Nationals Baseball: August 2023

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Retrospective pause

Works been busy. That explains the gap. The Nats have been playing well... well up until the last series but here are two important numbers for you. 



The first is the number of runs they've scored in the past 12 games. The latter is the number of runs they have given up. This would indicate a team in the midst of a pretty substantial bad run. 4-8 or so. What is the Nats record? 7-5. They've done it by winning 6 one-run games to losing only one. That can't continue. Even the best teams can't justify that sort of record. 

Now, as I've said before, they don't have to give them back. There is no need for them to go 1-6 in their next set to make things "right".  If they are a bad team then they'll go slightly below .500 in 1-run games here on out as they should and they will have "banked" these wins. So a W-L record above expectations is likely to be hit. 

But it's going to be mostly luck. And if you think it's some sort of magical scrappiness, why now? Why not any other time this year? Why not any time in 2022... or 2021... or 2020? And likely we'll ask, why not in September. 

Teams have ups, teams have downs. The Nats are overall better so their ups are pretty good and the bads aren't as terrible and long. But don't read into this or listen to any of the talk about this team having something special. It's just the long season playing out. Enjoy the wins, but don't expect many more.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Four Seasons of Strasburg - The wilting Summer

The end of 2012 changed what Strasburg meant for the Nationals fan. He came in as a gift, something for a weary fanbase to get excited about when little else qualified as that. But the end of 2012 brought Bryce Harper and the expectations of playoffs. Strasburg's mere existence was no longer was enough to get fans in the seats. To continue to be loved as he had been, Strasburg would have to produce. This fact was made even starker when he was shutdown to end 2012. 2013 would open with a singular question "Was it worth it?"*

Strasburg began 2013 with a shutout but the Nats would proceed to lose his next 5 starts. He didn't pitch poorly. In fact he pitched well. But Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez pitched better and more importantly the "World Series or Bust" team floundered, getting off to a 13-14 start. Strasburg and his 1-4 record became emblematic of this disappointing team. He would pitch better as the season progressed, despite missing a few weeks to a lat strain, but the team wouldn't turn the corner and they'd miss the playoffs. He would finish with an 8-9 record in comparison to ZNN's 19-9. It didn't matter that Strasburg's stats were better than ZNN's. In fact that might have hurt him. A certain strain of fan emerged that saw Strasburg as soft, a pitcher with all the stuff but who was unable to compete and win games. He didn't help himself by visually getting annoyed when the defense muffed plays and candidly explaining to reporters things that bothered him like sweating in the heat. Other pitchers feel the same way but by speaking up about it when others didn't, some fans read it as him making excuses. He seemed to wilt when the heat was on. No playoffs, no ace; the immediate answer to "Was it worth it?" appeared to be "No".

It continued this way in 2014. Strasburg started slow, mixing in a couple stinkers early to sit with a 6.00 ERA after 4 games. The other starters weren't much better but Strasburg's start allowed the narrative to set in that Strasburg wasn't a guy you trade a playoff series for. He was somehow both a Top 20 pitcher in the league and a disappointment. In 2014, he'd have a rare fully healthy year and outside a small early summer stretch he'd be great but ZNN matched him this year. Even as Strasburg was finishing the season with 20 scoreless innings, ZNN finished it with a no-hitter. Then came the playoffs. If you were talking about saving Strasburg for something it was this moment. Strasburg pitched Game 1 and allowed only 2 runs (1 earned) but it was a battle giving up 8 hits and only going 5. On the other side Jake Peavy, starting for the Giants, shut down the Nats completely into the 6th. Without the hindsight of knowing the Nats offense would completely die, it seemed simple, Strasburg got outdueled. ZNN again would outdo Strasburg going 8 2/3rds of shut out ball in Game 2 before Matt Williams took the ball from him.Strasburg, despite the good performance, would end up giving up more runs than any Nats starter. If you wanted to believe ZNN was the Nats true #1 this year backed you up. If you wanted to lay blame on Strasburg for the team's failures, and people did, the opportunity was there. 

In 2015 the Nats brought in Max but instead of finding Bryce's lost ring the Nats had a repeat of 2013 in that they failed to make the playoffs. There was a repeat from Strasburg as well. Another slow start with a bad first two games and a real stinker in G7.  Meanwhile Max pitched amazingly. His ERA sat at 1.26 at the end of April, 1.51 at the end of May. Stras would also be injured, this time more seriously as a litany of ailments limited him to 23 starts. Again he fought through it to have a decent year but the fans were no longer excited about Strasburg. They were weary of him. It didn't help his erstwhile rival Matt Harvey came back from Tommy John and pitched the Mets into the World Series. Never did it seem more obvious to some that the shutdown was wrong. Heading into his final year of his rookie deal, it wasn't exactly clear if Strasburg would be back and it wasn't exactly clear if a large segment of the fanbase would miss him if he wasn't.

But in 2016 Strasburg finally got off to a good start and Max did not. A failure to sign ZNN long term at the end of 2015 and Strasburg's willingness to stick around found him signing an extension with the Nats in May. This combination of looking like an ace yet deciding to say with the Nationals led to a kind of a thawing of feeling. The pro-shutdown people had their thing to hang their hats on. The Nats saved his arm for the Nats, not another team. The anti-shutdown people weren't entirely satisfied but Strasburg was now the guy that wanted to be here, instead of the guy looking to return to the West Coast, which had been something people thought even if he never said anything about it. There was a more honest evaluation by fans of Strasburg's pitching (it had been very good!) and maybe even a sugar coating of his injury history (it wasn't good!) to play the deal as a big discount rather than what it was, a low market value gamble on a arm that may not make it to the end of the deal. Of course soon after Strasburg would get injured. He'd come back and be 12-0 and 15-1 at points in the year but would go off the rails late with a more serious injury in his elbow. Signs were inconclusive and a second TJ was worried about. Luckily it didn't come to that but he would miss the playoffs. 

Even with the missed playoff things had settled down for the most part by now. Max, who'd rebounded with a great middle of the season run in 2016 and won the Cy Young, was the guy. Stras was the other guy. Max was appointment watching. Stras was the steady followup. Strasburg would have a great year in 2017. Max would run away with his second Cy Young. Fans stopped worrying about Strasburg being the greatest and just let him be great, only worrying instead about injuries (which yes he'd again miss a few weeks) but before we could declare a new season for Strasburg fate would come up with one more moment that would make or break Strasburg's reputation in DC.  

The Nats won the division and faced the Cubs in the NLDS.  Strasburg, in his first chance at playoff pitching since the Peavy game was dominant, holding the Cubs hitless for 5 before a couple of errors and singles let the Cubs score twice. There were some minor anti-Strasburg rumblings, but the majority seemed able to focus on the Nats lack of offense. The Nats and Cubs would split the next two leading to a decisive G4 and the question of whether Stras would start on short rest. But then that question seemed to be answered by the weather gods as a rain out put Strasburg back on schedule... until it didn't.

Look at this point my thoughts diverge from the official narrative. I've explained several times that it doesn't make sense. You can read my take at the time here. Regardless of where you lie this was an inflection point. If Strasburg doesn't go in G4 and the Nats lose I'm not sure he stays in good graces with the fanbase. Guys that were all for Strasburg for years were turning on him. It could have been bad. Real bad. But Strasburg did go in G4 and he was once again fantastic. He won the game, saved the series** and saved his career as a National. I honestly believe this. 

After this game Strasburg the playoff bulldog was born and added to his new role as the 1b to Max's 1a. You'd see a new Strasburg narrative emerge, one of a solid loyal pitcher trying to win in DC who would battle to make it happen.  Two years later this narrative would find both it's peak and it's surprising ending in the Fall Classic.

*Look, it's a question that can't be answered because we simply can't know what happens if he isn't shut down. You can have your opinions but there are no facts here.  

**for one of the more bonkers G5s I've ever seen as both teams made inexplicable decisions on the field and in the dugout.

Friday, August 25, 2023

The Four Seasons of Strasburg - The promising Spring

Strasburg's career has four distinct periods. A early spring full of promise where a kid who possibly could be the greatest pitcher ever broke into the light and blossomed in front of the baseball world. A harsh summer where despite decent performance, a harsh spotlight shone down on him and the dark shadows of a shutdown, bad starts, and better arms kept him in the dark. A classic fall where at the last possible moment Strasburg gave one of his best performances saving a playoff series and his reputation and setting up the big time playoff pitcher that he'd be leading the Nats to a title in 2019.  A grey winter where injuries would immediately beset him and deny him all but the briefest enjoyment of reaching the pinnacle of his career.  

Today we'll talk about the first part.

The Promising Spring of Strasburg 

It hard to forget the excitement that surrounded the first game of Strasburg's career, but it's easy to forget that this excitement wasn't just contained to Nationals fans. Stephen Strasburg was possibly the greatest pitching prospect EVER. He had come from nowhere. He didn't pitch well in high school but was able to get a chance with nearby San Diego State because he was big and could throw hard. Something clicked early in college and by his junior year he had four elite pitches and could control each one. He had the size and touched 100 MPH at a time when not everyone was, especially starters. He started his last college year as the expected #1 pick and ended it the same completely dominating along the way. He had a 13-1 record, a 1.32 ERA, and 195 Ks to only 19 walks in 109 IP. That's a 16.1 K/9 and a 10.26 K/BB*. You don't see kids do this. His name is brought up even today 15 years later to compare top draft picks (search Skenes & Strasburg if you don't believe me) and they continue to find every other potential #1 pick lacking in that comparison.

Strasburg's drafting was followed by a fast blossoming in the minors. He shutdown hitters in AA (.165 / .233 / .190 with 27Ks in 22 IP) and AAA (.154 / .202 /.205, 38Ks 33.1 IP). He was living up to the hype, building on it, and on June 8th 2010 we have arguably the biggest moment in Nats history as Strasburg debuted. The entire baseball world watched as he easily handled the Pirates at home. Strasburg struck out 14 in 7 and looked every bit as dominant as a first time starter could look. He had arrived.

Four games into his career he had an ERA of 1.78 and 41 Ks. Eight games in 2.03 and 68 with a 4-2 record for a team that would win 69 games that year.* It was the start everyone wanted only dampened by the fact the Nats team itself, after a short three game winning streak, went 12-26 after his debut. But then before a start late in July against Atlanta, Strasburg couldn't get warm in the pen.** He was shutdown for a couple weeks before he'd pitch again. The Nats fanbase, baseball fans everywhere honestly, held their breath. In his first game back he didn't look like himself at all, but with no issues to note it was hoped it was rust. A solid game versus Arizona followed after that and fans let out a sigh of relief.  A lot of people were living and dying with this kid already. But the relief would only last a game. In the 5th inning of his next game against the Phillies showing no prior issues he grabbed his arm and exited the game. This time there would be no rest and return. It would be the dreaded ligament tear. Tommy John. 

This was bad news but somehow it didn't feel terrible. It was almost as if TJ was expected and it was better to get it out of the way now, while the Nats were still coming into form, than a couple years down the road in the middle of a playoff push. Fans seems disappointed and concerned but not defeated. "He'll be back. Let's see what happens", was the vibe. The new hope that he, and the drafting of Bryce, brought to the team couldn't be easily extinguished

And what happened, in a ever improving world for TJ surgeries, was a quick recovery that put him back on the mound in a mere 12 months.  He started basically a game at each level in the minors moving around as his schedule matched up with the teams at home with only one minor hiccup. He re-debuted in September and while not dominating, he held the Dodgers down for five. He'd pitch some more on a tight pitch count and on his last start he seemed to re-emerge. A 10K, 6 inning 1 hit masterpiece that said "look out for next year"

Next year, 2012, started as you wanted but as it went on it was clear things were different. Yes, he remained on strict control with low pitch counts and extra rest worked in but it was more than that. He wasn't as electric and it wasn't clear if the issue was the return to form from injury or a plan the Nats had about trying to keep Strasburg from going for strikeouts to save him pitches. Also Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez were putting up ERA and K numbers right in line with Strasburg. He seemed less special. He lost a couple big games against Atlanta mid season. Some of the buzz was missing.

He was still the future ace, though, with the expectations that came with that. The Nats were planning to lean on him heavily in the future so in this year the plan was for a shutdown at some point around Labor Day. The Nats were viewing this season as a long season of recovery for Strasburg as they put their ducks in a row for 2013. But a funny thing happened. The Nats got good, very good. By the time September came around they were clearly going to make the playoffs.  DC baseball! In the playoffs! There had been that insane 2005 flirtation with it but since then they had been mostly awful and only in 2011 did the idea that they could really build to it start to take shape. That they had arrived already? It was exciting.

Except not everyone was going to be along for the full ride. Strasburg was going to be shutdown and nothing was going to stop the Nats from doing it. They'd have plenty of chances in the future they believed, so why risk it all now. It was something that made sense from one viewpoint and completely didn't from another.  Regardless of which side you were on, it did feel wrong to enter that first playoff series without the guy that was supposed to carry you all the way. The Nats would eventually lose that series in heartbreaking fashion and while Strasburg's replacement did fine, the questions would start. What kind of pitcher wouldn't go when his team needed him the most? Certainly he could have fought to be included in some way. He lost those important games, was Strasburg someone the type that could carry a team or was he someone that wilted under the pressure?

Strasburg had come into his own under a bright spotlight and did fine. But now came the the heat. 

*Fun fact - despite debuting in June, Strasburg led the Nats in Ks before the ASB

**this led to Batista starting in his place and the infamous "Miss Iowa" slight. 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Strasburg retires

I'll have a longer post tomorrow but this was coming for a long time. Strasburg literally only had 2 full seasons across 13 major league seasons. His injuries ranged from an annoying miss of a few weeks here to complete lost seasons there, most settling on a series of injuries that cost him a couple months. In 2019, his 2nd of the two, he taxed himself to the limit to help bring a title to DC. It was the final straw. 

Strasburg is not a Hall of Famer if anyone is even thinking that. Far too few innings, far too few wins, nearly no special seasons.  He wasn't the best for a short period of time, and he wasn't around for a long one. Even for the Nats 

Strasburg isn't the Nats best pitcher of all-time. That's Max. 

Strasburg isn't the face of the franchise. That's Zimm. 

Strasburg didn't have the highest high. That was Bryce or Soto.

What Strasburg was though, was the guy that made the Nationals feel like a real team with a real future. It didn't matter if that future was making the playoffs or simply watching Strasburg every 5 days. The Nats had something to look forward to.  He signaled a change and then was the change. It's not a coincidence that when he was on the mound for the Nats, even for 2/3rd of a season the Nats were a threat to make the playoffs. Before and after they haven't been.

It has been real bad for him since 2020, the arm is not much better at all and that's for everyday use forget about trying to throw a ball 95 MPH past a guy with a bat. I hope he gets better and I hope at one point, denied that final start, that down the road he can throw a pitch at an Opening Day. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Wood is Good... probably

I just want to say I'm not down on Wood. By "scuffling with pop" as noted in the comments I mean "Geez, he's striking out a lot and that's not getting better over the year in fact it's getting worse and while he can hit homers and walk some, I don't think anyone is hoping he becomes a better fielding modern Dave Kingman. Especially because in this day and age when every pitcher in the majors strikes out a ton of batters you probably aren't even getting a Kingman, instead you are looking at a 40%+ K rate and like an average below .200 and that's not going to work. But really this is just what he would do if you for some reason stuck him in the majors today and why would you do that?" 

With his profile right now I would not want him in the majors even with proven HR power and a decent eye. This is a mild... disappointment? That seems like a strong word. It's not the ideal situation Nats fans were hoping for when it was clear early in the year that Wood was better than High A. The ideal situation would have been he showed he was too good for AA too. That hasn't happened. A great situation would be that he struggled at first but then started to hit better as the AA season went on. That hasn't exactly happened as he started well enough, then struggled, then got back to good though with more Ks. 

So this is not ideal and it's not great given where Wood was in May BUT outside of that at a macro level the Nats have a 20 year old with major league power and maybe a good eye in AA. That IS great. 

To start 2023 he might be a 21 year old in AA looking to turn the corner from good AA player to star AA player you have to move up. Or he might even start in AAA just to see what happens. All this is positive and good and I'm sorry that after April and May Wood has struck out so much to throw a tiny bit of doubt on how good he could be, to justify ticking down his high ceiling just a bit, to slow down when he might be an impact major league player by a half or full season, but that is what happened. It's ok! You'll still probably have your 22 year old guy bopping homers with some K issues to work out as he did in the minors in the lineup in 2025. Again apologies you don't have a no doubt star being pegged for the lineup in April 2024. Well other than maybe Crews. So apologies you don't have A SECOND no doubt star being pegged for the lineup in April 2024 .

Now if you don't mind I've got a nonsense Boz column to read, walls to punch, and if I don't break my hand a post to write tomorrow.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Monday Quickie - Remember the Kids

The Nats have been on a solid run and continue to show competence against .500 ish teams. That's great. Fans deserve some good play. But remember my words from last week - "Let's keep up with the kids".  Great performances by the likes of Corbin or Williams are only of so much interest to this team being playoff competitive in 2025. 

The Nats began this push with the Giants series that started on July 21st so it's easy enough to check out who is responsible for this run (other than luck*). Being a full month this also helps calm down excitement over hot weeks (remember CJ Adams future SUPERSTAR from 3 weeks ago?) and give us a better overview on what we are seeing. 


There isn't a whole lot to hang your hat on actually. At the most production you have some fluke Downs hits in very limited ABs. Adams crushing lefties, which is fine but also keeps him in that "future back-up C/DH" role, and some late Candelario work. That's nothing the team can hang a hat on for the future. There's also Joey doing late season Joey things which is fine but I think we'll all go into next year wondering who this guy really is. He's someone to put into the lineup but not someone to count on going forward, especially at his age. 

There are two things of real interest. 

First we have our Keibert Ruiz luck switch. After hitting the ball hard and getting no hits ever things are even-ing out. Also good to see is it didn't take a drop in his power to do it. Ruiz as C of the future is set. That's why they signed him long term. They believed in this line-driver guy to hit. Now they also believed he'd get better behind the plate and it doesn't look like it, but hey. He's hitting! The plan didn't completely fall apart in year 1. More work is needed but the signing was right.  

Guys, Stone Garrett might be something? Stone Garrett might be something. He strikes out too much but he hits the ball hard. It would be better if he wasn't turning 28 in November and his position (corner OF) is one usually easy to fill in FA but you take finds where you can get them. Between Thomas and him there's a good player. Maybe 2 but probably not, or at least not projected out to 2025. But one find is still a find. His hot hitting has made it harder to give Rutherford time and has forced Davey to try to use his brain - which means he's platooning these two guys, neither of which show real platoon splits because that's what you do when you can play a guy you've already committed to that isn't great in Thomas and speedy D CF that can't hit in Call. Gah, I'm going to go off here about this is like watching a LL coach make a line-up but bc they are winning a lot (see luck note) no one cares. We should care! We should be seeing far less Call and should be trying Garrett and Rutherford in CF.  

As far as other future Nats go Abrams has cooled. Smith is bad. Alu is bad (does he have enough PAs yet that I can say that?) but really Call is stamp it terrible. Garcia is not handling his demotion well. But BUT (and this is a big but - no jokes to be made because it's important). Crews is hitting so well (and the Nats are desperate for good minor league news) that he's skipping High A and heading straight to AA.  Will we see him in uniform this year? I can't see how that's smart. But first thing next year? Maybe! Also Lipscomb keeps hitting.  This makes up for the gact Wood (less than a year younger than Crews) is scuffling with pop and Hassell might be coming out of recovery but really it's a "let's wait until next year" situation. Two guys to give a whirl in 2024. 


I got off track on that last bit. OK back to here

Harvey is back and looks right. The injury might have saved a trade and kept a back end bullpen piece. Finnegan looks good and Weems might be the third piece they wanted Thompson to be but he hasn't been since Davey broke his arm. Sorry sorry. Ferrer and Machado are holding to make some of the rest of the pen usable. 

But the pen only matters so much it's the starters we care about and, huh.  Gray's had it rough and Gore has continued to be up and down. Irvin has in fact been the best arm though that's just ERA.  All the stats say he's pitched possibly the worst other than Williams. Nothing exciting here. No changes. Gore and Gray are here and going to be in the rotation somewhere next year. Irvin might be but he's a 5 seat warmer.

In the minors Herz had a good start? I suppose Andry Lara is finishing his season nicely. I wish I had better news for you on this front but the Nats better be ready to spend. 

Looking at the hitting and pitching this run is probably even more luck than I thought. Not only 1 run games breaking the Nats way but hitting and pitching slightly improved but seeing much better results thanks to bounces and sequencing working out (likely I'd have to look more into it to see) not that they haven't been better but really they aren't much off from the below .500 team they were. It's just all working out for them. Which over the course of 162 games it does sometimes! 

Coming out I see Garrett making a case and the pen reasserting that "back of the pen might be really good" thing. Ruiz's return is more of a breath out situation because we could all say it SHOULD happen but until it does you worry. But there's not much here that's new or game changing. It's the same Nats pretty much we left at the ASB.  At least in the majors. But Crews (and maybe Lipscomb). Be excited by that right now.


*The Nats are 7-2 in one-run games in this stretch. Put it at even luck for them, say 4-5 and you are looking at an 15-13 run instead of 18-10.  Fine but not exciting anyone and getting stories written about the surging Nats.  REVERSE the luck and they are 13-15 and we aren't talking much about the team at all.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Visiting Family

Talk amongst yourselves

The Nats are facing a stretch of teams that are probably still trying for something and aren't super lucky looking at a correction... oh wait the Marlins are super lucky. But anyway it'll be a tougher stretch. They'll do worse. The "ooooh look at this team winning close games that must mean they are good now and I can ignore when they were losing all those close games as an aberration probably brought on by... I don't know. Jeimer Candelario playing good 3B and causing them to be complacent" thoughts will go away.  It's ok. Let's keep up with the kids

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Joan Adon and what that means about 2024

The Nats are going to a six man rotation. The idea is that this will save innings for Gray and Gore and let them hit the end of the season. First let's run the numbers and see what they are actually saving here. 

Gore and Gray just pitched and Adon is up Friday so they'll immediately be pushed back one game.  Based on the schedule this would mean Gray would start 8 more games and Gray 7. Under the 5 game rotation both would have started 9 more games.  Let's for the sake of argument say they don't hand Gray the ball on the last day of the year so they are saving two starts per pitcher. Gray averages 5.5 innings per start, Gore 5.1.  So given averages you are saving 11 innings from Gray and 10 innings for Gore. What would the final totals have been? 

5-man rotation

  • Gray 176 IP
  • Gore 162.2 IP

6-man rotation

  • Gray 165 IP
  • Gore 152.2 IP

And finally how much have these guys pitched in the last couple years


  • Gray 86.1
  • Gore 50.1


  • Gray 148.2
  • Gore 87

Ok seems reasonable to me. Both guys even with the 6-man would be hitting numbers they didn't last year. The games are pretty much meaningless. Is it better than an early shutdown? I guess? I don't know. Does 10/12 innings really matter? I'd guess not. For Gray it's pretty easy. He pitched like 150 last year, will aim for like 165 this year with the idea he can go a full year (180+ for today's starters) easy next season.  Gore is a bit more complicated.  87 to 152 is a big jump, so even cutting him off right now could be justified. BUT if you cut him off much earlier then you may want to do the same at the end of next year.  

Joan Adon may seem like an odd choice to fill in as the 6th man. We've seen him before a couple times and he generally has not been good. He's not a prospect despite being on the younger side to debut back in 2021 before this year and his AAA stats are decidedly middling. If the Nats were looking to prep a starter they like for 2024 this would be the opportunity. The problem is there are none ready. 

Of course you know Cade Cavalli is hurt and out. But besides him the top of the minors is barren of starters performing well. Cole Henry, a guy they like a lot, is coming back from injury himself and hasn't been stretched out (or any good) in AA.  Jackson Rutledge was a guy they pumped up years ago and did well in AA, but is struggling in AAA. DJ Herz, the Candelario return that more people were excited about, got smashed in his AA debut for the Nats. Jarlin Susana has looked like he has a tired arm and probably needs to be given the rest of the year off. Jake Bennett has been the lone bright spot and you aren't going to push a guy from High-A to the Majors. So Adon it is. 

But Adon being it is telling for 2024. This is a team who doesn't have guys ready to jump in at the start of next year. The Nats aren't necessarily big on holding prospects down for extra control. They bring them up when ready and there isn't much ready now. Crews might look it by years end. You could push it by putting him in AA soon. But why? If Wood and whatever starter might be ready in late 2024, at the same time you have your better sense of what Trey Lipscomb might be, why not let Crews take the usual fast path instead of some crazy jet ride? It makes more sense.

To be in the Wild Card hunt you have to be say... over .500. That may not work. It's not good enough in the AL this year. But it works as a floor. If the Nats believed they had a good shot at that I think they would be doing things like pushing Crews and giving someone a shot in the majors not named Adon. But they know what we know and it's not there yet. This team is an earned 15 games under in a division that's not extremely strong. They have few new players expected to be ready to make the jump to the majors for the start of 2024. No one has broken out to be a star from what's here Not Ruiz, or Garcia, or Abrams*, or Gray, or Gore.  They have a bunch of solid stones to build the bridge but lack the keystone to build around.

2023 was about finding out if this was a team that would get lucky and could get to a WC level in 2024 with some moves or would fans have to look further in the future. The answer is look further. The good news is that there are pieces here. 2025 isn't out of the question as of today. As I mentioned last post though the off-season should tell you how much they really believe in 2025.  As for 2024, Adon being the call up tells you how much they believe in that, and I think it's a justifiable lack of faith. No reaches now.

*If you haven't noticed after all the talk around him being much better he's kind of settled around .260 with eh power in the past few weeks. START-able but not STAR-able.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

August is Meneses Month

Joey has 130 PA in the month of August and 9 homers. His splits are .312 / .354 / .590.  Ok sure we don't have a second set of early months to compare to the failures of the start of this year but right now the legend of Dog Days Joey lives. 

The Nats are 14-10 since the break and only a bit lucky. They are playing .500+ ball and seem to be, I don't know, relaxed? Like this is the team going forward. No wondering about trades, not imminent call-ups, everyone just play and see what happens. I'm sure they'll start losing more. I noted going into July that the period after the All-Star Game had various weak or overperforming teams. The Athletics, who are up next, are kind of the end of that. After that they'll take on Boston, Philly, and the Yankees - all of who are better than .500 teams, get a break with Miami, then get the actually good Toronto. They should lose a bunch there then get some back in a six team run that includes  Miami, the Mets, the Pirates, and the White Sox. Then they'll fall flat on their face with the Atlanta, Baltimore, Atlanta finish. 

I'll have to say I've found the completely balanced schedule less compelling, but as long as attendance and viewership doesn't agree they won't make that change. 

Dylan Crews is looking great. He was clearly better than the rookie league (but one might argue so was the SEC this year) and has a couple homers in lower A. It's only three games though.  I expect a couple weeks here and if he hits, a couple weeks in Wilmington and that to be that. Start next year in AA if he hit in Wilmington.That's kind of unfair to him. Easy enough to have a good couple weeks anywhere. But the Nats need something to get the juices back flowing in the minors. They had it with Hassell, Wood, and Green to start but as noted Hassell got hurt and we probably have to throw out the whole year of development and Green's been a disaster sent back to rookie ball for a hard reset. It now all rests on Wood. Wood looks great in AA for a guy a month from 20, but also looks like a guy who might have trouble making contact in the majors (K rate at like 33% in AA). This doesn't hurt his development really but it does kind of knock down the "OMG SUPERSTAR COMING IN 2024" talk that was floated earlier in the year. Nats are going to try to slot Crews in there now. There's nothing wrong here. The team and fans are just hungry for something special and the org is trying to find it. 

There's been more positive in the majors. Ruiz, Abrams, Meneses have all been good since the break. These will all be guys here next year. We want to see good. Adams has really flourished in his lefty masher role.  Gray's been a little worse, Gore a little better - both still on rotation track. Finnegan solidifying his back of the pen roles. There are some fair pieces here but they need some (re; 2-3) stars around them.

The known holes remain holes though. Poor Blake Rutherford is still looking for his first hit, now 0-11. Alex Call is continually showing why he shouldn't be in the majors. But hey! Space for the other guys! Young guys going to be stars in 2024! Like Crews! 

What 2023 tells us is that this is a team that isn't for 2024. Is it for 2025? Can't say no, but some off-season moves involving starting pitching and maybe a 1B would help turn that to a yes.

Friday, August 04, 2023

Dog Days Storylines

We're hitting the post trade deadline pre-playoff push month of August where it's about pushing through the season for those not looking at the playoffs. Hey! That's the Nats. The Nats are basically looking at EVERYONE and where they end up. I don't know if there is a set spot anywhere, at least at the plate. 

The mound is actually easier. Assuming health Gray, Corbin, Gore, and Williams will all start next year. We've seen the Nats don't care about how bad Corbin pitches, I imagine the same will hold for Williams. There aren't arms banging on the door to replace them so in they go. Same with Gore. It's hard to look at his average year through 2/3rd and think of a failure strong enough that he isn't back on the mound in April. In the pen the same would go for Finnegan, Thompson, and Harvey. We're talking reasonable finishes here in all cases. Of course if anyone started giving up homers on every pitch, got sent down to AAA and did the same they'd be out. 

Irvin and the bullpen arms could secure spots in next year as the 5th starter and the rest of the pen, but having your 5th starter and rest of the pen open is pretty typical for teams. 

On the field it's weird but I can see almost anyone being set up to lose their spot to start 2024, except Thomas who they've somewhat committed to and Abrams who has built himself a nice cushion and occupies a position the Nats have few alternatives at.  Ruiz is not hitting and is considered a bad fielder so if he has a terrible two months at the plate you can't tell me they wouldn't consider letting Adams start and having Ruiz back in AAA for tuning. Smith could not hit his way out of 1B. Garcia almost has done that at 2B. 3B is a hole, as is CF and LF. Garrett has hit well but is working off the fewest ABs and could end up much lower. Meneses is probably safe to have a spot on the team, but could single his way out of a starting DH job and onto the bench.

So basically how everyone hits is going to be important over the next 50 games. Most likely nothing changes from what we assume, but it could. 

As for the majors it looks like this 

The AL East is a Baltimore/TB fight. By stats the division should be TB, Balt/Tor/Bos with the NYY a half-step behind that. The O's have been lucky to be where they are. Given Baltimore didn't really try at the trade deadline I side with stats and expect TB to overtake them. Toronto in theory could have made a run but didn't try to get substantially better.

The AL Central has Minnesota over the Guardians and I'd expect that to remain the case. The Twins did nothing but the Guardians didn't really go for this year either. I do like how technically the Tigers are in striking distance at 48-60. It'd be fun but they got worse

The AL West is a Rangers/Astros dogfight and both went for it. Good for the Rangers (it'll never be good for the cheaters until they are all gone). The Angels also made a play but given their position and the quality of the teams ahead of them it can only be for the WC. Seattle gave up. 

The AL WC is anyone's guess. The HOU/TEX and BAL/TB losers should both make it given team quality (HOU/TEX/TB or the cushion they have BAL). That leaves one open spot for a bunch of teams who have about the same talent. You have to figure it goes to TOR or LAA since they improved their lot at the deadline and I think everyone is rooting for Not Fooling Us It is Not Los Angeles Ohtanis. The other options of BOS, who have become formidable at the plate as the new youngsters got good and Turner rose from the dead, or the NYY, who have easily the best pen in baseball and with Judge are a much better team, would only please their fans. Like me! Go Yankees! Because I know if they lose it still won't get Boone fired so there's no reason to hope for that! 

The NL East is a runaway Braves title. 

The NL Central is interesting.  Cincy is in the lead and Milwaukee is trying to catch them but the Cubs have been the best team. The Cubs also tried the hardest at the deadline. I see them taking it, but it's not a guarantee. 

The NL West has the same old great Dodgers holding off the same old "why is this team this good" team. This year it's SF again and Arizona isnt' far behind. The Padres are actually really good but also incredibly unlucky (8-16 in one run games) and that bad luck has cost them a chance at the division. 

The NL Wild Card is more open than the AL one because the best teams on paper (Cubs, Padres) are trailing a bunch of teams of varying good luck (Reds, Marlins, Brewers, Phillies, Giants, D-backs). With the Cubs my pick for the central, I guess give me the Phillies, Reds, and ever lucky Giants. 

As for stats Arraez is hitting .378 but that's not going to cut it for a run at .300 (basically he has to hit .450 the rest of the way). Ohtani (and Olson) I guess have far outside shots of 60 homers but would have to end with their two best homering months. We're likely to finish with maybe 15 guys stealing 30+ bases where last year we had 6.  No one is going to win 20.  We're probably topping out at 17.  We'll have a handful of guys at 200IP. No one is doing anything really special on the mound

Thursday, August 03, 2023

The 2024 Nats... maybe

The Nats made a single deal at the trade deadline, electing to keep guys like Finnegan and Thomas over whatever was offered for them. As both would have a place in the team in the next year (or beyond if everything goes perfectly, which of course it will) you can see why they did it. There will be future gnashing of teeth if the Nats flounder but understand - most guys traded for end up as nothings. This includes guys traded for good players. It took the Nats dealing Scherzer AND Turner to get Gray and Ruiz who are currently looking like a #3 and a serviceable starting catcher. Teams don't usually trade good players. 

This set up the 2024 team to look like :

C Ruiz

1B ? 

2B Garcia

SS Abrams

3B ? 

RF Thomas

CF ? 

LF ? 

DH Meneses

SP Gray Gore Williams Corbin ? 

RP Finnegan Harvey ????

That's a lot of question marks! And so the next 50+ games will be about figuring out if they have any answers for these questions. Luckily they won't create any more que... Oh. Rizzo sent down Garcia. Great. Tack a ? onto his name too. 

I'm not sure what's going on there. Garcia has been scuffling with a terrible July but June was ok and May was better than that. You can dive into the fancy stats to see if there is an approach issue that has come up. His K rate was up in July but not crazy. You can squint and see maybe he's trying to pull the ball hard for homers too much? But that seems like something you could tackle here.  I don't know. It feels like punishment. Especially when the guy brought up in his place is Jeter Downs, a guy two years older than Garcia who was putting up a .175 average in AAA. When you tell a guy you'd rather have THAT than you? That's a slap in the face. Darren Baker? I get it. Brady House? Gutsy I love it. Let's go. Jeter Downs? Most likely because everything says release him but that would make you look stupid for claiming him off waivers and you are hoping he'll magically hit making you feel smart? Help the team, not your ego, Rizz.

But anyway, let's assume Mike will get his machos out and Garcia will be back, back to the other questions.

Who's on 1B? There isn't anyone coming up. There isn't anyone who would come up next year.  Smith has held ground as not being THE WORST.  I bet he comes back. Though if you are going to do a Werth type signing for the future this is the spot for it.

3B? They are going to let Alu get his shot at it. Alu is a guy that became a bit of a cult favorite for Nats fans by surprisingly developing power last year. It hasn't stuck. But he has always hit for average so maybe he can in the majors? My guess is he also plays some 2B on the off chance he hits because Brady House is likely to end up at 3B sometime next season. Given that if Alu can do ok, he'll probably start 2024 at 3B to keep that path open. 

CF? Robles is still not a FA next year? Can you believe it. So he figures into this along with Blake Rutherford who will get some OF time, and Alex Call, who despite everyone wishing REAL hard that the Blue Fairy makes him a real bat, still can't hit. Wood has slowed down so he might not make it up in 2024. Hassell feels like this year is a wash. de la Rosa, who is on the 40 man, is not close. Elijah Green has been a disaster. It's sort of a mess down in the minors. You know I'm going to stay on the Rutherford bandwagon but it could be anyone including a FA

LF? This is another spot to take a chance with a FA signing but also Stone Garrett has been.. ok? He K's too much and once his bat slows down he's going to crash hard but he's 27+ so figure a couple years on that. They might go ahead with Garrett just because it's cheap and keeps everything in the OF open for someone to come up. Which someone HAS to do good right? Just one? 

SP? Irvin has managed not to be the worst but there's easily a spot here for a good signing. I can't see Cavalli heading right into the majors after injury. A guy like Bennett is a year away if he keeps up his track. Henry looks the same. You can easily push off Corbin or Williams next year if it gets crowded. 

RP? You know. Guys. They'll cheap out here and hope for the best like they usually do. 

So most likely 

C Ruiz

1B Smith

2B Garcia

SS Abrams

3B Alu (holding for House)

RF Thomas

CF Rutherford et al.

LF Garrett

DH Meneses

SP Gray Gore Williams Corbin FA

RP Finnegan Harvey Stuff 

Doesn't look that much better or that interesting does it?  


See you in 2025 where this 

C Ruiz


2B Garcia

SS Abrams

3B House

RF Thomas

CF Crews

LF Hassell/Wood


SP Gray Gore Cavalli Bennett House

RP Really who knows?

Seems a lot more fun, if not also better.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023


Jeimer Candelario is gone. 

Cesar Hernandez didn't work. Nelson Cruz didn't work. Maikel Franco didn't work. Anibal Sanchez didn't work, although maybe that wasn't the point. Trevor Williams is not working. Corey Dickerson almost certainly won't work. But Jeimer worked! The Nats accurately noted and signed a vet who then had a bounce back year and allowed the Nats to trade him for something. 

Some key takeaways before we get into the return. Younger is better. This was Jeimer's Age 29 season. Guys can still bounce back at that point. When you are getting to mid 30s it's a lot tougher, especially for guys that were never great. Hard to replace positions are good. There are not a lot of good 3B so getting one is a prize. Of course there is the vagaries of who will be available as a FA to deal with but know there are usually a fair amount of RP and guys who might be able to play corner OF or DH around. And finally more good recent work is better. 2022 was bad for Jeimer but a full 2021 was good along with what was essentially a full 2020. This is the crucial difference with him and Franco who was good in that brief 2020 season, but bad in the full 2019 before that. 

so look for guys who had a bad year but in the next two previous years was ok, who are not old, and who play a position of need. Guys who might be worth targetting next year : Harrison Bader (the "good if not injured but always injured" type), Amed Rosario, Tim Anderson, though Tim has probably got too good a pedigree to sneak through. 

Anyway what did the Nats get back? Two guys between 10-20 in the Cubs system, which was a pretty good system. This wasn't the 1 guy around 10 I predicted but it's about the same return. 

DJ "Don't call me Donna Jo" Herz is the guy that gets the most interest. 22 in AA wild but strikes out a bunch and doesn't give up homers. A bit easier to hit than you'd like as a guy "with stuff" which explains the higher ERA. Thing is he does NOT have a killer fastball, like most of these types do, instead relying on great breaking stuff. He's not wild as much as relying on what works and what works for him are pitches with a hell of a lot of movement. So the idea of "just make him a reliever" doesn't fit in as much here. There you just tell a guy to focus on the zone for three batters and let it rip. Herz can't focus on the zone, that's not how he works right now. So I don't see him as a reliever unless he suddenly gets closer to full control of a breaking pitch. I see him as a guy that if he can get a little bit of control and his stuff plays up the ladder can sneak into the back of a rotation. AA is inconclusive right now but at 22 that's ok. 

Kevin Made is a super young (20) SS in High A who is just hanging on there this year. People like his defense but they always say they like the defense of guys that can't hit. He doesn't seem like a high average guy but he has made progress taking pitches. But if he doesn't develop power that's not going to help as pitchers won't fear pitching to him. Likely he can't get the bat to work enough in AA but he's got 2-3 seasons to test that theory. 

Both these guys pretty much fit 10-20 for the Nats. They improve the system in the quantity way and aren't just filler but are also long shots to make an impact in the majors. As a return for a rental of a solid 3B? That's pretty on par. I think this was the best the Nats were going to get. Now let's see if they can deal anyone else. 

The hullabaloo is that Lane is going to stay.  He's a starter but he has some pretty strong splits (meh vs righties, great against lefties) which makes some teams view him as a platoon guy. I think that he would make a great platoon guy, but you can't put his value as a guy getting 1/3 ABs. He's shown he can be ok defensively after a weak start and if you need an OF you probably need him to start everyday so the return should be commensurate. IOW if you had the lefty that could hit righties well part of the platoon you probably aren't looking for an OF. That guy is starting nearly everyday and you are fine giving him that break when needed. Don't try to undersell Lane for a deal.