have entered a 100 game season, spotting the Braves 5 games and the Phillies 6 and a half (and the Mets a game if you are a pedant). They have 17 games left versus the Braves, but only 11 against the Phillies - though mostly at home, and for the pedant 6 versus the Mets. How do you like their chances of ending up on top of the NL East?  What if I add in the Phillies and Braves schedule, heavy on Marlins in the first 6 weeks, is now no harder than the Nats schedule?

*brought up in Twitter by @DCoruscant 

Monday, June 03, 2019

Travel Day

for me.   Nats did what they have to in first series.  Only 4 to go.