Nationals Baseball: 2021

Monday, May 10, 2021

Monday Quickie - no cigars

If you want to be fair, the end result of the series with the Yankees was exactly what the Nationals expected to see. 1-2 against a pretty good opponent on the road is the aim and was achieved. But whenever you grab the first game in a series going 1-2 feels like a disappointment, especially when the next two games were both very winnable. Scherzer pitched a gem and Ross held the Yankees in check but in the end the bullpen, specifically Brad Hand, failed and the Nats lost two straight walk-offs. The Nats, once lucky, have lost three straight one-run games bringing that record to 5-5. The Nats you see now are who the Nats are now. 

What does that mean? It means they are a team with BIG offensive problems.  They aren't the worst team in the NL but they are closer to the worst team (the Mets) then they are to the next team ahead of them (the Brewers). They are bad.  Robles still isn't hitting*. The Yadi experiment seems like it's over. Bell and Schwarber are still having big trouble. Harrison has cooled down a lot. And the big one - Soto hasn't hit since coming back. Though much like at the beginning of the year he does have some hard hit balls that suggest better things coming. So while Starlin Castro and Yan Gomes (111 OPS+ now) are now hitting that's just not enough to keep an offense afloat. They lack power - 9th in SLG despite being 1st in BA.  They lack patience - 8th in OBP.

Pitching wise it's been ok. The starters have had their terrible games early but are better than average getting past those. The relief core has been surprisingly decent despite the recent failings. If they could solve Tanner Rainey, or resign themselves to not using him, they'd be quite good. It's not the pitching... well it IS the pitching. This is a pitching team and the pitching, especially the starting pitching, needs to be great. But it's not the pitching's fault this team is below .500. The Nats have the pitching of a .500+ team and the hitting of a 65 win team.

What can be done? Not much. Hope Soto starts hitting like a star again and hope your FA bats wake up. You can run in Zimm a bit more for Bell but no one else on the bench is going to make a big difference outside of a brief hot run. 

There's a big series with the Phillies next, where the Nats could be buried if they get swept. After that the Nats will go over two weeks without playing a division opponent so this is the last time in a little bit to directly effect the competition. They are also now done with the odd section of their schedule with SO MUCH REST.  They had gone

Day off - 3G - Day Off - 2G - Day Off - 3G - Day Off - 6G - Day Off

That's not a baseball schedule. 14 games in 19 days, leading off with 8 games in 12 days. Crazy.  The next run goes 

13G - Day Off - 13G - Day Off - 9G 

So that will be, by the very end, 35G in 37 days. If the Nats are going to break by schedule -  it could be here.  It'll be their hardest run until the late August until end of year push.** 

Phillies series preview tomorrow. 

*Stevenson is hitting objectively worse so don't even

**They do have a 20 day straight run in June/July but before it they have two days off around a series and after it they have the All-Star Break so there is an ability to rest up for it and rest at the end of it.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Nats were up above it, now they're down in it

Swept.  That's not fun.  And by an in division opponent. That's no good. Instead of starting to poke the rapidly coming to temperature Braves team with a fork, the Nats play let the Braves back in the thick of the division and sent themselves to the bottom of the NL East standings. Granted in this mish mosh of mediocrity that only means three games under .500, but still last is last. 

Yesterday might have been the most bothersome loss of the three. Drew Smyly, who outside of Nats games has an ERA of 10.38 this season, is a pitcher this team needs to score on. Also arguably the Braves second best reliever, Minter, would probably not pitch given he saw action in both the last two games. This was a game they needed to score some runs. They scored two. Smyly continued his one team domination holding the Nats to 1 run in 6 innings (and bringing his Nats 2021 ERA to 2.25).  They had limited opportunities early - the best being a 2 on 2 out situation in the first. But beginning in the 6th you saw four straight chances be blown. A man on first, no one out in the sixth. First and second, no one out and Soto, Turner, Yadi coming up in the seventh. First and second no one out in the eighth. Man on second, no one out, in the ninth.  Four chances ranging from decent to great. One run scored.  The focus is on a low strike call to Robles to end the eighth turning bases loaded two out Zimm up to an ended inning but I have a hard time getting worked up about a borderline call* when you had 12 out with men on in the last 4 innings and pushed across one run.

Jon Lester pitched ok. Strong to start, getting shakier deeper in. It's the kind of game I'd expect from Lester coming off a long rest against a decent team, so after the MAAAArlins game this starts him off as expected. That's a plus I guess. Also Voth looked good again - which would be a nice find for the pen, and Hand and Hudson kept doing what they do. 

This series was about the offense. It was about scoring 6 runs in three games and failing to get big hits in big spots. Now the Nats try to win against one of the hotter teams in baseball. The Yankees! 

The Yankees have gone 11-5 in their last 16, turning a horrendous 5-10 start into a normal slow first 5 weeks. Their hitting has gotten much better. Stanton is past hot hitting .481 over the past two weeks with 6 homers and 4 doubles. Hicks is also hot (yes with a 89 OPS+ that's how bad it got). Judge and Lemahieu are doing their usual things and Torres is doing ok. On the flip side the catcher situation of hoping Higashioka would keep magically hitting great unsurprisingly didn't work out. They now have two guys not hitting. Left field remains a hole as Gardner plays out his last year and Clint Frazier still hasn't turned a corner despite a couple of big hits. It's a top heavy line-up the Nats will face but that top is really heavy. 

Pitching wise the Yankees pen is excellent, Chapman being almost literally unhittable this year. Even with Britton and O’ Day out Loaisiga and Cessa have stepped up. There might be one or two off arms beyond the usable five which would be fine if Boone knew not to use them in non blowouts (but he doesn’t! Gotta get them work!) The rotation is a little less impressive. There also isn’t a bad arm in there but Cole is the only sure thing. The Nats don’t have to face him (The other guy they miss is perfectly ok 4/5 Jordan Montgomery)


Probables 

Corbin v Taillon : Corbin has been off and on this season but his basic truth holds. When he can locate his fastball everything else falls into place. He’s just has a real issue doing that.  Also homers. Taillon, reclamation project B, has pitched better than his record but has a homer issue and has been burned by some bad timing on that. 

Scherzer v Kluber : Max is Max which is to say nowadays sometimes he’s MAX but sometimes he gives up too many homers. That might be a problem against a team that relies on homers. Kluber, reclamation project A, has looked pretty good his last three starts. Of course the Orioles and Tigers will do that for you. I need more convincing. 

Ross v German : Ross we just talked about. Expect a 4/5 game but something surprisingly better isn't out of the question. German has had one good start and but has been middling otherwise. Ultimately he might show good control and an ability to miss bats but he's been homer prone all his career, that hasn't changed in 2021, and it'll probably limit him to a brief career at the back of a rotation and one similar to Ross/Fedde in that occasionally a gem might be thrown.

Away against a decent team?  1 out of 3 should be the goal. Preferably early because if they lose the first two the losing streak will become a thing and I hate things.


*On the MLB app and on the second run of the TV box you saw strikes.  The video of the side showed the pitch go across his front knee.  It was a call that really could have gone either way. It probably didn't scrape the bottom of the zone, but that's the best you can say. Probably. Given the situation in my mind it WASN'T a good take.  A good take is a pitch that is clearly a ball. This was not that despite what various outlets might want you to believe

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Still Ross over Fedde

That's the take-away you were looking for right?  The short answer is Fedde hasn't done enough to surpass Ross' history. The long answer is... well below. 

If you look at 2021 overall you'll see that Fedde has pitched better but Ross has the better results.  Fedde has gotten hit fewer times, given up fewer homers, and has struck out more. Ross has had better control. You can see why Fedde is ahead in pitching in a vacuum. But if you look at the game logs you might be able to tell why I prefer Ross. 

Joe Ross has basically pitched every game but one the same.  He doesn't give up a bunch of hits or walks, but he doesn't strike out many either. The ball is in play and he'll likely give up some runs (more so than he has in the good games this year but less than in that one - he basically had all bad luck shoved into one outing).  He'll also keep the team in the game. Yes he can throw out a stinker - but who doesn't? 

Erick Fedde either has it or doesn't. When he has it he's missing bats and forcing the other team to chase.  When he doesn't he's getting hit over and over again and walking too many and finding himself in big holes. While I can see the potential in a Fedde, if he just pitches like he did against Arizona or Toronto more often he'd be an intriguing middle of the rotation guy, give me the solid security of 5-6 innings of Joe Ross.  

Last night was bad Fedde and I mentioned early that I was bothered by the fact he had gotten so few swinging strikes so far  (he would have 2 in the first 14 batters he faced).  He was living on his sinker working and getting ground balls. If he got tired and things started hanging then the hits would be harder and further, and that's exactly what happened. The Nats pen held on but in arguably worse bad news for the Nats (and the NL East) Max Fried looked fine. He is a good pitcher when right and he seemed right to me last night. After doing his job the Nats did manage 2 runs against the Braves pen in four innings, which is reasonable, but it wasn't enough to come back. 

Last night also had some more questionable managerial decisions. 

Walking Freddie Freeman to get to Ozuna?  I wasn't a fan but not for the reasons you think. I didn't like it because Fedde walked Acuna before that which means you were forcing a pitcher who just had an issue throwing strikes to have to do it. He did in fact throw the ball all over the zone (2 strikes, 3 not close balls) before the grand slam. But I do get walking Freeman (even if he was struggling) to get to Ozuna, who has been terrible lately. I've even called for it at other times. But I hate the walking the bases loaded unless you are getting the obvious advantage doing it. I like pitchers to have some room for error 

Not pulling Fedde after 3 : It was a very rough inning but Davey chose to stick with him with the bottom of the line-up coming up. Sure, I guess. The game wasn't out of hand and the pen could always use as much rest as it can get. Didn't exactly work though as Contreras took him deep, but he did settle

Not PHing Soto in the 8th : The Nats quickly got to 2 runs back in their half of the 8th after a HBP and Turner homer. Two batters later there was one out and a man on 2nd. You could conceivably PH Soto anyhere starting here with Castro but they didn't. In part the Braves might have out maneuvered Davey, going with their set-up man Minter, a lefty, to face two straight righties. Also, because Stevenson came in the previous half-inning in a double switch to move the pitcher slot back, they couldn't bat Soto without changing the defensive line-up in some way. With Soto out from playing the field there would have to be a sub-optimal set-up. Would Davey pull either Castro (slightly better against LHP) or Gomes (much better) for Soto (guys hits everyone very well) given all this? Without the D question you could probably argue PH for Castro (not as much for the hotter Gomes) but the answer ended up being no. I'm ok with that. Castro would double and Gomes would strike out. But now second and third with two out up comes Schwarber. Schwarber historically has been bad vs LHP. Despite this year having a couple hits in his limited ABs against them, Soto seemed like an obvious call here. Yes you still have the fielding question but to me the driving question is simple - do you want to figure out what to do with a lead or do you want to keep doing what you know you can from behind? That's no question - you want the lead. You NEED the lead. That's the point. And Soto gives you the best chance of the lead here.  Schwarber would walk, moving the bar over to Robles and again I would have PH Soto. Try to get the lead, worry about what you do after that - after that. But he didn't Robles got out and the game was mostly over*

Smyly is the choice tonight. Like I said a couple days ago - he's been terrible but his only decent start was against the Nats. Don't make it a thing. 

*There is another thing that could be relevant here - maybe Soto isn't right at all. If he can't be depended on as a solid bat of course you don't use him but if that's the case then what the hell would he be doing up on the active roster? I dismiss this

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Ross misses the loss, Rainey umm.. travels the Allegheny

Ross got results last night but if you watched (or listened) to the game it was a lot of hard hit balls and not a lot of swings and misses. It was a performance that going into the 5th was a shutout but felt like it easily could have had the Nats 3 runs behind. The Nats weren't stupid and they saw it too and when a runner got into scoring position in the 6th with one out they cut their losses.  One could say it was an early pull. He had a low enough pitch count to keep going. He was getting knocked well by Dansby Swanson who'd be up in the inning, but if he got out Riley you could put him on and face Contreras (hell - they did that anyway) but I can see why they made the move.  If you look at his pitch speed, he was slowing down. Sinker speed was slower, slider speed was slower, and I have a sneaking suspicion that those "change-ups" that were his last pitches were actually fastballs he couldn't dial up. 

Anyway what was done was done and in came Tanner Rainey. I saw a lot of dumb moves last night by the Phillies and Braves putting in struggling relievers with leads. These made me mad because it's clear none of these teams are cruising and when a win is presented to you you need to grab it. Instead teams were still playing as if they had had comfortable seasons so far. Putting in Rainey without a lead isn't as bad, but it was still 1-0 and certainly a winnable game. Here is kind of where you'd put in your second or third best arm to try to hold it close. But... who is that exactly? Austin Voth as probably pitched the best but also is a converted starter on his first run as a reliever and 10 innings to his name. Harris was just brought back and is a question mark. Hudson is nominally the set-up guy but is walk and homer prone and is surviving on an unsustainable BABIP (.125!). Finnegan has ok results but is also walk and homer prone.  Espino maybe? Also homer prone. Sam Clay? Filler. Decent filler but filler. The bullpen right now is really Brad Hand and trying to get to Brad Hand. (Could they have used Brad Hand here? Sure - but you know that wasn't going to happen).  Rainey might have been a bad choice but it wasn't like there was a good one. 

So Rainey blows it with a homer to a pitcher which can't be forgiven but can be understood (usually just dialing it up and throwing an upper 90s fastball to a pitcher is enough) and there's the game. Like I said earlier the Braves would try to give the Nats a chance putting in their Rainey Tyler Matzek but he was able to get a big strikeout of Yadiel Hernandez and got Harrison to hit it a liner where they were. Ballgame. 

This was the toughest game for the Nats given the match-up so it's a shame they couldn't pull it out but also it was the toughest game for the Nats given the match-up. The next two are the better chances. Get them both.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Probables and The Braves

Have we stopped talking about the Nats early season losses to the Braves as being "ok because they might be one of the best teams in the NL" Because if not - look around. They aren't good. The Nats could really bury the Braves with a sweep here, where as with a Braves sweep the Nats would fall to a game behind the Braves, so this series is more important to them than the Nats. In general the Braves have been slipping. They've lost their last 4 and have been beaten badly, by 5 runs or more, 5 times in their last 9 games. Let's take a closer look

Line-up wise the big problem is Ozuna has been terrible. He's sporting a .204 / .289 / .306 split (that's pathetic power) but instead of pushing him down the line-up Snitker moved him up to the 3 hole and kept him there. Similarly Swanson (.202 / . 272 / .317) hasn't been punished for his lack of production, holding steady to the 6 spot. That means the Braves have two big holes in the line-up in the first six outs. Ozuna hasn't been AS bad recently - swinging at everything and hitting two homers - but still it's a bad position for a team that needs a bunch of runs because of various pitching issues. On the flip side Albies is back and hot and Austin Riley might have found his groove. Acuna is ok and Freeman is struggling but you bet on Freddie in a way you don't the other guys. D'Arnaud is now out for the year and backup Alex Jackson is hurt putting Willam "Don't call me William" Contreras behind the plate. He's a minor league hitter who shouldn't hit. Rounding things out is Christian Pache, back after a brief break.  He should hit eventually in the majors but no telling if he'll hit now. Properly set up it's a lineup that can score but Snitker will probably stick to his guns and make it weaker than it needs to be.  On the bench is Big Panda and he can still hit, but he can't play anywhere but maybe first and you aren't taking Freddie out. 

Pen wise it's not great. They do have a lot of arms and the back of the pen - Smith, Minter, now Tomlin, have done better than their ERAs might suggest. But no one else has stepped up and distinguished themselves. Luke Jackson has the best ERA but is a wild mess. Guys like Matzek and Dayton have been mediocre after some promising results in previous years. I still think it sorts out into something pretty good but sorting out takes time and the Braves don't have an unlimited supply of that.

But the real problem isn't a middling middle of the pen leading into a good but not great back. It's the back end of the rotation. Morton has been getting bad results, Smyly failed in the 5th spot and Bryse Wilson in to help cover spots, even more so with Fried hurt and Soroka's return pushed back, has been a disaster. A two man rotation is not a rotation, but Fried is back now and they should be able to right the ship - at least in the sense of play .500+ ball again. 

PROBABLES

Huascar Ynoa vs Joe Ross - Ross bounced back from the bad outing in STL to beat the Mets in DC. He's been great at home so far, but honestly hasn't pitched great.  If you want to be concerned the K-rate, BABIP, and LOB% all suggest he's mediocre and getting lucky. The hard hit rate and GB numbers agree. All in all though he's probably as good as his ERA, but in a more stable 4 runs 6.1 innings way. Ynoa has been pretty good. Great control and swing and miss stuff. He can be a bit homer prone though. 

Max  Fried vs Erick Fedde - Fried looked pretty much like his old self in G1 then got terrible for his 2nd and 3rd games, and presumably was hurt as he'd go out after that. This will be his first game back so it's hard to say what the Nats will see but he's a guy who gets soft contact on the ground when he's on. You might remember that I kind of actually like what I'm seeing from Fedde? He can be more consistent and will probably give up some more bombs but he's missing more bats and everything else points to a 4.00 type guy which you'd take in a second. 

(These two games are gonna shape my Ross/Fedde thoughts going forward as I'm still a Ross over Fedde believer)

? vs Lester - Lester had a warm-up game against the Marlins AAA lineup and looked well enough. Let's see what he does against a team putting out more than one above average bat in eight. Either Bryse Wilson or Drew Smyly or someone completely different could be up. My guess will be Smyly because the only passable start either of these two put up was Smyly against the Nats on the 6th when he went 4 and struck out 8. Thats almost half his K's for the season. 

Win the series. That's the goal. Keep moving forward and keep the Braves down.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Monday Quickie - First place and little else to say

I was a little worried going into the Marlins series that we wouldn't be able to really evaluate the Nats pitching based on what happened in the series.  A line-up that no one was scared of to start the year losing three of their top 5 hitters and also a guy that they hoped would break out? That's weak. But I figured having Aguilar and Dickerson with a couple other starters in a line-up that was scoring was enough and even if one of those guys got cold it would be like facing a terrible major league line-up. You do that sometimes. The problem is the Nats never faced Aguilar and Dickerson in the same line-up over the weekend.  Dickerson sat out Friday and Saturday, Aguilar rested on Sunday. The effect was now the Nats pitchers were facing a bunch of guys you could only describe as AAAA. They held them in check but major league pitchers should hold minor league talent in check. There really is nothing to see here. 

The bats on the other hand - they faced some real pitching. You can say something about them and what you can say is that they are hitting much better.  Or really they are built different now and that has woken up the bats.  Harrison and Turner are hitting but so is the returning Zimm, and the call-up Yadiel Hernandez. Gomes is hot and Schwarber and Robles aren't terrible. There you go - seven guys doing ok or better and a functional offense. That can't last (usually you sit around 5 hitting well depending on the talent and I think 5 is right for this team) but it doesn't have to. It only has to last until Soto comes back. Six doubles and two homers in the last couple games. That'll do. 

The Nats are .500 now and it shouldn't be a surprise. We had them pegged as a WC contender and a high 80s win team.  Losing Soto and Strasburg hurts but also makes them about a .500 team.  Add in a little luck (5-2 in one run games) and a schedule break and it makes sense to me that things have evened out. This week plus will be an important run for the Nats - Braves and Phillies sets and taking on a now back to being good Yankees team. You can imagine some wild swings of results from that.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Fedde gets good, NL East remains bad

Erick Fedde looks... competent? A month is a month and this month is very similar to Fedde's time starting right after the All-Star break in 2019. Five games of pitching to overall 5th starter results but made up of 4 decent to good games and one blow-up. Here's a "maybe Fedde is good" take from the middle of that one. 

But this one is different. That rounds was powered by more luck. This time he's striking guys out at a much better rate and each ball not put in play is a ball that can't become a hit in a later game. His control isn't as good but the strike out rate is so much better you take that trade off. That's not to say that there isn't some luck involved. That HR/FB rate sits around 10% an extremely low number, especially for a guy who's becoming LESS of a GB pitcher as he gets older. The rest is a mixed bag of conflicting stats. Yeah the BABIP is a little low, but so is the LOB% meaning it's likely he'll give up more hits but the timing won't be as bad so the runs will even out.  There's a lot here to like? I'm pretty surprised to be saying that. But it's a month. I'd wait a whole another month before really coming down one way or the other officially.  And let's not confuse things, what we have is Fedde showing signs he could be a good back of the rotation option. Nothing more. When those homers even out he'll be pitching to a 4.00+ ERA. But still that's better than I would have thought of him coming into the season. 

Also in the good news department - the NL East stinks! PU! The current division leaders are 12-13 Atlanta and Philly leaving the struggling Nats a mere game behind. This weekend might get us some separation - the Phillies and Mets play as well as the Nats and Marlins (Braves play the Blue Jays). I've heard some talk about the Nats having the hardest schedule but a lot of that is based on the Braves being good and well they haven't been. Why is playing the Dodgers harder than the Giants (which the Marlins and Phillies have played).  Yes the Rockies are truly bad (the Phillies and Mets have played them) but you want to say the Cubs are bad but they were .500ish before the Braves took that series. It's still too early to parse out most of it. The teams have played who they have played and they've all come up lacking. The NL East stinks, certainly doesn't mean maybe the Nats don't. 


I completely forgot about the Marlins.  It happens

Much like the rest of the NL East they stink but are still in the mix. The surprising thing is the Marlins might have played the best overall baseball so far this year? Their hitting is about average and their pitching is pretty good. 

The good news for the Nats is the Marlins will be without Starling Marte, the solid former Pirate OF who's been out for a while, and Jazz Chisolm the young sensation at second who just hurt his hammy.  They'll also be without failing prospect Jorge Alfaro who is hurt, and dependable underrated 3B Brian Anderson who is hurt. Replacing 4 guys in your lineup is hard!  The replacement guys aren't terrible - Berti and Cooper are below average guys but not holes. Old friend Sandy Leon can inexplicably hit sometimes. Isan Diaz was a real prospect once. But they are all steps down and 4 steps down is a lot of steps.

But wait Harper, you say. They still seem to be scoring runs.  That's right. And it's because they still have a couple good bats and they are on fire right now. Jesus Aguilar flashed signs of being very good before in Milwaukee before having an off half season then getting detoured through "not paying you or anyone really" Tampa.  He's crusing it with 5 homers in the past week. He's well liked too so overall just a smart pick-up by Miami before last season.  Paired with him is the also solid Corey Dickerson who is getting on base at a .650 clip walking 6 times to go along with 7 hits. He had an off year last year but is making up for it with a slight overperformance in 2021 so far. He's usually better than average. Timely hitting by the rest have kept the offense afloat. Oh there's also Miguel Rojas (also not an embarrassment at the plate but a glove guy) and Adam Duvall (someone has to be the 3rd OF and Brinson is one of the great disappointments in prospect history)

What they are really about is their pitching though. A bullpen with 5 decent arms (including Ross Detwiler who has gone into "Just fling it at the plate" mode - unhittable but wild) Dylan Floro has been fantastic. They are a bit homer prone. The starting pitching 1-2-3 has been maybe the best in baseball but the real problem comes behind that where they literally have no one so far. Onto the probables

Pablo Lopez vs Jon Lester - Lester's debut so who the hell knows what he'll be like. Given everyone else's debut... I'm not very positive minded. Pablo Lopez had an off start in Atlanta but has otherwise been great, upping his K's without changing any other stat too much. Edge Marlins probably 

Paul Campbell vs ? - Given the two off days and Lester's insertion it could be Ross or Corbin. Ross pitched a good game last time out, Corbin did not. Still you feel it's going to be Corbin. He has the money. The Nats need him straightened out. You want him on that regular schedule. Paul Campbell is a former Rays guy who is like a lesser Voth/Fedde type - good minor league stats but not much expected of him. A weak contact pitcher who rarely gives up a homer but major leaguers have been able to hit. He's a Rule V guy, too, so the Marlins have to keep trying him out. Jordan Holloway will likely follow him as a guy to eat innings. He's been good so far but minor league stats are not great. He's the prototypical nasty stuff, no control, make mistakes guy. One in 10 of these put it together and become good major league pitchers. Another couple find themselves improved enough to get in a few years. Most though don't stick.

Trevor Rogers vs Max Scherzer - Rogers is a legit pitcher of the month candidate. He hasn't given up a run in his last two games with a 15K to 1 BB ratio. If Max is Max this could be a gem of a game. But which Max will show up? The homer bombed first and last game pitcher? Or the peak Max of inbetween.  I'd bet on the latter given being home and being angry at the last outing. 


Home, division rival - gotta expect 2 out of 3.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

LESS BASEBALL PLEASE

Max was not Max, unless you mean former MLB cup of coffee guy Max Povse (first Max pitcher that came up). Li'l Guerrero put on a show with 3 homers and despite the fact the Nats exploded with their best HR day of the year so far (two from Trea. He's reallly upping his contract demands) the Nats lost pretty handily.  All of the above should tell you it was probably more a Dunedin thing than a Max thing. He's a fly ball pitcher and usually that's fine but last night in Florida it just wasn't playing. 

The Nats go tonight and hope to pull one out facing a real pitcher pitching well vs Erick Fedde. That of course favors the Jays but Max vs the Bullpen favored the Nats and look how that turned out. 

Other notes: 

Bell and Schwarber continued their torrid pace with 1 hit to 4 Ks. Josh Bell holds a .410 OPS 13 games in which is terrible, but gives me a chance to remind you that Cristian Guzman had a .285 OPS (yes you read that right, .285) 13 games in. As bad as Bell is let's see if he can have an OPS under .500 113 games in to a season. Because who in their right mind would let someone play that much hitting that poorly? No one ever. 

The BIG news from yesterday is that Juan Soto won't be back as soon as he could be.  He's slated to play a couple practice games before coming up, so don't be surprised if you don't see him until the Atlanta series if then.  From the sound of it he's not ready to play the field yet either. He could be out for a while but Soto is precious so don't rush him.

Robles is also stuggling so people are calling for Stevenson but I don't get it. Well I get it in the "I'm tired of Robles, let's see someone else way" but Stevenson overall hasn't shown much that makes you think he'd be better than Robles in the field or at the plate. Also if you want someone replaced in the OF why not Schwarber? 

 Yadiel Hernandez is a lone early bright spot and has earned a few starts because no one else has really. Also good to see Zim, and Josh Harrison got a hit because of course he did. This years Howie-lite. 

McGowin and Espino were fine but arguably the Jays weren't trying that hard at that point and when they did have to try after the Nats pulled to 7-5, they got their runs back from Finnegan. So I'm not really taking anything from this.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

MORE BASEBALL PLEASE

Tired of the Nats already? Even though they've kind of stunk you probably aren't but TOO BAD. Baseball games are for suckers. After a day off yesterday there will be a day off on Thursday and that's too many days off in baseball.  The Nats are in a stretch where they play 8 times in 12 days - as someone replied on Twitter that IS good for Soto and the Nats - you want as many Soto games as possible so as many days off when he's out is good. But it's kind of bad for us. We want baseball! 

Anyway the Nats are off to face the Blue Jays. The Jays have a middling record but have gotten a little unlucky. Also they are good not because of all those good young bats you've heard of like Li'l Guerrero Li'l Bichette, and Li'l Biggio, but instead because of their pitching. Three starters having lights out starts to the year and a killer pen (at least in results). Is the pen really that good? David Phelps is the name you know and he's reliable. Ryan Boruki and Tim Mayza have pitched pretty well also but don't have a lot of history behind them.  Trent Thorton has been bad, and has pitched bad, but there are hundreds of pitchers - someone is going to get lucky. The Jays closer is talented but real wild. The Nats will miss Roark (he's out on Family Medical Emergency Leave - there's no info but we wish Tanner and his family well) but could see old friend Tommy Milone continuing his unlikely career as stop gap / long man / gotta have someone throw the ball.  

On the offense Guerrero is a star, Bichette is doing well, Biggio is struggling. The rest of the line-up is more like Biggio with only Randall Grichuk hitting the ball. (Semien has been hitting well recently but Guerrero is not) They have a catcher who - get this - has TWO hits in 45 plate appearances. So there's that. Ok onto the starters

Probables :

Max vs Thornton : Max is Max. (please be Max again).  Up there with the best in baseball.  Hey! It's Thornton. So they pulled him from the pen to be an opener last time out and he had one of his better outings.  Still that means a double and single in two innings. He was also decent in another long outing so maybe it's just the pressure of "you need to get THESE outs" that screws with him. Anyway the Nats are getting a bullpen day so should look to win.

Fedde vs Matz : Fedde looked more like classic Fedde last time out.  Not the terrible pitcher of start one or the great pitcher of starts 2 and 3, but a middling guy who can give you some innings while giving up a couple more hits and one more run than you'd like to see. While obviously anything can happen, history tells us not to expect more than 5 IP 3 ER. Take that and run. Meanwhile Matz has become one of the better pitchers for the Jays. He's not THIS good (a .214 BABIP will do that) but he has pitched well and overlooking 2020's debacle he's a dependable pitcher with flashes of better. He's what the Nats wish Fedde would become. 

Don't get swept! Really it's more win the first and hope for the best in the second because losing the first puts the Nats in a bad position. With any luck Max Max's and shuts the Jays down and the Nats can win like 2-1.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Monday Quickie - the worst of the worst

 What does it mean to lose this series to the Mets? 

If you want to take a positive view you can say something like "Well without Soto and facing a good 1-2-3 against a division rival in their house, the Nats were able to sneak a win away from them". If you want to take a negative view you can say something like "Against a reeling division opponent, the type you need to beat to make the playoffs, the Nats were shutout twice and lost a game in the standings" Both are valid. 

Me I'm a "you lose, you don't win" type of guy and so I favor the latter. The Nats have been gifted with an opportunity and they haven't taken advantage of it. They've been hurt (Stras/Soto) and COVID'd so there are excuses but also there is a real a chance here. Things not breaking your way happens. Having the second worst offense in the majors (thanks Detroit!) is not just a bad break. 

Juan Soto is out but Trea Turner isn't hitting (.190 / .227 / .190 in the past week). Neither is the formerly hot Josh Harrison (.182 / .280 / .227) or the looked decent Yan Gomes (.077 / .200 / .154). As many have noted Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber have been particularly bad and they are essentially the two players the Nats put their season on offensively. We assume Soto will hit and Turner will be good and Zimm will be ok when he can play. We thought Gomes and Castro would hold their ground. The keys were how good Bell, Schwaber and Robles would be. The answer across the board is not good at all. 

Arguably Corbin's performance was the biggest issue. 10 men on, 2 homers, in 4 IP is a recipe for a loss every time. He was lucky to get out of it with just 4 runs. If he's not good it's gonna be real tough for the Nats. Not impossible, but REAL tough. 

The Nats can still win assuming Soto comes back soon. He's that good that he could carry an offense to mediocre all by himself. But he'll need great pitching. He'll need Strasburg back as an ace. Keep your eyes on Strasburg.

Friday, April 23, 2021

First Place in the Balance?

The NL East is a mess.  Nearly everyone thought the playoff talent here was 3 teams deep possibly 4, but the teams are struggling to get to .500, unable to both make a move on each other and show up against the other divisions at the same time.

The Phillies have been unable to get the big hits and the back of their rotation and pen have been terrible. The Braves pen can't close out anything and only Acuna and Freeman have been hitting so far. The Marlins have gotten the timely hits and some surprising pitching performances to stay in the mix, albeit from a starting point of being 5 out of 5.Then there is the Mets. Let's look at the Mets!

Offensively it's a mess. Guys who have always hit - Conforto, McNeil, Lindor - are not. Dom Smith is disappointing too and Lindor, Conforto, and Smith are guys they've been sticking in the top 2-5 spots in their line-ups. While other guys have been doing something, there's a huge sucking hole in the middle of the line-up. Plus, most of what they have done is hit singles. They have the 5th best batting average in the NL, but they haven't hit home runs (dead last in majors), or doubles (tied for last in NL) and they don't walk (13th in NL). Some of that is a function of games played (four fewer than most) but even scaling they'd be only average in doubles, below average in walks, and still close to the bottom in homers. So big innings aren't happening right now.  They've hung in thanks to strong pitching including a rotation 4 deep despite injuries and a pen that has 5 reliable arms right now.  However, when they have to go deeper it gets very bad, very fast. 

The Nats are a team that mirrors this.  They mostly hit for average with little power or patience (especially with Soto out) but aren't quite as bad as the Mets and are carried by pitching - but aren't quite as deep. I'd expect a relatively low scoring series. 

Probables! 

Fedde vs DeGrom - You know deGrom. If he's on the Nats will be lucky to scratch out a couple. Fedde had his best start of the season last game and gets an ideal struggling line-up to follow up against 

Ross vs Stroman - Stroman has been excellent this year, settling into being a Met. Another tough match-up for the Nats. Ross had his terrible start last time so we'll have an eye on him as the Nats can't afford any pitcher to go out right now.

Corbin vs Walker - Walker seems to start well and tire quickly. If the Nats can do anything to deGrom or Stroman they might put the Mets in a bind. If they don't the Mets pen could come in and hold it down.  Corbin was Dr. Jeckyll last time. Like Ross eyes will be on him to see what's real or not in 2021. 

After seemingly years of missing the Mets best pitching (that's how it felt to me) the Nats line-up against 1-2-3.  It's a series the Mets have to win. If the Nats do, it'll be a nice surprise. At the same time 1-2 against a division opponent that's reeling won't feel like good enough either, even if it's in NY.  Don't get swept.  That's the only truly bad outcome

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Let's look at this team!

We are one tenth of the way through the season! 90% to go. That's a lot more to go than what has been played but it can't hurt now to take a look, can it? Oh wait - not all these guys have played that much. Yeah that's a problem. But still what else are you going to do? NOT look? Ok ok, I'll leave relievers and guys with like less that 30 PAs out unless I see something crazy.

Doing Great 

Max - after that first start being bombed all over the stadium here are his stats : 0.47 ERA 0.684 WHIP 1.9 BB/9, 11.4 K/9 3G 19 IP 9H 4BB 24Ks opponents hitting .141 /.203 /.188. He's still one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Josh Harrison - .387 / .472 / 548.  He's hit.  He's hit for decent power. He's walked a little. A big thing is that he's only struck out one time. Once! He's actually never struck out 100 times in a season (though to be fair he's also never played a full season) so this is kind of his thing but this is the best version of that.

Doing Good 

Brad Hand - He's been in 6 games and hasn't given up a run. He's not been dominant though (which is why he's not in great) - only striking out 5 in the 6 innings, well under his usual. But you have to comment on the newly signed closer being perfect

Zimm - .302 / .324  / .515 - not walking at all but doing everything else. Should he be playing more? Maybe. But maybe he's doing so well because he isn't playing more?

Trea - .302 / .343 / .540 - Also not walking but when you have 7 XBH and 4 homers that's perfectly ok. 

Soto - .300 / .410 / .460 - even with a possibly injury influenced slump still has good numbers. That's Soto. 

Doing Bad

Schwarber - .200 / .238 / .350 - a big walk-off homer hides the fact that that's his only homer and one of his few hits so far this year.  14Ks too. 

Stevenson  - .219 / .278 / .344. The expected by me - not doing anything well type of performance. Not a secret weapon.  But looks good in the field to me so you keep around

Robles - .204 / .350 /.245. uh oh. And this is after he started well.  .190 / .292 /.238 after the first series. For those hoping for a step back toward average this is not a good sign

Rainey  - 7 appearances, 3 times giving up multiple runs. 6 times putting on a baserunner. He has not pitched well. Last time out though flashed skill of old with a striking out of the side.  

Doing Terrible

Corbin - 10.95 ERA. One terrible start.  One so bad it's goes into the "worst Nats starts ever" bin. One decent one can't save him from terrible right now but its only 3 starts so he can easily be bumped up to bad next one out.  

Josh Bell - .161 / .250 / .323.  If you want to say something nice that's not a lot of Ks. But the numbers show - hitting it softer, not getting around, hitting it on the ground. Looks slow and old for 28.

Hernan Perez - only 14 at bats but only 1 measly single and 8 Ks.

How about some former Nats?

Bryce - slow start but now having a Player of the Week run .647 / .727 / 1.118 (no typos!) over last 5 games to bring it all up to .357 / 493 / .625.  Been a while since he's had a month this good 

Rendon - was doing fine but then hurt his groin and has been out as long as he was playing

Doo - missing bats like crazy (11K in 6.2 IP) and doing the job in Cincy

MAT - we were all gaga over MATs fast start. He's still above average but has hit .217 / .308 / .217 since the first two games. Might be getting back to a more normal inbetween state recently. 

Eaton - doing well .262 / .366 / .459

Difo - Has started 2 games - in one he went 3-4 with 2 doubles. You might have seen that. He also had homer in another appearance. You might have seen that. Outside that one games though he's 3-19. You might have seen that coming. 

Roark - bad first start and the Blue Jays have moved him to the pen where he's done ok. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

One small win, one big loss, and I guess another normal sized win.

The Nats managed to put last night in the victory column and maybe save the homestand as "not a disaster" thanks to an excruciating bottom of the 8th. The Cardinals let Giovanny Gallegos hang out to dry in the inning, because of a version of the old standard "He's the guy". The plan for this year is that Gallegos would be the Cardinals 8th inning set-up guy. It was the 8th inning therefore he pitches until he's lost the game. The "8th inning guy" idea is dumb but it's the way the game has been for the last 20 years. Pitchers seem to prefer the idea of roles and it takes the blame out of managers hands so it's not going anywhere despite likely being less effective (you don't use the best pitchers in the highest leverage spots). I guess we can just be thankful that expansion into the 7th, which was tried, hasn't really taken hold but mainly that's a product of quality. At that point you are getting into more questionable pitching. Anyway the actual use of a role isn't a problem but the idea you can't break from it or you aren't showing trust is.  Gallegos was bad - walk, HBP, single (tie game), 2-0 ground out... it's tempting to pull him after the single. But not only did they stick with him they loaded the bases intentionally. It almost worked (thanks to a Castro who didn't seem to want to work the pitcher) but again see above - he didn't have control.  Your pitcher was not pitching well and it was a tie game but rather than pull him quickly you kept him in to foster trust. Congratulations you lost the game. Hope it doesn't matter. 

Of course the Nats nearly blew it themselves - after getting a good start from Corbin - more on that later - they pulled him after only 76 pitches and put in Rainey, who promptly blew it with a walk and a triple. There was no reason for this but managers can be dumb. You want Corbin feeling good but you also want him going deep. Starting the inning on a short leash would have made more sense. I'm sure a version of "Rainey is out 7th inning guy" played in Davey's head.

So as for Corbin - he looked good! Really! Threw a lot of strikes, got a lot of ground outs and swings and misses. This is good news for a team in desperate need of it. Again as we ended yesterday saying the Nats will only go as far as their pitching takes them and if they can't imagine a Big Three being there then the season is kind of lost. Max has shown he's still got it. The jury is still out on the injured Strasburg and the faltering Corbin. However at least today you can imagine again Corbin being ok.  This will hold for another couple starts. 

But there was a big loss yesterday as Juan Soto went on the IL with shoulder strain. The Nats say it's preventative and overly cautious and I say fine if it is. Soto is your best hitter* The problem is it's hard to see the Nats win consistently long-term without him.  He's the heart of the line-up and his replacement will likely be Stevenson, at best a punchless hitter with average production. It's a big step down.  We didn't have any indication that Soto was hurt but he had an uncharacteristic 0-11 run before hitting a double at the end of Monday's game, he had also gone longer without an XBH and had only that one game with both his home runs. However nothing seemed odd about his number of hard hit ball or exit velocity and anecdotally I didn't notice anything either. Maybe you did.

The Nats sit in a holding pattern now waiting on Strasburg and Soto. Good news for both and the season is still on. Bad news for both and pack it in.


*I suppose if you want to be thorough you could say that there is a chance that (1) Soto is a 140-150 OPS+ guy - which IS great though not like first ballot Hall of Famer great and that (2) Turner has put it together and is a 150+ guy.  But I don't think this is actually what will come to pass for either guy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The wheels come off

For his first 12 innings Joe Ross had held the other team scoreless.  Then Paul DeJong got a hold of one. Then Tommy Edman did.  Then Paul Goldschmidt did. Whatever it was Joe Ross had it was clear that by the 4th inning he didn't have it last night - and a HBP, walk, and single putting the team down 5-0 should have been the end of his night. It wasn't. Davey kept him in to try to soak up innings, pushing him into the 5th until a grand slam put an end to his night. It was brutal but worse, it was unnecessary.  

It wasn't the worst thing pitches wise. Ross would only reach 85 total. But one of the few bright spots for the Nats early on was the quality pitching Ross had thrown this season. Everyone has off nights, but making him wear his to the tune of 10 runs, who knows what that can do to a psyche of a pitcher with no history of success. 

It seemed emblematic of the Nats season so far; things are going poorly but they don't know how to handle it other than to try to ride it out. Doing nothing with a smile - that was the plan when the Nats won the title in 2019 so why wouldn't it work again? Despite the fact it didn't work in 2018 or 2020. Beset with real troubles and no end in sight - action is called for, but the management isn't looking to do action and the manager might be incapable of it. 

Plan to hear about "19-31" for a while - at least as long as Strasburg news doesn't come back too negative. Harrison can be Kendrick! The pitching can still bail the team out! But there's not a star player coming back from injury this year, let alone players. And....

 And there's Patrick Corbin. 

In 2019 he'd pitch like the near ace they paid him to be. In 2021 he has looked incredibly terrible.  

You can squint and turn your head and look at this team anyway you want but unless they have those three top notch pitchers they are going to struggle to be playoff relevant. Max is one. Stras is one if he's right. Is Corbin one this year? Tonight we'll be the most telling. A couple weeks from the layoff he should be pretty much in season shape. If he can't put up something remotely respectable tonight, we're going to have to start looking for other answers.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Monday Quickie - DOOM

Luis Avilan is out! 

Wait that's not the big story.

Wander Suero is out! 

Wait that's not either.

Lance Lynn is out! 

Ok now I'm just ignoring it purposefully. 

Stephen Strasburg was put on the IL yesterday morning. It was the 10-Day and it was with shoulder inflammation. This brings up both a lot of worries - over his health, this season, and the team going forward - and a lot of questions - over what exactly was going on the other night. If you remember Strasburg pitched poorly, was seen rubbing his shoulder in the tunnel and both Stras and Davey reacted as if the biggest thing wrong that night was the camera shooting into the tunnel. 

It seems like something went wrong. WE knew he didn't look right. It seems ridiculous to think they didn't. But if they did - why let him pitch through it for as long as they did? 

They thought it was something else? Wasn't a big deal? That's a bad staff! 

They thought it didn't matter if he stopped or not in terms of health? I don't see how that works - and even if possible you go safe over sorry with this arm. Shoulder stuff is no joke for pitchers. If serious it's often far harder to come back from than elbow issues.

The Nats need Strasburg.  Max, for as great as he is, can't last forever. He's up for a contract at the end of this year and he may price himself out of the Nats plans - looking for a team trying to win that will pay for 3 ace years to get one. If they do sign him the clock keeps ticking on how long he can be great. Corbin... well we all saw him last week and even if that is a temporary issue the fact that he doesn't have the history and consistency of an ace is not. They need Strasburg and his 25-28 starts a year of ace pitching. They need this for another half-decade or so.  Without it they are going to be in big trouble. 

This is angering. 

In his place steps in Paolo Espino who isn't very good. They may sign Anibal Sanchez who might hold the fort down.  Maybe.  

Oh in the meantime the Nats won 2 out of the remaining 3 games against the D-backs, splitting a series at home against an inferior opponent. You don't want to see that. Max was great. Fedde was very good. But even Espino could give you something which to me says the D-Backs are far more a bad line-up than the Nats have good starting pitching. Still you saw what you wanted to see from Max and Fedde. You can't ask for more. The bats on the other hand are a little on the cold side. Runs per game they are toward the bottom of the NL.  We'll see if they can't wake up against the Cardinals. 

The Cardinals

We head right into a series. The Cardinals are a Jeckyll and Hyde team who can score but seem to do it in bunches. They do not pitch well so let's see those bats do something.

Flaherty vs Ross - Flaherty might be rounding back into his pre-pandemic form. We're looking for Ross to continue to be good.

Wainwright vs Corbin - THE game of the week for the Nats as fans hope and pray Corbin doesn't blow up again. Wainwright isn't quite himself yet so the Nats need to take advantage of that

Martinez vs Scherzer - It's fair to expect a good outing from Max and the Cards can't say the same of the sometimes dominant sometimes terrible Martinez. This should be a win. 

 The Nats need a sweep to take the homestand in the way I wanted going in.  2-1 would be off that but I'd take it now. Losing the series is not acceptable. 


Friday, April 16, 2021

Corhasbin

 Last night was bad.  Like really bad. Like one of the worst starts in Nationals history bad. Corbin was terrible in his first start but that was admittedly a weird situation where he'd was rushed in to start. I had set the bar at "not awful" for this one and he came in way under. Two innings pitched, 6 hits, 4 walks, 2 HBP, 3 homers.  He went only 2 innings yet threw 63 pitches. 

When it's THIS bad it's fine to look for a reason two starts in.  Medically wise I can't say anything. I don't know what he did or didn't have and what effect it has on him. I can tell you his pitches are slow. I can tell you he's not locating which means he throws his slider far less and his slider is his most effective pitch. But the problem isn't so much these blowouts. You have to believe the immenseness of this sucking is a fluke. The problem is this is how he pitched last year. Slow. Even if the flukes go away the Nats are left with a 4.00-4.50 ERA pitcher. 

The Nats have a Big Three they are relying on. They need the combination of the three to be great. It can be Great - very good - very good, or great - great - good. Or Cy Young - very good - good. It doesn't matter exactly who does what but it needs to be a team carrying performance. If Corbin isn't at least good, and 4.25 wouldn't be good, then they need someone else to step in.  Maybe that can happen. Lester is a crafy vet. Ross has looked good. But then you have to take into account both Max and Stras have had off games this year and we're only 2 games in a piece. Early returns are very shaky on a Big Three good enough to do what they have to do.  

Have I mentioned that the Diamondbacks line-up is bad? Ketel Marte has been a beast this season but is on the IL leaving he Dbacks with a batting order that has AsCab as it's clean-up hitter and honestly he might be the best bat in there?  To be bad is one thing. To be bad against bad competition is another. 

So the next few days will be telling as both Max (tonight) and Stras (Sunday) get cracks at this line-up and at having more good starts this year than bad.  If both of them look very good or better ok. You can worry about Corbin but maybe the Nats will work it out. If one or both of them do not...


Meanwhile at the plate - I wasn't wrong. They could score on Kelly. Josh Harrison is super hot! I'm assuming they won't need 12 to win tonight.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

WIN

 And that bad feeling? Gone. See. That's the beauty of baseball - always a chance to make you feel better (or worse) just 24 hours later. 

Ross looked great (although Cardinal fans will tell you they had questions about their offense coming into the season - which really makes yesterday a yikes) which given his first start makes you think that maybe the back of the rotation will hold. The pen was good. Zimm hit a homer. Some guys didn't hit, but other guys did which is what you expect in a deep lineup. Just what the Nats wanted

In the end the Nats do manage to go 2-4 and we won't worry about the how. Targets hit. Now comes a test at home. 3-1 vs ARI and 2-1 vs STL would be 5-2. That's the goal.  After this next series we'll take a look at all the hitters and relievers.

Probables

Merrill Kelly vs Patrick Corbin - big game for the Corbin as he looked so bad in his rushed outing. However the bar isn't high. Anything ok will be viewed as him settling down. Like 5 runs in 6 innings? That'd probably be accepted this outing. Kelly you may not know. He's a mediocre starter the Nats should hit. 

Taylor Widener vs Max - Third point for Max. Will it be good like the last one or bad like the first one? Widener was a low end prospect a couple years ago. He's like a Fedde or Ross. Certainly capable of a good start but you wouldn't necessarily bet on it until you see a few.  

Luke Weaver vs Erick Fedde - I'd say Fedde was a minor shock last time given his really good performance. We'll see. I'm not sold or really even browsing at this point.  Weaver had a good 2017 and 2019 and a good start to 2021.  Maybe he's a Saberhagen*. 

Bumgarner vs Strasburg - the Main Event but with the caveat that Strasburg just might have had the worst start of his career, and one-upping that Bumgarner hasn't been good since joining the D-backs. 

Anything can happen here - the only thing I go in expecting is the Nats will score on Merrill Kelly tonight. (which means they'll get shut out or something).  


*Saberhagen's start for his career had ERA+ of 115 143 102 136 106 180 118 135 101. That's an average of 108 in even years and 149 in odd years.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Discomforting

The Nats got blown out last night.  It happens. But everything around that blowout was worse than the loss itself and it'd be really nice to get a win today to erase the bad feelings from last night. 

First off - Strasburg pitched horribly.  If any starter pitches bad that's bad (yes, my logic skills are still amazing) but if Strasburg pitches bad that's REALLY bad because Strasburg is the horse the Nats have hitched their wagon to for the next window+.  He's supposed to be an ace through the next few years and if he's not even good that crashes the plans that the Nats have. Of course, one data point and all but that was such a terrible start you can't help but give it more weight. 

Second - Strasburg may be hurt. I'm going to say he probably isn't - or at least wasn't hurt particularly more going into or coming out of last night*. He says he wasn't. Davey says he wasn't. Nobody stopped him from keeping on pitching even though he was obviously off. He didn't SEEM hurt to me. Instead he seemed... uncomfortable. There wasn't wincing. There wasn't a change in delivery motion. He seemed to be working out a muscle kink in video down into the tunnel we were able to see.  I'll give him and the team the benefit of the doubt for a game. 

Third - The Nats tried to "Was there a problem?" the whole thing away with an attitude that reminds me of those missed playoffs years. The biggest issue to Davey Martinez seemed not to be that Stras was working a muscle (and the Nats didn't know about it? What kind of damn training staff is this? What the hell is going on with inter team communication?) but that WE KNOW he was working a muscle.  Same with Stras - he seemed more bothered by being filmed in the tunnel than throwing meatballs. 

I get the privacy thing but come on. He essentially closed the door to his house to hide, then walked in front of the bay window.  You DO have privacy just walk another 10 damn feet.  

Luis Avilan also looked particularly bad - not that important as one of the last arms in the pen. While Hernan Perez - with his EIGHTH outing ever - did the job. Unless someone else pitched last night that makes Perez the leader in the clubhouse for position player pitching. 

Let's get out on the field quick and get this game over with and get out the door. The further away from this the better for the Nats


*I maintain that Stras' 2019 workload - 245 IP 20-25% more than he ever did in a year - could easily have hurt his arm.  I'm hoping the lack of any work last year gave his arm (and Max and Corbin) time to recover. Since he looked great the first time out it's not something definitely bothering him right now

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tuesday Quickie - They're all quickies at this point

The Nats won!  They are still the worst team in baseball by record but last night was the first night they had a full team and they played like we expected them too.  This is a good team. There may be questions if they are good enough, but they are clearly not a bad team. 

Last night they again beat the Cardinals easily in St. Louis. The last two games were NLCS beatings - a 1 hit shutout and a 3 hit one-run affair. Last night they had 6 hits and 2 runs so I guess twe should look out for 8 hits and 3 runs tonight. Fedde looked good which is nice for depth purposes but this is likely his last go for a while (one hopes). Bell, Schwarber, Harrison, and Gomes all looked like major league hitters and made the lineup complete rather than a 1-4 affair. The Nats really only had one struggle point with Rainey in the 7th but he got through it.  I'd say that was the only downside to last night - Rainey again looking slow. The Nats though built a real pen this year and can afford one guy not doing well, if that's in fact what you see here. 

To bring in the COVID guys the Nats DFA'd Lucroy and demoted Yadiel and Garcia. Lucroy should go somewhere I think.  He could have stayed here but the Nats moves yesterday were what they should do - not let a few games influence decisions they made to start the year.  They want Mercer and Hernan Perez, they like Avila more than Lucroy? They may be wrong but you don't change your mind in 15 PA. 

There was the one game the Nats HAD to have. Now split the last two and you come away from the trip as expected from the B-Team situation the Nats started with.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Monday Quickie - To Die and Die in LA

The Nats were swept out of LA and while the games were mostly competitive, there was also a general feeling during them that the Nats were more hanging on then challenging. That's probably because they managed to get shutout twice, making in 3 times in 4 games they failed to score a run. Having trouble scoring isn't surprising given they are missing at least two starting bats - getting shut out three times already though... that's rough no matter what your excuse. For those that missed it :

Game 1 

Joe Ross looked so solid you figured he'd pitch until he got himself into a jam or got up there in pitches. Neither happened as he was pulled to avoid the lineup seeing him a third time. This genius move let the lineup see Luis Avilan once and Turner took him deep for the only run of a game. The Nats did hit Buehler but it was scattered and light. They'd have a real shot in the 7th but Victor Robles tried to steal second on his own and got caught and then Trea struck out, turning 1st and 3rd and nobody out to man on 3rd two out real quick. The Dodgers aren't dummies - they'd walk Soto and get out of it.

Game 2 

Here comes Corbin. And there goes Corbin. Wild and hit around he'd give up 5 in the 2nd and both the 3rd and 5th could have gone worse. The Nats would run Urias in the 6th but it wouldn't be enough as the Dodgers would get a bases loaded clearing double in the 8th to put the game really out of reach. In the 9th the Nats would challenge a call at first, win it, and give Soto a chance to bat and he'd hit his second home run of the game so that was meaningless but kind of fun. 

Game 3 

Kershaw vs Max lived kind of up to the hype.  Max looked real strong. Kershaw wasn't better but he did manage to keep the Nats off the scoreboard, most notably after WPing Turner to 2nd, striking out Soto, then getting the next two guys to keep it 1-0. Max did seem a little shaky in the 6th and given his struggles last game and his general tendency to give up getting tired homers, replacing him was a decent move. It didn't pan out though as the Zach McKinstry would homer and extend the lead. After a early couple singles against old pal Treinen he'd win a battle with Turner and the Nats would go quietly. 

What did we learn? 

Max looked like Max. A second point. This one good.

Corbin with all that time off and thrown into starting was terrible but see what I just wrote. You kind of have to ignore it for now. 

Ross looked good too. He'll do that so we'll have to see next time. 

The bullpen is getting some innings in and looking unimpressive. Though Brad Hand looked good. Hand is good. Hand is great! Good job signing Hand. Let's hope it matters

The batters have gotten their second series in and no regular is doing anything so crazy we need to note it after 15-25 PAs.  Maybe after St. Louis. I will say Lucroy is making a case for being on this team instead of Avila, which honestly they are interchangable back-ups. It'll be interesting to see if they try to DFA him because catching is usually thin enough around the league that someone would grab him up I think. 

Look we have to let these games go. 1-5 is just what happened to start and it's a tiny hole the Nats dug themselves. Assuming everyone is back tonight though - no more excuses. The Nats will probably come out of this 2-7.  If they are a 90 win team and play 90 win ball from here on out they'll have 87 wins. That's the cost of this little COVID thing. Don't let it happen again, because this team probably isn't good enough to make up a 4-14 run.

STL

Fedde vs Gant - Fedde again? Yikes.  Gant is a stretched out reliever filling in so at least the Nats have that going for them. Against them is that he's pretty good. but then again as a stretched out reliever even if he dominates he'll be out after 5. 

Strasburg vs Flaherty - should be good. Strasburg was on top of his game last time. Flaherty was off his. You may have missed it but Flaherty was bad in 2020

Ross vs Wainwright - Hey we just said Ross looked good!  Wainwright did not but unlike Jack he was good in 2020. 

Let's go win one. Literally I'd be happy with one.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Well why not let them just catch the balls?

 If you didn't see yesterday the Mets won a game bc Michael Conforto stuck his elbow out over the plate and let it graze his elbow pad. This isn't hyperbole. He was leaning right at the zone, the pitch came in the zone, so much that it was called a strike, and as it came in he moved his elbow straight out.  He was awarded the base and afterwards the umps said they messed up but by that time the damage was done. 

I've never been a big stickler for the rule as written, in part because neither has baseball. The rule says basically you gotta try to get out of the way of a ball thrown out of the strike zone (and not swing at it). But the way it's mostly worked it that the batter owns the area in the batters box and if the ball goes in there all bets are off.  Don't move or maybe even little lean in? That's fine. Pitcher missed his target so do what you feel like. This is why I was never a Jose Tabata hater. If you hate that HBP that broke up Max's perfect game then you should be yelling every day at a HBP in a game bc that's about how often you'd see something like that. (Should a perfect game have a more stricter interpretation of the rules? Possibly)

But the Conforto thing - that even took away the "has to be out of the strike zone".  If you can get hit by pitches over the plate then the whole thing breaks down. 

I don't know what the punishment here would be, can you suspend Conforto? I guess so but that opens up another can of worms.  Mostly I think you yell at the umps, say never do that again and hope it doesn't end up mattering with like the Mets winning the division by a game. 

Baseball tonight.  This weekend the Nats face defending champion and arguably still best team in baseball Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Joe Ross vs Walker Buehler

? vs Jose Urias

? vs ? 

Don't you love these first few weeks match-ups?  The Nats are waiting to see who is cleared when but also these guys will probably need some warm up time so either their first start would be delayed and/or limited to a couple innings. Max is in line to pitch Sunday but if both Corbin and Lester can go they might try to work them in AND give Max another day off.  

This is part of a six game swing through LA and STL and you have to set the bar low not knowing who can play when.  Assuming everyone isn't a go tonight 2-4 should be the goal. Hang on and move on. 

FWIW travel wise there are no really bad parts of the Nats schedule this year - the worst travel swing might be a MIA, CIN, COL run to end the year. In terms of days off the Nats have a run from June 22nd to Jul 11th now thanks to a makeup Mets game and a run from July 23rd - August 8th. In some sense the end of the season will also be brutal. They'll play 36 games in 37 days (one DH so two off days) from August 24th through September 29th. The dog days are coming to bite the Nats.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

A fizzling candle at both ends

The Nats lost both ends of a double header yesterday.  It's not as rare as you think - basically these things work as expected with splits happening about 50% of the time, the other 50% of the times sweep. But still we feel a split is the normal outcome and thus a sweep against our team feels especially bad. 

Game 1 was a roller coaster early. Max Fried looked bad (which is bad news for the Braves) but Erick Fedde was worse (which is kind of neutral news for the Nats - they don't need Fedde) and after a flurry of runs and a 6-5 start the game became normal. The Braves would tack on one more off an unusually wild Suero in the last inning (7th YUK) which was necessary because Will Smith (which is bad news for the Braves) was bad again but managed to hold the damage to one run. So somehow while the Braves got the win I'd feel worse about this game than I were if I was a Nats fan. Your expected #1 starter and closer both stunk again. That's more important than a depth starter and the 4th man out of the pen. 

Game 2 was a bit of good news / bad news. The good news, honestly really good news, is that Strasburg looked like Strasburg. With Max scuffling, the other guys out, and his own injury concerns Strasburg throwing an ace outing was exactly what the Nats needed.  Unfortunately it ended up wasted when Rainey blew it in the 9th with a homer by Pablo Sandoval which somehow makes it hurt less because we all love overweight players for some reason. But it's true! The bad news is the line-up couldn't manage more than a couple hits (no, I'm not counting Strasburg's in here) off an emergency starter. The bottom of the line-up didn't hit, and really hasn't hit overall - it's just been timely here and there. That's ok though because none of Stevenson, Perez, Barrera, or Garcia need to. They are merely space fillers. 

So what do we take away from the first series? It's hard to say. On Twitter I boiled it down to "Don't get COVID dummies" This isn't the full team and thus it isn't representative of what we'll see all year. Starter wise we take a closer look at Max's next start, a softer look at Strasburg's. The bullpen overall wasn't super but again - no Hand or Harris so even if this pen is a bit of an issue it still doesn't mean the back end in crucial times will be. The usual starters - Robles, Soto, Turner, Castro, Zimm - all seemed fine, but three games. Anyone can look like anything in three games so we'll see the next three and then see what to look for going forward.

On to LA and watching a team put up a banner in a more usual fashion.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

A win, a worry, and a wonder

The Nats managed to win yesterday.  In part it's because they matched up their number 1 against the Braves number 4. Drew Smyly pitched like Drew Smyly - a serviceable 4/5 plan while you wait for some young guy to force the issue. Unfortunately Scherzer pitched like Drew Smyly too. Not literally of course, Max missed more bats than Smyly ever could, but in terms of results Max gave up 4 homers, pitched only 6 innings (yeah he probably could have gone another) and those are more 4/5 results.  This is a concern. 

Max has at times had a bugaboo about giving up homers.  Part of his "not ace" performance last year was due to the fact he gave up homers at the worst rate of his career. With everything else, walks, Ks, general hittability, still going well it doesn't make him bad but it can make him not good if it gets out of hand. Still it's one start in April. It's a data point, not a trend. We note, we think, we move on until the next one. 

Juan Soto had the game winning hit and it never should have come to that. 0-4 going into that you still don't dismiss Soto as just another bat. When you get to 3-0 against him, with two men on, a speedy guy at 2B, and a questionable hitter up next, the choice is clear - you give him that walk. But the Braves chose to pitch to him. I'm not sure why.  If you are pitching around Soto at this point - as you should - you have to think his great eye will get him that walk. Also given how Smith had pitched so far you can't expect he'd be nailing the corners. If you aren't pitching around him, well that's just dumb, and see "how Smith had pitched so far" to understand what could, and did, happen.  One of Soto's greatest strengths is not missing a mistake and he didn't miss this mistake pitch caused by a mistake in thinking. Snitker is asleep at the wheel right now, or at least Braves fans online seem to think so. 

Any other thing to note last night is way too early to talk about (give it a couple series - that's the equivalent of one start) but there was good and bad all around. The Phillies finally lost (hey remember when I said the back of the rotation wasn't any good - looks like the back of the rotation isn't any good) but it's a Met win so it's a toss-up. 

Double header today as the Nats try to get through the quarantine as they would any other time. Fedde start? Hey, sometimes things work out anyway.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Opening Day!*

 It’s Opening Day!  And it’s so special it’s just for the Nats!

The Not Vaccinated Nine are : Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber, Patrick Corbin, Brad Hand, Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison, Jon Lester, Alex Avila, Jordy Mercer. There’s no telling when they’ll be back exactly so enjoy a lineup with Hernan Perez, Jon Lucroy, and your hero Andrew Stevenson! 

Max is on the mound and Soto will get at least 3 AB so maybe it won’t matter

Let’s do this! 

Monday, April 05, 2021

Monday Quickie - The World keeps spinning

 As it was when we last left the team the Nats aren't playing. They got enough clean tests to let them start up again - possibly today - but Rizzo really wanted them to get a full practice day in before starting. This is in part, in my estimation, because John Lucroy will be starting behind the plate. Signed in a rush a couple days ago the last good years ago (2016! That's a whole president ago) Lucroy will presumably sit behind the plate while Avila and Gomes sit out.  No, we haven't heard Gomes name as someone who might be out - but why not just call up any warm body if it's just one catcher? 

Avila is a name we've heard along with Schwarber, Harrison, and Lester. My guess is we find out for sure only when we need to - that way the Nats don't have to say anything about anyone. 

The silver lining? I guess Soto will be healthy and starting by now, right?

Right? 


The big news among the parts of the division actually playing is that the Phillies swept the Braves. It wasn't a blow-out series, the Phillies won two one-run games. But it was a series where the Phillies shut down the Braves bats.  Is it the Phillies arms? The Braves bats? Is it too early?  YES! THAT'S IT! But as always we talk about what we can talk about and right now it's whatever we have on hand. One thing is that Wheeler looked good in 2020 and looked good in his first start. I really doubted him becoming a real 1-2 but it looks like that might be what he is.  It doesn't really change the rotation "analysis" I did earlier - the Phillies problems are still in the 4-5 and I already said their 1-2-3 was very good. Still, if you were hoping for an easy fall apart point for the Phillies that might have been it.  

More today if we get more official news

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Media Round-Up 2021 and Prediction

MEDIA ROUND UP!  Probably the worst set of predictions for the Nats since 2012.

ESPN

NL East Champ : 3 of 37 (+3 WC)
NLDS winner : n/a
NLCS winner :  0
WS Champ : 0 

YAHOO

NL East Champ : 0 of 5 (+0 WC)
NLDS winner : 0
NLCS winner :  0
WS Champ : 0 

CBS SPORTS

NL East Champ : 0 of 5 (+0 WC)
NLDS winner : 0
NLCS winner :  0
WS Champ : 0 

USA TODAY

NL East Champ : 0 of 7 (+0 WC)
NLDS winner : 0
NLCS winner :  0
WS Champ : 0

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

NL East Champ : 0 (staff pick)
NLDS winner : 0
NLCS winner :  0
WS Champ : 0 

 You know this NLCS and WS is really looking pointless here

NY POST : 0 of 5 titles, 0 series

538 : 37% playoffs, 20% division, 3% Champs

Ringer : 0 of 4 titles, 0 of 4 playoffs

There's a couple more no more playoffs guys on MLB.com so the totals would be something like 

3 out of 65 titles, 3 out of 65 wild cards, 0 series appearances

The consensus is mostly that the Nats are good but not good enough to beat out the Mets and the Braves. A handful like the Phillies better though I'm not sure any pick them for the title or the WC either. I don't think anyone would be surprised here if the Nats snuck into a WC spot.  

Also Juan Soto gets a fair amount of MVP predictions

Me? 

The pitching looks more solid than I would have hoped at the beginning of Spring so I'm going to go high end for my feelings about the Nats. Until the Big 4 get hurt they are going to be in a lot of games and their offense is good. It's not great unless they hit on these FA long shots, but it's good.  Good offense, good to great starting pitching, and... ok look the bullpen should be better but with Harris out and everyone looking bad... I think we'll have another failure despite setting it up for success. Hand will be great but no one else can be depended on to meet their goals except for the underrated Suero who's a good arm to have around so far. 

The Nats had their season with everything going wrong. That was last year. You didn't notice because it was a garbage season. Corbin had a very off year, Strasburg didn't pitch, Sanchez was terrible, Hudson was terrible, Thames was a bust, Garcia and Kieboom did not hit, Eaton was bad, Robles was BAD, Kendrick didn't hit, no bench guys surprised with good years (got a couple average ones). Outside of Turner and a couple pen arms - there wasn't much surprisingly good. These seasons happen once in a while. Let's assume 2020 was the once.

Anyway good offense, good to great starting pitching, acceptable but infuriating bullpen, no bad luck season, inferior manager (look it'll be three seasons which will be 1 championship and three missed playoffs) that's a combination for being good but missing the playoffs like everyone thinks. I can't see the Phillies passing the Nats, and I also think the Nats will hang around in the area where they COULD make it if things break exactly right, but they never quite do.  

88 wins sounds about right to me. Is that good enough for the playoffs?  Depends on the Braves and the Mets. If they are as expected - no it won't be. If one collapses? Maybe we'll see another WC.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Late Tuesday Quickie -

I'm on vacation. Let's update! 

Carter Kieboom did not make the team, nor should he have by play honestly. Now the point in sending him down to have him tool around AAA to have another try in the majors? I'm not sure what it is. I guess they feel he can still be good if he resets himself but needs to go back down to do it. In the meantime expect Harrison at second and Castro at third.  This isn't the worst thing. 

Castro might be hurt - his hammy is acting up. If he misses time Jordy Mercer or Hernan Perez will play.  This isn't the worst thing, either but in a sense there are things that are worse, not that this isn't bad. It's bad

What's worse? Soto is hurt! The "don't worry about the calf tweak, we're just being careful" has turned into a full Rendon "day by day by day situation with Rendon not quite ready to play" It won't fully get there until he sits out an actual game (Sit out all spring - what do I care? Just play when you are needed).  If he does not play - this is the worst thing.

Will Harris will start on the IL - no surprise. That means the pen shakes out with the four key guys other than Harris (Hand, Rainey, Suero, Hudson), the expected other (Finnegan), the guys with no options (Fedde, Voth) and Luis Avilan.  When Harris comes back expect the worst of the last three to go bye

OK some good news - Strasburg and Max both seem fine! Expect Max to give you 90-95% of what he normally does on Opening Day (he's still working up to his full self but he's only a couple starts away).  Strasburg should be fully ok after that. There's been no sign of Lester having any issues so the Big 4 are a go right now. Other than Soto this is the most important thing and it's come through! 

Baseball in a couple days!

Friday, March 26, 2021

Happy Trails to you, until we meet... for the first time I guess

 Gio Gonzalez retired from baseball yesterday

The South Florida native was a mainstay of the Nats organization window of success, pitching for the team from 2012 until traded away in 2018.  Before coming to the Nats he was a first round White Sox draft pick who was traded to the Phillies (in a deal that involved Aaron Rowand and Jim Thome), back to the White Sox (Gavin Floyd) then over to the A's (Nick Swisher).  He'd debut for the A's before finally coming over to the Nationals. 

I liked the deal when it happened. Though the Nats did give up a lot - everyone traded away is still bopping around in the majors except Norris and that's because he hits women - they got something back that would clearly help them in the next few years and was likely better than anything given up. Not assuredly better, but likely. There was a little worry that Gio would suddenly give up a lot of bombs, moving from the huge Oakland park to DC and having some history of doing so but that never materialized. Instead Gio had the best year of his career, giving the Nats a little hope of stealing an ace, before settling into being something slightly less than he was in Oakland. An inning eatings number 3. 

Gio was characterized by (1) being healthy - having the 5th most starts from 2010-2018 (2) Striking out guys with his big curve - 10th most Ks (3) walking a ton of guys - 1st! and because of the last 2 throwing a TON of pitches - 5th, behind K guys with like 100+ more innings pitched. That made Gio's starts normally an experience to survive rather than enjoy. The type of game you'd watch him give up 2 runs in 5+ innings, but watch him take 110 pitches to do it. 

His postseasons were the Nats postseasons before 2019. Some passable work, maybe even the rare good moment, but mostly disappointment. He never had a signature game like ZNN or Stras would*, never pitching past the 5th. He did have one game that might have qualified - shutting down the Giants for 4 innings (and only 55 pitches!) but with the bats struggling Matt Williams pulled him early in a run-scoring opportunity (didn't work). No, the games you remember from Gio are G5 of the 2012 NLDS and G5 of the 2017 NLDS.  In 2012 the Nats staked Gio to a seemingly insurmountable 6-0 lead by the end of the third and Gio had it at 6-1 going into the 5th.  Holding them there for another inning, maybe 2, would probably do it. But in the 5th Gio would implode, walking three (including a bases loaded one) and uncorking a wild pitch. He luckily escaped giving up only 2 but made it necessary for the Nats to work deep into their pen.  In 2017 it was arguably even worse. A team desperate for post-season success had just seen post-season hero Michael A Taylor hit a homer to give the Nats a 4-1 lead after 2.  They wouldn't expect much of Gio, who's first inning was a similar walk/wild pitch filled mess but had settled down in the second. Get through 5, hell through 4 and we'll figure it out from there. But Gio could barely make it through 3, immediately giving back two runs with his 3rd and 4th walks of the game and second wild pitch in three innings. Even setting a low bar Gio didn't come through. 

But still despite all of the above Gio was a guy people liked having on the team, if not in the game they were currently watching. He'd go out every 5th day, do a decent job, and on a team with fragile Strasburg and questions at 5 (like every team), he kept the rotation steady. The team seemed to like him too, consistently upbeat and likeable from everything I hear.

Eventually Gio outlived his usefulness. The Nats extended him as they could, he was still a good deal, but with his skill fading a bit the Nats didn't have much interest re-signing a 4/5 who couldn't go deep into games occasionally. They'd trade him to Milwaukee during that first lost Martinez season for a couple of nothings and unceremoniously move on. Gio would do well for the Brewers in the regular season that year, flop in an opener role in the playoffs, but get another shot at starting and do ok in 2019. In 2020 he caught on with the White Sox as insurance and didn't perform and this Spring had the same experience in Marlins camp. Rather than try to rework himself as a reliever or go off to AAA Gio hung up his cleats.

Gio was a good and remarkably durable pitcher for nearly a decade. He made two All-Star games, got a couple Cy Young votes and even an MVP one. That's a great career. Here's to an enjoyable retirement spending all that money.

*Honestly I'm not sure Max has either - though not through much fault of his own. His G5 against the Dodgers in 2016 and g3 versus the Cubs in 2017 both could have been that but the Nats didn't support him with any runs. G2 against the Cardinals in 2019 was a masterpiece but also part of a sweep where the Cards bats were completely silent. His WS performances were first fine, then OMG thank god we survived. Does G4 of the NLDS vs the Dodgers count? It's kind of a nebulous post-season career where there's no laudatory moments but not much blame either, the stench of "give me the ball" in G5 Chicago bad decisions and play all-around washed away by the WS and ALL the regular season success.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Kieboom Conundrum

The Nats had a plan. 

The amazing development of a bevy of young talent around 2012, by a mixture of luck and design, allowed the Nats to plan for the next window, which would arrive after 2015/6.  They could let the minor leagues develop mostly undisturbed then based on development choose which prospects to trade, which to keep, and who to target in free agency. Given the slightly younger major league hitting talent under control and the slightly underwhelming development of the top pitching prospects, it made sense to sign free agent pitching and trade young pitching and extend that window through 2018/2019. But this time the shorter time frame and starting with a hollowed out minors meant the Nats couldn't repeat their last plan unless everything went right. It did not. The hitting talent continued to develop - Trea Turner was good, Juan Soto great, and Victor Robles playable, but the pitching Erick Fedde, Austin Voth, AJ Cole, and later Seth Romero, Wil Crowe, did not. That left the Nats with choice and signing pitchers with hopes the more promising hitters Kieboom and Garcia (and maybe Yasel Antuna and Raudy Read) would come through made more sense. 

Now is the time when these players need to come through and they have not. The most troublesome is Carter Kieboom because as the top prospect he was the one the Nats were most reliant on. They let Rendon walk in part because Kieboom could fill that spot. They tightly held on to him in the face of some trade offers. Hell, they might have even drafted his brother to get Kieboom*. Kieboom is fairly young (24 in September) and has pretty limited major league experience - 165 PAs so nothing is written in stone but it's not just that he hasn't been up to snuff. He's been terrible. A .181 BA only 3 XBH and spotty defense as he's forced to move to a new position. This Spring has been nothing different and the Nats are starting to feel out other plans. Castro at third maybe (until he got hurt).  

You could do that. This team is ready to compete - a WC level team if they are all healthy and the FA gambles don't go bust. But for what? For what looks like not a shot at the Wild Card? It feels more like you need to see what you have here because the decisions on what the next window looks like start this year.

Max's contract is done this year. Turner next. Corbin and Soto a couple years after that. They aren't going to keep/replace them all and yet they probably need people of that level of talent. Honestly they could use one more bat. If Kieboom doesn't hit it forces the Nats into a bad position because they thought he would fill one of these spots with cheap talent for the next few seasons. If he doesn't (and no one else steps up) well then do you keep trying? Do you sign an aging Max for 2-3 more years? Do you trade Turner in hopes of building a future team that would entice Soto to stay? It's tough. 

How is everyone else doing? 

Garcia is super young (21 in a couple weeks) so there's a lot of time left. However, he also hasn't hit yet and there isn't much that makes you think he's going to develop much power or patience. The goal here is more for a slick-fielding fast running .300 slap hitter. Based on his major league stint that seems reasonable but we'll see what he does this year. Ideally I'd like to see him in AAA but he'll probably back up Castro. 

Yasel Antuna isn't quite as young (22 in October) and hadn't shown much in A ball before injuries derailed his 2018 and 2019. Consider this a restart year.

Raudy Read is definitely NOT young (28 in October) and has kind of just hung on as he's moved up the chain.  There doesn't seem to be anything here except maybe a future back-up catcher. 

Drew Mendoza is a more recent draft pick who had about 50 meh games back in 2019 in his first major league stint. Not exactly a restart like Antuna but this will be the year we get an idea of what the Nats actually have here other than a great eye.

*I wouldn't say it was a wasted pick - even in the 5th round that's a long odds to get a starter and this draft doesn't look particularly deep in retrospect.  And Spencer did get some hacks in the majors, even if they might have been a little forced.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Monday Quickie - Not a clot going on

Will Harris has a blood clot in his arm. The short of it is - that's not good and will likely to cause him to miss time. It sets the dominoes in motion and takes a bullpen you could see being pretty good and makes it more of a question.  Along with that Tanner Rainey didn't look good in his outing. It might be (probably is) just early Spring work in late Spring because the guy hasn't pitched and again - Spring is Spring. However, it is possible that he won't be ready for Opening Day either. In that case... the bullpen is exceedingly thin. 

On the good news side, Max seems healthy enough for Davey to name him the Opening Day starter. That's no surprise, it was just a matter of how healthy he was. Strasburg's calf seems to be the minor issue they thought it was and Lester looks on target to be ready when needed. So the 1-4 rotation holds for now.

Zimm is hot along with Bell, Harrison, Yadiel Hernandez, Robles and Castro so expect "we don't want to say this is meaningful but..." stories about these guys. Garcia, Kieboom, Avila, Soto, Turner, and Schwarber (.182) are having problems so expect toss away "struggling but it's Spring" lines about these guys - except Kieboom because his performance is what we are all looking at.  He gets artcles.

What about the 5th starter battle? The one I said it's fine to judge by Spring because there are good and bad reasons to start everyone?  Ross is winning. That's good because everyone understands they want Ross to win. Easy decisions when things line up like this. Ross has pitched in two games and has been a little wild (2 HB in 5IP) but otherwise ok.  Neither Fedde or Voth has pitched poorly in a vacuum (let's not worry about ERAs here) but both have given up more hits than they would have liked. 

 Onward we go!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Carrasco down - the importance of depth

Carlos Carrasco, the Mets presumed #2, tore his hammy and is probably out - let's say the first two months*. The Mets depth chart shifts and becomes

deGrom - Stroman - Walker - Lucchesi/Peterson/Yamamato

If Walker is healthy - and that's a big if - that 1-2-3 are fine but usually pitching injuries matter because of what you are forcing in at the end of the rotation, not how the top shifts. 

What should the Mets expect from the likes of that 4/5 bunch? (since these are projections ERA is fine) 

Lucchesi - 4.10-4.30

Peterson - 4.10-4.50

Yamamato - 5.00-5.40

Well there are two guys who would be perfectly ok at the back of the rotation and a third who isn't great but if you need them to throw 5 starts... you'll survive. The Mets acutally have Syndergaard coming back as well but not until later in the year. They had a starting depth of 1 and they have used that up. However even a starting depth of 1 is a lot for major league rotations.  Most teams don't go 6 deep, or even 5.  Case in point, YOUR Washington Nationals.

What do the Nats have?

Ross - 4.90-5.10

Fedde - 4.50-5.10

Voth - 4.90-5.00

Of course these are just projections but the Nats in a sense have 3 guys who fit inbetween "perfectly ok" and "we'll survive" The good news is that it's three guys for one spot. The bad news is I'd consider them having a starting depth of 0. It's fair to set these three out for one spot and hope you'll find something in the 4.50 or below range. But any injury and you'll either have two of these guys in the rotation or need one of two to hit. The latter would be a tough but possible ask, the former would be very unlikely. 

This wouldn't be too bad but Max is working back from injury AND Stras is working back from injury and is a little hurt now AND Lester had a surgery and has just started to throw AND two of these guys are well over 30. The set-up demands the Nats draw that inside straight so to speak.

Depth matters and the Mets situation shows that. The Nats don't have a likely decent fill-in for that last spot.  What do I think of the other NL East teams? I'd probably put the Braves depth at a shaky 1 - lots of options means there's almost certain a couple guys that could fill in but finding them might be hard. The Phillies I'd put at a -1, at least until Septemeber call-ups.  They have a handful of bad options and long risks for 4/5.  We'll probably know soon though what Moore really is so maybe they are a 0, but I doubt it. 

The Mets could handle a big injury best. They just had it. Now they have to hold on 2 months. Hell - if they hold on 4 months they might be a depth 2!  The Braves might be able to handle it. The Phillies would likely see their season screwed. The Nats can't handle it either but not to those levels. 

Stay Healthy!

*general timelines would put him back early-Mid May, but let's be cautious.