Monday, June 21, 2010

Easy schedule? Not really

Remember way back to the beginning of this month, when Stephen Strasburg was still in Syracuse, when the Nationals were still a .500 team and when the scheduling gods seemed to be smiling down upon this club?

Back then, the thinking was that the Nats had done a fantastic job surviving what would be the toughest portion of the season and now could really make a move during a prolonged stretch of games against lesser competition.

How has that worked out for them? Not so well. A club that sat at 25-26 when it arrived in Houston on Memorial Day has since gone 6-13. Worse the Nats have posted that .316 winning percentage against the Astros, Reds, Pirates, Indians, Tigers and White Sox. Combined record of those six teams: 186-227.

Point is, there's no such thing as an easy schedule in baseball. And you certainly can't assume one team is going to enjoy a upswing just because it's playing a bunch of games against sub-.500 opposition. Anyone can win on any given day in this sport. All it takes is a good pitching performance, a couple of clutch hits, some nice plays in the field.

The Nationals have learned this the hard way. Inside the clubhouse throughout April and May, guys kept saying: "If we can only hang around .500 through this first stretch of the season, the schedule gets a lot easier and then we can take off." On paper, that may have sounded like a reasonable approach. In reality, it's never as easy as it sounds.

The Nats have fallen to a season-worst eight games under .500 because they haven't gotten enough quality pitching, because they haven't gotten enough hits at the right times, because they haven't made enough plays in the field ... and because, often, the opposition has played better.

Now they find themselves in a real hole, needing to go on a prolonged stretch of winning just to get back within sniffing distance of .500.

The good news: The Nationals' next six games come against the Royals and Orioles. Combined record: 48-91. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to get healthy against some of the weakest competition the Nats will face all season.

Hopefully by now, both you and the Nationals understand how dangerous that line of thinking can be. The Nats may beat up on Kansas City and Baltimore this week. But they better not just assume it's going to happen.


Water23 said...

So, should the Nats be buyers or sellers? And if they are sellers who do they sell? I was thinking about Guzman. Yes, he is overpriced and yes, he has been a little bit of disappointment over the years but maybe we should keep him. My thoughts are 1) he is too expensive for anyone else to take unless we get D level prospect (do they have those?) or the Nats eat all of his salary. 2) He does fill a need in that he is not a bad super-utility/PH. If we want to get better over the long haul he could provide some real depth for this year. And if we kept him, I think he could be had for a Million of so next year and replace the likes of Harris et al. Good teams have depth and if we have learned nothing else while playing the AL, we do not have it (See our DH)!

upperdeck4 said...

As a Nationals fan and as a traditional National League fan, it pains me to say it, but the Nationals lack of talent has been rudely exposed by the Clevelands, the Detroits, and the Chicagos. The interleague play also seems to show the overall superiority of the American League The pitching, with the execption of Stras, and Martin's start against Peavy, proved itself simply below caliber, and I don't expect any improvement from the current rotation; the fact that we now seem to be relying on injured pitchers as the cavalry, is, I'm afraid, a sad delusion. The top five in the lineup was a major disappointment in these three series; they seemed both intimidated and outclassed. I'm still with the boys, but their performance in interleague play has been very disappointing.

NatsJack in Florida said...

As long as Zim and Willingham are struggling at the plate, we are not going to beat up on anybody. Morgan and Guzman have continued to be inconsistant with only Dunn and Bernandina showing uo every day.

When you waste two GREAT starts by Stras and JD in front of the type of first timers that actually participate in a wave (how embarassing is that), you miss a great opportunity to improve your fan base for the rest of the season.

I am among those that think it's time for a shakeup that allows us to see if any other kids in the organization are up to the task of playing at this level.

LoveDaNats said...

I was at the game Friday night for Stras's second home start. To see him pitch in person, watch the K's add up and see how low the pitch count remained was truly astounding. The lack of offense was a major disappointment. I watched an opposing pitcher with over a 5.50 ERA look like a Cy Young winner. Even a great pitcher like Strasburg won't matter if the bats don't hit the balls.
I had to take a weekend break from the Nats after that. I didn't watch either game this weekend. I am a passionate fan and have been from the beginning but these guys are driving me crazy right now. I'll go back to watching them tonight but I'm not sure what's worse......being a fan of a team that is the worst in baseball (been there, done that) or having that team give you a glimmer of hope and then crushing it. I hope they come around but I agree with the previous posters. Some things need to change. Thanks, just venting.... :(

HHover said...

This stretch is a reminder that a lof of things have to happen right, and at the same time, for a team to win. The Nats were luckier in that regard in the 1st 1-1/2 months than anyone should have expected to continue.

They've been worse in that regard in the last month than anyone likes--when the starting pitching shows up, the hitting or the defense or the relief pitching hasn't shown up; when the hitting shows, up, 1 or more of the other elements has been missing.

To some extent, this is the Nats regressing to their predictable mean. But at some point, it's also a question of heart and determination, and we're starting to hear excuses of the "we're just scuffling/it's bound to pick up/tomorrow's another day" variety that suggest they're waiting for it to get better than working to make it happen.

Anonymous said...

I am honestly wondering right now whether Strasburg's coming up had a net negative effect on the starting pitching. When he was in the minors, everyone (except maybe Lannan) was pitching for his spot in the rotation, because Riggleman made it clear that whoever was underperforming would get the boot in favor of Baseball Jesus. Now that he's up and brilliant as expected, is it possible that they have relaxed and their lines are suffering as a result? The only pitchers up right now whose fates seem immediately tied to their next starts are J.D. Martin (who is pitching really well) and Atilano, who may have already accepted that he'll be the next to go when Detwiler returns. Stammen is making quite a case for himself in the minors--I think he presents a good opportunity for Riggleman to bring more accountability to the pitching staff by replacing an underperforming starter with him.

Even if it's not the cause of our pitching woes, I think the current lack of accountability is a real concern that should be addressed. At the beginning of the year, a lot of potential disasters were avoided because the front office was very proactive about sending down or DFAing underperforming players--imagine if Bruney, Marquis, and Taveras were still regular parts of our lineup. Even the much-criticized handling of Dukes seems to have turned out pretty well, with Bernadina playing better and better. For some reason, these alterations have all but ceased lately, and it has hit the team nowhere harder than its starting pitching. Right now, the ONLY protected spot in our rotation should be Strasburg, since he's (a) a rookie and (b) dominated the minors to the point that whatever learning he needs has to happen in the majors--not that he actually needs any protection. Every other starting pitcher, including Livo and Lannan, should be viewed as replaceable. Our talent in the minors may not be obviously better, but it sure as hell isn't obviously worse.

Anonymous said...

Our talent in the minors may not be obviously better, but it sure as hell isn't obviously worse.

I beg to differ. JD Martin has 1 WALK against 19 K's in a limited number of starts at this point. Percentage wise that is actually better than Jesus! Martin and his improved pitches (especially the curve) is proving that he is definitely NOT AAAA as many insist.

Lannan is and has been the weakest and worst pitcher in the rotation outside of Marquis almost from the beginning. Hernandez walk to strikeout ratio has now worsened significantly ... yet is still their #2 starter. His performance out the gate was amazing but clearly he is beginning to act his age.

Marquis and Lannan were supposed to be there to stabilize the pitching rotation and staff. Just the polar opposite has occurred. They have been the very worst starters in the rotation from the get-go. Yet Riggleman says John Lannan gets plenty of leash? He should be moved to the bullpen to work on his issues. He is not a #2 or even a #3 starter on any other team. Riggleman's comments indicate that he prefers deferring to veterans to winning!!!??? WTF is he doing managing this team? Would Jim Leyland make such an outrageous statement? I think not.

In the end LIvan was supposed to be a #5 starter. He is the #2 starter there is something wrong with this picture. At this point its time to call this roster and this manager a FAIL and start thinking about the future. Once Zimmermann is back up they will again have a true #2 starter. Perhaps Detwiler and Stammen will right themselves. It seems like they are making every effort to that end.

On playoff teams pitchers like Marquis are not even kept on the roster for the playoffs. The same would be true for Lannan.

Are that Nats always going to be perennial losers or are they trying to build a winner? There are always false starts, fails in every process. I believe that Mike Rizzo has hit one and needs to deal with it by trading some of these veterans for prospects.

Steve M. said...

Something happened to this team when they went to Cleveland.

Not sure what Acta said to some of his former players, but this team reverted back to 2009 form on that Friday night game and it has been real ugly since.

Riggleman and Rizzo need to demote DFA some of the slackers to get this back on track.

Hate to say it but they need some tough love.

A DC Wonk said...

NatsJack makes an overlooked point: Zimmerman is in a harsh slump -- and when your #3 isn't hitting, that definitely adds to the woes -- especially when you're losing one-run games.

(Note: in no way am I blaming this losing streak on Zim, just pointing out that Zim is also a factor).

A DC Wonk said...

In the end LIvan was supposed to be a #5 starter. He is the #2 starter there is something wrong with this picture. At this point its time to call this roster and this manager a FAIL and start thinking about the future.

Well, of _course_ the roster isn't where we need it. Everybody knows that we have tentative starting pitching. But relief pitching has been drastically improved, and so has the lineup.

But I'm not exactly sure how that means the manager has failed. He's not the one throwing pitches.

Anonymous said...

I'll say again what I said last week. Lannan is hurt. He only pitched well for a few games after he got a cortisone shot. I'd book him on the next flight to Birmingham to see Dr. Andrews and get him checked out.

Friday and Saturday were very disappointing losses but certainly winnable games. BOTH nights we had Zim and Dunn up with the tying run on second in the last inning. We were never even close last year.

When we broke Spring Training, everyone thought Marquis, Lannan, Olsen (debatable), Livan and Stammen (Mock?) would be the starters with Strasburg and Wang ready to step in by June. Obviously, only Livan and Strasburg have met that expectation. Until we get some consistent pitching, we will continue to play around .333. Similarly, we'll win our share of one run games, I recall us being like 8-3 early on and now we have come back to the mean, or even below.

We were never going to be a winning team this year; nor are we a .333 team.

Richard said...

The mention of the strange trip to Cleveland reminds me of a trip to Milwaukee last summer under Riggleman as the new manager. The Nats were starting to do better and to build a little momentum; Morgan was a new and very productive addition. But the line up was juggled for the Milwaukee series. It was almost as if the team was playing as expedition game and seemed very flat to me. I couldn't help feeling the winning and momentum didn't seem important to the team. I get the feeling that the team doesn't care about winning that much, losing happens, as Zimmerman keeps saying; or they don't care until they've lost X in row. Maybe that's a leadership issue, which involves the manager, coaches, and team leaders. Maybe it IS time to blow up the roster and try some other combination. I hate to say it, but this group doesn't seem to be working together and there's no sense of urgency, as has been mentioned. Even if they go 3-3 over the next 6 games and maybe play .500 for a couple of weeks, are there more abrupt southward lerches in our future?

Anonymous said...

I think Lannan is way too coddled by the coaching staff here. Its not as if he were a highly successful pitcher going through a bit of a rough stretch. He's every bit as mediocre as Stammen, Mock, Martin, Chico and Atilano. Probably worse. Stammen pitched better and got sent down. Mock and Chico were only given one start. If Atilano or Martin had pitched as poorly as Lannan they would have been booted back to Syracuse. Its time for the emperor's new clothes to be exposed and send Lannan down for a lack of performance. If he figures it out, comes back and pitches as good as he is capable, great. If not, at least we aren't assured of a lousy start every fifth day.

Anonymous said...

We've been sold a lot of hype.

We were told Desmond was another Derek Jeter.

We were told the electrifying Nyjer Morgan was the leader of the team and would lead us to glory this year.

We were told we had a really fast team that would steal lots and lots of bases.

We were told Lannan was an ace-quality pitcher.

We were told that our hitting instructor would bring us to new levels of greatness. (What we have now is Dunn and Zimm, who lead the league in ability-to-grimace after watching called third strikes.)

We were told we would have a much, much better defensive team--no more leading the league in errors.

We were told how nice it was to have the elements of a solid rotation on the first day of spring training.

We were CONSTANTLY told the low-character guys were gone, the high-character guys are here, and that the high-character guys would make sure we would NEVER see the kind of stuff we now see on a daily basis.

We were told what a great investment the contract with Willie Harris was, and then treated to a winter of comments and stories about him potentially becoming a starter for the Nats this year.

Yes, we were told Stras, Pudge and the bullpen were the real deal. I'm happy for all that. But this franchise is absolutely full of holes on offense, defense, baserunning, and pitching...and by the time Bryce Harper gets here, I'm betting Zimm, Dunn, Guzman, Willingham, Pudge, and several key pitchers will be out the door, or on their way out the door.

Bowden left, but the hype machine continues to churn.

NatsJack in Florida said...

I've got to agree with you raymitten, Chico deserves a shot to REPLACE Lannan.

And the next time Atilano fails to get past 5 innings, Stammen needs to get back in the rotation.

These guys have to understand that the pressure is on to produce CONSITANTLY and not once every 3 or 4 starts.

Steve M. said...

Almost Everyone commenting in the Nats Blogosphere sees Lannan and has posted a polar opposite opinion of him to Jim Riggleman.

This team has to shake it up and as they say, "Lannan aint cutting it". Lannan was never an Ace in a real baseball person's eyes. He was a #4 starter thrust to the top of the rotation because the rotation was so weak. That doesn't make you and Ace just the #1 starter and the 2 are not the same.

The only reason Lannan has stayed is because of his W/L record and now that it is a L/W record he has to go figure it out in AAA.

Sorry to be so harsh, but this team was moving ahead and just stalled. How do you get a stalled car to go? Either call the tow truck and send it in for repairs or figure it out on your own. The tow truck is hooked up to this team and it needs some repairs!

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, the Nats have not been using the mindset of pundits and fans thinking that June would be an easy month because it obviously has not been an easy one! You have to play all 162 games with the same heart and you have to think you can win every game no matter who the opponent is! Right now I think the Nats only think they can win 40% of the time so they are not trrying hard day in and day out

Bowdenball said...

Count me with the guys who'd like to see Stammen get another shot in the rotation. The guy's got several years of results suggesting that he's a decent major-league level arm; not a star by any means, but he can miss bats and doesn't need to rely solely on luck and defense to get outs.

But what's really been lost is how great J.D. Martin has pitched. One walk in three outings? Such a shame that his last outing was lost in the weeds of the Nats' collapse. The kid deserves a little more love from the fan base.

alexva said...

Stammen=Chico=Martin=Atilano. They all battle, have hot streaks and have cold streaks. They're 4-5 starters and with Marquis and Olsen in the mix were not going to me counted on to carry the load. Add an ineffective Lannan(IMO due to injury) and the picture is bleak.

Hope is in the form of Strasburg and JZimm and to a lesser extent Dewtiler and Wang for 2011.

In the meantime we can only hop to have the hot hand of the group on the mound at the right time.

alexva said...

Make that "hope" to have the hot hand

Anonymous said...

Anon at 1:52, who TOLD you all this, your mommy?

Do some of you ever do research before you write?

Lannan's one advantage was in his lefty matchups and lefties are hitting .373 against him while righties are .313.

That is super bad.

Stammen got his 2nd and 3rd chances already and blew it. He hasn't proven anything yet to show he can shine so why would anyone that follows this team suggest Stammen get another shot this soon?

Detwiler gets the next opportunity and obviously someone gets sent down.

I think JD Martin has great upside and Atilano needs to develop further so I see Lannan clearly as the odd man out as he can't make it thru the 5th inning anymore.

Anonymous said...

Hey, anon @ 2:41, what are you the Authority on the Nats? Mr. Research? Okay, Mr. Research, how about emailing Rizzo instead of wasting your time posting here where each blogger is entitled to an opinion.

The Great Unwashed said...

Stammen=Chico=Martin=Atilano. They all battle, have hot streaks and have cold streaks. They're 4-5 starters...

Alexva, you hit the nail on the head. With the exception of Strasburg (who will probably struggle at some point, let's be real) the Nats rotation is a collection of pitch to contact, must have superb location or get lit up, non-dominant soft-tossers. When that's your pitching staff, you're hosed. And that's where we are. And we're gonna stay there until the front office plunks down some real money for a better pitching staff instead of dumpster diving for potential reclamation projects. Until then, don't expect the Nats to DFA every underperformer. They don't have anyone else. And don't trot out the old, "What about xxx player in the minors?" They're in the minors for a reason.

Someone even suggested that Zimm would be gone in the next few years. Get real, he's just in a slump but he'll work his way out of it. Slumps are part of the game; even the best players go through them. Besides, the only way Zimm will be gone in the next few years is if the Nats go cheap and he ends up wearing pinstripes.

Bowdenball said...

Man, this place has gotten really angry. In the last thread I simply questioned people who were raving about Guzman(!) and got a bunch of STFUs and other slams for it, and it looks like it's just getting worse in here. Gotta be the losing streak has got us all a little edgy, right? Maybe we should all remember that a baseball team is never as good as they appear to be when they're winning, nor as bad as they appear to be when they're losing.

Alexva and unwashed- I think you guys are correct for the most part that we have a lot of bottom of the rotation borderline guys, but I do think that if that's all we have for now, it's worthwhile to try to differentiate between them. But they're not all exactly the same. Stammen can strike guys out. Martin can a little bit too, and he has shown amazing control. I think both of them have better peripherals then Atilano, both in the majors and in the minors in recent years when you consider level of competition and sample size. Your mileage may vary.

Anonymous said...

Laughable, what are you the WE WERE TOLD hypnotized robot. WE WERE TOLD, WE WERE TOLD, WE WERE CONSTANTLY TOLD.

I will tell you this so you can quote it as YOU WERE TOLD: Livo is showing his age again, Kennedy is a dud, WillieHarris is a bust this year, Lannan right now is a AAA pitcher, and other than that it is a good team that has to step it up.

Rizzo and Riggleman get paid to do it.

Not sure who TOLD you otherwise.

Stil laughing about this:

"We were told the electrifying Nyjer Morgan was the leader of the team and would lead us to glory this year."

NatsJack in Florida said...

I gotta admit. I thought the Morgan comment was pretty funny. This guy must buy into all those MASN commercials.

NatsJack in Florida said...

And referencing a Jim Bowden comment from 5 years ago about Desmond..... please... give me a break.

Steve M. said...

This is a very good rotation when they are all healthy and hopefully this is the August 1st rotation and until then it is going to be trying times:

1) Strasburg
2) Jordan Zimmermann

This is your middle rotation:
3) Olsen

This is the back-end of your rotation:
4) Detwiler
5) Livan Hernandez

alexva said...

@Bowdenball-I think Stammen has the best arm of the bunch and I think he could make the team if switched to the bullpen. He actually strikes out fewer than Chico or Martin.

cadeck13 said...

Yeah, the losing streak has brought out the worst in all of us. I think the fact that we were playing .500 ball & better and then losing to teams we were "supposed to beat" Astros & Indians and now having SS in the big leagues and all the excitement there and now being in this skid, well, it's just disappointing.

Quick question, why doesn't our offense adjust to pitchers better? Yes, I was listening to Dibble yesterday...and it did make sense and I have heard Ray Knight say the same thing, move up or back in the box, choke up on the bat, etc. but don't just stand there and watch the ball go by....just wondering out loud.

The Great Unwashed said...

Okay, Bowdenball. You can differentiate the pitchers all you want but they're still substandard as a whole so I don't think it makes a difference how you rank them.

I have to disagree with you about Stammen though. Whatever strikeouts he was getting got lost underneath all the times he got lit up. All he did was show he had no confidence in his pitches because he was constantly pitching away from hitters and trying to be too fine. Then he'd be in a full count and have to throw a strike, and we all know the rest. That's why he struggled. And that mentality is pervasive amongst the pitching staff. There are just too many of those types in the starting rotation. I think the front office knows that, but it's not going to get any better until they make a real, solid investment in the pitching staff. Then we can have the Lannan and J.D. Martin types as filler because they'll be outnumbered.

Because the pitching staff has to be so fine, they walk this constant tightrope every game, and if they give up more than three runs, they've lost the game. Part of the blame goes to the line up because they have to provide run support, but what I'm saying is the starters have no margin for error because they're not dominant.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon 1:34

You stupid idiot jerk.

There is not a lot of hype coming from the Nationals, and they never told us any of those things. You imagined these things.

Find another board please.

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