Nationals Baseball: July 2020

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Nats win, offense still sputters

The Nats don't have Anthony Rendon anymore. They don't have Juan Soto anymore as DC health officials clear him for playing. They don't have Ryan Zimmerman.  In effect they have an offense a lot like the beginning of last May.  If you don't remember a mix of injuries and a day off for Howie led to this lineup being trotted out byt the eventual world champs for a day:

Robles Difo Eaton Suzuki Dozier Stevenson Kieboom Noll

Things aren't that bad but they are pretty down. It's arguably to the point where any decent pitcher has a shot at shutting this team down. But whatcha gonna do? The Nats decided to let Rendon go, center the offense around the younger, better hitter in Soto and focus on keeping the SP as good as it can be.  Other teams have won with that kind of plan (see one of those Giants WS teams) so it's not terrible. It just relies on pitcher health which is totally up in the air in a normal year. This isn't even that. 

But still - championship in pocket.  Weirdo season.  Just roll with it. 

As far as the rest of the NL East is going, the Marlins are possibly dead, the Phillies are frozen, the Mets and Braves are .500.  Again just roll with it. Remember what I said. Wait did I say it here? Anyway if I didn't, .500 is basically going to get you in the playoffs this year with the new structure.  That's the low hanging fruit the Nats need to go after.  No pushing players, no crazy deals.  Just try to get to .500 with what you have and see if you can recapture that post-season magic.

We'll get to some real analysis when there are more games in pocket.  Maybe next Monday.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Nats lose, MLB also loses

The Marlins have changed the game.

Well, not really. Really they have upped the time table. In a "no bubble" scenario it was always likely that some players would get COVID. And in a lenient rule situation, eventually one of these would pass it on to a number of teammates. You get enough teammates and you get a postponed game situation. The hope was people would take it seriously enough at the start to make this a mid-season situation, but here we are.

What's the end result? I don't know and I'm pretty sure baseball, which doesn't seem to be able to plan out a rain delay doesn't know either.  The easy answer is... well there are no easy answers... but the simplest answer is a bubble. Players can't go home, can't see family, and either are stuck in hotels from city to city or stuck in hotels in one specific city.  It seemed to work for the NWSL, and the NBA and NHL have had training starts that were more promising than MLB's "police yourself" summer camp.

But what it comes down to is what players want to do, and few want to be trapped in a hotel for months even for millions.  So I don't know what's to come. Twist my arm and I think baseball keeps the Marlins out for a while, suspends the Phillies/Yanks for like another game and hopes everything works out.  I don't think it will work.

In actual baseball news the Nats lose but as I type this there is only one team even 3-1 in the NL so it's barely a blip on their chances to make whatever post-season there may be.  Onward we go

Monday Quickie - First weekend done

The season is 1/20th over!

You can't read anything from three games, performance wise, so we won't go into any of that other than to talk about starting pitching work. Max? Ok, pretty typical "bad" Max, where a couple pitches get away from him, he loses control for a batter (maybe two) and things work out in a way that matters.  Erick Fedde looked good early but almost fell apart in the 4th and I think this is sort of the best you are going to get from Fedde. Patrick Corbin looked great and this is why you go three aces deep.  Max is going to get old one day. Stras is his usual mecurial, oft-dinged, self. Corbin though can step in and be that number 1.

The pen failed to hold the Yankees in game 3, which is always a worry, but they did fine in game 2. The runs scored were a little low. Would they be better with Soto? Of course! Let's get that test back! If these are problems we'll see it throughout the next couple of series. Right now you just think about it.

Baseball as a whole sort of made it through weekend one.  An audience desperate for sport gave the Opening Day it's best ratings in a decade. I'm sure the weekend games also did much stronger than normal. I bet NBA and NHL both see similar bumps if not as extreme (you'd rather be first out of the box than third). So far... so getting by.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

When is 3 = 8 but not = 8?

Just a note.  There's been some talk around that a team starting the season 0-3 is like starting the season 0-8 and that's true but also not.

You see 0-3 is like 0-8 in the impact for the season.  A shortened season means each game is more important and the impact of these shorter runs is as much as a greater one would be in a long season.


You see 0-3 is not like 0-8 for how rare it may be.  It doesn't matter how short a season is, an 0-3 run doesn't become as unlikely as an 0-8 run.  Every game still breaks in roughly the same way.  Every team will still have an 0-3 run.  Every team will probably have several 0-3 runs. Few teams will have 0-8 runs. Almost none will have multiple 0-8 runs.

An 0-3 run isn't a death sentence because a good team can make that back quickly fairly easily.  An 0-8 run though is hard to make up quickly. 

So don't get caught up in doom and gloom if the Nats get off to a slow start.  That doesn't matter as much.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Went 0-1 yesterday

So my take is - as a celebratory event sports in times of pandemic doesn't work. At least their starts. The curiousity of whether or not is going to work overshadows anything off the field that usually draws interest. The protests/demonstrations, the "We're back!" commercials, the visit from the commissioner in the booth. It was all secondary to "Juan Soto tested positive! What does that mean!?", "Are those guys getting too close?" and "Hey it's raining, shouldn't they cancel this right away? How are they distancing?"

However, as a "thing going on in the background that you can focus on" which is what baseball is from the day after Opening Day until the stretch run, it works just fine. The baseball was baseball. The lack of fans is a little weird but more so because the pumped in crowd noise can't exactly match up with what's going on.  Cut outs worked a little better but it's not like we've never seen the rich seats empty behind the plate. I think once we get to the weekend and we're looking at it as the every day foreground noise and not as the big thing to focus on it'll feel pretty normal.

The game itself was a dud (as was the Dodger / Giant game after that - but that was expected).  Max both was and wasn't sharp. At points he struck out 3 and 4 guys in a row. At others he gave up meatballs or 4 pitch walks. You can piece together yesterday in a way that has him giving up 1 run instead of 4 so I'm not too worried other than the end.  But pitchers away from the game for 7+ months getting tired a bit earlier is probably going to be a thing we see a lot for a few weeks.

Cole wasn't as dominant as the line would have you believe. There were a number of decently hard hit balls that went at 'em. But he didn't lose control like Max did and that ended up being the difference. Cole's one hit, the Eaton smash, was a solo job, and there was never anyone else on for him to worry about. 

No Nats (or Yankees) game today because even in a shortened pandemic season MLB can't help but have dumb scheduling. Plenty of other games though Mets Braves is probably the most compelling.  Also Giolito is pitching Opening Day. See you on Monday

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Baseball, baseball tonight. Baseball Tonight!

A game that matters.  The first one since the Nats wrapped up the World Series, the longest we've gone without a game... ever?

We know the big question hanging over everything is the virus. Can the season last once travel begins? Is it ok that these players are being made to do these particular things for entertainment? Is it ok we are diverting some resources to this? It's up to you how you want to view these things and how it effects your season. Here we'll move past it for the time being until the sport forces it back into question (hoepfully not)

What does a 60 game season mean?  It DOES mean more variabilty. It DOESN'T mean it's likely a great team misses out of the playoffs or a terrible team makes it in. Could it happen? Sure, especially given injury/illness. But those are few and far between.  Remember the Nats run last year was historic, not typical. More likely a WC team might be knocked out in favor of another potential WC team that would have faded over 162.

The Nats I think are helped by this. They are mostly an older team and they pushed their starting pitching incredibly hard last year. A less demanding season is a help.

I personally will think of the team that comes out of it (assuming the season goes ahead without much of a hitch) as a champion. Maybe not JUST like every other season but a champion nonetheless. All that matters is the W as they say.

NL East moves - in case you forgot

Braves - Braves lost Josh Donaldson and let Dallas Keuchel walk. They signed Will Smith and Chris Martin for the pen, Ozuna, and Hamels. American hero Nick Markakis has opted out

Phillies - finally gave up on Maikel Franco, let traded for Corey Dickerson walk. Questionably brought in Zach Wheeler to be the ace. Didi Gregorious as a one year improvement on Franco. Will have McCutchen for a full year. Possibly most importantly though swapped Gabe Kapler for Joe Girardi.

Mets - Lost Wheeler and the never clicked there Todd Frazier. Brought in Betances, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, Marisnick

Marlins - lost Castro to the Nats. brought in Dickerson, Kintzler, Cervelli, Villar.

None of the NL teams are definitely worse. Atlanta probably has the biggest worry about sliding as Donaldson was great, but their season was always going to hinge on their ample youth. Mets and Phillies basically tread water in talent which isn't necessarily bad but most likely to end them up back where they were.  The Mets are hoping for that healthy SP season that never seems to come.  The Phillies are hoping the across the board stats depression from last year was a luck and Kapler combo more than talent settling. The Marlins are better but competitive would be surprising even over 60.

I think the Nats are slightly worse (hard to lose Rendon and not be) but I think the moves of the division work in their favor so let's toss some nonsense out there

WSN 35-25
PHI 33-27
METS 32-38
ATL 31-29
MIA 25-35

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The opt-outs

The Nats right now have three opt outs and given it's about 48 hours until Opening Day that's probably going to be it.  How do these opt-outs effect the team

Ryan Zimmerman

Zimm was going to be in the DH/1B mix during his victory lap. Now Zimm's ABs will be eaten up by a mix of players. Eric Thames, who was going to be the lefty balance bat like Lind and Adams will probably have more of a chance to play if he does well. Howie is also listed in the depth charts but will spend most time at DH I imagine. If Carter Kieboom is truly the third baseman then Asdrubal could also get in some time. It's my contention we should give Soto a game or two there because that's where I see him long term but that's me. The first two games they flipped Howie and Thames DH/1B but that hardly makes sense as a plan for the season.

My guess is this plan does hurt the Nats a little because a good Zimm is an effective bat - better than AsCab, better than Thames. Plus it could force Howie into the field more than they were expecting.  But all in all it's just a little different because it's hard to project out a healthy Zimm hitting well at this point in his career.

Joe Ross 

The 5th starter spot was his to lose before walking away. Now Erick Fedde has got first crack. More "next in line" than "next big thing", Erick was passable last year in a limited role, getting better results than his stats might have suggested.  There's nothing here to suggest he'll be any good. He is still wild, still gives up too many hits and homers. There was no drop in hard hit balls last year or big changes in his GB/FB numbers. He just got a little lucky with when and where the hits came and that kept him from being terrible.

His one saving grace is basically - he's not the other guys.  Austin Voth deserves a look but there's a reason he keeps getting passed over. Kyle McGowin? Come on. Now there are guys further down that are interesting but are they ready? And if they are do you want to throw them out there in this season? With a championship in hand? Seems unlikely.

So Ross' departure hurts a lot. Not necessarily for the 5th spot, which was going to be a mess - or possibly more fairly - the same trouble spot it is for nearly every team, but in case of injury (or sickness) in another spot in the rotation. The depth is not here at all and if they need to go more than a pitcher deep into starters things get bleak quick.

Wellington Castillo

3rd catcher depth.  I think in part he was here to cover for potential trades of Gomes or Suzuki if things went in that way.  Now with him gone it's over to the guys they don't really like, Raudy Read, Tres Barrera.

Like Zimm it won't be a big deal but like Ross it cuts into the depth they have at a position that is particularly weak (again to be fair - for most teams)

So the departures set up the Nats but in a way similar to last year. A mix of the older and the guys with injury history hoping that Soto and the rotation carries them. Last year they made it through and then got the breaks they needed.  But last year they also had one more big bat in Rendon. This year the margin started even thinner and these departures cut it as thin as can be. But if you are scary thin, the season to be like that is the season that is only 60 games long.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Monday Quickie

T-minus 3 days until sort-of good enough baseball

To recap on what has happened for the Nats the past couple of months:
  • They had their shortened draft and signed their guys and that's about all you need to know about that.
  • The Nats released some names that might be familiar with you : Drew Ward, JB Shuck, Dante Bichette "Jr", 
  • Adrian Sanchez was effectively lost for the year. 
  • Joe Ross, Wellington Castillo, and Ryan Zimmerman chose not to play 
  • Wander Suero and Roenis Elais got Covid and presumably got over it

And before that
  • Rendon left for LA
  • Parra left for Japan
  • Koda Glover retired
  • They didn't re-sign Dozier or Adams
  • They did re-sign Stras and Howie (and Gomes and AsCab)
  • They brought in Will Harris and traded for Ryne Harper to help the pen
  • They signed Starlin Castro to play 2B and Eric Thames to play the memorial Adam Lind / Matt Adams spot 
And before that

They won the World Series

More tomorrow! But probably in this later in the day time frame if you are wondering.

Friday, July 17, 2020


It's gonna happen people.  Barring some terrible case explosion we are going to get at least some mostly real baseball in just one week. 

God bless our love of money

The MLB and NBA experiments are the canaries in the coal mines for team sports.  MLB - with it being an outside sport that relies on very little close contact and the NBA - with it's hardcore bubble plan - are trying to see if you can actually make it work. If these fail then other team sports - hockey, soccer, football - can't succeed.  So far - it's working.

How long will it last?  Well there are several thoughts on the matter. It might last as long as there are players willing to play. The owners and leagues want it to continue so even if it ends up a glorified AAA game they may still play it.  Or it may last until enough players get sick on a few teams to throw the whole thing out.  You quarantine 30 players a piece on 6 teams basically suspending their play for 2 weeks and the schedule falls apart.  Or it may last until a player gets extremely sick or dies.  While I'm surely liability waivers cover the leagues for this, they can't make up for the bad publicity.  If leagues push on against the wishes of most involved because players will play for the money and it happens again? That's the kind of thing that gets you a Player's Basketball Association in 2023.

We'll see.  Personally I ran the numbers and think the chance of a death/serious illness is slim for MLB/NBA.  NHL with a little less stringent bubble and bigger rosters than the NBA playing an indoor sport might be a little more likely but still I think the problem really comes when football camps start. I think with THAT many players and the different "in-shape" requirements for them you are going to get some bad results.  That may not only tip the NFL to not start but could have ramifications into other leagues.

But I'm being a downer now.  Baseball in one week. I'll take it.