2017-04-21T06:09:21.186-07:00Going 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)
2017-04-20T07:19:39.211-07:00The 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.
2017-04-19T07:25:20.565-07:00Blake Treiene has been terrible.
2017-04-18T06:39:14.998-07:00The 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 ok offense at best. Pitching should still take care of them though. Pirates aren't any good as the replacement bats for McCutcheon's slide never really worked out. Still have a young rotation that could come together though. To me the most real thing here is the Cardinals might be bad. Their best reliable bats are over 30 and their other bats aren't super young either (one player under 26). The rotation is good and looks good but the apparently have no pen. Defense is pretty bad too. Th[...]
2017-04-17T07:21:04.939-07:00The 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 domino effect across the infield. The defense up the middle is shakier. Murphy can't shade to help both Zimm and cover the hole. More balls go into the hole for an old, DH to be, to field Jayson Werth. Eaton, not a plus CF to start with, has to shade over to help Werth more making his job covering the CF harder which weakens the OF. First things first, the Nats need a healthy Turner back to reset these dominoes. I thought it would happen tomorrow so let's see.(The good news? Even with AAAA D[...]
2017-04-14T08:42:57.408-07:00If 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.
2017-04-13T08:34:30.160-07:00The Nats were stymied by Leake. It'll happen though if you want to be worried,
2017-04-12T06:44:25.472-07:00When the Nats signed Matt Weiters, some questioned why. Mostly this was because they somehow missed the Nationals signing Adam Lind, despite, you know, covering baseball presumably being their job. But whatever! There was still some general truth to the statement. Weiters and Norris would be expected to hit about the same. Weiters and Norris would be expected to field about the same. Why spend more for something you already have?
2017-04-10T06:16:15.169-07:00The Nats went through kind of a hellish weekend in regards to the bullpen. On Friday, Max was this side of dominant, but watched along with us as the pen nearly blew a 7-0 lead that he had set-up. On Saturday, their best laid plans on how to get Joe Ross slowly ready to pitch in the majors again went as badly as possible. That's not an exaggeration. In a baseball sense, there's hardly a way that that could have gone worse. Guthrie was "kicked out of baseball" bad and Enny Romero did nothing to stem the flow. Game over before your first beer had a chance to lose its head. On Sunday it was a 1-run given up situation but given everything that led up to it during the weekend and the miracle 2-out PH Zimm HR that it took to tie the game it felt like another huge pen failure.I'm going to game by game bullpen work just on the basis of whether I think they did their job. A point if I think they did. No points if I think they didn't. If I have a question - half a point. No lingering. (I kind of think a single scoreless inning is the goal for those that enter to start inning. In the middle the goal is to keep that run from coming in but depending on situation may not be your fault)Game 1 : Solis : Yes (1/1)Treinen : Yes (1/1)Game 2 : Romero : Got an inning. Gave up a quick run next though. Half (0.5/1)Blanton : Got out of jam with no runs scored. Yes (1/1)Treinen : Got save but gave up run. Half (1.5/2)Game 3 : Glover : Yes, though I remember him being hit hard (1/1)Kelley : No (0/1)Solis : Half, gave up two baserunners. But got DP and 2outs (1.5/2)Treinen : No, maybe gets a break against a better hitter but couldn't get Tyler Moore out (1.5/3)Blanton : No, 3H and a run (1/2)Game 4 :Solis : No (1.5/3)Romero : No (0.5/2)Glover : Yes (2/2)Treinen : No, got save but gave up two runs. Maybe I give him 1 but not two (1.5/4)Game 5 : Guthrie : NO (-10000000000/1)Romero : No (0.5/3)Blanton : Yes (2/3)Perez : No, I can be forgiving but 2 triples and a homer in 2 innings? (0/1)Kelley : A generous half (0.5/2)Game 6 : Solis : Yes (2.5/4)Glover : No (2/3)So as of it standsPerfect : NonePassable : Blanton (2/3), Glover (2/3), maybe Solis (2.5/4)Poor : Kelley (0.5/2), Perez (0/1), Romero (0.5/3), Treinen (1.5/4) Perfect is a high standard that you don't expect anyone to hit for a season. However, six games in? Yeah, you'd expect a couple perfects in there.If you add it all up (including Guthrie as a zero), it'd be like 9/21. This isn't scientific at all but that gives you an idea how the bullpen has done. In 21 outings they've given you about 9 decent showings, with a half decent one here or there. That's a pretty abysmal record. It feels worse right now because it started something like 5/6 and since then is something like 4/15. That's akin to three out of every four guys you roll out there failing. What do you do? They already did the one obvious move - shooting Guthrie into the sun. There's no room for any arm that is terrible and there's no reason to look at Saturday and his history and think anything but. After that? I don't know what you do but keep on keeping on. Treinen has to keep closing for longer so you can make an informed decision and make it hopefully once. Blanton and Glover are already back innings guys so there's no promotion or shifting necessary in close games. As for the great middle - it's only one outing for Perez; and Solis and Kelley aren't at any point of no return yet. You could close the book on Romero for now if you like, but that's about it. Not sure they Nats have anyone they are dying to bring up though.The pen is shaky right now. Over the course of a year you are going to have shaky weeks. The question is - is this a shaky week? Or is this a shaky pen? They got about 9 games to figure this out because they play si[...]
2017-04-07T05:39:44.835-07:00Of course we don't know the answer to this today. I think we entered the year with a couple of fair thoughts. First, this was the most talented and reliable collection of arms the Nats had started a year with perhaps during the whole window. Second, there was still a measure of variability in these arms beyond the usual "Hey, it's the pen! they don't pitch much!" kind of variability.
2017-04-06T06:17:54.446-07:00Two games in and my general impression about this team is that it just feels right.
2017-04-05T06:51:48.932-07:00Annual reminder that I'm on Twitter doing mostly baseball stuff during the season @harpergordek for those that do Twitter. Tanner Roark is probably the most interesting piece in the Nats rotation. Five years ago, in 2012 at 24, he was bumped up to AAA after two straight unimpressive AA years, to see what he could do. He continued to do nothing special, eating up 150 innings with a mid 4.00 ERA. At that point he had "organizational innings eater" written all over him. Maybe he'd get a fill-in shot in the majors or maybe he'd move into long relief. No one thought he'd become a top of the rotation starter.Yet that is exactly what happened. Don't buy into the "Nats always believed in Roark" narrative. After a slow climb through the system powered by the "let's see what he can do at this level now that he's this age" forces that keep players moving up as long as they are passable, he seemed to have reached his end point in AAA. Following a 3.2 IP 12 hit, 10 run start early in 2013, the Nats gave up on Roark the starter and moved him to the pen. He only got another shot at starting in AAA after he pitched well enough and circumstances opened up. He'd take advantage of it and impress enough to be called up but still he was brought up as a reliever, not a starter. He'd get his chance at starting only after Ross Ohlendorf, who he was originally brought up to replace, grew tired in the starters role. He impressed again, enough to fight and earn a starting role for 2014. He flourished. The Nats didn't buy it. They signed Max and pushed him into the pen in 2015. But when circumstances brought him back into the rotation in 2016, he did flourished again. Once is a fluke. Twice is a pattern.How and why did this change happen in 2013? Roark credited a renewed focus on throwing strikes and attacking hitters. Others noticed a greater tendency to keep the ball down. The numbers seem to back both thoughts up. Roark has never had the best arm with a fastball hovering in the 92-93 range and was never a big strikeout guy. If you aren't a strikeout guy you need to be a control guy who limits homers. Prior to 2013 Roark wasn't that. He wasn't terribly wild but his walk rate of around 3 per 9IP was a far cry from a control guy. And while he didn't give up a lot of homers he wasn't especially great at avoiding them either. You can completely see why he was an ok minor leaguer. He was ok at everything but not good at anything.But since 2013 things have been different. Roark did seemingly attack the zone and throw more strikes. His walk rate dropped to be about 2 per 9. He did seemingly keep the ball down. His HR rate was nearly cut in half. There you go. I don't want to understate though that this kind of change is incredibly hard. Everyone says the same things. "I need to hit my spots and keep the ball out of places the batter can kill it." But few people can do that.So, Roark is a good pitcher now, end of story? Well...We'll skip 2015 for obvious reasons and move ahead to last year. In 2016 Roark was a different sort of pitcher. His control reverted back to his old ways and he walked over 3 per inning again. Why didn't that show? Well a small part is that his HR rate was still lower than it had been. Another small part was he kicked up his K rate a little. Both those things helped. But the big reason is that he's gotten a bunch of soft contact. He had always been pretty good at getting it (since 2013 at least) but has managed to improve over time. He had the third best "soft hit" rate for qualified starters in 2016. He had already been a GB pitcher and the combination of those two things makes for a lot of easy outs. Or at least it should.This bring us to 2017. I mentioned a couple days ago that the Nats D wor[...]
2017-04-04T06:10:31.629-07:00The Nats win and... that's it!
2017-04-03T07:07:34.981-07:00Finally.The late news (other than "StepBrothers" """story""") is that Anthony Rendon might miss Opening Day. He fouled a ball off his leg about a week ago and is nursing a bruised calf. On one hand - a bruised calf should be something that clears up pretty easily. On the other hand Rendon has infamously terrible legs, having multiple months long injuries from the knees down. He should be back any day now, maybe today, but I'll breathe easier when I see it.It's time for predictionsThe Nats have only one obvious hole, Ryan Zimmerman, and they have enough better than average talent around the diamond to compensate for that. There's a way that the offense doesn't come through. If Werth collapses, Murphy regresses, Bryce doesn't bounce back, Turner sophomore slumps, Wieters gets hurt.... but it's as equally likely a scenario that the offense is unstoppable. If Murphy repeats, Bryce is BRYCE, Turner is near who he was in 2016, Rendon breaks through... Anyway you look at it, the addition of Eaton covers the CF mess from last year, and Turner for Espinosa is an upgrade at the plate. Wieters won't replace Ramos but that's the only obvious downgrade. With the addition of Lind, the bench is as deep as it's ever been which for the Nats is saying they finally have a bench that isn't a weakness. It's hard to put them any worse than their annual landing spot of "best of the rest".The starting pitching remains strong. Scherzer is arguably the best non-Kershaw SP, while Strasburg and Roark are good enough to be half the leagues #1. Ross is having difficulty staying healthy and Gio is fading but they remain among the best 4/5s in the majors. The depth isn't there, Cole is first up and he's a AAAA arm. Voth might be better but it's telling that they haven't given him a shot. Fedde might be ready by year's end but it's doubtful he's good to go now. SP depth is always tested. so the question is if the Nats can get a little lucky here and either hold off injuries long enough or have the "right" arms get hurt and not too bad. Still they are starting from the point you want to be - near the best.The relief pitching didn't get the huge upgrade everyone was hoping for. They didn't get that shut 'em down anchor that makes everyone else look better. However, after flirting with doing nothing for most of the off-season, they did add the very good arm of Joe Blanton giving the Nats a bullpen depth they haven't had in a while. The back end of the pen might still be a little rough. Perez is here to serve out his contract. Solis and Gott are question marks. There's a reason Romero was traded. But at least the Nats now have the arms in Treinen, Kelley, Glover and Blanton to survive an injury or bad performance. It's not an ideal pen still, but it's a workable major league pen with potential.The Nats have two Achilles heels. The first one is a propensity for injury. They rely on a lot of players who have missed a lot of time in the past few years. Bryce, Werth, Rendon, Zimm, Wieters, Murphy have all missed from a month to virtually a season in the past 3 years. Strasburg and Ross have shown no consistency in health. Kelley is a double TJ arm. But they have enough depth in the pen and the line-up this year to cover for this. A SP injury would be more troublesome but we're likely looking at a team that will need multiple long injuries to bring it down. This is certainly possible - again look at the players GP histories - but it has to happen soon enough to derail the year.The second Achilles heel is the defense. It wasn't great last year and it should be a little to a lot worse in 2017. The middle of the diamond moves from the surprisingly good Ramos, no longer exceptional but at worst very good E[...]
2017-03-31T08:21:50.319-07:00Blake Treinen will be the Nationals closer.Anyone saying it's a bad choice isn't thinking. Anyone saying it's the optimal choice isn't thinking enough. Not unless the rules have changed and things have gotten weird.The past two seasons paint a very accurate picture of Treinen.We focus a lot on him turning a corner last year, but in a basic macro sense, Blake was good in 2015 too. He had the better season in 2016, no doubt, but if you wanted to argue that was mostly a product of BABIP luck I'd listen.He's an extreme GB pitcher, at 64.2% over the past 2 years. That's good enough for 5th highest behind very effective relievers like Zach Britton, Brad Zeigler and Sam Dyson. As one would expect he doesn't give up a lot of home runs (very few GB HRs). He doesn't strike out a ton,* but he strikes out enough, about 8.5 per 9 innings, to be effective. His Achilles heel is that he does walk more than his share, over 4 per 9 innings, one of the worst rates for pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings in the past 2 years combined. (301st out of 314 if I'm counting right). The overall picture is one of an rather effective reliever with one major, but not fatal, flaw.Can Blake handle the 9th? I assume so. He did have issues in pressure situations in 2015. Terrible issues. Opposing hitters hit .310 / .390 / .423 in high leverage situations as opposed to .215 / .292 / .292 in low leverage ones. Translation : he racked up his good stats in unimportant situations. But in 2016 he was great in high leverage situations .194 / .282 / .306. So it's hard to say we should still worry about it. Both of these are based off relatively small samples so with no consistency between years you kind of have to throw up your hands and say he'll do as well in pressure as he'll do otherwise.You do lose something by not having Blake and his GB inducing sinker come in to get a DP when necessary but if instead you are getting a strikeout from Kelley or Blanton, it'll be fine. The issue is less about the GBs here than about what replaces that and what replaces it should be good. This would be a fine pitcher to hand your designated #1 reliever role to, if you didn't have someone better. However, as we discussed before, the Nats do. Shawn Kelley is demonstrably better. The story suggests there may be some questions about durability, though, that hold him back. OK then but Joe Blanton is demonstrably better too, with his higher strikeout rate and much lower walk-rate. Perhaps though they don't want to anoint a guy who is likely here for one year. And I haven't even mentioned yet, Koda Glover who could also be better but is young enough that legitimate questions linger. Is this a problem, not using your best pitcher in the closer role? Certainly if you have a BAD pitcher back there it is, but that isn't the case here. You have a good pitcher as your closer. That's good. The question will be how they use the rest of the staff. The more regimented their roles the worse this decision is. You see you want to use your best pitchers in the most important situations. The most important situations do not happen at the same time every game. If you are flexible in your usage of your pitchers to combat these situations as they come up in the 6th-8th then there could be benefit from putting your 3rd best, but still good, arm as closer. If, however, you set everyone else up in roles, that benefit is diminished because you will see more important situations in the 9th than the 8th than the 7th etc etc. So for a robot just following "one pitcher per inning, have to have the same guy pitch in the same inning each game" rules, using your best pitcher as closer is actually best.We'l[...]
2017-03-29T07:58:26.432-07:00The Nats are a very good team and should win the NL East. But they don't play in a vacuum and where they end up is going to have alot to do with the teams they are playing 19 times a year. If those teams step up and play above expectations that means more wins for them, fewer wins for the Nats and trouble. If those teams fall away exactly the opposite happens. Well, how do those teams look today, heading into the season? Today we won't do a preview. Instead we'll look to see how injuries have effected these teams.MetsStephen Matz, perennial injury risk, was supposed to be back after season-ending elbow surgery (bone spur) last year. But unsurprisingly he is hurt again. This wouldn't be so bad but Matt Harvey is recovering from his own surgery and it's one, thorasic outlet syndrome, that basically leaves him a question mark on whether he will be ok or never be the same*. The Mets have starting rotation depth, Gsellman, Lugo, Wheeler, who all have potential, but they'd rather have Matz and a to-form Harvey as they have already proven they can be part of the dominating starting pitching the Mets probably need to cover a blah offense. Offensively Juan Lugares is out, which robs them of an effective 4th OF but nothing more. David Wright is out but this isn't an surprise at all and they weren't relying on him. It's not a good offense, but at least it's healthy. BravesThe Braves rotation is healthy. Old and not good, but healthy. Their pen has suffered a loss with Mauricio Cabrera hurting his elbow. He was the #4 arm in the pen and the #3 arm Vizcaino has had a wild swing from 2015 (great) to 2016 (bad). He's looked good in Spring but if he falters the Braves could have a tough time with the pen. The Braves lost Sean Rodriguez as a 2nd-base / super utility guy. They've replaced him with Brandon Phillips which should be a wash for 2017 but man the Braves can't afford another offensive injury. They have arguably the worst bench in the majors.Philies The Phillies have had an uneventful spring. Zach Eflin, who might have fought for a rotation spot, suffered enough setbacks to start in AAA but that's about all I could find. The team they are putting out there is it's near optimal team. Of course what that is is a team that is shaking all the young players it has to see which good ones drop out.MarlinsThe Marlins suffered the biggest loss of them all with the off-season late season tragedy with Jose Fernandez. Baseball wise there is no replacing his impact. On the other end of the rotation Jeff Locke has bicep issues and won't be in competition for a rotation spot anytime soon. This leaves the Marlins' staff, which is already questionable, thin with depth. At least the bullpen is healthy so perhaps they can cover all those innings they'll likely see. Offensively things aren't any better for the Marlins. Martin Prado is battling a hammy and won't be ready by opening day providing a problem for an offense that can't really afford one.Injury wise the Mets have what is now annual questions with the rotation. They should be able to cover them, though. Should. That would leave them still battling the Nats. The Braves were a team that you felt might compete if everything went right health-wise but the season isn't quite starting that way. It's not off the rails yet but it's not the start you want. The Phillies, on the other hand, have the start the Braves want but not the team. They'd need more than just health. The Marlins are the team starting the year off on the wrong foot. That's a bad sign for a team that was already a disappointment last year after Stanton took a dive. I'd probably bet the under o[...]
2017-03-27T08:46:05.803-07:00We've gotten to the point where only serious contenders (or guys they don't want to lose) are left with the team. In theory the bench is down to MAT, Difo and Robinson, but I'll be shocked if it isn't MAT that comes out of this. Part of it is the hot Spring, part of it is Dusty-love, part of it is the fact the Nats don't have a decent late inning D replacement for Werth. Difo fills a lot of the same skill set as MAT as a bench player so it's not impossible that he steps in but I see more use from a 5th OF than a 2nd MI. Turner and Rendon don't need to go out for D, and on the rare chance you take Murphy out for that Drew is more than fine.
2017-03-24T06:20:06.368-07:00When we look at the Nats you should see a division champ. I imagine that when all the predictions come out they will be a heavy favorite to win the NL East and a "here and there" pick to get to / win the World Series*. If they don't make it though, it probably won't be because a dozen little things didn't go right. It'll likely be because one or two big things went terribly wrong. This is true of every team - a couple injuries can derail a season. But there are places the Nats are more vulnerable where an injury can't just be attributed to tough luck. Places where the Nats looked bad at the tail end of 2016 that could carry over. Jayson Werth crashes and burns. Jayson Werth is staring down the barrel of 38 (May 20th). That's old. He has pulled rabbits out of his hat before but last year marked his first back to back years of below average offense. Yes, it was just barely below but still it seems to say that the time of being able to bounce back and have a good offensive year has finally passed him by. In agreement with this idea is the fact the season wore him down and his September was terrible (.211 / .297 / .267) Without his offense, Werth becomes what? His fielding has been bad for years. A savvy yet slow baserunner? A 'leader in the clubhouse'? Those are fine things, but not fine things to be trotting out daily. Could the Nats bench Werth? Could the Nats bench Werth and Zimm at the same time?Shawn Kelley gets hurtI've said it before and I'll say it again. The last time we saw this guy was walking off the mound in a pivotal playoff game because he couldn't throw the ball anymore. That's very very very not good. He seems fine now but he's a 2 TJ arm. Losing Kelley wouldn't throw the bullpen into chaos. The signing of Blanton assured a depth to cover it. But losing Kelley would kill that depth. Alone this is a survivable issue, but we are talking potentially two big things going wrong. Tack this onto a starting pitching failure and we start to have an overtaxed pen with no depth and a definitive problemStephen Strasburg gets hurtWhat could be that starting pitching issue? Well since Max's finger issues appear to be over (and he was pitching through it anyway) we'll leave that aside for now. Instead we'll focus on Strasburg who I'll remind you pitched once, for 2 1/3 innings, after August 17th last year. He hurt his arm in a way that's about as close to "Uh oh need another Tommy John" as you can get without actually needing another Tommy John. He's rested and we haven't seen any issues but given that he's missed about 10 starts in each of the past two years, don't you have to assume that he will at least do the same in 2017?Joe Ross gets hurtLess impactful because of his role, but this still matters. A little more hopeful because of the way he ended 2016, but still a question mark. The Nats collection of minor league arms has done little to suggest there is a major league capable guy just waiting for his chance. Ross going down may not in itself be a huge issue, but coupled with a Kelley injury you can see the problem snowball. Ross did not pitch from July 2nd through mid September and he never was allowed past the 4th in the three times he started. In the playoffs he failed to get out of the third and put the Nats in a hole they ultimately couldn't overcome. Was he really starter healthy at the end of the year? Doesn't look like it. He still hasn't pitched over roughly 150 innings yet in his career so relying on him for 180+ seems dicey. Gio Gonzalez stinks2016 was both a weird year and a completely expected year for Gio. He pro[...]
2017-03-21T07:50:32.424-07:00It's a hard Spring for me and yet that means an easy Spring for the Nats because what the hell hasn't gone according to plan? They have had only one injury, with Scherzer, that appears to be minor. The market bore out a couple of opportunities to get better now for minimal cost in 2017. The team for all intents and purposes seems set. So why not just go ahead and assume it is with an OD roster?Last year the Nats started with 12 pitchers, 2 catchers, 6 IFs and 5 OFs. I'd expect something similar this year. I will take a small guess and say for the purposes of having an extra arm on hard, Max will start on the 15-Day 10-Day DL* but will be brought up right before his first start. Pitchers(Max DL)StrasburgRoarkGioRossTreinenKelleyGloverBlantonRomeroPerezSolis Cole (until Max back)Thoughts : Nothing tricky about the first eight. Those are given. Romero is out of options so they'll let him stay up or else they risk losing him in waivers. Perez is getting paid so he stays up.I feel like they've already committed to Solis so he gets what amounts to the final real spot in the pen. Nathan has pitched ok but probably not well enough to outright win a spot here. If he's lucky he'll actually opt out on Friday because someone else will give him and his decent showing a secure spot. Martin deserves a spot more than Solis but you lose a little flexibility with another RH pitcher and the Nats have never seen overly keen on Martin. Guthrie is probably the only real threat to take a spot from Solis, but I just feel they have their minds set and would need a continued flop from Solis and a dominant run from Guthrie to change their minds.Why does Cole get the temporary spot? Because they've pretty much given up on him and don't care if they shuffle him about or use up an option on him. He's here for mop-up work. CatchersWietersLobatonThoughts : The Nats really like Lobaton as the back-up, valuing his D and the pitchers have to be comfortable throwing to him. He loses a little with Ramos gone because Wieters hits better from the left side of the plate which was Lobaton's specialty, but I think he'll get this role and they'll let Severino get every day ABs in AAA. InfieldersZimmermanMurphyTurnerRendonDrewLindThoughts : No surprises. Robinson isn't paid Lind money so he gets the axe. His flexibility to play OF if necessary was nice but because of his bat and his ability was more of a "break glass" situation than actually usable everyday. OutfieldersBryceEatonWerthMATHeiseyThoughts : Heisey is paid and did well last year and Dusty likes him. Heisey stays. MAT plays good defense, and is a fast runner, which makes him an ideal 5th OF (having Lind instead of Robinson helps MAT too as Clint filled an emergency OF / "better than a pitcher" runner role which Lind does not). His hitting in Spring doesn't hurt, either. Goodwin can make a decent play to replace him but needs a repeat of his first few months of AAA last year. Today we'll also play "Guess Max's First Start Date". Wednesday the 5th (probably quickest possible return date), Friday the 7th (skips homestand), Saturday the 8th (slots back into #1 spot), and Monday the 10th (starts back first game of homestand) are all fine guesses assuming he stays on track. I'll say : Saturday the 8th.*Ed Note - Been reminded that the 15-Day DL is the 10-Day no backdating DL this year. That changes things but I'm not sure how. So right now my Max guess and the OD roster guess can't happen. I guess I'll think about it. Should take me as [...]
2017-03-20T07:15:31.675-07:00Max pitched in a minor league game. Everything went fine. Said he even used some two-finger grips. This keeps him in "first rotation" track, but not first start track since that either would require some short rest or a leap of faith on conditioning. Dusty doesn't seem inclined to do that just to pitch Max what amounts to two games earlier.Do we really know he's ready? Not quite yet. While every outing is the potential key to showing he's NOT ready, this next one will be the first one that will really show he could be. It's real hitters and with only two weeks left in Spring, it's real hitters really trying. There will be a radar gun and this time the Nationals can't just stop the inning if Max can't get the outs he needs and let him start over in the next one like they did in the minor league game. If he looks well enough this time then you can start saying Opening Week for Max.So this is pretty damn good news, especially since AJ Cole and Erik Fedde have looked less that ready for a spot start, let alone a rotation spot. Voth? Maybe but he's at 4.2 IP in 3 games. No the Nats were basically only looking at two guys for that role. So good thing they won't need it.Catcher updateWieters is getting his first team reps and seeing the pitchers we expect him to see. There really isn't anything more here to update unless you think Severino will replace Lobaton on the bench. I can't see that though. You'd probably rather Severino get the ABs to work on his hitting. Maybe Solano replaces Lobaton? You'd be putting a lot of faith into ST stats if you make that call.As for Norris - don't kid yourself. The Nats didn't do him any favors. They kept him as long as they could before his pay would jump up. Then they cut him. They didn't cut him so he could explore options. They cut him to save hundreds of thousands of dollars. This was completely the right move as you have to hold on to him in case there's an injury. It's nothing more than that. Nats are a baseball team, not a non-profit charity.Closer UpdateThe Nats had one closer type situation (3-1 win over Mets) and Glover got the save. That's good to see but won't be the way the Nats start the year. They had another close one and Guthrie pitched the last two innings. That's definitely not what we'll see. Kelley pitched for the first time in a real ST game in long time the other day. Treinen still hasn't pitched in one since March 9th. The Post says the Nats say it's all part of the plan. Sounds fine. Now let me see Treinen, too.Clint Update The bad news for Clint is that despite getting regular at bats he's not showing the Nats any reason for him to win the job. .176 / .163 / .206. Not that those numbers matter but like I said if it's a tie-breaker situation (and it might be - hold on) that's not breaking any ties. The good news for Clint is that Lind isn't making this a simple decision. .179 / .233 / .214. Contract and history both are on Lind's side so let's hope it doesn't come down to ST stats.Here's the Post's take on that. Please to ignore when Janes' calls Robinson the "big, powerful lefty" bench role filler in. The short of it is Clint is likely to end up somewhere else or a fill-in AAA player bc they want to make a final decision on "prospect" Matt Skole so he gets the 1B ABs.Anything elseMAT keeps hitting in the Spring, presumably while shouting "Wolf! Wolf!"Bryce has hit his 6th homer of the Spring. Don't bet that it means a 50+ homer season, but this is heartening for those that thought last yea[...]
2017-03-17T06:46:54.033-07:00So everything is looking good for Scherzer. Dusty admits what we've been saying all Spring - Max can't start on Opening Day. There's just not enough time to get ready. He also notes something else we've said, the first game is just the first game and he may in fact sneak into the first round the rotation goes through. I'll go ahead and adjust my guess, as he's been hitting all his targets after just a week ago looking like he'd have to throw more BP. I'll guess he slots into his #1 role after someone (Fedde? Cole?) eats up a start.But today isn't about Scherzer. It's about making you worry about the Nats. How can the 94 win Nats miss the playoffs? Well let's start with an idea of how many wins that would be. Looking back at past years I'd say 87 is a fine guess. What did I say last year? Oh last year was about hitting .500. These things change based on the starting point. One year the dream was setting the record in wins!. Ok so we'll go with 87. Let's roll up those sleeves and get to workI'll go ahead and take a half-win from Gio as his decline outpaces his performance. (93.5 wins) and I'll make the pen a little worse (93 wins) as well. I can take another full win and an half from Murphy. That makes him more like all his other years (91.5). If Rendon's slow start wasn't injury related but just part of a normal up and down season there's another half-win (91). Let's temper Bryce's comeback a lot and pull a win from there (90).I guess I can pull a half-win from Trea (89.5) and the same from Eaton (89) and maybe make the bench below average (88.5). Ok well right now we're at a point where there are disappointments across the board. The starting pitching holds up ok (but we're still factoring in a drop from Scherzer that looks less likely today than a couple days ago), but the relief pitching and bench both do nothing of note. Murphy reverts to his career norms. Trea is good and Eaton is solid instead of being very good and good respectively. Bryce barely improves from his .243 24 HR line.I suppose at this point I could pick half wins here and there. Maybe Ross never gets going again. Maybe Trea sophomore slumps. Maybe the bench or pen just stink. But rather than do that I'll just go ahead and throw in an injury here. Let's say Strasburg misses a couple months. That probably gets us down to the 87 win totals and being outside looking in.It may seem easier to have gotten to 87 than 100 but I think that should be the case. Each successive win is harder and harder. That's why you don't have many 100 win teams.What did it end up taking for the Nats. Well to my surprise it didn't take everything going wrong, however it did take pretty much nothing going right. Roark is again great. Rendon puts up a good year and you'd still like what you see from Turner even if it wasn't an MVP type situation like he put up for 70 games last year. Otherwise nothing you'd view as a positive.I think an actually more likely scenario than nothing going right, would be several injuries. However I can't predict who and what.I also think there's a lot of room for variation for this Nats team but not because we don't have a good feel for these players. I think we know what most of them can do. Instead of that variation being spread out the Nats two players have had wildly different performances in recent years and where they end up in 2017 will make a big impact on the NatsMurphy2015: about 2.5 wins2016: about 5.5 wins B[...]
2017-03-15T06:49:00.547-07:00Time for the annual exercise where we go over what it would take to get the Nats to 100 wins or out of the playoffs. We'll start with the good news first, the 100 win shot, which the Nats probably won't get to, but it'll be more about their opponents then their own talent. Note this is all rough and stuff with my afro-puffs so don't get on me about exactness. First we need to set a baseline win total for the Nats. Is last year's 95 wins good enough? Maybe. Let's look at other "in a vacuum" records in order to take luck out of it. 97 Pythag. 100 2nd order wins, 98 3rd order. I'm not saying the Nats were a 100 win team last year but the general trend is the luck worked against the Nats a game or two last year. I'm fine starting with 97 wins as the base.Now we need to adjust for anything we see going into the year. Players brought in, players who have left, injuries and recoveries. PitchingMax is hurt. I don't think it's going out on a limb to say being forced to adjust the way he throws his fastball may have a negative effect on him. How negative? I don't know so to be cautious I'll only cut out a win and a half for now (95.5 wins) That's not bad. That basically puts him back into Roark/Strasburg territory. I don't see any reason to change anyone else. Gio is tempting but he pitched better than his ERA suggested so while I think he'll continue to drift down, he'll probably just match last year's effectiveness.The Nats are essentially replacing Belisle, and Lopez/Melancon with Blanton. Maybe a half-win less to be conservative? (95) They actually had a good bullpen last year and they'd still be above average with this take.OffenseAt catcher the Nats take a big loss as Ramos was a fringy MVP type for most of the year. Weiters is perfectly acceptable but the Nats lose like a game and a half here. (93.5). At first base, I can't bring myself to knock Ryan down anymore than he already was, but I have no reason to bring him up either. And unless I hear "platoon" I can't bring Lind in here. He has to be talked about on the bench. Murphy should regress a bit. Let's take a win off and go from MVP to All-Star (92.5). We'll get to SS/CF in a second. Rendon is healthy and put up a Rendon type season after a slow start. If we take that slow start to be recovery we can add a half-win here (93). Werth though, aging as players have done forever, takes it right back (92.5). Bryce? I'm trying to be conservative here but it's hard. I see a big bounce back. Maybe not a repeat of his historic season but he can at the very least pick back up a win and a half (94)Ok onto SS/CF. We're taking out Danny and his not-the-worst bat and very good glove and MAT and Revere who did nothing to help the Nats. That's probably only a win total loss (93) The also lose the 3 wins Trea put up in CF. (90) But immeidately we put back a full season of Trea at SS. I don't think he'll double his half-season but 5 wins, given his speed and likelihood to play 160ish? I'm ok with that. Then again might be high.. I'll stop at 4.5 then. (94.5) And then we add Eaton. Let's be conservative given the position change and say 3.5 wins. (98). As for the bench it's the same as last year. I'm going to say Drew won't pull the same performance out that he did in 2016 but Lind can't be worse than Robinson so the whole thing equals out.CompetitionThere is one more thing to consider. The competition the Nats [...]
2017-03-13T07:14:36.651-07:00So Scherzer pitched in a simulated game yesterday. A brief pause here to throw out some definitions.BP (Batting Practice) - Pitchers throw off the ground at like 2/3rds speed to hitters who take cut after cut. Can help with stamina build up but not much more. Live BP - Pitchers throw their real stuff off a mound to batters who take cut after cut. In both BP and Live BP the team can choose what it wants to do defensively. You can have 8 guys in the outfield shagging flies and grabbing grounders that go through an empty infield, or you can set-up your game ready D and let them play each batted ball if it were a real hit. Simulated Game - A pitcher faces a set of teammates who treat at bats as if they were in the game - 4 balls a walk, 3 strikes an out, etc. It usually is only a small subset of batters - not 9 - who rotate around. Because of that you often don't bother with real runners or real fielders for that matter, and you kind of guess what would have happened which each batted ball. For example Max faced Jose Lobataon, Raudy Read and Wilmer Difo.Up to this point you are facing your own teammates and thus they might be taking it easy on you or you can tell them to let certain things go by now and again. "Minor League Game" - The Spring Training equivalent of pitching in the minors. Right now all those minor leaguers are gearing up for the AAA, AA and single A seasons too. They play games just like the major leaguers. You send your major league pitcher over to one of these games and let him throw a few innings. It's real competition, though not major league level and in Spring so... yeah. Grapefruit/Cactus League Game - A regular Spring Training game, meaning you'll face at least a few major league starters along with a mix of back-ups and minor leaguers. Again it's Spring so the competition level is low but it's the best you'll get until the last week of Spring when teams start working on getting their actual everyday lineups ready.Ok we're back. So reading through those definitions and you can see why a simulated game matters but why it's far from telling in terms of development. What I will allow though is that you can bring back those dreams of Max starting in that first rotation set. It's the bar I had before and he met it. There wasn't a word of negativity from the people watching him and more importantly the next outing is another step in the right direction. I still think personally he'll miss a start or two at least getting fully ready, but it's not impossible as I think it would be if he was still throwing BP.Next step for Max is as close to real rotation work as he has gotten. Four days off and then a game, a minor league game, but a game. As Castillo points out in the article - the earliest that a "real game" could be would be the 22nd, which would give him 11 days to build up arm strength from what would likely be at most a 4 inning / 50 pitch type outing to major league ready. That's less time than needed for two starts with regular rest inbetween. That seems tough. Slotting in at the #5 spot would give him 16 days. Seems more reasonable.Catcher Update Norris was waived. Seems like they couldn't find a partner given Norris' contract. It's not a terrible contract but the market seems to dictate it could be a bit lower. This waiving saves the Nats millions, which cuts into the Wieters money. Keeping Norris is probably the smarter move. Wieters[...]
2017-03-10T06:09:43.016-08:00Dusty says it's no big deal but Scherzer won't be in a real game or a simulated game next. He'll be pitching more BP. (Here's the Post if you prefer Castillo). The Nats continue on with their "Nothing to see here" attitude, still maintaining that Scherzer, who hopes to pitch 3 innings of BP Sunday, will be ready to go all out against major league hitters in 28 days or less. Don't buy it. Scherzer should be considered a mid April return at best and with each further setback that start date gets pushed further and further back.That's not necessarily a bad thing. For one, we can all agree we'd rather have a definitively healthy Scherzer than force him into 3-4 more starts. Also, if you are gonna miss time, April is the time to do it. The schedule makes it easy to work around that missing rotation spot. It's been noted in the comments and it's true. Take a look at the month. You'd need a 5th starter the 8th or 9th and then you don't hit the need again probably around the 22nd. So you could almost get through the first three weeks of the season without putting a guy on the mound you don't want to see. And one rain-out in the set of games starting on the18th nearly gives you a whole another week. Would you rather see Scherzer throw 3 times? Sure. But it's nearly as important that his starts are taken up by Stras, Roark, Ross or Gio and not Cole or whoever. That latter qualification can certainly happen.Now the question is - why no start? They seemed pretty adamant that he would get one unless he didn't seem to handle the recovery from the first BP well. If I were to guess then I would have to say he didn't handle the recovery from the first BP well. "So is it normal soreness or is it situation?" is the quote from Dusty so we have to assume, unfortuneately, that it's a situation. What is it exactly isn't known. It could be the finger. It could be extra fatigue. He is throwing the ball differently than he has in the past and that could matter to these finely tuned machines. If its the finger - that's bad because it suggests he can't throw without hurting it and he just needs to rest or surgery it out. If it's fatigue then it might just mean an extra week or two to get his arm used to the changes. Thus ends the office hours of Dr. Harper.All I can say at this point is that I hope the Nats are extra cautious with Scherzer. It's hard to see them having the ultimate success without him performing up to his level. It's also hard to see a bright immediate future for the staff if he's becomes lost to injury for a long period of time over the next few years now that the Nats have given up their best starting prospects up in trade*. If he needs an extra month or two, let him have it. Force him to have it.*How are these guys doing? Both had questionable first outings in the Spring and better second ones. Giolito had his third outing and pitched ok. Wild. No word on his velocity on his third outing after his first one was very worrisome and his second was more in line with how he ended last year. Lopez throws for the 3rd time today. I'd say neither look ready right now, but that doesn't matter for the White Sox. [...]