Nationals Baseball

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday Quickie - Matt-Tinez?

Look - it's going to plan. They beat the Mets. They took a game against a good team on the road. Going into the road trip I only asked for 3-6 and they could get swept by the Giants and still hit that. That might have been a low bar, so let's assume they win one against SF.  A 4-5 road trip in a stretch that featured the Mets, Dodgers, and Giants and a mid-trip swing to the West Coast? You can't be unhappy with that. Road trips like that aren't the problem. The problem is the 3-7 homestand that preceded that. That should never happen for a playoff team, not even against good teams.*

The Nats don't really have a break soon - in part because there are really only three BAD teams in the NL and in part because they don't start playing Miami until relatively late in the season. Right now it looks like the next nice Nats stretch is heading into Memorial day when they close out a homestand with the Padres, then go on the road to take on Miami, Baltimore and Atlanta, then back home for Tampa Bay and San Fran. This is what looks like their easiest stretch of the season. It's that 18 game stretch where you'd want the team to go like 12-6, 13-5 and make up some serious ground. Until then it's about surviving the road trips and gaining a little ground at home. A step at a time. Anything more is appreciated but extra.


Rendon went to the DL! FINALLY! It was a big swing and miss by the Nats medical staff. If Rendon went on the DL any time in the first couple days he could have been back today and the Nats could have had a full compliment of players to work with for most of the road trip. No, they aren't good players but they are better than no players. Now Rendon has to wait until the 29th (I think - maybe 28th, maybe 30th) to come back. I think Rendon has shown he's not a quick healer (remember the 50+ "day-to-day" diagnosis in Spring 2015?) so DL is probably a safe bet for the future ok?

Zimm looks right which is great. Can't be happier to be wrong about his health status assuming he isn't shot up with horse steroids or whatever. It also shows that skipping ST didn't do a damned thing to make him start out better. The proof that it was worth it now shifts to "July and August". Given he had a great September last year, basically he's gotta come through the entire 2nd half or big in the playoffs to sell this. Good luck to you sir.

MAT's hitting now too. Great!

Who isn't hitting? Most everyone else. Like really. There is not enough talent here to survive guys going cold at the normal rate. Nats need everyone back healthy soon.

Among the not hitting. Hey! Pedro Severino! Huh, Who would have thunk it?

Nats pen is spent with only the back end (Doolittle and Kintzler) working right now. That's the point of depth. The Nats aren't crashing in the pen like last year because they bothered to get 3+ reliable arms in there. But they need more.  Will it be the renewed Gott? Will Solis bounce back? Will Madson be fine after rest? Is Austin Adams ready to give something? Hey, didn't the Nats have a guy named Shawn Kelley? Let's see how it shakes out/resets in the next week and then we'll talk about "needs".

One this else to sit and think about. In the last 20 games, the Nats have gone 8-12. The Nats never went 8-12 in any 20 game stretch in 2017 or 2016.  Dusty > Martinez? Well, obviously. Should go without saying. Dusty is borderline HoF. But that doesn't mean Martinez is bad. Jury's out all year probably but the very first notes back from the foreman are not as positive as you'd hope.

*Oh it will happen, but it'll happen like once. Having it happen this early is not a good sign.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Around the league

With our first break in a good long while, why not take a step back and take a look at what's happening in the National League that's not DC or the Mets. Remember as we roll through that the same thing I said about Zimm - wait until the end of the month - applies to everything here too. 

Rest of the NL East

Braves - The Braves have the best offense in the NL right now. Seven of Eight starters are not just hitting but are hitting it well.  Some of this can be ignored. Ryan Flaherty isn't going to hit .352 the rest of the year. Kurt Suzuki is not a dark horse MVP candidate. But before I said if Ozzie Albies or Dansby Swanson were leading the charge that there may be cause for worry. Well... those guys are hitting now. Hitting it real hard.  The pitching has been good, but the starting pitching may keep the team from being a real threat. Teheran hasn't been good and Anibal Sanchez just hurt himself. The other guys are ok but depth is going to be tested.

Phillies - After a slow start the Phillies got hot and are challenging like we thought they might. Their offense has been led by a "player of the month" type of performance from Rhys Hoskins, but a lot of other bats are worryingly silent. Franco does look below average. Crawford might not be good. Alfaro might be awful. It might take Santana a while to adjust. Kingery might help but the problem is Cesar Hernandez is one of the few bats hitting, so they have to find spots for Scott. Pitching wise it could hardly be better. Arrieta looks good. Nola looks good. And Papelbon tradee Nick Pivetta looks good. Ben Lively hasn't gotten results but his peripherals are pretty decent. Velazquez is a good arm to be talking about 5th. If the pen doesn't fail them this looks to be a good enough staff to challenge for a playoff spot

Marlins - Do we need to talk about them? They're garbage.  Really all you care about is how well the trade bait is doing (Bour is doing fine, Castro is struggling to care, Realmuto just got back) and how well the young players are doing (Brinson is struggling mightily, the rotation is a hideous mix of guys slated to be "never-was"es). Nothing to see here.

NL Central - You'll find that the NL is strangely deep in competitive teams this year, which may not bode well for a Nats team that could be bumped down into the Wild Card hunt. The Pirates are on top but shouldn't hold up. The offense could be fine. But anyone you don't know in the pitching staff (which would be most) is bad.  The Cards sit a game behind and you could see them fly in any direction. They are being carried by things that may not last - surprise older bats and the usual good but injury prone starters - but there's other talent underperforming right now. The Brewers look like a team good enough to win with Yelich, but not so much without him. The surprisingly good 2017 pitching staff is probably just average and it's showing. The Cubs are, like the Nats, floating around in 4th. Like the Pirates in reverse they should come up. The hitting is better than the runs they are getting and that's with an injured Rizzo. All 3 starters who weren't on Cubs to start 2017 look awful but they won't strike out on all three. The Reds are a Raisel Iglesias delivery squad for some better team.

NL West - the D-backs lead but you can see cracks in the armor. The offense is being carried by a few hot bats and there isn't really a lot of talent hiding behind that. It's a pitching led team and the pitching looks good but Walker just went down for the year. We'll see if they can replace that.  We saw the Rockies and they are ok. They've got enough live bats on offense to do damage, but are carrying a couple early aged ones that'll keep them from mashing.  They spent a lot of money on the pen and right now that's working but there's not a lot of starter talent. The Dodgers join fellow favorites Cubs and Nats in early season floundering, but for them it really comes down to one thing - Kenley Jansen is terrible right now. I'd expect them to move back up pretty quickly unless this lingers and they accept it lingering. The Giants are trying to hang on until June when Bumgarner comes back and hope the pitching can carry them to the playoffs as it's done in the past. They might be able to do it if the outfield stops being so bad. Like so bad. Like McCutchen is bad and he's the best one out there. The Padres flirted with relevance for a second but there isn't enough here to keep it up. Maybe next year.

Other notes
  • Pirates trade for Corey Dickerson looks like a steal and Colin Moran looks like he could be a long time major leaguer. Pirates are an interesting team because most of the good talent (Polanco, Marte, Vazquez) are locked up through 2021. There's a chance here for a quick reboot.
  • Ozuna is not doing what the Cards expected, while Bud Norris has turned into a top flight closer. 
  • Matt Albers is doing fine in Milwaukee and the Nats totally should have brought him back. 
  • Addison Russell looks like he might never be the player the Cubs wanted him to be. He was a Top 10 prospect for a couple years. Let this be a lesson to you. And while I expect a Cubs starter to bounce back Quintana, Darvish and Chatwood have all been legit awful. 
  • It's hard to believe in the Diamondbacks when their back-up plan for Jake Lamb going down was Daniel Descalso.  This team has no depth
  • If the Dodgers have a problem it's the 3rd OF spot. You could have walked into this year thinking Chris Taylor was good, Austin Barnes was good, Joc Pederson is still young and thought it could work out but them each being below average was more likely. And they are. Reminds me of my Nats OF take that half of you refused to listen to. But Matt Kemp! Look at that guy go! 
  • If you hated Hunter Pence I have some good news for you. 
  • Austin Hedges strikes me as a guy who will have one good year somewhere down the road but I don't know where. Prospects, huh?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Well, it was a big day for Zimm at least

All in all, it was the start to the road trip you want. Took two of three from the Mets in New York before heading to the West Coast. Still you hate losing and you hate losing when you can see losing coming.

The Nats had not had a day off in a while and the team had leaned pretty heavily on its relief arms over the past few games. Every decent pitcher (KMD and Solis) had gone at least twice in the past three games and Kintzler had gone three times. The strange thing is - the Nats needed at least 7 innings from Roark and they got it. All they had to do was close out the 8th and 9th, with Kintzler out. Smart money would have assumed a Solis - Doolittle finish, because Madson had pitched twice in a row and would normally only be available in the emergency sense. Also Conforto, a lefty, was leading off the 8th.  But Martinez went with Madson, perhaps because of Cespedes and Asdrubal*, and Madson blew up.

Why not replace Madson then after three straight single with lefty Jay Bruce coming up? Or let Solis try to get out Adrian Gonzalez? I can't give you a good answer. But by the time Solis came in and issued two walks the damage was done. Cole's "Send this ball and me to Syracuse" pitch to Cespedes was the icing on the cake.

The Nats now have some time to regroup. They have a travel day going to CA and a travel day back, so a couple days of rest in a week. That'll help. But long stretches without days off happen all the time in baseball. This 12 game stretch is not unusual, and they'll face longer stretches this season.  A 17 game stretch after the West Coast swing which includes NO break going from Philly to San Diego, for example. Nor were there like 3 back to back extra inning games that would explain a tired pen. This was a rookie manager making some mistakes. It happens. Hopefully he learns you can't play to win 162. 

*Better righty bat in recent years

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A win and a Zimm

The Nats win again and are in pretty good position to sweep which would pretty much make the road trip an unqualified success 3 games in unless they lose the last 6. One of the key things is Turner is hitting again, which gives the Nats that desperately needed third bat until the injured guys get back.  For some reason Gio loves to pitch against the Mets (2.90 lifetime ERA in 150 innings, 1.78 in 100 innings at CitiField before last night). I don't get it but I don't care to get it. I'm just happy it's a thing.

One of the biggest at bats of last night was a two out single by Zimm in the top of the 7th. At the time the Nats were only up one and the Mets kept threatening. It was a needed insurance run and Zimm drove it in.

When I talk about giving Zimm the rest of the month before we start judging him, it's not that I'm expecting him to break out. It's that it's not fair to judge a player on 60PA (where he was at about last night) For an example I looked at Rendon last year.

April 5th - 18th : 50 PA : .191 / .240 / .234
August 2nd - 13th : 41 PA : .118 / .220 / .235

or Daniel Murphy
Aug 16th - Sept 3rd : 67 PA : .196 / .313 / .232

or Bryce Harper
May 17th - June 7th : 66 PA : .155 / .242 / .310

Now, you might say "These aren't as long" or "These aren't as bad" and I'd agree with you. But they are close enough for comparison (and really Zimm isn't the hitter these guys are so his streaks should be worse). The point is, even good hitters have fairly long stretches, 2 weeks or more, where they hit terribly. It could be that Zimm is just having his at the start of the season. Is it likely? No. But it could be.

But look at any of these guys and try to stretch it out to a month and it just doesn't happen. You run into games where they are hitting again. Good hitters don't have incredibly bad months. We know this just looking at Zimm over the years. He's a fairly competent hitter most years. But like the guys above, he's had some bad month. He's had slow starts. He's had some in season months where he put up an OPS in the high .500s.* But he hasn't had a flat out terrible month, a low .400s OPS month, ever.  That's why I put the bar out there. If he gets "hot" and gets his stats up to bad, well bad months happen. It's not a good sign for the rest of the year but it doesn't necessarily prohibit Zimm from being a useful to good bat in 2018.  If he can't, we're looking at something we haven't seen before and we can't really use the past for judgement.

Other Notes
The team and the fans are convincing themselves that Pedro Severino is the wave of the future. Good luck with that. The guy has hit .240 / .321 / .320 the past week. That's very likely a best case and would only squeak by what Wieters made you cry over last year. I mean, you start Severino but don't let a good month (if that happens) convince you that he's anything other than a back-up

Goodwin went on the 10-day DL.  Assuming he heals up as they expect, keeping him off of it for a few days cost them a few days of having a player they could use. Will the same be true of Rendon? That's the thing. If Rendon comes back after 9 days that's not a win. That means you traded one-day of Rendon for 9 days of having a full bench. That's a bad trade. If Rendon misses today that's 5 days of Rendon out. That's probably as far as I'd go and say the Nats made the right move keeping him off the DL. Rendon is good but a full bench is at least as important.

*If you ranked Zimm's worst months like 2 of his Bottom 5 partial ones and Three of his Bottom 5 full ones would be from 2016.  Makes you wonder if he should have even been playing that year.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I've read this script before

After a lousy start to the season the Nats needed a win like that. An improbable win, an impossible win.  Down big yet getting key hits from role players and coming back despite the odds. Winning late like that, it just changes things doesn't it? And the Mets losing too - you get exactly what you need - a game in the standings and hopefully a turning point for the team to take off from.

Oh, you thought I was talking about last night? Sorry this is a flashback to the "Uggla Game" in 2015. The improbable win that would turn around the year for the early floundering Nationals. Until it didn't. The lesson Boz taught, by accident, came to fruition. That lesson, for those that hate clicking links, is if you fall far enough behind you can play well and still not catch the team infront of you. The Nats did play well after that Uggla game. Well enough to pass the Mets. But it wasn't well enough to put the Mets away and the Mets made the moves and won the games down the stretch.

Last night's game was a fun one but it took all the bad luck the Nats had gotten over the start of the season turning into good luck in one inning. Sierra's hit was a ground ball where they ain't. A few feet in another direction and it's an out. This describes Turner's hit, too. And Bryce's. And Difo's. Both Kendrick and Reynolds were walked on four pitches. The Nats didn't do much different in that inning than they had all year long, except for one glorious three out stretch the balls didn't find gloves and the other team was missing their spots. For me it's hard to point to that, even in the glow of a needed win, and say the Nats did anything special.

Of course this is baseball. This is what happens. You put the ball in play as hard as you can and hope to get it in the air between players. Seven out of 10 times you don't. But the season is long enough that sometimes those three out of 10 times line up just right. This happens for everyone. Better teams more than bad ones, but everyone. This season it seemed like it was happening more for the Nats' opponents than the Nats regardless of their quality (Reds excepted. Ugh the Reds. Don't look at them!).

Take that win and don't think of it as a turning point. Think of it as a gift. The Nats could have lost that game. They won it. Great. It's in the bank now. The goal for today and beyond though is still the same. Get healthy. Play better. Beat the Mets. You got a break now take advantage of it. 

Notes :

Bryce's homer is impressive but it's not like he muscled out a ball on the handle of the bat. He squared it up for the most part and hit it hard and the bat broke. There was probably a crack in the bat already. Not all bat breaks are jam jobs. It still takes a bunch of strength to put something like that out or else you'd see it more often so cheer him rightfully but I still like to make sure reality is respected.

Severino's hit was the realest of the 8th inning - a line drive into left. Do I think he'll hit? Of course not. Do I think the Nats should ride whoever's hot behind the plate? Yes. Right now, oddly enough, it might be both guys.

Zimmerman should have been protecting the plate on that call. It probably just missed the zone but it's one of those "too close to take" pitches.

Kendrick's homer was his first second of the year and the Nats big rally didn't have an XBH. The problem for the Nats is that their power is expected to be Bryce, Rendon, Murphy, Zimm and maybe MAT. With Rendon and Murphy out and Zimm and MAT struggling that means the Nats power is down to just Bryce. He can almost do it himself, but almost.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday Quickie - Divisional Panic

The Nats are 7-9. That's disappointing but as we keep saying - it isn't anywhere near impossible that a 90+ win team starts 7-9.  It's a bump to overcome, not a mountain.

But also as we keep saying the Nats do not play in a vaccuum. They can move forward and win 90+ games and still not win the division if another team just flat out beats them and right now the Mets are just flat out beating them. They are 12-2 with a six game lead and have an opportunity, not to finish off the Nats, but to make that bump into that mountain. Even with 145 games or so left, nine games is a lot of games to make up.

Let's do a couple flashbacks

In 2015 - the season we almost have to compare this one to - the Mets started out super hot (13-3) while the Nats did not (7-9).  Seems familiar right? A hot Mets team with a 6 game lead a couple weeks in.  Well what happened next? Immediately things got worse. The Mets would start playing .500 ish for a couple weeks but the Nats would start out in the middle of a six game slide putting them 8 games out at 7-13 as the last week in April started. Then the Nats would catch fire. They'd go 18-4 over the next three plus weeks and would be up 1.5 games before May was done. It helped that the Mets would have their own 4-10 slide.

So you can make up even more than 6 games in the matter of a month. It does take you playing your best baseball of the year, and the other team playing maybe its worst but it's possible. And at that point all the Nats had to do again was outplay the Mets down the stretch. They wouldn't do it of course but it wasn't a crazy thing to expect they would.

That last point is important. Does this series matter? Yes, but let's not get ahead of ourselves thinking that winning it, or even sweeping it, fixes anything.  Really all it does it keep the wheels from coming off right now. In 2015 the Nats were looking at a 6 game deficit to the Mets heading into a H2H series with them at CitiField, a week and a half later than this year. The Nats would take three of four (even losing the Scherzer game!) and would come out of there only 4 games down. While it would help in the catching of the Mets, it didn't mean the Nats would put them away.As noted the slightly better than the Mets 2015 Nats would every so slightly expand the lead until the end of July when the Mets would bring in Cespedes, even up the talent more, and then sweep the Nats in NY.

The Nats don't NEED to win this series - it's an away series against a good team that's hot. That's asking too much. But they need to not get swept and hopefully that means a series win.

Right now the Nats are playing like their record suggests. They can beat awful teams, but can't hold ground against good teams at home. That's a recipe for struggling to keep .500. This is a hard road trip for the Nats. They take on the Mets, then they have to fly across the country to take on two desperate teams, the Dodgers and Giants, who expected to be doing better than they are. What am I asking from the Nats... I can't believe it but I'm just asking for 3-6, and to not get swept by the Mets. 10-15 is a pretty lousy start but at this point it's about slowing the bleeding, and a road trip like this is one where the team could bleed out.

Other notes 

Remember before the season when I said I was worried about the OF because Eaton was a risk because he was still an injury recovery situation and MAT was questionable because last year was the only year he did well and he was hurt in Spring and you all said don't worry about it?

Just wondering if you remember that.

An encouraging sign. Trea taking 5 walks over the weekend. If he's going to lead off he needs to do that. Now how a guy with his speed gets on base at least 7 times and steals one base is something we need to talk about  (Commenter noted - Trea had guys in front of him for each of three walks yesterday.  Went back and looked at other times and basically there was only one straight steal of 2B that wasn't tried out of the seven. So there you go. 1 stolen base is fine.) but the foundation to a good guy to have in front of the big hitters is there. 

I've heard people say Bryce is trying too hard to compensate and suffering. That's just us projecting. Bryce just went 3-7 with four walks and a homer in the last three games. He's being Bryce. The Nats have enough real issues without making up ones.

Zimmerman is now batting .122 / .204 /.224. Slow start? Perhaps it's not unusual as they said for Zimm to get off to a slow start. But slow starting Zim would OPS about 650 or so. .428? That's crazy and if he keeps it up for another ten days - be worried

I don't know if the lack of Stras-blame for yesterday's game is an encouraging sign (you get that he pitched ok and he's not a choker - see NLDS) or discouraging (too beaten down right now to care) 

Friday, April 13, 2018

The tinkerer

The Nats lose G1 of the series and now they have to win the rest to even split the home stand. They do have both Max and Stras going so the chances aren't zero, but winning three games in a row is hard in baseball even for good teams

Before I take off for the various errands I have to do I wanted to note something.  Dave Martinez has now managed 13 games. He has put out 12 different defenses and 13 different lineups. The Eaton and Wieters injuries are part of this - I'd be surprised if he could have gotten more than 4 given the usual subbing. But to have 12 different defense and 13 different lineups? That's just stupid. That's tinkering for tinkerings sake.

Get better at your job Dave