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Rule 5 Analysis/Prediction for 2019

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Is Sterling Sharp getting the call? Photo unk via talknats.com

Is Sterling Sharp getting the call? Photo unk via talknats.com

Welcome to the annual Rule 5 analysis post.

Lets take a look at who is eligible, who might get protected and make some predictions.  I’ve got the Nats 40-man roster at 30 now (as of 11/6/19, after all FAs and opt outs), so there’s plenty of room to add names and do their off-season work.  But, this team also needs to sign a bunch of FAs.  But there’s a slew of options-challenged players who might get waived this off-season.  So it’ll be an interesting Rule-5 year, and an interesting off-season in terms of roster manipulation.

As always, using the indispensable Nationals resource sites Draft tracker (at its new location, now maintained by Luke Erickson) and the Big Board, and then looking up candidate acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts on who might merit protection.   Also incredibly useful is Roster Resource’s Nats Roster, which keeps track of options, rule-5 status and the like.

The quick Rule-5 rules for 2019; any 4-year college-aged draftee from 2016 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee/International Free Agent from 2015 or before is newly eligible this year, assuming they were at least 18 as of June 5th of that year.  There’s always a couple of guys who have specific birthdays that move them up or down one way or the other; i’ll depend on the Roster Resource rules and the Draft Tracker for exact details.

One last thing: here was our 2019 AFL Roster (also here at milb.com’s site).  Often times teams put Rule-5 guys onto AFL rosters to get one last look at them against top quality performance to see if they’re worth protecting.  Of course, this practice also puts a huge spotlight onto those players for opposing teams and their scouts…

  • Rule 5 eligible: Sterling Sharp, Nick Banks, Andrew Lee, Jakson Reetz
  • Not: Luis Garcia, Cole Freeman, Nick Raquet, Jacob Condra-Bogan, Pearson McMahon, K.J. Harrison

Newly Eligible 2016 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Nick Banks, 2016 4th rounder LF who ascended to Harrisburg in 2019.  Decent numbers and hit pretty consistently from High-A to AA this year, but he’s a corner outfielder who hit one homer in 45 AA games.  You need more power than that to ascend.  I mention him here b/c of draft pedigree, not because I think he’s going to be protected.  I don’t think anyone could see him sticking on a MLB roster or competing with an aging ML veteran on a non-guaranteed deal.
  • Armond Upshaw, 2016 11th round OF who is still in low-A; no jeopardy of getting picked.
  • Jack Sundberg: 2016 26th round CF who repeated high-A for the third year in a row this season; no jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Hayden Howard, 2016 12th round middle reliever who has good numbers but has never pitched above High-A ball; no real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Ryan Williamson, 2016 15th rounder who missed two full years with injury and is only in low-A; no real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Ben Braymer, 2016 18th rounder LHP starting pitcher who is one of the best draft picks (in terms of value vis-a-vis draft position) the team has had this decade.  He has now risen to AAA’s rotation … where he proceeded to get shelled thsi year (7.20 ERA in 13 starts).  Hard to tell if that’s the level or the PCL; i’m going to go latter since he maintained sub 3.00 ERAs at most of his stops as he ascended the minors.  I think its worth protecting a home grown lefty starter who they drafted and paid a paltry $100k signing bonus for.
  • Jacob Howell: 2016 21st rounder, missed all of 2018 with injury, pitched mostly in Low-A this year; no real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Sterling Sharp: 2016 22nd rounder, missed a chunk of the 2019 season with injury, but improved year over year in his AA results and then went and pitched pretty well in the AFL (6 starts, 24 innings 4 runs allowed).   I think someone would take a flier on him, especially a tanking team (which now defines 1/3rd of the league).  I think he should be protected.

Its worth noting that the team already has added two guys from this class who likely would have been Rule-5 this year anyway: Tres Barrera and Jake Noll both would have otherwise been on this list.

So, two candidates from this group fo r me in Braymer and Sharp

 


Newly Eligible 2015 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection

  • None

The Nats generally don’t pick HS players, so the picking here is always slim.  But we’re down to just 8 players remaining in the system at all from the 2015 draft class, and none of them were HS draftees.

Zero candidates from this group.


Newly Eligible 2015 signed IFAs under consideration for protection:

  • Brailin Mesa, a 2015 IFA DH who never came state-side and who probably was released after the 2017 season, but sometimes milb.com’s records are not up-to-date.
  • Gerald De La Cruz: also a 2015 IFA pitcher who never came stateside and has no results past 2017: like Mesa above, probably was released after the 2017 season.
  • Omar Meregildo, a 2015 IFA light hitting 3B who split time in 2019 between low- and high-A.  No real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Gilberto Chu, an 2015 IFA RHP who has now appeared in short-season Auburn for 3 seasons running.  Good numbers, but no real jeopardy of getting selected.
  • Jhonathan German, 2015 IFA RHP closer who ascended 3 levels in 2019, ending the year in AA.  Good numbers across his career, especially once he abandoned starting.  I’d have a hard time believing he’d get picked though, with just 13 IP above A-ball.  Perhaps we revisit his candidacy next season if he continues to pitch well in AA for a team that’s always looking for relievers.
  • Felix Taveras, 2015 IFA now age 24, missed all of 2018 and threw just a handful of complex-league innings in 2019.  Not getting picked.
  • Tomas Alastre: 2015 IFA RHP starting pitcher who, inexplicably to me, has been a rotation mainstay in Hagerstown for two full seasons running despite his posting an ERA north of 5.00 consistently throughout that time period.  Is this a case where the team is just keeping him around to eat innings?  I can’t imagine that being the case with so many arms getting drafted each year.   That being said, he’s only 21, so he’s still quite young even though he’s now rule-5 eligible, but he’s at no risk of getting picked in 2019’s rule-5 draft.
  • Jhon Romero: 2015 IFA signing, trade bounty for Brandon Knitzler last year during the infamous purging of “bad apples.”  He missed most of 2019 with injury while repeating high-A; little chance of getting selected.

Zero candidates from this group.


Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note: 2015 or prior college draftees still hanging out in the system, or 2014 and prior HS/IFAs.

2015 Draftees

  • Rhett Wiseman, 2015 3rd round left-handed hitting OF out of Vanderbilt.  Repeated High-A in 2018 and drastically improved his OPS, but it seems to be on the back of perhaps going for more of an all or nothing approach: he increased his homer output, but also struck out 122 times in 407 PAs.  In 2019, he ascended to AA and hit just .215.  The team invested a big bonus in him, and it hasn’t panned out.  I really liked this pick at the time, but then watched him hit in the CWS that year and thought he’d have a hard time adjusting to pro pitching.  So far, my amateur observation seems to be holding true.  He seems likely to pass through Rule-5 once again and hit MLFA after 2020.
  • Ian Sagdal, 2015 16th round senior sign who has hung around, ascending to AA for 2019 and hitting decently.  He’s listed as a 1B but had just 8 homers this year; that’s not going to get him Rule-5’d.
  • Andrew Lee: 2015 11th rounder basically missed all of 2017 with injury, was decent as a swingman in Low-A in 2018, then pitched pretty well in the same swing-man role, ascending to AA in 2019.  Just a half a season above A-Ball; i still don’t see him as a candidate to get picked, but could turn into a James Bourque-like figure for this team next season if he continues to pitch well.  He was sent to the AFL, so scouts got a look at him; is this enough to expose him?
  • Tommy Peterson, 2015 12th rounder, has now missed the last two full years; he last appeared at the end of 2017.  Surprised he’s still with the organization, not a candidate to get picked.
  • Ryan Brinley, 2015 27th rounder, has also missed the entirety of the last two seasons with injury yet remains on the roster.
  • Jorge Pantoja has bounced around the A-levels for four years now, ending last year with a 2.59 ERA in High-A … his fourth year running in Potomac.  not a candidate to get picked.
  • Andrew Istler, our trade bounty from the Dodgers for Ryan Madsen.  He had very solid numbers in AA in a middle relief role, even earning a stellar AAA call-up.  He’s an undersized Duke grad, 23rd round pick who has done well.  I wonder if his pedigree makes him less likely to get picked.  In 2019, he was MIA for months, finally got assigned … to High-A despite being in AAA a couple of years ago.  He posted sub 1.00 ERAs in both his stops this year but is now a 27yr old RHP middle reliever.  If someone didn’t pick him last year, its hard to believe he’s ever going to get picked.  At age 27 with solid middle relief numbers, it isn’t out of the realm of possible though that a team could pick him and have him be their 7th man in an 8-man pen…

2014 Draftees

  • Jakson Reetz, 3rd round C from 2014.  Reetz was paid a big bonus out of HS, but has struggled for years.  In 2019, repeating high-A for the 3rd successive year he lifted his OPS above .800 in a split-duty role, and was sent to the AFL.  He only appeared in a few games in Arizona; unknown why.  Its hard to see a player getting Rule-5 drafted without having never ascended above A-Ball.
  • Austin Davidson started out as a corner OF and 13th rounder in 2014, now a light hitting middle infielder.  Started the year in AA, demoted to high-A.  Not a threat to get drafted.
  • Alec Keller: a 2014 17th rounder who has ascended now to AAA, but is a high-average, low-power corner OF who seems like a classic 6-year FA AAA player who will get one more year in Fresno in 2020.
  • Robbie Dickey, a 2014 4th rounder who now has no results for 3 successive years on milb.com; it seems likely that he got released after the 2017 season and the site just isn’t updated.
  • Tyler Mapes, a great story who continues to hang in there.  He was a 30th rounder in 2014, missed all of 2017 with injury but came back with a vengeance in 2018, dominating Potomac and holding his own with a 3.95 ERA in AA. In 2019 as a full time starter in AA he took a step back; 5.00 ERA across 26 starts, showing  hit-ability and not a ton of swing and miss.  He’s not likely to get picked, but is likely to stay in the rotation in 2020.
  • Taylor Gushue, a 2014 Draftee out of Florida who has now made his way all the way to AAA in 2018, then hit .312 as the part-time starter in Fresno this year.  I said this last year, but the lack of Catchers on the Nat’s 40-man and the fact that one of them (Raudy Read) has 63 days of service, a PED suspension and zero options seems like they should think about adding more catching depth.  I’d add Gushue … but its also worth noting that despite the catching depth issues in the sport … the fact that Gushue would have to stay on a 25-man roster all year (essentially being the backup/play twice a week guy) means it’d be a huge risk to take him.  More likely is that the Nats wait it out and he’s the first catcher to get added to provide cover for Kurt Suzuki and whoever else we sign this coming off-season.
  • Nick Wells, our trade bounty for Austin Adams at the beginning of 2019 (bet the team wishes they had that trade back; Adams struck out 51 in 31 innings for Seattle and was a solid 7th inning guy … something we could really have used … but I digress).  We got back Wells, a local kid (Battlefield HS) who for reasons unknown sat in XST for most of the summer, then got just 12 innings for Low-A Hagerstown … the same level he initially pitched in four seasons ago.   I’m sure he isn’t getting picked, but I also question what the plan is for Wells at this point.

IFAs: 2014 and older

  • Luis Reyes: finally made it to AA in 2018, and got shelled (12 starts, 5.18 ERA).  Nonetheless the team included him in their 2018 AFL roster, where he got even more shelled (4 starts, 12 innings, 22 runs allowed).  This pushed him back to Potomac for 2019, where he lost his rotation spot and struggled in middle relief.  No jeopardy of getting picked.
  • Joan Baez went 9-9 with a 3.79 ERA as a full time starter for Potomac in 2018, then moved into relief (finally) in 2019, where he moved up the chain and ended the year in AAA.  He had good numbers in AA, not as good in AAA (but who does), but concerningly had more walks than Ks in Fresno.  He’s only 24.  This team is always looking for relievers.  I wonder if he’s worth protecting at this point.
  • Telmito Agustin, a LF who hit pretty well for High-A in 2018 (OPS of .822) … then repeated the level in 2019.  Not a candidate to get picked.
  • Steven Fuentes, who forced a mid-season promotion to High-A where he posted a 3.00 ERA in 45 middle-relief type innings in 2018 … and got PED suspended in 2019.  Not a candidate
  • Gilbert Lara, the 3B prospect the Nats received from Milwaukee in the Gio Gonzalez trade.   He played all of 2018 in Low-A, then jumped up to High-A mid-2019 but is no candidate for drafting.
  • Malvin Pena basically missed two full seasons, spent entirety of 2019 in High-A’s rotation and posted an ERA north of 6.00.  Not a candidate to get picked.
  • Aldrem Corredor, a 1B who has hung around since 2012 in the system, played 2019 in high-A as a 1b for average kind of guy; not a candidate.
  • Omar Meregildo: a light hitting part time 3B who played in Potomac this year; not a candidate.
  • Angel Guillen, a RHP reliever who pushed his way up to Potomac this year with solid numbers.  I like him in 2020 to get to AA; not a candidate.

One solid candidate from this group (Gushue), two maybes (Baez, Istler)


So, who would I protect?

So, remember, if someone gets drafted they have to stick on someone else’s ACTIVE, 25-man (well, now 26-man) MLB roster the entirety of 2019.  So it has to be someone who could theoretically stick on a MLB roster.

  • Ben Braymer
  • Sterling Sharp

Who would I additionally consider?

  • Taylor Gushue
  • Joan Baez
  • Andrew Istler

Here’s some other opinions in the Natmosphere on the same topic (i’ll add them as I see them):


For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 20182017201620152014201320122011, and 2010.

By year, here’s who I predicted we’d add and who we did add.

  • 2019: Predicted Braymer, Sharp.  Actual: tbd
  • 2018: Predicted: Bourque, Mills, Istler.  Actual: just Bourque.
  • 2017: Predicted: Gutierrez, Gushue, Ward, Baez.  Actual: Gutierrez and Jefry Rodriguez.
  • 2016: Predicted Voth, Bautista.  Actual: Voth, Bautista, Marmolejos, Read and Skole.
  • 2015: Predicted Kieboom, Bostick, Marmolejos-Diaz.  Actual: Kieboom, Bostick, Lee
  • 2014: Predicted Cole, Skole, Goodwin.  Hedged on Grace, Martin and Difo.  Actual: Cole, Goodwin, Difo, Grace.
  • 2013: Predicted Solis as the only lock (Souza already added).  Possibles mentioned in order Barrett, Taylor, Grace, Holland.  Actual: Solis, Barrett, Taylor.
  • 2012: Predicted Karns and McCoy, with Hood and Rosenbaum as maybes.  Actual: Karns and Davis.  I think we were all surprised by Davis’ inclusion, despite his good AA numbers that year.
  • 2011: Predicted Norris as a lock, guessed strongly on Moore, Meyers and Komatsu.  Actual: Norris, Moore, Solano, Perez.    This was poor analysis on my part; I did not consider the IFAs newly eligible.
  • 2010: Predicted Marrero, Meyers and Mandel.  Actual: Marrero, Carr and Kimball.
  • 2009: pre-dates my blog and thus no predictions, but Actual was Jaime, Thompson and Severino.
  • 2008: I might be wrong, but I don’t see any evidence of the team protecting *anyone* prior to the Rule-5 draft.  A bit of an indictment of the farm system at the time, I’d say :-)

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.

 

Nats in Game 7 after getting swept at home: who thought we’d be here?

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HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 29:  Dave Martinez #4 of the Washington Nationals argues with umpire Gary Cederstrom #38 as he is ejected and is held back by Bob Henley #14 against the Houston Astros after the top of the seventh inning in Game Six of the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 29, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775425079 ORIG FILE ID: 1184288825

Martinez really didn’t like the call last night :-).  Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images via usatoday.com

After getting brutalized in a home sweep that cost the fan base a lot of momentum and positive thoughts, who came to our rescue in one of the best games I’ve ever watched?

Stephen Strasburg, that’s who!

In what might now be the seminal performance of his career, Strasburg pitches into the 9th against one of the most stacked lineups ever put together (and that’s not hyperbole; by team wRC this is the best offense since the famed 1927 Yankees), recovering from two early runs to put down the Astros time and again, including an amazing streak against their top 6 hitters in the 7th and 8th to help keep the game out of reach while the offense came around and finally broke through after three straight games of ineptitude.

What a game.

We’ll have a crowd-sourcing discussion after the season ends on where to possibly “rank” all the games we’ve now lived through this post season.  For 15 years we’ve clung to regular season games and non-series winning games as our “top ever games,” but now we have a slew of 2019 post-season performances to choose from and it’ll take some thought.  But I’ll tell you how: last night’s game is going to be up there.

As for tonight?  The salient fact I keep pointing out to doubting friends: the Nats are now 9-0 this post-season when Strasburg or Max Scherzer starts.  9-0.  And Guess who goes for the Nats tonight?  Now, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be the same Scherzer … not sure why he was in the bullpen throwing last night if he couldn’t move his arm two days ago, but perhaps he was just trying to work off stress.  Nonetheless, i’ll be shocked if he goes 5 tonight.  But we’ve got a huge advantage thanks to Strasburg’s start; our bullpen threw a collective 11 pitches last night.  Daniel Hudson is fresh, as is Tanner Rainey and Patrick Corbin (god help me if he gets in for more than a token appearance tonight), and Sean Doolittle was barely taxed.  meanwhile Houston had to put innings on half their pen, including most of the guys they’d bring in to spell tonight’s starter Zack Greinke if he runs into trouble.

I thought the Nats could win this in seven.  I certainly did not think the first six games would be won by road teams.  But here we are anyway.  Can’t wait to watch tonight!

—————

Obligatory opinions on “the Turner play”

You can make a simple argument that, because the ball hit Turner and he wasn’t in the runner’s box, that he is out.  By the letter of the law (rule 5.09(a)(11)) that’s the case.  Fair enough.  But its still a judgement call.  Just because you aren’t in that box, doens’t mean  you’re automatically out.

however:

  • Turner had no intent of interfering with that throw
  • Turner ran in a straight line from where he hit the ball to 1B, which is kind of problematic, especially since a runner has to come BACK into fair territory to hit 1st even if they’re in the correct box while running.
  • Its a shitty rule that MLB, long before this play, has recognized is problematic but, because baseball, they havn’t fixed yet.
  • The play basically rewards the defensive team for a poor throw to first, which is counter to the rules in general; aren’t you supposed to penalize the team that has played poorly, not the reverse?
  • I’m pretty sure Turner beat that throw anyway; how can you interfere with a play after you’ve reached base?  At worst you declare the play dead and put runners on first and second.
  • All of this said … I still can’t believe the umpires chose to insert themselves in this large of a manner into this game, after all the strike zone shenanigans from Game 5 AND an umpire basically admitting he purposely took a strike away from a Nats pitcher to “spite” the catcher for some reason.
  • MLB is probably thanking their lucky stars it didn’t affect the outcome of the game.

Anthony Rendon‘s homer right afterwards was a big middle finger to karma.  And just like that, the Nats had their mojo back.

Lets hope it rolls into tonight’s game 7.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

October 30th, 2019 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Nats in General

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 Game 1 quick recap; shocking win for Nats

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Can't even buy a beer; but he's already a post-season star. Photo via NYpost

Can’t even buy a beer; but he’s already a post-season star. Photo via NYpost

So, in my preview, I thought that the Nats really could “steal” one of the two games in Houston.   I never thought they’d steal game 1 by getting to Gerrit Cole.  But they did; putting more runs on him (5) in just a handful of innings than he’d given up in 22+ across three previous post season starts.  So much for narrative.  And I don’t think he pitched “badly” per se; i think the Nats just hit the ball well and made him pay for upper-zone fastball misses like other teams have not.

Hand it to this team; this was a complete team effort to win.   Max Scherzer just didn’t look sharp on the night, burning through nearly 110 pitches in 5 innings.  He didn’t seem like he had any command of his off-speed stuff, and Houston is just too good of a hitting team to not make you pay.  Patrick Corbin worked his way through his mid-start relief inning (notably; does this push his start to game 4 instead of game 3?  Not a bad idea honestly if you think Anibal Sanchez is the hotter hand to take possibly two post-season starts), Daniel Hudson bailed out the shaky outing from Tanner Rainey, and Sean Doolittle kept it together to close it out.  Great pitcher management on the night; Davey Martinez did not hesitate to yank Rainey and keep the inning from getting out of hand.

Then there’s the hitting: up and down the order, the Nats made it happen.  Credit to Ryan Zimmerman for putting the team back into the game, of course credit to “working his way towards a post-season MVP award” Juan Soto for having a game of the ages on the biggest possible stage.  But up and down the order, this team got timely hits.

I thought the Nats might be able to get to Verlander in game 2; can they possibly take two games on foreign soil again?

One other point: one through nine, this Astros lineup is stacked (well, at least 1-7).  Geeze.  All night i’m chewing nails watching them try to get through this order.  Giving up “only” four runs seemed like an accomplishment; the Nats are going to have to hit this series moreso than I thought just to keep up.

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.