Nationals Baseball

Thursday, October 20, 2016


I guess we'll start with the offseason reviews next week. Makes more sense to start it clean on a Monday, no?

Anyway this offseason is the most interesting for a Nats team in a long while. Or at least it has the potential to be interesting. You can honestly say that you can't be 100% sure you know who's going to be playing where on Opening Day next year. Sure you keep Murphy, Rendon, Bryce, and Trea, but are they going to be where you think they are going to be? Move Trea to SS then Bryce could play CF. Somehow get rid of Zimm and Murphy shifts over to first leaving a spot for possibly Rendon to go back to 2B. Werth's in his last year and amazingly you could get something for him. Do you trade him? Are the Nats done with Espinosa? 

The rotation is more set - but only in the fact that you can put Scherzer #1 in pen.  Who's #2? Strasburg? That's assuming he can pitch Opening Day. Roark? If you don't trade a guy who's arguably never going to be worth more. Gio? A far more likely trading chip than Roark given his reasonable salary and the fact you aren't giving up multiple cheap years when you deal him. Ok, Ross will be in there somewhere. That's the other given. The pen is going to be dependent on what they do with closer.  Do they try to shift Kelley or Treinen? Does the other one stay in the 8th role? Where do all these other arms fit in?

Individually none of this stuff is really all that likely. Strasburg appears to have no issues that'll keep him from pitching in April. He almost pitched in October. Rendon is playing third. They aren't trading Werth or Roark. They can't deal Zim. But as a whole all these possibilities combine to create a lot of uncertainty with the 2017 Nats. If any one domino falls, everything else can change and most likely a domino will fall.

This makes the "assumed plan" part of the offseason in reviews a little tough. So what am I going to assume? I'm going to assume the 2017 Nationals look a lot like the 2016 Nationals at the end of the year. Zimm, Murphy, Danny, Rendon around the horn. Bryce, Trea, and Werth in the OF. Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark, Ross as the rotation. Pen roles stay as is. Why? It's the path of least resistance. The Nats can recreate a 2016 team that won the East and nearly won their DS by doing nothing. Seems certainly plausible that they do just that and fritter around the edges filling in bench guys and bullpen arms that leave for greener (re: $$$) pastures.

That leaves the only true questions as C and closer.  I'll have to think more on what I'll assume the Nats plan is there. We're just guessing here so there are no wrong answers but I don't want to be unfair here. What do you guys think for these two? Do you think they are going out to get something or just shifting in house? I've got my leanings but I'm willing to be convinced that the assumed plan should be something else.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday Quickie - Rizzo goes nowhere

Mike Rizzo won't be the GM of Arizona. At least not anytime soon. They hired Mike Hazen. On one hand, everyone seems to like him and he has a work pedigree that includes some of the more successful current franchises (CLE, BOS). On the other hand, Arizona just did something similar to this a few years ago and it didn't work out. Also if you are looking for a strategic edge, hiring a GM that's young, ivy-league educated, and into the business/analytic side of the game is not exactly going to give you that. Plus it's Arizona, I'm sure Hazen is terrible then. His 1 year track record (under Dombrowski's heavy hand I'm sure) is less than impressive. Kimbrel move didn't work. Carson Smith was damaged good. Aaron Hill did nothing. Ziegler was a nice pick up I guess.

Anyway enough about the Diamondbacks. Rizzo is what we're talking about here. He won't go there which is one of three places I'd assume he'd want to go (the other two being the Chicago teams and those both look unlikely - Theo in entrenched in Wrigley with all the wins and Kenny Williams runs the White Sox with all the being friends with Reinsdorf) Good. You can complain about Rizzo here and there but the macro-level view has been very positive, especially if you make the seemingly fair assumption that he's very limited in mid-season transactions.

Is there something about the way he's built this team that it fails to get over the top? Maybe, but I have a hard time seeing it. It's talented. It's pitching based with a couple of aces. It had a strong back end of the bullpen. It can manufacture runs, but also hit a HR. It's got veteran leadership. All the general "this is what you need in the playoffs" boxes are checked off by this point. It seems far more likely that the 2016 Nationals were a victim of sports playoffs being what they are meant to be. Good teams playing a short series / one-game that often comes down to who plays slightly better.

Could someone do better here? Perhaps, but again I get the sense that working with the Lerners can be frustrating at time. A bit tight with money in odd places (I like to say "pound wise, penny foolish"). Sometimes prone to go over his head, especially with Boras clients. You need a guy with just enough lack of ego to take those in stride and keep getting his job done as best he can under the circumstances. Seems like Rizzo does that, I'm not sure all guys could.

Like I said I can find some faults with Rizzo. His gambles in drafts on injury prone talent create a fairly top-heavy farm system where depth can be an issue. He doesn't seem to get along well with managers (which will be interesting because Dusty has never left a situation well). He can be overly reticent to deal young talent mid-season that could afford the team a stronger return under the assumed financial constraints he's under. But I consider these minimal, I mean look at the wins. What's the alternative? That there's dynasty here being held back by Rizzo?

We'll get into specifics more this week - positional overview and all that, but the off-season is already off to a good start. Rizzo isn't going to Arizona.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Post Mortem

I've said before but for me a game is far more often lost than won. That winning is less about making great plays and more about avoiding mistakes. It's not always the case but that's how I look at sports (kind of life too if I'll be honest) and that's going to be a lot of how I look at this game right now. This doesn't mean I don't think it was a pretty well played game and series. I think both those things. It's just how I see things play out in terms of deciding who win and who loses.

Anyway let's take a look at the key moments from yesterday and see how we ended up here today.

Pre game
Dodgers start Rich Hill. There are arguments that can be made for starting a pitcher on short rest. They are difficult arguments to win and none apply to Rich Hill. You saw Urias. He was pretty good, wasn't he? He should have started and Roberts was lucky he didn't get burned worse by this decision.

Bottom 2
Lobaton can't get the ball in play to possibly score another run. Espinosa had just come up with a big hit and the Nats had 1st and 3rd with one out. If you're Lobaton, you have to hit it hard and hope for the best. Yes, a double play is certainly possible, but so are sacrifice flies and fielder choices. You can score a run on an out here fairly easily. With the pitcher spot looming behind you it's even more imperative to get that ball in play as he is unlikely to drive the run in. But Lobaton fouls off two pitches and then strikes out. Scherzer would follow with a K of his own and the Nats would only score once.

Top 3
Dodgers let Max off the hook. Max pitched well last night, but it was obvious early on he didn't have his usual control. If the Dodgers could take a smart approach to facing him they could have him out early, maybe even sometime in the 5th if they were really lucky. Maybe that's without scoring but still the advantage the Nats had going into last night was Max. Get him out and it's a brand new game.  He sat at 35 pitches with no outs in the 3rd inning and had just thrown 5 straight balls. But then the Dodgers' brains locked up. Toles swung at a strike at the bottom of the zone and grounded into a double play. Rich Hill swung at a first pitch ball and grounded out himself. Now not only was Max not on the ropes, but he was set up for a long outing. A simply terrible approach that for a long portion of the game sat with me as the key moment.

Bottom 3
Werth can't get the ball in play to possibly score another run. Hey if I'm going to get on Lobaton I have to get on Werth here too. Turner had singled, stole second and advanced to third on Bryce's deep fly ball to center. With his speed almost any GB out, or halfway deep FB scores Trea. But Werth strikes out on five pitches. There is a slight difference as at this point it didn't feel as precarious for Hill as it did earlier.

Anthony Rendon's liner goes right to the CFer. Rendon had a bad series, but he really squared up on this one. There's no fault here - it's just a shame as it would have scored two.

Top 5
With the bases loaded, Max strikes out Ethier and gets Utley to ground out. After being no-hit for 4 innings the Dodgers finally got to Max with three singles. I'll note here that the last one, by Toles, might have been caught by a better 2B as Murphy was caught flat-footed then couldn't reach it with his jump. It would have been a very good play but I think it was possible. Anyway with both singles going to Bryce and that last one having a chance to be caught, the Dodgers hadn't managed to plate a run. The Dodgers brought in Ethier to get a big hit but Max struck him out on some nice pitching. Then keeping the ball down he got Utley to hit a ground ball that didn't go through.

Bottom 5
Dusty lets Max hit for himself. Look, it ended up pretty much working out as Max would get through the heart of the Dodgers line-up the next inning, but it was still the wrong decision. Results don't always match up as they should. Why was it wrong? Max's mistakes can be HR mistakes and he had missed up a couple times in the 5th inning, including on Reddick's base hit. At around 86 pitches and getting ready to face the Dodgers line-up a third time it was time to give him a big hug, thank him for keeping it scoreless and move on to the pen. With the top of the line-up following Scherzer, a guy getting on would have a good chance of scoring. But instead he sticks with Max, Max K's and the Nats don't score that inning.

Bryce gets picked off. With two outs, not terribly impactful but don't get picked off, even on a questionable move.

Bottom 6
Henley sends Werth, Werth is out at home. Now we finally take the most important moment away from the Dodgers dumb swings in the third. The Nats had been testing the Dodgers all night and the Dodgers had been coming up empty. They weren't making mistakes per se, but when the situation called for just solid baseball plays - throws on target with decent speed - the Dodgers couldn't do it. So being aggressive is arguably the right call. But this wasn't aggressive it was stupid.

Here's the play (apologies for the needless "statcasting") If you pause it at 29 seconds (during the close up on Werth running) you can see in the distance Toles clearly having thrown that ball before Werth is reaching third. Werth has already taken his eye off the ball, rightly expecting his 3rd base coach to give him the correct call. Henley though inexplicably sends Werth. Pause it again at 1:01 right when the angle changes. In the corner you see Toles in his throwing motion. In the foreground Henley waving Werth around not facing the throw. Perhaps he think Toles mishandled it. But then he looks up and HAS TO see the ball is in the air. Yet he keeps sending.

You could argue he was in the wrong position too. He should be between 3rd and home to give himself maximum time to make the decision but you can see that he had to first think about seeing into that corner so maybe drifting toward home was superceded by that. Of course that doesn't explain both how he didn't see what was obviously in front of him, and why he kept moving UP the line away from home rather than down toward home after deciding he would send him. If he simply bounces the other way there might be a chance for a last second "WOAH I SCREWED UP" and hoping Werth can scramble back but going in the other direction he takes that away as a possibility.

Anyway Toles throw was quickly made but completely average. The same could be said of Seager's throw. Werth was still out by 30 ft. If say it had been Puig and an Espy type throw by Seager it honestly could have ended up with Werth scrambling back to third.

Top 7
Max stays in and Pederson homers. I had been saying after the 6th that I could see going with Max on a batter by batter situation. I hate taking out effective pitchers "just because". A lot of why a pitcher is working well in a given night is particular to that night. How he's feeling, how those batters are seeing him. To have an advantage and throw it away seems foolish. But I didn't think it through. Max wasn't exactly dominating, though the 6th was pretty good the whole story of the game said something else. Max has a tendency to make "home run" mistakes. Joc Pederson is useless against LHP. All that taken together should have meant Max should take a seat. It was all true going into the 6th, nothing changed for the 7th other than Max was 11 more pitches in. Now Max didn't make a mistake. He made a good pitch and Pederson made a great swing. But now, if not earlier, was the time for match-ups to take over and that meant Max should have come out. However, I'm not going to kill Dusty for this one. If you want to live and die with your ace currently throwing a shutout, not gassed, and with no opportunity to lose the game only the lead, that's fine by me.

Rep walks Grandal Grandal was the Dodgers Rendon. A good hitter that was having a terrible series. Yet Rep walks him on four pitches, none particularly close. Inexcusable.

Culberson fails to get his bunt down. This is kind of like the Bryce getting picked off situation. Not all that impactful in the course of the game, but get your bunts down

Dusty lets Solis face Ruiz, Rendon fails to come up with Ruiz's grounder.  You understand the first one somewhat. Dusty doesn't want to burn one of his lefty arms without throwing a pitch. But it's endgame and you have to worry about what's in front of you not what might be in front of you later. Ruiz hits lefties much better than righties. At this point Gio has to be considered a usable arm so you still have two lefties if need be - plus your closer and set-up guy. That's gotta be enough to get 8 outs. But Dusty sticks with Solis, Solis gives up a shot. Reminiscent of Game 5 when Desmond couldn't come up with a hard shot that was playable, Rendon lets this one get by him and the Dodgers take the lead. Hard play? Sure. Impossible? No, not even close.

Dusty brings in Shawn Kelley to face Turner despite Turner's splits, Turner delivers. This to me is the defining moment of the game. Turner has reverse splits meaning he hits righties better than lefties. It's not even close really. Here's his numbers for 2016

vs RHP : .305 / .356 / .563
vs LHP : .209 / .303 / .337

Sometimes this can happen as a fluke but that isn't the case for Turner. He's hit righties better than lefties every year since 2011 (he only had a handful of ABs in 2009&2010) except 2014 and that's not because he didn't hit righties that year. He did. He just had a fluke year where he hit lefties too. So his career splits are .832 OPS vs RHP, .695 vs LHP. Everything said you use a lefty, not a righty, to face Turner.

But Dusty went with the typical move - bringing in a righty to face Turner. I suppose you could argue that he just wanted a better pitcher in, Kelly being better than Solis, but I don't believe that. I suppose you could argue "Kelley gets out righties better than Solis does!" but that's all based on the basic truism that lefties hit righties better and vice versa. Unless you have a freaky motion or some sort of particular trait that would seemingly affect a batters ability to hit you there's no reason to believe a pitcher's split is particular to the pitcher, but rather an accumulation of splits particular to batters. In other words a lefty pitcher doesn't get lefty batters out well because he is particularly good at pitching to lefty batters, but because lefty batters are particularly bad at hitting lefty pitchers.

Anyway he should have kept Solis in - which not only would have likely been more effective against Turner than throwing Kelley out there but if he was successful would have allowed him to pitch to Gonzalez as well and save Perez.  But he didn't. And Turner would triple off of Kelley giving the Dodgers a big lead that they wouldn't fully relinquish.

Bottom 7
Heisey homers.  Heisey does not have any strong splits so keeping Dayton in to face him is not a mistake. The pitch Dayton threw though, that was one. He had made the same error Rep did - he walked the first man he saw on 4 pitches - and he also paid for it as Danny came in on Heisey's HR. Now it's back to a 1-run game, albeit reversed, with 9 outs for the Nats to score one run (and keep holding the Dodgers)

Werth strikes out swinging, Bryce takes second.  This is questionable. Did it really take the bat out of Murphy's hands? Sure with first base open it was an easy call. You aren't moving the winning run into scoring position with the walk. However, I'd still have walked Murphy. There's no reason to take a chance on him RHP vs LHB when struggling Rendon is coming up next.

Rendon strikes out. Overmatched.

Bottom 8
Espy fails to get the bunt down.  I had actually just said before this that I wondered if Jansen was particularly hard to bunt on. He doesn't appear to have great movement watching him, but guys just miss his pitches in a way that suggests that he does. I've found that usually means a "rising" action that gets guys at the plate and that means, yes, a particularly hard pitcher to get a ball down on. But still get the bunt down.

I also kind of have issues with the decision to bunt. Your next two batters are Pedro Severino and Michael Taylor. Danny isn't great, but he's better than them and had, for whatever reason, looked a lot better at the plate last night (no Ks!). If I'm going to try to get Drew home, I think your best chance is with Danny rather than Severino or MAT facing Kenley Jansen in their first AB of the night.

Bottom 9
Murphy pops up. No blame but we're talking key moments and this was definitely one. You're hoping at worst to move the runners over where a passed ball or wild pitch or error could score them, at best for a hit. A pop-up doesn't even allow for an error thanks to the infield fly rule.

Difo K's. Again no blame. Yeah he shouldn't have swung at the last pitch but Kershaw threw some nasty stuff early in the at bat to get to that point setting Difo up for being too protective of the plate. It would have been a miracle talked about for decades if Difo got a hit here.

So there you go. For the first 6+ innings it looked like the biggest play of the game would be some silly swings in the 3rd that allowed Scherzer to go as long as he did. But then Henley made a terrible call to run the Nats out of a potential run-scoring situation, and Dusty ignored the splits to put the Nats in a disadvantageous situation and those plays decided the game.

That's it. I'm beat. We'll be back next week for some full season post-Mortem

Thursday, October 13, 2016

What is there to say?

Not as gutting as 2012.

Not as infuriating as 2014.

But in the end, same result.

Should have won this game. Scherzer wasn't on the top of his game but he had enough big pitches and got enough breaks to get the Nats to one out in the 7th with their opponent scoring only one run. The Nats should have been winning by more at that point. They were not. After that the Max vs whoever advantage was lost and it came down to the pens and the Dodgers arms and moves were better than the Nats.

Sigh. Well do what you need to. Vent. Swear. Get it out. I'll be back tomorrow as usual.

G5 Evening Post

For those that would like to comment during the game on here... I guess I should look into a chat client or something. I don't know. That seems like work.

G5 Morning Post

Here we are. Staring at the most important game in Nationals history.

It's true that it's not the most important game in the history of DC baseball. The Senators won World Series! But the last time they were in it was 1933 and they barely were in the playoff picture after that. Twist my arm and I'd say you could make an argument for the double header the end of the season in 1945 season being as important as this game because if they won both they could have set themselves up to go to the World Series but the Tigers played three games after than and controlled their destiny*. So it's not quite the same. Senators/Rangers didn't come close to playoffs. So we're arguing at best there was a bigger game played in DC baseball history 83 years ago, at worst 71?

It's true that it's not the most important game in franchise history. That was G5 of the 1981 NLCS but there isn't anybody in DC who cares about the strict interpretation of the franchise and I'm not going to argue that they should.

It definitely eclipses the games in 2014, and surpasses the previous "most important game in Nationals history" G5 of the 2012 NLDS because that game was not as team defining. The feeling after that game, other than devastation about how it went down, was that the Nats were a young team that just got their playoff experience and that they'd be back. It was a tough loss but no one was ready to give the Nats a label just yet.

So again here we are.

A win changes everything surrounding the team in terms of its impression of itself. A win makes Dusty a DC legend of sorts.

A loss cements the Nats and Dusty as chokers in the national consciousness, until they are not.

Fair or unfair as it is (pretty unfair in my opinion), this is where things stand.

The Nats should win tonight. It should be fairly easy. The Nats bats should continue to do better than the Dodgers bats. Max shouldn't give up more than a couple runs. Rich Hill should not pitch much better than last time, given he's on short rest. The Nats bullpen should be a little more rested than the Dodgers. The Nats shouldn't end up getting 2 DPs that completely erase the trouble Hill got into.

But should is should. Max should give up a couple runs instead of none, given his pitching lately and the match-up. Lobaton should do something other than hit a 3-run homerun. The Nats should still strike out a bunch, as Hill has been doing exactly that since coming back.

Not all "should"s end up being "did"s and if the wrong ones go against you that's all that matters.

Ok here we go. See you at game time!

*As you can guess the Tigers did what they needed to and went on to the Series. They needed to win the last game to avoid a 1-game playoff with Washington. They were down 3-2 heading into the top of the 9th and Hank Greenberg hit a grand slam. That's big time baseball right there.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Max-imum Pressure Part 2 - this time it makes more sense

Max Scherzer called this the most important game of his life. It's true! At least playoff wise. Max has never started a "Win and your in, Lose and go home" playoff game. However he has started several "Lose and go home" games or "Win and move on" games

"Lose and Go Home"
2011 ALCS - Detroit down 3 games to 1.  A wild Scherzer gets bombed by Texas, not making it out of the third. Final line :  2.1 IP, 5 hits, 4 walks, 6 ER. The punishment doesn't stop. Detroit loses 15-5. 

2012 WS - Detroit down 3 to 0.  Scherzer puts up a pretty standard effort against Giants. 6 and a third, 7 hits, 1 walk, 8K, 3 runs. Tigers though can't score more than 3 themselves and Coke loses it in 10th. Tigers downed 4-3.

2013 ALCS - Detroit down 3 games to 2. Scherzer is wild but battles. 6.1 IP, 5BB, 4 hits.but only 3 runs. Tiger though can't manage any significant offense and Red Sox and lose 5-2.

Overall Record : 0-3
Overall Performance : Eh. First time out was rough but gave a winnable performance the other two outgins.

"Win and move on"
2012 ALDS - Detoit up 2 to 1. Scherzer goes 5.1 IP, holding Oakland to 1 unearned run on 3 hits and 8K. Pulled a little quick maybe but Dotel in relief did his job. Valverde though blows it in the 9th. 4-3 A's. 

2012 ALCS - Detroit up 3 to 0. With zero pressure Scherzer pitches a gem. 5.2IP, 2H, 10K. Pulled at 98 pitches mainly because they could with a 6 to 1 lead. Tigers win eliminating the Yankees 8-1. 

Overall Record : 1-1
Overall Performance : Pretty good. He seems to be a bit wild, as he tended to be back in the day, but also hard to score on. Perhaps the pressure on the other team worked in his favor which would bode well for tomorrow.

Max-imum Pressure

For the most part Game 4 was a lot like every other game in this series. Close and not particularly well-pitched by the starters. Kershaw pitched the best game of the series by either team so far hands down and it probably didn't break "good"*

Just so you can see the difference

Starters NLCS : 7.18 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 3.2 B/9, 10.4 K/9
Relievers NLCS : 1.88 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 11.8 WHIP

(without the Jansen blow-up the reliever stats become : 0.82 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, 12.0 K/9)

Kershaw was ok, throwing in a space that allowed him to dominate the bottom of the Nats line-up but struggle to put away the top. He wasn't being hit particularly hard so he was able to escape more often than not. Ross, on the other hand, was not ok. He was somewhat predictably unable to throw his fastball past this lefty heavy line-up. This left him trying to work the strike zone with only off-speed pitches, which really isn't what they are meant for.  It didn't work nearly enough to be effective and in a crucial moment he was left in at least one batter too long.

Why did Dusty do it? Same reason you start Ross in the first place. You are looking for innings, looking to try to save the pen. Dusty was trying to squeeze one more out from Ross, so he wouldn't waste a pitcher. In the end it didn't work, Ross would walk Reddick, then plunk Pederson; and it didn't matter, as the Nats would go 1-2-3 in the next inning saving the pitcher spot from coming up.**

However, Game 4 was a bit different. All these games are being won or lost by the pens but that hadn't meant what it usually does. Games 1 through 3 were won or lost in the 5th-9th as one or the other bullpen manages to hold on to the lead their team got off the opposing starter. Game 4 was a more typical game, won or lost in the 7th-9th as one or the other bullpen lets in the deciding run. It was almost the Dodgers - as they failed to get the single out needed to hold onto Kershaw's lead. But then it was the Nats, with Blake Treinen giving up the game after seemingly being in control.

After 4 games, here's how things stand for the Nats.
  • The bullpen arms have been very effective. The two runs scored yesterday were the first two scored off them all series and it's not like they haven't been out there. This also includes Lopez who is more of a long-man than a reliever likely to be used in any crucial late game situation. 
  • The starters have not. No reason to go into it because all that matters now is Max in Game 5.
  • The top of the lineup is getting it done - Turner is hitting .353, Werth .467, Murphy .462.  Bryce is getting on at a .421 clip. 
  • The bottom of the line-up is not Rendon is hitting .188, Espy .091, C .188 (yes with one big homer), as well as the bench, 1-9 PH (with a SF)  Drew 0-2 filling in mid-game, Severino 0-2 filling in mid-game.
What's all that mean? The Nats are playing like a normal team right now. They aren't hot. They aren't cold. This is them. And if Max is Max on Thursday, that should be more than enough to get to the NLCS. 

*line wise it won't even be that and thus it'll be another notch on the "Kershaw can't pitch in the playoffs" belt, but we all saw it. It was fine. 

**this would actually happen twice in the game saving the Nats a couple arms 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

One to go

Two things are true about yesterday. 1) Gio Gonzalez was at best mediocre in a game where by all rights he should have been dominant. 2) Gio Gonzalez gave us the best starting pitching performance of the playoffs so far from either team.  Yay?

If the Nats do take the series, either today or Thursday, something will happen and something won't. What won't happen is the national perception of the Nationals and Dusty won't change. The Nats don't suddenly become a credible playoff team by beating another consistently disappointing playoff team. They'll have to beat the Cubs (or Giants) to get that monkey off their back. Dusty doesn't suddenly become a winner winning an NLDS with the team with more wins. As we discussed earlier, he needs to win a World Series. So, if the Nats win don't look around to the media or people outside the area and scream "How do you like me now!" ("You like that?") because the answer will invariably be "Exactly the same as I liked you before"

What will happen though is internally everyone will feel tons better. From fans down to the clubhouse attendants. Making the playoffs is hurdle one. Winning in the playoffs is hurdle two and a hurdle the Nats have yet to get over. Win this series and winning the next one, be in the NLCS or next year, seems a lot more possible. Dusty, already beloved for... well pretty much for being Dusty, has his place in Nats history set in stone, doing what Davey and Matt Williams, didn't and couldn't do, respectively. The bigger wins may be necessary to impress the judges but the franchise and everyone involved needs this win to prove it to themselves.

So what's up for today? We'll find out in a few hours. What makes the most sense to me is Urias vs Ross.  I don't see how the Dodgers start Kershaw today. I don't see how you look at what happened on Friday and think "Yeah, Give me more of that. But on short rest!" He wasn't just a little off. He was terrible and had to battle not to blow a game handed to him. If the Dodgers are lucky they get to Game 5 and he's back. As for the Nats, they seem pretty committed to going with Ross and Lopez today. Ross you've been stretching out. Lopez you've been preparing to relieve. While all pitching is pitching there is different preparation and mindsets needed to start as opposed to relieving, so this matters. Also you hope to use as few pitchers as possible, a good Ross outing could go 6 maybe even 7. Lopez you are probably pulling after 3-4 regardless. I really don't see the issue here. Start Ross, pull when he stops being effective.

I think the thing I notice most about this series is outside of the starting pitching, the Nats feel like the Nats. The last time the Nats were in the playoffs in 2014, they felt overmatched and unprepared. They had all the pressure and none of the fun. This team feels better. They aren't playing their best ball, no, but there's no sense of looming defeat. Maybe it helps playing the Dodgers instead of the Cardinals or Giants but whatever the reason, this series feels more... right. Even Game 1 felt like a missed opportunity, not a game they didn't have a chance in.

I'm not going to lie. I have this game going to the Dodgers. I like Urias more than Ross. I like the desperation of the Dodgers at home, more than the looseness of the Nats on the road. But I'd rather be wrong. Prove me wrong Nats, prove me wrong.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Playoff Quickie

So I was hurricane'd this weekend. Nothing serious but power, internet, cable issues that kept me from getting some posts up or live-tweeting.  I'll be around today though.

As for the weekend, it went about as I expected. If you asked me to suss out the favorites for each game in the series before it started I would have said : G1 Dodgers slight favorite, G2 Nats solid favorite, G3 Nats slight favorite, G4 Dodgers solid favorite. (Game 5? Well that depends on who goes and how they pitched earlier in the series. Right now, assuming Max v Kershaw Part 2 in DC, I'd make the Nats a slight favorite.)  The Dodgers needed Game 1 because they could very easily lose the next two. They got it. After losing the first game though, the Nats really needed the next two, because they could very easily lose Game 4. They've gotten one, let's get the next one.

Why are the Nats slight favorites in my mind today? Well the Dodgers can't hit lefties. They just can't. We've gone over that. However, they are at home and Gio is capable of losing a game by himself so I can't give the Nats the win straight up. Also I've liked Maeda all year and think he's capable of throwing a 7 inning shutout type game. The end of the season makes me back off a little bit, but that feeling is still there. So Nats are favored by me but not by much.

My biggest issue yesterday was seeing Dusty, for the second day have a LHRP face the three righties on the Dodgers you don't want him to face (Puig, Grandal, and Kendrick*). This should be difficult to do. Grandal has started both games so simply by avoiding using a lefty only around his time up would be enough to do it. Yet there we were on Friday watching Solis face Grandal (single), Kendrick (GB out) and Puig (IBB) in successsion and Rep on Sunday facing Puig (BB) Grandal (K) and Kendrick (LD out right at Werth) back to back to back as well.  Dusty has been very good pulling the strings beside these moments but I just don't see how it happened once, let alone twice. Eventually this is going to bite the Nats if it keeps happening.

I think the best observation about these two games is that the Nats' offense looks like... well the Nats offense. There could easily have been some drop off but there doesn't seem to be. Murphy looks like Murphy. Turner is handling himself.  Lobaton/Severino are not being outmatched. Only Espinosa seems to be problematic with his 5 Ks in two games but if that's the only real problem, and it seems to be, the Nats are in great shape at the plate. Yes, these things can be like a faucet but as we say - rather be hot than cold.

The starting pitching oddly has been the real issue. Max made an unusually high number of mistake pitches in Game 1 and when Max makes a mistake, because of his approach, those are HR balls. But otherwise he looked like Max, and I like Max to get back to regular form if he's out there in Game 5. This is big because Kershaw looked terrible in G1, and while he might also get back into form, it's a lot harder for me to buy into that happening. Max just needs to cut down on his mistake pitches. Kershaw needs to regain the feel of all his pitches because he had nothing Saturday. The script flipped in G2, as I felt Roark wasn't as good as Hill, but Hill made the big mistake in that game. Roark... I didn't like his control. Maybe it was the wind? I don't know but he was way too hittable and three walks in 4 1/3rd? I'm not sure we'll see Tanner again this series and I don't think that's a bad thing. April through August he never walked more than 3 in a game and a vast chunk of those were 7 IP+ games. In September he did it three times and he would have gotten there if he was left in this game.

Ok so what about today? As long as Gio got his curveball going the Nats should cruise. Grandal doesn't hit the curveball well. Puig can be a chaser. Kendrick is old. All the other guys just can't handle lefties at all. If Gio doesn't have a feel for the curve and has to rely on the fastball for strikes things get a lot more dicey because he is prone to mistakes (hello Puig HR) and Grandal feasts on fastballs. If their teammates can work their way on base in between (they still can't hit lefties) then you're looking at a typical drive yourself crazy Gio outing. Honestly I think it's an either or day - like a 7+IP 1run affair, or less than 5IP, 4+runs. Maeda I think, will fit inbetween these two. While I do still think he can throw a gem, even his gems are 6IP 1 run games because he doesn't go deep. Twist my arm and I'll guess 6IP, 3R. So this game is Gio's game to win or lose in my head.

Of course games aren't played in my head. OK see you at 4:00!

*argue Chooch Ruiz if you want, I ain't listening. And Turner has always hit righties better than lefties for whatever reason.