Nationals Baseball: September 2020

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Former Defending Champs, but not yet former Champs

The Nats were eliminated last night - getting blown out by a desperate Phillies team and finished off by a Giants win.  The season, for what it was, is over.  What happened? 

Well in my opinion 2019 happened. The Nats went all-in at the end of 2019 to win and that meant committing to a basically a 6 man pitching staff, using Max, Stras, and Corbin heavily in relief. They all logged a ton of innings, along with their two man pen and the results were self-evident. Doolittle hurt. Strasburg hurt. Corbin wasn't good.  Hudson wasn't good. And even Max, the rock of Major League pitching, wasn't Max.

 The Nats put up an ERA that currently sits at 13th in the league, the typical chewing gum and bailing wire fixes elsewhere doing mostly as you would expect. Would things have been better with Joe Ross? Probably. But unless he was going to blossom into an ace the Nats would still likely have been on the outside looking in, just lasting a few more games. 

With this pitching the offense almost doesn't matter, but after years of bouncing around between great and very good the Nats were merely ok. Juan Soto lost time to an early false positive but otherwise was MVP worthy. Trea Turner might have blossomed, or might have just caught a hot streak*, but either way he was nearly as good as Juan. The rest of the team was disappointing. Robles regressed. Kieboom stunk and Garcia wasn't special (though fine for an intro season at this age). Eaton and Howie both didn't hit then got hurt. Thames didn't take up the "good for a year" 1B mantle. No one became a surprise savior like 40 game AsCab in 2019 (He was just ok in 2020).  Turns out you keep losing star level bats and eventually it'll matter.

This wasn't the vagaries of the short season. Those pitching woes were real and would have been even more difficult to overcome in 162. But that was the choice the Nats made and the rings on the fingers say it was worth it.

*Let's face it - in a 60 game season every statement here comes with the caveat it could be just an extended good/bad streak.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Monday - Just math now

The Nats are mere hours from elimination.  Maybe... 2 now.  Maybe 7. Maybe 24, hell  maybe 48, but eventually the numbers will turn against them.  

Then what? 

Well we can go over it then! We'll review the season stats, as they are when that's over. But here's a quick rundown of the contract situations for the Nats because we'll talk about that immediately.  Tomorrow even. 

Options -

Anibal 18 million

Eaton 10.5 million

Holt 5 million

Thames 3 million (mutual) 

Off the Top of my Head - I'm going to assume non get picked up 

Free Agents -

Doolittle, Suzuki, Kendrick, Zimmerman, Harrison, Castillo

Off the Top of my Head - Oooh I don't know. I'll think about it 

Freed $

Not all that much I don't think.  The numbers, especially for the Nats, get complicated, but they aren't losing anyone making a ton, are losing a bunch of guys that are relative bargains so to refill positions likely means spending all the money right up to the cap on guys that are just ok.  But...

Thinking ahead

In 2021 they lose more guys including Max who could bring them a bunch of free money. So if you don't plan to keep him you could double down on this year going over to go back just under next year. Of course by that time Turner is in the expensive arbitration area and Soto hits arbitration. So it's not all well and good. 

Look the good times weren't going to last forever. They had that 2012 young team advantage and parlayed that huge advantage into a second window from 2016-2019.  Now... now requires some really fancy footwork (or cash).

Monday, September 14, 2020

Monday Quickie - nope season over

Less than two weeks left to play and 5 games out of the WC with 4 teams in between?  That's too big a task for a team that's not 100%. At this point I suppose you "let the kids play" though in reality that means a lot of Kieboom and Garcia and most other guys you probably feel pretty good about knowing what you got there. It's a shame too because Soto would quite likely get a fair number of MVP votes on a good team. He's likely to finish the season on top of the SLG charts and could easily be on there for OBP as well.  But given that this team took a big step back and there are plenty of reasonable candidates out there (Betts, Tatis, Machado) he's going to be well out of it. And this means Trea Turner - who might deserve it just as much because he isn't a statue in the field, will probably get close to zero consideration.  Maybe if they let him run wild on the basepaths to end the year.

 This will also be the year Max breaks his streak of Top 5 Cy Young finishes. He may not even get a vote thanks to slow pull Davey who left him out to hang again yesterday.  Yes, I know he is intimidating but in THIS season you don't need to let him get his way. You need him to stay healthy. Take the ball. Manage the damn team. 

There is nothing much interesting.  No one is anywhere close to .400. Soto probably can't get enough HRs or RBIs to win the Triple Crown.

What needs to happen from here on out is someone needs to keep Davey from riding the young arms that have looked ok this year into the ground. He probably can't - it's only two more weeks, but who knows what this guy will do. Probably warm everyone up every night from the 5th on or something. Shut it down, reset and figure out what to do with that fact you are under the cap. A relief pitcher or a real bat is paramount. Given how Harris turned out in the pen, I think they go after a bat for 1B. Of course my thoughts have long been move Soto to first and next year even makes more sense with the dearth of 1B options in FA but no one ever listens to me.

Friday, September 11, 2020

It gets late immediately out here

The last games of the season are just over two weeks away.  The Nats have played 42 games meaning, if all goes well, they could manage 18 more games.  They have to make up 5.5 games on the last team in the playoffs so a 13-5 run to get to one game under .500 would mean that team, currently the Marlins or Giants, would have to go 9-12 and 6-9 respectively.  

Neither of these is crazy but the 13-5 for the Nats probably is. But the thing is, as you get into more reasonable territory, say 11-7, the other numbers get a little harder to imagine : 7-14, 4-11.  Along with the fact that the Rockies, Brewers, Mets and Reds all can't do equal or better than the 11-7 record.  

It's not over just yet but we're staring at it being beyond even the most optimistic scenario.  Lose all 3 this weekend and you'd have to finish 13-2 to have a shot? Yeah no.  

Really the Nats need to sweep the remaining games, but in this crazy season I'll take a 2-1 and look around to see if things have changed. The big thing sitting out there is a 5 game set against the Marlins followed by a 5 gamer against the Phillies. All we can ask for is they get to those series with a chance to catch either of those teams, however remote that chance may be (bc it's probably take a sweep). 

Someone is going to run off something like 14-4 to end the year. Someone is going to tank with a 4-14. More than likely that'll be an Indians and Tigers but why not the Nats and a team they are chasing?  The cards lined up last year. If we were 140 games in I'd say pack it in. But we want to squeeze all the enjoyment out of this tiny season as possible so hang in there. Let's not call it optimism about the Nats' chances, but realism that the minute the season is over you'll be ready for the next one, a real 162 one, to start.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Monday Quickie : Season not over?!

Nah over. Probably. 

Nice to win a few but as they were the rare interleague games they only help the Nats with wins and not with giving someone else losses. Same for tonight. This week the Nats take on the Braves which also isn't much help given that the Braves are 8.5 games ahead of the Nats.  They aren't going to catch them. 

But win your games and hope some other things go your way.  This week the Phillies are playing the Marlins so the Nats, if they win, will gain ground on someone they can catch.  

It was nice to see Max be Max AND not be pushed hard. Streaky Suzuki is having a hot streak now and Brock Holt is doing what he does (win the hearts of short white people who love "real" baseball and imagined scrappy gritty players with a lot of singles then suck but keep their hearts). Luis Garcia and Robles are also hitting better so that's a good sign for now and later.  Kieboom however... 

Ok quickie for real

Friday, September 04, 2020

I remember the season being not over

 The Phillies swept the Nationals and the season is over. 

OK that's obviously not technically true, there is a month or so left. And it's not true as it would be in a normal year.  This year with 8 teams in .500 will get you a spot and in the NL where the top teams are shaping up to be more dominant, a couple games under could also work. Currently the last playoff spot would be held by one game under Colorado at 18-19.  

But still it's 5 games out with a month to go - which would be bad with a team you like. The Nats don't just have a bad record, they have one of the worst records in baseball. With only 25 games to go to get to .500 the Nats would have to go 18-7.  That's equal to their best months from last year. 

 If you want to be a brightsider - it is still possible, even some mediocre teams pull off a month like this. And honestly the Nationals aren't 12-23 bad as a team.  Pythag has them at 16-19 which feels more right. So it's not AS crazy for them to pull off a great month. 

But while last year you had your top 3 and the health of a line-up to point to as changes, this year you have nothing. Strasburg is out. The line-up is as healthy as it's going to be. The trade deadline passed and the Nats did nothing. This team, roughly a 16-19 squad, is what you have going forward and something like 12-13 over the last 25 is probably the most likely scenario.  24-36?  Bleh

What is there to watch then? 

  • Can Trea Turner stay hot? Is Trea finally going to break out? If not, say the homers fall, can he hold on to the batting average crown?
  • Where will Juan Soto end up? MVP level so far with no reason to think that won't hold up.  
  • Is Kieboom any good? He'll get a second chance pretty soon and the Nats are kind of depending on him
  • How does the new bullpen hold up down the stretch? 2021 will look brighter if Rainey and Finnegan keep performing through the end of the year. 
  • Can the Nats play spoiler to anyone else? 

That's what I got.