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Updated: 2016-10-24T19:28:16.359-07:00


Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher


I'm going to mix it up again tacking on the last-year revisit before looking at this year.Last year discussion revisitedMy take ended up being just roll with Ramos and Lobaton as planned and hope for the best. It was a pretty easy take. Catcher can often be a barren position and if you didn't want to sign Weiters (and I didn't) then you really didn't have a better choice than sticking with Wilson and his improved defense. Maybe he would hit?Well of course he did hit, better than ever, presumably thanks to LASIK. For a long stretch, basically all of June and July with a bit of carryover into the adjacent months, he was one of the best hitters in baseball. He hit .350 / .403 / .596  from May 29th through August 7th. It got overshadowed a bit on the Nats because Murphy was doing even better but that's team carrying offense right there. Plus his defense remained sharp. Even though he sputtered toward the end of the season (he hit .232 / .272 / .352 starting with the Cleveland series in early August) and got injured at the very end, he was an extremely big reason the Nats were as successful as they were in 2016. Ramos' rise was doubly important because Lobaton showed only a mild turn around slapping his way to a .232 / .319 / .374 line. On one hand, that's not all that good. On the other hand, for a back-up catcher you probably aren't going to find much better, especially if you focus on his split vs RHP (.262 / .344 / .393)My outside the box move - trading for Derek Norris - would have been a disaster. I wanted Lucroy but I always want Lucroy so I went for something different. Norris crashed and burned after three years of being a good to very good hitter. My deal actually shipped out Yuney (fine), Storen (great!), and Ramos (ugh) for Norris and Melvin Upton. Before you wonder - no he wouldn't have been any better in CF than Revere/MAT.  Ok maybe a little but that's not saying much.OK onto this yearPresumed Plan : Rizzo will trade for Stephen Vogt or Wellington Castillo. Reasoning on Presumed Plan : OK the Nats can go four ways. First they can do nothing and go with Lobaton and Severino.  This, in my mind, is a non-starter.  Lobaton had an acceptable year in 2016 but it was after a couple of really rough ones. Last year was probably the best you can get out of him and trying to match that means playing him as a pure back-up (39 games played) against RHP only. That means it's not really a gamble on Lobaton and Severino, but a gamble on just Severino. Oh sure, Pedro hit .321 with a handful of XBH but it was in an extremely limited 34 ABs. You are betting not on that Severino as much as the Severino that hit .271 with no power in 80+ AAA games, and the guy that hit .250 zero power in 90+ AA games the year before. Severino has never hit for an extended period of time and expecting him to do it in the majors at 23 is a fool's gambit.The second way they Nats can go is try to sign their catcher of the future. Unfortunately there isn't one out there. Matt Wieters was supposed to be the prize but he couldn't come up with a decent 2016, hitting for low average with little patience. After him though it's dire with probably the oft-injured Alex Avila being your best bet for a 3-4 year catcher. I'm serious. There isn't a catcher of the future here that I see. Free agency is not the long-term answer. Moving on...The third way is finding a stop gap. Who is that stop gap? I'm not sure but Kurt Suzuki is a decent choice for his durability, ability to hit lefties and familiarity with the team. If not him ... well I'm kind of at a loss. Everyone else is pretty much worse (Iannetta, Salty, Pierzynski) or too injury prone (Soto, Avila, Chooch). I think Suzuki will get a decent 2 or 3 year deal which the Nats won't match so that leaves... That leaves us with the fourth way to try and trade for a catcher. There aren't any great ones that have a one-year deal on them outside of Lucroy who I assume is going nowhere. My guess is that the best trade targets will be Stephen Vogt (decent hitter up until last year - cheap for a[...]



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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday Quickie - Rizzo goes nowhere


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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Mortem


I've said before but for me a game is far more often lost than won. That winning is less about making great plays and more about avoiding mistakes. It's not always the case but that's how I look at sports (kind of life too if I'll be honest) and that's going to be a lot of how I look at this game right now. This doesn't mean I don't think it was a pretty well played game and series. I think both those things. It's just how I see things play out in terms of deciding who win and who loses.Anyway let's take a look at the key moments from yesterday and see how we ended up here today. Pre gameDodgers start Rich Hill. There are arguments that can be made for starting a pitcher on short rest. They are difficult arguments to win and none apply to Rich Hill. You saw Urias. He was pretty good, wasn't he? He should have started and Roberts was lucky he didn't get burned worse by this decision.Bottom 2Lobaton can't get the ball in play to possibly score another run. Espinosa had just come up with a big hit and the Nats had 1st and 3rd with one out. If you're Lobaton, you have to hit it hard and hope for the best. Yes, a double play is certainly possible, but so are sacrifice flies and fielder choices. You can score a run on an out here fairly easily. With the pitcher spot looming behind you it's even more imperative to get that ball in play as he is unlikely to drive the run in. But Lobaton fouls off two pitches and then strikes out. Scherzer would follow with a K of his own and the Nats would only score once.Top 3Dodgers let Max off the hook. Max pitched well last night, but it was obvious early on he didn't have his usual control. If the Dodgers could take a smart approach to facing him they could have him out early, maybe even sometime in the 5th if they were really lucky. Maybe that's without scoring but still the advantage the Nats had going into last night was Max. Get him out and it's a brand new game.  He sat at 35 pitches with no outs in the 3rd inning and had just thrown 5 straight balls. But then the Dodgers' brains locked up. Toles swung at a strike at the bottom of the zone and grounded into a double play. Rich Hill swung at a first pitch ball and grounded out himself. Now not only was Max not on the ropes, but he was set up for a long outing. A simply terrible approach that for a long portion of the game sat with me as the key moment.Bottom 3Werth can't get the ball in play to possibly score another run. Hey if I'm going to get on Lobaton I have to get on Werth here too. Turner had singled, stole second and advanced to third on Bryce's deep fly ball to center. With his speed almost any GB out, or halfway deep FB scores Trea. But Werth strikes out on five pitches. There is a slight difference as at this point it didn't feel as precarious for Hill as it did earlier.Anthony Rendon's liner goes right to the CFer. Rendon had a bad series, but he really squared up on this one. There's no fault here - it's just a shame as it would have scored two. Top 5With the bases loaded, Max strikes out Ethier and gets Utley to ground out. After being no-hit for 4 innings the Dodgers finally got to Max with three singles. I'll note here that the last one, by Toles, might have been caught by a better 2B as Murphy was caught flat-footed then couldn't reach it with his jump. It would have been a very good play but I think it was possible. Anyway with both singles going to Bryce and that last one having a chance to be caught, the Dodgers hadn't managed to plate a run. The Dodgers brought in Ethier to get a big hit but Max struck him out on some nice pitching. Then keeping the ball down he got Utley to hit a ground ball that didn't go through.Bottom 5Dusty lets Max hit for himself. Look, it ended up pretty much working out as Max would get through the heart of the Dodgers line-up the next inning, but it was still the wrong decision. Results don't always match up as they should. Why was it wrong? Max's mistakes can be HR mistakes and he had missed up a couple[...]

What is there to say?


Not as gutting as 2012.

Not as infuriating as 2014.

But in the end, same result.

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

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

G5 Evening Post


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

G5 Morning Post


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

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

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

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

So again here we are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok here we go. See you at game time!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max-imum Pressure


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

Just so you can see the difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One to go


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

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

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

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

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

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

Playoff Quickie


So I was hurricane'd this weekend. Nothing serious but power, internet, cable issues that kept me from getting some posts up or live-tweeting.  I'll be around today though.As for the weekend, it went about as I expected. If you asked me to suss out the favorites for each game in the series before it started I would have said : G1 Dodgers slight favorite, G2 Nats solid favorite, G3 Nats slight favorite, G4 Dodgers solid favorite. (Game 5? Well that depends on who goes and how they pitched earlier in the series. Right now, assuming Max v Kershaw Part 2 in DC, I'd make the Nats a slight favorite.)  The Dodgers needed Game 1 because they could very easily lose the next two. They got it. After losing the first game though, the Nats really needed the next two, because they could very easily lose Game 4. They've gotten one, let's get the next one.Why are the Nats slight favorites in my mind today? Well the Dodgers can't hit lefties. They just can't. We've gone over that. However, they are at home and Gio is capable of losing a game by himself so I can't give the Nats the win straight up. Also I've liked Maeda all year and think he's capable of throwing a 7 inning shutout type game. The end of the season makes me back off a little bit, but that feeling is still there. So Nats are favored by me but not by much.My biggest issue yesterday was seeing Dusty, for the second day have a LHRP face the three righties on the Dodgers you don't want him to face (Puig, Grandal, and Kendrick*). This should be difficult to do. Grandal has started both games so simply by avoiding using a lefty only around his time up would be enough to do it. Yet there we were on Friday watching Solis face Grandal (single), Kendrick (GB out) and Puig (IBB) in successsion and Rep on Sunday facing Puig (BB) Grandal (K) and Kendrick (LD out right at Werth) back to back to back as well.  Dusty has been very good pulling the strings beside these moments but I just don't see how it happened once, let alone twice. Eventually this is going to bite the Nats if it keeps happening.I think the best observation about these two games is that the Nats' offense looks like... well the Nats offense. There could easily have been some drop off but there doesn't seem to be. Murphy looks like Murphy. Turner is handling himself.  Lobaton/Severino are not being outmatched. Only Espinosa seems to be problematic with his 5 Ks in two games but if that's the only real problem, and it seems to be, the Nats are in great shape at the plate. Yes, these things can be like a faucet but as we say - rather be hot than cold.The starting pitching oddly has been the real issue. Max made an unusually high number of mistake pitches in Game 1 and when Max makes a mistake, because of his approach, those are HR balls. But otherwise he looked like Max, and I like Max to get back to regular form if he's out there in Game 5. This is big because Kershaw looked terrible in G1, and while he might also get back into form, it's a lot harder for me to buy into that happening. Max just needs to cut down on his mistake pitches. Kershaw needs to regain the feel of all his pitches because he had nothing Saturday. The script flipped in G2, as I felt Roark wasn't as good as Hill, but Hill made the big mistake in that game. Roark... I didn't like his control. Maybe it was the wind? I don't know but he was way too hittable and three walks in 4 1/3rd? I'm not sure we'll see Tanner again this series and I don't think that's a bad thing. April through August he never walked more than 3 in a game and a vast chunk of those were 7 IP+ games. In September he did it three times and he would have gotten there if he was left in this game.Ok so what about today? As long as Gio got his curveball going the Nats should cruise. Grandal doesn't hit [...]



I, of course, will be live-tweeting @harpergordek if you are interested in such things and for some reason don't follow me. Ok that should take care of that one person.Why/How the Nats can win this game :   Scherzer is not as good as Kershaw but he's as close as any mortal, especially in Nats park. Kershaw has been very good since coming back from injury but his strikeouts are way down, and balls in play mean things can happen. It shouldn't get out of hand and I like how the Nats bullpen is performing right now more than the Dodgers. (Fun fact : Dodgers were #1 in reliever ERA, Nationals #2), if that's even an issue. We all know Max can and will go as deep as his arm lets him. The Nats bats have a good mix of guys that have seen Kershaw several times and have been able to get some hits off him, and guys who haven't seen Kershaw a lot but are hitting well. Keep it within a run, start in on Kershaw late, push in a couple. There you go. Why/How the Nats can lose this game :   Max can be unhittable, but Kershaw more so, and we'd have to imagine Kershaw has more of an advantage especially given their recent performances. Kershaw has relatively cruised into the playoffs while Max has reverted back to early season Max who was at the mercy of the timing of the bombs he'd give up. If there's an errant base hit or walk on base and Max gives up a homer or two, the Nats will find themselves in a pretty big hole. Those chances increase when you realize the Dodgers are Harvey Dent against right-handers, doing good. The Nats line-up, on the other hand, is unstable right now with Ramos gone and Murphy hurt and possibly out.  Fall behind early and watch Kershaw mow the Nats down with ease.Why/How the Nats can win the series :The Dodgers have a huge weakness. They can't hit lefties. They are so bad against lefties that the Nats should win that Gio game, whether it is game 2 or 3.* If the Nats can win either the Max or the Roark game that would put them at least up 2-1, if not sweeping the series. This seems pretty possible given Roark's consistent quality this year and the fact that Hill (never taxed since returning from injury) and Maeda (staggered cross the finish line) are beatable. Dusty has also been very good with matching up LHRP to LHB and vice versa this year which will help negate any late inning pushes by the Dodgers. From there the Dodgers, if they are still in it, are in a bind - choose to use Kershaw on short rest, when he's less effective, just to get to G5, or they can start Urias, who'd likely only go 4-5 innings, taxing their pen. Either way it would be a huge task to win both G4 and G5 for them.Why/How the Nats can lose the series :Playoff games are usually lower scoring affairs because we don't see those bad starters and managers are more willing to sell out bullpens. At the same time the Nats offense is in a spot. While Severino has hit well for Ramos so far, little in his history says that is sustainable. If he hits in the playoffs, it'll be because the Nats got lucky. That likely leaves the Nats with a bottom of an order that any starter can sail through - Espy, Zimm, C, P. If that's not bad enough, we are unsure of how healthy Murphy really is. If he's hampered by his injury at all that leaves the Nats with four decent bats and basically a need for all of them to get hot at the same time. Unmentioned is the potential psychological effects of not scoring many runs for the first say 12+ innings. Outside of G5 in 2012 the Nats offense has been very quiet, scoring 3-4-0-2-7-2-1-4-2 runs in the playoffs. Start out slow and the idea that "we just can't score in the playoffs" might start running through the team, making a bad situation worse. The flip side of the Dodgers doing bad against lefties is they do [...]

Playoff Kershaw


Let's get to getting. We'll start looking at Kershaw who the Nats will see at least once, maybe twice.Clayton Kershaw has a reputation for not being great in the playoffs. This is in part because of the man you saw last night. When someone who you are supposed to be as good as (or better than) comes up special you are supposed to come up special as well. Kershaw has not been doing that. His playoff ERA is a poor 4.59 and his playoff record is 2-6.  His WHIP good (1.160) but when you've been at a 0.908 for the last 6 seasons even that's a bit of a downer. Can Nats fans expect a terrible performance?Probably not. First off these numbers includes playoff appearances before Kershaw was KERSHAW. In 2008 and 2009 he pitched a few times with mixed results. Secondly, his stats since then are dominated by two extremely bad performances back to back against STL. He lost an NLCS game in 2013 giving up 7 runs in 4 innings and an NLDS game in 2014 giving up 8 runs in 6 and two-thirds.If instead of looking at overall stats, you look at the starts themselves you'd see a different picture. The eight starts would likely be called : great, very good, very good, OMG TERRIBLE, OMG TERRIBLE, good, good, very good/great. So 6 out of 8 times he's thrown up at least good games, half the time very good or better. Why is his record so poor then? Well he's lost games 1-0, 3-2, and 3-1, and got a no-decision. The Dodgers haven't scored for him. Also if we look at the games in more detail - that first "OMG TERRIBLE" game was a bad one through and through. The second one had him going 6IP, 2ER, 2H (solo homers), 0BB, 8K before blowing up in the 7th. The first "good" game 6IP, 0ER, 1H, 2BB, 9K before losing it in the 7th. The second one 6IP, 1ER, 4H, 1BB, 11K before walking a bunch in the 7th who'd score when the pen failed. Combined those three and prior to the 7th inning that's 18IP, 3ER, 7H, 3BB, and 28K. That's an incredible line 1.50 ERA, 0.555 WHIP, 1.5 BB/9, 14 K/9. Yikes.  What we've seen - seven of eight starts, is a Kershaw that has been dominant over the first 6 innings of a game. That's what Nats fans should expect. A struggle to score a run or two for the first 2/3rds of the game. Once we get into the later innings, when Kershaw tires a little, the Nats will have a chance, but any failings before that will be the Nats lucking into that one out of eight outing where he just doesn't have it.How do the Nats do against Kershaw? Here you go.  (Thanks Baseball Reference! Subscribe! I do.)Werth had faced him by far the most (39 PA) and done well (.286 / .359 / .457). Zimm is next at 24 and has done ok (.318 / .333 / .364).  Murphy  (19 - .316 / .316 / .632)  is another one with a strong showing. Though all three combined in regular season games in the past 2 years are only 2-19. So take the historical success very lightly. Other than that Michael Taylor is the only one you can say hits him well but in only 9 PA. Rendon had been usable. Heisey maybe so. The others - Bryce, Danny, Drew, Lobaton - no good.And Kershaw in Nats Park? We'll go with career : 6 G, 5GS, 32IP, 2.51 ERA 7BB, 44K, 4HR.  Last two years - 2 starts, 15IP, 0.00ERA., 25 Ks though they did get 9 hits off him in 2014 at home (and yes somehow didn't score. Here's the game if you are interested) How do the Dodgers do against Scherzer? Here you go again. As he's been an AL guy for a while there are fewer guys with double digits at bats against him. Ethier has hit him excellently, Kendrick very good, Reddick good, and Utley passably. Adrian Gonzalez has seen him the most and has been terrible (28 - .192/ .250/ .481). He did not face the Dodgers this year so there are no good recent stats but I'll say that the trends generally hol[...]

Day of distracting Miscellanea


Well let that be a lesson to every other manager. While personally I still think something was up (even an "old school" saves-crazy manager brings out Britton after Duensing, and certainly after Jimenez gives up two hits) the fact remains you should never lose a game with your best arm on the bench. Let Dusty pay attention and may this not happen to the Nats.Mets Giants tonight. Should be a tight low-scoring affair, but then again, everyone thought the Orioles/Jays could be a slugfest.The next two days we'll spend previewing the series (no surprise - Max is G1, roster not set yet) how about we spend today distracting ourselves with some other stuff?Can Dusty make the HOF as a manager?He wants to. Now of course there are African-American managers in the Hall of Fame, but they were elected as players.  You could argue Frank, as the first and a credible one, might have gone in anyway but that's hypothetical. Dusty didn't go in as a player. Could he go in as a manager? The Post focuses on wins but let's look at it 3 ways and see how Dusty stacks up.1) Titles & Post-Season Performance.  There is a clear line you can cross here to get into the Hall. Win 3 or more titles and you are in (Bochy is only one who isn't and he will be). There's also a clear line you need to cross to have a chance to get in. Win 1 or you're done. Only one post-war manager (we're talking 70 years now) has made it into the Hall without winning a title, Al Lopez. He did make the WS twice, losing both times. That may not seem impressive but here's the rub. From 1949 through 1964 the Yankees made the series 14 out of 16 times. The other two were Lopez, managing two different teams. He would actually finish 2nd to the Yankees NINE times. I'm sure there is a bit of understanding there on why he may not have won more titlesSo where's Dusty at? Zero titles. 1 pennant. a .422 post season winning percentage which is on the low side. There's nothing here that would make Dusty a HOFer2) Winning Percentage. Well what about if he just won a lot. Our new friend Al Lopez had a winning percentage of .584. That's 9th best all time. 8th if you set say... 1000 games as a base for consideration (that's about 6 1/2 old 154 game seasons). Using 1000 games as the limit 13 of the top 12 guys are in. The one guy who isn't is Jim Mutrie a guy who managed his last game in 1891. Matheny is a season away from qualifying. Then it's Davey at .562.Where is Dusty? Down at .529.  Some active coaches with better percentages over more than a few seasons - Francona, Maddon, Mattingly, Scioscia, Girardi... It's not a bad percentage (78th all time) but it's not great either. Basically it doesn't get him in, but it doesn't disqualify him either.  It can do that you know - like for multiple WS managers  like Cito Gaston's .519 or Tom Kelly's abysmal .478.*So what does Dusty have going for him?  3) Wins. Dusty is currently 17th and given another year will likely pass two more to get to 15th. The top 11 in total wins are all in. Most are really good and have winning percentages to go with it. The ones that don't are Connie Mack, who managed an insane amount of games; Bucky Harris, a lifetime baseball guy who managed the Senators to a title as player-manager when he was 27 and broke the Red Sox color line when he took over for Cronin at GM; and Casey Stengel , who did win 7 championships.But it's dicey in this area. You can understand why Mauch (.483 WP%, no pennants) isn't in, but then you have Piniella (.517, 1 pennant, 1 WS), Leyland (.506, 3, 1), Houk (.514, 3, 2)  who aren't in.  Dusty will have them on wins and winning percentage** but they are winning managers and with no titles can Dusty beat them[...]

Roster Choices


A quick note for those worried that the recent injuries mean the Nats will definitely lose. Let's say they Nats are worse than the Dodgers right now. You want to know the last time a team with more regular season wins won a series / Wild Card game in the National League playoffs? The 2014 2013 NLCS.  That's 8 straight series where the team with more wins (proxy for "better" team) lost.Yes, I realize the Nats have more wins - this isn't about some quirky pattern that showed up. This is about the idea that the best team wins in the playoffs. We've talked about this before but imagine you said the Dodgers have a 55% chance of winning a game against the Nats. This is crazy because it means if the Nats and Dodgers played 162 games you'd expect the Dodgers to win 89 of them and the Nats to win only 73, but whatever, this is a thought exercise. Any way - purely mathematically - what are the chances the Dodgers win a 5 game series? 75%? 80%?A little over 59%.I reality the Nats and Dodgers are much closer and that 59% is too high.Yes, yes match-ups, starters, etc. but hopefully you get the point I've been trying to make. It is FAR FAR FAR from impossible for the Nats to win this series. It may not be the most likely outcome but if it isn't it's just a smidge away from it. So you can pick the Dodgers to win, but no gloom and doom ok.The Nats have to figure out who's on their roster for the playoffs. Easy choices include - Lobaton, Severino, Zimmerman, Murphy, Espinosa, Rendon, Werth, Turner, Bryce, Scherzer, Roark, Gio, Kelley, Treinen, Melancon. There are your starters and best bullpen arms. That's 15 out of 25.Drew is a given, considering Murphy's condition and his own production. Based on performance and recent usage it would be hard to see them leaving off Belisle. They may be looking at going with a 3-man rotation, but you can't not take someone who can give you multiple innings. Ross is the obviously choice here, as neither Lopez or Cole have staked any strong claimes to the spot. 18.So this is the "base".  The Nats need at least one more OF and another bat on the bench, two more is more likely. They need some LH relievers.The Nats have a plethora of OF choices right now. Heisey, the year long bench player. Goodwin, recently called up and doing allright. Revere, the struggling veteran. Taylor the former heir apparent. Robinson, the versatile back-up first-baseman. I bet even Difo could play OF. You figure Heisey won't lose his bench role given he's performed well in it over the course of the season.  19.  From here I could see it going a lot of ways.You probably take Robinson, to give the option of sitting the struggling Zimmerman at times. But it's not like Robinson has lit the world on fire this year. You could leave him behind. Problem is that it doesn't leave a "true" back-up first baseman on the team. Though Murphy can do it, has done it in the past, but hasn't played there much this year.  You'd probably rather take a hot Revere, but he has continued his unimpressive singles hitting. A cold Goodwin or Difo would be an easy leave, but both are hitting pretty well and give you a touch of speed on the bench that the other bench guys don't. (Taylor is cold - hasn't played - It would be a huge surprise if he was taken.) If you go hot hands you take Goodwin/Difo. If you go veterans you take Robinson/Revere. If you go handedness Difo has to make it as the other three are all lefties. I think leaving off Robinson would be surprising. He hasn't been good but there's a need for someone behind the struggling Zimm, and leaving him off for a decent month of part-time playing by one of these young guys would be a huge leap of faith.[...]

Pick the playoffs


Let's get crazy

Giants over Mets

Dodgers over Nats
Cubs over Giants

Cubs over Dodgers

Blue Jays over Orioles

Indians over Red Sox
Blue Jays over Rangers

Blue Jays over Indians

Cubs over Blue Jays

I can't pick against Bumgarner in a one game. I think the Nats are falling apart at the wrong time (but will still take LA to 5). I think the Cubs are just clearly better than the Giants, especially if Bumgarner can't go 3 games. I think the Dodgers can overcome a game of Gio but not two of Lester. 

AL wise- here's the thing. I pick Wild Card by starter. We don't know the AL starters, do we? Until we have that info, I go with what I know. In general Toronto's starters are better than Baltimore's. Toronto is at home. After that I like the Sox bullpen to blow something and Cleveland is the best team they will likely face. The Rangers are more lucky than good, which can totally keep happening, I'm just not going to bet on it. So that leaves me with the made for TV final of Toronto and Cleveland, which I don't have a strong opinion on, but I'll pick against the whole Cubs vs "Believeland" storyline because that may kill me. 

For contrast my rooting interests go something like : 

Blue Jays
Red Sox

I get really torn on the Orioles because I want Buck to get his ring but any AL East team wins and as a Yankee fan I find them to get super super annoying. Sometimes I have them over the Dodgers, who I have a mild desire to see them win in the Vin retires year, and sometimes below the Rangers who I have like no feelings for. 

A rooting interest playoffs would go 

Mets over Giants

Nats over Dodgers
Cubs over Mets

Nats over Cubs

Orioles over Blue Jays

Indians over Red Sox 
Orioles over Rangers / Rangers over Orioles (like I said - not sure)

Indians over whoever

Nats over Indians

Let's get this going!   

On predictions


The Nats won yesterday, but since the Dodgers won as well HFA is still up in the air, though heavily favoring the Nats. The most likely scenarios for the weekend are the Nats win 2 over the Marlins, who they are better than, and the Dodgers win 1 or 2 over the fighting for their lives Giants. That would be enough. I will worry though if the Nats lose tonight and the Dodgers win.Really I only want to see one thing tonight. Bryce playing. I know some of you think he should sit as long as it's slippery out there because he coud aggravate his injury. Me, I think he should get a few games in because it's a long wait until the NLDS starts next week. Plus if you're that worried about rain-caused injuries to susceptible players I have a first-baseman, third-baseman, and left fielder that I need to talk to you about.Murphy? He's not playing. They have him as ready for the NLDS, which is good, but not great. First, because with each game he's out the next game becomes suspect. If he plays in this series you can be fairly certain he will play in the NLDS. If he doesn't, you can't. We'll get updates next week that might clear it up - he'll run or play in a fake game or something, but on Day 162 you can't say for sure you'll see him in the NLDS and that's scary.  Second, assuming he is ready he'll go from sitting for 3 weeks to facing Clayton Kershaw. Good luck with that. There's normally an adjustment time coming back from injuries and Murphy will have none. Even if it takes Murphy just a couple games to get back to MVP level that could put the Nats in a hole that they can't climb out of.OK on to more fun things, like mocking me (sort of)When the season started and we were putting up predictions I put up my own. Nats win 90. Miss playoffs.  Instead, they'll win like 95 and the NL East. Oops! Now if you want to stop there and make fun of me I guess that's your right. But I'm going to do a little deeper look at what I said to see how bad my prediction really was. Here's a teaser - the Nats win total would not be what I consider my worst prediction.So being more specific what I did was basically say three things and add a caveat. The three things were :The Nats would win 90 gamesThe Mets would win 91 gamesThe 2nd WC would win 91 games. The caveat was "if anything bad happens to the Mets (and nothing to the Nats, or really more bad to the Mets than the Nats) the Nats should have an easy time winning the division."Basically all predictions should be made expecting even luck with injuries for the teams involved. Anything else would be akin to wild guessing. This is not the same as saying "all teams will have the same amount of injuries". Some teams (older, injury-prone players, pitching dependent) are more likely to be affected by injuries that others.What it means is that these teams have the amount of missed time due to injuries you could reasonably expect given their make-up. For the Nats that's about what happened*. For the Mets things were worse. So taking the caveat into the equation the Nats season played out as I expected it would if the Mets were to suffer more injury losses than the Nats. The Nats would easily win the NL East. They did.Now if you asked me what it meant for win totals I'd toss a couple more on for the Nats - say 92 and cut a handful from the Mets - say 86. For the Mets that's going to be close to dead on, but I'm still enough away from the Nats total, especially given the late season injury rush costing a win or two, that I do feel like I undersold them a bit. We'll go over it sometime after the season as a whole but I think, reading through the projection, that I didn't g[...]

Nats Lose but win


Nats lost last night and Gio was Gio. With each terribly maddening and unimpressive start the "Gio Game 1" bandwagon grows.  I now assume he'll start Game 162, give up 5 walks and 4 runs in 3 innings and everyone will agree he should somehow pitch three times against the Dodgers.I'm not saying Gio starting game 1 is a bad idea. He's going to start anyway. It would be silly not to try to take advantage of the Dodgers splits. Max isn't going 1 and 4. He said as much. Dusty said as much. So either Roark goes 1 and 4 or Gio goes 1 and 4  or, far more likelier, no one does and if no one does, what's it matter if Gio starts G1 or G3?My big concern is what I have talked about before. With Max or Roark if they start G1 and are terrible you chalk it up to a fluke and use that short outing to bring them back in G4*. Gio doesn't get that benefit of the doubt. If he's terrible then he is done for the series outside maybe an emergency LOOGY situation.  So if Gio goes G1 and is terrible and the Nats make it to G4, you have a situation where you are going to be forced to start Ross/Latos/Cole etc. To make matters worse you'll have no Max or Roark available in emergency. They'll have pitched too recently.  The idea that the Nats could do a bullpen thing, go with Solis for 2, Rep for 2, Perez for two - throw in a righty when needed - to get to the 7th/8th and the usual closers is a nice idea but too unusual for the playoffs. I just don't see it happening unless forced into it by a terrible start by a normal starter. It's not happening to start a game.Further, I wonder about the things we can't measure. What does it say to the team when you decide "We're not going with Max Game 1. Kershaw is real good. We're going with Gio and maybe hope to steal one" Maybe you can convince them you'd be doing what is best for the team. Talk about home away splits (Max is better at home - Roark and Gio don't have big splits). Talk about Gio's starts against the Dodgers and how he's never been hit by them (5 starts as a Nat against LA:  32 IP, 20H, 6ER, 12BB, 34K or something close to that I did this quick). Maybe that works. But maybe they see it as giving away a game they can ill afford to lose. Any game in a short series is crucial. This is Dusty's job, to read the team, but I have a suspicion that they'd want to go with their big gun first.Also I think it's important to remember that all these machinations, they probably don't really matter all that much. The change in the chance to win the series isn't going to be all that great and it's going to be overwhelmed by the simple luck that happens in any short series. Is the starter on his game? Do you get a few seeing-eye hits or bloops in the same inning? That'll be the driving force for winning the series - not idealized pitching match-ups. If you want to go ahead and do it. Maximize your advantage, but don't kid yourself that that is going to be the tipping point because it almost certainly won't be. This isn't like running with Strasburg or shutting him down. It's just shuffling stuff around.So in the end I like just going with Max G1, Roark G2 (or flip that if you want), Gio G3 and worrying about G4 if and when you get there.  It's like how I feel about planning out how the NLDS rotation leads into the NLCS rotation. You can worry about setting up for the NLCS. I don't. I worry about winning the NLDS then figuring out the NLCS. Anyway Dodgers lost too and the Nats keep a 2 game lead for HFA which at some point was going to be my point here. There are 4 games left so probably the Nats only need 2 wins to clinch it,[...]

The answer key


Hey Svrluga and Kilgore decided to get together and argue out position by position which division winner was better. No, not between the Red Sox teams of the past 15 years, though that's not a bad guess. Between the 2012, 2014, and 2016 Nats. Since the link to all players doesn't work yet I can give you my opinion without being tainted with what should be smart and fair analysis but may not be because they already messed up picking 2012 Det over 2014 Gio.C - If you go by in-season performance it's an easy win for Ramos '16 over Ramos/Lobaton '14 and Suzuki/Ramos/Flores '12. If you are really going by playoff starter, now that Ramos is down, Suzuki '12 wins out. Wilson's inabililty to take a walk was at its peak terribleness in 2014.1B - I'll take the more powerful, younger '12 LaRoche, over the more patient, older '14 LaRoche.  Both look curiously at the mess that now occupies 1B for the Nats2B - If '16 Ramos' win was easy, '16 Murphy's win just happens without you even doing anything. Espinosa's defense is better but come on.  '12 "peak" Espy beats '14 "should have gotten the surgery" Espy SS - These are are strangely non-competitive choices so far. '12 Desmond was a revelation. He'd get worse each subsequent year so he bests '14 pretty handily. It's tempting to pick '16 Espy over '14 Desmond because "defense"! But no. Danny isn't super elite anymore and there's a big gap between offensively as Danny has been terrible for months now.3B - The heart wants to go with 2012 Zimmerman. It was arguably the last year of his peak, before arm troubles in 2013 took him down. And he felt like a big clutch player still. But Rendon in 2014 was a legit MVP candidate. He did everything Zimm did at the plate, was possibly better in the field, and definitely better on the basepaths. If I'm team building I may pick '12 Zimm for leadership, but I'm not so '14 Rendon wins. '16 Rendon hasn't been bad at all but these two set high barsLF - OK I pick 2014 Bryce here. He was the only one of the three who was not a liability in the field and 2012 Mike Morse wasn't so much better at the plate that I'd have to choose him. Plus if you look past Bryce shaking off the injury rust and recovery in July he's right there at the plate. Better probably - he's the only one that seemed to hit in the playoffs. Though if you want to go with Morse I won't blame you. You probably get mad that they traded him, too. '16 Werth is fine but not in the running.CF -  This to me is the most fascinating choice. You have rookie, out-of-position but still athletic, '12 Bryce, defense first, (though slipping) surprising offense force, '14 Span, and a possibly misleading half-season of rookie sensation Trea Turner. If it was 120 games of Trea doing this it would be a slam dunk but you have to wonder if in 3 years we look back and go "Oh that was quite a run. Wish he could do that again". Still... I pick Trea. I mean we have to go on what we have and it's been awesome. Even fielding - Denard was on the way down in '14 so it's not as big a fight as you'd think. I also pick '14 Span over rookie Bryce if we have to orderRF - 2014 Werth was everything but the fielding. He bests 2016 Bryce, who's the best fielder probably but has been hobbled. He bests '12 Werth who was a Singly Joe coming back from his injury. A very good Singly Joe, but a Singly Joe nonetheless.Now are we going playoffs or reg season? I say reg season. Feels more right. Ordering pitchers is hard bc how they fit into a rotation may not be about performance. It may lefty - righty based. It may just be where they slid[...]



Just two years ago, in 2014, something historic happened. The 88 win SF Giants beat the 89 win Kansas City Royals in the World Series. It was the first time in history two teams with under 90 wins met to decide who would be crowned baseball's champion. While that was a unique situation, finding one such team in the World Series is not. The Detroit Tigers in 2012, St Louis Cardinals in 2006, Houston Astros in 2005, and New York Yankees in 2000 all have made the World Series this century with under 90 wins.

Anything can happen in the playoffs.

Which is good because last night Wilson Ramos hurt himself and without Ramos and Strasburg and either Bryce or Murphy the Nats probably resemble a team that would struggle to win 90 games. Even if the injury isn't serious, it may not matter. It only has to be an injury that would take a couple weeks to heal in order to have a drastic effect on the Nationals playoff chances. Things are beginning to look very bleak.

Truth : The Nats could be losing their All-Star .307 / .354 / .496 22 HR catcher

Further Truth : That's overselling Ramos who had a first half unlike any other extended period in his career. Since the All-Star break, a time which featured at lot more rest to try to keep Ramos fresh, Wilson hit .279 / .317 / .447.  That's probably more indicative of the player the Nats are potentially losing for the playoffs. Not a fringy MVP candidate, but a guy who gets All-Star consideration if he has a hot half and it's a weak year.

Further further truth : But even if they are losing that it's a big deal because the gap between that and Ramos' replacements is very large. Lobaton is near end of life as a useful back up and has hit .220 / .317 / .363 while spelling Wilson. Severino has had success in the majors but in a week of plate appearances over two years, and he was hitting an empty .271 in AAA this year.

Losing Strasburg is a blow but given the performance of Scherzer and Roark this season, and the problem the Dodgers have with LHP, it merely created a problem for one game in the NLDS. Losing Ramos would be an issue but his likely performance level was something that could be covered for. Even together it's far from a death blow for the team.

However if you add a loss of Murphy, who hasn't played a full game since the 17th, or Bryce who apparently has special x-rays that can't be read right away, that takes it beyond something the Nats can reasonably adjust for. Murphy has been their best hitter all year long. Stephen Drew has done a fairly amazing job off the bench but he can't be expected to replace an MVP candidate. Bryce, for all his issues, has been the second or third most important offensive presence for the Nats this year and is by far the most likely National to work a walk. Heisey has done yeoman's work in the OF this year with timely home runs, but he can't replace that presence in the middle of the lineup.

After having pretty even, maybe even good, luck with injuries over the course of the season, things have come at this team fast and hard. The Nats post-season comes down to the health of these players. Losing one is fine - nearly every team has their one. Losing two can be worked around. But losing three or four? That makes the Nats a different team, a team that makes one point to the variability inherent in a short series to have any real hope.

Monday Quickie - Now we can get to it


The Nats won the NL East and fans and the team have had all weekend to celebrate. Great!Got that out of your system?Because it doesn't matter.This Nats team, like every Nats team since 2012, won't be judged a success unless they win in the playoffs. It's as simple as that. I'm not talking by you or me in particular. I'm sure some of you would call them a success today. I'm sure some of the more generous fans might even call a winning season a success.  I'm sure the harshest of you (Sammy?) might not judge them a success unless they win it all. But for the sports world at large the Nats need to at least make the next step. They need to progress. They've had their misstep. They need to win the NLDS vs the Dodgers.The Nats need it, because they've lost twice now in DSs when they were favored, blowing up in the late innings in key spots. Even if it's a pretty unfair characterization, they've been seen as a cocky team ("World Series or bust" "Where my ring?" "nothing harder in the galaxy") that can't back it up when it counts. In their last appearance Tim Hudson colorfully suggested the Nats didn't have the inner fortitude to win, then they got beat in 4 games. Dusty also needs it. Despite being a very successful manager Dusty has not had much playoff success. His teams have made seven playoff appearances, and have won a combined 3 playoff series. In his last stop, Cincinnati, he couldn't make it out of the first round be it the NLDS (swept out by Phillies in 2010, collapsed after taking a 2-0 lead over the Giants in 2012) or the Wild Card (giving the Pirates their only playoff success in recent vintage in a non-competitve game).Right now both the Nats and Dusty are looked at as having issues in the playoffs. A series win would go a long way to putting that to rest. A series loss and, well I'm afraid it becomes a "thing". That becomes how people see the Nats and Dusty going forward until they prove otherwise. Playoff chokers. I don't think they have to win it all. Usually just making the World Series gives you a measure of credibility. I don't even think they have to beat the Cubs*. That is a juggernaut team that everyone believes has mojo on it's side, excusing whoever they beat on the way. But they have to beat the Dodgers.Other NotesSo Bryce keeps stupidly sliding head first into bases and yesterday it might have done serious injury. Mind you we already believe he is injured so this only adds to it. Some fans were screaming at Kang for deke-ing Bryce into sliding. I wasn't watching the game so I assumed that when several stated the Pirates "got no advantage" from the move that I would see a play where Kang saw the ball clearly in the hands of a Pirate player ready to fire home for an easy out if Bryce tried to keep going. Instead I saw a ball miss 3rd by 15 feet and roll slowly past the bag.This is not only a situation where a deke may happen, it's a situation where a deke SHOULD happen. You try to trick the player into sliding so he doesn't advance further. It's an old trick usually lauded by players and fans alike. But Bryce got hurt so somehow this time it's wrong and bad. Seriously? This was a perfectly acceptable play and if you don't see that, I don't know what I can tell you. I guess be less of a crazy homer?Offensively the Nats had a good weekend which is good. But like the bad games the preceded the Pirates series they don't really mean too much. I want to see them hit the Dbacks. I really want to see them hit the Marlins. I accept that none of that may matter for the NLDS[...]




Bryce and Daniel.


Bryce Harper is hurt.We've guessed about this before but it's almost certainly true.  If it isn't true here is what you believe :The year after generational prospect Bryce Harper broke out and had one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time, he had the 3rd worst and worst months of his career so far. That after slugging 44 doubles and 51 homers in a season and a month he would regress to the point of having the worst isoSLG of his career*But why would this be? All those walks (NOT STARTED BY JOE MADDON) got in his head? Maybe but he'd have a decent June and a good August after that. Adjustments by the pitcher or by him? Hard to believe that 5 years into a career. Natural variation? That's a little tough to believe but I won't rule it out if that makes you happy. I'd need to look more into it. But power should be sort of stable right? Let's see what we see when we look at his isoSLG monthly after his last struggling rookie month.213 .313 .376 .175Wait! What happened there? Well that corresponds to May 2013. On April 29th he crashed into the wall and might have hurt his hip. On May 13th he crashed into the wall and did hurt his knee.-- .178 .208 .091Woah woah I thought he was getting better! If you are going to hang your hat on something I guess this month - September of 2013 looks to be one. (he didn't play in June if you are counting up months that's the "--") He seems to be getting better then he struggled. Accumulation of injuries? Perhaps but nothing immediate. We move on..133 -- -- .114Hold it again - ok the .133 suggests lingering issues but the .114? Well that's the month after came back from breaking his hand..211 .133At this point we're at the end of 2014 and Bryce is either (1) not that great or (2) pretty injured. Those last rookie months into his 2nd year and a smattering of back from injury months suggest (2) but a couple months in there suggest (1) might be the case. What does 2015 hold?.259 .524 .321 .275 .122 .414That should help rule out (1), but .122, there's your second hat hanger. Just a ill-timed slump. Started pretty much Day 1 of August. He still hit well - just no pop. He did hurt himself a little in August but was actually better after that. So even on his game Bryce can have some short periods of no power. Now 2016.428 .163 .139 .143 .226 .087So here we are. I think you could write off May as an affect of the walk strategy. It seemed to throw him off for a couple weeks. June or July could be a slump, maaaybe even both, but it would be his first extended slump like that. And then there's the .087? I suppose it could be another ill-timed slump (it did happen to start Day 2 of September) but now your saying Bryce just happened to have three slumps, including his worst ever, in the same season. A season where age and recent success suggest he should be in his prime. It just doesn't make a lot of sense. Coupled with the other low numbers, the general history of slugging issues when injured. I think injury is just the more reasonable guess. Now if we were just guessing, like before, it's easier to rule out. Fans being fans. But now that we have a source and a credible reporter saying the same, it seems more foolish to not buy into it. They have no good reason to tell us that he's injured either, unless they plan for him to sit. So don't expect any news until the off-season but right now I think it's foolish to think he's working through anything other than an injury. Daniel Murphy is injured.They don't[...]

Nats do as Nats do


Ramos was made an offer said Heyman.  How much? Let's go to our resident psychic and see what he said just a couple days ago!I can see them offering Ramos something like 3/30+ to begin with to see if he would take it and then offering him the QO. Yay me!  It WAS apparently something like 3 years slightly more than 30 million.  Why is that what the Nats offered?1) It was the lowest reasonable comp available. When I listed all the recent decent catchers signed Francisco Cervelli had both the shortest contract (3 years) and smallest per (10.333 million).Is Cervelli a good comp? Kind of. Much like Ramos he was coming off a career year in his late 20s. He wasn't seen as the same type of hitter or defender as Ramos. Cervelli is a high average hitter with ok patience. Ramos is a mid average hitter with good pop.  Cervelli is a decent plate blocker and run-gunner but a great framer. Ramos is a good plate blocker and run-gunner but only a fair framer. The end result though was a year going into a contract that was roughly as productive as Ramos' current season.However Ramos was a good prospect who had previously hit well over 200 games in parts of 3 separate seasons before succumbing to multiple injuries. 2016 has been a career year, yes, but also a bounce back year of sorts. Cervelli was not a prospect and had never hit, in part possibly because of injuries, prior to his surge up to the year before his contract. That surge up only constituted 66 total games. Cervelli was much more of a gamble.Also Cervelli's deal covered his 31-33 age seasons, while Ramos' deal would cover his 29-31 age seasons. At a position where wear and tear can play major issues with players, younger is better and worth more.So you could argue Cervelli is a decent comp but there hardly is anything pointing to Cervelli being worth a bigger deal than Wilson making him more of a decent base than a direct comparison.2) The Nats offer fair deals at around the lowest reasonable offer. The Nats don't go under market, at least in my mind. They look at a player. They look at the market. They figure out what is the lowest the market would give. Then they offer something around that.Is it an opening offer? A best and final? Depends on the player, I'm sure. But that's how they roll. The worst that can happen I suppose is the player can be insulted but you know what? Feelings of insult go away pretty quickly if more money is involved.  So if the Nats really want a guy, they can up the offer. There's really very little harm done seeing if you can get a guy to accept the low-end of what he's worth. And in fact it can lead to a lower contract being accepted than if you came in with a more standard market offer.Of course all Nats fans care about is the two questions I just asked "Is it an opening offer? A best and final?" and history tells us it's probably closer to a best and final. It's hard to say though. The market dried up for ZNN and Desmond as teams pursued mid-range pitchers and Desmond killed his value with a career worst season. This made the Nats' offered deals look more reasonable then they were when initially put out there. They didn't have any reason to up their offer (and in fact as far as I know they took Desmond's deal off the table). So perhaps if Ramos explores free agency and the money is there the Nats might up their offer a little. It's new territory.However, go back and read what I said a couple days ago. Ass[...]

The Rotation Question


Nats lose again, right? Yes. But Mets lose and Dodgers lose so there you go. Tick tick tick.Buried inside of Verducci's "Bryce is hurt" article (read it if you haven't - we'll get to that another day soon) is a nugget of info that could drastically effect the Nats postseason plans. Turns out Max Scherzer does not think pitching on short rest is a good idea. Here's the quote“That’s asking a lot,” he said. “You’re trained to give everything you have every fifth day. You might be able to get through it, but where it would really show up is your next start.” Now I'll never go against a pitcher that says something like this. While I totally think pitchers CAN go on short rest, I also understand they've been trained their entire professional lives to go every 5th day. The body develops a rhythm and anything that throws that off is sub-optimal. Hell, getting an extra day probably isn't good for most pitchers. And remember I noted a week ago or so that Max has never started a game on short rest. However, we can't deny that this presents the Nats with a problem. Conventional thinking likely had the rotation (at least for the NLDS) going like thisMax - Roark - [OFF] - Gio* - Max - [OFF] - Roark This way you maximize the use of your healthy and best starting arms. There are days off between games 2 & 3 and games 4 & 5.  That means Max's second game would be on short rest, but Roark's would not. If Max really would prefer not to pitch on short rest though it begs the question what do the Nats do? A lot depends on what we see going down the stretch I imagine. Let's run through some potential plans. Plan A - Keep rotation as expected, but defer to only use Max on short rest in emergencyMax - Roark - Gio - Max (if down), Ross/Cole/Latos (if up) - Max (if not used), Roark (otws) While Max says he's not really for it, I'd bet he'd do it if asked. Plus you may not even need him. The Nats may sweep (or get swept).  You may balk at using a lesser option in game 4 but really you don't need Max to go since you can technically afford to lose. Plus you can really go with an all hands on deck (AHOD) rotation. So if someone isn't working you can immediately go to someone else. Would we rather see Max, no matter what? Probably. But this I think, is the most reasonable plan.Plan B - 4 man rotationMax - Roark - Gio - Ross/Cole/Latos - Max,  orMax - Gio - Roark - Ross/Cole/Latos - Max  This makes some sense if Ross seems fully healthy by the time the season ends. He's been a good pitcher during the year while healthy so giving him a shot (with the AHOD caveat) is reasonable. It would feel a little funny going with Ross if the Nats were down 1-2 at this point but if he looks fine I don't see how you don't consider this option. Now some will note Ross has had issues with lefties and LA hits righties well so it's a bad match-up. That's true, which is why this is my Plan B. I can see doing it but I'd rather do A. In this case it doesn't matter where Gio or Roark go as neither would be called on to pitch later in the series. If Ross doesn't seem ready to go though, this plan loses a lot of appeal and might not even be a recognizable letter grade. Latos or Cole potentially in a must win game? No thank you. Plan C - Short rest RoarkRoark - Max - Gio -  Roark - Max  While Max would rather not go on short rest, former reliever Roark mig[...]