Nationals Baseball: 2021

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Minimum or Maximum Pain

Well if that wasn't a sign I don't know what was. The Nats should deal and when they do they may deal a fan favorite or two.  If that happens there are definite teams you'd rather see the Nats deal with than other (assuming all else is the same - obviously return is important). So with the lack of anything else to talk about regarding playoff push - let's rank those teams from best location to worst location.

Acceptable, in context

Oakland - Getting recent perennial playoff choker Oakland a championship would actually make the legend of Max greater. Plus the Nats and A's always make trades. It feels natural.

San Diego - No titles, another division, usually bad. This would be ok.

Milwaukee - No titles, another division, but they've had their chances. Plus they just won an NBA title. Last thing I want to hear is Milwaukee : "Title Town".

Cincinnati - Not a big deal but doesn't feel like they deserve a title this year does it?

Not the Worst

White Sox - The Giolito/Max stuff would be terrible, and no one wants TLR to win again but White Sox championships are like gossamer. Do they even really exist? Lots of worse choices than this.

Giants - It's a great story. A bunch of old guys have one last run, fighting against two other squads that everyone figured would be the juggernauts of baseball. Except they have three recent titles and they are managed by Gabe Kapler. They don't need this. We don't want this.

Pain

St Louis - Ugh. Normally St. Louis would be much higher but like I said lots of bad choices out there. This falls to here because it's Max's home team and that's a little cool winning one with your home team. The rest? Very not cool.

Yankees - No one over 30 wants to see a guy going to the Yankees and winning another championship. But under 30 they may not care as much. As much. It's still the Yankees. 

Boston - They've won recently. They are obnoxious about it. Yet they continue to paint themselves as underdogs. This would be terrible. IYKYK. 

Constant in your face punishment for your sins

Mets - Now we get to the division rivals. The Mets are sad sack losers so are the best choice of the three, but they are also the type of sad sack losers who immediately act like they've always been big winners when ever they win.

Phillies - Carrying Bryce to a title? Can the Nats fans handle that?

Braves - Max on the mound. Late innings in a dominant start. The crowd is wild. And then they start the chop.

Dodgers - They just won! 

Time to stop watching baseball

Tampa - Last thing I want is to see Max traded to a team that will automatically view the trade as a win because it doesn't matter if they get a title, they've got a compensation pick coming!

Houston - Cheating cheaters get to win again with MAX? Get to say "oh see we're not cheaters! We win!" I can't even lean into a Dusty feel good story here. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Monday Quickie - Sell Sell Sell

To be perfectly honest - when the Strasburg news (which was basically - he's not ready and we're not sure when he's going to be ready) came down this weekend I was ready to pack it in. With Strasburg you can figure out how this team might MIGHT come back and take the division over a Mets team (if they started failing) and mediocre Phillies/Braves competition. Without Strasburg? Can't see it.  Getting swept by the Orioles was only a helpful confirmation.  

Ugly weekend but now we have focus.  Trade everything. Well there are three questions actually

Do you trade Max?  Max seems to like it here and with a title has no reason to go chasing something at the end of his career. But he is a FA at the end of the year probably looking for a "finish my career" contract so at least 3 years, probably more. If the Nats aren't going to sign him* they should trade him 

Do you trade Trea? Trea is up for FA after next year. He's a top flight SS, who should get a nice big payday. You need players like that. But if you are being serious about it, the likely long term plan would be getting good again around 2024 - in time to convince Soto to stay. in 2025 Turner will be 31, more likely to get nagging injuries, more likely to be in his decline. Still it's not likely but the big reason you trade him is because he's your biggest chip, the one most likely to bring a piece back you can be relatively sure will be part of the next competitve team. Probably not a likely star, but a likely starter who might surprise. Maybe another piece too.  Everyone else is bringing back long shots and role players. 

Do you trade Soto? Ooof. No. If you are trading Soto you are giving up for a LONG time because you don't deal a definite All-Star maybe HoF caliber player at 22. You can probably get a couple really good prospects back for him. They will also probably be no more than 24 months younger than Soto and with no track record of success in the majors. This would be dumb. 

Time to call into talk radio and get ready for a return to the bad good old days. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Rivarly Weekend? Rivalry Weekend.

 The Nats play the Orioles this weekend for their rivalry games and well no one cares too much.  At least as far as I can tell.  Hard to remember but for the first half of the Nats window the Os got good too making these games kind of interesting if you have no feeling about Baltimore vs DC or the MASN situation. Now the Os stink and have for a while so the games mostly don't matter other than what kind of boost they give the Nats and this year is no exception. 

The Orioles can't hit.  Cedric Mullins has blossomed into a fine player and Trey Mancini is a solid power bat but after that their best bats are merely average and 3-4 starters a night are well below. A couple of poor hitters are hot - Santander, old friend Severino - but this is just the normal streaks you see.  They don't do anything particularly well but they do particularly lack power after the two good hitters and DH Mountcastle.  It's a worse line-up than the healthy Marlins but maybe a tick better than the hurt Marlins? I don't know. But this hardly matters because where the Orioles really stink is on the mound!

They have one starter of use (John Means) and them a handful of guys that might not make it as other teams #5. The relief is a little better if only because if you throw 7 guys out there for limited innings someone is going to be ok.  Tyler Wells is probably the guy to watch as he has good control and can strike you out. I'm saying now he'll be the closer sometime before the end of next year.  An inopportunte homer or 2 (or 4) have hurt him though. The rest are either good stuff but wild guys or some control no stuff guys or at least I avoid the homers guys or whatever it is that Adam Plutko or Thomas Eshelman are.  Bad. That's what they are bad. 

Probables! 

Corbin vs Jorge Lopez - Corbin has been beaten around in a couple of his last starts, against the Padres and Dodgers with an ok Padres start in between.  He could be good he could not. I've kind of lost faith in him putting any long good stretch together but can he get the Orioles to scatter a bunch of hits and strike out too much over 6+? I think so.  Lopez has one decent start since May ended. He's trash. The Nats should beat his brains in (metaphorically). His one saving grace is he's not that homer prone so it's never like 8 runs in 3 innings more like 5 in 4 but they should get to him either way.

Scherzer vs Spenser Watkins Matt Harvey - Max had a disappointing for him start last time out against the Padres, unable to hold a big lead without giving some of it back. He's been a bit homer prone recently but against the Os that means 2 guys might hit solo homers as he goes 8 and strikes out 12. If the Nats score they win this game. That might be a problem?  Watkins isn't a prospect - but he's been very good since coming up with the Os. A junkballer who uses a cutter a lot he mixes things up and accepts the occasional single or walk to avoid the rare homer or big hit. It's a formula that has worked in the majors better than the minors - perhaps because of all the fast stuff usually seen up here. It's three starts so it could also be a fluke and the Nats could pummel him.  Dammit they changed it on me! Watkins was actually kind of interesting but they are giving him MIA later and keeping Harvey on schedule. Harvey stinks! The basic fact is you can hit Harvey well.  He won't get himself in trouble in the sense he stays away from the walks and homers but he's a BP pitcher to guys with fungo bats. Put it over, hope they hit it at someone. That doesn't usually work but it can. This would be a crushing loss

Lester vs Means - Lester gets the Marlins then the Os? That's a way to save your rotation spot. He looked fine against the Marlins and really his stuff plays at the back of a rotation. He'll handle the bad offenses. MIA? NYM? PIT? So he should handle the Orioles. John Means isn't bad. He's hard to hit and doesn't put men on.  But he's homer prone - possibly a spin rate casualty and he's hurt on and off.  If he can keep you in the park he can win.

The first game is in the Nats favor, the second one really so, the last one more of a toss up. While they should win any single game 2-1 is probably slightly more likely than 3-0 as these things go.  1-2 or worse would be a devastating failure in my book. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

FAILED AGAIN

 Updating and adjusting the board 

  • Hold ground in next 6 (27-35) 
  • Sweep the Pirates at home (30-35) 
  • Beat the Mets at home (33-36) 
  • Beat the NL East rivals (PHI 2, MIA 4) away  (37-38) 
  • FAIL Survive a brutal pre ASG run (home for NYM(1), TB (2), LA (4) @SD (4) @SF (3))  (43-46) FAIL
  • FAIL Win a homestand vs SD/MIA (47-48) FAIL
  • Sweep the Orioles away (48-50)

The Nats didn't win the homestand. After losing 2 of 3 to the Padres they had to sweep the Marlins to do it but they couldn't muster up any offense yesterday and instead split the homestand 3-3. As we've talked about endlessly the mediocrity of the NL East has kept the Nats in it despite now falling two games off the pace I wanted them to be at but a sweep of the Orioles is very much needed. Not HAVE TO HAVE, but close. 

Before the Marlins series though I came up with a simple metric for the rest of season : Don't Lose Another Series.  

If the Nats didn't lose another series (meaning winning all odd-game series and splitting all even game ones) starting with the Marlins won they would end up with 87 wins and 87 wins just might win this division. Especially since the Nats would be gaining at least a couple games on every NL East team H2H. The Mets would have to go 37-32 to get there - certainly not a given, in fact probably around what you'd expect them to do.  

Can the Nats win at a 60% pace the rest of the year? Probably not! But if you harbor hope for the season this give you an easy way to keep overall pace. You don't have to think about who you are playing, or if they are in division, or if you are home and away.  Very simple. Each series not lost is keeping pace. Each 3 game sweep is a series loss cushion you have for later. And each series loss is a 3 game sweep you need later. The Nats swept Miami meaning they kept pace. Just 21 more series to go

I'll come up with my own more specific goals as we move along, but this does work rather well. So for now sweep the Os or beat the Os. Either way works.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Probably probables

The Nats made short work of former Nat Ross Detwiler - a guy who literally hasn't been good since leaving the Nats in 2015 and started this six game run with a bang, boom, and kapowie. How's the rest of the series look?

Rogers vs Espino  - Rogers was the Marlins All-Star but he stumbled into the All-Star break with a series of mostly unimpressive and short starts.  His control and Ks seem ok, same with the homers, so it's probably not a spin thing instead he's clumping together those hits and that's hurting him. Still that stretch included Toronto and the Dodgers - the 2nd and 3rd highest scoring teams in baseball, so that's probably more it than anything. I'd expect a tough match-up if the long layoff (last pitched in the ASG, last started on the 10th) doesn't bother him. I noted that Espino had given the Nats what they asked for (get into the 4th with the Nats in the game) every start... then he promptly couldn't get out of the third last time out. Espino isn't here to win the game. He's here to get the Nats to the 5th with the Nats within 3. It's not a big ask and the Marlins aren't a good hitting team to begin with. With Cooper and Chisholm out they border on terrible (which is what they were last night with Marte also out - he should be back tonight). 

Alcantara vs Fedde - You know I have picked on Fedde recently because after the tack ban he's been bad but all in all his spin rate hasn't dipped too much. It's been all over the place really with no real connection to results. Those results have been universally bad. Last time out he was crazy wild, two times ago he got hit around bad, three times ago (before the missed start) he gave up some bombs. He looks like Fedde looks - a AAAA starter, but the Marlins are the type of team that sets you right and it's about time for Fedde to go 7IP with 3 hits and 7 Ks and make everyone think he can be good again.  Alcantara IS a tack causality.  His spin rate has nose-dived and the stats have followed down - fewer Ks more walks, more hittable. He's not a bad pitcher but he's probably closer to a 3/4 than the 2/3 he was showing at the start of the year, at least until he learns to pitch sans tack. 


Both these games are winnable but the pitching match-ups favor the Marlins. It's the fact that the Marlins can't generate offense that makes it possible for the Nats to take both.  Honestly I feel better about today's game - let 4-5 relievers go all out for 1-2 innings and shut these guys down, while the Nats take advantage of a possibly rusty Rogers. Fedde... I just don't think he's right and if he can't shut down the Marlins that probably tells us for sure he isn't. He's a borderline rotation guy anyway. That type that isn't 100% is going to be just not usable.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Monday Quickie - You don't have to be faster than the bear...

...you only have to be faster than the slowest person running from it. 

Or so goes the saying. The Nats have had a disappointing run. They've been the bears next target, eyeing the Nats as it devours the Marlins. Even factoring in the quality of the teams they have been playing 3-11 in the last 14 is straight bad.  That's not even a .500 type team. But the NL East has barely moved. The Mets have gone 7-7, the Braves 7-6, the Marlins 6-8.  Only the Phillies at 8-4 have made a significant jump and as they were 3 back from the Nats at the start of this slide* they only moved from "could catch Nats" to "Nats could catch them" 

The Nats can still hit their 7-2 goal but it means two sweeps. They are certainly capable of it. The teams they are playing are certainly lousy enough. Does the NL East give you hope? Of course! The Mets are more a little bit lucky .500 team. Sure they are .500ish in large part surprise disappointments and injuries but now deGrom is out. The base team available day to day is what it is and that's .500. The Braves might be the best team in the NL East this year but that doesn't mean much and they've lost Acuna. The Phillies are more of a team in a hot stretch than an above .500 team. There's nothing here that worries you EXCEPT the Nats are who they are. They are a below .500 team. That's what they've played like all year. to catch the others they have to at least be .500 and to do that they need something to happen. Soto having his Schwarber moment? The starting pitching just being ok but for a couple months? Something. 

 The season could have been done by now. If the Mets had just gone 5-2 against the Pirates instead of 3-4 they'd be 50-40 with an 8 game lead and I'd be ready to pack it in. That didn't happen. 6 games though - with these patsies... 5-1, while not what you want, is there, and that almost certainly picks up at least a game keeping you in the two-series distance. It's always relative, but it does feel with these 6 games the Nats need to win win win. They couldn't stem the bleeding, so now they need to get better as fast as they can.

Probables - holding off until we get coinfirmation. Ten days ago the Nats were hoping MAYBE Strasburg or Ross could be lining up for this series. Didn't happen. Now we need to see what they do. I've also heard Rogers may start tonight and coming back from the ASG it could happen so we'll wait.

Bullpen Game? vs Lester?

Rogers? vs

Alcantara vs Fedde?

 

*You may have forgotten but the Nats were only two games out at that point. (and two games over .500)

Friday, July 16, 2021

BACK ON !

Padres! Nats! For all the marbles! 

We just looked at the Padres so no need to re-hash it.  The good news for the Nats is the Padres are scuffling a bit.  They are 4-6 in their last 10 with series losses to the Phillies and Rockies (in San Diego) and a series tie with the Nats. They are lucky to be that given that 9-8 crazy game. They managed to win the Cincy series before this but really played on their level.  So they haven't played up to their very good record for almost three weeks now. 

The Nats need to have two special series here. They need to do two of three - beat the Padres, sweep the Marlins, sweep the Orioles.   That gets them to 7-2, back to .500 and ready for the division gauntlet. There's nothing on injuries yet but Strasburg coming back would likely always slot in furthest out so Tuesday, so don't read into that yet.

Probables 

Paddack vs Fedde - the Nats CRUSHED Paddack last time out in the 15-5 win.  He pitched a couple of mediocre innings against the Rockies after that short outing. He's been bad since the tack-ban. So the Nats need to jump on this game. Problem is Fedde also has not been good since the ban, although you'll say it's injury.  Still he's not AS bad.

Snell vs Corbin - Corbin's been a mid 4.00 ERA pitcher since his "OMG I'M WATCHING A SNUFF FILM" start. That's not good enough for the Nats, who need him to be a solid 2 now and a great 3 when Stras is in the rotation, but it is good enough to possibly win every other time out or so. Like last time when he beat the Padres. Snell was on the IL for the last series. He's hurt and basically works short outings that are pretty good until he gets too hurt and he walks like 6 guys or give up 9 hits in 3. He hits a limit, gives up a big hit, and goes to the dugout if he's pitched 3+.  Another winnable game

Musgrove vs Scherzer - Musgrove did not pitch well against the Nats. It may not be tack related - he put up a couple clunkers in early May - but it could be. The Padres would love to see him throw a post-tack-ban gem to alleviate those fears. Max was garbage last time, unable to hang on to a huge lead handed to him and giving up a grand slam to a relief pitcher. You'll know he'll be mad and he's still usually very good, so let's hope it was a random bad outing (like the Toronto one earlier in the year) and not some injury issue.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Soft Sell Returns

We talked about a soft sell yesterday which I think will be the most likely scenario for the Nats when we get to late July.. We can argue if it's the right one (I say yes - no reason to deal Max bc you won't get enough back for him. You'd get more value in the next 3 years keeping him maybe even in years 4-7) but we'll do that again later this month I'm sure.  In the meantime, we can look at the last soft sell, the 2018 deals in Davey's first lost season, and see what it got (and lost) the Nats. 

 

For Brian Goodwin (blocked from meaningful OF play by MAT and Stevenson, has late blossomed into a decent 4th OF) 

Jacob Condra-Bogan - Was doing ok as a control, no-homer reliever in mid-minors then surprisingly retired when he didn't make the majors out of camp (which was not a surprise).  

For Brandon Kintzler (talked to press angering Rizzo, has bounced to three different teams in 3 years getting better results than his pitching should have twice. Chickens came home to roost this year and he's dragging the Phillies down)

Jhon Romero - despite real rough outcomes when moved up aggressively, he's developed into a decent reliever though stuff seems a little weak to play in the majors and control/homer numbers are very good but not great, so you want to see more improvement.

For Shawn Kelly (threw his glove on the ground so became part of the bullpen shake up that Rizzo hoped would do... something and did nothing but make things worse, had pitched well for Oakland in 2018 but not good for Texas in 2019 and is out of baseball)

Cash that helped become Kyle Barraclough - big bust for the Nats who hoped he'd return to 2017 form. Instead he kept getting worse. He's in AAA for the Twins now but with no control he's just org depth in 2021.

For Daniel Murphy (end of contract trade dump, did well for Cubs, signed with Colorado but got hurt and couldn't get right and is out of baseball) 

Andruw Monasterio - ended up part of the Yan Gomes deal. Not doing much for Cleveland in AA.

For Gio Gonzalez (end of contract dump, was a bit of a star for the Brewers to end 2018 and was an admirable starter in 2019 for them too.  That got him a chance with the White Sox but he just didn't pitch well and couldn't stick with anyone this Spring)

KJ Harrison - having an ok year in AA as a guy with some pop.  K-rate is crazy though and with that lack of patience I don't think he can handle major league pitching any time soon.

Gilbert Lara - The only one to hit on Nats prospect lists post-trade (in the low 20s), was once a big time international prospect that has gone nowhere. Aggressive move up hasn't helped produced nothing in A+ and AA. Will he even be in the org next year? Don't know. 

For Ryan Madson (end of contract dump and bad, he wouldn't do terrible for the Dodgers - blow up a couple times yes, but otherwise ok and ok in the playoffs. At 38 didn't want to sign just to sign in 2019 and never got a deal he liked so hung it up)

Andrew Istler - looked like a late blooming relief steal for the Nats, with tough to hit stuff if a bit wild. I THINK he got hurt? I know he's out of baseball now. 


So for trading 5 decent or better major leaguers and a spare part the Nats got back 3 guys who probably had enough talent to make the majors in some way - but likely only 1 who will and he probably won't be good, cash they turned into a decent bet that failed, a prospect they threw in in a deal*, and two failed bats. Is that exciting? No. Is that useful... I guess kind of as opposed to nothing. And that's kind of what the Nats, with not the same level of talent to trade off this year, would hope for. Maybe get an arm to use for a couple seasons a couple years down the road. Maybe get a guy they can flip for something they want more.  It's not much but the only way you are rebuilding the minors is a complete gut.  Not just dealing Max, but also Gomes and Trea and Ross. Is that what you want to do? Because if so good luck - it doesn't always work and you can find yourself Pirating or Marinering the next decade.

*The trade really was for Daniel Johnson and Jefry Rodriguez. Jefry, a AAAA pitcher at the time, seems to be the same, but has made his way back to DC.  Johnson looked great in Columbus in 2019 but in the majors has struggled and this year's minor league numbers are straight bad.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

2019.... today!

Ed Note - Whoops. I knew the Reds in the WC sounded funny.  Rewritten given the Nats the worse odds they deserve

We can all agree 2019 was a magical season.  The Nats started like crap thanks in good part to a bunch of injuries, but got healthy and went on a run that would find them safely in the playoffs with over a week to go. The Nats and their fans would love it if 2021 could follow that path. 

Of course we're already into the "recovery" phase of 2019.  You all remember 19-31 is where that began. In 2021 there was a slightly earlier run, followed by a crash, that set them up with a slightly better record after 50 games. 21-29.  Let's see how it progressed

After 60 

  • 2019 : 27-33
  • 2021 : 26-34

After 70

  • 2019 : 32-38
  • 2021 : 34-36

After 80

  • 2019 : 40-40
  • 2021 : 40-40

At 89 games

  • 2019 : 47-42
  • 2021 : 42-47

So up until around game 82 2019 and 2021 matched up pretty well. At that point though 2019 took off with a little 9-1 run. They'd have another average run until game 116 where they'd stand at a decent 61-55. By game 135 they'd be a great 77-58.  So if you want to set points in the schedule for demarcation that'd probably be it. The Nats this year might be able to get to 61-55 but the 2019 Nats will smoke them after that.

But really it's about context, internal and external.  In 2019 after finishing out that 9-1 run the Nats were 49-42. But the division leader was 56-37 Atlanta, well ahead by 6 games and they'd never catch them. In 2021 the division leader is a mere 47-40 currently. In 2019 the Nats had already gotten to WC1 status, WC2 being the 49-43 Cubs and the first team out the 48-45 Brewers.  In 2021 WC2 is 53-40 San Diego a harder target than the 2019 division leading Braves.

So what does that all mean?  It means that the Nats in 2019 were in GREAT shape by now in terms of the WC situation. They couldn't just hold ground but as the WC1 team with a 2 game lead over the last team out and a team in between they also lead they had a cushion. (In the end they could have finished 38-33 and still made the playoffs). In this year they are in TERRIBLE shape. They are 9 out of the playoffs with 5 teams in between to climb past.

It also means that the division is a tough haul as well. You might think it would be easier. The 2021 Mets are not as good as the 2019 Braves. But again it's all relative. The 2021 Nats are not as good as the 2019 Nats. The 2019 Nats trailed the Braves by 6 games after 91 games. The 2021 Nats could very well trail the Mets by more given the post ASB matchups. The 2019 Nats never caught the Braves even with FOURTEEN head to head games remaining. The 2021 Nats "only" have 11 against the Mets. 

Also the 2019 Nats were almost completely healthy by now. Rendon had been back since early May, Soto and Turner mid May and they'd have played every game since coming back. Sanchez missed a start in May but hadn't since and Stras and Corbin had hit every start. Only Max, just starting an injury run that would limit him to one start from mid July to late August, was out. That's big but if that's your only thing - and it was - you can get past that. 

By contrast, the 2021 Nats have Schwarber and Strasburg and Gomes still out with no current timetable for return (we hopefully will get updates in the next couple of days). They are also worse - but you know that. That's why they are 42-47. 

To summarize, 2021

  • The Nats are as far away from the division lead
  • The Nats are in a much worse WC position, basically out of it.
  • The Nats are far less likely to make a sustained run. 
  • IF though they do make a sustained run the Mets are far less likely than the 2019 Braves to match them 

That last point is the bright spot and what they have to hang on. 

So what am I looking for?  I'm looking for, over the next couple days how healthy the Nats are. The healthier the better. I'm looking over the next week, how far out the Nats fall / how close they can get. And from that I'm evaluating their chances daily to decide whether to sell, hold, or buy. Currently it's a hold. What would buy look like? Something like after July 25th, everyone back Nats 49-49, Mets 50-46. What would sell look like? No one back, Nats 45-53, Mets 53-43. It probably won't end up as far in either direction so the choice won't be clear but still a choice is going to have to be made.  Currently "soft sell" looks mostly likely but if the injuries clear up then "soft buy".  To the IL reports

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

ASB Tuesday Notes

I didn't think I was being optimistic yesterday. The facts are this : The NL East has one team with a good record. It has no really good teams. The Nats, after a lousy and unlucky start, have played good baseball going 19-9 in June. They are three games from finishing what is likely their toughest stretch of baseball and have a distinctly less challenging schedule the rest of the way than either the Braves (slightly harder) or the Mets (much harder)*. The Nats CAN win this division

No it wouldn't be easy or expected, but if they are healthy coming out of this next stretch and only a couple games out heading into the division gauntlet it could happen. Rebuilding is no guarantee of success, not in 3 years, not in 5 years, not in 7. It's a gamble especially with a minor league system currently seemingly ready to produce one good starting pitcher and that's it over the next couple years. It's a gamble without knowing what is going to happen with the rest of the NL East. Do the Mets get healthy and dominate the next couple years? Do all those young Braves pieces finally fit together? Do the Marlins blossom? Why gamble on that when you can gamble on the division title right in front of you?

I'm not saying the Nats shouldn't sell this year. I'm just saying it's too early to tell.  There's time left to decide. There's a winnable situation out there. Don't pass it up. 


Other Notes : Soto beat out Ohtani in the HR Derby but couldn't get past the machine that is Alonso.  FWIW I though Ohtani was the better HR hitter but had the worst pitcher and he himself choked a little. Soto's 3 for 3 showed he (1) can still crush homers (2) probably needs a specific area of pitch to do it. 

For those worried about the HR Derby affecting swings - we've gone over this before but there's no factual basis to back that up.  People do hit fewer homers after the ASG but there are easily explainable reasons why that is so like - "there are fewer games after the ASB dummy!" and "the guys hitting abnormally the most homers get chosen for the derby so they are very likely to hit more normal amounts of homers for them going forward... dummy!" Take these things into account and HRs post derby are pretty much exactly as you'd expect.

I would expect to see Soto late as a PH.  Trea might come in half-way as I expect Tatis to get two turns at bat.  Roberts might also hold Trea to pinch run though

*the Phillies might have the easiest schedule left with their season series with the Pirates, D-backs, and Orioles and their remaining 4 Rockies games all coming after July 29th.

Monday, July 12, 2021

ASB Monday Quickie

 Got swept.  To be honest it wasn't all that shocking. The Nats starting pitching is in shambles right now.  If a series doesn't line up with Max, who isn't MAX anymore but is still usually pretty good, then it's a tough series to win. But this was to be expected. Like I said at the start, a .500 team might go 4-10 in this stretch. The Nats ended up going 5-9 and missing my goal. 

  • Hold ground in next 6 (27-35) 
  • Sweep the Pirates at home (30-35) 
  • Beat the Mets at home (33-36) 
  • Beat the NL East rivals (PHI 2, MIA 4) away  (37-38) 
  • FAIL Survive a brutal pre ASG run (home for NYM(1), TB (2), LA (4) @SD (4) @SF (3)) (43-46) FAIL
  • Win a homestand vs SD/MIA (46-49)
  • Sweep the Orioles away (49-49)

The next goals haven't changed though.  The Nats have 9 games after the ASB before the division gauntlet begins and we're already asking for a 7-2 run.  You can't ask for 8-1.  Why not ask for them to win them all?  49-49 would still be .500 and would still likely be close enough to catch the Mets (who probably go 4-5 or 5-4 in the same time period putting the Nats 3 or 4 games out). Is it as close as you like it to be?  Is it in "ok definitely go out and get someone" range? No. But it is close. What you've lost is that cushion. Yes, there was always a one-game cushion built in.*

The real problem is it brings the Nats very close to the trade deadline (July 30) and not in that "go for it" position though. That makes the Nats have to make a deal, if they choose to, on faith.  A lot about this will be how healthy the Nats are come the end of this 9 game stretch. If they are all together healthy and 49-49, that's a team that managed to play 96 win pace ball for a quarter of the season NOT healthy, now coming together at the right time to push past the Mets, et al.  Maybe you only end up with 87/88 wins but the idea is you pushing past them means pushing them down while you go up. They don't get there.  If they aren't healthy and end up even 48-50... I don't know why you try.  You might continue playing like the best team in the East for the rest of the year but you are at 86/87 wins and is that enough? What if you slip just a fraction? Are you going to bet on an 85 win team making it? 84?  We're at that point people where the difference between success and failure lies.

We won't go into any "has to" numbers yet (bc so much depends on where everyone stands going in) but the post ASB schedule breaksdown as this - 

  • The prelude - as described above SD/MIA at home then Orioles away
  • Division Guantlet Part 1 - @PHI(4), CHC, PHI(4), @ATL, @NYM, ATL
  • Intermission - TOR(2),  @MIL, @MIA
  • Division Guantlet Part 2 - @NYM, PHI, NYM (5!), @ATL
  • Recovery - @PIT, MIA, COL
  • Recovery on the Move - @MIA, @CIN, @COL
  • BOS

That second part of the recovery is a little sneaky - Miami and Cincy aren't bad and there are no breaks so the Nats would be going from DC to MIA to CIN to COL with no rest. I still think they could roll through it if needed but a dying Nats squad could break down to end they year at that point.

Anyway rest up Nats - Let's see how healthy they are coming out of this break (Stras?) and if they can go 7-2. A quick bad start could be all it takes to trigger sell mode.

*Now if you want to dig really into it, the Nats could probably lose 2-3 more games, like go 4-5 themselves, and be ok. There are that many games in the division left that they can make that up. HOWEVER, something like this means they have to go on a dominating run.  In those 31 games they can't go 17-14 but would need to 21-10 or something like that.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Don't get swept - Giants version

The Nats are at 5-6 and if you forget about the how (3-0 start then swept, 8-0 lead blown) again that's probably where we wanted the Nats to be going into this last series.  Win 1 of 3 from SF in this away series, the most likely outcome, and pack the whole thing up as a moral victory that continues to line the Nats up for whatever run they may make in the second half. 

Of course it's not exactly that simple - watching Max get blown out and having Ross go on the IL sets up a potential future where the rotation starts Corbin - Fedde - Lester - Espino... and that's not winning you anything.  But who knows? It could be this bad OR everyone could be back in place after the ASB and we're arguing if Lester needs to sit for Fedde and Ross. We don't know, no sense worrying about it now. 

Also some people worry about big losses starting something (or get hopeful about big wins starting something) and as your non-friendly non-neighborhood Soulless Automaton I can tell you stop. They don't. Or at least you can't definitively link them to such things, there doesn't seem to be an evidence, and usually such things are the work of back-fitting a season to the narrative rather than actual single game turning points existing. 

The Giants have been more mortal recently 4-6 in their last 10 and 3 of those wins being against the D-backs (that's the NL West cushion which should keep the Giants in STRONG WC contention even if they start to peter out). It's mostly been a slow down in the offense against the Dodgers on the far end of those 10 games. They seem better more recently.  Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria are both out and like most teams the Giants are just shuffling them off to a post-ASB return to get max rest for them. Posey, with a sore thumb, might not play either. That would make sense... if these games before the ASB didn't count too. But they do! Just the same! So put me in the group that likes the Nats "bring them back when they are ready" strategy.  Still their back-ups are doing fine because this is one of those charmed seasons when things like that happen 

The bullpen is still super deep with no real stand out arms but no terrible ones either. Think of the Nats bullpen after Hand and Hudson and before whoever the last arm is. Then make everyone one step better. That's the Giants pen. Reliable but not shutdown. No recent issues either so the Nats will like have to win these games by beating the starters and outscoring a hopefully sluggish offense.

Probables 

Espino vs Logan Webb - Paolo's job is to get the Nats through 4-5 innings in the game. He's done it in all his emergency starts this year. He doesn't strike anyone out but limits the homer/walk mistakes. You have to beat him. This isn't historically Paolo though - he'd walk guys and give up homers - so it could all come crashing down. Webb is coming back from an IL stint. He was a guy with decent stuff who can get into trouble but stays away from the long ball.

Lester vs Anthony DeSclafani - Lester was trash last time out and the two times before that. This was after a run of mostly decent starts this entire season. He looks gassed though. Not missing any bats and trouble with command. If the Nats weren't missing multiple starters, he'd probably get a break. Sorry Jon! Maybe the long ASB will help - just bear down here.  DeScalfani is very solid though not a K guy so he probably won't keep the Nats scoreless.

Fedde vs Kevin Gausman - Fedde hasn't looked right recently. Is it injury or is it Spider Tack withdrawl? Either way 3 Ks in his last two starts matching 3 homers in those 8 innings, and 14 hits. He did look decent his first time through last game so maybe it's just stretching back out. Or maybe like the rest of his career he really isn't a starter. What a fun back and forth season this has been with him and Ross alternately disappointing just enough to make it a little bit of a mess. Gausman is good! You don't want to go into this game needing to win it.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Where we at

The Nats lost.  Oh well.  still 4-5 is on pace. 4-6 isn't even that bad if they lose tonight.  Only worry if they lost the next two because you'd rather have to take one from SF in SF, not win the series.

 Where the Nats are currently is they are a .500 team that have played like a .500 team. They pitch ok both as starter and reliever, which actually gives them a slight advantage over other teams who don't do one or the other well. They still don't score when Schwarber isn't doing a roided Barry Bonds impression, but they aren't the worse at it - the bad scoring luck of the early season gone away. 

Catching - Gomes is good! Avila was fine as a back-up catcher which means kind of bad but what are you going to do? It's a back-up catcher. You aren't finding a good player if you didn't develop one yourself. Avila is hurt now but 29 of 39 teams 3rd catcher is gonna be trash. 

First Base - Bell's been hitting better each month which yes is easy given the abysmal April but he's back over average.  He'll probably dip again soon but he's pretty much become the bat the Nats expected

Second Base - The opposite of Bell - after a torrid April has hit pretty poorly since. Not terrible but below average. 

Short Stop - Star turn continues. He'll probably never be the BEST SS in the majors but he's up in the conversation for "who else" once you get past whoever is at the moment.

Third Base - people act like he's a gaping hole but the truth is he is hitting like Harrison since April and completely in line with his previous stats. He's a decent fielder.  He stays healthy. I can see why you want better but he's not a disappointment. 

Left Field - Schwarber was ok then got AMAZING. Now hurt and out for a while 

Center Field - Robles is kind of bad.  If you are looking for one thing that is the Nats problem... this isn't it. But if you are on the second thing. Yes Robles not developing into anything could be it. He's a great defender but he's MAT production at the plate 

Right Field  - disappointing for Soto. He's probably hurt and hitting everything down because of a shoulder issue but it doesn't seem to be getting worse and he's still got a great eye and hits the ball hard so you keep playing him hoping for a return to form and the meanwhile he's still your second best bat. 

Bench - well here's your problem! Zimm has been useful in his limited appearances. Yadi stinks, Parra stinks, Stevenson stunk, Mercer... didn't stink but all Mercer can do is not much, Garcia stunk, 

Overall the Nats have a decent healthy offense set-up.  It's not as good as it has been (that'll happen if you lose a Rendon) but it's ok. Better than average with everyone healthy and hitting as expected. The second part is mostly happening, Soto not being SOTO costs them a little. But really it's the first part not happening that kills them. They replace someone good or at least ok with someone bad and the line-up becomes real short. 

Trade deadline - Get someone good! OF or IF! The IF has to be good. Pulling Castro for a guy hitting a 100OPS+ isn't getting you anything. The OF has to be good too... if you are replacing Robles. If you are filling in the Schwarber absence you can go with average. Wouldn't hurt to get both. 


Starting Pitching - Lester is degrading. Corbin still isn't good enough - rolling through decent stretches then tossing one or two stinkers. Ross and Fedde are unreliable. They need Strasburg (GOOD Strasburg) to help anchor the rotation and not force 3 of 4 starts to need 4+ innings of bullpen work. An extra stud pitcher or even a solid middle would help but I don't expect that from the Nats. An extra 5th type arm would be superfluous here. 

Relief pitching - Brad Hand hasn't been smooth sailing but he's been ok. The rest of the pen are guys that can come in and do well or not - they are pretty average. And while it's nice to have a bunch of arms to go to if you don't solve the starting pitching issues you can't find the good ones in any night because guys are overworked or resting. The end result is tossing out 4 arms almost every night knowing full well one is probably going to have nothing.  Hudson coming back will help out alot assuming he can keep up his pitching from before.

  

Looking at the Nats there isn't anything specifically wrong. But that's what you get with an average team.  And that can be a problem because without a glaring easy fix any fix that will actually impact your team will cost you and the Nats don't have the prospects to pay up. The Nats expected movement going forward is to fritter around the edges getting a decent OF (to play while Schwarber's out) and a not as decent IF (for depth) and maybe another bullpen arm if it's there because a LHP that can be decent against everyone - even if it's really just decent - would be preferable to Clay as your first LHP option. Nothing more. Anything more is just too expensive for a team who can't be sure it's going to matter in the end.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Tuesday Quickie - surviving

The Nats have up to this point survived the stretch.  It wasn't done as planned. They streaked out on a 3-0 run making it seem like they had the stretch in the bag, only to get swept by the Dodgers putting them right back on their slow and steady schedule.  4-4 total so far means 2-4 is all they need so it's likely they'll do it but take nothing for granted for this beat up team. 

These 4 versus San Diego are of particular importance because of the situation the Nats find themselves in. In 2019 the Nats had managed to crawl back to respectability by now and sat at 42-41, just a game away from the 41-42 the 2021 Nats sit at. The 2019 Nats found themselves 7 games out of the division (with Philly in between a couple games up) but a mere 1.5 games out of the second wild card. They would be on the start of a 8-1 run that would leave them at 49-42 and a half game in the first wild card lead. The safety of being in the WC race was there while they tried for more. They wouldn't get it division wise even though they had their chances. They'd get to 4 games out of Atlanta and enter a late July series 5.5 out but would lose that. They'd crawl back to 4.5 out in the midst of an amazing August stretch  (18-5 from the 5th to Sept 1) but Atlanta would match them with an equally amazing August and the Nats couldn't get closer. Still it's more important that  they'd basically be RIGHT THERE in the Wild Card hunt and that August would all but guarantee their spot. In other words, by game 83 the Nats had made their way back into a good position and by game 92 they'd be in a great spot where even sputtering for a while they'd remain a good couple series run away from controlling their destiny.  

The 2021 Nats arguably have a better shot at the division title - only 4 games out of first and with a Mets team that seems unlikely to pull off an 18-5 type run at any time. Still Philly and Atlanta are only a half game behind.  It remains a dogfight (of weak old dogs).  The WC situation though is much worse. The Nats are 7 games out as of today and they are chasing... the Padres. That is why these games matter. I can't say going 3-1 in San Diego and picking up a couple games on the Padres would be great. Six games out is still a big chunk of games to make up. But going 1-3 and losing 2 games to the Padres would be devastating to any WC hopes. As much as a division title is nice because it's in your hands and conveys some benefits, it's also a very narrow path to success. The WC, with 2 spots and the jockeying of several teams to watch for, is usually the safer bet. Not in 2021.

So take these games in particular as important. If the Nats don't come out of this stretch and the games immediately after the ASB against the Padres at at least 5-2 then the focus of the second half becomes only on the NL East title and a whole bunch of series become must wins so September's soft landing can be used to hold off any late charges, instead of trying desperately to catch up to whoever is in the driver's seat.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Will the Nats survive?

 I'm on vacation but guess what?  I WAS RIGHT AGAIN (well more like the Nats hit the target exactly I set talking about moving forward back into relevance but I WAS RIGHT AGAIN sounds better) 

  • Hold ground in next 6 (27-35) 
  • Sweep the Pirates at home (30-35) 
  • Beat the Mets at home (33-36) 
  • Beat the NL East rivals (PHI 2, MIA 4) away  (37-38) 
  • Survive a brutal pre ASG run (home for NYM(1), TB (2), LA (4) @SD (4) @SF (3)) (43-46)
  • Win a homestand vs SD/MIA (47-48)
  • Sweep the Orioles away (50-48)

The goal I have for the next 14 is 6-8 meaning, yes, they will lose ground but this could be a very bad stretch. If you want to scope out the likely "about .500" Nats record in this run you'd get... carry the one... Is Mars is aligned with Venus? Oh that's not good... (throws chicken bones on ground)... 4-10.  4-10 is a completely normal run here for a .500 ish team. It looks bad but this is probably the hardest stretch for this team going forward. They'd go 4-10 be 41-48 then start slowly getting back to .500 probably going from 4 under to 2 over in the course of a couple weeks in September. 

BUT you don't want a .500 ish Nats team. You want something better. If they are better they need to do better and that means 6-8. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Wednesday Quickie

Heavy work load day but gotta weigh in on last night. 

Everything that everyone did last night was understandable. The ump, told to make shows of the enforcement of the rules, took admitted tack user and checked him twice during the game. Girardi, looking for signs of Max doing something different possibly hiding tack somewhere and unsure of how good these ump checks actually are, asked for another check in the fourth after seeing Max go for his head. Max explained later that he WAS doing something new, going to his head for sweat to mix with rosin since he didn't have whatever he might usually use. All sort of makes sense in the cool calm light of day. 

It was still a big mess. 

You can't be checking a pitcher several times a game. It disrupts the rhythm and flow he might have going. He is rightfully going to get upset. If this is to continue you are going to have to either have the umps do random checks or let managers ask for them (which is kind of the way it has been) but not both. And presumably MLB wants these ump checks so manager checks have to go. 

As for the game - Max wasn't at his best but kept the Phillies off the board. Wheeler was iffy and only lasted 3. The Nats did enough to win and now are basically* in second place. Do they keep it going?

*Braves lead the Nats/Phillies by percentage points

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Phillies

The Phillies have been treading water around .500 which is exactly where this team should be.  I've said several times I really like the Phillies OD roster talent - especially now with Spencer Howard pitching instead of Matt Moore, but it's a paper thin team and any injury basically forces a AAAA player into the mix. And guess what? They have some injuries! Shocking I know. Didi Gregorious (out until ???) and Jean Segura (back in a week or so) are currently sitting out. Other guys are hurt (or "hurt") but they are other AAAA players. 

The Phillies hitting is perfectly acceptable. Realmuto and Bryce and Cutch hit, Odubel and Segura and a healthy Didi and Herrera and Superstar Brad Miller back them up and whoever is not one of these guys usually sucks terribly. Right now Cutch is hot, Superstar and Odubel are not. In the pen they've settled down in a way with a bunch of mediocre arms but no failing ones. It's a deep bench that allows you to try to find who's hot today which isn't ideal but gives you more of a chance then having no good relievers

Probables

Wheeler vs Scherzer : Max is coming back from a minor injury and will be a bit of a question mark, but so far the speed bumps have been just that - minor slow downs then back up to speed. I don't expect an issue but a non-dominant start is probably the best expectation. "Ace" Wheeler is the best the Phillies have pitching like an A- Max without the homers. This should be a sweet match-up so expect one or both of these guys to get blown up.

Velasquez vs Fedde : It was the best of times - Fedde came back to dominate the Mets over 7 innings. He didn't quite have the control (4 walks) but only allowed two hits and more importantly didn't allow a homer for his third straight start.  Ideally he'd K a few more - hard to see the BABIP or HR rates staying this low for a season, but he's been good even taking that into account and seems to have the inside track now for the last spot if the team ever has to decide.  It was the worst of times - perennial AAAA pitcher Velasquez had a nice run in May.  Unfortunately April and June count too. He's gettting hit and he's wild and give up a homer or two... really there isn't much positive to say.  He fills up space in the Phillies ill-conceived 3-man + 2 ? rotation to start the year.  Matt Moore... ahahahahaha. 

The second game is in their favor so winning tonight would be big. It would also draw the Nats into a tie with the Phillies and either ahead of the Braves or just percentage points behind. Overall the plan is to win this 6 game set so even a split here would be fine though.  It's a marathon you know.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Monday Quickie - Relevant again!

 Let's update the board! 

  • Hold ground in next 6 (27-35) 
  • Sweep the Pirates at home (30-35) 
  • Beat the Mets at home (33-36) 
  • Beat the NL East rivals (PHI 2, MIA 4) away  (37-38) 
  • Survive a brutal pre ASG run (home for NYM(1), TB (2), LA (4) @SD (4) @SF (3)) (43-46)
  • Win a homestand vs SD/MIA (47-48)
  • Sweep the Orioles away (50-48)

The Nats beat the Mets at home continuing on the path to actual contention as opposed to mere "unable to ignore"ance.  They did it in thanks to an incredibly hot Kyle Schwarber who is hitting .400 with 8 homers in his last 8 games AND thanks to an incredibly dumb schedule that is forcing the Mets to play three doubleheaders in the span of 7 days. That's right DHs on Saturday vs the Nats, today vs the Braves and Friday vs the Phillies.  Get vaccinated kids! The forced march makes the Mets make choices and of course they make the wrong ones, trying to spread out days off and making their chances to win in each game worse rather than group them all together and give a single game completely up. Baseball is a sport with a thin margin of error and maximizing your chance to win any single game is pretty important. In the situation the Mets are in they can't do it for every game but they should do it for as many games as possible.  Right now they did it for... exactly zero of the Nats games. Keep this up and they could be in for a big fall and that'd play right into the Nats hands.

Now comes beating the Phillies and Marlins in a set of six games (2 and 4) which means going 4-2.  Another call for a win but you have to win sometimes! More than sometimes, you have to win often! 

As for the other story of the day - the Parra return. Don't care. That's for you - not me.

But tonight is a day off. Rest. Relax.  Watch deGrom who the Nats missed.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Mets are good now. Can the Nats be, too?

The Nats have done what they have needed to for a whole ten days now!  Three series in a row! Probably the best baseball they've played since the end of April. But now comes some real important serieseses, NL East serieseseses. It'll be four game vs the Mets then a couple versus the Phillies and if the Nats want to make the playoffs they kind of have to start making up ground now.  Some might say there's a lot of time left and a lot of games left after these and that's kind of true (12 vs Mets and 11 vs Phillies) - but it gets late early.  Don't make up ground here, and the next time could become a HAS to situation.

How are the Mets?  They are good now! They've gone 14-6 in their last 20 to open up a nice lead in the NL East - 4.5 games over the Phillies and 7 in front of the currently 4th place Nats. They haven't been particularly lucky either as the pitching has remained top notch and the bats have woken up. In the last 28 days McCann is hitting great, Smith and Lindor are hitting ok, Billy McKinney (replacing an injured Conforto) has hit like a star. Jonathan Villar (replacing an injured Davis) has hit well. Alonso is hitting ok. Pillar is not bad. The only big issue is replacing the injured McNeil (yes a lot of injuries). They were so bad early on that the numbers still don't look great but trust me they've been average hitting for average and walking and better than that for power for a few weeks now

Pitching wise in the pen a couple arms got bad, a couple arms have gotten good. They have four arms that are lights out right now Diaz the closer, Lugo (admittedly just back), Loup, and Reid-Foley. The Nats have gotten lucky in missing deGrom , even if he can only go 3-4 innings before tapping out they will be scoreless innings, and Stroman who is a solid winning pitcher who eats up innings. This might have caused a problem normally for the Mets, but given the 7 IP DHs they'll probably be ok unless a pitcher just gets bombed. As a group there isn't a weakness to go after. They don't give up hits or walks or homers

Probables

Joey Lucchesi vs Fedde - Fedde came back to completely shut down the Giants last time out. One more such outing and he's going to make believers out of most but he's still only two starts into this good stretch. Lucchesi is a guy I really liked that had a couple of bad outings early on as I don't think he and the Mets were on the same page on what they wanted him to be. Now, however, he is finding his groove as a 2+ times through guy.

David Peterson/Robert Gsellman vs Ross/Lester - Mets say Peterson first for the double headers, Nats say nothing. Ross had his own great start last time out - and like Fedde he's not far removed from mediocrity.  I think it's clear either could have played as a 5 but now they need to be more. Lester was fine against PIT but his K numbers (7 in last 3 games, not more than 4 in a long while) are troubling. There's a crafty lefty things going on but also a time bomb element here as he's giving up homers and some hits. Peterson is the guy the Mets (and Mets fans) liked more than Lucchesi who is like Lucchesi but gives up a tiny bit more hits and homers... and a ton more walks.  I don't get it. Gsellman is a converted starter who needs to focus on control so he can let his junkballing style get him groundballs and not walks and hits. Can the Nats hit into 6 DPs in one game? We might find out. 

Taijuan Walker vs Corbin - Corbin had a good outing after a good result start and that's going to make people think things. He needs this one to get me thinking positively though.  Walker has been the pitching gamble that has paid off.  The lack of homers can't keep up but everything else is not too crazy.  

Nats need 3-1, can survive 2-2 but that'll force a win into a later part of the stretch I outlined.  1-3?  Then we start talk about packing it in.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Step by Step

  • Hold ground in next 6 (27-35) 
  • Sweep the Pirates at home (30-35) 
  • Beat the Mets at home (33-36) 
  • Beat the NL East rivals (PHI 2, MIA 4) away  (37-38) 
  • Survive a brutal pre ASG run (home for NYM(1), TB (2), LA (4) @SD (4) @SF (3)) (43-46)
  • Win a homestand vs SD/MIA (47-48)
  • Sweep the Orioles away (50-48)

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Sweeping the deck?

The Nats are crushing the Pirates. This is honestly one of the easy points in my plan, even though it is a sweep because the Pirates are just that bad. Even with my positive take a couple days ago they are still a clearly below average team playing away. But that's fine! You gotta do the easy along with the hard.  Splitting with TB/SF wasn't easy.  (I'd say it probably wasn't hard but again I have a low opinion of SF). A hard, but very necessary, part is up next - beating the Mets at home, then coming away at least 4-2 on a six game swing against PHI and MIA. 

The Mets of course won again keeping their lead but the Nats should see this as steps. While they are playing the Mets they aren't going after the Mets just yet. First they need to pass the Braves. Then the Phillies. Then you worry about how far they are from the Mets.  The Braves have an easier stretch coming up from the 24th through July 11th (CIN, NYM, MIA, PIT, MIA). They'll need to make a move then, which makes the Nats catching them soon of interest. Build a cushion that can survive them playing 3 games better. 

Ultimately the Nats goal should be to get to .500 when I stated - just past the ASG. Slightly build on that lead for the 6+ weeks, playing over .500 ball - which doesn't sound like much but would be big as this 42 game stretch has 31 games vs the Mets, Braves, and Phillies. Then CRUSH a 19 game stretch in September against some of the worst teams - PIT again, MIA, COL, and CIN. Go like 13-6, 14-5. Hope there's someone to catch and catch them.  This would leave the Nats with like 87/88/89 wins - maybe you get in, maybe not but it's not crazy. 

This will be hard to do with no Strasburg and now, no Max (on the IL) but that's the hand you've been dealt. Think of it this way you didn't do so hot with them.  

Finish the sweep.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Monday Quickie - didn't disappoint

The Nats could have folded up shop after Max went down but they battled... or at least the pitching did... or maybe San Fran isn't that good like I said and this is just the start of their downfall... I'm losing the point.  Oh yes. The Nats didn't disappoint! They had 4 games against the Giants and needed to hold their ground and did. They won two. Given the TB split before that the Nats have had two non-disappointing series back to back. They haven't done that since splitting with Toronto and then sweeping the Marlins at the very end of April, beginning of May. 

Such a turn of fortune, however small, needs to be taken with caution though. We are creatures of hope and thus everything pointing in the right direction seems like a turn toward brighter days instead of the randomness of a 162 game season showing itself. What we want is an extended series of GOOD play not a week of not bad. And honestly now is the time for the Nats to show it because good play over the next two weeks can (1) help make up some serious ground in the NL East where the Mets haven't pulled away yet and no other team is better than .500. and (2) can help create some breathing room for a brutal NYM make up, TB(2) , LAD (4) , @SD (4), @SFG stretch into the all star break. We marked off the likely long road back into contention going into August. One step down.  Up next - sweep the Pirates!

  • Hold ground in next 6 (27-35) 
  • Sweep the Pirates at home (30-35) 
  • Beat the Mets at home (33-36) 
  • Beat the NL East rivals (PHI 2, MIA 4) away  (37-38) 
  • Survive a brutal pre ASG run (home for NYM(1), TB (2), LA (4) @SD (4) @SF (3)) (43-46)
  • Win a homestand vs SD/MIA (47-48)
  • Sweep the Orioles away (50-48)

The Pirates are bad. Since peaking at 12-11 they've gone 11-30 and they deserve that record having a bad pitching staff and a terrible offense in 2021. Starting with the terrible offense - it's actually not that bad. The Pirates aren't without a few hitters. Bryan Reynolds is an all-around star type who can hit for good average, good power, and can take a walk. Colin Moran is a step back on everything but that still leaves him as an above average bat. and Adam Frazier, who alternates between good and average years is having a great singly and doubly start to 2021. Jacob Stallings, the catcher, has got pop and patience.  Recently the son of Charlie Hayes - Ke'Bryan, is now up and starting and producing. They've been scoring at a much more reasonable pace in June (4.1 R/G) then May (2.9!) But there was a reason that they were so bad a month ago. Everyone after that is awful. Kevin Newman or Erik Gonzalez at short, Ka'ai Tom in LF and Gregory Polanco are horrendous, terrible and terrible respectively. The best bench bat is a below average Ben Gamel. And in particular even though all those guys I mentioned can hit only Reynolds and maybe Ke'Bryan have any power. They are last in the NL in homers, last in SLG. Ke'Bryan makes them average at best.

With an average offense, their big problem becomes the rotation. The Pirates starting staff is a 4 and a 5 and a bunch of AAAA or worse types  They have 4 guys who have started more than 7 games with an ERA over 6.50. Their recent addition to the rotation boasts a 5.56 WHIP.  No one is pitching well including old Nat prospect Wil Crowe. The Nats do miss Wil and Chad Kuhl who are the worst of it. They do have a surprisingly solid bullpen though that's 7-8 deep, with a killer closer in Richard "Don't call me the guy Michigan didn't give a fair shake to because they were obsessed with playing 'Big Ten' football whatever that means so they'd get rid of me for Brady Hoke who is literally a garbage joke coach" Rodriguez. There isn't a set-up guy but everyone else is better than usable.

 

JT Brubaker vs Lester - Lester wasn't good against the Rays but he was good enough. His propensity to give up hits I guess plays poorly against this singly/doubly team but I mean he should still manage to go like 6 IP and 3 R. Brubaker has decent control and ok stuff but gets hit and can give up a homer. He's the best the Pirates got and I can see him also going 6IP and 3R. So bullpen game?

Tyler Anderson vs Corbin - Corbin beat the Rays by putting magnets in all the hard hit balls and the Nats gloves. MLB is looking into it. Tyler Anderson is a little bit worse than Brubaker.  The kind of guy you'd love to stick at 5 to eat up 5 and probably keep you in the game but maybe spin a gem.  Unfortunately he's their 2.

Chase De Jong vs hopefully Scherzer maybe Jefry Rodriguez - Max is Max. Hope for Max. Jefry is very wild and doesn't strike out many but he throws a heavy ball that stays in the park and leads to easy outs. If he has control he can do very well. If not he can be out in 3 innings at 75 pitches having walked in at least one run. De Jong is an arm that pitches innings. He's a bit worse than Anderson and you can see the progression from decent 4 to decent 5 to decent fill-in.  But again he's a 3 and not filling in. The good thing for him is it's not the hits that are worse for him as much as the homers and walks and as we discuss - the Nats don't homer and walk up to now. 

It's weird to say it but looking at this it's only a slight edge to the Nats in each game. In part this is because Lester is a 4 now and Corbin has been pitching like a 5 and then you have an injury replacement (most likely).  But the edge is there and they need to take advantage of it and sweep. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Trade Max? Wait didn't we talk about this already?

We did!  

That basically said "Good luck getting anything useful back for him" 

The other day I went through recent Hall of Fame elected pitchers to see how they fared at the back end of their careers. Max is 36 this year.

Pedro Martinez : Broke at 34 and wasn't good that year. Had a great month at 35. A bad 2/3rds of a season at 36, and then a good two months at 37 before calling it a career.

Roy Halladay : Broke at 35. Had a bad three months at 36 then packed it in (and crashed a plane under the influence killing himself which could have hurt other people and we just basically ignore that because when people die we just say "Hey only the good!" which kind of screws with our society's views on repercussions for dangerous acts and bad behavior but whatcha gonna do)

Not the best start but this is part of what you have to understand. At this age you can break and be done in a minute. Either you can't pitch well anymore or you can't pitch at all anymore. Continuing...

Jack Morris : was middling from 33-35 then had a resurgence after a trade at 36. Was very good for Minn, then solid for Toronto at 37. Then bad at 38 and bleh at 39. 

Bert Blyleven : coming off a couple very good years was only ok at 35, a little better at 36, then bad at 37. But then traded and nearly great at 38, before being bad again (39), hurt (40), and less bad (41)

Mike Mussina : was average at 35 and 36, then good at 37, then below average at 38, then close to very good at 39

John Smoltz : ok a tough example because of the stint as a reliever. At 35 he was saving 55 games.  He'd be a top notch reliever through 37. At 38-40 he was a very good starter, before getting hurt at 41 and pitching only a great month. At 42 he'd try to comeback but wasn't good

Tom Glavine : good at 35, very good at 36, average at 37, good 38-40, average at 41. bad and hurt at 42.

Greg Maddux : great at 35 and 36, a little better than average 37-40, a little worse than average 41-42

Randy Johnson : PHENOMENAL at 35-38 (that was the D-back contract - 4 Cy Youngs and a WS - the only pitching contract better than Max's in my opinion) Got hurt at 39 and merely good. Phenomenal again at 40. Then good (41), below average (42), good but hurt (43), good (44) and below average and hurt (45) 

Max was better than Morris or Blyleven - both borderline cases, Morris was never great like Max and Blyleven had a lower peak at an earlier age. So I'd compare Max more to the other guys. From them you get basically - good through 39, very good through 40 (rested arm), good through 40, better than average through 40, phenomenal through 40 - good to 44.  My takeaway from the above is if you have Hall of Fame talent, which Max does, AND you don't get injured you can be effective to 40, maybe usuable past it. 

That would put Max as a very good to above average pitcher from 2022 (37) - 2025 (40), if he can stay healthy. To me any Nats plan for getting better again has to include being WS challenging good in 2025. Why? Because if you are Juan Soto you probably are going to want to re-sign only if the team seems to be on the cusp of something. After the past two years and probably the next two going nowhere - you don't want to waste another 2-3 waiting. It seems like Max could be a positive force on 2024-2025 teams. I say keep him. It's a risk but so is any pitcher contract

But also you can ask Max. If he wants to leave to chase another WS - let him. If he tells you he's gone for whatever reason - trade him. If he says he wants to be traded but also come back - definitely deal him. There's no reason to be stupid about this. But if as most players would say - I want to stay, I want a good fair deal. Then sign him and keep him.  If you are worried about him being hurt or stinking - sorry to tell you but that's always on the table. See Strasburg (hurt) or Fedde (hurt) or Mason Denaburg (hurt) or Corbin (stinks) or Ross (stinks) or Wil Crowe (formerly high Nats prospect traded away - stinks).  These things can happen at any age at any level.  You've got greatness confirmed. Sign it and hope it keeps up. 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Nats vs the Best Team* in Baseball

 The Nats managed to win last night. Corbin didn't deserve it. He had no control, couldn't strike out anyone, and nearly every hit ball was a hard hit one. But baseball is the sport most about luck, where you try to do everything right and then you hope that the results match the set-up.  Last night it didn't for the Rays as all those hard hits were right at Nats. Also Finnegan failed, and Hudson failed, and Hand failed. But offensively the Nats did deserve to win, scoring a bunch of runs off of a solid pen. Zimm hit two homers, Soto hit one and scored 3 times, Schwarber was on base 3 times and had a sac fly in his time at the plate. Good times at the end even if the process wasn't that enjoyable because of the pitching.

Now the Nats take on the team with the best record in baseball the San Francisco Giants. The asterisk  in the title is because this fact is crazy. The Giants weren't expected to be this good and it wasn't a failing of the heads. This is inexplicable.  Let me try to explain though 

Buster Posey : at 34 having his best year ever which is MVP quality. 2012 is only year that compares

Evan Longoria : at 35 having his best year ever which is MVP quality. 2012 is only year that compares

Brandon Crawford : at 34 having his best year ever. No year compares.

Brandon Belt : best year since 2016

Steve Duggar : inexplicable one month of MVP type hitting from a guy who'd been below average before 

Really only back-up Wilmer Flores is disappointing, with a couple other guys underperforming in the usual ways. 

Pitching wise it's the same 

Kevin Gausman is having his best year ever by FAR. Alex Wood and Johnny Cueto are having good years after a couple years that seemed to be leading toward the end of their careers. Aaron Sanchez looks to be living up to some of the potential that had people excited about him 5 years ago in Toronto. Anthony DeSclafani is having an up year in an up and down career. 

I guess the bullpen isn't having the same amazing, everything go right, year but almost none of them are doing bad. 

What happens when almost everything goes right and almost nothing goes wrong? You get the best record in baseball and in nearly any other division you probably run away with things. But the Giants have the bad luck of being in the NL West with the Dodgers and Padres, two teams that can be almost as good without relying on magic so chances are they won't stay on top. A few guys are injured right now but they've kept on winning. 

The Nats will miss Longoria who is out after a collision, and Yastrzemski for a couple games as he can't come back until Satruday (he seems ready). They'll also miss Caleb Baragar, a decent reliever, for a couple games too (same IL - coming back thing) Otherwise you read what I wrote. Posey is a star again, Crawford is hitting like one, Belt is very good. Dickerson who was ok but hot is out however it seems like whoever they stick in there; Duggar, LaMonte Wade Jr, just picks up the magic. Wilmer Flores and maybe Donovan Solano are the easy outs. The pen, while not great, has been close to lights out recently. 

Probables

DeSclafani vs Scherzer.  MAX DAY! The Giants do homer so if Max is off that could be an issue. They don't strike out much either. It's not the best match-up for a guy who matches up well against anyone. As for Del - he is ok at everything but getting strikeouts. He's not a great pitcher but he gets ground balls usually and keeps the ball in the park. He avoids the big inning keeps the Giants in the game and then they win it with their bats. Obviously the Nats best chance 

Gausman vs Fedde (likely) - When last we saw Fedde he had pitched his best game of the year. This came after two mediocre outings which kept the Ross/Fedde "Who's more acceptably mediocre" debate alive. Who knows what we'll get. Gausman's good control has morphed into pinpoint, walking no one and not missing pitches that turn into homers (or hits for that matter) he's added enough Ks to make him into an ace so far in 2021. 

Ross vs Cueto - Ross was ok last time out, going 6 against the Phillies. That's probably the best he's gonna do. Cueto has become even more of a crafty control pitcher in his later years. But he's hittable so maybe the Nats can string together enough to make it a game

Lester vs Wood - The Giants are a walk and homer team but they get hits too so Lester won't match-up quite as well. Shouldn't be his roughest outing but I'd expect some runs. Wood maybe was a sticky stuff creation? He's been bad his last two outings with few Ks and little control. Still if his bugaboo is walks as it seems to be, the Nats are the team you want to face to get right.

The Nats survived the Rays. A split would be surviving the Giants and an acceptable .500 start to the homestand before having to actually start winning to do anything this year. Let's see if they can get 2.  Tonight is huge for that.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Nats vs the Worst Team* in Baseball

The Nats have a two game set with the Tampa Rays, a team that holds the odd distinction of maybe being the best team in baseball and the worst team in baseball. The first point is easy to understand. They have the most wins and only trail the Giants by percentage points. The latter is a point of contention but one I fully believe in. The Rays are the epitome of everything wrong with the modern game

There's first the way they build their team. Players, even the best ones, not as people or even investments, but as disposable parts meant to be used up and tossed aside when spent. Players who only can be around when signed to team friendly contracts. An ownership who resolves all debate over this with complaints about their (admittedly bad) stadium situation.*

Then it's the team itself. Hitters who don't hit at all. They only try to walk or homer and strikeout otherwise. A parade of pitchers who throw hard, burn out, and get replaced. Starters who don't start. Openers who don't even try to finish the 4th. A team that breaks baseball down to its raw components and tries to win not primarily by playing the game the best but figuring out how to best game the game. 

A contemptuous lot framing a lack of desire to financially back the team as an underdog story.

So yeah - beat this goddamn team into the ground.

In pure preview mode. Offensively what I said holds - they don't hit well - their .229 BA is only good enough for 10th in the AL - but they slug homers (and doubles when the ball doesn't go out) and they walk a TON. All that only swinging hard means a lot of strikeouts. Everyone but Yandy Diaz and Manuel Margot (and back-up C Francicso Mejia) will K. Because they don't hit singles and K so much this all combined should end up with a good but not great offense but the Rays tend to homer with men on base. It's odd. Usually a team hits more solo homers than multi-run homers. That's just a function of the game. Every leadoff hitter in an inning is a empty bases situation. You have a lot more of them. But the Rays have hit like 60+% of their homers with men on. Austin Meadows is the best hitter but Zunino and Wendle are hitting well for the season. The team as a whole though is cold. Meadows and replacement SS Taylor Walls the only ones hitting recently.

The pitching has been very good. They do strikeout a bunch of guys and manage to do it with solid control which is a potent combination. Add in no tendency to give up homers and it's a very good group with no flows. The bullpen, this round of disposable arms, go 5+ deep but lack a true 100% shut down arm.  Instead catching a little LOB%, HR/FB, and BABIP luck that combined keep everything in check. They only have three starters that will go any distance, while the other two serve more in an opener role. They are all usable with Glasnow being the best and potentially an All-Star and now vagabond Michael Wacha  being the worst and still perfectly acceptable


Jon Lester vs Tyler Glasnow - If anyone matches up well against the Rays... well it's Max because he matches up against anyone, but after him it's Lester who has shown good control and isn't particularly homer prone. Instead he gives up hits which we've noted isn't the Rays game. Plus he's been decent his last two times on the mound. Unfortunately he goes up against Glasnow.  He's the only guy who goes deep (8 and 7 IP in his last two games with another 8 IP before that) because he doesn't throw a lot of pitches. He is efficient despite relying on the Ks. He can give up the occasional walk and homer but not much more than a couple of either. He doesn't give up hits which is bad for the singly Nats. 

Patrick Corbin vs Shane McClanahan - Cue the Rue! McClanahan is one of their ok openers.  Expect at max 5 IP from him. He's good at getting K's but doesn't stand out otherwise. Though he's young and if he steps up in anything he could be really good. Corbin has been garbage this season no way around it. Way too hittable and homer prone and not enough Ks. He isn't crazy with the walks but this match-up will probably produce several bombs


*I'd add in the ownership threatening the city with a half-season plan but all ownership is this shady

Monday, June 07, 2021

Monday Quickie - Irrelevant

 We're past 50 games now so the 19-31 comparisons have come and gone but as long as the Nats have a reasonable chance people will feel some hope. To help tamp that down here are some targets the 2019 Nationals hit after the nadir. 28-33. 37-38. 49-42. Yep, they went 30-11 after hitting the bottom moving from almost dead to in the thick of things in under 2 months. The current Nats are 24-32.  Can they equal 4-1 in the next 5 games? At Tampa Bay and the home against San Francisco? I don't feel good about that. So in other words the Nats will likely fall behind the 2019 Nats very soon making a comeback that much more unlikely. 

If you want to try to figure out the best way for the Nats to crawl back into it it would be this 

  • Hold ground in next 6 (27-35) 
  • Sweep the Pirates at home (30-35) 
  • Beat the Mets at home (33-36) 
  • Beat the NL East rivals (PHI 2, MIA 4) away  (37-38) 
  • Survive a brutal pre ASG run (home for NYM(1), TB (2), LA (4) @SD (4) @SF (3)) (43-46)
  • Win a homestand vs SD/MIA (47-48)
  • Sweep the Orioles away (50-48) 

Easy peasy. 26-16. 

Of course there is no reason for this team at 24-32 to suddenly play like that. It would take everyone in the lineup taking a step forward AND two of the starters taking 3 steps. There's the capability there. We aren't talking a squad of garbage players here. Turner go back to hitting like a star. Corbin pitch like you did a couple years ago.  But it's everything going right at a time where the pen, which had been doing fine with a lack of top names, looks tired and beat. Can the Nats have that happen twice in 3 years? 

I think we know the answer to that. 

I think they can play better, may be even find themselves over .500 to end the year. I think it's more likely to get better than worse. But better enough to matter? I don't see it for 2021. Enjoy the summer of irrelevance. Been a while since we could say that

Friday, June 04, 2021

Fighting for relevance

The Nats continue to languish on the fringes of the NL East and thus in the hopes of fans. Corbin had pitche d a decent game but unraveled in the 6th. The Nats were held in check by Tucker Davidson. Offense stunk. Starter not good enough. We've heard this story before. The Nats aren't hitting enough XBH (12 in past week) or getting enough walks (21 though 8 are Soto alone - the Nats OBP in the past week without Soto is .271). Some other guys are actually hitting - Zimm, Schwarber, Gomes again. But Turner isn't and Bell, Harrison, and Robles (and Avila and Yadiel) are terrible. and that on balance swing towards bad. 

 The Nats got a split but a split isn't good enough - not against a team themselves struggling to be over .500. No, you gotta beat the under .500 teams on the road now or else you'll never make up enough ground and thus we come to the Phillies. An under .500 team that we all thought might be under .500 playing pretty consistent under .500 ball. This is who they are especially with Bryce and Didi out and expected back maybe later next week. 

Since last the Nats played the Phillies, Bryce went eventually out from taking a ball to the face and wrist and Maton, as expected, stopped hitting, but everyone else has kept up, Cutch remained hitting and Herrera came back and even if he's hitting a little above his head he replaces some terrible bats. They sit kind of average but have been mostly all or nothing. They've been 3 or under 10 times in 15 games since playing the Nats but 6 or over 5 times. Cutch is hot as is Herrera.  Superstar Brad Miller is cold. 

The Nats miss Eflin, who was good at the time but is starting to scuffle and Nola who is pitching as well as he always does but is getting no luck. In the pen Archie Bradley came back and is decent - but the overworked Coonrod's luck finally caught up to him leaving the pen no deeper than the 3 man (Neris and Alvarado) show it was 2 weeks ago. 

Probables

Max Scherzer vs Zach Wheeler - pop a bowl of popcorn and enjoy. Hopefully.  I said before I'm very shocked Wheeler has become an ace but he has, giving the Phillies a surprise bargain and what should have been a bit boost to their chances. Control, Ks, no hits, no homers. Good luck Nats. Max is Max.  Good luck Phillies

Joe Ross vs Spencer Howard - Howard is the Phillies best (only?) pitching prospect and finally got a chance to fill in the 5th spot a couple starts ago. He's been ok.  He struggles with control but guys don't get good hits off him. Still no homers this year. Even if the Nats don't touch him up he's still stretching out so chances are the Nats will get to see the middle of the Phillies pen. That should be enough unless Ross is bad but that's always a possibility.

? vs Velasquez - this would be Stras' spot. Fedde is not quite ready (his rehab start got pushed back) and Davey said he won't start but he could be up and pitch a couple relief innings but who knows now.  Would it matter if he started and pitched two? I don't get it.  Anyway expect some sort of relief game. You'll see Voth and Espino and some others. That's not good but on the other side you have Vince Velsquez. He's got talent - he was on his way to "Pitcher of May" before getting blow'd up on the 31st - but he can't consistently put it together. He's never gotten his control down so if he gets touched up for homers things get rough and that happens to him. But the Nats don't hit homers so this will likely come down to what is more powerful Velasquez' wildness or the Nats' impatience. 

Nats need 2. Don't care that it's away. If they are better than, not equal to, this sub .500 team they need to show it.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Busy

 Nats win! Lester wasn't good early but he wriggled out of danger with luck and luck and skill and luck and then settled down. The Nats were able to finally sort of hit secret anti-Nats weapon Drew Smyly and build a lead. The bullpens traded runs given up and the Nats ended up on top. The BEST thing about last night was Soto homering again. Soto is the engine that makes this offense run. I've said before it's not a team carrying offense (unless Soto is hitting at obvious choice for MVP type levels) but if he hits like he should the whole thing should be average. Starting pitching holds. Relief pitching holds and you got yourself an average team! That doesn't sound like much but the Nats can catch a few breaks and finish the season over .500 and with the NL East a shambling mess maybe that will be enough? 

It's reaching I know but it's early enough you can still reach so why not. 

I forgot tonight's game in the very quick preview.  I still hold the Nats need to win the series, which means winning tonight. A 2-2 split isn't a loss, but it's not a clear win either and the Nats need clear wins. Today Corbin takes on Tucker Davidson. The Braves have a lot of prospects. Davidson is one but a lesser one, along with Jasseel De La Cruz and Kyle Muller. Everyone like Muller best but he was hit hard to start and it just settling down while Davidson has gotten results so he gets the nod.  A couple of these guys will end up in major league rotations so there is talent here but like Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright there's a question of if it's 2-3 talent or AAAA talent. (Ian Anderson is a notch better. Ynoa was a surprise - as if they needed it).  Anyway, as we see from Wilson and Wright - you often don't just go up to the majors and make it work. You need to learn what you have that works and doesn't and Davidson is still learning so the Nats surely have a chance. 

The Mets have built up a nice lead by just playing decent ball. They did have a 5 game run but that isn't amazing or anything. They just aren't stinking anymore. The guys who should hit better are hitting better and there you go.  The Nats need to keep winning to keep pace even if it's only a 6-4 pace.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Win, BUT AT WHAT COST

The Nats offense busted out against Max Fried, et al last night. That was good to see. Especially the Soto homer. Anytime he can put something in the air and far you start to think maybe he's getting back to his normal. 

But the news of the Nats is not the win but the Strasburg injury.  Strasburg pitched only into the second, never seemed comfortable, and couldn't get the speed up on his pitches (Gameday has him topping out at 91.6).  They said he couldn't get loose - a tight trap muscle - was the cause but as we all remember it was just April when they said "Something wrong with Strasburg, what are you talking about? hahahha" and then he was gone for a month. 

It's very simple. If the Nats lose Stras for any long period of time they are not going anywhere. They were a rotation with potentially one extra 5th starter. With Stras out you have Max (ace!), Corbin (VERY shaky 2), Lester (4-5 masquerading as a 3), and Ross/Fedde (Sunsetting prospects who could be 3s or AAAA pitchers on a given night). That's not a rotation that can easily win anything.  It's a rotation that POSSIBLY could not drag you down - but the offense and bullpen would have to carry the team. The offense has shown no sign of being able to do this and the bullpen is getting worked heavily by the "Go 1-0 TODAY" mentality of Davey. 

Just yesterday I said Stras coming back as a star was essential. It is

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Tuesday Quickie - What's the point

The Nats are in a tumble. They had used a couple of decent runs (7-3 and 7-4) to offset more terrible play (5-9 and 1-7) and the mediocrity of the NL East to stay in the race up until recently but two steps back, one step forward wasn't going to work forever. The Nats are now again taking two steps back but an NL East team (the Mets) are finally making a run, putting the Nats far out of contention. 7 games as of this morning. They are further out of the Wild Card, but if you, like me, don't buy the Giants long term then it's about the same between the Nats and this too. Which isn't good but not impossible I guess.

It's been the hitting, which has been terrible, more than the pitching, which has been middling. Teams have been in holes this bad or worse before, including the Nats two years ago. but it's hard to see how these Nats climb out of this. Those Nats lost Trea in game 5, then Rendon after game 19, then Soto after game 28 (also Matt Adams after that which was not on the same level but when you have no depth left - important). They'd trickle back - Rendon on May 7th (G 35), Soto on May 11th (G39), Turner on May 17th (G 44) and you could see a scenario, if all three of these guys spent the rest of the year healthy and hit well and nothing else went wrong - they could get that Wild Card. It was a tall ask but that happened. Rendon would start every game until 157, Trea until 158, and Soto would take one day off between coming back and game 159.  Rendon hit to a .983 OPS after returning, Soto a .976, Turner .839. Robles played 155 games, Eaton 151, Suzuki/Gomes caught nearly every game. Stras and Corbin made every start, Sanchez almost every start. Max did miss a few I guess but you see how they drew the inside straight here.  

For this team what would that be? Everyone hurt has been back for this latest swoon for a while except maybe Strasburg. In terms of health the one thing is that Soto isn't coming back and instead likely needs time off. With him hitting very average everyone else needs to be better than expected but no one is. Schwarber and Bell are now hitting kind of like the Nats wanted but only at like 85-90%. Trea needs to get on base more. Robles needs more power. Harrison needs to be Kendrick and Castro needs to be Harrison. Even if the hitting improves, and I think at least in terms of runs scored should start to even out. The pitching faces the same issues. While we can cast Stras in the Rendon/Soto role of 2019 - a returning star finding his footing and doing great the rest of the year, the Nats still need Corbin to be better and Lester and hope 5th starter manages to keep being ok.  They need the pen to keep OVERperforming while they figure out that last arm in the pen problem while also being over used because of those starter issues. 

"A few key guys come back from injury,  don't get hurt again and play well - nothing else goes wrong" is one thing "EVERYONE play better - nothing else go wrong" is another.

I won't do a preview of thte Braves series because it's started but suffice to say the Nats need to win the series even though it's away. They've lost a game already. The Braves had beat up on Pittsburgh but couldn't do the same to Boston and are basically relying on Acuna plus whoever is hitting (right now Contreras) to carry the team. Fried (tonight) has looked right since returning which is bad news for the Nats. Then they get Smyly who only pitches well against the Nats. Or probably the Nats are just bad. 

If it starts here then first Strasburg needs to take that role assigned to him. He needs to come back and be awesome. Tonight would be a good time to start

Friday, May 28, 2021

Treading water below the surface

The Nats have been stuck - half the time doing what they need to to start moving into contention, and half the time failing.  The Reds series was a failure. Yesterday they put away the Reds in the finishing of the suspended game. The Nats pen did hold, except for Rainey, and the Reds pen gave up a few more, as expected. Something I didn't think about but should have for game 2 is how that swings an advantage toward the Reds. Fewer inning for their big weakness, middle relief, to matter. And in fact Gray went 6 so it really was only 1 inning they had to get through.  Gray wasn't that dominant. The Nats bats looked weak. Both teams did in fact, as Strasburg seemed a little off but the Reds didn't really manage to get to him, the 2nd and 3rd runs more bad luck than good hitting. 

The Nats now move on to take on Milwuakee at home. Three games at home, .500+ team (with Yelich). Gotta take the series.

 The Brewers are a pitching first team. Their offense is one of the worst in the game with only the cather Omar Navarez hitting well. He had to prove that he could after taking a while to get going and limited play in two placed before here but he has done that. Kolten Wong and Avisail Garcia the only other guys doing anything but just a little. Yelich is a star but has been hurt and has not rounded into form yet. Some of these guys just aren't good (Vogelbach, Urias, Shaw), some are disappointing terribly (Bradley, Cain), Huira may be both. The Bradley one hurts the most after Yelich's injury because he's doing so poorly.  As a team they can take a walk and hit a homer, but they strikeout so much and just don't get hits otherwise. They are the anti-Nats offense in a sense. Worse for the Brew Crew the only change in the past week from any of the above is Navarez is in a big slump. The guys not hitting are still not hitting. 

Josh Hader, used properly for one inning, has been unhittable this year. Behind him are 3-4 guys who are all perfectly ok. The very back of the pen is not good but that's not strange in baseball. Unless the Nats really work the starters they shouldn't make much headway late. The starters have a couple dominant arms, one really good one, and a couple questionable ones on the back end. The Nats will miss one dominant, Corbin "Mr. No Walk" Burnes who didn't have a great start last time out but has been great otherwise. They'll also miss one questionable one, Adrian Houser, a guy with mediocre stuff and control issues. 

Probables 

Brett Anderson vs John Lester - which Lester will we see? He started with 3 decent outings (outside of length very decent for a number 4) and has looked bad the last two times. Baltimore was the last team to get him. If he can't handle them and then can't handle this Brewers team? Yikes.  Brett Anderson is the other questionable arm. If he's right and/or lucky,  he'll force a lot of grounders. If he's wrong, and he more usually is, he won't and he'll give up a ton of hits.  He definitely won't strike anyone out.

Freddy Peralta vs Corbin - Like Lester Corbin has degraded from a very nice set of starts from late April to mid May. His last two outgins were also subpar but by keeping the ball in the park all those people on base aren't scoring as much as they could. Still he hasn't been good. The Orioles hit him and if the Brewers do too that's not good. Although Corbin's been so up and down who knows. Peralta on the other hand has untouchable stuff. His issue though is he can get wild and force himself out of games early. Conceivably a team could try to walk, foul, and get him out early but the Nats don't walk much which makes a bad match-up.

Brandon Woodruff vs Scherzer - This could be a really fun match-up.  Both these guys are bulldog pitchers who can go deep. The Brewers are more inclined to protect Woodruff  but he's gotten into the 8th twice in the past 3 games. He is enjoying a BABIP and HR/FB numbers that won't last but that doesn't mean he isn't pitching better. He was already a guy who was harder to hit, didn't give up a ton of homers, and had great control with swing and miss stuff. This slight improvement plus luck pretty much unbeatable - which the ERA of 1.41 shows.  If anyone can do it though, Max can. He hasn't been lights-out recently but he also didn't catch the Orioles. I can see this be a classic Max goes into the 8th with like 14Ks, second batter in hits a solo shot and he leaves giving up 1 run.  Let's just hope it doesn't put the Nats behind 1-0.  

Gotta win the series. Will be tough to do without taking the first one.