Nationals Baseball: August 2019

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Well at least everyone else lost too

You can't win them all.

I didn't follow the game much but it seemed like they were handling the Nats like I would - pitch around Rendon and Soto and make the other guys beat you. The Nats are now 7-8 deep* in professional batters so it is a risk, but these are also guys that are not team carriers. Maybe Turner is a little scary to pitch to but you can beat everyone else. It's a gamble, one that probably wouldn't work over the course of a series and with Howie and Suzuki in the line-up, but for one game? I'd do it. This would be my wild card plan. If Rendon and Soto didn't walk at least 4 times combined my pitchers either failed or these two flailed.

Corbin was good and Suero and Rodney held the Orioles down but they aren't a particularly good team with the bat (though pitching is their main problem). The fact they got through 3 innings of relief with no runs is both surprising and unlikely to happen again.  They gave up 2 hits and 2 walks in 3 innings including a triple.  Hard to do that and not give up something.

Reset - play again - win this time.

If you didn't notice the Nats are almost as far out from the NL East (5.5 games) as being out of the WC (5 games). Tough for them to win the East or lose the WC from here.

The big Q for the Nats is what to do with all the returning players. Elias, Doolittle, Zimmerman. The easy answer for rostering is nothing now - wait for roster expansion (the new limits come next year) and just bring them in. That's what they'll do. The harder answer is what to do about working them in. Elias should be the simplest. As just another bullpen arm Davey can use him anywhere. Now he's going to use him to face lefties because Davey doesn't seem to understand that Elias' splits aren't one year aberrations, but if that's how he'd use him in the playoffs might as well see if that works now, rather than wait until an important game. Doesn't bode well for Ronnie showing what he can do or optimizing the Nats pen but we're frittering away at the margins of the pen here.  Doolittle will want to go back to closing (though he's said he does need to pitch well to keep that spot). Davey will want to go back to using him there. As long as that 5 game cushion exists on either side I say - fine. Try him out at closing again. No back to backs for a couple weeks. See if he is back to normal. There's an ability to play around and having Doolittle in the right spot in the pen for the playoffs is worth losing a game here or there in September. Now, if things tighten up that will be an issue but I don't see that happening in the next 3 days.

Zimmerman... ok he's an issue. When he's on Zimm has shown he can still hit. But he hasn't been right all year and at 34 there's no reason to think he can just bounce back. Meanwhile Kendrick, who is basically who Zimm would replace is super hot and probably the Nats 4th most important hitter** You can't sit that for a chance to try out Zimm unless you are serious about sitting Kendrick for the playoffs. I would not be. I only see one path forward here and that's Zimm as a PH and spot-starter the rest of the year who rides the pine in October. Zimm got you here in the biggest and broadest sense, but Howie got you here in 2019. There's nothing owed to Zimm over Howie right now.

*depends if Gomes is starting

**He's third best but I think Turner is more important because of his speed.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Monday Quickie - Making the move

A sweep! Over stupid Maddon and his... well I don't think they are stupid, but they just won a title three years ago so they don't need another one Cubs! After basically hitting target after target the Nats smashed the simple "don't get swept" and put themselves in real position to put the Wild Card away.  5 games against the Orioles and Marlins. 4-1 minimum acceptable. Already 4 games up on the 2nd WC and 5.5 on the first out, doing that would likely add a game at least to both those sets. 5 up on the 2nd WC and 6.5 on the first out with a month to play? That's ALMOST there. They have stumbled here and there to even things out.  A stumble here (say 2-3) would be pretty terrible.

Now of course Nats fans, seeing very good baseball - great baseball even, for 3 months now aren't really satisfied with a WC but that's the hole they dug.  We mentioned how they probably wouldn't catch the Braves and even a 12-2 run got the Nats all of a half-game on the 11-2 Braves.  Their seasons have been remarkably balanced

5/24 - 6/14?  Nats 12-6, Braves 13-6
6//22 - 7/13?  Nats 12-4, Braves 12-5
7/14 - 8/10? Nats 12-12, Brves 13-13
since 8/11? Nats 12-2, Braves 11-2

Now I may be off a game here or there but it's a crazy pattern of great baseball with one long stretch where they both dipped. You may have noticed a week out there - the Braves went 4-3 and the Nats 5-2 but in all honesty if we frame these runs a little different there's a stretch from mid June to basically the start of July where the Nats were a couple games better.  But that's it. One 15 game stretch in the past 80 where one team really outpaced the other. Makes it hard to catch a team.

So the Wild Card! That would be new! It'll be fun to talk about.  But not yet.

The question for Nats fans, as they play this last easy stretch (they'll have one more easy series after this but that's it) is can things work out such that they aren't playing Mets, Twins, Cards, Phillies, and Cleveland teams fighting for their playoff lives? I'm sure we can work something out.

At this point what's clear is the Nats picked a perfect year to start disastrously.  Right now the second WC plays out to be an 86 win team. That's be the worst WC team in NL since they went to two and tied for the 2nd worst WC ever. Early in the year we wondered if the NL would produce a super division. Maybe the East with the Nats, Braves, Phillies, and Mets. Or the Central with a Cubs, Cards, Brewers set.  Maybe Colorado and the Dbacks would both shine.  Turns out nearly all of those teams are .500 squads. Not only that but they are .500 squads who didn't really care to get better. A bunch of teams with mid 80s win talent that see a mid 80s win team making the playoffs so saying "why try?".  It's the perfect situation for a low 90s win team back on their feet to make a run.

It's close. It's almost here. Nats are preparing for the dismount. Don't screw it up.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Targets hit

The Nats came back and won the last two games of the Pirates series, as they should have, and remain on target.  When they were back at 19-31 they needed to play great. They did. After they climbed that hill they needed just to play like a good team should. They have. The occasional misstep countered with occasionally doing better than their goal. Beating the Pirates was the goal. They did it. Now playing the Cubs all they have to do is win one.

Now, they may lose a game in the standings as it appears no one in the race loses anymore. The combined record of the Mets, Phillies, Braves, Cubs, and Cardinals since Sunday is 15-1. But that's ok! They should gain a couple back in the 5 game stretch vs Baltimore and Miami and that should set them up with a safe 4-5 game cushion on the Wild Card which they will survive September with. Easy peasy.

Max was back and looked fine. The Pirates aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut and he didn't even get to 80 pitches but that wasn't the point of yesterday.  The point was to show he could pitch well (he did), to stretch him out a bit (he was) and to show he could recover (let's hope). 

The Nats offense is super hot right now.  Some OPSs over the past two weeks

Kendrick 1.687
Eaton 1.286
Dozier 1.256
(if these guys hit like stars - forget about it. Also these guys won't hit like stars)
Soto 1.148
AsCab 1.129
Rendon 1.059
(6th best? STINKS.  Let him walk)
Robles 1.023
Gomes .940
Trea .912
Suzuki .845
Adams .805

Above like .950 is a star, above .850 is good, above .800 is fine.   The Nats have a lineup going 7-8 deep where the worst player is fine and 5-6 are hitting like stars.  The only one not hitting on the entire team is Parra. The pessimist might worry they are "using the good hitting up" before the playoffs, but the realist says "streaks like this happen - you never know when - just enjoy it when you see it. It'll be gone as quickly as it arrived"

There's not much to do right now other than scoreboard watch. We mentioned in on Wednesday but the Phillies get the Marlins, the Braves and Mets play, and the Cardinals will host the Rockies.  The other team? It's the Cubs!

The Cubs are on a 5 game win streak, that followed a 4 game losing streak. That pretty much fits the team.  The reached 11 games over all the way back on May 14th and then watched as they traded periods where it seemed like they were going to break out with periods where it seemed like they were going to crash.  The offense is solid though it lacks a Rendon like team carrier this year. Instead Rizzo and Bryant have been Sotos, and the rest fills in behind them. Baez good. Schwarber and Heyward above average. Russell struggling. Contreras was good behind the plate but he's been hurt and while Lucroy and some guy named Victor Caratini do their best to hold the line they do miss that bat.  Nick Castellanos has been a huge addition and HAS filled that Rendon role since coming over. He's put up a .378 / .414 / .756 line but history suggest he's more Baez than Trout.  Still it's a good offense and other than Russell there isn't a straight up hole. It works a lot like the Nats offense now - stretching the line-up with real major leaguers.

The relief pitching has some good arms, but it's the new names that are the best. Kyle Ryan, Rowan Wick, the returning David Phelps are doing really well.  Ol' pal Kintzler is good to. Then they fill up with names you recognize that are good enough to fill a pen; Cishek, Strop.  The question mark is Kimbrel.  He was supposed to come in and eventually become that stopper at the end of the game. That would set up the pen very nicely.  The Cubs are still waiting but maybe, just maybe, he has turned that corner. In his last 5 games (4.2 IP) he's allowed 4 hits, 0 BBs and struck out 8 giving up 1 run total. He's had this moment before - going 7 games being wild but giving up one hit and no runs - where you though "ok he's got it now" then had several games where he wasn't any good. One game? Ok. Two? Maaybe. More than that you lose the trust and gotta earn it back. If this really is a turn around - then the Cubs pen looks very good.

The match-ups! Sanchez vs Lester.  Lester is in the "crafty lefty" portion of his career. Usually doing ok, sometimes spinning a gem and other times having nothing at all.  Sanchez hasn't been that good lately - the lone dim spot in the Nats rotation over recent weeks. It could be a slugfest but given the Nats travel I'd give the Cubs an edge. Then it's TBD vs Quintana as Max's return forces the Nats to choose between Fedde or Ross. It's a tough call. The Cubs give no help as they would have been a little vulnerable to lefties but newly arrived Castellanos crushes them. Worst is Quintana is dealing right now and will be a tough match-up.  Pick right, Davey!  Then Strasburg vs Hamels.  Hamels is good but is one game removed from a terrible two game stretch, that they hope isn't signifying a larger issue. Stras is still doing great.   Even if the Nats lose the first two, they'd be favored to take the last one here.

OK - Don't get swept! Set up those next five!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

I can't even blame Davey... much

I'd love to do it, but I look at yesterday and see this situation

Strasburg cruised and had the Nats with a one-run lead going into the 8th inning. You couldn't ask for more especially given the fact the Nats had managed all of one-run. At 94 he could have been pushed another inning but with 8-9-1 coming up, and 1 being not much of a hitter, it seemed like a good time to give Stras' arm a little break and throw another guy in there for what should be an easy inning.

So who comes in? Suero, Strickland, Rodney, and Hudson were all two days removed from their last appearance. If you think he's going to try to close with Rodney - then he can't come in in the 8th and Strickland had his face injury issue, which earned him a day off as well. So it's Hudson or Suero and now it depends on your take.

If you think anyone should get out these guys, you put in Suero. Yeah it's a close game but today you might need someone to get big outs against their good hitters late. This seems like an opportunity to not pitch either of your best arms.

If you think it's a close game, nail down the win and hope it doesn't burn you tomorrow, then Hudson would be your guy, as it seems like Hudson-Rodney or Rodney-Hudson would be the last two with Doolittle out.

I can see it either way. Davey opted for Suero and Suero couldn't do the job - a hit, a walk, and then an unlucky bunt tht split the fielders. Now you had the important at bats late against the good hitters. It is the scenario you were saving Hudson for, you just didn't expect it to be THIS game. He comes in and can't close the door, giving up the homer and the Pirates win.

Like I said, I can see the argument for Hudson to start the 8th. I can also see an argument here for "well they weren't going to hold them scoreless and it's the Pirates so who cares if they gain a game H2H" and going with Grace or letting Suero try to work his own way out of it. But neither are strong pulls for me. Davey made a choice and it was ok.  It just didn't work out. It happens. Honestly if you want to blame someone, blame Strickland who probably would have started that inning if he didn't manage to bash his face in working out.

It was never likely they were going to win all 4 games. There's the loss. Don't have another. Another forces the Nats into a situation where they have to win the series at the Cubs to come away with a successful road trip. It also keeps the PHI, NYM, and CHC all close going into a weekend where the Cubs play the Nats, the Phillies get the Marlins, and the Mets and Braves play eachother. The likely scenarios there would be the Phillies gain another game and either the Mets or Braves do too.  Keeping distance from the Phillies/Cubs/Mets - which winning the next two would ensure at least a little - is a good idea.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Monday Quickie - Keeping on

The Nats won 2 out of 3 - just as they should - coming close to the sweep but before you curse the gods for that late-inning loss, the wins were a 2-1 game and a game where they gave up 8 runs, and the loss was a 14 run allowed affair. Two out of three was right for their performance.

The big story for the weekend was of course Doolittle blowing another game, and not particularly a close one. It may not seem like Doolittle is being overworked. If you look at his appearances and IP they are up there but not that close to the top. But relievers are individuals and Doolittle as a pitcher has not worked this hard in half a decade. Factor in a oddly high number of warm-ups where he didn't come in and yes Doolittle is being overworked. Maybe another pitcher would be a no, but Doolittle yes. That's the trade-off for him. Boz goes into it deeper, ripping Davey in an excellent column that highlights the problem with Davey the manager. He doesn't seem to manage.  I agree.

Ideally the Nats would have gained a game on the Braves as they were taking on the Dodgers - but we've been saying this for a while now - the Braves are actually good.  They probably aren't catching them.  Stop thinking about it! Now is a 7 game road swing where 4-3 is the goal. The back half could be very interesting as the Cubs have not been able to hold off the Cardinals and are currently looking up at the Nats in the WC.  But until then - the Pirates!

The Pirates have been one of the worst teams in baseball since the break going an abysmal 7-27 since the break. They don't hit and they are terrible pitching. They were surviving on 4 bats - but they've traded Corey Dickerson and Josh Bell has been in a long slump.  Marte and Reynolds are the other guys who can hit. Moran has had a bad 2nd half. Newman and Diaz AND Frazier AND Cabrera have been awful.The bullpen is actually not bad, making the Pirates the weird MLB team with a decent pen (yet is still awful).  Vazquez is great holding down the 9th and Liriano, Stratton, and Feliz are all good. Kela is a perfectly fine 5th option. The last couple arms are a mess - but find me a pen that isn't true about.

The Pirates pitching was based on the idea that their guys would take a step up and form a strong rotation. Instead Archer, Musgrove, and Brault all lingered as 3-4-5 types and Williams got worse to join them.  None of these guys is terrible - they'd all probably be in most teams rotation as the 4 or 5 but you can't build a rotation based on 4s and 5s. Not unless your hitting is the best and well - it is not. The match-ups are Ross vs Williams, who is getting worse as Ross is getting better. Strasburg vs Archer, who is actually having a nice second half but with the Pirates not hitting is not getting any wins. Corbin vs Musgrove, who like Archer is pitching better though a few ill-timed homers have ruined otherwise good performances.* Then it's TBD vs Brault, another 2nd half improver. Will it be Max? That's the plan.  It probably won't be confirmed until Tuesday or even Wednesday morning.

The way this lines up the Nats will be favored every game but the Pirates should be able to squeak out a good performance with a string of runs and hold on somewhere in here.  I mean if they played 162 the Nats might be favored 162 times, but they aren't going 162-0, you know? So 3-1 is the expectation and the goal. Do that and they don't have to win the series in Chicago.

*You know like giving up 5 hits and 2 walks, with only one XBH (a homer) in 5 innings. But the homer is a 3-run shot and he gave up another dink and dunk run so he's giving up 4 in 5. That kind of game.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Shaking the WC contenders

The Nats swept the Reds and look every bit the team they have looked like for what is now the majority of the season. Not good enough to challenge for the best teams in baseball, but in that second tier. Beating up the bad teams, playing .500 ish ball against the good ones. Unfortunately for the Nats the Braves are also in that 2nd tier and by virtue of not having a terrible first 50 games, have a lead that they are not likely to give up.

As was noted before the Nats have an easier stretch and the goal now is to hit those bad teams hard, strike up a good lead, and then survive a September where they are likely to play close to .500. But we're to the part of the season where we can stop with the "keep your head down" talk and pick our heads up to look at the scoreboard. In order to build that lead the Nats need to do their job, but the other teams need to cooperate as well.

Let's say the Nats do what I want with the remaining schedule. We'll adjust for the sweep and say 10-5 the rest of the way. That's dominant play over the Marlins, Pirates and Orioles, and splitting the Cubs and Brewers serieses. 75-60 going into Labor Day.*  What do these other teams face? Would we expect the Nats to have that lead we want to see? I think it's reasonable to think a couple, maybe even three of these teams can make up 3+ games on the Nats in that last month. But will the Nats have too big a lead? Will it be the "right" teams?

Cardinals (1GB Nats - in NL Central lead). Remember when I said a couple of posts back the Cardinals will hit a easy stretch? Well they are in it and it seems now we are getting real separation from the haves and have nots. Teams with easy schedules are going on runs and the Cardinals are the latest example. They swept PIT and KC.  They'll take on Cincy next then MIL, COL, MIL, and CIN going into Labor Day.  I see... 11-7 (Yes they play 18 games) and 73-62. Much like the Nats two series against contenders.

Cubs (1GB - perc pts out of NL Central lead). Finish with PHI tonight then @PIT, SFG, NATS!, @NYM, MIL.  I got them at 9-7 (I have them beating the Nats at home and the Nats beating MIL at home FWIW). So 73-63

MIL (2.5 GB) - a death march @Nats, @ STL, ARI, STL, @ CHC. Optimistically 7-8. 70-66.

PHI (3 GB) - we can argue if Philly is any good or not (maybe tomorrow), but we can't argue that they are not in it. They are.  Finish with Cubs then an easy stretch for them which actually will extend through a Labor Day series with their spiritual opposite the "good" Reds who just keep losing. But for now through Labor Day- SDP @ BOS (2), @MIA, PIT, NYM. If you take the Phillies at face value (again we will argue tomorrow) that's an 11-4 type run.  72-62

NYM (4GB) - finish with ATL then a mixed bag @KC, CLE, ATL, CHC, @PHI.  Hard but mostly at home with an easy start. Still I'll say 6-9. 67-68.

ARI (4.5 GB) if they are better than San Fran now's the time to prove it. SFG, COL, @MIL, @SFG, LAD. Most likely they make a mini-run but 4 game against the Dodgers knocks them back down. 8-8. 69-68.

That would put the standings like this going into Labor Day

WSN 75-60 
STL 73-62    2 GB Nats
CHC 73-63   2.5 GB
PHI 72-62   2.5 GB
MIL 70-66  5.5 GB
ARI 69-68   7 GB
NYM 67-68  8 GB

Hmmm not quite where the Nats want to be. BUT now we have to look at the remaining schedules. We know the Nats have a hard Sept but how many of these teams, if any, have an EASY one that is a good bet to make up 3+ games on Nats...

NYM - mixed bag, tough start, easy finish
ARI - super easy 9 Padres games, a Marlins set at home, 6 Cincy
MIL - reverse of Mets, easy start, tough finish
PHI - just a touch less harder than Nats, certainly not easy
CHC - on the easier side, but I'd hesitate to say easy
STL - similar to Milwaukee, if one of Cubs/Cards dominates other they'll have an easy sched

I'd say it's probable one of CHC or STL outplays the Nats by 3+ games down the stretch, as well as ARI. but ARI will be too far out and the CHC/STL team that does that will win the division. So that means the Nats look pretty good for that WC vs either PHI, the CHC/STL survivor, or a not dead ARI. 

Team by team - here's what I'd say

NYM - very likely to fade out of the picture over next month but if somehow, on the off chance they don't they could be dangerous at the end. But again - most likely to fade. Nats could really finish them off Labor Day if things go like I think.

ARI - If they can put together two good weeks here and stay in the 4 games out range, they can make a serious run. They'll likely drop too far and fall a couple games short but I wouldn't necessarily dismiss them right now.

MIL - Probably will agonizingly slowly fall further and further out of the picutre, with a brief reprieve at the start of September that gives them false hope. 

PHI - They will continue to be a thorn in the Nats side. They have the easiest schedule in front of them for the next couple weeks which means they are unlikely to fade away regardless of what you think of them. Then if they start to slip they have that 5 game set versus the Nats at the end of the year. The good news/bad news is that this will likely come down to how the Nats and Phillies play each other.

CHC - They'll likely be neck and neck with the Cards the rest of the way and eek out a small lead by the time we get to the final 10 games when they play each other 7 times. If they can keep it 3-4 or better they probably make it

STL - basically same as Cubs but probably a game behind entering that last 10 games.

We're in unprecedented territory here. Unless the Nats just tank - and I'm talking like a 1-9, 0-10 type swing, we're getting important games throughout September.** Stretching the definition you had important games in early September in 2014 and 2015 but they were of the "keep a season alive" type. The Nats killed the Braves in 2014 and died themselves in 2015 both before Sept 10th.  It's hard to see the Nats being in that position again this year.

This is fun! And because the Nats are leading and not chasing, a little less anxiety causing for you guys I bet so you can enjoy it a little more. At least I hope.***

*the NL East? The Braves are currently 71-50 so for the Nats to get within a series of the Braves you are looking for them to go 7-8 or so. Not impossible but with 9 games vs MIA, COL, TOR, and CHW in there... I don't see it. It's most likely the Nats remain around 4-6 games out the rest of the year. But H2Hs are there to change that. 

**And if they go 9-1 or 10-0? Then they have important games against the Braves. You can work out a scenario here where the Nats have a boring Sept. Basically they and the Braves both go like 16-4 in the next 20 games. Nats have a big lead in the WC but can't catch the Braves for the East. But who expects that?

***and remember - I'm very likely to be completely wrong on at least one team here - possibly two. Which ones and in which directions? Go ahead and guess

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


By food!

Mended mostly now but gotta catch up on some stuff so real brief -

You can look at the road trip positively (the Nats did what they needed to going 5-4) or negatively (the Nats lost ground to the two closer WC competitors in H2H matchups). That's up to you. Regardless they are still in the WC spot and the schedule breaks down as follows. Rest of August : Pretty easy.  September : Pretty brutal.

The Nats need to put some ground between them and the other WC contenders over the next 2 1/2 weeks. CIN/MIL at home - need to go 4-2.  PIT(4) CHC on road - need to go 4-3.  BAL(2) MIA home - need to go 4-1.  That's 12-6 (Well 11-6 now) and probably a nice 3-4 game cushion on the WC.  No excuses anymore, no "we'll make it up later". This is later and the Nats need to play with urgency. Because if they are in the same spot now on Labor Day they won't be making the playoffs.In September they have to go through NYM, @ATL, @MIN, ATL, @STL, @MIA, PHI (5!), CLE - that's one gimme series in 26 games. Some WC contender is going to play better then they will during this stretch, maybe 3 or 4 will. So get that cushion now.

Friday, August 09, 2019

The Mets

If we want to be completely straight the goal for the Nats is "don't get swept".  Even losing the series 2 games to 1 wouldn't impact the Nats much.  They sit now 2.5 games up on the Mets (and Phillies), 2 games up on the nearest WC competitor. Worst case going 1-2 in the next three is that they are 1.5 games up on the Phillies, 2.5 on the Mets, and still tied for the top WC spot.  That's fine.

But really the Nats would be well served to blunt the Mets momentum.  I don't know why it feels this way but the Mets are a team of runs. Maybe that's a 26-12 run at end of 20-15 to help salt away the division. Or maybe it's a 5-11 run at the end of 2007 to fall out of the playoffs. Whatever it's the top or the bottom, it seems like the Mets are always streaking there. To me, irrationally, it feels like the Nats can stop the momentum and maybe put them on a streak back down. Just because that's how the Mets play.

The Mets offense is clicking now with three above average, young(ish) talents.  Alonso is the masher, McNeil is the bat on ball guy, Conforto is the all-around hitter. But beyond that they have issues. They keep trying to fit in Dom Smith and something keeps getting in the way.  Currently he's hurt. They like JT Davis but unlike the first three there isn't a strong belief he can keep this up.  Ramos, Frazier, and Rosario are all average production wise. The 8th guy out there, be it Guillorme, Hechavarria, or Lagares is terrible.  (Sometimes it's not just the 7th guy though as you may see two of these guys at the same time for the defense). It's a top heavy lineup that can be survived by dominating the bottom of the lineup.

Relief wise the the Nats have one pitcher performing well in Seth Lugo. Justin Wilson has a decent ERA but that's not backed up by the fancy stats. Gsellman looks like filler. Diaz is fighting his head. The rest has been terrible.  If you can get the starter out in under 7, or really if you have it close late, you got a chance to take the game.

Strasburg vs Stroman - After a long dominating stretch Stras was awful last time out. But I like to give guys one bad start here and there without turning on them.  Stroman did not have a good first start but is a solid pitcher and you know I love AL -> NL moves.  Anyway, you give the edge to Stras here.

Corbin vs Syndergaard - Corbin, like Stras, was off last start, but you still got to respect the like 8 game stretch with a below 2.00 ERA that preceded that.  However, Syndergaard has been that dominant and didn't have a bad start last time out. So he gets the slight edge.

Sanchez vs deGrom - Sanchez bounced back after his worst outing since April with his best outing since June.  But still he's not deGrom and deGrom is 15 starts into a 2.00 ERA run with 115K and 21 BBs in 91 innings.  This is a game the Nats could win but not a game you want to go into with the Nats having to win because the SP has to favor the Mets.

Pitching match-ups go 2-1 in favor of the Mets but the line-up and bullpen, amazingly, both favor Nats.  it's useless to predict baseball but if I have to put something out there I say the Nats win 2.  It should be a very fun series with low-scoring pitching dominance giving way to late inning fireworks (which means it'll be 3 blow outs against the starters and dominant RP bc that's the way it goes)

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Joe Ross isn't good but you shouldn't care

In a 3 game set in 2018 Jefry Rodriguez gave up 3 runs, allowing 18 baserunners in 16 innings and holding opponents to a .182 / .286 / .255  line

In back to back games in 2017 AJ Cole gave up 2 ER in 11.2 IP throwing to a .214 / .340 / .286 line

These things happen. You shouldn't read too much into short bursts of competence by starting pitchers because occasionaly the line-up you face and the BABIP you get works in your favor and maybe you just do have it that day. You are good enough to get a major league start - that means you have some talent. Is that what's going on with Ross? History says - probably!  He actually could be ok but he's three years out from being anything but a poor 5th starter so why not let him throw say... a month of starts out there before we get excited?

And you shouldn't really care about it either, and by that I mean whether Ross is good in the long run or not doesn't matter nearly as much right now as whether Ross can get good results the rest of this year. In 2005 the Yankees sprinted to a division title. How? Because Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon went 17-3 down the stretch. Neither were really any good but who cares! Worry about 5th starter after the season when you need to evaluate such things.Right now just hope he keeps winning, whether he walks a man per inning like he did last time or is bouyed by a .154 BABIP like he has been over the last 2 games.  Enjoy the results - without telling me I should look at how he's improved.

The big news of yesterday is Rendon was pulled after a ball hit his foot. They say it was nothing. They've said that before. They said Max would be fine and no one has ever seen him again. Rendon tweaked his knee one spring and was "day to day" for 70 days. He broke his toe recently. Let's see him in uniform and playing tomorrow and no "Precautionary x-ray" news today. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

That's more like it

This isn't hard. The Nats aren't battling a bunch of world beaters for the Wild Card.  The Nats have gone 11-11 in their last 22 and have gone from being in WC1 with a 2 game lead all the way to being in WC1 with a 1 game lead. When we say the Nats control their own destiny it's meant in two ways - first they'll play all these teams down the stretch and can put distance between them in H2H games but in a broader sense I mean they are staring down a half dozen .500 teams who didn't make a strong push to get better at the trade deadline. If the Nats can simply play like they should - a few games over .500 in the remaining 49 games - say 26-23, that will be enough to make the WC game.

Winning now is good in part because the Nats haven't caught a hot team in a LONG time.  Here's how the teams they have faced in the second half (starting with BAL bc PHI starts off fresh in my mind) fared in the series (for BAL) or two (everyone else) before playing the Nats

BAL 1-3
ATL 4-2 (but lost last 2 going in to Nats series)
COL 1-6
LAD 3-2 (but ditto - lost last 2 going in)
ATL 2-3
ARI 2-4
SFG 2-4*

The Mets though - even if they lose today the Mets are undeniably hot.  The Mets are a rival. The Mets will be at home.  That's a series where if the Nats win, and they throw out at least Corbin and Strasburg, will be a great jumping off point for what is a mostly benign rest of August. The offense has awakened a little - really started in the Braves series - the pitching has been all over the place after carrying the team for a while. It's also a series that if the Nats lose, assuming they win today, it's not a big deal. They'd still be up at least a game and a half on the Mets, almost certainly in a WC spot. But win today.

Suzuki had a big night last night and the Nats are finally using him as they should.  He's had 3 of the 4 catcher B2B outings since July 20th. He does need rest but he should be playing at least 60% of the games. He's about there now.  Hitting wise this is still the team you know it is Rendon and Soto lead, Turner does his thing and then you see who is hot.  Right now it's Suzuki and Parra.  Gomes was hot for a bit before that.  There are cold batters. Eaton is fighting through one of those tough weeks (.167 / .265 / .267 in last 8).  Robles is up against a real slump (.143 / .238 / .196 in last 16 games).  Dozier is becoming very hit or miss - 5 multi hit games in the last 12, but only a .244 average. But as long as they have their Top 2, Turner isn't slumping, and someone else is stepping up it works out.

Elias got hurt and Strickland has been whatever but Hudson has been great and honestly if they have one of these three work out to be good - it's a win. Again three lotto tickets to scratch off in place of three scratched off losers.  Doolittle has rebounded after a little bump, as has Rodney, so the Nats very much have a back-end of the pen currently. I don't actually trust Rodney in the long haul, but use that arm up while he's feeling good, then worry about who might replace him. As long as they have this that's one less inning to survive a game.

Win this game. Keep the Mets, and the rest of the WC group, at arm length. Give yourself the leeway for an on target road trip even if you lose to the Mets.  The Nats aren't rolling anymore but they don't have to.  Great baseball isn't needed anymore, just good. Keep it going

*when was the last time the Nats played a team that was definitely hot.  Well, if you want you could say the Marlins in last June.  They were 5-2 going into the Nats series. Of course they are the Marlins, and they won the last 4 in that stretch by a total of 6 runs.  If you wanted to say then the Braves the series before that - who were 4-2 going in and not with a bunch of close wins, I wouldn't blame you.  How'd the Nats do? 1-2 but baseball isn't a very predictive sport in the short run.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Monday Quickie - Tough start

I always try to be fair and the optimistic take on the Nats weekend is - look they weren't planning on winning every series in this road trip. They were going to lose one and you can argue the Diamondbacks, despite having the worst record of the three teams they were going to play, are actually the most complete team. So it happened first. No biggy. Win the next two series and we're good.

Anyone buying that?

The realist take* is the Nats lost a series where they threw Strasburg and Corbin, losing those two games in fact, against a Diamondbacks team that is a .500 type squad.  They weren't going to win every series but given the fact those two completely miss the SF series, the idea was that would be the one that they might lose. Instead now they have to rally and win a series they maybe shouldn't? Meanwhile the WC race gets super tight - 7 teams within 3.5 games of eachother - and there's a very hot Mets team that's one Marlins series away and Max still hasn't thrown off a mound. The season, that after looking lost, looked like a WC favorite run, is slipping back into a complete unknown.

But Hudson's been great!

So onto the Giants and a series that isn't must win, but it would make things so much easier if they did. The best case scenario if the Nats lose the series has them in this position :

WSN +0.5
PHI -1
SFG -1.5
ARI -1.5
MIL -3
NYM -4.5

And this with STL, MIL, and the Mets getting swept (PHI and ARI are playing eachother) If you instead say the Mets beat MIA 3-1, MIL beats Pirates 2-1, STL loses to LAD get

STL +0.5
PHI -1
MIL -1
SFG -1.5
ARI -1.5
NYM -1.5

Talk about a scrum.

Anyway onto the Giants.For real this time

The Giants are a capable offense with a couple big holes. Crawford is haivng a terrible year and whoever is playing the 3rd OF slot - be it Pillar or Duggar are also well below average. Even a hot July can't hide this. But they were a team with four holes and the rise of Austin Slater and the acquisition of Scooter Gennett have put two more decent bats in the line-up over terrible ones. In fact right now you could argue they have some bat log jams. Vogt can hit but is blocked by Posey and Belt. Sandoval can hit but is (sort of) blocked by Belt and Longoria who just returned from injury.  It's not like there is a great bat being held back here but it must be frustrating to see two obvious holes in your line-up and have two decent bats on the bench but have them not line-up at all in a way that you can make that fix. It does end up giving the Giants a very healthy bench though and the 2nd best OPS for PH in the NL. Remember that if it's close late.

Where the Giants excel is having the best reliever ERA in the NL.  They aren't exactly the same post-trade deadline but they still go four deep. Will Smith is great. Reyes Moronta is nearly so as is exhibit #24 in relievers get better after leaving the Nats, Trevor Gott. Tony Watson isn't as good as his ERA but he's still decent, certainly for the fourth man out. This depth gave them the ability to trade away Sam Dyson (also very good) and Mark Melancon (good when healthy and even good for the Nats!)  The rest of the pen is filled with new arms replacing some of the ones they sold off. Sam Selman is the key - as he's always had great stuff - unhittable swing and miss stuff, but been incredibly wild. This year he seemed to get that under control but has had a rough start to his Giants career. If he can get it together that's 5 good ones and that's enough. The other guys are Blazek types - not good in AAA but hey - someone has to be here. 

The match-ups are as follows

Fedde vs Samardzjia.  You know - outside of last year's injured campaign, Samardzjia has been mostly good.  You kind of got a feeling like him and Cueto didn't come over and do what they were supposed to but they mostly did when healthy. The line-up dying is what killed this team. Anyway. He's been REALLY good in July. There isn't anything particularly good about him, he just pitches well mixing up 4+ pitches to keep hitters off balance. Fedde was terrible last time out - if you can remember his brief shellling. Giants edge

Sanchez vs TBD  Last cycle it was Dereck Rodriguez but he got crushed by Philly. Their long man in the pen is Andrew Suarez who has been terrible this year. I got no idea who it could be and haven't seen anything about it. Against that you have to favor Sanchez even if he wasn't all that good last time out.

Ross vs Shaun Anderson  Ross had one good start (not great - he did walk 5 remember) and everyone is ready to say 5th starter might be solved. Well maybe but let me see him do it again. Shaun Anderson is a former Nats draftee (didn't sign - it was a HS low rounder thing, not a Nats failure) who's a rookie. He was good enough in the PCL and looks to be a decent long-run back rotation type. Hittable but as a groundbally control guy that's expected. With a tweak in his control and K will be a fine #4, but might not be there yet.  I don't like Ross but I can't exactly give the Giants the edge here in starters. So push... but Giants at home so an ever so slight edge to them for the game if you twist my arm

Seems like this could easily go 2-1 in either direction.  Make it the right one

*The pessimist take? The Nats are 9-11 in their last 20 games. The "tough stretch" fooled us into accepting an off set, but more importantly without Max and with no major trade cavalry this is a team headed back down slowly but surely - only kept in the race for the next few weeks by the fact the rest of the NL stinks too.

Friday, August 02, 2019

A very interseting road swing

Last swing was supposed to be clearly the toughest one for the Nats. Even though it featured a lot of home games, coming out of the ASB the Dodgers and Braves were the best and the Rockies were a reasonable WC contender, plus - no breaks! But the Rockies collapsed and the Nats caught a rain delay so it ended up a little bit less intimidating than originally thought. Still you can only go by what you see going in when you set those goals and they hit them so good for them.

The Nats are tied for the WC spots with the Cubs and the Phillies right now, with STL holding onto a 1 game lead in the Central and Milwuakee one game behind in the WC race.  Those are the main teams who are going to battle out for the NL Central crown and the two WC spots.  But they aren't the only teams still in it. In the next 9 games the Nats will run through the rest.

This road trip is a little daunting in its own right* as the Nats face their last West Coast swing and a series of fringe WC contenders. They'll take on Arizona first (3.5 behind the Nats), then SF (2.5), travel day, then the Mets (4) The Nats have a good shot to end each of their runs as serious contenders as being swept at home by a team they are trying to catch would probably do any of these guys in. But they also could let any of these guys move up to the first group with a sweep of their own. It's not that important that the Nats do well, simply maintaining ground is now a running out the clock situation, but they need to not blow it here.

To set the stage Arizona is running through a defining stretch (WSN PHI @LAD). The Giants get to play Colorado before taking on the Nats and having their own defining 20 game run of decent or good teams (includes their 4 interleague games vs a game OAK team). The Mets on the other hand have PIT and MIA up next before the Nats then take on the Braves but then get KC. They have one of the easier recent schedules**. I'm getting very excited for this August. Ideally, you want the Nats to come away from this stretch with a winning record, 5-4. That means they put space between at least two of these teams when given the chance and likely contribute to them falling off the radar. They still might lose a game in the WC standings doing this but that stretch I talk about below in the footnote should be where they make up 2-3 games.

Now onto tonight and Arizona - the Dbacks made themselves worse by trading Greinke but Mike Leake is a decent pitcher to fill those innings so they aren't digging any deeper into their SP depth - which was only three pitchers deep to begin with, with Luke Weaver on the DL though Alex Young is ok.  Other than that it was minor leaguers so the team is pretty much the same. The offense is solid. The have a big hole in the MI as 2B (currently Wilmer Flores) is terrible and Nick Ahmed at short is below average. So pitchers do get an end of line-up reprieve (though in the 6-7 hole, 8 is their catcher Kelly or Avila who are both hitting). Jones is not doing well but everyone else in the lineup is clearly above average, though they lack a superstar. Some may argue Ketel Marte is there, I'd like to see more than 100 games of this before I give him that. There's nothing they do poorly. Don't strike out too much, walk ok, got some pop. It's just very balanced. Right now Walker and Kelly are hot Escobar is ice cold. Marte is slumping.

The relief pitching is fine.  It resembles the line-up in that it's a lot of guys above average but no one great, mixed in with a few stinkers.  Holland is a weak closer, Bradley, Hirano, and Chafin are all better than their ERAs. Lopez worse. Bradley is probably the best and is control away from being dominant. He's been lights out lately. Crichton has been very effective as has MacFarland. Lopez has been bad.  Godley is the white flag. It's a high K group with a penchant for giving up bombs. It's fine.

The Nats catch these match-ups
Robbie Ray vs Joe Ross - Ross is Ross. Ray has been strong. Ray's a high K bit wild HR guy himself. but the first two tweaked a bit better than the pen, and he also doesn't give up as many hits. When he's on - as he has been, he's close to an ace. Easily favors the D-backs.

Strasburg vs Alex Young.  I told you Young has looked pretty good and he has. But he's a guy who is relying on a crazy low BABIP right now - .171.  That can't keep up.  He's not an overly heavy GB% guy either. This dam should burst. On the Nats side, Strasburg has been fantastic.  Easily favors Nats.

Corbin vs Merrill Kelly. Kelly is ok. He's the three deep but a clear back of the rotation guy. You can make contact against him so he tries to keep the walks down and  hopes you hit it where they are. Corbin has been great. Easily favors Nats again.

So should be a series win. If the Nats can manage to win tonight it's a good chance at a sweep.

*when do the Nats have it easy? Well I told you the 2nd half schedule was a lot harder. They'll get a mix of easy games after this for the rest of the month vCIN (easy), v MIL (not), @PIT (easy), @CHC (not), vBAL (easy), v MIA (easy), v NYM(???)  so about 2 weeks of on an off then a stretch at home going into Labor Day that could be a real boost if the Mets are floundering.  Then it's hard again in Sept with only one gimme series @ MIA

**who else has it easy? well it's hard to tell with so many teams still in the mix but the Cardinals will get an easy stretch in a couple of series.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

The deal and the deals

"The deal" is that the Nats plugged along perfectly for their WC aspirations. They played their (likely) toughest stretch of the second half and ended up moving from 2 games up in the WC to 0.5 game out of WC1 and a 0.5 game ahead of WC 2. This was always a possibility in a run that would likely skirt .500.  Now they play easier games and should pick that ground back up* For division fans though, the Nats went 3-4 versus ATL, they went 4-6 over against the division leaders. They did make up a game (the Braves had a little slip-up during this time) but not enough to inspire confidence that the division really is in play. They beat up on Colorado, but the Rockies are in free fall - not having won a series since the first one out of the break. The Nats are what they are. They are better than the bad, but not as good as the great.

And so they will stay because "the deals" made yesterday were pretty insignificant.  Let's start with the fact the Nats bullpen is bad, but it isn't really historically so - or at least that historic number is because they were TERRIBLE for one month and bad the rest. It's a pen that's pitched to a high 4.00s in ERA in June and July which is about average. Given this fact adding more average arms won't do much of anything.

Daniel Hudson** is the best piece sporting an even 3.00 ERA and a reasonable 1.271 WHIP.  But it's likely a mirage caused by a mix of a low HR/FB rate and a high LOB rate. Crank those up to normal numbers and he's around 4.00.  If you want to get dark, his BABIP is low - now it was low last year too but this year his swinging strike rate is down significantly and his hard hit rate is way up. So either he is secretly found a way to avoid line drives or he had the potential for an even harder fall. It's not impossible he has - he's introduced a sinker which hasn't really induced more GBs but it could explain the LD loss.
Best case*** is he's the guy the Nats wanted Barraclough to be. Go out there, face not the best part of the line-up and get 3 outs before you give up a run 4 times out of 5.
Worst case is that all the above comes back to bite him and he's no better than Kyle

You might have seen that Roenis Elias has a weird reverse split this year, doing much better against righties than lefties. The thing is, Elias failure to do better against LHB extends well past this year. It's kind of a characteristic of him now. Another characteristic is that he gives up homers. In fact last year he was really good because he only allowed 1 HR in 50+ IP of pitching. But this year he's back up.This has been something about Elias as long as he's been pitching. If you can get past these things. He's not particularly bad. He's hittable but not that hittable. He's wild but has upped his K-game to match. Is he better than what the Nats have? Probably? You can at least try to believe in that .182 average .238 OBP line against righties. But I kind of think probably not..
Best case he keeps on getting out RHB and is a functional, maybe even good, reliever to put in a game when used judiciously
Worst case is that he doesn't and he isn't. Grace with a new face.

Hunter Strickland is the last guy brought in and he's the perfect modern reliever. And by that I mean he wings a flat fastball as fast as he can toward the plate until his arm falls off. You may recall that in his early years that didn't work against Bryce and he was a big baby about it. Over the years, his fastball speed has waned, as one would expect, batters got around on it more and everyone, not just the good hitters, began hitting him. Not to the point of knocking him out of baseball, but to the point he was just another filler arm waiting for the day when his fastball loses enough speed to put him out to pasture permanently. This year he was hurt - but it was a strained lat, not his arm. He's only pitched 6 innings total this year at any level so it's hard to read anything into what we've seen. 
Best case with extra time off he can dial up the FB and be a big spot K guy for the Nats
Worst case is that his body isn't right and he's a batting practice pitching machine 

What about the guys traded away? They are the 15, 21, and 27th best prospects in the Nats system (or there abouts).  Occasionally a guy that far down will end up being good, but they tend to be really young guys you don't have a handle on yet (Luis Garcia was down there his first year).  For the most part guys down this far are names you'd eventually hear as guys who might be brought up but aren't really any good. Chances are one of these guys works themselves into a decent reliever for a couple years at some point down the line, but that's likely it.

What the Nats did isn't necessarily get better but add hope. We're kind of done thinking Barraclough will be what the Nats want. But Hudson could be.  We're done thinking Grace is anything but bullpen filler. But Elias might be better than that.  A guy like Blazek is there because someone has to be. Strickland you can imagine a world where he is productive. Chances are none of that comes true. I'd bet Hudson ends up a little better than Barraclough, Elias no better than Grace, and Strickland not good at all. But a lottery ticket you haven't scratched is better than a losing ticket in hand, even for low payout games. 

*Max health dependent

**If the name sounds familiar to long-time Nats fans Hudson was the piece Rizzo wanted for Dunn. It fell apart though because the Dbacks would only do it straight up and Rizzo wanted more. In the end Hudson would pitch great in 2011 but his arm would break twice and he'd move to a relief role. FWIW - Dunn rejected the qual, Nats got a pick, was Alex Meyer, who became Span who gave the Nats a couple good years.  All in all a wash probably. 

*** as usual this is best/worst REASONABLE case. Obviously best /worst case would be awesome and unusable.