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Updated: 2017-05-24T08:52:39.461-07:00


All eyes on Roark


No real post today because sometimes you gotta put seeded rye on the table. But I wanted to note that today Roark is starting and that is more interesting than nearly any other start at this point. Max, Stras, and Gio are all pitching like I would expect them to. The 5th spot needs to be cleared up but you can't really tell much from one or two starts. Although I'll admit Joe Ross came pretty close to it last night.

So I'll guess I'll segway segue into that first. The Nats don't really NEED the 5th starter spot to clear up. We went over earlier how a pitching to expectations Max, Stras, and Roark could nearly get the Nats to the playoffs on their own. Once in the playoffs the 5th starter is somewhat of an vestigial appendage.*  But a decent 5th helps. It helps keep the bullpen rested (although as we've seen the IP of the bullpen isn't all that high), More importantly it gives you cover in case of injury. Up until now, the Nats were praying another arm didn't go down because they didn't have a good option. If Ross can be a decent but reliable 5th then in case of another injury they could fill in behind him with the same barely working mess they were doing before he came back. We don't want to see what's after that.

Even if you understand Seattle is a middling team who's best bat is thrown off in an NL park by having to actually play D he still shut them down solidly for 8 innings. You can be impressed by the efficiency but Ross actually was pretty efficient per batter before going out. It was getting hit that was the problem.  The home run is a continuation of issues he had before but if you don't give up a lot of hits and walks you'll be good enough for 5th.  That's the bar I'm looking at now. Yesterday he cleared it with ease. Let's see the next game.

Back to Roark, Roark hasn't been efficent all year and has been downright bad about how many pitches he's thrown in his last 5 starts. He's averaging over 4.7 pitches per batter. Even his 6IP with 0ER start against the hapless Phillies he threw 100 pitches to only 22 batters. In his last two games the combination of hits and inefficiency got to the point that it meant an early exit. Once is whatever. Twice is "hey look at this". Three times is a problem. These haven't been great offensive teams he's facing either.

It's not necessarily as simple as "pound the zone". Last year he was at 62% strikes. This year he's at 60% and even in the last five games he's at 59%.  Over the course of a game that's 3-4 pitches. I guessed earlier that he's having issue missing like he'd like to, especially to lefties so I'm going to pay particular attention to how he does the first time through against Gamel, Seager, and Cano who are all decent hitters. Can he get them to chase? Can he hit the corners? Are they getting hard hits on pitches out over the plate?

Let's hope those answers are yes, yes and no. Because if not another bad outing in a row and you have to start to wonder if something greater is wrong.

*Would a great 5th starter start in the playoffs, if circumstances called for a 4th starter instead of Gio? Sure. Would a a good one a step better than Gio? My guess is no. Gio presents a different match-up which managers like to think helps keep opposing line-ups off-balance. He in undeniably lefty which can take advantage of things the others can't. And I'm not feeling Gio in the pen, are you?

Tuesday Quickie - I didn't want to do it


I really didn't want to do this but when even Barry, even Barry, is doing something wrong you have to step in right?

Look, if you are going to compare how many pitches the Nats starters have thrown in their first nine starts you can't compare it to the entirety of last year. You have to compare it to the first nine starts of last year. This is for two reasons. First pitchers definitely scale down as the year winds down. With more players available to managers with expanded rosters and with playoff situations becoming set, starters are asked to back off in order to ensure they are ready for the postseason. The other reason, which we will see in a minute is debatable, is because it is thought that pitchers often "ramp up" starting with a few briefer outings in order to get their arms back to major league readiness.

Of course it's an easy enough thing to check so here are the Nats current P/G through 9 games and what it was in 2016

Max :  106.2 (2017), 105 (2016)

Stras :  104.8,  103.2

Gio :  105.8,  98.3

Roark : 106.3, 104.5

How many 110+ outings? Ok that's a arbitrary line in the sand and we might see different things if we set the line at say 105 or 108, but I'll play along.

Max :  3, 2
Stras :  3, 2
Gio :  2, 0
Roark : 3, 3

It turns out that, surprise!, the Nats starters are pitching about as much as they did last year. The difference for Max, Stras, and even Roark who is obviously struggling, is not something close to a batter an inning, but rather just one or two more pitches. Surprising, right? The only one with a big difference is Gio. So yes, Dusty is trying to get more out of Gio, trying to wring an out or two more from a guy who he might have pulled early in 2016.

Why then the change in rank?  Well they did go up, but also because rank is kind of silly, especially the earlier in the year you go. If I throw 90 pitches a game but the league throws 80 I might rank #1. If it averages 100, I might rank #50. I'm doing the same thing, the league is changing. Rank without values can be misleading. To this end, I wouldn't be surprised if the overall P/G is down a bit in the NL given the increase in offense we are seeing this year from the league. The end result being the Nats being higher without really throwing more. Even if they all lost 2 pitches per game putting then UNDER where they were through 9 games last year they'd still rank #3, #4, #5, and #8 which would seem like an increase from last year even though again - they'd have been throwing fewer pitches (except Gio)

I'm not saying the bullpen isn't effecting the starters. There is something to be said about sticking it out for one more important batter and having X number of additional high stress pitches thrown. That may effect an arm. Though until someone shows me that is actually going on in a way different from last year I'm going to assume things are the same since the pitches are the same. There is possibly a psychological effect on the pitcher. He may be demanding more of himself earlier in order to keep the game close. But the straight up idea that the Nats starters are throwing significantly more this year because of the problems with the pen? It's just not true, except for Gio.

Monday Quickie - Relative or Absolute


The Nats are 9-9 in May.  10-10 since Adam Eaton was lost for the year.  Does it matter?Well let's say that the Nats go .500 for the rest of the season starting at the point that Adam Eaton went down. They were 23 games in, 16-7,... subtract... carry the one... multiply by Plank's constant...They'd end the season either 85-77 or 86-76. Those aren't great totals to be sure. And in a baseball vacuum, you'd worry, in this scenario, that they wouldn't even get a Wild Card berth.Now let's look at some other numbers. Namely the records of the other teams in the NL East since that same date.ATL 9-11NYM 9-11MIA 5-17 PHI 4-16The short of it? The Nats have played .500 ball for 3+ weeks and have gained ground on EVERYONE in their division. They do not play in a baseball vacuum. They play in the NL East. Even in this scenario, they are fine.Now that we satisfied any worry warts, why are the Nats struggling? They aren't a .500 team are they?  Well April / May makes a convenient break point, even if it is imperfect so lets look at RS/RA in the two monthsApril  6.8 RS/G,  4.88 RA/GMay 4.22 RS/G,  4.61 RA/GSo the hitting got a lot worse. Or more accurately, the hitting stopped carrying the offense. There were 6 (out of 25) games in April that the Nats almost could not lose where the Nats scored 11, 14, 14, 15, 16 and 23 runs. That certainly skews the month but it also, you know, happened.  There were also 5 more games where the team scored 6 or more runs. This is a usual win even against a Nats team struggling with the pen, a good run more over average. (they did in fact win all 5 of these).   Lastly the Nats scored 0-2 runs only two times during the months. These are close to automatic losses. In May the Nats have had zero double digit scoring games, 5 games still over 6 runs scored (won them all again), and three games scoiring 0-2 runs. There's still a week to go but the Nats are playing a lot more "losable" games. What they aren't doing though is playing a ton more "unwinnable" games. Instead they are playing a lot of games where everyone is scoring some runs. This accentuates the late inning problems because these games are all relatively close. The relievers, believe it or not, have gotten better. Though that isn't saying much as they had a 5.70 ERA in April. The starters, in turn, have gotten a bit worse, up to a 4.20 ERA from a 3.90 ERA in April. So there are some Where is 4.22 R/G? It's below average in a typical modern season, but not terrible.Where is 4.61 R/G? It's above average in a typical modern season, but not terrible.Really it's the combination for a below .500 team, but you know, that's like 1 game going the other way difference, we're talking about. What this shows is that with a terrible pen, the Nats can still win... with a phenomenal offense and above average starting pitching. With an average-ish offense and average-ish starting pitching, you can't. This shouldn't really be a surprise. Average + average + below average isn't going to equal well above average.Should you worry? Well about the NL East no. What about just in general? Maybe. The starters have been around a 4.00 ERA for over a quarter of the season, the relievers around 5.00. This may be what they are as a group. If that's the case it's a below average combination and the offense will have to carry the team. Can it? Probably. The questions start with Turner, who hasn't gotten anything going this year. That is ok, but that's about all you can afford. Then the questions turn to MAT. Can he be effective? If that's negative that sets up a problem for the teamThere are still more questions that are now hanging around the Nats.Where does this drift back down end for Zimm? Can Rendon sustain success? But these are tabled for the moment secondary to the obvious ones above. If MAT and Turner can't hit and these are still questions, then these questions take on added importance drawing the line between a good offense and an ok one. If those questions are both answ[...]

Amusement Park


I want to say this season for the Nats is like riding a roller coaster. The offense and the starters provide the highs, the relief pitching the lows. But it's really not the season we're talking about. The season should end up fine because the rest of the NL East is pure garbage. There should be only highs and "not as high"s. It's individual games that provide the up and down excitement. So it's more like the season is a trip to the amusement park where you pick a ride, like a roller coaster, and go through great parts and scary parts and maybe some parts you don't like but you end up fine in the end. At least this is what the regular season is like.With that in mind I guess we're already at the "sit back and enjoy it" phase. The season isn't clinched because there's time for craziness and there's a brutal schedule coming up, but I'm not expecting anything. Just enjoy these crazy roller coaster games for a while until the other rides open up at the trade deadline. With that in mind it is vaguely hard to talk about stuff. We can talk about the relief pitching but dammit if we don't do that all the time. I'm sure Monday I'll talk about it again after another blown game. Other than that we have a lot of guys doing roughly what they should, or who are not where they should be but seem to be trending in that direction.  These aren't terribly interesting topics, especially if you are like me, and prefer to give more time, than less. Looking at it I'm left with two reasonable topics, Werth - who's overperforming but glancing at stats I'll predict will fall soon and Roark who is underperforming. I guess Roark it is.What you first need to understand is that you can't use last year's results as a baseline for Roark.  Well you can but I wouldn't. While I don't think his FIP or xFIP is fair (Roark has a history of lower than average HR/FB which these numbers will assume will be more average) I do think his LOB% is a little high. Can he stay near 80% - perhaps, but historically looking at minor league data as well he's normally lower. I'd think a low 70s would be more appropriate. That means more runs given up, higher ERA, fewer wins etc. I'm not saying he's bad, just don't go into this thinking he's a  2.80 ERA 16-10 guy. Maybe more of a 3.20 ERA 14-11? OK so usual fancy stats thingHow's the velocity? Seems fineHow's the K/9? Ok.BB/9?That's upHR/9? That's up too.Ok that combo would suggest a lack of control and keeping the ball up. But I guess for the latter I'd expect a different group of hits if that were the case. Fewer GBs, more FBs. That could explain the homers - more pitches up mean more mistakes up. Eh - that is the case but only slightly. GBs down from 48.7% to 46%, FBs up from 31.2% to 32.7% I wouldn't attribute the HRs to that. Is he getting hit harder then - does that explain the HRs? Or is it just a fluke - one HR does make a big difference here. Yes that could explain it.  Soft percentage down a bunch, hard percentage up. But don't rule out fluke.What about the walks? Is he out of control?  No real change in percentages in the zone thrown would suggest not. The walks seem to be driven by swings outside the zone being down a bunch, swings inside up.Guys aren't biting on his stuff outside the zone.But he's had no real difference in what's being thrown has he? No not really. So we kind of reach the end of fancy stats analysis here. I can try to look at the zone profile now... ok I verify he's not really leaving the ball up more. I see big drops in the swing percentages inside for both RHB and LHB, but especially LHB.... His splits against RHB is fine. It is the lefties that are more of an issue. Zone profile doesn't tell me exactly how much he missed though My hypothesis would be that whatever pitch he uses to attack inside, especially to lefties but maybe to both, isn't working the same. Maybe it's a movement thing, maybe location. Lefties are then able to sit on in zone pitches and attack a[...]

The Appetizers and the Main Course


The bullpen didn't blow it last night. Of course it took a 6-1 lead to start and a very timely DP but they didn't do it.We focus a lot on the pen, for obvious reasons, but the Nats are 25-13 with the 2nd best record in baseball. They have the best offense in baseball (not just the NL) and arguably the best starting pitching in baseball* Let's focus on all that for a moment, everything that comes before the terrible desert the Nats are serving up night after night.Bryce is still BRYCE.  We're now 38 games in (almost a quarter of the season) and Bryce hasn't slowed down. After hitting .391 / .509 / .772 in April he's hitting .378 / .489 / .757  in May.  You may remember he had a fast start last year and worry a big fall is coming but (1) he was never hitting for this high an average and (2) he began his decline at the end of April (a week before the Cubs stuff if you must know). I'd say something about fancy stats and his average should drop but with talent like Bryce's sometimes you don't know the ceiling.  Zimm is still hitting. .319 / .373 / .596 in May which is still excellent (he's still fighting Bryce for a NL Triple Crown right now) but is yes, a drop off from the HOF April. He'll have you know, if you'll listen to him, that it's not about any sort of stat analysis. I'm sure at this point he's telling dogs he sees on the street he's just suddenly hitting better than he ever has in his entire career at 32+ because of health. Ok. Sure. Whatever you want to believe. Just keep hitting. We'll get back when I said I would - end of MayThis would almost be enough but you do need at least one more big swinging bat and in May, that's Werth. Werth is way up but is also carrying a unsustainable BABIP and a questionable HR/FB rate. Still it seems like "above average" is possible for him in season 7 and who would turn that down. Three more guys are finding their level. The 3rd man in April, Murphy is slowing down a bit after a hot start, but his overall stats are about where you'd want him to be (25 homers is just not him). Wieters is in a similar boat - with a harsher slowdown (.583 OPS in May) to reach his more modest level (about average).  Rendon, on the other hand, is heating up and getting his overall stats back to the above average we think he should be.  Basically the Nats need a couple guys hot to complement Bryce at any time to keep the offense humming. They have five other bats that are at least average to get those hot months from. It should work out. This leaves two guys to talk about. MAT looks good, but he's carrying a modest .266 average with a .404 BABIP, along with a 36.9% K rate and a 4.8% BB rate. In word form - his approach is garbage, and even though he's getting lucky he's still not doing great. Turner? Well we don't know exactly what Turner is and how hurt he still may be so I don't want to put up any expectations.  Sophomore season hasn't been good as they are getting him to K a lot more attacking his lack of patience. What about the starters?Scherzer has been great. He's matching last year across the board so expect a similar endpoint - maybe a little higher ERA since he outperformed a little last year. There isn't any particular warning signs unless you are like me and think that all the pitches he throws will catch up to him (now for me the timeline is very soon, like sometime before the start of next season - but hey I'm wrong all the time). Strasburg might be trading trading strikeouts for contact. GBs are up, HRs are down. Or he might just not be getting the ball by guys and getting lucky so far.  Probably somewhere in between. So he's very good now, I'd expect more of a normal good going forward. Gio is... let's talk about Roark first. He's basically doing what he did last year but not catching the same breaks. This is more in line with what he should do. Which is still good! So the Nats are set up 1-3 in my mind. It be nice if Stras can get back up[...]

Monday Quickie - The shape of the bullpen is round


The Nats got through another garbage weekend from the bullpen or so it seems. On Friday though Turner, Romero, Glover and Kelley worked 4 innings keeping the game tied. In the next game Romero and Albers combined to keep the lead where it was for over an inning. In the last game, Albers came in and shut the door.

Yes, I'm cherry picking the good where there was bad every night but it's for a reason. The bullpen is beginning to take shape. And it's beginning to take shape around Albers, who has been great.

You have Albers now as the lockdown guy, until he's not anymore. You have Glover on deck. You have Kelley available (every other day). And you have Turner and Romero to fill in some innings. It's not a good pen. Turner and Romero both aren't good enough to be relied on in big spots. You can use them sure, but you are rolling the dice. Kelley's limitations are apparent and keep the Nats from maybe forming a strong everyday back of the pen with what they have on hand (especially with the schedule with no breaks coming up). BUT, but - there is enough here to keep the Nats safely away from the rest of the NL East until teams are trading. That says a lot about the NL East but also a lot about the Nats starters and the Nats offense, even without Eaton.

I'll admit it's a precarious situation. One wrong offensive injury (Bryce would be the obvious one) could depress the scoring enough to matter. One wrong starting pitching injury (Max obvious one here*) could expand the instability of the 5th starter role into the entire back of the rotation. One wrong bullpen injury (Albers) could send us back to where we were a few days ago with nothing good to say about anything pen-related. But precarious is better than where it was before.

Yesterday didn't look good in part because of the double headers but I feel like there is something coming together. Boz is right. This isn't a pen you want to go into October with. There the pitching is better the hitting is better and the games should be closer. But the question is really more - Is this a pen that can survive until July? Today I say yes.

*which makes yesterday infuriating. One thing the Nats will have to do between now and whenever they bring in bullpen help is use the weakness of the NL East to their advantage. Let Jacob Turner soak up a beating. Pull guys early rather than late when possible.  A loss this year does not look like it will be as important as a loss in other years. Could that change and you regret it? I suppose but you can't worry about the hypothetical. You have to work with what's in front of you today.

Where's the noting how easy the schedule is?


I'm just saying. The team was incredibly willing to complain about the weird start times and New York to Colorado after a Sunday Night game scheduling but you won't hear them saying what a dream it's been since then.

Home from the 28th - 30th, day off, Home 2nd-4th, to Philly 5th-7th, to Baltimore 8th-9th, Back home 10th-14th, day off.

That is a pretty damn cushy 2 1/2 week stretch where the "long away trip" is a city a 2 1/2 hour drive away.

Anyway. Not only are the Nats at the end of a virtual relaxing stroll period of their schedule travel wise, they are about to embark on a tour of the dregs of baseball.First up are the Phillies - in the midst of a 2-8 stretch and carrying a 13-19 record.  After that it's off to the window closed without Marte Pirates (currently 14-21), and the no threat with a terrible Dansby Braves (11-20). They then come home to best team they'll face in this stretch the Mariners (17-18), who could be over .500 by that point but are still hurt and coming cross country. That's followed by the garbage Padres (13-23). Then they start a road trip with the currently reeling Giants (12-24) that'll take the team into June. I won't say that'll be easy this far out but it certainly could be given how SF has performed this year.

It's a stretch of 18 games where 13-5 would be a perfectly reasonable expectation. Do that and the Nats start the next month 35-17, likely with the best record in the game, and likely dominating the East by 8 games or so.  Good teams create distance when the opportunity arises and the opportunity is here. It's not as direct as the Mets series where they didn't come through. It could take 18 games rather than 3 to pull away*, but it's there.

If you're curious, June through the All-star break will be hard on the Nats. They get a day off after that SF series - then on the 2nd start with at the A's and then at the Dodgers, they lose an off day to make up for the O's rain out, then face the Rangers and Braves. It's not a tough end, admittedly, but after a road trip and with the games in a row racking up it may matter. Then without a day off they are at the Mets and at the Marlins. Again probably not terribly hard teams but by the end it'll be 20 days in a row. If the Reds remain competitive then the next stretch could be tough too CIN, CHC at home, STL on road, NYM ATL at home to go into all-star break. 17 games in a row with no break and 37 games in 38 days, so even assuming the Braves are still garbage and with the Nats are at home they could easily be dragging.

*Mets schedule isn't hard but it's not as easy as the Nats, and they aren't as good right now, so 11-7 would be a nice projection for them and that would put them two games further out.

Bullpen honesty


Look there are two objective truths here.Objective Truth #1 : When Blanton was brought in, most people were satisfied with the pen. I won't say most people were happy. Most people wanted a lights out closer either Melancon or Jansen, and were disappointed when the Nats got neither. But Blanton made the pen whole. Kelley was very good. Treinen finally pitched well last year. Glover looked to be good. Solis seemed serviceable at the least. That's 4-5 arms. The roles were still undefined but once a closer was found things should shake out.I define this truth because I'm hearing a lot of "I knew they needed depth! Rizzo didn't do his job!" type of comments and I think that's like 90% hindsight. A few probably did think that, not feeling comfortable with the mix of injury cases and brief successes. A few more probably think everything is always a problem and complained about it while complaining about the offense and the rotation as well. But at the time the majority felt that given the likely contract restrictions keeping him from getting a big money closer, Rizzo did a pretty decent job finding a handful of good arms with potential.Objective Truth #2 : This isn't working. That the plan might have been ok at the time only matters in saying "Hey, don't blame Rizzo too much"* Congratulations. Now that you've had your cupcake, fix this. Treinen does look broken.  A 2.38 WHIP with 10 walks in just over 14 innings? He needs to go to Syracuse to get his head on straight. Blanton does look done. A 1.92 WHIP with 6 homers in 12 innings? He needs to be demoted to last man to see if they can get anything from him. Glover and Kelley should help solve things a little at least but given they are still not back from injury they can't be relied on until probably the end of May.I keep saying that the NL East is garbage if the Mets aren't healthy and it is. I mean the Nats have gone 4-4 since May started and they've gained 2 games on the Phillies and 2 and a half on the Marlins. But the Mets have gained ground and so have the maybe dead Braves. The longer you let teams stick around the more chance they have of catching you. This bullpen issue is letting teams stick around.Of course, as we went over yesterday, I don't know how to fix this. A lot of you brought up Turner. I mean, maybe he's growing into a relief role, but I look at his lifetime stats and I don't see anything encouraging. It's not like he's a guy who can dial it up and blow three guys away for you. He's bullpen filler. Move Ross or someone else to the pen has been floated out there too. Voth or Cole are both viable options. Both have some historically decent K-rates. Both are of an age where you'd try to transition them from failed starter. Ross I see less, just because the guy has shown he can be a good starter in the league and he's younger. I guess, I'm saying Cole/Voth into the pen makes sense as the next move. It's leaves you even thinner when it comes to rotation depth but it's not like you liked these guys anyway.**  However it looks like Cole is getting the rotation turns so maybe concentrate on Voth now. Again - like yesterday - any team with a massive failure early in the year is in a bad spot. Teams aren't built to fix big problems early in the year and there usually isn't a good way to do it from the outside through trade or free agency. The Nats have to jury-rig a solution for the next 7 weeks or so.  It could stay ugly. *He has to get some blame, of course, because he picked all these guys. Even if they looked ok, they did fail. **Sidenote : Have you seen the Nats AAA starter stats? Don't.  As for Fedde - he's fine in AA so far but not so great you can project him in the Nats rotation in 2017.  He's at least another month in AA and probably the season. [...]

Bullpen whoas


Yes, I know it's "woes" but "woes" doesn't convey the amazing turn from "maybe the best pen they've ever had" to where they are now. The Nats best bullpen arm currently is Matt Albers. He's got an 0.77 ERA which is backed up by a 0.600 WHIP.  He's only pitched 11.2 innings so you have to take that into account but it's roughly the same amount of innings any Nats reliever has pitched. The second best reliever is probably Koda Glover, who despite posting a 4.15 ERA has pitched better than that as his 0.923 WHIP and 1.96 FIP attest. Of course he's injured. So the second best active is likely Enny Romero. Enny has a 4.40 ERA, and deservedly so. While he's managed to keep his walks down he's been very hittable and has given up a few long balls in his limited innings. An ERA of 4.50 is probably fair. I'm going to repeat that So the second best active is likely Enny Romero. Enny has a 4.40 ERA, and deservedly so. While he's managed to keep his walks down he's been very hittable and has given up a few long balls in his limited innings. An ERA of 4.50 is probably fair. That above, is basically a "last guy in the pen" description, yet for the Nats it's describing their second best option. You don't need me to tell you this, but the Nats pen is in trouble. You could see any one of these things happening. Injury issues with Koda and Kelley, who both finished last year with health troubles. Treinen failing. Blanton somehow crossing an age line and no longer being effective. Enny not living up to his talent. Oliver Perez not having a comeback. Matt Grace not surprising. But that all of them happened in the same 6 weeks? That's coming up snake-eyes a few rolls in a row. The question now is what can the Nats do? The answer is precious little. The Nats can sit and wait. This is what they are most likely going to do. As we discussed yesterday the NL East is terrible so the Nats are not feeling any pressure to do much. The offense is very good. The starting pitching is very good. They will be winning a lot of games by several runs heading into the late innings. They can sit and wait for Glover and Kelley to get healthy. They can sift through any number of AAAA arms to see if something clicks like Albers has so far. Then they can re-evaluate the situation at the usual time and look to make a trade as we head past the All-Star break into the dog days of August.The Nats can try to make a move now for a great reliever. This is tougher. Few teams are truly out of it at this point, and those that are may not want to admit it. Thanks to the Wild Card, teams that were looking at division titles that are floundering still have hope. The Rangers (5 out), Blue Jays (5.5) and Giants (7.0) can still come up with scenarios that get them in. All you are left with are the teams that were trading before the year started (Padres, White Sox, probably Rays) and teams that were on the fence that are now far behind (Royals).  Those are your four. Problem is - these guys know they are the four. They also know that as the season goes on the price goes up. To get a great reliever now would take a impressive offer. At the same time there haven't been many games to build up new prospects in the Nats system. You are going to have to give up a combination of players that includes Robles for sure, and probably Fedde and/or Soto and/or Keiboom the younger. The end result would be lopping the head off a system that's at best fair. The Nats could make a move now for a solid reliever. This might be more doable than going after a Herrera type, but it would be introducing the same sort of question mark that got the Nats into trouble in the first place. Here is an ok reliever.  Let's see what he can do. It may be a sound move logically, but it's not going to assuage anyone's fears. The Nats c[...]

Monday Quickie - 15 games


The Nats have to win the NL East by 15 games.  That's it.

Now granted that only has a small part to do with the Nats. The rest of it is up to four other franchises playing terribly but who's betting against that?

The Mets are an imploding mess just 6 weeks into the season. They've had a heaping handful of injuries, several seemingly made worse by trying to play through the initial pain. Their best pitcher, Syndergaard, will likely be out until the All-Star game. They have just had to suspend Harvey without pay for some sort of insubordination to which he's going to sue the Mets to get that money back. It's hard to see this team challenging for anything

The Braves have failed to develop into any sort of threat. Instead of helping to lead them forward Dansby Swanson looks like the worst regular in baseball at the plate. Bartolo Colon finally looks done and the bullpen is an a horror show. It's almost Nats bad! It's hard to see this team challenging for anything.

The Marlins' rotation is as bad as you thought it would be, and the bullpen isn't good enough to cover for that. The offense is full of middling bats and there is no help in sight for any of these problems. The Marlins were always an "if this and if this and if this" type of challenger and pretty much none of those ifs look like they'll come true this year. It's hard to see this team challenging for anything.

You almost feel good about the Phillies by default. They aren't good at anything, and pretty much every team is good at something. But they aren't bad at anything, either. Of course all that means is they are a team that if they are lucky may challenge .500 and most likely will win 70 games but deservedly so this time, instead of the lucky 71 of last year. Still 71 or 81, it's hard to see this team challenging for anything.

Don't think I'm calling it - I'm not. The Nats still haven't put that lead up I want to see. Hell, the Mets are still only 6.5 games out when a week ago we were hoping to put them 10 games behind. Without that lead the Nats are still subject to the surprise. Maybe that will be a surprise awesome run by some NL East team, but more likely it would be a surprise run of injuries for the Nats dragging them down. They are obviously deep enough to weather losing Eaton. But another bat and Scherzer? No. Of course that's worst case and we're more likely to see say Rendon miss a month and 5th starter continue to flounder with a league average 5th starter type - which is to say "not good".

The season is almost 20% over. A good chunk is done. The Nats seem to be in complete command of the division. They need to keep winning and keep pulling away slowly between bursts. They need to win by 15 because I don't see how the 2nd place team in this division finishes much over .500.

Now let's see what they do against a real league.

Interesting parties


Nats win. They currently have the 2nd best record in baseball, their 18-9 sandwiched nicely between the Astros 19-9 and Yankees 17-9. They have a 5.5 game lead over the second place Marlins and Philles. Basically they are cruising right now. Sometimes it may be a 25 MPH cruise but there's no one else on the road so they don't have to push it.So forgive me if I take a slight break on the Nats to look at other former Nats and things of interest from around the league so far. LikeMike Trout We constantly talk about how good he is and how neglected he is and yet we still kind of neglect how good he is. I noted the other day that his team is garbage and another amazing season is being wasted. Take a look. In that team you'll note Danny Espinosa being amazingly bad and Yunel Escobar not doing well either. This is a team where players have gone to die (sorry Albert). Hey Ben Revere, too! It's a reunion and I'm going down a Nationals rabbit hole now. Seeing Danny got me thinking about other Nats players. How's Ian Desmond doing? Just got back and coming out swinging. the two homers may not surprise you but they were in San Diego, not Colorado. Jordan Zimmerman? Injured in the neck last year, still getting back into form. His last start was more prototypical ZNN so we'll see.Span? Hurt in SF.Robinson? Performing poorly in AAA Syracuse.Fister? Still waiting on injuries to pile up so someone will sign himI heard something about Tyler Moore? Brief major league time with Marlins then off to play poorly in AAA.  Chris Marrero? Showing San Fran why he never made it before now.Mike Morse? Showing San Fran why he can't make it now.Sandy Leon? Back to being the poor hitting catcher he's always been. Bernadina? In Korea, not doing well.Lombo? Slapping singles and building a strange fanbase of frustrated short white guys in New Orleans. Another thing I noted recently was how good former Nats relievers are doing. Clippard 1.54 ERA, Storen 1.29, Blevins 0.90, Rivero 0.56. None of them are THIS good but still there's a very solid pen built just from the guys the Nats got rid of. (All of these guys were traded). Of course other than Blevins every deal made sense. They weren't going to pay Clippard. They needed Melancon (and he was good). They needed to get rid of Storen. Sometimes this stuff happens. Sometimes it doesn't Like the 7.36 ERA with Stammen in Cleveland or Ian Krol's 8.44 in Atlanta. Speaking of trades, we just saw Robbie Ray pitch very well.  What about other minor leaguers given up by the Nats?Lucas Giolito? Struggling mightily in AAA.Reynaldo Lopez?  Early issues, but seems to be coming around last few starts.Other guys? (Dane Dunning)? So good in low A they moved him up to high A already.Jeffrey Rosa (guy traded for Enny)? hasn't even pitched yetTaylor Hearn (other guy in Melancon deal)? Middling in high ANick Pivetta (Papelbon)? Starting now for the Phillies, trying to see exactly where he'll end up. Back of rotation guy seems most likely, but some like him more, some see him in pen.Wil Myers and Steven Souza? Both doing really well though Souza is in a bit of a recent freefall. (.120 with 11Ks in last 6 games)and finally I'll end with Alex Meyer (Span)? I've talked about before how the Twins, who last developed a good pitcher in Brad Radke (only possibly hyperbole - that's how bad it's been), basically ruined the kid. Off he went to the Angels. I figured any place else would be better. Well after five mediocre AAA starts to end last year and 4 poor ones to start this one, the Angels brought him up.  So congrats on becoming the name I bring up for the rest of my life on how you can mishandle talent right into the trash. [...]

Zimm Resurgent


So let's discuss Ryan Zimmerman. I'm not going to waste time with a long lead-in. He was terrible last year. He's great so far this year.  Is this real or not? Is this sustainable or a flash in the pan? I could go through a bunch of numbers but I want to try to do this systematically. Think about how I'd answer the question before looking at the numbers. Ok, well the first thing I would do is try to determine if Ryan has just been lucky or not. Generally that means looking at BABIP and HR/FB rates. It's not that a person can't control these things but there are certain historic limits to these numbers. In the past 5 years the highest BABIP seen was Chris Johnson's .394 in 2013. The highest HR/FB rate was Nelson Cruz 30.3% in 2015.  So if Zimm is beating either of these he almost HAS to come back down. Let's check...BABIP : .448 HR/FB : 40.7%Ok he's been lucky. But come on. He's on pace to hit .420 with 70 home runs. It would be crazy if I didn't find him to be lucky. So congratulations we've determined he shouldn't have the best offensive  season in the history of the game. The next question I'd try to answer is how lucky is he? That's harder question. What I would probably look at next is trying to see if he's hitting better. If he's not then he's probably getting real lucky, if he is there's probably something "real" behind this. By hitting better I mean he would (1) hit fewer balls softer / more balls harder*, (2) Hit more line drives,** (3) swing and miss fewer times. Those are all things I'd like to see. But better than what?  Better than last year? That only tells us that he's not terrible.  Let's see how he compares not only to 2016 but to "peak Zimm",  2009/2010 Zimm. Soft/Hard2009: 12.4% / 35.8%2010: 14.8% / 40.0%2016: 15.2% / 34.7%2017: 10.1% / 40.6%LD%2009: 18.7%2010: 17.6%2016: 16.7%2017: 23.2%SwingStrike%2009: 7.4%2010: 7.4%2016: 9.8%2017: 8.5%Zimm is hitting it, at least in April, as well as he ever has. He's hitting it hard. He's hitting it on a line. He's swinging and missing more than "peak Zimm" but that could be a necessary trade-off to the harder swings. It isn't surprising to see a very good statistical month given this.But what you might have noticed is that 2016 doesn't look too far off "peak Zim" either. Maybe too many swings and misses but he was hitting it hard and while not as line drivey as 2017, just as line drivey as 2009 and 2010. Remember what we were told about Zimm last year, though. He was hitting the ball hard but was hitting the ball too much into the ground.  Was that actually a problem?  Did he change that?GB%2009: 39.6%2010: 41.2%2016: 48.6%2017: 37.7%Yes. Yes he did hit a lot of ground balls.  Yes he did change that. It's not necessarily true that if you hit a lot of groundballs that's bad, though. So let's take a look at that BABIP from last year.2016 : .248That's near the bottom of the usual range. So there was an element of bad luck likely there last year. But back to the question at hand. Is what Zimm is doing real, is it sustainable? The answer to the first question is yes, I think so (with the caveat of we're only talking about a month here). Like I said he is hitting hard and square. If I take a look at the 2016 leaderboard and come up with a quick and dirty "Hard and Square" stat (say (hard% - soft%) + LD%) you see the names you want to see in that Top 10. Freeman, Carpenter, Ortiz, Votto, Cabrera, Trout, JD Martinez, Corey Seager, Justin Turner.  The bottom is filled with disappointments - Iglesias, Heyward, Alcides Escobar, Schoop, Panik, Pillar.  It's not a perfect "Up Here = Stardom, Down There = Garbage" but it's close. So while .420 70 HR pace is not sustainable, I don't think that's what you're asking. If he keeps hi[...]

Monday Quickie - Dark Clouds Silver Linings


Real quick one today

The Nats failed to put away (in my opinion) the Mets this weekend. Opportunity knocked and the Nats hid in the bed with the covers over their head until it went away. They could have been over 10 games up on the Mets if they swept this series at home. But Max failed to come up big in the first game, as an initially shaky deGrom did what he couldn't.  In the next game,  the Nats pen yielded 2 runs in two innings to keep the game out of reach. That was that. The dream of finishing off the Mets by May 1st was done.

Of course that doesn't mean the Nats are in a bad position. In fact, neither the Phillies or Marlins, the two closest teams, could pick up a game. The Nats find themselves with the biggest division lead in the majors at 5 games. While the Mets have managed to stick around they lost their best bat (Cespedes) going into the series and maybe lost their best arm (Sydergaard) coming out of it. The Nats didn't put away the Mets, but they haven't done anything to lose their place as a early favorite.

The Nats also suffered a major injury, losing Adam Eaton for the year. Center field has been a major issue for the Nationals since 2005 as a parade of players have come and gone trying to fit the very specific, very traditional role that apparently the Nats need. Adam served to be this top of the order hitter the Nats have always wanted.*  Now the Nats are once again searching. The first guy up is again Michael A Taylor who has been very consistent over 800 PA in baseball so far.  He will not hit for average (around .230). He will not show patience (walk rate around 6.5%). He will show moderate power (isoSLG about .140) but he'll strike out a ton (K rate over 30%).  He's young enough that this could change but he's at the end of that range. After this try it won't be natural progression if he gets better, it'll be luck.

But the Nats line-up had shown itself to be 8 deep. The worst hitters currently being the aged Jayson Werth, who has shown an ability to at least keep himself competent this long, and Anthony Rendon, who if isn't hurt has shown himself to be a very good hitter, as evidence by yesterdays breakout. The Nats line-up is now 7 deep. That's still deep and it's not 7 deep with moderate talent. Bryce and Murphy are potentially MVP bats. Turner could be the same. Zimm (tomorrow!) just had a special April and is a solid bat at worst when healthy. Things may have gotten easier for opponent's pitching but they haven't gotten easy.

Was it an ideal weekend? No. Was it an ideal April? No, you had the Eaton injury and the bullpen situation hasn't gotten any better. But despite all that the Nats are staying up there with the best teams in baseball with one month down and a nice sized lead in their favor. I'll take it.

*You know who else was that? Denard Span in 2014-15.  I'm not sure why that has seemingly slipped everyone's mind.

Put them away


Yesterday I said that I thought the Nats could effectively put the Mets out of the NL East title hunt this weekend.That was before they lost Cespedes, the game, and another game in the standings. Now I really believe it.

The fact of the matter is this. If the Nats sweep the Mets the Mets will be 10.5 games behind the Nats. Can a team make up 10.5 games in 5 months? Sure! It's not easy but it can be done. This is especially true for a team that you think is good and looks a little unlucky chasing down a team that you don't really like and who has looked a little lucky. Like say if the Dodgers had to make up 10.5 games to catch the Rockies.

But it's not the Dodgers and the Rockies, it's the Nationals and the Mets. You may have liked the Mets better than the Nationals, maybe. I didn't, but maybe you did. But did you like them to finish 10.5 games ahead of the Nationals? No one did. And now they'd have a month less time to play that much better than the Nats and they'd be trying to do it with a team that already looks hobbled 4 weeks into the season. It's not happening.

Or more accurately it won't happen if the Nats put away the Mets. If the Nats sweep the Mets and put the Nats 10.5 games back they will not catch the Nationals.  That means there isn't a chance for the Mets to win the NL East.

Before you get all worried, here are some things you might be thinking I'm saying that I am not:
  • I'm not saying the Nationals are going to win the East. There are other teams in the division and while I don't really love any of them, things happen. The Nats can get injured. Teams can really bolster a surprise contender with a trade. There's no handing the Nats anything on April 28th or May 1st.
  • I'm not saying the Mets can't make the playoffs. 8-13 is a bad record but it's not terrible or anything. If you think say ... 90 wins can make the playoffs then the Mets would have to go through the rest of the year at a 94 win pace. That's certainly possible. From 8-16 it would be that much harder but again in the realm of possibility. Plus right now the 2nd WC is the Phillies at 11-9. That's a catchable team with a mediocre record. (Not to mention the first WC would be the Rockies). There's no group of good teams running away from the rest.
  • I'm not saying teams won't make jumps of 10.5 games against other teams. Most presumed good teams will start to do better but really this is about bad teams crashing out. There's definitely a snowball effect that happens at year's end compounded by the good players on your team being traded away. Teams close to .500 now could easily finish 15 games under. That's 15 games without even trying. If the Nats were a surprise contender and the Mets were the heavy favorite I wouldn't even consider saying the Mets can't make up that ground. 
But getting back to it. The Mets, who were supposed to be the Nats biggest threat to another division crown, are wounded and stumbling. The Nats can all but finish them off as threats with a sweep. Do it.

What happens


What happens if Bryce is BRYCE again?
What happens if Daniel Murphy matches last year?
What happens if Trea Turner has no sophomore slump?

Answer. It almost doesn't matter what anyone else does.

In the past week Bryce is hittin... I'll make you wait for that.

In the past week  Daniel Murphy has been hitting .296 / .321 / .593. It's not quite what he did last year but it's probably like 2 base hits off. (and he's .348 / .348 / .696 in the past 5 games)

In the past week Trea Turner is hitting .458 / .480 / .958.  It's way over what he'll end up with but a natural rebound from his slow start to put his yearly stats more in line with last year (.342 / .370 / .567 last year - .326 / .341 / .628 this year) It also makes you think what a crazy player he would be in a spacious pitchers park or at Coors field.

In the past week Bryce is hitting .526 / .640 / .842. I guess you could be disappointed that he's only hit one homer but Jesus, I just typed he's getting on base almost 2/3rds of the time.

In those last 6 games the Nats have scored 43 runs, or over 7 a game. These three have scored 22 of the runs and driven in 27 of them. They are an offensive juggernaut.

Oh how are the rest of the Nats doing over the same time?
Eaton OPS .656 (this is like Michael Taylor last year), Lobaton .599, Rendon .598, Werth .583, Wieters .397, Taylor (12PA) .083

They can almost do it all by themselves. I say almost because you might have noticed that I left out one guy. Ryan Zimmerman. He's hitting .381 / .458 / .857 during the past week. That's what puts it all over the top.

If Bryce is BRYCE, if Murphy is 2016 Murphy, if Trea is 2016 Trea you have three MVP worthy bats on the same team. If one of them is hot and one is just doing about what they should, that might be enough with the vagaries of who else is randomly hitting in the rest of the lineup to be a decent offense. If these three are going at the same time, and just one other guy is hot, they can bludgeon a team into submission. Right now it's Zimm. Next week it could be Rendon. Maybe Werth here and there. If these three all hit their max potential it's hard to see a better offense in the majors.  

So in short - don't get injured.

Worst pen ever?


It's not that the Nats pen is bad. Bad pens happen, especially early in the year when the vagaries of small sample size and the "let's see if this guy with great stuff can hack it" philosophy reigns. It's how bad they are. Guys aren't just failing. They are blowing up.Joe Blanton : ERA 10.13. Key Stats  HR/FB 36.4%, Soft % 7.4% Hard % 44.4%, Velocities FB : 91MPH, Sinker : 87.5 MPHBlanton has gotten a little worse around the edges. That's not to be unexpected for an old pitcher coming off a surprisingly good year. But one thing has drastically changed and that's him giving up homers. He's not giving up more flyballs but guys are teeing off on what they are hitting and a decreased sinker velocity might be the reason. Blanton had gotten successful throwing a fast sinker that was - at least in speed - in distinguishable from the fastball. Now there's a clear difference between the two. Major league hitters are good enough to pick up on things like that. Of course his bread and butter is the slider. Zone info shows he's not as pinpoint as he was in 2016 with it. Could that be all it takes? For a one-pitch pitcher, maybe. I think the homers are a fluke but the big drop in effectiveness may not be.Blake Treinen : ERA 9.82.  Key Stats : H/9 19.6, BB9 7.4, FS% 46.5% (down from 57%)The idea of Treinen as a closer was always a question mark because he put a lot of guys on base. He put balls in play and he walked them, but the hope was he could temper that and let double plays and maybe a few more strikeouts make him successful. But instead of ramping down hits and walks, they've jumped way up in the face of more patient batters just looking to put the ball in play. Is a .517 BABIP against going to last? Of course not. But  even if it were half that his hits per 9 would be approaching 10. That's not good and paired with a crazy walk rate it's game over regardless of K's and DPs If you want to be optimistic a lot of the fancy stats suggest Treinen is not pitching too different than last year. His issues are stemming from not keeping the ball down and not getting ahead on the batters (first strike % is way down). If he's not ahead batters don't chase. (swings outside the zone are down as well) But he's not a lights out guy if things are working and never has been. At 28/29 he's not a work in progress anymore. He's a high 3.00 ERA guy capable of getting a DP if needed. Enny Romero : ERA 6.00.  Key Stats : H/9 14.1, wFB -2.0, Soft 12.5%A lot of times with guys like Enny you have an unhittable wild mess that you hope to get under control. Enny isn't that. Enny is completely hittable. So while he has gotten his walks down to an acceptable level (2.3 BB/9). He's giving up hit after hit. The second stat tells a story.  It's kind of like "is your fastball good for you or not?". I usually ignore these stats, but for Enny they are telling. He's never had a good fastball.  A fast fastball yes, but not a good one. So guys sit on it and when they get that fast juicy meatball they hit it and they hit it hard.  Just like that FB stat - that soft percentage matches up with what his career numbers tell us. Guys make good contact against him. So unless you think Romero can survive on throwing nothing but sliders there's no place for him on a major league roster. Oliver Perez : ERA 6.75.  Key Stats .857 OPS vs LHB, 1.333 OPS vs RHBThere's barely any stats because he's barely pitched but the fact that he's barely pitched means the team buys into what these stats are saying which is Perez can't be used at any time. Last year he squeaked by because he was alright vs lefties and not terrible if he had to face a [...]

Under the Shadow of the Flat Brim


I'm a hack!Really I'm just bored. The Nats losing a game because the B-Team bullpen (not Glover, Kelley) blew things the day after one of the rare, not typical, travel situations isn't a surprise. I figured this for a loss. So rather than talk about Enny Romero (sure he had two-outs but I'm not sure he threw a strike to Story), or try to excuse Blake Treinen (sinkerballers may have tough times in Coors because the ball will sink less), and as I wait patiently for Zimm to hit my self imposed May 1 or 100 PA deadline on looking at his stuff, I figure I'll tackle an enduring "mystery" of the Nats in a completely not serious post.I'll tackle the Curse of Cordero.In 2005 at age 23 Chad Cordero was named the Nats closer and successfully closed 47 games, made the All-Star game, even finished 5th in Cy Young voting (all it means is he got a vote but yes that happened). He would be the rare bright spot for the post inaugural Nats saving 29 in 2006 and 37 in 2007. He was the 2nd youngest player to hit 100 saves. But in April of 2008 he tore his shoulder and that's death. He was never the same after that and some say that upon being non-tendered by Bowden on a sports talk radio show (Bowden was the worst) he cursed the position of closer for the Nats.Let us examine the doomed careers of those who followed "Under the Shadow of the Flat Brim" (that's what I'm calling the book I'm pitching as a hacky beat writer trying to find a niche that'll get me PAID)2008 - Jon Rauch - took over for Chad, successful and promptly traded to Arizona where he was a bust. Only 38 saves post Nats career, bounced around for a couple years and career was over at 332008/2009 - Joel Hanrahan - took over for Rauch. Handed job for 2009, before he was done had a 1-3 record, with 5 blown saves in 10 attempts. Traded to Pittsburgh that same year. Tommy John would end his career at 312009 - Mike MacDougal - "Mac the Ninth" took over for Hanrahan. Non tendered by team after season. Spent most of post Nats career throwing to a 6.00+ ERA in AAA.2010 - Matt Capps - Signed to take over duties. Traded to Minnesota before years end. After 1 and a half decent years, injured and at age 28 was never seen in the big leagues AGAIN.2011-2015 Drew Storen - Drafted to be the closer. Immediate success, but injured. Came back in 2012 to reclaim duties right before playoffs. Successful twice before losing G5 and prompting Lerners to bring in Soriano and break Storen's little brain. Would go back and forth between successful closer, playoff disappointment, and replaced head-case 8th inning man. Traded to Toronto where he promptly wasn't named closer and again busted. Currently in Cincinnati doing well because they've convinced him he's part closer. Meltdown to come if not closer by Memorial Day 2012 - Brad Lidge - We do not talk about Brad Lidge with the Nationals other than to say his last pitch was made in this uniform.2012 - Henry Rodgriguez - H-Rod, as he was unaffectionately known, was given the chance to close early in 2012 along with Lidge while Storen was out. Walked everyone. Walked right out of game two years later at age 272012 - Tyler Clippard - The "Best Middle Reliever in Baseball History" Clippard took over after the Lidge/H-Rod plan imploded and successfully conquered the closer job but Storen came back and the Nats wanted him as closer so back he went to middle relief. Eventually traded to Oakland in 2015 where he successfully closed for most of the year, but was traded to the Mets to do middle relief. Now successful in middle relief in NYY. NO CURSE CAN STOP CLIPPARD.2013 - Rafael Soriano - Brought here after the G5 debacle because Sco[...]

Monday Quickie - A different year


The Nats have inarguably had the best team in the NL East over the last five seasons. From 2012-2016 the Nats have had good to very good offenses mixed with good to great pitching staffs and have by the grace/curse of luck with injuries and competitor timing, either been division winners or also rans. But while the Nats have gotten lucky with injuries and the rest of the NL East presenting them with an AFC East for the Patriots situation, what the Nats have never been is lucky on the field.Here are their win totals and their "expected" win totals (Pythag, and 3rd order).  2012 : 98 (96, --) 2013 : 86 (84, 83)2014 : 96 (97, 97) 2015 : 83 (89, 89)2016 : 95 (97, 98)Now I won't go into the details of what these other win totals mean beyond saying they are attempts to strip luck out of the equation. They attempt to answer the question - with an offense this good and a pitching staff that good, how many games should you have won in a vacuum? It's a completely pointless descriptive stat. When looking back on a year, who cares how many you should have won? But as a predictive stat it can be useful, if taken with the usual caveats. It's also useful for me showing this point.The Nats have never really gotten that lucky on the field. The best they've done against the expected win totals is +2/+3 back in  2013. That is almost "noise". They did have one year that was probably unlucky winning 83 games when 89 was more likely given the talent* but they have yet to have that year when things break their way with the way the ball bounces on the field.I bring this up not because the Nats are getting super lucky now. Their wins would be 13 (11, 12) and you actually expect more craziness early than late. I bring this up because isn't it time? Can't the Nats have a great team AND a team that is lucky all over and just coast to a title? Take a double digit division lead by Memorial Day and not look back? In 2012 they took a few game lead in mid June but never quite shook the Braves until late August. In 2014 the Nats actually spent most of the year trying to catch Atlanta before passing the Braves and not looking back in mid-August***. Last year was the closest we've come to the dream ideal where a sweep of the Mets in late June pretty much put the division away, but you could see a possible path back for the Mets until early August.I want to enter the All-Star Break with a 15 game lead and have a summer of nothing but watching a great team play great baseball. I think this team, and this division, can give us that. The Nats offense (unlike the pen) is possibly the best they've ever had. There are no obvious holes, Bryce is BRYCE and Zimm looks to be healthy. The rotation is as good as it usually is. The pen could stand to have that one more great arm to anchor it, but we weren't wrong saying that talent was there. It'll just be a matter of getting lucky with health and shuffling things around until they find a fit. The Mets are already injury bit. The Marlins will have to have everything go right with that rotation to stay in it. The Phillies can't be real and lost Buchholz for the year. The Braves can't get over the fact they've built their line-up with two awful bats (right now**) wasting Freeman's potential in carrying the team. As a side note : the other thing the Nats have never done is have an actual down the wire division race. The Nats' Septembers have been exceedingly boring when it comes to division games 2012 : Entered up 6.5, closest it got was 3 but with four games left.2013 : Entered down 15, closest it got was 8 with 12 left2014 : Entered up 6.0,  t[...]

Did their job


Going into Phillies/Braves, I thought 4-2 was the goal, 3-3 the floor, so 5-1 is a very nice little run here. I also thought the Mets would do no worse than 3-3, turns out they could. They went 1-5 in the same time frame and what was a 1.5 game deficit for the Nats is now a 2.5 game lead. (With the Marlins between them)

This makes the weekend series that much easier. You are playing a good team away from home in a three game set. Just don't get swept. That's it. Low bar? Possibly but if you play .500 ball against playoff teams, matching series wins at home and series losses away, you are easily a playoff team because you'll be doing much better than that in the 100+ games against teams that miss the playoffs. So go 1-2 here and 2-1 in the series after the jaunt to Colorado and you're on track.

The Mets come into the series hobbled. Cespedes & Duda, are likely out for the series and d'Arnaud is banged up and probably coming off the bench for a couple games.  They have more injuries but Flores isn't as impactful and the way the pitching lines up the Mets lack of the 5th starter doesn't matter.

The match-ups are as follows: Roark vs deGrom, Gio vs Harvey, Scherzer vs Wheeler. I'm a little curious about the Scherzer start because of all his pitches thrown last time, but it's more a reflex based on his ST injury than pitch count. 116 is a number Scherzer hit in about a third of his starts last year.

The story of last night's game was really the closer debut of Shawn Kelley, who started out strong, then almost blew it, before closing the door. All the luck to you Mr. Kelley. While I just said a couple days ago Treinen needed to stay in the role, the whole premise of that was essentially two straight quick failures would make things worse. So there's a simple solution to that potential issue. Don't fail Kelley. Be dominant.

Ok beat the Mets tonight and the rest is gravy to me.

Some quiet things


The Nats bullpen has for the most part overshadowed everything going on with this team, to the point I bet most of you don't know they could have the best record in baseball after tonight (helps that no one is running away). That doesn't matter much (Nats had a best and better record at this point last year) but it's a nice place to be nonetheless.It would be hard to miss Bryce's great start, and most people see that Zimm is doing real well. Still some things may have slipped under the radar.  Note that all these are drafts of preliminary looks at early analyses.  They are meant as a "Hmmm let's keep looking at this over the next few weeks" and not as a "AHA! That is exactly what is happening!" Anthony Rendon has been one of the worst hitting regulars in baseball. It's not so much the average, .226 is bad but at this point in the year far from irregular, but the peripherals.  Rendon has only 3 walks and is walking at half the rate he usually does. He had only 2 XBH (2 doubles) giving him an OPS of .532. He is not BABIP bit. That number is fine. He is just not hitting the ball well (LD% under 10% - which is pretty crazy bad). He's swinging way more than he usually does but it's not really an issue with recognizing pitches (swings outside the zone not a crazy number) I'm not sure what's up. Batting at the bottom of the order is suiting Weiters. Hitting down there requires the ability to take a walk (because you'll get pitched around), but if necessary make contact (because you don't want to leave things up to the next guy).Weiters BB rate is almost double what it usually is.  His K rate is almost half.  His swing percentages are down and his contact percentages are up. His Fly ball percentages are down too. His pull rate is down and his opposite field hits are way up. But it's not like he's crushing the ball. he's actually hitting it much less hard this year than in previous ones. If I wanted to be optimistic Id say a guy that was always imagined to be a slugger is finally getting that he isn't one and adapting his game to his actual skill set. He is no longer trying to crush homers but just get good wood on the ball and maybe drive some doubles.Adam Eaton stopped being a walking man. It was fun while it lasted but Eaton is Eaton, and what he is is a good average guy with moderate power and just enough patience not to drive you crazy.  That's fine.Werth is doing really well. But before you get excited about that, it's pretty much a mirage. His K rate is super high. BABIP is super high (.370). He's not hitting the ball super hard or super well. HR/FB (20%) would be among the best of his career. He's crushed some mistakes and got some lucky IF hits and is the one hot batter most likely to cool off big time.The Nats depth is non-existent. What you see is what you get. The Nats looked to Difo to fill the hole Turner left. He's not a major league hitter right now. .250 with NO power and NO patience. Sammy Solis and Enny Romero were hoped to be good middle inning guys. They've been bad. Solis might be hurt but Enny Romero is presumably exactly who Enny Romero is which is a guy that could be traded for nothing; way too hittable and way too wild. For someone like him you scour the stats to see if there is anything that tells you things are different and no, they are not. I'd drop him.You could point to one or two places where Max is slightly behind last year but he's way ahead in one stat. 0 homers. When Max had problems last year they were usually connected to giving up a couple of bombs. Is[...]

If you hate Treinen the closer, he must stay as closer


Blake Treiene has been terrible.There isn't any objective way to say any thing else. He's pitched in 8 games. He's allowed a baserunner in the last 7. He's allowed runs in half. His WHIP is a god awful 2.526. This is because he is getting hit (14.2 H/9) and he's walking guys like crazy (8.5 BB/9). He's come in for 5 save opportunities* and he's blown 2. He doesn't look like he will succeed as closer.And yet, if you want Blake out of there you need to keep him in there. At least for now.I know that may sound counter intuitive but let's look at the facts. Before the season started. Hell, right now, its very likely that you would say that 6.1 IP tells you nothing. You would say that 2 BS in 5 attempts is bad but not change worthy (certainly so for an established closer). You would say a closer needs at least a month to really figure out if he can hack it. You would not be wrong. Pulling Treinen now would be an admittedly quick hook.If you pull Treinen now you set up two scenarios. The first thing you do is you set up the return. Treinen gets pulled. Kelley or Glover come in. They aren't good. Maybe they get injured. Treinen is lights out in the 7th/8th. The clamoring begins. Maybe not from fans, but from the same supporters who wanted him in the closer role in the first place. "He's got his head on straight now" "He's figured it out" "It was only 6 innings!" These aren't arguable points. Treinen would have gotten a very brief chance so a second one seems more reasonable.  The second thing you do is you set the base amount of time you need to evaluate a closer. Whoever comes in next; Glover, Kelley or whoever, has about 8 games to not stink or else you have to make another change right? I mean you pulled your first choice after that time frame, are you saying that if one of these guys blows 2 saves and has a 5.00 ERA over 8 games that you won't pull him? Doesn't make sense. These guys enter with a clock ticking on them, ratcheting up any pressure they may feel.The short of it is - you create a situation where if the replacement for Treinen doesn't succeed, then you've made an absolute mess out of the pen by mid May. What would make more sense would be to let Treinen keep going. Let him have his month (or really nine more games) to be the official closer and see what happens. Most likely he'll do middling and the team will say it's time to move on, but the decision will be definitive. No one could say Treinen didn't have a fair shot, that the team stuck by him when they could have bailed. You also set-up  a situation where the next guy understands he'll get leeway. He'll have a shot that includes maybe stumbling a bit and ample time. He'll fell he has a fair shot at succeeding. I understand the pressure to change, but it's not as if the Nats have suffered much because of Treinen the closer. They are in first place in the East 1.5 games ahead of the team they believe will most likely be a rival. Those eight games Treinen has pitched in? The Nats are 7-1 in them. I suppose you could say using Treinen in other games, in another role, may have created more success. I suppose.  But the reality is the Nats are not in panic mode. They have the leeway to let this play out as everyone thinks a closer trial should, before they are in the midst of a failing one.Let Treinen close. Let Treinen probably fail. It's for the best. *The Nats actually haven't had many save opportunities since the first week of the season. A lot of blowouts and ties into the 9th. [...]

The landscape 2 weeks in


The Nats are also 7-5, which isn't great. But baseball isn't absolute, it's relative and today the Nats find themselves in first place. How did that happen? And how is the rest of the NL East shaking out a couple weeks into the year? Is there anything surprising that may be real? NL EastThe Mets offense has been a little better than expected, even with Jose Reyes apparently forgetting to bring a bat up to the plate, but the back of the rotation is in a bit of trouble with Gsellman getting crushed and the depth on the DL. One could say they should be better after figuring out that but it's hard to see them keep hitting at these paces. The recent Marlins series, against some relatively weak starters, is probably more their speed. Really though this is the Mets. 7-6 over the course of the season is an 87/88 win pace. The Marlins aren't terrible?  The bullpen has come around since the Nats series to be the strangely built Achilles heeled force I thought it would be. The offense has been fine enough even with Ozuna and Stanton switching bodies a la Parent Trap. The real surprise has been the rotation though. It hasn't blown up. However FIP suggests it's a temporary situation, so unless you think JT Relamuto can keep hitting like Mike Piazza the Marlins are looking at a fade.The Braves started the season with three series on the road and it showed. They are undefeated since coming home. For the most part the offense is as expected. Freddie Freeman and a bunch of other decent guys. But Swanson being terrible is a surprise. The pitching looks ok  Teheran is back to being great and Colon and Dickey are holding up their ends of the bargain. I get a feeling that the offense should be better so if they can find any solution to the #4/#5 rotation spot they could be interesting. If not, won't get over that humpRemember last year when the Phillies started hot? Funny. The Phillies offense isn't any good with Maikel Franco still in his 2016 form.  They are getting some unexpected contributions (Nava, Hernandez) to keep them afloat but that can't last. Meanwhile their pitching is a story of haves and haves not. Like every other team they have a back of the rotation problem. Unlike the other teams they also have no depth to the relief pitching. A couple of decent arms were brought in and they've been decent but I worry about any time they have to get 6th/7th innings out of these guys.So nothing terribly surprising in the East. Swanson's bat should heat up. Marlins rotation should collapse. But things are pretty much as they should be which is why the division has kind of lined up right. NL Central This division is all topsy turvy with Cincy and Milwuakee with early leads and STL crashing out.  Is it lasting? Cincinnati... doubt it. Unless Eugenio Suarez is truly a superstar. They could very well have a decent pen but beyond that I don't see this being anymore than a mediocre team that's sort of hot. Milwuakee might have a bit more staying power as Thames might actually be really good and we all know what Braun can do. There isn't any particular reason to believe in the cast around them but they aren't garbage either. So maybe if they all get a little better at the same time? Career years or such? The Cubs are suffering from an offensive dip but here's a secret for you. That might continue. None of these young guys HAVE to hit better (except maybe Bryant) They could all be kind of average. Age out Zobrist and accept the new normal for Heyward and you have an[...]

Do your job


The Nats as a team did their job this weekend. They took 2 of 3 from the Phillies. I would have liked a sweep but I can't argue that they deserved anymore than they got.This simple act - winning a series at home versus a team that is not as good as you - has put the Nats in a good position because the Mets failed to do their job and got swept by the Marlins. Baseball is full of simple things that are very hard to do. Throw the ball over the plate. Hit the ball with a bat. Win the games you should. Do you job and good things will happen because I guarantee most everyone else won't be able to.But while the Nats as a team did their job, the bullpen once again failed. Oh I'm sorry, did I say "once again"? I meant twice again, as they failed on both Saturday and Sunday.On Friday Glover, Treinen, and Kelley got into a close game and didn't blow it. Treinen did try though, putting two men on with one out before getting the double play. And thus you see the overall issue with Treinen. He's not a shutdown guy. Men will get on base. He will live and die with DPs and slow GBs. But DPs don't always happen and slow GBs are sometimes hits. On Friday he got lucky, on Sunday he didn't.Gio was pitching well and Dusty tried to squeeze one more batter out of him than he should have to avoid going to the pen. Suddenly, thanks to an error (more on that in a second), you had the tying run at 2B with one out. Who do you go to close this out? Dusty chose his favorite Koda Glover who promptly wild pitched the runner to 3B then, after a K, gave up the game tying single. Rizzo chuckled to himself I'm sure thinking "should have brought in Blake". But his boy came on in the 9th and gave up the game leading run before loading the bases. It took MY favorite Shawn Kelley to come in and stop the game from becoming a blow out. In the meantime, on Saturday Joe Blanton gave up another home run. His third of the season it was after a HBP and it gave Philadelphia the lead. Matt Albers got through the 9th - another DP needed though.The state of the Nats pen is as follows. Blake Treinen, the annointed closer, is a mess doing basically nothing right other than amping up his Ks. His WHIP is 2.00. 2.00! Joe Blanton has near perfect control of the strike zone (no walks), but within it he's leaving the ball up and it's going out (3 homers).  Koda Glover is somewhat effective, but the one this you figured he would do - strike people out - he isn't doing (though he got two yesterday).  Kelley is doing that but he's also been giving up the long ball (though more effective recently). Romero, Solis, and Perez have each been awful leaving the Nats with no reliable LHRP.It's a mess. I think that Glover and Kelley are finding their forms. I think. Kelley in particular looks to be past his "Hmm, everything I give up is a flyball" period. If that's the case there go the HRs and he's good again. Blanton isn't pitching particularly bad per se. He's just making one or two crushable mistakes each outing. Of course that's not workable in the long run, but right now it gives me more hope than if there was some deeper issue across the board. Treinen though - is Treinening it. He's not THIS bad but he is this type of pitcher. That may work for some teams but this one...The Nats defense is bad. We thought it might be, but with Tre Turner out, it definitely is. I'm not sure if Turner is great, good, or passable at short but it's clear Difo is no more than passable. That creates a domin[...]

Time for some goals


If the Nats want to keep pace they need to beat the teams they should beat. They have 3 at home vs the Phillies and 3 at the Braves.  You have to go at least 2-1 vs the Phillies and at least take one versus the Braves.  3-3 is the absolute floor.  4-2 over the next week is probably a more fair expectation.  I want a Phillies sweep because the Braves series opens with the mystery 5th starter.  I don't want to need that win.

Assuming the Nats go 3-3 Mets shouldn't do better than 4-2, so that's 2.5 games out. That's the most reasonable worst case expectation. That's fine. The reasonable normal expectation would be Nats and Mets stay where they are both going 4-2. Reasonable best case, Nats go 4-2, Mets 3-3 and Nats pick up a game. Could go worse or better, of course.

Anyway here's your weekend posting area. Do what you will. See you Monday.

Shouldn't have loved Blanton


The Nats were stymied by Leake.  It'll happen though if you want to be worried, I'm pretty sure Leake is the first lefty starter the ninth righty starter the Nats have faced this year. In these cases Murphy and Harper can't shoulder the load, and the rest of the team has to step it up.  It's not a big deal today, but in October when you can play match-ups more it may matter. worry about why I always think Leake is a lefty in my head. (I am still curious how Nats v lefties will play out)

The bullpen still stinks but there will be some sort pf problem during your season and really what you care about isn't the bullpen being good. What you care about is winning. This is all a prelude until those Mets games. Stay close to the Mets, win the H2H battle, and play like we think they should and everything else should take care of itself. Why did the Nats fail in the past? Because they didn't do these things (for various reasons)

In 2013, the Braves started out 15-6.  The Nats were 10-11.  We knew this could be an issue, but assumed the Nats could make it up later, as long as they didn't lose anymore ground. But the Nats didn't play like they should. They floundered playing .500 ball almost through the end of August. They also didn't keep the Braves close in H2H games (at the time 0-3, they'd go 6-10 the rest of the year).

In 2015 the Mets started out 13-3. The Nats were 7-6.  Even early on that's a lot of games to make up. We assumed the Mets weren't as good as they turned out to be, and the Nats were better. Based on that information the Nats had time to make it up, especially with the H2H games left. But the two teams were closer in talent than expected. Despite seemingly taking a firm lead in the division by July 4th, the Nats couldn't get separation and didn't overcome the Mets one on one, going 8-11. One extended bad stretch put the Nats behind and unable to make up ground

The Nats are currently one game behind the Mets.  That's fine. It's super early so there isn't much separation to be had, but it's a good sign the Mets haven't started super hot nor the Nats super cold. It could turn in these next 5-10 games but let's hope not.

I don't feel panic and that's good because there shouldn't be any today. It's a middling start but a middling start in the face of nothing scary so far. The Mets haven't run away. No team in the NL East has shown signs of being a super surprise team. That's the realist take. If you're an optimist, then it's a start that puts us 9 games in basically where we were at the beginning of the year. So if you like the Nats then, you still like the Nats now. If you're a pessimist it's a start that doesn't eliminate the chance of the scary becoming reality in the next week or two.

5% of the season down ok, 95% to go.