Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No margin for error? No problem

US Presswire photo
Gio Gonzalez tossed seven more scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 2.04.
As the tying run stood on second base, Brad Lidge still needing to record three outs before letting that runner advance 180 feet, hardly anybody inside the Nationals dugout or in the field began to worry they might not pull off this 1-0 victory over the Astros.

"I was calm and collected out there," center fielder Jayson Werth said. "I knew he had it all the way."

"It was exciting," said left-hander Gio Gonzalez, even though his seven-inning gem was on the verge of being blown up. "I have all the confidence in the world in our bullpen. I wouldn't trade anything in the world for these guys."

Piece of cake, right? Well, not for everyone in a Nationals uniform.

"I mean, it's not easy on me," manager Davey Johnson said. "But ... we actually like it when it's close like that. It puts more on every at-bat, every pitch. We're playing games kind of like in a pennant race. And that's good for later on in the season. Good teams win close ballgames."

Guess that makes the Nationals a good team, because they only seem to play close ballgames these days, and they're winning the vast majority of them. Tonight's 1-0 nailbiter -- in which Lidge escaped his self-made jam in the top of the ninth -- was their fourth 1-run victory already this season.

The formula for success hasn't changed one bit since Opening Day: 1) Get a fantastic performance from the starting pitcher, 2) Scratch and claw for the bare minimum number of runs necessary to win, 3) Leave the outcome in the hands of perhaps baseball's best bullpen.

It has worked like a charm nine times in 12 games, and it has the Nationals in a somewhat comfortable position atop the NL East, now a full 1 1/2 games better than anyone else in the division.

The pertinent question, then, has become this: Can they actually sustain this style of baseball, eking out tense, low-scoring victories over the course of six months?

"I think it is sustainable for this team," Lidge said. "Obviously we're not going to win every game 1-0, but I think it's sustainable for the simple fact that our rotation is so good."

It's tough to dispute that notion, not when you consider the track record the Nationals' five starters are building on a nightly basis. Gonzalez's gem tonight merely added to the growing lore of the aptly named "K Street" rotation, which now boasts a 1.69 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and is striking out 8.44 batters per nine innings.

(Just for comparison's sake: In his career, Justin Verlander has struck out 8.31 batters per nine innings, a rate worse than the average member of the Nationals' current rotation.)

We're running out of superlatives to describe each outing by what statistically has been the majors' best starting unit. Under normal circumstances, Gonzalez's seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball tonight would have qualified as the best performance of the young season. But how can that be rated higher than Edwin Jackson's 92-pitch, complete game on Saturday? Or even Gonzalez's comparable, seven-inning two-hitter in Thursday's home opener?

"Awful good stuff. Awful good arms," Johnson said in describing his entire rotation's dominance. "And we knew that from before we even started to play games, just from watching them throw in the 10-pack [bullpen at spring training]. I knew my guys had great stuff. It's an outstanding rotation."

The Nationals have needed their rotation to be so good, because their lineup's frequent struggles have left no margin of error, as was the case tonight when they put multiple men on base in only one inning.

Fortunately, that mini-rally in the bottom of the fourth -- featuring Werth's bloop double to shallow center field and Adam LaRoche's bloop single to shallow left field -- was enough to push across the game's lone run.

The Nationals have scored three or fewer runs in six of their 12 games to date. Incredibly, they've won four of those.

"You know, I wouldn't read too much into it," Werth said. "We're 12 games into the season. Wins are wins at this point. We'll take 'em how we can get 'em. Pitching good, playing good D. Think the offense is there. We're playing good enough to win, so that's all that matters."

Yep. Nobody inside that clubhouse was agonizing over the lack of offense tonight, not after pulling out yet another nip-and-tuck victory.

Besides, why bother scoring more than one run when your pitching staff is going to put another zero on the board?


SonnyG10 said...

A great game, but I was really sweating it when Lidge came in to close. He really made things interesting.

The Fox said...

Looks like Rizzo was right and this Gio kid is pretty good.

Pitchers are usually ahead of batters at the beginning of the season but this is ridiculous.

I agree with Davey I love these type of games although my heart and stomach might not agree. Players already are starting to believe that they are in every game with the starter and bullpen this team has. Even when they started 4 runs down two games ago the team then shut the Reds down for 9 innings before losing in extra innings.

It's easier to see great hitting and you know who to give the credit but great pitching is often looked at as poor hitting by the other team.

The games we are seeing now pitched by our top 4 starters are like great masterpieces and every game they start could really be something special.

Our pitchers are not just winning games they are dominating other teams hitters. I sure hope it continues

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

And J-Zimm goes Wednesday night. Our No. 3 starter! With EJax after that. Our No. 4 starter.

Grandpa is sitting on some horses here.

Anonymous said...

I noted that Davey mentioned that Werth missed two fast balls he should have hit eight miles.

I think he may be in decline too many ground balls to the shortstop ... he's hitting the slower breaking balls not the fastballs and those are usually on the ground. Seems like the same is true for DeRosa.

Guess we'll have to wait and see what he does when Morse comes back, with Tyler Moore, and perhaps Marerro ... plus Lombo down the road apiece.

The Fox said...

I just read this on ESPN.

This is very impressive!

If Gio has two strikes on you, you might as well sit down.

"Gio Gonzalez held Astros hitters hitless in 11 at-bats ending with two strikes. For the season, opponents are 0 for 31 with 21 strikeouts with two strikes against Gonzalez."

ESPN Stats and Information

Nattydread said...

Rizzo is looking like a genius in his trade for Gio and in grabbing Ejax. Those two moves solidified the rotation and crowded out the pedestrian Lannan. Very very shrewd.

Rizzo knows that, with Harper and Rendon, the hitting is on its way. Barring more major injuries, this team will be BETTER in 2013. But with this pitching, it will be ENTERTAINING and COMPETITIVE throughout 2012.

What happens to Wang?

D'Gourds said...

Wow--great game.
I have a major concern though--Does Ryan Zimmerman have the early stages of the yipps? I've noticed that when he has a lot of time to throw the ball, he makes a wierd motion with his wrist--kind of like he's double clutching. He then throws weakly across the diamond--usually in the dirt. Thank God LaRoach has saved him numerous times this season. But he's had the potential for 5-6 throwing errors this season already. When he has to rush the throw throwing sidearm or underhand, he has no issues which leads me to think it's a mental issue. It seems to be worse this year than I remember last year.

Rabbit said...

Five games over .500 each month and you have a championship. But, if the hitting doesn't pick up we don't have a chance. Sorry, that's a fact.

FS said...

Don't mean to dampen the mood but JZ has an ERA above 7 against Astros in two starts. Major difference both were at minute maid park, not in Nationals Park.

Avar said...

The good news is our run differential is really strong right now. Among the best in the NL. That's a great indicator of a team's real performance level. So, this team winning is sustainable. But, this level of pitching might not be sustainable. It will probably regress. The good news is, there is enough talent that it is likely to stay a strength even after some regression. It's a good team, the record is no fluke. Maybe slight overachievement so far but even if there is, it's not much. And it sure is fun to watch!

NatsNut said...

Even though I'm still cautious about getting too excited, my take on the nip-and-tuck nature of these games is that it's the good teams that win them 9 times out of, um, 12. We lost A LOT of those games in the past few years.

Also, I know the Astros are supposed to stink, but man, Wandy Rodriguez was *dealing* last night.

FS said...

I hope if our pitching regresses, our hitting starts to overachieve and we continue to win games.

Jimmy said...

The K Street Rotation - ha. Be honest, how long have you been waiting to use that one for a Nats' starting five?

I love it though. I should actually go ahead and register as a lobbyist for the K Street Rotation - I'm telling everyone about them.

natsfan1a said...

fwiw, back in 2005, the team had a "K Street" scoreboard graphic that was shown when an opposing batter struck out (it was a street sign that twirled around, if memory serves). I remember seeing it oodles of times during the Patterson complete game.

sm13 said...

I read that the Nats may be discussing an extension with JZimm -- that would be a great move. We may never have to make a trade for a pitcher for the forseeable future. Meaning that we can use our deep minor league stable to fill in any offensive holes as we drive towards the playoffs and the World Series in the next year or two or three, or....

Cwj said...

The K Street rotation. I like that :-)

MicheleS said...

So do you think we could get a Nats Insider discount on Defibrolators? I bet we could get a group order together! We may need these just in case we run out of Bourbon and Maalox!

SM13.. happy to sign JZ to a long term extension.

Gonat said...

Nattydread said...
Rizzo is looking like a genius in his trade for Gio and in grabbing Ejax.

Difference I saw in Gio's 1st start to the last 2 is that he is attacking the strike zone instead of nibbling. The strike zone in the Cubs series was tight but not sure it was any different than what we have seen now. When you have stuff, go after the batters like Stras and JZim have.

I am cautiously optimistic being 12 games into the season and the big test will be this weekend vs the Fish.

sjm308 said...

Good morning!!

Still hard to believe there is criticism on Werth with the team winning and him hitting so well. If we were losing and he was hitting .238 I could understand it but look at his numbers. I don't care if they are dribblers through the middle or hits crushed to the wall. He is getting key hits, drawing key walks, running the bases well, and has played his usual good defense. He will never be worth his contract but he is here for the next 6 years and I guess for the next 6 years people will slam him even if we win a World Series.

I was thinking on a totally different topic, and I need help from Peric or others that really follow this. Has Harper had an 0fer? I realize he is not hitting .300 but it seems he always has at least 1 hit. I am positive he will not be rushed up but I would think that getting a hit each game can't be a bad thing for him as he learns the outfield and plays against better players. I also realize this is not a minor league blog but what happened to Purke?

Looking for 4 runs tonight for JZimm which would make him think he was on another team. Do you guys think with this staff we will ever have a losing streak over 3?

Go Nats!!!

Gonat said...

Cwj said...
The K Street rotation. I like that :-)

April 18, 2012 7:59 AM

I like "Going from K Street to W Street"

Nats fan in NJ said...

Baseballswami - from your post on the last thread, I'm right there with you. I'm not used to this feeling of consistent winning. Last year teased us a bit, but this year seems more sustainable b/c of the pitching staff. And the best part is my boss and my boss' boss are both Phillies fans.

Gonat said...

For anyone questioning the Nats opponents, the Mets are 7-4 and the Reds are 4-7 in large part to the Nats.

If the Nats get swept by the Reds, the Reds are sitting 7-4 instead of 4-7. Before Madson's injury, I saw many predicting the Reds would take the NL Central.

Houston came into the series at 4-5 and beat some good teams.

natsfan1a said...

Just stumbled on a (non-NI) blog post that features links to a collection of Ankiel throw videos going back to 2009. Enjoy the Ankiel canon, uh, cannon. :-)

(Content warning: There may be a Nats player or two on the wrong end of a throw.)

Gonat said...

Werth can definitely play CF and RF. Unfortunately the other 2 outfield positions not manned by Werth are giving little to no offense and the same for 2nd base when Espi is batting left-handed.

Generally you will trade defense for offense in your positions up the middle which makes the big hole to fix in Leftfield.

Morse is really missed. Can you imagine how well this team would be clicking with Desi, Werth and LaRoche hitting and Zim starting to come around!

bdrube said...

@Rabbit - "if the hitting doesn't pick up we don't have a chance."

Baloney. For one thing, it is April, when pitchers are usually ahead of hitters. Secondly, Morse will be back and Harper will be up, likely by June. Thirdly, it is PITCHING not offense that wins championships. Fourthly, there is no reason to believe that Rizzo would not make a trading deadline deal for another bat or two to help out down the stretch. Fifthly, there are a LOT of teams hitting worse than the Nats right now. We are actually currently 6th in the NL in team batting average and are only .007 out of SECOND place (AND tied with the Dodgers, BTW)

A DC Wonk said...

sjm308 wrote: I was thinking on a totally different topic, and I need help from Peric or others that really follow this. Has Harper had an 0fer?

Dude, you overlooked your "parabola man" ?!

See here and you can always easily get his last 10 games. In his last 10, he's had 2 "O-fers". He seems to be going 1-for-4 or 1-for-5 most nights, which explains his .245 BA. (Another interesting stat: he's batting .300 against righties, .158 against lefties -- but, of course, small sample size). He does have 3 doubles in the last four games -- but I also see he's walked only twice all season (12 games).

A DC Wonk said...

bdrube -- nice take-down! Better than what I was working on. Nevertheless, you can add, "and, sixthly, the Giants did fine last year relying on pitching, which more than made up for their hitting -- as a team they finished 14th (of 16) in hitting.

SCNatsFan said...

You have to figure the pitching will regress some to the mean but you add some bats to this lineup - Morse, Harper and a raking Zim - and you see the upside is pretty high. All the Rizzo doubters are probably feeling pretty low right now.

Mark'd said...

bdrube, I agree with you on a whole. The Mets and Cincy are offensive powerhouses and the Nats pitching shut them down.

MicheleS said...

one other thing about hitting. I would say that this is how it is going to be. I think the drug testing for both steroids and amphetamines is really having an impact. I realize that the AL isn't seeing the impact as much because of the DH, but runs scored are down and that trend will only continue.

Theophilus said...

One take-away from last night's game is how bloomin' lucky the Nats are to have both Ramos and Flores. Post-game, Gonzalez says he shook off Flores once, Flores came out to the mound and told him to stuff it, and everything was just fine after that. Showing (A) working on film, charts and game plan; (B) leadership; (C) credibility. No other team in baseball has two catchers of this quality. I can think of a couple that might be a Flores away from the playoffs.

Gonat said...

Give it time for Davey and Rizzo to make some tough decisions.

Some have compared DeRosa to Stairs and I wouldn't go that far....yet.

DeRosa is struggling but hit a real nice line drive in his last at-bat that was caught. Nady is just seeing real pitching for about 10 games now if you include Spring Training. Espi is struggling seeing the ball and then you have to consider the pathetic bats in CF and having NO Michael Morse which is the biggest issue.

Personally, I expected this type of output which is right in line with last year. What I didn't expect was no Michael Morse and a slumping Ryan Zimmerman. On the other hand, the Nats have been getting clutch hits from Desi and LaRoche and Werth----most of you didn't expect that!

I think Bernadina will be in LF tonight and hopefully Lombardozzi at 2nd base.

A DC Wonk said...

not to beat a dead horse or anything, but to rephrase some of the comments above into statistical terms:

regress to the mean in our case means that the pitching will not be able to sustain itself, but it also means that hitting will pick up (we don't think, e.g, that Ryan Z will finish the year batting under .220, do we?)

Gonat said...

Theophilus said...
One take-away from last night's game is how bloomin' lucky the Nats are to have both Ramos and Flores. Post-game, Gonzalez says he shook off Flores once, Flores came out to the mound and told him to stuff it, and everything was just fine after that. Showing (A) working on film, charts and game plan; (B) leadership; (C) credibility. No other team in baseball has two catchers of this quality. I can think of a couple that might be a Flores away from the playoffs.

April 18, 2012 9:34 AM

Very well said. Flores showed the world in throwing out JMax that he is back to something close to 100%.

I am sure Rizzo's phone rings regularly for calls for Flores and possibly even Lombo.

Clearly centerfield is the main need after Morse returns. Maybe, maybe not on Bryce Harper. I like Ankiel and Bernadina as defensive replacements and pinch hitters off the bench but these guys are not starters on a playoff calibre team IMO.

This Is Not Spam said...

Anyone counting on Morse coming back and also counting on Harper really contributing this season is setting themselves up for disappointment.
And calling the Mets an offensive powerhouse is pretty generous.

whatsanattau said...

Hitting and scoring do matter, but there are many reasons for optimism going forward:
- Zimmerman has yet to catch fire, he will likely have some blistering weeks at some point in the season
- Ramos is also under performing and will likely contribute more to "keep the line moving" going forward
- Nady, DeRosa, and Ankiel are all way below career norms right now. Even if they don't hit above .250 they will get much closer

Unfortunately for the offense, the upcoming road trip is a pitcher's park only tour (SD/LA).

BTW, unless they skip Detwiler, I think Strasburg is going to miss the opportunity to start in SD. That's a shame, I'm sure it would be meaningful to him if he could.

A DC Wonk said...

FWIW, I think Morse can come back. I do think, however, that "counting on" Harper is awfully premature. I don't understand the sentiment, expressed here by some, that just expect him to come up in June and start raking. After all, the kid only hit .256 in AA last year, and, at 19, he's only hitting .220 now in AAA. It's ridiculously optimistic to expect he'll be hitting .300 against MLB pitching six weeks from now.

A DC Wonk said...

(I meant: .245 now -- he's .220 in his last 10 games)

Gonat said...

A DC Wonk said...
FWIW, I think Morse can come back. I do think, however, that "counting on" Harper is awfully premature. I don't understand the sentiment, expressed here by some, that just expect him to come up in June and start raking.

Agreed on Morse. Agreed on Harper. I was in Spring Training for a week and wrote my thoughts down. I was blown away by his hustle but underwhelmed by his hitting and defense. He pounded balls in the ground that were seeing eye hits and the infield hit which all bumped up his batting average. As Harper started to face legit starters and fringe starters like Teheran, they blew him away. It actually saddened me because I think he has been overhyped at this point in time. Long-term, he will be fine. He is only 19 years old.

Mark'd said...

Gonat, that's a bold statement on Harper. I do.t necessarily disagree with you, just think you are going against the majority which are vastly Look-Aid drinking and just look at small sample sizes and box scores.

Mark'd said...

don't and Kool-aid, wish there was edit buttons

Bowdenball said...

The 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants scored 697 runs, or 4.3 a game.

Yes, we're a little below that pace, but not by that much. And we're well ahead of the '10 Giants runs allowed per game pace of 3.59 per. The 2012 Nats are allowing only 2.5 runs per game.

That Giants team also won 92 games. The Nats won't need that many wins to make the playoffs in the new format. In fact that many wins would probably win the NL East.

NatsJack at the Tune Inn (breakfast only) said...

Like Rizzo has said all along, Harper will let them know when he's ready and, clearly, his play in Syracuse screams that he's definitely not ready.

Soul Possession, PFB Sofa said...

If Gio has two strikes on you, you might as well sit down....

Very impressive indeed! Thanks for posting that.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

SJM, Purke (along with another high prospect Solis) is on the Potomac DL (see NationalsProspects.com-Big Board).

On Harper, he has always, always started slow at every level he has ever played in. He was hitting .256 (up from .190) and rising in AA when he got hurt and was shut down. If he is true to form he will be have a line of .285/.500/.800 or thereabouts. Whether, you bring him up on those stats, is up to Rizzo. Regardless of when Harper comes up, be prepared of about 4-6 weeks of awfulness and then, if he is true to form, great performance. As for being over hyped, forget the press, to many scouts and Davey Johnson has said he is the real deal to be worry that he is not. But, I will say this. I predicted 90 wins based on Rotation prior to ST (still stand by it). Harper was not part of my equation.

Soul Possession, PFB Sofa said...

Harper may well not be up much before Labor Day, esp. if they keep him in center, and for the long term, that's probably a good thing. Speaking strictly for myself, I hope Morse comes back with Beast Mode in full effect, but I'm not counting on it. The Nats' luck with injuries hasn't been that good (leaving aside the argument over how much of it is not luck).

Desmond will not hit .400 for the season, but Zim won't hit .200, and I think Espinosa will adjust, Ramos and Flores will get hot (hopefully at different times), and somebody in the outfield not on a 9-figure contract will start hitting. (In fairness to Nady, that home run should buy him some slack all by itself.)

Man, I love winning. It's like, y'know, better than losing.

Section 222 said...

Great points on Flores. I'd like to see him and Ramos alternate games for a bit until Ramos's bat heats up. The fact that both are good hitters, call good games, can throw out base stealers, and have the confidence of the K Street Rotation is huge. Giving them regular rest will keep them sharp and hungry too. It's got to be brutal to catch night after night.

natsfan1a said...

Winning is awesome. Hope that it keeps up for a good, long time. On a related note, I was telling my husband over the weekend that I'm not quite sure how to act. I do know that when the day comes and they reach the promised land, I don't want to be a [jerk] to opposing fans as some have done to us. I know what it's like to have a [stinky] team, and I hope that I'll always be able to empathize. Plus, what goes around comes around, as fans of a certain aging team may discover in the not too distant future. ;-)

On another note, thanks to Michele for the earlier link to the Matheny Little League letter, which I just finished reading.

A DC Wonk of la Mancha said...

natsfan1a - no need to be a jerk to opposing fans, even if they were being jerks. Winning is the best revenge, as well as keeping it positive and not stooping to their level. Just focus on that you are classier than they are (shouldn't be hard to imagine ;-)

I generally prefer to stay away from increasing the negativity in the world (which is one of the reasons I generally don't like to boo -- with some exceptions of course ;-)

Anonymous said...

Barring injury, Harper will be up no later than June. Also, agree that he will struggle initially before rounding into form.


Soul Possession, PFB Sofa said...

In the ongoing spirit of admirable positivity, today's Kook-Ade, with champagne. (Nats Win--it isn't just science fiction anymore!)

DWS said...

Haven't got time to read all the comments, but skimming over the last post (or previous) no matter.Watched the game last night hoping I would see the end before heading to work at 11:00 AST.
Lidge gave me a fright but a win is a win.
There was a team not that long ago that won with pitching. Oh and they didn't have near the hitting we'll have in a few weeks. Relax people. Early days.
Goodnight all. Hope you get your 10 runs tonight, I'll be watching but won't see the end ;)

bdrube said...

Flores and Lombo will make GREAT trading chips...NEXT offseason. No way they should be traded this year. They are far too valuable to this team right now. Every team that wins a championship has unsung bench guys who make key contributions to help put them over the top.

And for anyone who might say that the Nats have no chance to win a championship this year, they have the key ingredient...pitching. In that regard they remind me of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who had a championship caliber defense but had a very mediocre offense and had never even been in the playoffs before. That team proved wrong the naysayers who said they couldn't win the Superbowl with their bad offense in a VERY big way.

Feel Wood said...

I generally prefer to stay away from increasing the negativity in the world (which is one of the reasons I generally don't like to boo -- with some exceptions of course ;-)

IMHO the best current opportunity for booing at the ballpark would be at the end of the Presidents Race, after they have once again executed their "Teddy's going to win...no he's not" schtick. There were big boos on Opening Day when they did that, and I've heard scattered boos for it at subsequent games. Maybe if the booing continues and escalates they'll finally realize how lame that "Teddy never wins" schtick is and abandon it once and for all. Jayson Werth is right. It does nothing but perpetuate a culture of losing, and this team has moved beyond that.

natsfan1a said...

My most recent approach to "the race" was to pretend to fall asleep on my husband's shoulder, then wake up groggily - oh, did I miss something? :-)

A DC Wonk said...

Anonymous said...

Barring injury, Harper will be up no later than June.

He's hitting under .250 now. If he's still hitting under .250, it's be foolish to bring him up.

As for Teddy's race -- I've had this thought ever since 2005: that Teddy would win his race the day after the Nats clinch their first playoff spot. If that's been the plan all along, then I don't mind Teddy losing now. He'll win when the Nats win something big.

Rabbit said...

@bdrube...........Thanks, you reinforced everything I said about we must get Hitting..1)"April, when pitchers are usually ahead of hitters", so we need the Hitters to improve; 2)"Morse will be back and Harper will be up"..so that will improve our Hitting; 3)"it is PITCHING not offense that wins championships"...to get there you need Hitting; 4)"there is no reason to believe that Rizzo would not make a trading deadline deal for another bat or two"...to get us more Hitting. Yes, we do neet more hitting to go along with the best pitchers in baseball.

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