Monday, August 26, 2013

Much better, but still not enough

Associated Press
The good news for the Nationals on this late-August Monday morning: They're playing unquestionably their best baseball of the season right now.

The bad news for the Nationals (and their fans): It's still not going to be enough to make up for the first four-plus months of this underachieving season.

They simply dug themselves too big a hole. Plus, the five NL clubs who have been in position to make the postseason for quite some time now have shown no signs of collapse, the other requirement for a last-ditch pennant race in D.C.

So it's not entirely the Nationals' fault. Even with yesterday's frustrating 6-4 loss in Kansas City, they've gone 11-5 since that embarrassing home sweep at the hands of the Braves earlier this month. That's their best 16-game stretch of the season.

(For comparison's sake, the 2012 Nationals had 26 stretches in which they went 11-5 or better, going 13-3 in three of those stretches.)

And — in a really glass-half-full way of looking at things — three of their last five losses have come by only one run, two of them in extra innings, and another (yesterday's loss) in a game that was tied in the bottom of the eighth. These guys are at the very least giving themselves a chance to win every single night.

They're doing so because of one simple fact: They're finally producing at the plate the way they were supposed to all along. During this 16-game stretch, the Nationals are hitting a collective .295 with a .369 on-base percentage, scoring an average of 5.6 runs per game.

This sudden offensive surge actually coincides with a slight slip in the team's quality of pitching. The Nationals' staff has posted a collective 3.98 ERA during these 16 games, perhaps proving pitching isn't always everything.

So, who is providing all of the punch? Several players are responsible...

— Bryce Harper just hit .378 (14-for-37) on the Nationals' 10-game road trip, with a .511 on-base percentage and .622 slugging percentage.

— Denard Span is hitting .329 (23-for-70) over the last 16 games, finally getting on base at a rate befitting the leadoff man on a good team.

— Wilson Ramos is hitting .306 (15-for-49) over those same 16 games, starting 12 of them.

— Jayson Werth, of course, has continued his red-hot stroke at the plate; over his last 62 games, he's hitting a staggering .380 (81-for-213) with a .469 on-base percentage and .625 slugging percentage.

Can this all keep up? Perhaps not quite at this pace, but it's not out of the question, either. There's certainly enough talent in this lineup to average five runs per game over the season's final five weeks. And the hope is that the pitching numbers would improve slightly, reverting back to the above-average level it sat it for most of the season.

The problem: That still won't be enough. As nice as this recent stretch has been, and as well as they've played, the Nationals have gained a whopping 1/2-game in the NL Wild Card standings.

Yep, while the Nationals have gone 11-5 since August 9, the Reds have gone 11-6.

That underscores just how difficult it was going to be all along for the Nationals to stage a dramatic, late-season surge. They not only needed to start playing at a previously unreached level, they also needed somebody ahead of them in the standings to tank. That hasn't happened, and it remains highly unlikely to happen.

Before this stretch began, the Nationals had a 1.7 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to CoolStandings.com. Their odds have increased since then, but only to a 4.1 percent chance of playing in October.

None of this means we should ignore what the Nationals have done over the last two-plus weeks. At a time when they easily could have recognized the hopelessness of the challenge and thrown in the towel, they have refused to give up, have consistently played better baseball and have won a bunch of tough games as a result.

They deserve to be praised. Unfortunately, this is all turning into a classic case of too little, too late.

36 comments:

UNTERP said...

Nothing wrong finishing with a winning record. Some teams go decades without even that...

c715e5d6-9d22-11e1-a89a-000f20980440 said...

Topic for an off day.

I will be having lunch with an MLB umpire this week. Friend of the family, so no rude questions please, but if you could ask an umpire a question, what would it be? (OK, the obvious one is "what do you think of the new replay system for next year?", so you don't have to mention that one).

ArVAFan

baseballswami said...

Is it a coincidence that the offense got better when Tyler Moore was added to the mix? That kid is hitting! And not hurting us on defense as some have feared. As a matter if fact, he is better at D than Morse or Dunn.

SonnyG10 said...

ArVAFan, one question I would ask an umpire is "Why are umpires so sensitive about being shown up by the players?" Why should they care if the players disagree with their calls?

SonnyG10 said...

If the Nats continue to play winning baseball as they have the last couple of series, then I'll be happy. I don't expect to make the playoffs every year, but I expect to have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs every year. If we finish up strong, then I think we'll have a good shot going into next year.

sjm308 said...

Wow - not one mention of the mojo I provided by leaving town! Athens tomorrow and then home. We went to the Oracle at Delphi today but she wasn't in. Wanted to see what her thoughts were on the Nats playoff hopes.

Will be there Thursday, jet lag and all.

Go Nats!

natsfan1a said...

ArVaFan: Who has the better called strike move, Tom Hallion or Enrico Pallazzo? :-)

And re. winning baseball, what Sonny said.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Baseballswami, I have preached forever bring up the hot hand and play him. The short term gain is worth a lot given most teams don't have a scouting report.

Keep in mind that most of those players regress to their mean. I'm not sure what TyMo's mean is but we know he can hit lefties. Stick with him while he's hot!

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

sjm, enjoy your vacation!

NatsLady said...

ArVA Fan, since balls and strikes are not affected by the replay system, I would ask, how much does catcher positioning influence results?

NatsLady said...

Ghost, have to agree. Based on the comments I posted yesterday from the Royals, they didn't do ANY scouting on Tracy and Moore beyond their batting averages. Particularly with Moore, he can hit, he demonstrated that last season. He went down to AAA to fix things, and apparently he did. That's not reflected in his 2013 season batting average.

The Real Feel Wood. Accept no substitutes. said...

For comparison's sake, the 2012 Nationals had 26 stretches in which they went 11-5 or better, going 13-3 in three of those stretches.

No they didn't, unless they played a season that was over 416 games long. Those 26 stretches of 11-5 or better overlapped, severely. How hard would it have been to come up with the number of independent stretches of 11-5 or better?

Mark must think he's Yogi Berra, who when asked if he wanted his pizza cut into 6 or 8 slices said "Six. I don't have room for eight."

fast eddie said...

Swami:
You asked if our hitting surge could be attributed to Tymo. I would ask if Schu is making a difference vs. Eck. As Mark points out, several guys have gotten hot: Harper, Span, Werth, Ramos.

joemktg said...

ArVaFan: Are umpires taking more crap from on the field and from the dugouts than ever before?

It's folly to even use the word "playoffs" in the context of Nats discussion. To me, the push towards the playoffs ended with that two game debacle in Detroit, when the team disproved their ability to compete against higher caliber teams.

It's a different conversation now, a conversation that has taken place each season before last season: who does the team have moving forward, what do they need to improve, who are the FA candidates, etc.

TimDz said...

I think if they end with a winning record this year (playoffs or not), it will set them up nicely for a few tweaks in the off season, including a new manager...

When this team was starting to assemble the pieces a few years back, I circled 2014 as "The Year..." Last year was fun, but I think we caught a bunch of teams off guard. This year, the team had a bulls eye on their back and to a degree it showed. Add to that some poor, poor hitting (I was in the camp that felt Eckstein was more a problem than a solution), some injuries and some bad luck (or maybe just good scouting by the other teams...we hit a WHOLE LOT of hard hit balls right to someone), and you have the 2013 Nats.

Hopefully, the team will not get saddled with the "World Series Champion" designation next year and the boys can just play ball. I see it like the SF Giants of the past few years: Nobody saw them winning in 2010, they had an off season in 2011 (I don't think they made the playoffs that year) and then winning it all last year...this year? not so much....

That said, I wouldn't mind seeing the Nats make a miraculous run these last five weeks or so....

Tcostant said...

I'm so glad the team as a whole is just playing better.

Not sure anyone buys tickets off ebay, I usually just use stubhub. By a buddy of mine said they are a bunch of cheap club seats (yes - CLUB SEATS) out there for Thursday game / concert. Just want to give anyone a heads up to check there in case your planning on going.

D'Gourds said...

Huh? This team was picked to win the WS! That attitude will ensure mediocrity.

D'Gourds said...

Is balking Bob Davidson as big a jerk as he seems?

Bigfish said...

ArVAFan: If the rule book says the top of the strike zone is (approximately) at the letters, why do umps not call a trike above the waist?

Bigfish said...

strike -- not trike

































SonnyG10 said...

D'Gourds said...
Huh? This team was picked to win the WS! That attitude will ensure mediocrity.
August 26, 2013 9:32 AM


Huh? Picking the team to win the WS ensures mediocrity? Do tell!

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

NatsLady, good info. The Royals are a young energetic team that does many little things right. They still need starting pitching to compete and their farm system and scouting just swung and missed for many years. They take much too long to get talent through their system. Tampa got Wil Myers ready in a few months.

I think that will be a trade the Royals will regret for years to come.

djinFl. said...

ArVAFan
I am wondering how replay will change the "in the area" out at 2nd on double plays. That could become a relic of the past. To easy to have overturned.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Kilgore with a great quote of his own this morning "They cannot do something big -- like crash the wild-card race -- if they cannot do something small, like cover a base."

NatsLady said...

Ryan Zimmerman is now ranked last of third basemen in defense.

He is below Miguel Cabrera.

3rd basemen

http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=3b&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2013&month=0&season1=2013&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=19,d

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

NatsLady, Ryan has been below Miguel Cabrera for a while as I have written several times and Adam LaRoche goes back and forth for worst at 1st base with Prince Fielder.

It's not good and when your range is poor and you can't throw accurately, at least cover your base.

3on2out said...

What is the most difficult call to make? Based on my experience as a softball umpire the hardest call is the tag play on a sliding runner whose feet (or hands) are making contact with bag at the same time the tag is being applied somewhere else on the body.

Theophilus T. S. said...

Moore's regression was last year; he ended up at .263, which is pretty much his benchmark, as I see it. Good power (tho not 40 HR power), not a high average hitter. If he turned out to be a Jay Gibbons (without the steroids) hitter, that would be just fine. The Nats don't need him to be their first baseman for the next dozen years, just a versatile guy who is a threat from a number of different places in the batting order.

mick said...

2 comments

as long as nats do their part, i think they will take it to last weekend and that is all one can ask.

on umpiring, which as a coach, all I ask is for that the ump hustles and is in position. we saw an example of that on Friday when 1st base ump, hustled in position to make the right call when ALR tagged the runner.

waddu eye no said...

sonny - great question for the ump. to take it further - why are they so hesitant (euphemism for scared) to consult each other on close calls? especially when asked (euphemism for screamed at) by managers? oncel a play is over, the situation could be similar to the "zebra conference" after a flag is called. though luckily we have fewer zebras.

Navy Nats Fan said...

ArVAFan -

Ask your umpire fan why umpires in general are so reluctant to get help. Too many times a play (which will later be shown on replay to have been called incorrectly) is challenged by a player or coach, and the umpire steadfastly refuses to ask the rest of the crew if someone had a better angle or different call. Is it because the player or coach is yelling? I often thought that if I were the player I would just calmly and softly say "look, I know my foot was on the bag. You will watch the replay later and see that my foot was on the bag. All I'm asking is for you to ask the home plate umpire if he saw it." I can't imagine an umpire refusing after that, but it seems to happen. Why doesn't getting the call right take precedence over ego? Why doesn't the league require them to ask for help?

Navy Nats Fan said...

And I see while I was typing the same question was asked by waddu eye no. Must be a popular thought.

Muddy said...

Glad the Nats are playing better. They're hitting and battling and therefore I can enjoy them even when they come up short sometimes. ... Speaking of better, the Syracuse Chiefs are doing much better in the second half, although not enough to make the AAA playoffs. Sound familiar? (The other Nats minor leaguers will! Congrats!) But the Chiefs' attendence is still very poor. Apparently a couple of years ago at a time when Trent Jewett was managing they drew better. Anyway, I hope the Nats soon get the heck out of Syracuse and relocate the AAA guys to Richmond (and the Auburn guys to Winchester). I'd hope for new ballpark in Richmond but I'll take the old ugly one for now.

PChuck said...

This blog entry should have been saved for week or so. The NL Central teams are about to enter a particularly brutal stretch of their schedules and the Nats are entering just the opposite.

The Nationals are likely to make a substantial dent in the wild card push over the next 10 days.

Mr Baseball said...

I sure hope the Nationals take into consideration the patsies we will playing, in evaluating our talent the rest of the year. We should be beating up on the remaining teams on our schedule. We know LaRoche is not going to improve that much for 2014. He had a career year last year and should be our Trad Tracy next year. Cut Tracy and move Zimmerman to 1B or play Tyler Moore at 1B. If Zimmerman goes to first, put Rendon at his normal position 3B and pray Esponisa gets his head right and gets his shoulder fixed and make the adjustments to become a contact hitter. If Barry Bonds could choke up so can Espi. Someone needs to sit down and talk to him or his father. Maybe his Dad can get through to him or his career may be over. He can't be that hard headed or can he?

Holden Baroque said...

Just a thing to consider on umpires asking for help: they do communicate among themselves nonverbally, without being obvious (to fans) about it. Umpires have signals among themselves for things like "Don't bother asking, I didn't see it."

Just saying.

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