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Useless Facts: Team Payroll versus World Series success

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The powers that be in baseball have long rung the bell of anti-competitiveness w/r/t payroll and success.  In fact, its the salient driving early topic of Michael Lewis‘s seminal book Moneyball ….

Tangent.  Moneyball has its faults, don’t get me wrong.  I may have gone on this rant before, but having recently re-read the book, I was reminded of these issues:

  • A huge part of the Oakland A’s success in the 2002 103 win season was due to their two best hitters (Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez) being home grown talents that pre-dated Billy Beane‘s tenure as GM.  Tejada was an IFA signed in 1993, Chavez drafted out of HS as the 10th overall pick in 1996.  Beane did not ascend to the job til 1997.
  • An even huger part of the A’s success was due to their rotation; three Ace-level arms under the age of 26 that season in Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, none of which was paid more than $875k that year as pre-arb guys … and in fact Zito wasn’t even to arbitration yet.  Combined bWAR for these three: 15.8.
  • The much-ballyhood 2002 draft, which is the subject of most of the book and is the center of the movie’s conflict?  The one where the A’s had 7 first round or supp-1st round picks?  It was an abject failure.  Of the 7 guys they drafted in the 2002 1st round, 3 never made the majors and a 4th (the much-argued-about Alabama C Jeremy Brown) had a MLB career that consisted of 5 games.  A 5th player (Mark Teahen) had a combined career MLB bWAR of 2.6.  The remaining two players (Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton) had long careers of course … but Blanton had just 11.8 career bWAR across 262 games in 13 years, finishing his career with none other than the Washington Nationals and never once making an all-start team or gaining a single Cy Young vote: career ERA+?  95.  I’m sorry, but good drafting teams hit on their first rounders more often than not and the “bar” is MLB regular.  They got perhaps 1 and a half out of 7 picks right in this year, for all of the
  • That whole guitar-playing daughter movie BS?  Non-existent in the book.  Hey I get it; you gotta make Brad Pitt look likeable.  By all accounts in the book, Beane is … not likeable.  There were stories of him screaming in meetings, throwing furniture in the draft room, being incapable of watching the games with others because he got so worked up … to say nothing of his exploits as a professional hitter self-destructing in rage.  Pretty sure these behaviors wouldn’t fly in today’s climate.

I digress.

As pointed in Moneyball … during MLB’s investigation a pesky economist kept asking questions like, “If there’s a direct correlation between payroll and success, then  how does Oakland keep winning with these low payrolls?”  And nobody had a good answer. It got me thinking, in the wake of Washington’s well-funded World Series victory in 2019, what exactly was the history of payrolls to WS wins.  Well, here it is in tabular format.

Yearteampayrollhighlowmedianpayroll ranknotes
2019Washington197236601264
2018Boston23323365134133m more than #2
2017Houston124m2416313917Result of bottoming out strategy in 2013
2016Chicago Cubs171m250631316
2015Kansas City112m2826911817LA = 282; just crazy
2014San Francisco149m236451077
2013Boston150m22926934Houston = 26m
2012San Francisco131m21351946
2011St. Louis109m207399210
2010San Francisco97m212378411
2009New York Yankees203m2033781150M more than #2
2008Philadelphia96m213257813Miami = 25
2007Boston147m19525872
2006St. Louis89m201168311Miami = 16
2005Chicago White Sox75m209306713
2004Boston128m18527632
2003Florida47m153196925TB = 19
2002Anaheim61m126346115
2001Arizona85m11123648
2000New York Yankees92m92165815m more than #2
1999New York Yankees91m111m more than #2
1998New York Yankees73m2
1997Florida52m5
1996New York Yankees61m16m more than #2
1995Atlanta47m4

Some thoughts looking at 2019 and going backwards:

  • 17 of the 25 WS winners since divisional play started had payrolls in the top 10 of the league
  • 14 of these 25 winners were top 5.
  • The Los Angeles Dodgers have spent an amazing amount of money to win nothing over the past 5-6 years.   They’re the “high” payroll for most of this decade, peaking at $282M in 2015.
  • The Nats just won the WS with the 4th largest payroll in the game, basically at the top of the luxury tax line.
  • Boston won it last year with easily the highest payroll in the game, fully $33M more than the 2nd highest payroll. Now that’s buying a title!
  • Houston’s 2017 title comes on the back of them absolutely bottoming out in 2013 and having successive 110+ loss seasons, so its status as an outlier doesn’t exactly hold water.
  • You have to go back to Kansas City’s 2015 run to see our first outlier … and it should be noted that Kansas City completely bottomed out their farm system to achieve those two years of success, immediately dropped to a .500 win team the year after and now have two straight 100+ loss seasons AND have by some accounts one of the worst farms in the game.
  • Before that you’re in the 2010-11 time-frame, where a 90-win St.Louis team with the 11th highest payroll went on a magical run to take out a bunch of teams with better records.
  • The 2008 Phillies were only the 13th ranked payroll; they were driven by career years of home-grown stars still confined by arbitration; within a couple of years Philly would be at the top of the league payroll list too.
  • Clearly 2003 Florida is the huge outlier; the only team with a payroll not at least in the top half of the game to take a series.  And I think we all know about that year…. i’m sure Dusty Baker and Steve Bartman remember it well.

So, does this data tell us anything?   Is it correlation or causation?  Or coincidence?

Ranking the top Nats post-season games of all time

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The new Nats #1 all -time game. Photo via nytimes.com

The new Nats #1 all -time game. Photo via nytimes.com

In the wake of the 2019 World Series run, I thought (while its fresh in everyone’s mind) it’d be a fun one to try to rank all the Nats post-season games.

I put in my top 10, then put in all the other candidates in chronological order.  For years I had a running list that conflated regular season exploits and post-season glory; now there’s so many games to consider just from 2019 that I’ve separated them in my (future) larger list of Best and Worst games.  As it turns out, I’ve got 8 of our top 10 post-season games now being from the 2019 run.

Feel free to discuss and tell me i’m wrong.  Nicely please :-)

Greatest Nats Post Season Games:

  1. October 30th, 2019: WS Game 7 win.  Scherzer throws 5 heroic innings, the Nats beat Greinke with a Rendon homer and a Kendrick homer to seal it, then run away to take Game 7.
  2. October 9th, 2019: NLDS Game 5Howie Kendrick caps a come-from-behind win with a grand slam in the 10th to exorcise the Nats playoff daemons and seal their first ever playoff series win, 7-3 over the Dodgers.
  3. October 29th 2019: WS Game 6 win; Strasburg masterpiece, Turner controversy at first, Rendon homer exploits, another elimination game rally.  This game had it all.
  4. October 11th, 2012NLDS Game 4Jayson Werth walk-off homer in an epic battle against Lance Lynn, hitting the 13th pitch of the at-bat (!!) on a line-drive into the seats.  Ironic that what I think is the most special game in Nats franchise history occurred the day before what I consider to be the worst game in franchise history.  (note; thanks to my former coworker Eric Hay for correcting me on my pitch count memory here in the comments).
  5. October 1st, 2019come-from-behind Wild Card win over Milwaukee on Juan Soto‘s bases-clearing single in the 8th against super reliever Josh Hader.  First ever franchise “win-or-go-home” victory.
  6. October 11th, 2019: NLCS Game 1: Anibal Sanchez keeps a no-hitter into the 8th and the team blanks St. Louis to steal game one on the road and set the tone for what became a 4-0 sweep.
  7. October 9th, 2016NLDS Game 2 comeback win over the Dodgers: after dropping the first game in a missed opportunity, the Nats fell behind quickly 2-0 and the crowd was quiet, worried and lethargic.  That all ended when the team put some runners on base for Jose Lobaton, who clubbed a 3-run homer into a stiff wind coming in from left; the crowd exploded, the team relaxed and they tacked on a couple of runs later for a 5-2 win.
  8. October 12th, 2019: NLCS Game 2: Scherzer throws seven innings of one hit dominant ball to power the Nats to the win and the surprising two game sweep on the road.
  9. October 22nd, 2019: WS Game 1: The offense surprisingly gets to Astros ace Gerritt Cole while Scherzer holds on for the shock game 1 win in Houston.
  10. October 23rd, 2019: WS Game 2: The Nats explode on Astros pitching for 12 runs to shock the baseball world and take a 2-0 series lead.

I’m putting the 2019 WC winner just below the Werth homer.  I realize this is not a popular take; I like the way that frequent commenter MarkL put it in a discussion just after the WC game:  “[the WC winner] excitement level is #2 after the Werth game but #1 in importance.”  I agree with that sentiment.  If the Soto hit had been a walk-off we wouldn’t be having this argument; it’d easily be #1.  But its ok for a non-clinching game to be considered great; consider that most pundits put Game 6 of the 1975 World Series (aka the “Fisk  homer”) as the greatest game of the last 50 years…. and it was won by a team that went out the next day and lost game 7.  It doesn’t matter in the end, since the Kendrick homer trumped them both, and then the WS winner trumped all.

Post season honorable mentions (in chronological order):

  • October 7th, 2012: NLDS Game 1: 2-run rally in the 8th on Tyler Moore‘s flair to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis in the first ever playoff game for the team.  In theory it should have completely set up the Nats to cruise through the series.  Didn’t quite happen that way (see worst games ever).
  • October 6th, 2014: NLDS Game 2: Beating Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 NLDS; our only 2014 post-season win and the only time Bumgarner lost that post-season.
  • October 10th, 2016NLDS Game 3, a win in Los Angeles 8-3 to grab back home field advantage and put themselves on the brink of advancing.
  • October 7th, 2017: NLDS Game 2: Behind homers from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats dump 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th on the Cubs to turn what was looking like a 2-0 series deficit into a 6-3 victory.
  • October 11th, 2017: NLDS Game 4: Stephen Strasburg shakes off illness and pitches the game of his life, punching out 12 in 7 scoreless innings in an elimination NLDS game against Chicago.  Michael Taylor squeaks out a grand-slam in the 8th to turn a 1-0 nail-biter into a 5-0 win to force a decisive game 5 back home.
  • October 4th, 2019: NLDS Game 2: Nats jump on Clayton Kershaw early, Strasburg shuts down the Dodgers to steal a game on the road
  • October 14th, 2019: NLCS Game 3:  Nats score four in the 3rd to set the tone and run away in Game 3, nearly guaranteeing the series win behind another dominant Strasburg performance.
  • October 15th, 2019: NLCS Game 4: A shocking 7 run first was all the team needed to complete the sweep at home behind a rocking crowd and move onto the World Series.
  • October 8th, 2019: NLDS Game 4: Scherzer dominates the Dodgers in a NLDS win-or-go-home Game 4 at Nats park, Zimmerman blasts a 3-run homer to put the team ahead for good, and the Nats push the series back to LA for Game 5.

Unbelievably, the 2019 Nats are WS champs!

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They did it. Photo via nytimes.com

They did it. Photo via nytimes.com

The final  unbelievable act in an unbelievable season has come to pass.  The cardiac kids overcame yet another 2019 playoff elimination in-game deficit (their 5th of the post-season I believe) to rally in the late innings for an improbable win.

Only this time, it was in Game 7 of a World Series that they were 2-1 underdogs in at the start and in which they got swept on home soil.

Game thoughts:

  • Max Scherzer pitched better than i thought he would, but labored to get through 5 innings on more than 100 pitches.
  • Zack Greinke was pitching the absolute game of his life, and I thought this team was done for in the 6th.
  • For all the scorn heaped on Patrick Corbin … damn what an outing.  Three scoreless innings, faces just one over the min, gets the W in game 7.  Bravo.
  • Anthony Rendonhe continued to make himself a lot of money with his off-season.  Same with Strasburg (a subject for another day).
  • Kendrick finally came alive to win it for the team.  Eaton had a heck of a game.  Soto; well, nobody in America will be surprised by Soto again after this post-season.

Now, some more detailed thoughts on the absolute butchering of the pitching management by Houston’s manager A.J. Hinch.

  • Why would you possibly take out a guy in Greinke who had completely flummoxed the Nats lineup for 6+ innings in that situation?  He was on just 80 pitches.  Yes he’d given up a homer to Rendon, and yes he’d walked Soto … but that’s the two most dangerous hitters in the lineup.  Once you get past Soto, you have to favor your chances against our 5-9 (with all due respect to Kendrick of course).  I couldn’t believe our fortunes there, to move on from Greinke and get into the suspect bullpen.  Was Greinke gassed?  On 80 pitches?  Was he giving up a ton of sharp hit balls?  Rendon’s homer was hit hard, sure, but it was also a rare mistake from a guy who had been painting corners all night.  You pitch around Soto b/c you don’t want him to beat  you.  I just couldn’t believe this over-managing move.
  • Then, instead of bringing Gerritt Cole or his closer … he goes with Will Harris.  Ok.  I guess you could have looked at  Harris’ numbers prior to this inning this post season and said, “oh that’s their stopper.”  But he’s clearly  not better than Greinke.  So it was karma when 3 pitches later Kendrick gets a lucky homer off the foul pole.  Just amazing turn of luck.
  • NOW he goes to his closer Osuna.  Still no Cole, who was idly throwing the ball in the pen.
  • Then, in the next inning, he leaves in his one-inning closer to runout of gas and give up another run.
  • THEN in the next inning he cycles through more of his ineffective bullpen, who leaks two more demoralizing runs to make the 9th a coronation.
  • Cole?  Sitting on his ass in the bullpen.  Peacock?  burned last night.  he eventually goes with 4th starter Jose Urquidy to stop the bleeding, 5 runs too late.

I was texting along with friends throughout all of this, calling the debacle as it happened.  Houston deserved their fate here for pulling an effective starter 30 pitches too early.    And the Nats made them pay.

Go Nats!  This is a long time coming.  A long time coming for everyone who was there at the beginning, helped support this team for years before they actually began trying, who stuck with them as they tried to find their way.

 

WS Game 2 Reaction and Weekend thoughts

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HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 23: Kurt Suzuki #28 of the Washington Nationals hits a solo home run against the Houston Astros during the seventh inning in Game Two of the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 23, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 23: Kurt Suzuki #28 of the Washington Nationals hits a solo home run against the Houston Astros during the seventh inning in Game Two of the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 23, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Well, I spent most of Wednesday night’s game on pins and needles, watching Stephen Strasburg wiggle out of one jam after another after an elating-then-deflating first inning, then cheering for the shock Kurt Suzuki  homer and then standing in awe as the game got away from Houston completely, resulting in a blow-out win.

(I even found myself making a “get off my lawn comment” when Martin Maldonado hit the 9th inning homer to “cut” the lead to 12-3 … and the Houston stadium dimmed the lights and blew the air horn and ran their stupid train as if it was the greatest home run ever hit in franchise history … um, guys?  Time and Place.  Your team was 5 minutes from getting embarassingly swept on home soil as more than a 2-1 WS favorite … maybe a good time to not strobe the damn stadium lights like you’re in a Vegas club).

Anyway.  I thought the Nats could get to Verlander in game 2 in my preview to get a split in Houston.  Never in my wildest dream would I think we’d sweep games on Houston’s soil to return home with a 2-0 lead.  Just amazing.

Davey Martinez was given a free pass to save his critical bullpen arms, get other guys work, get Tanner Rainey back on track, not burn any starter innings … i mean, you just couldn’t ask for a better game.

Now what?   Well, I initially thought the three games in DC would go like this:

  • Greinke beats Corbin
  • Sanchez beats bullpen
  • Scherzer beats Cole.

Because Patrick Corbin threw in game 1, Martinez swapped spots and put Anibal Sanchez out in game 3.  So what does this mean?  Well… I still think Sanchez can get the win here.  Check out his post-season stats for his career: with the exception of one bad beating in 2012, he’s been pretty darn good.  7 quality starts in 9 post-season starts, and of course he’s been basically unhittable in 2019.  Past performance is not an indicator of future performance … but what else can we go on?  I like Sanchez in this game, and I like Zack Greinke (10 runs allowed in 14 post season IP so far in 2019) to get hit.

Meanwhile; Its not like Houston is hitting badly … they’re slashing .257/.321/.432 for the first two games against two of the best starters in the game.  Five of their first Six hitters have OPS figures in the .900 to 1.000 range or higher so far for this series.  They’re just not quite putting the hits together in the right sequence, and the 7-8-9  hitters are basically automatic outs so far.  The middle of this order is daunting, really.

Can’t wait to see the energy in the stadium tonight.  Wish I could be there.  go nats!

 

Written by Todd Boss

October 25th, 2019 at 10:33 am

WS Pitching Preview: Nats vs Astros

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Corbin is the key to this series. Photo via Arizona republic

Corbin is the key to this series. Photo via Arizona republic

The 2019 World Series is here.  And boy does it look like its going to be a heck of a pitching duel.  Thanks to the Astros finishing off the Yankees in 6 games, they (like our Nats) are able to perfectly setup their rotation as they wish.  Which means … wow we’re going to have some pitching duels.

Here’s a preview of the pitching matchups, with my predictions game by game.

  • Game 1; 10/22/19: Was@Hou: Max Scherzer vs Gerrit Cole: Cole is either finishing 1st or 2nd in AL Cy Young voting and has been unhittable this post season (3 starts, 22 2/3rds innings, 10 hits, 8 walks, just ONE earned run, 32 Ks).  So its going to be a tall task to get to him in Game 1.  Scherzer is Big Game Max: he got hit a bit in the WC game, but his three NLCS and NLDS appearances are pretty solid: 15 innings and one earned run vs the Dodgers and Cardinals, including a 1-hit 7 inning domination of St. Louis in Game 2 to really put the series out of reach.  Prediction?  I think Cole continues his hot streak and out-duels Scherzer in a 1-0 or a 2-1 type game.
  • Game 2: 10/23/19: Was@Hou: Stephen Strasburg vs Justin Verlander: Verlander likely wins the Cy Young (if it isn’t Cole) thanks to an amazing age 36 season … but he’s been quite hittable this post-season.  He’s got 4 starts, has given up 10 runs in 23 innings.  Strasburg has not been hittable, this off-season or any other; he continues to put up Sandy Koufax esque post-season numbers; he got hit in LA but held on to keep the team in the game, then blew away St. Louis.  I like Strasburg here and think the Nats can sneak a win in game 2.
  • Game 3: 10/25/19: Hou@Wash: Zack Greinke vs Patrick Corbin: i wonder what Arizona fans are thinking when they watch this game.  Greinke might be the best #3 starter in the game, or maybe Corbin is.  Greinke got knocked out by Tampa in the NLDS, and wasn’t lights out or anything in the NLDS either; the Nats can score runs against him.  Corbin has also been hit or miss this post-season, with an ugly 7+ ERA despite striking out 26 in 13 innings.  The Astros hit the ball, irrespective of lefty or righty, so this game might be one where the bullpens of both teams get exposed a bit.  Can Corbin make it happen?  One good thing going for him; he’s significantly better at home vs on the road (2.40 ERA versus 4.18 ERA away).  Of course … Greinke shows reverse H/A splits himself, and is no stranger to playing the Nats (he dominated the Nats in June, shutting them down in our park to the tune of 7ip, 2h).  I think Astros can get back home-field advantage here.
  • Game 4: 10/26/19: Hou@Wash: Bullpen vs Anibal Sanchez: Game 4 could be interesting; the Astros don’t really have a 4th starter they trust; they’ve gotten to this point riding their big 3 starters and getting by with openers and bullpen games otherwise.  So this could be former Nat Brad Peacock or perhaps Wade Miley, who seemed to be their 4th starter all season but who didn’t even appear in the ALCS.  Can Sanchez do what he did again against St. Louis?  Can a bullpen game shutdown the Nats?  I like the Nats here to get a solid start and to get at the slightly-hittable Houston bullpen.
  • Game 5: 10/27/19: Cole vs Scherzer: You think big-game Max is losing a home start?  I don’t think so.  The Nats get to Cole and take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Houston.
  • Game 6: 10/29/19: Verlander vs Strasburg: Verlander recovers and pitches the game of his life to push the series to Game 7.
  • Game 7: 10/30/19: Corbin vs Greinke: Nats get to Greinke again, Corbin gets hit … game turns into a bullpen game … Nats pull another late-inning come back and win in 7.

Sound good?

One thing I did want to point out.  There’s a very solid sportswriter narrative out there that teams can get “cold” with long layoffs like the Nats have had.  And there’s some SSS proof that indeed teams who sweep have a struggle in the series.  Teams are just 1 for 9 in the World Series after sweeping the LCS in four games since 1985 (when the LCS was expanded to 7 games).  See https://sports.yahoo.com/tbs-crew-explains-nationals-avoid-044927265.html (thanks Luke Erickson for the link, which you can also find on ESPN and other places).   This is obviously worrisome for the Nats, who have taken some steps to stay hot.  On the one hand, I think a veteran team will benefit from the longer layoff to rest muscles and get bodies ready to go.  I think Victor Robles will cherish the time to let his leg heal a bit.  And of course, the rest lets all the starters (most of whom were pulling double duty starting and relieving) to rest up and get into their regular schedules.   On the other hand …. 1 for 9.  And they’re going against a 107-win team.

One other thing worth pointing out: the four games in the AL gives the Nats a unique opportunity to finally be able to play their best defensive roster and stick MVP Howie Kendrick in the DH spot.  I like having Asdrubal Cabrera in the lineup with his switch-hitting bat and veteran approach and his better-than-Kendrick defense.   That’s huge for this team.

 

Operation Ewing Theory nearly complete: Nats to the World Series

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Kendrick deservedly wins NLCS MVP. Photo via bleacherreport.com

Kendrick deservedly wins NLCS MVP. Photo via bleacherreport.com

So, I chose a rather inopportune time to take a 6-day vacation.  In those 6 days, the Nats managed to absolutely obliterate the NL Central champs to complete a pretty improbable sweep and make the World Series.

(by the way, if you didn’t know what the “Ewing Theory” is … see this link.  The theory basically is that a team that sees a dominant star player depart immediately performs better than they ever did with said player for a variety of reasons.)

I mostly “watched” the series on my MLB-app, pulling it up again and again and being in shock at the scores I was seeing.   Seven runs in the first in a clincher?  Get out!  Four runs against the Card’s Ace Jack Flaherty in game 3 to knock him out?  Amazing.  Two near-no hitters on foreign soil, one of them by our fourth starter?  Yeah.

Here was some of the more amazing take-aways for me in this series:

  • Nats pitchers struck out 48 guys in 36 IP.
  • Nats starters struck out 40 of those batters in 27 IP.
  • The staff gave up just 5 earned runs in those 36 innings for a nifty 1.25 NLCS ERA.  Even more impressive: a .639 WHIP for the staff.
  • The offense slashed .274/.327/.415.  That’s a pretty big improvement from series past, when they (for example) hit .186 against the Cubs in 2017 or .164 against the Giants in 2015.

Talk about locked in.  Our “worst” start of the series was one where Patrick Corbin struck out 12 in 5 1/3 inning.  I’ll take that.

Now we wait.   The World Series doesn’t start for a week (!).  The Yankees and Astros will battle it out to see who faces us, with a week to get people healthy, rested, and our rotation lined up precisely the way we want.  Is that too long?  This is one of those “narrative” driven arguments that only becomes self-fulfilling once the result you expected come true.  In reality (and we’re talking SSS here), the only research I could find one way or the other was on an Athletic story where they found that 7 of the 13 teams in the Nats situation (who swept then had to wait a long time for the next series to start) won the subsequent series.  So in otherwords, a coin flip.  No advantage one way or the other.

One of my friends asked me if I’d prefer the Nats rotation or the Astros.  I said, “Astros, but the Nats rotation is outperforming them this postseason.”  Assuming that the Astros make the series, we could be seeing an absolute all-time pitching series.  Can our guys keep it up?  We’ll see.

Go Nats!

 

Written by Todd Boss

October 16th, 2019 at 9:05 am

Unbelievable! They did it!

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Kendrick for the win! Photo via USA Today

Kendrick for the win! Photo via USA Today

Tonight was one of the few games I’ve watched end to end in years.  I was not disappointed.

The Dodgers got to Stephen Strasburg early, clubbing several deep balls in the first couple innings (two for homers) to jump to a 3-0 lead, but he persevered and threw 6 innings and kept his team in the game. Walker Buehler looked unhittable … for a time.  The nats touched him up 5 straight innings for baserunners … but couldn’t string them together.  But the late-inning scoring heroics of this team came out again, with two homers in two pitches off of Dodger legend Clayton Kershaw to nullify Buehler’s excellent outing (6 2/3rds, 4hits 1 run) and tie the game in the 8th.  Every move Davey Martinez pulled came out Aces, with four shut-out innings from his “bullpen,” including four masterful batters from beleaguered starter Patrick Corbin to bridge the gap to the 8th/9th inning duo of Hudson/Doolittle.

Meanwhile, its Dave Roberts on the managerial hot-seat, opting for Kershaw and his oddly mediocre post-season record in lieu of a slew of solid bullpen options, then continuing with Joe Kelly and allowing him to blow the game wide open at the hands of Howie Kendrick‘s franchise defining grand slam in the top of the 10th to make up for his third error (and fourth misplayed ball) of the series.

Wow.

Credit where credit is due; Corbin looked like a different guy; he wasn’t slinging it up there nibbling at 91; he was firing it 94-95 to setup his slider to devastating effect.  Night and day from his last outing.

How about your two best  hitters going a combined 5-for-9 with two homers, 3 RBI and 5 runs scored in a do-or-die game?  Hats off to Anthony Rendon and especially Juan Soto, who tattooed a 110-mph exit velocity homer 450 feet into the LA night off of Kershaw and had Roberts out to retrieve his legendary hurler before the ball landed.   Kendrick got the big fly, but Rendon/Soto combined for 5 of the team’s 9 hits on the night.  That’s clutch.

So the team moves on.  They face the surprising St. Louis Cardinals, who ousted the favored Braves and beat the Nats 5 of 7 this season.  We’ll do a preview as we get closer to figuring out what the Nats will do with their rotation.

New #1 game; no argument this time.

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2019 at 1:34 am

Starters as mid-relievers Strategy finally blows up

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Corbin did not like pitching in relief. Photo via Arizona republic

Corbin did not like pitching in relief. Photo via Arizona republic

The Nats had been getting lucky using Starters as middle relievers for years in the playoffs … and last night finally their luck caught up with them.

Here’s a history (dating to our first playoff series in 2012) of using starters as middle relievers on their “throw days:”

  • 2012 NLDS Game 4: Jordan Zimmermann pitches the 7th, strikes out the side.
  • 2012 NLDS Game 5: Edwin Jackson pitches 1 inning, throws just 12 of 23 pitches for strikes, walks 2, gives up a hit and was lucky to escape only giving up 1 run.
  • 2017 NLDS Game 5: Max Scherzer throws 1 inning, gives up 3 hits and a walk, gives up 4 runs (2 earned) to blow the lead in the deciding game.
  • 2019 Wild Card: Stephen Strasburg throws 3 shutout innings to bridge the gap between Scherzer and Daniel Hudson.
  • 2019 NLDS Game 2: Scherzer strikes out the side in one inning of relief of Strasburg
  • 2019 NLDS Game 3: Patrick Corbin falls apart, give sup 6 runs in 2/3rds of an inning on 4 hits and 2 walks.

So, not exactly a proven strategy time and time again.  Its hit or miss really.  And, frankly, I might exclude the Strasburg effort because it was always set to be a multiple-inning effort; the rest of these appearances all fell into the “throw one max effort inning on my starter’s in-between starts throw day” type outing.

This post may seem like hindsight is 20/20 criticism of the strategy … but its pretty easy to ask this simple question: if this is such a great strategy, then why don’t we see it done in the regular season?   I mean, we know the answer really (you don’t want to tax your starters and just add on useless middle relief innings; that’s what relievers are for) … but that’s also my point: this is what relievers are for.   You’ve got 8 guys in the frigging bullpen for the sole purpose of getting past the end of the night … but we can’t trust a single one of them now?  Is this now when the chickens come home to roost for the fact that Mike Rizzo cannot build a bullpen?  Is this the end result for a team that’s literally traded away 20 starting pitching prospects in the past few years, any one of whom could have been a home-grown relief alternative?

It looks amazing when Scherzer blows everyone away … but then it looks foolish when he coughs up 4 runs in a series decider.

So now we’re going into Game 4 … and I’ll bet dollars Davey Martinez is planning on throwing Strasburg in the 7th again (but I sure hope not if he’s going in game 5).

I think my bigger criticism of the strategy last night was the early yanking of Anibal Sanchez.  He left the game on 87 pitches, having struck out 9 through 5, and given up one run on 4 hits and 2 walks (both of which were in the first inning).  I realize he’s facing 4-5-6 for the third time … but this is the same guy who retired 20 straight Dodgers earlier this year.  If he gets through 4-5-6 then he’s got the bottom of the order in the 7th and you go to the bullpen then.  Why pull him?  I think that’s the “over managing” that irritates me most.  Its the same over managing that led to Zimmermann getting pulled at 8 2/3rds in the playoffs (and the Nats losing).  Different managers, same issue.

Look, at the end of the day, maybe it was inevitable that the potent Dodgers lineup blasted its way to a 10 run outing.  But the Nats had the early lead and had an effective starter on the mound.  I just don’t like deviating from whats working until you have to.

I like our chances in Game 4 behind an amped-up Scherzer … but who likes Corbin on the bump in game 5 now?  Have the Dodgers figured him out?  It sure seems like it.  His MO seems to be to throw 91 on the black, then bounce sliders to get you to chase; well if you don’t swing at balls that bounce in the dirt … you have a good shot of walking, as we’ve now seen displayed pretty frequently in the post-season.

I’m now hearing rumors of no Corbin game 5; instead Strasburg.  Uh, sign me up!  28 post season innings and 2 earned runs.  Yeah; throw that guy.  but we have to get there first.

 

NLDS Preview: Nationals vs Dodgers

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2019-mlb-postseason

The Nats used two starters to get to this point; how much will it hamper their efforts to supplant the class of the NL this  year?  Maybe not too much, if we can get Strasburg on short rest to pitch Game 2.  Read on.

Here’s a preview of the 2019 NLDS.

MLB Post Season schedule

Likely Pitching match-ups:

  • Game 1: Thurs 10/3/19 5:37pm EST in LA: Patrick Corbin vs Walker Buehler (officially announced)
  • Game 2: Fri 10/4/19: 5:37pm EST in LA: likely Stephen Strasburg vs  (likely) Clayton Kershaw
  • Game 3: Sun 10/6/19 time tbd in DC: Max Scherzer vs (likely) Hyung-Jin Ryu
  • Game 4: Mon 10/7/19 time tbd in DC (if necessary): likely Anibal Sanchez vs (likely) Rich Hill/Kenta Maeda/bullpen game
  • Game 5: Wed 10/9/19 time tbd in LA (if necessary): Corbin vs Buehler rematch.

I just don’t think Scherzer can come back on 2 days rest to start a game on Friday, but as noted Strasburg only threw 34 pitches in the WC game and seems like he can get the start on Friday with perhaps a short leash/pitch count.  This means Scherzer on full regular rest for the Sunday home game (that he’ll be up for, for sure) and then at Sanchez for game 4.  That should get the series back to LA and line up a possible game 5 with probably the best possible guy on the hill for that game (lefty Corbin).

Meanwhile the Dodgers are going with the kid Buehler instead of Kershaw; two years ago it was Kershaw that killed the Nats.  But the last time the Nats saw Buehler they bombed him.  The Dodger’s 4th starter is a question mark; Hill is coming off injury and threw just a handful of innings in September but he’s always been solid against the Nats.  If they have to go Maeda or their 5th starter Ross Stripling its not like its a huge step down in performance.

—-

Season head to head: LA beat DC 4 out of 7; they split four games in LA in May interestingly, when the team was nearly at its nadir, then LA took two of three in DC in mid July when the team had turned it around.

Here’s a quick summary of our pitchers versus LA this season.  First in our 4-game set in LA:

  • Patrick Corbin; beat Rich Hill in LA 6-0 and pitched beautifully; 7ip, 3hits, 0 runs.
  • Anibal Sanchez: lost to Kenta Maeda in LA; gave up 6 hits, walked 2 more and got yanked in the 5th
  • Max Scherzer beat LA giving up 2 runs in 7 innings, but Walker Buehler was better and the team only won b/c we got to LA’s bullpen
  • Stephen Strasburg gave up 2 in 6 but Hyung-Jin Ryu gave up one hit through 8 to beat the Nats.

then, in DC in July:

  • Sanchez pitched one of the best games of his season giving up 1 run on 3 hits to match Ryu’s similar output, then the Dodgers got to the bullpen for the win (stop me if you’ve heard that before)
  • Kershaw threw a QS and the Nats tried the “opener” for the only time on the year (starting Matt Grace with some success) before Joe Ross blew up and got the loss
  • Strasburg was brilliant, giving up 1 run on 2 hits through 7 and the Nats beat Buehler to avoid the sweep.

So.  what can we glean from this?

  • Our lefties have been pretty good against the Dodgers and Corbin may have some success.
  • As a team, the Dodgers are much better against RHs versus LHs … but they’re still pretty good against both.
  • Sanchez was more than adequate in his two LA starts.
  • Scherzer and Strasburg should be able to keep the team in games.
  • LA really doesn’t like hitting against either Strasburg or Corbin, and neither of them are the Nats Ace.

I gotta admit, i’m liking our chances here.  This is where having a big-3 of pitching aces matters; the Dodgers are going to have to win more two starts being made by Corbin, Strasburg and Scherzer, three guys who are all likely getting Cy Young votes this year.  I expect a bunch of low-scoring games with the Nats hoping to god their patchwork bullpen keeps it together.

Notable that the closer in the WC game wasn’t Sean Doolittle?  Or was that playing matchups with the Brewers?  Something to watch for.

 

The Nats finally win a loser-goes-home Game!

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Nats first ever playoff clinching win!  Photo via 9news.com

Nats first ever playoff clinching win! Photo via 9news.com

Davey Martinez‘ moves all worked out.  He started Max Scherzer, he got 3 wipe-out innings from Stephen Strasburg in relief (his first relief appearance as a pro), he got contributions from both the guys he picked to start (Kendrick and Cabrera) and the guys he used as pinch hitters (Taylor and Zimmerman).  He got a homer from one of his marquee players (Turner) and he got the game-winning hit from his star-in-the-making (Soto).

I can’t quite believe it.  I was dismayed when the team went down 2-0 five minutes into the game.  I pretty much gave up when our 2-3-4 hitters went down meekly in the 6th.

Bravo to the team, bravo to fans.

Is this new #1 best ever Nats game?   Here’s my current top 5:

  1. Werth walkoff, 2012 NLDS game 4
  2. First ever home game, Apr 2005
  3. Nats park opener, apr 2008
  4. Lobaton homer/NLDS game 2 come back win
  5. Zimmermann no-hitter to close 2014 reg season

Does this game supplant Werth walkoff?

We’ll post next once we see how the NLDS schedule shakes out.  I wonder how many days rest our two big arms need?

 

Written by Todd Boss

October 2nd, 2019 at 10:53 am