Nationals Baseball: September 2019

Monday, September 30, 2019

Monday Quickie - Oh hey game tomorrow

Nats will host Milwaukee tomorrow and Brandon Woodruff tomorrow. The dust has settled.  I never did a Brewer preview and for one game these things are kind of pointless but for a general idea I'll ramble...

The Brewers are a basically a .500 ish team.  The ranks don't look great but you gotta take a closer look at that because it doesn't catch the spread.  Over the course of the season the NL offenses kind of fell into these groups.  The elites (LA, Nats!, Braves), The Rockies, The better than averages (ARI, CHC, NYM), The averages (PHI, MIL, STL PIT), The below averages (CIN, SDP, SFG) and The Poor Marlins.  The pitching broke down into THE elite (Dodgers), The next best (STL), The Imperfect Chasers ( CIN, CHC, Nats!, NYM, ATL, ARI), The Middling (MIL, SFG, SDP, PHI, MIA) and The Rock... wait what are the Pirates doing here too? (COL, PIT)

So reading that average offense, middling pitching. .500 in part because having no flaw does that for you.

But they aren't .500 they are 89-73! What's up with that? Well they went 20-7 in September that's what's up.  They did score more but what really happened in September was they got lucky (8-1 in 1 or 2 run games over their streak - 12-4 in such games since the middle of August) and their pitching was a lot better. Granted they were playing a lot of bad teams - but not all of them were bad and not all bad teams have bad offenses. Their was BABIP thing going on but all the peripherals got better too.

As far as the Nats are concerned it's not pressing that Davies, Anderson, and Lyles did well. They are all back-up. Expect to see one of them or Gio (who didn't do as well but got all the breaks)  as Woodruff will only go as long as he's effective. Probably 4 innings max. Then one of the pitchers. Then the pen. A lot of key bullpen arms, Suter, Peralta, Hader, Pomeranz looked very sharp.I'm guessing their ideal game would be Woodruff for 4+, Suter/Guerra/Pomeranz matching up for 2+, Hader for 2.

Hitting wise they are a solid bunch who walk and homer built around the star of Yelich who is out. They've rallied but it's more timely hitting than anyone becoming great. Hiura, Braun, and should have been a Nat Grandal provide most of the offense.  Cain too but he's been moved down for the new offensive plan which is...  - Grisham hit leadoff, take a lot of pitches and get on base.  I'm not sure that's a plan for facing the extremely controlled Scherzer. Moustakas and Thames, just swing for the fences.  That more of a problem for Max given his both recent problems with HR balls and his historic playoff issues.  Whoever is at the bottom of the line-up Gamel, Arcia - do something. (not likely - they aren't good)  EXCEPT Brandon Woodruff - good hitter. I mean for a pitcher yes, but .267 average.

If the Nats are lucky (and I'm right) the Brewers will keep Grisham on top of the line-up and he'll just 10 pitch 3Ks through 3 ABs vs Max. If Max is walking anyone it's an issue. He has no reason not to go right at Grisham.  He doesn't hit that well. So attack him and then there's an out before you face the good part of the line-up every time around.

I see a match-up that I don't love for Max. It's better than facing a really good offense, sure, but if you had your choice of middling offenses, you'd want Max up against a walking offense that strings together singles and steals bases*. Max won't walk anyone and the offense should stall.  Against a homer heavy team like the Brewers - they won't get the big 3-run blast because there won't be men on but 3 homers is possible. The hope - like I said above - is they self-sabotage a little and try to get Grisham to walk his way on. Again it's Max though so he'll match up pretty well against anyone.

I can see them having 3 runs against Max. Then it's the pen and it'll be interesting. I can see these guys shut down by good arms and crushing bad ones. Guys who don't get Ks will be the biggest issues and the Nats pen isn't a K-heavy one. Rainey is the K guy. Doolittle and Rodney can get them. Otherwise? Jeckyll & Hyde Suero? Voth?

Can the Nats score more than say... 4? I think they can. I think there is a pretty good chance of that.  There's definitely a tightrope the Brewers are trying to walk to get to Hader and that's a long tightrope. I think the middle pen - the Pomeranz/Suter/Guerra - is good enough to do it but can they get to them? (or really use them early and as long as possible?) Woodruff is a question mark and then it become if whatever starter you bring in adapts to being used in that way. It's an odd situation that usually favors the hitter. You know I favor just pitching around Rendon and Soto and making everyone else beat you. Not sure teams have listened to me.

Painting a picture - I'd see a game that features a couple Brewers shots early and maybe a 3-1 lead before Woodruff tires and the wheels come off for the Brewers as they try to fill a gap between trouble and when they'd like to use their good pitchers instead of just using them. It's like 7-3 or 8-4ish late when the pen gives up another bomb or two scaring everyone but it's not enough and Nats win like 9-5.

There's a rambling take. Something more sane tomorrow.

*In theory STL would be ideal.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The last important day

If you don't care about HFA (which I don't) then today is the last important day before the WC on the Nats schedule.  They have their game - the Wild Card. They have their date - October 1st.  They can do whatever they want to set themselves up for that game... once Strasburg gets through today.  It shouldn't be an issue but you always have to consider it.  Injuries and terrible performances can happen out of the blue.  Just tell him to go out there and pitch easy and we'll come get you around 100 pitches.

You also have to consider that it seems like the Nats are leaning toward Max to start the WC game. If this is true* then an awesome Strasburg performance would present an interesting dilemma.  With Max's last two outings having some issues and Strasburg having a great one sitting out there, along with the 2nd half domination and Max returning for injury, could the Nats still go with Max? I imagine so, but it's something to think about.  A middling or bad performance would make it easier but it would also have you looking at Strasburg going into the playoffs with a middling or bad performance.

Anyway, after today the Nats can set up for the WC game as they see fit. Which to me is

Starter goes as long as he looks good
Divvy up last outs as follows
  • 3 for Hudson, if need more than that
  • 3 for Doolittle, if need more than that
  • 3 for Rodney

longer starter goes you take out Rodney then Doolittle. There is room for a Hudson Doolittle switch if there is handedness reasons in the 9th but otherwise this is how I see it.  No one else pitches unless things have gone wrong.

Awards? Do any Nats have a shot?

MVP - Rendon SHOULD have a shot but voters already seem set to vote for Yelich or Bellinger. Both are great choices but not that much better that Rendon shouldn't get more of a mention.  Given the Brewers won without Yelich, Rendon is headed for a WC while Bellinger is headed for 105 wins the odds favor Bellinger.

CY - Max's injury and subsequent very good but not MAX pitching scuttled his chances.  deGrom has 25 more innings, lower ERA, lower WHIP, and lower HR9 (also same in comparison to Flaherty and almost to Ryu who holds a 0.02 ERA lead on deGrom).  Flaheryty is the hardest to hit, Ryu the most control, Max the best K stuff, but in the end deGrom will win.

ROY - Alonso has the momentum despite being a lummox that just homers. It's so many homers! Soroka's probably the most deserving. Got a 175 ERA+ and while not a Cy contender (innings and Ks aren't impressive) he's been a big reason Braves won the division.  Robles may not even get in the Top 5 - though he should. His D has become that good to outshine good but not great options like Bryan Reynolds, Chris Paddack, and Alex Verdugo

MOY - Davey will get some votes because of the comeback but the hurdle to overcome is why do you vote for him, favored to win East getting a WC over Snitker, not favored to win East, won East. You don't.  Roberts could have a shot too with the number of wins the Dodgers are putting up. Shildt will get play for taking Cards back in 1st year, as will Counsell for the dramatic Yelich-less September.  Davey may fall to 5th - which honestly is probably more where he belongs.  He started 19-31!

*And if you followed the comments to yesterday's blog you can see why that may not be the worst thing. Fancy stats love Ks and hate BBs and Max has been awesome about those things, better than any Nat. If you can get past the homers (I can't) then he's the one to start

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Gotta be in it to win it

And the Nats are in it. 

I have to admit, yesterday was a day that tried my patience.  First up there was the vitriol aimed at Bryce turning yesterday more into Bryce elimination day than Nats get in day, that I just don't get. I get disliking guys, and I get disliking opponents, and I get not wanting Bryce to immediately go and get the success that he and the Nats never got here, but hating someone you supposedly liked before? I get hating guys you never liked who happened to play on your team (Hey Jeremy Shockey just walked in) - so maybe that's it. But it seemed like there was honest affection toward Bryce before last year. I mean, as usual, I'll say to each his own, but the whole thing has me looking at a lot of Nats fans like petty exes who won't get over someone that broke their hearts.

This then led to the odd "is Bryce to blame for the Phillies losing" convo which is probably not the right conversation to have about a team that tried to mediocre bullpen their way to a win in a must-win scenario. I mean Bryce has some blame but if we portion it individually he probably doesn't make the Top 10 issues for the Phillies.

THEN there was after the win the notion that the Nats getting the Wild Card after the lousy start was somehow validation in front of people who "didn't believe in them" that they were a great team. This is ignoring the fact that the 19-31 start did happen (that's bad! You shouldn't do that!) and that the Wild Card was a Plan B for a team that wanted to win the East and that everyone did believe in the Nats to start the year (over 50% picked them to win East remember) and that "no one believed in us" is the lamest of lame tropes teams pull out that can honestly be used by the Braves (no one picked us) or the Cards (no one picked us!) or the Brewers (people wrote us off after Yelich went down) or the Rays (no one thinks about Tampa) or the A's (no one thinks about Oakland either) or the Indians (people wrote us off as not trying to win) or the Twins (people liked the Indians better) and maybe even the Yankees (people thought the injuries would stop us). 


Basically it was an emotional day and this soulless automaton hates emotional days because there's so much that doesn't make sense we just go along with.

But the Nats win! And the Nats are in! and while we talk about post-season roster decisions there really is only one huge one that matters.  Who starts the Wild Card game? If we are matching up just based on who's turn it would be that would be Sanchez.  If you go by days of rest, it's Strasburg. But you can still work it to be anyone.

I've said for a few weeks I would just go with the hottest of the three starters right now. Max, Stras, or Corbin are all #1 material and you shouldn't bicker about who is more ace like in theory but go with who's pitching more ace like in practice.

Max - he's the least ace like recently. He's gone 

Strasburg - early September was ok, but not the shutdown pitcher you like to see. He did only give up 7 runs in 3 starts but also only threw for 17 innings. He struggled with command and putting guys away in some sense - that's what drove up his pitch counts, but he also didn't blow up because of it. And these were ATL, MIN, and STL so some good teams.  In his last start we saw a return to form (TBF against MIA) able to get out of whatever minor trouble he got himself into

Corbin - He's been a bit wild recently having three starts with 4+ walks in the last 4 games where he had four such starts in the 28 games before that.  Much like Strasburg though he worked out of trouble and never put the Nats out of the game, in part because no one hit him all that well. Minnesota did, but he didn't walk any of them so there does seem to be that trade off.  He is striking out a good deal now as well but also gives up more XBH than Stras despite getting hit less.  His last start he handed the Phillies.

Max - he's given up 2 long balls in each of the last two games and for the most part has been more hittable than you'd expect. Of course it's Max though so that's still not very hittable. He still is walking the least and striking out the most. In his last start yesterday, he looked alot like his old self... except for the homers.

There isn't a bad choice here. Even Max, who's been iffy, has given you 1 walk and 21 Ks over 12.2 in his last two starts. But if you order it I'd go Strasburg - Corbin - then Max. Given that the days line up it's seems like it's Stras's gig

BUT WAIT! They aren't pitching to a team in a vacuum they are pitching to the Brewers, maybe at home.  Is there any big splits we need to worry about?

Max v MIL 5/6  6 IP, 6 H 1ER 1BB 10K
Corbin v MIL 8/16   6IP, 7H 1ER, 1BB, 11K
Stras v MIL 5/7  6.2 IP, 6H 4ER, 2BB, 11K*

No real advantage - I suppose you like Corbin here a little better because it's the only one that's more recent but I'd say nothing telling here. (STL? Corbin bad in April good recently, Max ok early meh recently, Stras great early solid but short recently)

Max - a touch better away a bit wilder at home this year for some reason. Not much to go on here
Corbin - Corbin is MUCH better is DC.  a 1.97 ERA in DC a 4.18 ERA elsewhere. Practically unhittable at home (67 hits in 100.2 IP) with next to no homers (5) and great control (28BB).  Away he gets hit pretty well (95 hits in 97 IP) gives up bombs (16 homers) and his control is off (40BB).  I'd say this disqualifies Corbin from pitching in MIL (or STL) at all but maybe puts him as an interesting choice to work into a home WC
Stras - slightly better at home I guess? His HR rate favors away, walk rate favors home. Wouldn't make a decision based on this.

Milwuakees preferences?
A slightly better performance against righty starters than lefty.  Though with Yelich out that might even out more.
(STL has a harder time against righties) 

Basically all this points to the same place - Strasburg should start the WC.  If we could be sure in the next couple days the Nats would be hosting Milwaukee I could see Corbin as a better choice, but since we can't and have to think about the set-up over this weekend I think Strasburg is the only way to go.

*Odd line for so many runs. Three of those hits, one walk, and a HBP came in that 7th inning, which Dan Jennings and Justin Miller ensured all of those guys came in

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Have I given up on HFA? Nah. But I don't really care about it. A big part of that is I don't live in the DC area so what do I care if the Nats play at home or not? But beyond that - home field advantage hasn't really lived up to it's "advantage" in the past. In the 14 single WC games played so far the away team holds an 8-6 lead.

Of course that doesn't mean it favors the away team, but it obviously doesn't punish them. It's a single game, played between two good team, under different strategy then all year long. Who knows what will happen?

Of course if you care if the Nats get HFA because you might go the thought process is as follows. The Brewers will probably end up with around 90 wins. They play two teams they are better than - the luckless Reds and the hapless Rockies, but play them away. 4-2 would be a reasonable expectation. The Brewers also own the tie-breaker between the teams going 4-2 against the Nats during the regular season*

To get to 91 wins the Nats have to finish 5-2 in these last 7. That's possible but 4-3 or 3-4 is more likely.

The Brewers hold the cards here. They finish strong and the Nats are boxed out of HFA. 

*The Nats were pretty much night and day going 45-21 against sub .500 teams and 41-48 vs .500 and better. Although by runs they did score as many as they gave up against the .500 teams.  Of course this figures in the Phillies, who the Nats have handled this year (10-5, outscored by 24 runs). Remove them and the Nats record is 31-43 and they are at a clear scoring disadvantage, although not THAT much.  Phillies can still finish under .500 so we'll see!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Beat the Phillies

Marlins beaten. It wasn't the most impressive series win but it was completed

The Cubs are in the midst of a meltdown with every move Joe Maddon making turning out to be the wrong one. This means the Nats are almost home free.The Nats have 8 games left and can effectively shut out the Cubs (or I guess the Mets, D-backs (hello again!), and Phillies) by just not totally sucking.


Cubs can catch the Nats with a 6-0 finish, Mets with a 7-0, Philly and Arizona would be out.

That's it.  3-5 means no one can pass you and it's miracle time even to catch you.  2-6 opens the door the tiniest of cracks. 1-7 ok now the door is open though it'd still take a strong finish from someone. 0-8 that's trouble. But of course 0-8 is trouble.

Given the chances that the Cubs or Mets go undefeated in the next four days is very slim beat the Phillies and you are in.  Beat the Phillies.

Philly is not technically out of the catch the Nats race but because of the "you win - we lose" aspect going on they have to win at least 4 games against the Nats. The second one would eliminate them and even going 4-1 the season would have to finish with a Phillies sweep and the Nats being swept just to match up. I suppose they could catch the Brewers instead but with 2 more games in hand they can only catch the Brewers with an 8-0 finish (and if the Brewers don't win again). More likely it will be the Nats that eliminate them if that interests you.

Now that we are at the end of the season, and playing them it's a good time to re-visit Bryce. How was his season? It was good! Maybe even technically worth what they are paying him! But not philisophically what the Phillies were hoping for.

Byrce leads the Phillies in OPS! Leads in homers. Leads in RBI. Leads in runs! His defense has been his normal "eh" maybe a little better this year*, certainly not his OMG worst in the majors numbers from last year ** But all this and he's only a 3-5 WAR player, well below his own heights of like 9 and the MVP levels closer to 7.   I've talked about this before but EVERY Phillie hitter regressed this year. And it's not some "bet too hard on 2018 fluke numbers" thing. They are worse that you'd epxect historically.  Realmuto? Worse. Hoskins? Worse. Segura? Worse. Mid season-boost Bruce? Worse. Given the players already here were no great shakes the effect was going from below average in hitting to average.  There's a good deal here to think this won't continue next year BUT this also says that next year they probably won't have that Top 3 offense some might have thought. Which is a problem because trying to fix the pen the Phillies let the rotation go and it disappointed. Nola took a step back from the fringes of the Cy Young race to just being solid. Eflin was a decent arm. The rest were clear back of the rotation arms forced to do more work. The bullpen wasn't relatively as bad as last year but it was only average and the combination gets you a .500ish  team.

There's potential for the Phillies next year but they'll have to get two starters at least.

Anyway back to Bryce. So he's the best Philly bat but in a season where Philly bats died.  He's having a very weird year at the plate where with no one on he's horrendous (.196  / .330 / .372) and a monster with men on (.332 / .429 / .664)  You could claim that it's about the pitchers being forced to pitch to him and I think that's sort of right (although he's killer with an open 1st base and men-on as well). Like he's trying to do to much while being pitched around.

There's a feeling he could do better .270+ with the same other profiles. Accept that he can't win it by himself and let him get pitched around and see that OBP back up around  .420+. That's enough to earn his money and be on the outskirts of MVP talk. But can he have another true MVP season? He'll have to prove it.

Are the Nats better with him or without him? If you believe it's Bryce OR Corbin then they are probably better without him. Corbin's been great and Eaton gives you something, unlike the Phillies OFs that Bryce pushed out who were all terrible.If it's Bryce vs Eaton, though, as it should be (THERE IS NO MONEY BUCKET SPEND SPEND SPEND) they'd be better with him.  Bryce is a good player. Every team could use him. But Soto did effectively replace him***

Anyway back to the series. Beat the Phillies. There's a little less drama here because even losing to the Phillies 2-3 is basically going to keep the Nats on track, but just beat em. 

*but never rely on single year defensive stats

**see above

*** Soto hits better but has worked hard and improved his fielding from abysmal to merely bad. You can't see a long-term future for him in the OF.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Beat the Marlins

Simple.  Get it done.

The Marlins have won two series since the end of July.  They are about to lose game 100 with a couple weeks left in the year. Their pitching is poor and their hitting is abysmal. They have nothing to play for outside of jockeying with the Royals for the 3rd vs the 4th pick in next year's draft. They are bad.

There's no need for extra motivation. No cabbage smashing or rallying around coach or HABIT shirts. You win you are almost certainly in. You lose and you could very well be out. That's enough motivation. There's no time to correct mistakes so no excuses will be accepted.

Beat the Marlins.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Update : Other teams lose too

It seems like one of the things that drives the Nats fans pessimism is the idea that the Nats are losers who will always lose and the other teams are winners who can't stop winning. Not true! The Nats sometimes win (I promise) and other teams do in fact lose. The Cubs and the Brewers both lost yesterday keeping them 1.5 games behind the Nats and setting up the following reality.

If the Nats go 5-3 in the next 8, like they should, the Cubs and Brewers have to go 6-1 in the next 7 to catch them. Six and one! Very hard to do!

Again - if the Nats just do what they are supposed to do, it's very likely they will get in to the playoffs. It doesn't protect you from wildly successful 14-2 finishes to seasons, sorry. But it does protect you from the normal range of wins and losses.

While Nats fans are worried about the Cubs and Brewers, the Cubs and Brewers are very worried about eachother (the loser is out) and the Phillies and Mets who are now within a series of catching them.

FWIW if the Nats can win 2 of 3 and the Phillies go 0-4 or 1-3 in the next 4 then their games will be completely uninteresting as even a 5 game sweep can't catch the Nats (and I don't really care about - well what if they sweep and THEN win... situations).  Personally I hope that doesn't happen and at least that first game matters. But again, my team is just playing out the rest of the season to see what level of HFA they have and hoping only to lose 4 more players to injury.

Yesterday Rule Check
1. Did Kendrick start? YES. And he went 2-4. Nats need more Howies.  By the way - does Howie need a rest. Don't know. Don't really care to be honest. If he begs out - ok sit him. But otherwise wait until goals reached and then give him a day off.  That means winning first two in Miami with him starting at least.

2. Did they reasonably pull the starter? ehhhhhhhh. Well the answer is clearly no but we can argue about where it went wrong.  I'm of the opinion they should have pinch hit for him in the 6th, with a man on second and one out. I think Max's effectiveness was pretty questionable before that (double in 4th, two singles in 5th) that you weren't pulling him too early. Plus the injury.  I'm also of the opinion keeping Max in was at least defensible... but then after the "double" and single I think you have to pull him. If he can't put away Edman, he's over 100, and he's returning from injury what's he doing here? Do you really think he's still the best option? Bring in Doo to get Weiters. Go to Hudson next and hope to pull out the game. 

3. Did they reasonably use the relievers? Well by the time the relievers came in it was B-Team time and Rainey is as good as any of those guys.  Using him for all the 9th, sticking with him when it looked like he was going to be in big trouble was the right move because a comeback was almost assuredly not going to happen. Now everyone but Rainey has 2+ days rest and will be available as needed for MIA.

OK take a breath and watch to see how everyone else does today.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A quick Cubs/Cardinals primer

The Cubs and Cardinals play eachother 7 times down the stretch. Normally that would only matter if you get annoyed by second-rate rivalries touted as something more important because people in the Midwest feel left out. But this year the Nats are going to be profoundly affected by how these games turn.

Let's take 3 scenarios:

The Cubs run rampant (6-1/7-0). This would give the Cubs 88-89 wins to start before contemplating the other 4 in their schedule remaining.  A good guess would put the Cubs then at about 91 wins for the season. The Nats, assuming a mere 6-6 to finish the year, would fall in at 89 wins, behind the Cubs here. But the Cardinals would have only 84-85 wins as their base here, and would only be able to match the Nats with a great run outside the Cubs game. 

The Cardinals run rampant. This would give the Cardinals 90-91 wins as a base. A good guess would put them at about 93 wins for the season. The Nats still fall in at 89 wins, now well behind the Cardinals. But the Cubs would have only 82-83 wins and the Nats would be virtually ensured of having a better playoff position than the Cubs.

The Cubs / Cardinals games break to maximize both teams wins. Let's say they keep their distance of two games apart after today.  That means 4-3 or 5-2 Cubs would be the splits that would keep them closest (either +1 Cards or +1 Cubs).  That puts both around 86-87 wins and likely around 89 wins, right about where the Nats would be expected to finish.

Now we haven't mentioned the Wild Card which is the Brewers, which is important because without them this doesn't matter too much. The team that comes out on top of Cubs Cardinals wins the division and does nothing to keep the Nats out of the Wild Card. The Nats only miss the WC if all three finish ahead of the Nats*. So while these H2H games make it hard for the Nats to end up ahead of both teams - that doesn't matter. They only need to outpace one.

So what should the Nats want.Let's say the Brewers end up at 89 wins here - a 7-4 finish against a weak schedule.

Scenario three is the worst for the Nats putting three central teams around 89 wins. While there's an outside chance that it works for the Nats if they can manage to get to 90 wins there's real potential for all three to squeak by the Nats. (Four way tie consideration is fun but confusing so let's leave that out for right now. In general it probably means two playoff games to get into WC game for Nats though)

(See the scnearios here)

Scenario one is the next worse. The Cubs take the Central and the Cardinals have to chase down the Nats with their remaining games. If the Nats get to 89 wins they can't really be passed by the Cardinals but this sets up a three way tie for the Nats - again confusing but is more likely NOT to work out for the Nats than the four way tie above since the Nats only beat the Cubs in the regular season. (Cards hold a 4-2 lead currently)

Scenario two is probably best for the Nats. The Cubs can't catch a Nats team doing what they should and the Nats simply line-up to play the Brewers in the Wild Card game.

Still what's best for the Nats is they win tonight (makes it harder for the Cards to tie in either scenario one or three) and keep winning enough that it doesn't matter. But for now, since it won't be clear if the Nats are doing that until next week - root for the Cardinals over the Cubs.

*Phillies/Mets fans - come at me if you still matter come Monday. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Part of the plan

You know - like how part of the plan of getting down from an airplane in the sky is free-falling before you pull the ripcord.  "Just land the plane" you say? Ha!  Too easy!

Let's check on the Nats rule following yesterday.

1) Did they start Howie? since Kurt is still injured this is the only relevant "best lineup" question and the answer is NO they did not.  They started Zimm instead. Zimm walked once but did not get a hit. Didn't leave anyone on base though since he didn't get up with anyone on but this is still a mistake.

2) Did they reasonably pull the starter? I think so.  Strasburg had been struggling all game and was lucky to be at 99 pitches through 5. He had one strike out since the 2nd and was fooling no one. You could have pushed him with 6-7-8 up, but it was probably right to give Stras the rest of the night off rather than wait for a guy who didn't have it to make a mistake that forced you to pull him

3) Did they use their best relievers? Pulling Stras in the 5th means covering 4 full innings.  If I were to pull the Nats four best relievers I'd say Hudson, Doolittle, Rodney, and I guess Strickland? Any way having pitched last night and 3 times in the previous 5 days should have kept Strickland on the bench unless absolutely needed so you had to fill it with someone. Suero is probably the choice but I understand being gun shy with him.  Rainey was an ok choice then to take on 6-7-8 and he did the job. Doolittle was next to take on Wong and turn around Fowler and he mostly did ok walking Fowler but surviving 6 0-2 fouls to eventually get Wong.  With two outs and Goldschmidt up the Nats had a choice in my mind. Let Doolittle try to get out Goldschmidt, who hits lefties well but doesn't crush them or bring in Rodney or Hudson now and try to get 4 outs against him (the pitcher spot making the last out last inning).  Instead Hale brings in Strickland and he promptly blows the game.  I don't get the logic of using Strickland there at all.

It's never been about winning this series - that would be a plus but can easily not happen - it's about not getting swept then using the Marlins and Phillies games to cement the WC. Unfortunately for the Nats the Brewers have made THAT run (11-3) and the Cubs have decided to go from terrible to very good again and now have a 9-5 run.  But even still - with those two runs and the Nats fumbling to  5-9 run the Nats still lead the WC. And so it goes.  Go 1-1 here - at the least hold on to a WC spot then go at least 5-3 in the next 8. 

That doesn't sound like much but let's say they even lose a game to each the Cubs and Brewers despite going 1-1.  Cubs 0.5 up on the Nats, Brewers 0.5 behind. Go 5-3 and you force the Cubs to go 4-3 to stay tied and you force the Brewers to do 5-2 to pass the Nats.* Easy schedule or not 5-2 is not given.**

Basically nothing has changed. The Nats do what they are supposed to do and the other teams need to step it up to knock the Nats out. Nats don't do what they are supposed to do and well then there's trouble.

Don't get swept. Beat the Marlins. Beat the Phillies. Don't get swept. 



*seems plausible but also it means that with the 2-0 in there to gain a game on the Nats the Brewers would be on a 18-4 run which if so - you can't do much about. Tip your hat is all. 

**Also if the Cubs do better then the Cardinals suffer. Cards are up 1.5 on Nats now. 1-1 keeps them even.  Cubs beat them 1-2 and Nats beat Marlins 2-1 and it's just a half game and they are dragged into the mix as well. Which is another way it can still work out for the Nats if the Cubs and Brewers surge past them

Monday, September 16, 2019

Monday Quickie - cushion gone but still ok

The Nats went 4-6 which is what I assumed they would and which I assumed would cost them their cushion. I wasn't sure which team would be the one rushing in. Turns out to my surprise it was the Brewers. Good for them. By "cost them their cushion" I mean with a 3+ game lead in the WC* they are more than a series ahead of the next team and in my mind this let's them play around with the line-up or do some things with the pitching staff I wouldn't do in a tight race. With the cushion gone, they now have to go to the next level, which isn't quite playoffs "win or die" mode, but it's closer.  Why? Because they could be in REAL trouble after this series. It would take a STL sweep but the possibility is there.  So time to step it up, which means :

1) Best line-up is out there for every game. This means Suzuki if he's ok.  This means Kendrick. This means Asdrubal until he's not hot anymore.  Yesterday Asdrubal sat and Dozier played.  Mistake. Don't let it happen again.

2) All starters should go as long as they feel good.  No standard pitch limits now. If a pitcher is effective and at 105 and wants to go another inning you let them. Do not take an effective pitcher out just to do it. That's the biggest mistake modern baseball analysis makes. Usually you can afford a baserunner and an effective starter beats a mystery box reliever from a bad pen every 7th inning. The caveat here is injury return guys can be pulled early so if you want Max out at 100 pitches I'm ok with that. Yesterday Anibal went 7, maybe he could have went more but with a 7-0 lead pulling him wasn't about pitch limits, so it was an acceptable decision

3) You use your best relievers as much as you can in tight games. You throw out bad relievers in games that have been decided. It's kind of hard to figure where that "decided" vs "still in play" line sits with all these bad pens, but in general 4 in the 9th, 5 in the 7th/8th, 6 in the 6th, 7+ in the 5th. Something like that. Yesterday the game was decided and we saw Strickland. That's a borderline move given his usage. Barrett or Guerra were the plays instead.  Doolittle was used after that but he needed the work.  Expect Hudson next game regardless of the situation for the same reason.

Maybe the Nats can win 2 and the Cubs/Brewers lose 2 and they can get the cushion back and not worry about this. But until then this is what I want to see happen.

The Nats have 14 games left and merely have to do the base expectation to be fine. Don't get swept by STL. Beat Miami. Beat Philly. Don't get swept by CLE.  Do that and you go at least 7-7 have 89 wins.  That would force two of the following to happen to put the Nats on the outside looking in with no G163 at least. 

Cubs go 9-4
Brewers go 10-3
Mets go 13-0
Phillies go 14-0

The first is vaguely possible. The second is a reach. The last two would be the greatest finish to major league seasons, I think. If you want no G163 you can knock all those down a game but remember you still need TWO to happen. Cubs going 8-5 alone doesn't force a G163. Brewers have to go 9-4, too.

It's only if the Nats fall down in some way, and don't do something good to counter it**, that they are in trouble. Get swept by the Cardinals and then don't sweep the Marlins. Lose to the Phillies and can't beat the Indians. If they are at 6 wins then you start to see the cracks form.  It's still probably enough. But who likes probably?

They are only in real trouble at 5 wins or less which mean at least two slip-ups with no counter. Losing every series would do it, 1-2, 1-2, 2-3, 1-2. (that'd be two slip-ups - MIA & PHI with no good counter). At 5 wins the Brewers could force a G163 with a 7-6 finish and put the Nats away with an 8-5 one (assuming Cubs are going at least .500) That's more in the realm of possibility.

It's time to take things one at a time. A lot will matter how everyone else does as well.

CHC plays CIN at home. They could make a move though Cincy seems to pull out decent series and overall probably isn't as bad as their record. 

MIL plays SD at home. SD isn't very good and it's a great opportunity for MIL to keep making their push.

NYM are at COL.  Games in COL are always a mess. The Mets are a better team but at this point really need a sweep to stay in it.

PHI is at ATL. Same as the Mets - they need that sweep. The problem is ATL is a lot better than they are. They should hang onto the idea of getting to the Nats series with a chance, but without a sweep they are asking for a lot for that to hold up through the Nats/Marlins series.

ARI is technically not out - a perfect end of season gets them to 88 wins - but I'm writing them off for now. We'll check back after these series.  Really the only reason PHI is still mentioned is because of the 5 H2Hs.

Go out there and win tonight and get that "not swept" out of the way

*Just being in, not HFA.

**the good counters are Beat STL, Sweep MIA, Go 4-1 or better vs PHI, Beat CLE

Friday, September 13, 2019

Don't get swept take whatever

You get all worried and then I get all worried you are going to be like "you told us not to worry!" This is no way to spend the end of a baseball season!

The Nats are fine. With the two wins in the Minnesota series they can't really slow drip out of the playoffs any more 1-2, 1-2, 2-1, 2-3, 1-2? That's 88 wins. I suppose the Cubs and the Brewers could both finish the season 11-5.  I suppose. Or the Mets race to.. 13-3? Come on now.

No, the only way the Nats miss the playoffs now is a tank, pure and simple. Get swept by the Braves, get swept by the Cardinals, lose the series to the Marlins?  Now you are talking. So that's why simply not getting swept here is the goal.  Like I've been saying 4-6 is the likely outcome. Hit that and they CAN be in trouble but basically only if they get swept by STL - which is the start of a tank. Don't get swept and they hit that 4-6 at least.

The Braves still have a little to play for though as home field isn't completely decided and should be up for this series across the board. 

The East?  IT'S BEEN CALLED. Forget about it.  Even a sweep here gets the Nats only to 5.5 with 14 to play.  Nats bullrush to 10-4 finish? Braves can sleepwalk to 4-7 and still take it. It's OVER.

While you were fretting over the Nats series the Mets swept the Diamondbacks which has set them up as a big WC2 contender. The Phillies took 2-3 to stay in there. Milwaukee keeps winning and is tied with Chicago. Arizona brings up the rear.  What to watch this weekend? There's so much! This is where baseball gets fun.  Any game with any of these guys would be a fun watch but specifically there is only one important H2H matchup and it's over in the AL. With those two losses the Nats gave the Twins Cleveland got to 3.5 back and they play each other this weekend. Cleveland MUST win this series to have a chance at the Central AND to keep them in the WC race as Oakland and Tampa are winning.  I'd suggest Pirates/Cubs at 4, into Twins/ Indians, going over to Brewers-Cardinals is it gets out of hand early or Reds-Dbacks if that gets out of hand late. Then finish up with Rays/Angels to see Mike Trout in games that matter to somebody

What should Nats fans want?  STL to sweep MIL (makes STL a near lock for Central and gives them more incentive to start resting guys). PHI to lose to BOS and then ATL (knock Philly down far enough that they can win a couple vs CLE and still come into Nats series with nothing to play for).  Why win a couple vs CLE? So Cleveland can come into those last games out of it. This would set up the Nats with no teams that are fighting for anything which is a good way to ride into the playoffs. Even if Boz wants some pressure packed games to some how forge a winner. Doesn't work that way. Plenty of teams that impressively went through a September crucible lost just as quickly as the Nats have. Just get in and hope.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

STILL WIN 3 guys

And you guys wanted Davey to be MOY...

Before the Mets series the Nats had built up a nice little lead on everyone. They swept the Cubs and took care of business against Baltimore and Miami and had a 3.5 game lead on the closest competitor, and 7+ on everyone else? They've since gone 2-6 which is setting up someone to make a move.

But only one team really has. Over that stretch Milwaukee went 6-2 to pick up four games on the Nats. But the Nats still have a 2.5 game lead on their closest competitor because the success worked backward. The closest team to the Nats, the Cubs, only managed a 3-5 run at the same time. The next closest, 7 game out Philly, went 5-4.  The Mets and Arizona both went 5-3 but being 8+ games out they are still a good bit away.

So the good news is that no one close made that run and the way the wins have fallen still only one team is a series away from catching the Nats if everything were to go wrong.

The bad news is all the competitors have formed a massive slime of mediocrity that is slowly closing the gap on the Nats and creating a situation where there may be 3-4 teams ready to take advantage of a prolonged Nats stumble.

What's worse? I'd say actually having a real threat turn up is worse. I'd rather have 10 teams get within 2 games then have one get a 2 game lead on me. But this still isn't good.

The offense is withering and it's in the way I thought it might - teams are avoiding pitching to Soto and Rendon (9 walks in 50 PAs in past week) and daring the other guys to beat them. Asdrubal has risen to the occasion but that's it. Turner is doing ok, Gomes has two homers which I guess is the best you can hope for given Suzuki being hurt. Part of the problem is the logjam at 2nd where you might put Dozier or Kendrick but need to stick Asdrubal there.One of them could play first but they feel the need to get Zimm and Adams at bats.

At this point I think we've got maaaybe one more loss to play around with in the next three games. One more loss and then we move into threat level orange or whatever. Zimm sits, Adams sits, Kendrick plays first (or DHs if it's that last MIN game), Cabrera plays, Dozier plays if it's the last MIN game. That's it until you feel safe again.

Any how let's hope it doesn't come to that and the Nats win the next three. Make it moot, Nats!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Win 3

That's all. It's actually a decently tough goal, winning 3 of the next 6 against two good teams, but much like the 19-31 situation, it's the hole the Nats dug themselves, this time by going 1-3 against the Braves. The Nats are looking for at least one series win, and a sweep would do the job itself. Not that that keeps the Nats out of the woods for the rest of the month but it puts the bar where I thought it would be going into the last half of September, a place where I think the Nats should be able to hold off any challengers and keep a WC spot.

Who are the Twins? HR bombers that's who! They have a crushing offense. First in the AL by R/G just a smidge over the Yankees and a full run over the AL average. Everyone of their main starters have at least 20 homers except Buxton. This includes Mitch Garver and Miguel Sano who have played 82 and 91 games respectively. Two already have 35+ (Cruz and Kepler) and Garver, Rosario, and Sano are all good bets to join them in the next couple of weeks. If there is a saving grace - they don't walk, but the batting average is good enough that these aren't just solo homers. They never steal (26 TOTAL SBs)

Theser some slight good news in that Buxton, Cruz, Marwin, Kepler, and Sano are all nursing injuries. But at this point they aren't quite far enough ahead of the Indians to just rest guys.  Right now it looks like only Cruz will be in the line-up tonight and the longer these guys sit the better. Root for whoever is playing against the Indians.

The Twins are still terrible at developing starting pitching, but they did finally get one good one in Berrios and they've filled the rest with a bunch of ok guys that can let in fewer runs then they'll score. The Nats unfortunately do catch 1-2-3 Berrios, but he hasn't been that great recently.  The other two are Perez and Gibson who are ok. Still they miss the fill-ins on the back end. The bullpen is good. It's deep in solid arms, and better with Romo. The closer is good. They can be gotten to but they basically hold the fort for the Twins bats to do what they need to. Overall neither aspect is very good, but both are good and not having a weakness here allows the bats to win games.

It's going to be a fun series. Sanchez has a little bugaboo giving up homers, but not much. Stras and Corbin are pretty good. What will win out?

Monday, September 09, 2019

Monday Quickie - see?

Yesterday is a great illustration why we said not to worry. After 3 straight losses to the Braves (and 4 overall) the Nats seemed to be on the verge of real trouble. But a win yesterday and all the right losses and they are back at 3 games ahead of the Cubs and 4.5 ahead of the charging D-backs, which we've been saying for a while now is the team to keep your eye on.  I love using the phrase "They are facing two enemies now, their opponent, and the clock!" and that holds true here for the teams chasing down the Nats. They have to win their games, have the Nats lose theirs and do it fast enough to matter. That's a hard task and yesterday just reset the standing back two days.  Two games trying to catch the Nats wasted. That's the biggest advantage the Nats have. Not that their team is so good, but they are good enough (and really the teams chasing are bad enough) that they can't make up the ground in the time left.

Of course when it looked like the Nats would get swept it's hard to believe it because of course if you lose all your games it's going to go badly for you, but each game is a reset opportunity and with 20 games left the chasing teams can only afford a couple of those resets before time runs out.

What happened this weekend?

The Nats are done. The NL East is the Braves. Congratulations.  It was acutally officially called by me after Saturdays game. Time to focus on the Wild Card exclusively.

The Phillies win the battle and the Mets can be ignored now (at least for catching the Nats I mean).  I like the Mets better currently but with a game in pocket for the Phillies it was going to come down to who won the series. The Phillies did. Five games out isn't a good place to be but it beats 7.  As far as it goes the Phillies have to stay at least 5 back to have those H2Hs at the end matter. But it's really not a worry unless they get like 2 back which I don't see.

The D-backs charge as expected. Told you. Now they face the Mets and either the Mets will get their way back into the WC2 race and help solve the D-backs issue, or the D-backs will keep charging leaving the Mets dead for the WC, even with the easy last couple weeks.  I'm guessing the latter.

The Cubs crash and the Brewers soar back into the race. The Brewers proved I wrote them off too early taking the last 3 in the four game set with the CUbs when even a split would have probably been enough to make you think it's over. They have Miami now so they should be able to keep it going but we've said that before.

STL widens the gap to 4.5 over the Cubs but it doesn't really matter. The Dodgers are likely too far ahead to catch the Braves so the playoffs are almost certainly set as LA vs WSN/? winner (location TBD) and STL/ATL.

It remains true that 6 is the worry number. The Nats are on 3. If they lose the Twins series that means they have to win the Braves one to avoid getting to 6 early and putting a real scare into Nats fans. Let's go see some homers.

Friday, September 06, 2019

When to worry

OK I said stop wprrying and I meant it. But that doesn't mean you can't worry in the future. When would that be?

Loss #6

Not in general of course, the Nats are going to lose more than 6 games going forward. But when (hopefully if) the Nats get to loss #6 in this 10 game stretch.  Why? Because 4-6 opens the door to the scenario discussed yesterday.  4-6, Swept by Cardinals, UH OH.   I think 4-6 is actually a decent guess at how they'll do.but I think will follow (4-2 vs Cardinals / Marlins) will even it out and keep the Nats too far ahead to catch. But if you want to worry that's where you start.

what else?

The Nats miss Eaton! I know that's shocking but it's true. Eaton was playing like the Eaton the Nats thought they were getting back when they made the trade and that Eaton is good. A little less pop, a little worse in the field but that's what you'd think 3 years in the future. The Nats top of the line-up is oddly precarious. The loss of Turner early sent the line-up into a tailspin and the loss of Eaton seems to be doing the same. In short the Nats offense relies on Rendon and Soto driving in themselves, Robles, Turner and Eaton. The getting what they can from the rest. Ok Eaton's gone so that explains why that plan is suffering - he's not on base, there's an extra out up there - but what about "the rest" part? It's not doing to well. Parra, Gomes, Adams, and Dozier are all slumping. Suzuki too despite that homer.  Asdrubal is hitting well, but that blocks Howie from playing.

Somehow as we've all understood, as a consistently above average hitter for his career they have to keep Howie in the lineup. Maybe not today - as we're still in "don't worry mode". Maybe you can still keep going trying to get everyone at bats and keeping them fresh, but a couple more losses and a couple wins from those chasing down the Nats and you have to bite the bullet and go Howie nearly full-time.  You have some room to play but you don't want to use it all up. (So work in Zimm NOW because by Sunday you may not be able to)

Elias got hurt again. This leaves Doo as the only lefty.  It's nice having a couple lefties in the pen because some hitters are really rattled by them and even though a guy like Elias may not handle lefties well there are going to be guys you'd still rather he face than a righty, just because of how much that guy may crush righties. With him out you do lose that and don't really have time to replace it.  The good news is that this may just force Davey to use his best pitchers more often without worrying about match-ups. That's a good strategy in general.

The Nats are 8 out and for all intents and a loss tonight seals the deal on the NL East. You can't expect the Nats to run the table against the Braves over the following 5 which is what would be needed. These things float but if the Nats lose tonight I will call the division. I have not called the Nats in the playoffs yet - based on my expectations it probably won't happen until the Marlins series.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Stop Worrying! ... (mostly)

There is this weird dichotomy that I see going on that suggests fans fully believe the NL East title is out of reach but also believe the Nats have a fairly good shot at losing their playoff spot. This is despite the fact that these things are about as equally likely. 

The division sits 7 games away and so simply put the Nats have to play 7 games better than the Braves the rest of the way to take it.  That's hard. It's not impossible. The Braves have 22 games left.  Their worst 22 game stretch this year was 9-13.  The Nats have 24 games left. Their best streak was 19-5.  That would do it. But this doesn't take into account who they are playing or the circumstances that led to these streaks. The Nats have a harder schedule now compared to during that streak. Hell, they have a harder schedule than the Braves. 19-5 is very very unlikely. Even shifting down to a impressive 17-7 means the Braves only have to go 11-11 to hold on. But the Braves schedule is pretty easy and .500 is below what you'd predict for them.

This is all to say the NL East title is not going to happen because it would take the Braves playing worse than .500 ball against a schedule where you'd expect they'd be several games better than that, and the Nats playing several games over .500 against a schedule you'd probably have them close to .500.

The saving grace, the only thing that makes it not impossible, is the 7 H2H games. In these every Nats win is a Braves loss and you don't have to rely on another independent event going your way.  If the Nats can dominate 7-0, 6-1 there's a chance. You don't expect them to but this is where the door can open.  Of course that means right away the Nats can't lose this upcoming 4 game series. 1-3 or worse closes the door completely. A split may not do it officially but it pretty much sets up a Nats run the table, Braves fall apart scenario, including the Nats sweeping the Braves one series later.

But no one is really denying the above. There's a very slim chance out there if the Nats can crush the Braves H2H. Everyone gets this. What everyone doesn't get is the same kind of low chance exists on the other side, for the Nats dropping out of the playoffs.

The Nats sit comfortably 3 games ahead of the Cubs in WC1, 6 games ahead of the D-backs and Phillies.  To lose the WC three things need to happen

1) The Nats have to play poorly enough to make it possible. Much like the Braves going .500 forces the Nats to play nearly perfect baseball, the Nats playing .500 would do the same for any of the teams chasing down a WC spot. If the Nats can go 12-12 that means the worst a team could do and catch them is 17-5/18-6. That's the worst.

2) Another team has to have their best run of the season now. Let's say the Nats slip and go 10-14 or 11-13, that's possible against a tougher schedule. well it leaves a door open for a 15-7 or 16-8 run to catch them. That's still unlikely but we're getting into the realm of possibility especially with four teams chasing them down.  The most likely scenario here is the D-backs, with their easy schedule, manage to do it. The Phillies will have a tough time making this run if they couldn't pull off something similar in the past two weeks when they had a better chance. Their saving grace is the H2H games at the end of the year. The Mets have an outside shot given their schedule at the end but being a game and a half further out makes it that much harder. The Brewers... poor poor Brewers, well they're here because it's not impossible. 

The chances that a team has that run is slim, but the chances that any one of these four have that run? Also slim! But not quite as slim!

3) But that's not it because remember the Nats are ahead of the Cubs right now and would have to fall behind them or the Cardinals to end the year as well in this scenario (because I'm not buying two teams chasing the Nats from the four above having incredible end of the season runs). That's not impossible but given they still play each other 7 times that complicates things. If the Cardinals take 5 of 7 the Cubs  would have to go around a very good 11-6 in the rest of their games to pass the Nats. If the Cubs take 5 of 7 the Cardinals have to go 8-8 or better. These aren't necessarily that crazy but you are saying a team that is bad enough to go 2-5 in these games are going to play .500 ball or better in their other games. That doesn't seem too crazy but the Cards do face the D-backs still. So they'll have to find a way likely to lose that series and still go .500. Sweeping the Nats would be a big one.

Looking at the above the most likely inside straight draw the NL could make on the Nats is as follows :
The D-backs go 16-6
The Cubs go 14-10, including beating the Cardinals 5 out of 7 games
The Cardinals despite being beat up by the Cubs, go 9-7 in their other games and 11-12 over their last 23


The Nats do themselves in going 10-14. 

If you want to picture it in your head - the Nats scuffle over the Nest 10 games vs ATL and MIN, going like 4-6, then they get swept by STL. They beat MIA but are at 6-10 now and can't turn it on enough against PHI and CLE to get back going 4-4.

That's the MOST likely way the Nats miss the playoffs. It's a series of things that aren't super likely. Which is why most odds sites have them pretty much in.

But this will all clear up the further we go along. Which each Nats win and each rival loss this scenario becomes less likely.  Go 6-4 and not 4-6 in these 10 and you almost put it to bed.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

That was fun

That was fun. Crazy comebacks are always fun*. 

That should be it.The Nats, as we've discussed ad naseum, are making the playoffs and doing it by skirting the fine line between NL East contenders (they really aren't) and fighting for a WC spot (they really aren't).  With no immediate, only potential, drama on either side that should give you the opportunity to enjoy things in front of you. A lot of you noted that when I complained about the lack of excitement. Enjoy Soto being the best 20 year old**  Enjoy Rendon's push for MVP and big big money. Enjoy professional ABs at the bottom of the line-up. Enjoy great pitching when it happens. And revel in something crazy awesome like last night.

And do that all in a pure sense. Not by finding greater meaning because by now you should know there ISN'T any. The Uggla game didn't propel the Nats to greatness. Dozens of close losses didn't doom the team.  The Nats are a very good team that will make the playoffs. We don't need to dig into that further to find something "greater". Let it be. ENJOY THIS DAMMIT.

And if you do need to look at this toward the playoffs - don't take away from a short not really effective Max start and another bullpen implosion against a .500 team four good things and one bad one.

Want to make something more? Some recall of past playoff success indicators -

2014 : ZNN's no-hitter
Every team says it wants to peak at the right time. But this is preposterous. The Nats have baseball’s best record since the All-Star Game (45-24) but have gotten progressively hotter, turning the dial from sauna to inferno. Since Aug. 12, excluding three games when they rested most regulars and skipped their normal rotation because wins weren’t needed, they’ve gone 33-10. That’s the real team

If this team doesn’t do well in the postseason, it’s going to give a bad name to perfect preparation. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. But it’s a pretty good place to start looking.
“We’ve had all these pieces, but they didn’t all click at once,” Storen said. “Then they did. And it’s snowballed now for months. A good snowball."

But this game had an extra element — a sense of foreshadowing. On a splendid afternoon, a roaring house on South Capitol Street experienced a historic game with an indelible final moment; it felt like a fitting coda to the season but also a perfect prelude to the playoffs. 
2015: The Dan Uggla game

Pointing to one game in April as the turning point of a 162-game, six month baseball season — particularly a few moments after that game has finished — is a risky venture. But whatever happens the rest of the way, the comeback the Washington Nationals staged Tuesday night, capped by a three-run home run by Dan Uggla in the top of the ninth, will feature prominently in the narrative of this season.

There are many key moments in any season. Teams find their identity — yes, their “narrative,” for each season — continuously over many months. But all those potentially pivotal moment are not created equal. This one, at least for April, feels quite large.

2016: Hitting all the checklist marks
All this is nice, but the potentially important news for the remainder of the Nats’ season is just arriving now. If Stephen Strasburg (15-4) rejoins the rotation at full strength and Joe Ross regains his form enough to join the bullpen as a playoff power arm, this team finally has all the pieces in place to reach maximum potential at the perfect late-season moment. Maybe it won’t happen. But how often do so many factors come together just as every team hopes?

Sometimes, amid baseball’s daily aggravations, we forget that the Big Checklist is doing quite well.

Get an elite closer to replace bad-karma past-expiration-date Jonathan Papelbon? Mark Melancon checks that box with a 0.66 ERA in his first 15 games with the Nats. The ninth inning is now so boring.

Bolster bullpen depth with a rookie who throws 98 mph, but has three other fine pitches and a wonderful bad attitude? Hello, Koda Glover.

Who’s getting more good news at the right time than the 77-55 Nats, who have the second-best run differential in MLB behind the Cubs?
Hard to find one in 2017. Without the season long break from the playoffs the existential dread of the variability of losing in the playoffs still hung over the WaPo's sports desk. But you get the point. Everything looks good (or bad!) going into the playoffs. Then you win (or lose!) and you re-write the season to fit the ending.  So pay no attention to the people trying to draw conclusions from a mid-September game that haven't learned the lessons of past years. The Nats will make the playoffs and do whatever they do with a team that has put together a great rotation, supported a very good line-up with a bunch of professional cast-offs, and watches as their manager grinds any good bullpen arm into dust leaving them with a 6th-9th as bad as any teams.  Que sera, sera.

*unless its against you or it's a team you hate doing it, of course

**though not best in XXX ABs anymore. the comparison was fun but Past Trout is going on a crazy run that basically never stops now.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Tuesday Quickie - how are they doing it again?

In mid August I was all excited.  The Nats were in a WC1 position and nearly destined to have some games that mattered played down the stretch.  After years of seasons being officially over in early September and technically without drama weeks before then, the Nats would have an actual stretch run of games that you'd watch with baited breath hanging on every pitch.

Except - nope.

The Nats have played well - but so have the Braves. The 6-7 game lead has maintained for another week more and while there could still be excitement, given the number of games left between the two teams, a simple Braves win in the first two games of the four game set coming up and a split overall would likely be the end of that.

The Nats have played well - but no other WC contender has.  The Nats expanded their lead on the Cubs, Phillies, Brewers, D-backs, Mets, and Giants by at least two games on each. This could change with a Nats crash but as I've said before I don't see it, even with the harder schedule to end the season.

So the Nats have passed Labor Day and found themselves in familiar ground. A September to not remember. A last month of the season that once again will likely have no really memorable games. A September where the most important games will be the ones that could make things interesting, if this goes one way for a couple more after this and something else works out another.

Oh well.  It's not the worst thing to have an easy ride into the playoffs

Reviewing the Labor Day guesses (some of these ended a day earlier than others)

STL 73-62  Actual 75-59.  Like nearly every team they were able to really ride their easy stretch and make it count. Most importantly they went 4-2 against the Brewers gaining two games on them.

CHC 73-63. Actual 73-63.  Hey good for me!

MIL 70-66. Actual 70-66. Hey again!

PHI 72-62.  Actual 69-65.  Hey. how about those NL Central guesses! ... No?  The Phillies were not able to make the move other teams were with an easy stretch going 8-7 which even generously doesn't make me close to right.  A big key to the stretch and the season is their inability to beat the Marlins losing that series and being 7-9 against them overall. You have to beat up on the bad teams and Philly doesn't do that.

NYM 67-68. Actual 69-66. They swept Cleveland! Then got swept by ATL and CHC! Then nearly swept Philly!  Roller Coaster team! Wheeee!

ARI 69-68.  Actual 70-67.  They started by losing the first three to the Giants but ended by winning the first 3 at LA so it evened out.

What's to watch now? Assuming the Nats don't choke it away, I'd keep my eye on Arizona. 24 games left. 8 vs SD (5 at home), 6 vs CIN, 3 vs MIA.  I'd also watch the winner of the PHI / NYM series coming up. If it's the Mets they have an easy back end to September to make that last push.  If it's Philly (and they don't lose these last two against Cincy) they may be able to close the gap with WSN to 5 by the time they play again, which is still to far to be worried but would at least make game 1 of that last 5 game set interesting and dammit I'm dying for interesting.