Thursday, May 9, 2013

Nats sweep Tigers in early season test

Photo by USA Today

In a 162 game baseball season it’s hard to qualify an early May series as a test, no matter the circumstances and no matter the teams involved. But for a team with World Series aspirations, sweeping the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers in a two-game series felt about as good as it possibly could for the Nationals. 

Whether it is early May or late September, a deep lineup featuring Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder can be considered a measuring stick for any team. 

“I think everyone was really excited for this series to begin within the clubhouse,” winning pitcher Dan Haren said. “It’s always fun playing a team of that caliber. You get fired up to see guys like Cabrera and Fielder and everyone in the clubhouse was excited for it.”

Haren earned his fourth win of the season in the 5-4 game after going six innings with four earned runs, nine hits, and a walk. He gave up three of the four runs in the sixth inning after cruising through his first 5 2/3 frames. The trio of late scores came off one swing of the bat, a three-run shot by a pinch-hitting Matt Tuiasosopo. 

It was one mistake that blemished an otherwise crisp afternoon, despite the fact Haren did not feel his best.

“I really didn’t have much out there, I was kind of searching for it all game. I was able to wiggle myself through,” he said. “It’s just funny how it works, I held the one through four guys in check but the bottom of the lineup just killed me.”

For all that is made about the heart of the Tigers’ order, Haren had no trouble with batters one through four. Cabrera, Fielder, Austin Jackson, and Torii Hunter in fact went a combined 4-for-20 with no extra base hits and three strikeouts in the game. It was the back end of Detroit’s order that gave Haren problems, even pitcher Doug Fister who singled home a run off the Nats’ starter in the second inning.

Haren was fortunate to have help, though. The Nationals scored three runs in the first inning to take an early lead and give the veteran some breathing room while pitching in the rain against a tough lineup.

“When a guy doesn’t have his best stuff, if you’re pitching from behind that could be not a very good thing,” he said. “We were able to get a few off a really good pitcher in Fister today early and those runs held up.”

The Nats wasted no time against Fister in the first inning, starting with a leadoff double down the right field line by Denard Span. Roger Bernadina then joined him on base after bunting and beating the throw to first. Span came home for the first run on a Bryce Harper infield grounder ruled as a fielder’s choice.

Washington added two more in the inning off a pair of singles by Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond. LaRoche’s hit was not ruled an RBI as Jackson muffed the ball in center field. 

LaRoche continued his recent success at the plate after a month of April in which he hit just .136. He is heating up and so is Zimmerman who recently returned from the disabled list. Both also had RBI singles in the second to give the Nats their fourth and fifth runs.

I’ve liked the progress we’re making,” Davey Johnson said. “It was great today to see Zimm swinging the bat really good and Adam LaRoche continuing to swing the bat really good. That’s the big thing today, for me.”

The team’s four and five hitters are starting to come around, as well as their fourth starter who also had a forgettable April. With four straight wins, the Nationals are starting to feel like they did last year when they led the majors with 98 victories.

“I think everyone in this room will tell you that we didn't play great baseball at the beginning of the season,” Zimmerman said. “Defensively we were sloppy, offensively we were very inconsistent. Even the pitchers weren't that great at the beginning. But you're going to go through things like that in a season.” 

“We've just got to keep doing what we've been doing lately.”

In earning the majors’ best record in 2012, the Nationals took care of teams regardless of their reputation. LaRoche thinks that in itself is progress.

“We did a great job last year of not worrying about who’s in town and not worrying about how big the series is or where the pennant race is,” he said. 

“Just go out and play and good things happen. We did that the last couple days and over the last road trip.”

With five runs through the first two innings, the Nationals led much of the game before the Tigers rallied to make it close. After Tuiasosopo’s three-run shot in the sixth, the Tigers pulled within one run and later had the top of the order up in the ninth. 

Nats closer Rafael Soriano earned his 12th save of the season, but only after allowing a single to Cabrera and a long fly ball to Fielder. Fielder got the third out on a long ball that Span caught just a few feet from the fence in left-center. But though many of the 28,742 in attendance thought the ball was headed out, Soriano and his teammates remained calm as it carried through the humid air.

“I tried to make a good pitch to him. Whatever happened, happen,” Soriano said. “I'm not going to be scared to pitch to him.”

“I’ve played here enough,” LaRoche said. “You kind of get a sense when someone gets a hold of one. I thought he just missed it. Obviously he can just miss some balls and hit them out of the ballpark. It’s pretty deep out that way. We’ll take it.”

LaRoche in many ways represents the Nationals’ turnaround. Though they were never really in complete despair, the first baseman seems to come and go with the team. When he was searching at the plate, the Nats’ lineup fell cold as well. And now that he’s hitting, things are falling into place for the entire club.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that first month we were all just kinda up in the air about what’s going on,” LaRoche said. 

“We couldn’t pinpoint it. We had some struggling and we just weren’t putting anything together. But at no point did you see anybody panic and worry about where we’re going to be in three or four months. We knew it was a matter of time before this lineup and this staff gets going. And people are just starting to see that. I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface yet.

50 comments:

Eric said...

Denard's face in that pic about sums it up...nicely done fellas!

NatsLady said...

Saw this just now.

Setback for Venters

http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/05/09/jonny-venters-has-setback-with-elbow/

Manassas Nats' Fan said...

Go Vogelsong.

Eugene in Oregon said...

For those who still value W-L records as a measure for pitchers:

Zimmermann, 6-1, 1.59 ERA, 2.75 FIP, 3.41 xFIP, 1.4 WAR, 0.82 WHIP
Haren, 4-3, 5.17 ERA, 5.06 FIP, 4.45 xFIP, 0.0 WAR, 1.49 WHIP (FIP, xFIP, and WAR entering today's game)
Gonzalez, 3-2, 4.97 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 3.67 xFIP, 0.3 WAR, 1.34 WHIP
Detwiler, 1-3, 2.50 ERA, 3.73 FIP, 4.23 xFIP, 0.5 WAR, 1.39 WHIP
Strasburg, 1-4, 3.45 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 3.53 xFIP, 0.6 WAR, 1.15 WHIP

You can argue over which of those (or some other) measurement is the best way to compare pitchers, but it's sure not W-L.

Manassas Nats' Fan said...

what sre FIP and xFIP?

Eric said...

FIP = fielding-independent pitching. Not sure what the x means.

Eric said...

xFIP

Interesting...

Eugene in Oregon said...

There are many folks in the NatsInsider world who can explain FIP and xFIP better than I ever could, but essentially they are ways to take the randomness of balls-in-play out of the equation and try to measure the results a pitcher can control (home runs, walks, HBP, and strikeouts).

Manassas Nats' Fan said...

sounds like Brian Kenny crap. i am too old for worrying about that WHIP and ERA are good enough for me.

Manassas Nats' Fan said...

i go with the eyeball test in reality.

RBI single for Buster Posey.

Section 222 said...

Hope some stats get padded against the Cubs staff.

Thanks for reminding me about what the Nats did to the Cubs last year at Nats Park. Four game sweep, outscored them 40-9, with 15 home runs (12 in the middle two games.) Seriously fun to watch.

I love it that the whole team is getting into untucking. Kind of like the Domenican players all doing the archery pose with Fernando Rodney during the WBC. For some reason, that's annoying, but this isn't. :-)

peric said...

There's also the versions that try to make the statistic Park/location independent, The individual Parks pitched in have can an effect on the pitcher's stats.

Eric said...

>There's also the versions that try to make the statistic Park/location independent, The individual Parks pitched in have can an effect on the pitcher's stats.

Yeah. I seem to recall that Cueto's are shockingly low when adjusted for his home park, considering how small it is.

EmDash said...

Venters has been really overworked the last few seasons, so it makes sense that he's been having issues. That's going to be a concern with Clippard too, going forward.

Giants will have to score a lot of runs today, Vogelsong's been really shaky this season so far.

peric said...

Actually, Cingrani is the best with a 2.20 xRA and Bailey with a 3.27.

Cueto did not have a good start at 4.34 xRA. Cingrani also has the highest percentage of strike outs. In that park its probably what you need to be successful.

Eric said...

>Cueto did not have a good start at 4.34 xRA.

Is that just for this year? The article I read about it was out around the time we played in Cincy back in early April, so mostly focused on last year.

sjm308 said...

You guys let me know when they place a team in the World Series that has a high or low xRA or WHIP or FIP. We just need to score one more run then the team we are playing each game and I think we will be ok. Don't have any research on that but I am pretty sure I am correct. Wins are what get you there. Nothing more, nothing less.

We have a four game WIN streak, not sure what our FIP streak is though.

Hope to wake up one game back of first in the NL East.

Go Nats!!

Manassas Nats' Fan said...

after McCann 2 run homer in second, Posey hits 2 run homer in 3rd. Giants lead 3-2 after 3.

Eric said...

"You guys let me know when they place a team in the World Series that has a high or low xRA or WHIP or FIP. We just need to score one more run then the team we are playing each game and I think we will be ok."

True enough, sjm. I imagine these more esoteric stats--and even some of the well-known ones--only have real significance when, say, reviewing trade options. It's all about playing the odds and improving your chances of accumulating the end-all-be-all stat...Ws!

Beyond that it's mostly just whether or not you're into that sort of thing ;).

sjm308 said...

Like Manassas, I am an old guy. I don't want to rain on anyone else's parade on this. If its something you like to use or research, please keep on keeping on. I do understand WHIP and I think era for starters has some validity (but certainly not for relievers). Once again, its all about the W!!

Watching a game in person is something that does make a huge difference. My big point on this is watching Span get a correct jump on just about every ball hit. It's early but I have not seen him make a misstep yet. He has not caught everything hit to him but its been pretty much fun to watch him glide and catch.

One last point tonight and I won't be up to see if anyone responds. How tough will it be to put Werth in left field when his hamstring/stomach virus clears up? Harper is our future in right field, makes all the plays, has a better arm and better speed. I really don't see why we can't keep him in right field the remainder of the year. It would also allow Werth to place less stress on his leg as he keeps getting healthy. Just a thought from an old man.

go Nats!!

Eric said...

FWIW, I don't pay much attention to the stats, except to learn what new (to me) acronyms mean when I first encounter them.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

I'm so old school they tore down the old school to build my school. So best stat to me is "winning percentage."

Everything else is window dressing. I like Davey's matchup stats against individual pitchers. But to break it down much further reduces the game to a computer simulation.

I like the people side of things.

Giants doing us no favors tonight.

Drew said...

Some of the esoteric stats do help put players' performance in perspective. For instance, Bill James likes to use numbers that adjust for park effects.

That can provide insight in comparing Joe DiMaggio, who had to hit it 450 feet to clear cf in old Yankee Stadium, to someone who played in a band box like the old Baker Bowl in Philadelphia.

Secret wasian man said...

Just further proof AL ball is inferior.

baseballswami said...

Sjm-- I second what you said about the outfielders. I like Bryce in right and if that is his eventual place, then stop moving him around. If right is Werth's landing spot to play out his deal, do it now.

MicheleS said...

Onto the Cubs. They have 2 impact everyday players in Castro/Rizzo, both can be really good, but streaky. They struggled early in the season, but Rizzo seams to be stablizing. Jeff Smaradja (I have no idea how to spell that) is their best pitcher and he can be tough (he pitched well against us last year). Getting to the bullpen early is the key.. if Marmol is in the game, then the Cubs have raised the white flag.

It will be interesting to see if there is any leftover angst from last year's dust up with Bo and Quirk. I was at all of those games and it was an absolute white wash. Cubs had no chance.

NatsLady said...

Bullpen ERA for May is a healthy 0.00.

Team stats - relievers, May

http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=rel&lg=all&qual=0&type=0&season=2013&month=5&season1=2013&ind=0&team=0,ts&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=

Starters not too shabby at 2.87 fpr May.
Hitters (excluding pitchers) - still shabby BA = .237 (25th in MLB)

NatsJack in Florida said...

Check out Harrisburg last nite. Paul Demny and Eric Krole combined for a no hitter although Demny gave up i unearned run.

NatsJack in Florida said...

1 unearned run.

Doc said...

The HR by Tulasosopo was on a well-located pitch, whatever else it didn't have going for it, including the hitter's good luck.

I didn't think that Haren would overcome his early season problems, so congrats to Dan!

As for the discussion on a pitcher's W-L record, look who's #2 on the staff in wins!

NatsJack in Florida said...

And to do him justice, that would be Eric Krohl.

Candide said...

Funny, a hitter's statistic we all like is OPS. It's becoming more and more prevalent; you see it in a batter's stats during broadcasts, they put it up on the Jumbotron when he comes up to the plate.

And yet we don't see its opposite, i.e., pitcher's OPS against. Instead, we continue to see pitchers' batting averages against players/league. "The league is batting .248 against Shlobotnick..."

OPS is a far more meaningful stat than batting average. So why no love for OPS against?

Eric said...

"I like Bryce in right and if that is his eventual place, then stop moving him around. If right is Werth's landing spot to play out his deal, do it now."

Isn't Harper in right at the moment simply because no bench guys can cover right as well while Werth's hurt?

bowdenball said...

Candide-

I see OPS against all the time.

I'm not sure why people feel the need to denigrate stats like FIP or xFIP and the people who use them. They add to some people's understanding and enjoyment of the game. If you don't want to bother learning or understanding them, don't. No reason to lecture about how you don't like them because you "watch the games." The people who like advanced stats watch the games too. You can do both- in fact I think doing both is a sign that someone loves the game enough to want to learn and think about it more.

As far as "letting you know when they decide who wins the World Series based on who has a high or low FIP": well that's not really the point of the stat. The point is to separate pitching performance from defensive performance to learn more about the pitchers' performance independent of the defense behind them or the park.

However, the top four teams in 2012 in FIP all made the playoffs, along with the 7th, 8th and 9th teams. Two of those teams played in the World Series. None of the bottom 9 in FIP made the playoffs.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

I still think it's funny that people brag about being old-fashioned on an Internet blog.

Rabbit34 said...

I thought Haren looked pretty good. If only he would stop giving up big home-runs.

Joe Seamhead said...

Eric said...

Isn't Harper in right at the moment simply because no bench guys can cover right as well while Werth's hurt?
May 10, 2013 8:13
_______________________________
Exactly right,and when Jayson comes back, Bryce will go back to LF.

natsfan1a said...

Internet blogs = old school

Tweeter = new school

(You're welcome. :-))

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

I still think it's funny that people brag about being old-fashioned on an Internet blog.
May 10, 2013 8:47 AM

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bowdenball said...

I think Harper will move to right and Werth to left starting next season. They're deferring to the vet for now, but ultimately the difference in their arm strength will outweigh that consideration.

ehay2k said...

LOL Natsfan1a!

And then there is SnapChat!

All the stats are fine in my book - they generally add to the discussion. However, when some elaborate stat is used to bludgeon a player's worth (UZR is my least fave in this regard), then I tend to tune them out.

GYFNG and beat those Cubs! And if Marmol IS in the game, please do NOT swing at 3-0 pitches, especially with the bases loaded!

JD said...


bowdenball,

Thanks for introducing some sanity to the discussion.

ehay2k,

None of the stats are particularly elaborate; some of the stats are more reliable than others but the general idea is that they introduce some objectivity to a discussion.

JD said...


bowdenball,

Thanks for introducing some sanity to the discussion.

ehay2k,

None of the stats are particularly elaborate; some of the stats are more reliable than others but the general idea is that they introduce some objectivity to a discussion.

Candide said...

bowdenball said... Candide-

I see OPS against all the time.


Really? Where? I just pulled up Jordan Zimmermann on baseball-reference.com and the only reference to OPS I see is for his own batting. I don't see anything that shows what the league's OPS against him is.

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric said...

I believe in that baseball-reference table, ERA+ is ERA adjusted for park.

I'm not really sure what people mean by elaborate vs. not elaborate. Some of them are fairly involved mathematically, but I haven't encountered any yet that are elaborate on that front.

I do think some are exceedingly esoteric, but that doesn't mean they aren't useful.

I do think it can be misleading to think of any one given stat as operating in a vacuum. When it comes to playing an actual game, any given player's tendencies for a given stat is constantly interacting with the tendencies of opposing players.

In a similar vein, I think stats are probably very helpful when it comes to considering how to improve a team. If you analyze the interaction of all the stats of the players on your team, statistical weaknesses might be discernible. So, you seek out players who are strong in those areas and do what you can to develop or acquire them.

All that said, I really do think for fans, it's entirely a matter of whether or not you're into this sort of thing. If you're a strong data analyst, you could probably crunch the numbers for a full team and get a sense of whether, say, Werth statistically is better or worse fit than Harper for right field. But, while perhaps interesting, just looking at how player A's OPS compares to player B's OPS strikes me as not being all that meaningful regarding which is the better overall player.

Knoxville Nat said...

Eric said...

Isn't Harper in right at the moment simply because no bench guys can cover right as well while Werth's hurt?
May 10, 2013 8:13

I would think Bernadina can cover RF pretty well also. His arm certainly isn't up to Harper's standard but neither is any other outfielder on the Nats roster.

ehay2k said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that all stats are elaborate, but there certainly are some that are. And, since most stats end up incorporating things that are subjective factors (like errors that get called which make runs unearned), I believe that in general they need to be taken with a grain of salt.



ehay2k said...

And, if a pitcher makes the error, why is the run unearned? That has always bugged me.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

because once he pitches, he becomes a fielder, and if he can't catch a ball, or make a clean throw to first, that doesn't speak to his pitching. It doesn't matter that it's his own error--it has no more to do with his pitching than anybody else's errors do. Wild pitches are his fault as a pitcher; passed balls are not.

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