Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for October, 2012

Game 4 Recap: Detwiler defines the word Irony with 6 strong innings


Detwiler shuts down the Cards in Game 4. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via

The movie The Matrix has been on the movie channel rerun cycle lately, so if I may quote the character Morpheus, “Life it seems is not without a sense of irony.”  The irony of Ross Detwiler being the guy who bails out the Nats with his stellar Game 4 outing is this; had Stephen Strasburg been active, it would most likely have been Detwiler who would have made way in the rotation.  Instead he (finally) gave the Nats an effective start, going 6 innings, allowing just 3 hits and an un-earned run in the Nats 2-1 walk-off win.

Using a sinking fastball with great effect, Detwiler controlled the powerhouse St. Louis offense and kept the ball on the ground; 11 of his 18 outs recorded were ground ball outs.  He was slightly wild on the night (3 walks and only 59 of his 104 pitches for strikes) but umpire Jim Joyce‘s wide and varying strike zone helped both pitchers put up excellent lines on the night.  Detwiler, the least experienced of any of our starters and a guy who most thought wouldn’t even be in the rotation this year (I certainly didn’t think so as spring training unfolded), was the one guy who has stepped up and pitched to his capabilities.

The game of course will be remembered for Jayson Werth‘s fantastic 13 pitch at-bat, culminating with a walk-off home-run off Lance Lynn for what had to be one of the more memorable games in the team’s brief history.  Good for Werth and great for this team.  I’ve already got the image saved as an iconic moment in this franchise.

Other odds-and-ends:

  • Thanks for pre-empting the game for an HOUR, TBS.  This was an unanticipated problem of trying to DVR the game and watch it later.  In addition to avoiding all social media, news sites and phone alerts so as not to have the game outcome spoiled, now I may have to start taping on multiple channels.  So I completely missed the first four innings.   Hence not so much analysis of Detwiler’s outing.
  • How about Jordan Zimmermann in the first relief appearance of his major league career?  He was throwing harder than I’ve ever seen him throw; touching 97 on more than a few occasions.  His mph was no stadium gun hype either: pitch f/x shows a max of 97.2 and an average of 96.73 for Zimmermann.   Meanwhile, here’s the pitch f/x data for his start on 10/8: average 94.08, max of 95.6.    That’s 1.6 mph more on his max effort fastball.  He absolutely mowed down the heart of the St. Louis order (aided again by a questionable strike 3 call on Matt Holliday that just left him laughing).  I figured Zimmermann was going for more than an inning, with Davey Johnson perhaps thinking the game might go long.  Instead, it seems he was playing the odds that Craig Stammen wasn’t up for the task.
  • Meanwhile, how about 9 straight punch outs to end the game?  It was refreshing to “remember” what the back-end of this bullpen is capable of.

This is the Nats pitching effort we’ve been accustomed to, and have waited for all series.  Now, suddenly, would you bet against this team in Game 5?  We have talked a lot about momentum and how the Nats had little heading into the post-season; they’ve certainly got it now.  Adam Wainwright should regress back towards the mean from his Game 1 start, and Gio Gonzalez should “egress” back towards his form of the bulk of the season.  Game 5 could be a pretty special experience.

Game 3 Recap: Jackson makes one mistake, offense misses in the clutch


Jackson gets hit for 4 runs in 5 innings. Photo AP via

The title says it all.  Edwin Jackson missed his target in the 2nd inning, it turned into a 3-run homer (from a #8 hitter no-less) and that was more than enough offense than the Cards needed en route to peppering the Nats pitching staff for 8 runs and 14 hits in a game 3 romp 8-0.  One mistake is all it took, but you can’t make a mistake middle-in with two guys on base to a professional hitter.  There was no need to watch the game after the 5th inning; it was clear this team wasn’t going to get to Chris Carpenter nor whoever else the Cardinals brought in after he hit his pitch limit.

Where is the Nats offense?  More to the point, where is all our clutch hitting?   We had the lead-off hitter on three times; a runner on first with none out has an Run Expectancy of about .84; meaning we’d expect that runner to score 84% of the time.  Instead we got 0 runs out of any of those situations.  The team has to get something out of that bases-loaded first inning, has to get something out of the third inning rally.  We went 0-8 with runners in scoring position, leaving 11 guys on base.  Where is Adam LaRoche this series?  Or Michael Morse?  We need these middle-of-the-order guys to produce if we’re going to win games.  The St. Louis #8 hitter was clutch yesterday; our guys havn’t been clutch (arguably) in 3 weeks.

It doesn’t matter if we still had Stephen Strasburg in the rotation if you don’t score runs.  We’ve scored 7 runs in 3 games, four of which were essentially meaningless as we were getting killed in game 2.  Meanwhile the Cards now stand at 22 runs and counting, an eerie repeat of the late September blasting we took in the 3-game series in St. Louis.

Ross Detwiler gets a shot in a do-or-die game tomorrow.  Lets hope he finally gets some run support.

Written by Todd Boss

October 11th, 2012 at 9:20 am

First “Wish we had Strasburg” story from National Media


Strasburg sitting in the dugout during the NLDS, where he'll be for the rest of the playoffs. Photo Masn screen shot via nats enquirer blog

Rant on.  I couldn’t help myself today…

It was great to see that they couldn’t even wait until GAME THREE of the divisional series to post the first “Gee wish we had Stephen Strasburg” story.  Here’s the link, courtesy of Ken Rosenthal.  I’ll bet he had this article in the can weeks ago just waiting for a slow news day to post it.

Rosenthal quotes an anonymous player who doesn’t agree with the shutdown Situation, who said that “the team would be up 2-0″ if they had Strasburg.”   Such a gutless reporting technique; notice there was nothing other than a passing mention that there are clubhouse guys who agree with the shutdown.  Just cherry-picking opinions (of which there are dozens in a clubhouse) until he found one that enabled him to write the story he wanted to write.

He talks about how the Braves “handled” Kris Medlen so that he was still pitching in the post-season.  There’s no way Medlen-to-Strasburg comparisons are correct.  Medlen was absolutely not in the starting rotation discussion in Atlanta, and if he was he was 8th or 9th in line.  And there’s no way that Medlen was anything other than found gold to the Braves in terms of how good a starter he would turn out to be.  And there’s nobody who can tell me any differently.  Lastly, do you think perhaps the Braves would rather have used Medlen from the start of the season, had they known how dominant he’d be??  Do you think they would have finished in 2nd place in this division had they had Medlen all season?  Because last time I checked, the Braves lost their one-and-done WITH MEDLEN ANYWAY and are playing golf while the Nats are sitting pretty in the divisional series.

Nobody ever mentions this, but Strasburg was mediocre down the stretch.  He had a 4.14 ERA in his last 10 starts, a 4.50 ERA in his last handful of games, alternating between excellent and awful.   You could argue “arbitrary endpoints” but to me it sounds like a guy running out of gas, no?  Who is to say that the team wouldn’t have recognized that he was running on fumes anyway, and shut him down at the time they did regardless of an innings limit?  Why does nobody talk about this fact?  That’s because the National media narrative w/r/t Strasburg is LAZY.  Regurgitate the same stories, talk about the same platitudes of there being “no proof that shutting him down isn’t the best thing to do.”

Here’s my analogy; if  you had heart surgery and your cardiologist only told you to pitch 160 innings the next year, you’d do it and not complain about it right?  Well Strasburg’s ARM SURGEON advised the team on this limit after having ARM SURGERY, and the team followed it.  I don’t think we’d be hearing all these back seat pundits talking about how the Nats are idiots for resting a guy if it was his heart that was cut and not his elbow.  To say nothing of the fact that he’s young (24), under team control for at least four more years , and the team isn’t exactly looking like a one-year wonder right now, fielding the 3rd youngest pitching squad and the youngest hitting squad in the major leagues.   Every core player and pitcher is locked up or under team control for at least three-four years.  There’s NO reason to think that this team won’t be contending for years to come, irrespective of what any other team in the division does.

The Nats got a split in St. Louis.  That’s the best they could hope for against a dangerous opponent.  Wainwright isn’t going to strike out 2 batters an inning every time he goes out.  The Nats BLASTED Lohse this season.  Carpenter has what, three starts this year?  And the last time Jackson pitched against St. Louis at home, he went 8 shutout innings.  There’s more to this series than just Strasburg and St. Louis; the National media should try covering the Nationals for a change.

*sigh*.  So sick of hearing about Strasburg.  Can’t we talk about the Nats?!  They did have the best record in baseball after all.

/Rant off.  Stepping down from sandbox.

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2012 at 10:49 am

NLDS Game 2 Recap: Zimmermann does not Execute


Jordan Zimmermann did not have his best command Monday afternoon. PHoto JB Forbes/McClatchy-Tribune News Service via

There really isn’t much analysis needed of last night’s game 2 12-4 pounding; for me it was clear from the beginning that Jordan Zimmermann was missing his spots.  After a clean 1st inning (which included a relatively lucky strike-3 call on leadoff hitter Jon Jay) the potent St. Louis lineup teed off on mistake after mistake from Zimmermann.  A scorched line drive to third, then a well struck single up the middle, then a double off the wall, all seemingly within a blink of the eye.  Only Jay’s bloop hit to drive in the 2nd inning’s fourth run was not “well struck.”

Zimmermann was missing his spots, plain and simple.  Instead of getting a ball on the corner, it was drifting over the plate.  Instead of keeping the ball at the knees, it was floating upwards into the hitting zone.  St. Louis can hit the ball.  They’re in the top 3 in the NL in most standard offensive measures  (BA, wRC+, OPS, wOBA).  And, as we saw last night, they can power the ball pretty easily against mistakes.

When Craig Stammen relieved Zimmermann and couldn’t stop the bleeding, I stopped watching.  Yes our team has shown it can make up leads, but for me a 7-1 lead in the 4th against a playoff team is pretty much the definition of insurmountable.  I was rooting to just leave Stammen in the game to save the pen frankly.  We did get a chance though to get everyone in the bullpen an inning; kinda like the way you manage little league.  So there’s that.

So much for home/away, day/night and days rest split analysis.  When your starter can’t execute, you don’t have much chance on the night.  Its one of the reasons we play 162 games (these off-nights for good pitchers even themselves out over time), but also one of the reasons the playoffs are such a crap shoot (Aces get blown out and 5th starters pitch lights out in the playoffs all the time).

Lets just hope that scoring 12 runs made the Cardinals really tired (you know, from all the running around the bases they had to do) so they’re at a disadvantage in game 3.

Written by Todd Boss

October 9th, 2012 at 9:56 am

NLDS Game 1 Recap: Gonzalez the Escape Artist


The team escaped Game 1 with a victory despite Gonzalez’s struggles. Photo Joy Absalon/US Presswire via

Nats take Game 1 of the NLDS 3-2.

You know your pitcher is having a rough day when the score line reads “2-0-0.”  As in, 2 runs, 0 hits and 0 errors.  That was the score at the end of the second, an inning in which Nats starter Gio Gonzalez had walked no less than four batters, thrown a wild pitch and given up a sac fly for the second run despite giving up zero hits.

TBS broadcast a stat showing Gonzalez’s ERA on various days of rest; the key stat was that he had a 5.80 ERA when he had more than 5 days rest.  His days rest entering Game one of the playoffs?  Nine days.  He last threw in Philadelphia on September 27th.

Being able to rest your starters and “set up” your post season pitching rotation can be a blessing and a curse.  Today it was a curse; clearly Gonzalez was overthrowing, missing his spots, and his pitching line showed it.  He didn’t trust his curve early, was relying solely on his fast ball and couldn’t locate it to his desire.  To his credit he settled down for a couple innings, got a couple of very timely plays in the field, and exited having given up a sole meaningless hit to go with seven walks in 5 innings.  To me it looked like he was over-throwing, that he was “too strong.”  Starters are creatures of habit; throw one day, rest the 2nd, toss the 3rd, bullpen work the 4th, rest the 5th and then repeat.  When too many extra days are thrown in, younger guys can get off schedule.

In the first inning I thought perhaps Gonzalez was trying to “save” his curve for later in the game; a great strategy for professional pitchers who can do it.  Instead of showing guys your whole arsenal the first time through the order, pound them with fastballs and make them hit your pitch.  Then, in their 2nd and 3rd at bats mix in curves and off-speed stuff as out pitches as needed.  If you play your cards right, you can work through each hitter’s 3 at-bats keeping them off-balance and suddenly you’re deep into the 6th or 7th inning as a starter.   As it turned out, he wasn’t trusting his curve at all, and suddenly he was pressing to hit his spots.

Craig Stammen escaped an incredible jam in the bottom of the 7th, having loaded the bases with none out.  Usually that situation has a run expectancy of somewhere greater than 2 runs but the Nats defense came through; an Ian Desmond force out at the plate for the first out then a clutch 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.  Despite Tyler Moore‘s late inning heroics, this was the key of the win.

Adam Wainwright showed exactly why he’s a Cy Young candidate when he’s healthy; his curve-ball was absolutely fantastic on the night.  The already-strike-out prone Nats fanned 10 times, many times on a fantastic curve that Wainwright was controlling and commanding to the outside corner.  I was surprised when he got the hook despite being on 100 pitches; as it turned out he probably wasn’t going to finish 7 complete regardless.  You can’t really fault the bullpen management by Cards manager Mike Matheny; he had his 8th inning guy on the mound (Mitchell Boggs) and the Nats beat him.

Other thoughts from watching the game:

  • I scoffed aloud when the TBS announcing crew spoke of Ryan Zimmerman‘s defensive prowness and said that “he rarely makes throwing errors.”  Really?  I know they don’t watch Nats games normally but the narrative behind Zimmerman’s throwing issues on non-pressure plays is well documented in DC.  He had 12 throwing errors on the year, and his 19 total errors tied him for 3rd in baseball.  Sure enough, a throwing error in the bottom of the 8th put the lead-off guy on board and caused the inning to be far more stressful than it needed to be for Tyler Clippard.  Guy on first with nobody out?  Roughly an 85% chance he scores.  For years I’ve defended Zimmerman and talked of the ridiculousness of “wasting” his defense by moving him to first, but the fact remains that every time he fields a routine ground ball I’m waiting for him to air-mail the throw.  When Anthony Rendon is ready to hit at the major league level, I think the talk is going to be about Zimmerman moving to first and not Rendon moving to another position.
  • For as clutch as Moore, Ian Desmond and Kurt Suzuki were on the day, Jayson Werth and Danny Espinosa were the opposite.  TWICE Werth squandered bases-loaded situations with two outs, leaving a total of 7 guys on base.  He may be our current lead-off hitter, but he’s normally a middle-of-the-order bat and he needs to capitalize on situations like that.  In Werth’s defense (no pun intended), the over-the-shoulder grab was a game-saver in its own right, so on a day when he disappointed at the plate he made up for it in the field.  Meanwhile it was not really shocking that Espinosa whiffed over and over; he led the NL in strikeouts on the season and was batting from his clearly weaker side.
  • How about Tyler Moore?  A fantastic job of hitting, hitting a pitcher’s pitch and not trying to do too much with it.  The old “game winning RBI” stat went the way of the Edsel, but tonight the clubhouse knows exactly who won that game.
  • Here’s to the return of “Clip-Store-and-Save.”  Clippard escaped Zimmerman’s throwing error in the 8th and Drew Storen dispatched two of the best St. Louis hitters in a 1-2-3 ninth.  The team has to feel great about its bullpen on the night.  No worries about using your 3 best guys; they’ll all be able to go tomorrow then get a travel day of rest.
  • The ridiculousness of the Hold stat: Boggs was credited with both a “Hold” and the Loss.  How is that possible?  Because he put on the go-ahead run that Mark Rzepcynski eventually allowed to score.  I think the Hold stat would carry more weight if it was withheld from relievers who don’t actually “hold” the game at bay and who contribute to the blown save and (if applicable) eventual loss.
  • The sideline reporter couldn’t help but compare the handling of Wainwright to Stephen Strasburg; both had Tommy John surgery last year.  He said the Cardinals “trusted” Wainwright more and let him pitch 200 innings.  But they didn’t really talk about the real difference: Wainwright is into the club option portion of his FA contract and is no sure thing to stay with the team beyond 2013.  He’s also 30.  Compare that to Strasburg; he’s 23 and is under team control for at least four more seasons, and is likely to be offered a multi-year contract that buys out those arbitration seasons and a couple of FA seasons beyond that (similar to the deal Gonzalez signed).  The point is; the Nats know they’ve got this guy for years to come and clearly played it conservative with his re-hab.  Why this point is glossed over by pundits and bloggers is beyond me.  Every time I hear some know-it-all say things like, “there’s no proof that letting him pitch more than 160 innings will harm him” my blood boils.  Well, there’s no proof to the other side either!  The fact is you can either be reckless with your major investment and overuse him, or you can play it safe and hope for the best.  There’s no guarantees in life and thus there’s no guarantee that Strasburg won’t blow out his elbow again in 2013.  But on this point I can guarantee; had the team continued to ride Strasburg down the stretch, push his innings to 190-200, and then he re-injures himself in the last week of September?  You can guarantee all those know-it-alls would immediately be clucking their tongues about how the Nats “mis-used” Strasburg and should have played it safer.  I don’t envy Mike Rizzo this post-season, because unless the Nats win the world series there’s going to be the inevitable stories about how the Nats would have won had they kept their Ace in the rotation.  To borrow a quote from Major League, “Well, I guess then there’s just one thing left to do … win the whole !?@& thing.”  (link NSFW)

Great comeback by the Nats, snatching a win in a game they probably should have lost.  They now have the split in St. Louis and are in a commanding position to win this short series.

Divisional Series Matchups – By the Starters


Verlander has already given the Tigers a huge leg up in their divisional series. Photo unknown via

As we have already seen in the playoffs thus far, predicting these coin-flip games, or predicting the outcome of individual games, is usually fool’s gold.  The first four games of the playoffs featured four Road-team wins.  You can argue that the higher-seeded teams in the divisional series are “better” than the home teams and this was to be expected … except that we’re talking about divisional winners/90+ win teams all around.  So far, the results have been surprising.

What’s also been tough this year is the lack of “announced” starters.  The Tigers seem to know exactly who they’re throwing for all 5 games of the series … but nobody else does.  Baltimore’s only announced starter (Jason Hammel) hasn’t pitched since September 11th and they have a handful of guys to pick from.  In last year’s version of this post I was able to do match-up analysis.  This year i’ll just look at the breadth of the starters to see who has an upper hand.

Washington-St. Louis:

  • Washington’s likely starters: Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson, Detwiler
  • St. Louis’ likely starters: Wainwright, Garcia, Carpenter, Lohse

I’ve already talked at depth about this series in my previous post.  Just looking at starters, its hard not to see the Nats as the favorite.  Our Ace Gonzalez goes twice in the series, St. Louis doesn’t hit righties as well.  Carpenter could be a difference maker.


  • Oakland’s likely starters: Parker, Milone, Anderson, Blackley
  • Detroit’s likely starters: Verlander, Fister, Sanchez and Scherzer

Justin Verlander is as close to unbeatable as there is, again evidenced by his game 1 dominance. (7ip, 3 hits one solo home run).  If he’s set to go in game 4, Oakland basically has to win out.  The rest of Detroit’s planned starters all sport sub 4.00 ERAs and all of them have at least a 113 ERA+.  In fact, how exactly is this only an 88 win team?  They have three unbelievable hitters in the middle of their order and plus starting pitching.  Max Scherzer and his dominating fastball apparently has recovered enough from a post-game celebration injury and should take the ball in Game 4.  Anibel Sanchez has been pretty effective since arriving from Miami in a mid-season trade (is Sanchez an off-season FA target of the Nats for their 5th starter?) and should give the Tigers a great chance to win his game 3 start.

Meanwhile, Oakland has a slew of rookie starters to choose from, all of whom sport sub 4.00 ERAs (the worst season ERA on the staff is Travis Blackley, who may or may not feature in the post-season).  Jarrod Parker threw game one and was effective, just not effective enough.  I was surprised to see Tommy Milone slated as the game 2 starter (perhaps chosen by virtue of his home/away splits; 2.74 ERA at home, 4.83 ERA away).  After that I honestly have no idea who we’ll see.  Oakland named 5 starters to its post-season roster, but AJ Griffen was pasted in his last outing and may be a long-man/emergency starter.  Brett Anderson is clearly the staff Ace at this point but only returned in late August.  Oakland’s been on such a tear though, its hard to bet against them.

Prediction: Verlander already gave Detroit the huge advantage with a game 1 victory.  Oakland needs more magic to advance.

New York-Baltimore:

  • Baltimore’s likely starters: Hammel, Tillman, Chen, Saunders
  • New York’s likely starters: Sabathia, Pettitte, Kuroda, Phelps?

Baltimore’s only announced starter as of today is Jason Hammel, who (as noted above) hasn’t thrown in 3 weeks.  After that?  The Orioles used 12 different starters on the season and at one point demoted 3/5ths of their rotation in a week.  They seem set to roll out the above named guys after Hammel, but this leaves out both Miguel Gonzalez and Steve Johnson, who were effective down the stretch.  I can’t find a link for Baltimore’s named divisional roster as of the time of this writing; which would have helped.

Meanwhile, looking at New York’s options past the above named three guys, I would initially guess that New York is going to a 3-man rotation for the playoffs.  What would you rather do?  See three effective veterans going on 3 days rest, or to give post-season starts to the likes of Phil Hughes or Ivan NovaFreddie Garcia lost his starting spot in September when Pettitte returned but isn’t an option because of how ineffective he’s been all season.  Would you give a game-4 start to rookie David Phelps?  It seems amazing to me that the highest payroll team in the league can’t find an effective 4th and 5th starter (getting Pettitte out of retirement?  Giving Garcia 17 starts after signing him off the trash heap?) and I think it continues to be their downfall (only one World Series appearance in 8 years).

New York swept the Orioles in the first series of the season, split a 2-game set in mid-season, but lost EVERY other series exactly 2 games to 1 on the season.  Is there any reason not to think they’ll do something similar in this series?  I see a split in Baltimore and then New York struggling to win 2 of 3 in New York.  Does Sabathia struggle going on 3 days rest?  More importantly, does Pettitte??  He should be on a golf course right now, not pitching in October.  It should be interesting to see if New York uses a 4th starter.

San Francisco-Cincinnati:

  • San Francisco’s likely starters: Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Lincecum
  • New York’s likely starters: Cueto, Arroyo, Latos, Bailey

We’ve already seen some interesting mishaps with Cincinnati’s best laid plans; Cueto out with bask spasms after just 2 batters, planned game 3 starter Latos forced into action.  Now it looks like Cueto will go game 3, with Bailey either pushed to game 4 or skipped outright since Latos only threw 4 innings in game 1.  Or perhaps Bailey goes game 4 with Latos pushed to a possible game 5.  Either way, the wild-cards here are Cueto’s health and Arroyo’s effectiveness.  If Cueto returns for a game 3 start, with Cincinnati haven already “stolen” a game against SF’s ace, the Giants are in trouble.

Meanwhile, has San Francisco made a decision on its starters?  They’ve named all 5 (the above four plus Barry Zito) to the post-season roster with an unnamed player dropping to the bullpen.  I think they’ll go with supposed ace Tim Lincecum as the 4th starter despite Zito’s numbers being superior. Meanwhile, Ryan Vogelsong has been vulnerable down the stretch despite good numbers on the season.

I think the back-end of the Giant’s rotation is a huge question mark, and if the Reds have already stolen a game against Cain, this series may be short.

Washington vs St. Louis – A tale of two Series


We need Edwin Jackson to perform against his former team. Photo Nats team official via

Ok, I’ll admit to being (as one commenter said recently) the “Eeyore” of Nationals fans.  I was scared of Atlanta and thought we would struggle to beat them in a short series starting on their turf.  I posted my baseball predictions and the two teams I thought would make the series both lost under sometimes interesting circumstances.  The unbeatable ace Kris Medlen got beat, losing a start for the Braves for the first time in 24 times (not that he really pitched badly; I’ll take a 6+ inning, 3 hit, 0 walk performance every day of the week.  Think about how difficult it is to give up 5 runs on 3 hits…).  So perhaps I’ll understand if you don’t really want to trust my opinion on predicting the divisional series.

Anyway.  So the Nats are traveling to St. Louis to start the NLDS.  If you’re looking for a guess as to who has the advantage by looking at the two meetings between the teams this year, you may find definitive proof wanting.

  • The Nats took 3 of 4 at the end of August from St. Louis, bombing them for 31 runs in four games and really roughing up three of St. Louis’ best starters (in order Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse, tagging each for 5-6 runs).  Only Jake Westbrook kept the Nats offense at bay, and as far as I can tell he’s not going to be on the playoff roster.  The one loss in this series was in one of the more amazing games the Nats played this year; they blew a 4 run first inning lead, fell behind 8-6 on Jordan Zimmermann‘s worst outing of the year, rallied to take the lead only to have the bullpen blow the game.
  • The Nats then traveled to St. Louis the last week of the season and were pretty much bombed themselves, with St. Louis scoring 26 runs in three games while taking 2 of 3 with our guys Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler having nights they’d rather forget.

So, which series is more educational to help predict what may happen now?  As commenters have pointed out, momentum means nothing and a shutout yesterday indicates nothing for today.  Fair enough.  We have learned that both offense are capable of really putting runs on the board, fast.  But that wasn’t exactly news either; the teams were 2nd (Cardinals) and 5th (Nationals) in runs scored in the NL this year.

What is fair to say is that the Nats probably have a more dangerous opponent in St. Louis; they’re a better offense, though they clearly hit right-handed hitters better than lefties (a 113 wRC+ versus right handed hurlers versus 104 versus lefties).  And they’re getting back a grizzled post-season veteran in Chris Carpenter just in time for the playoffs.  Carpenter is probably on most people’s short list for “guys i’d trust to start Game 7” in this league, and now the Nats seem set to face him in Game 3.

Lets look at the pitching matchups (some of this is a guess; official starters havn’t been named all the way through the 5-game series but the below should be what we see);

Series GM# Date/time (EST) Home-Visitor Home Starter Visiting Starter Advantage
NLDS 1-4 1 10/7/12 3pm Stl-WAS Wainwright Gonzalez Wsh
NLDS 1-4 2 10/8/12 4:30pm Stl-WAS Garcia Zimmermann Wsh
NLDS 1-4 3 10/10/12 ?time WAS-Stl Jackson Carpenter Stl
NLDS 1-4 4 10/11/12 ?time WAS-Stl Detwiler Lohse Tossup
NLDS 1-4 5 10/12/12 ?time WAS-Stl Gonzalez Wainwright Wsh

The good news: Washington has shown it can blast St. Louis starters.  As mentioned above, the team put up very big numbers on 3 of the 4 starters they anticipate seeing in this series.  Meanwhile, St. Louis gets to see our Ace Gio Gonzalez twice; the last time they saw him Gio pitched a 5-hit shutout.  They also see Detwiler in game 4, meaning three of their five potential series games are against Lefties (whom they are weaker against).  Zimmermann’s home-away splits favor him on the road, and I think Jackson will be looking for revenge for his poor outing against them the last time out.

I’ll admit; I was scared of Atlanta.  And I’m wary of St. Louis, especially after the late season spanking.  But, they didn’t see Gonzalez in that series and now are set to see him twice.  The Nats offense isn’t going to be afraid of any St. Louis starter (perhaps outside of Carpenter, who a lot of them havn’t seen in a while), and should put runs on the board.

Prediction?  I think the Nats have the pitching matchup advantage in 3 of the 5 games and may only be a pitching “underdog” in the Jackson-Carpenter start.  The goal is to get a split in St Louis and Gonzalez-Zimmermann gives them a great shot in both games.  I like our chances.

WC Pitching Matchup Analysis

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Kris Medlen looks to get the WC win for his team. Photo unk via

Here we go.  Baseball’s first wild card play-in games are set for tonight (at 5pm and 8:30pm eastern time), and its safe to say there was a surprise or two with the announced pitching matchups.  Lets look at the guys getting the starts and make some predictions on which team has the better chance based on the starter going.  I tried to do similar posts for the 2011 post season and, while they’re not always accurate, they’re fun to do and to read.

MLB Probable Pitchers are here, for tonight and the first few games of the playoffs.

1. St. Louis at Atlanta.  This is the game DC will be watching.  Match up: Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) versus Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA)

What more can we say about Medlen that we havn’t already said?  9 earned runs allowed in his 12 starts on the season, a 10-1 record with a 1.57 ERA.  He’s the modern day equivalent of Greg Maddux, a slight framed guy with beyond pinpoint control.   He achieved a bWAR of 4.4 despite getting just 12 starts on the year and pitching in middle relief until August.

Meanwhile, Kyle Lohse quietly had a great year.  Nobody’s mentioning his name in consideration of Cy Young despite a sterling record and great ancillary numbers (a 134 ERA+ is pretty good).  I think his selection is slightly surprising to go in this game; he’s probably the #3 starter on the team (behind Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright) but he’s clearly the best performer on the year.  As with Atlanta choosing Medlen over Tim Hudson, Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny is going with his hottest hand.

However, while Medlen is likely to pitch 6-7 innings of one-run ball, I think the Braves get to Lohse.  They’ve faced him once already this year and put 9 hits and 5 runs on him in May.  The Braves hit right-handers far better than lefties, but St. Louis really doesn’t have a great lefty starter choice.  Jaime Garcia may not even make the post-season roster (would you take Garcia ahead of Lance Lynn?).

The Pick: Atlanta in what could be a romp.

1. Baltimore at Texas.   Match up: Joe Saunders (3-3, 3.63 ERA after his trade to Baltimore) versus Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA)

Saunders is another surprising pick for Baltimore, who has gotten by on smoke & mirrors all season when it comes to starting pitching.  The Northern Virginia Native Saunders (West Springfield HS and then Virginia Tech) is essentially a MLB-average starter for his career (a 103 ERA+) but pitched above his career stats in Baltimore.

Not to denigrate Saunders, but he’s essentially a less stable version of John Lannan.  He’s a softer tossing lefty who is about MLB average over his career, but with higher and lower extremes from season to season.  Would you trust a do-or-die situation in the hands of Lannan?  Problem is, who else would you go with if you were the Orioles?  I thought they’d go with the hot-hand Steve Johnson or their ace Wei-Yin Chen.  We’ll see if this gamble pays off; the Rangers hit left-handed pitching pretty well (108 wRC+, .285 BA).

Meanwhile, this is a national stage for high priced Japanese import Darvish.  He had a relatively effective season (16-9, a 116 ERA+) and got a ton of strike outs (221 in just 191 1/3 innings pitched).  The Orioles definitely have some higher-strike out guys in the middle of their order (Chris Davis, Mary Reynolds).    Darvish never faced Baltimore this season, but had a strong September and seems hitting his stride entering the playoffs.

The Pick: Texas in a struggle.

MLB Post Season Predictions


How far will Atlanta get in Chipper Jones' swan song? Photo Thearon Henderson/Getty Images via

Everyone has to do a prediction piece, right?

First, a re-cap.  Here’s my predictions at the beginning of the season for how the divisions would shape up;

  • AL East: New York Yankees
  • AL Central: Detroit
  • AL West: Los Angeles Angels
  • AL Wild Cards: Tampa, Texas

AL Narrative: 2/3 for divisional winners and 3/5 for playoff teams.  Not bad.  Oakland and Baltimore shocked everyone, as did the Angels’ failure to really play to their talent/salary.

  • NL East: Philadelphia
  • NL Central: Milwaukee
  • NL West: San Francisco
  • NL Wild Cards: Atlanta, Cincinnati

NL Narrative: 1/3 on divisional winners, 3/5 on playoff winners.  It was hard to see Philadelphia falling to third place, just as it was hard to see Washington improve 17 games from 2011.

Now for the playoffs:

  • AL Wildcard: Texas over Baltimore
  • ALDS: Texas over New York Yankees
  • ALDS: Detroit over Oakland
  • ALCS: Texas over Detroit

AL Narrative: Texas loses the AL title on the last day of the season, but I still think they’re the best AL team.  This is the wake-up call they need to power through the playoffs.  The Yankees are given a huge disservice to have to face Texas on the road right out of the gate; a matchup I don’t think they can win.  Detroit could get the ALCS win but I don’t doubt it; Texas owned them this season (winning 3 of 4 in Detroit and 7 of 10 overall).   Oakland are red-hot but can’t match up with Detroit’s pitching.

  • NL Wildcard: Atlanta over St. Louis
  • NLDS: Atlanta over Washington
  • NLDS: Cincinnati over San Francisco
  • NLCS: Atlanta over Cincinnati

NL Narrative: Atlanta throws unbeatable ace Kris Medlen to win the play-in game, then promptly takes the first two games of the NLDS on the heels of their sweep of the Nats in mid September.  The Nats can’t overcome Medlen’s only NLDS start and lose the series when they can’t sweep a 3-game set here in Washington next week.  Meanwhile San Francisco’s bats go quiet against Cincinnati and the Reds club their way into the NLCS.  Medlen gets two starts in the NLCS, shortening the series to the point where Atlanta cannot be beaten.

World Series: Atlanta beats Texas.  Story book ending for Chipper Jones, and another heartbreak for Texas as they lose their third consecutive World Series.  Texas just isn’t as strong pitching-wise as they were last year, don’t have enough lefties to shut Atlanta down, and I don’t think Yu Darvish will be up to the challenge.  Meanwhile Medlen continues his other-worldly streak of starts; Atlanta has now won 23 consecutive games which Medlen has started (12 this year and another 11 to close out 2010).  There’s no reason not to think that streak won’t continue into the post season; he’s given up a grand total of NINE earned run in his 12 starts this season.

This isn’t the most positive prediction for the post-season for the home team, but the Nats sputtering end to the season does not inspire confidence.  Swept in Atlanta, splits with Milwaukee and then pounded in St. Louis means they’re walking a tightrope in the post-season.  If they get a win in Atlanta, they may win the NLDS.  But the 2-away/3-home structure really works to the detriment of the higher seed; its relatively easy for a team to win 2 straight at home … while its relatively difficult to win 3 straight at home.  But that’s the predicament the Nats may face when they return to Washington.  And get ready for the inevitable “You shouldn’t have shut down Strasburg” pieces, because they’re a-coming unless Washington wins the World Series.  In fact I’ll bet writers already have them penned and in the can, ready to publish (kind of like obituaries for old movie stars that are in hospice).

However, if somehow Atlanta blows the wild-card game I reserve the right to completely re-do these predictions 🙂

Written by Todd Boss

October 4th, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Jimmy Rollins; time for Philadelphia to sleep in the bed they’ve made.


Courtesy of Nat Enquirer; this video of Jimmy Rollins classlessly giving the Nats zero credit for having the best record in the majors in 2012.

Specifically, “With us healthy, they’re a second-place team. But we weren’t.”

But that’s the problem that Rollins needs to understand; when you build your team on the backs of aging players … you’re NEVER going to be as healthy as you expect to be.  There’s a reason the Nats didn’t lose ONE start to injury all year; our pitchers are younger and healthier.  Philadelphia has built a rotation of aging stars and free agents.  Cliff Lee missed 3 starts this year, Cole Hamels missed a couple, and Roy Halladay missed 7 or 8.  Those guys are 33, 28 and 35 this year.  They’re not getting any younger and likely will miss starts again in 2013.

How about Philadelphia’s positional players?  Ryan Howard only played 71 games.  Chase Utley only 83.  Placido Polanco just 90.   Carlos Ruiz missed all of August.  Maybe you can argue that the two big names from this list should start 2013 healthy and that may make a difference.  Fair enough, except that Howard is 32, Utley is 33, and both now have a slew of injuries on their resume.  Nobody should assuming those guys are playing 150+ next year.

Meanwhile, Washington had a TON of time lost to injuries in its offense.   Desmond missed a month.  Morse missed two.  Werth missed half the season.  Zimmerman lost a few weeks.  And we went through no less than SIX catchers on the season.  And the team persevered, struggled offensively most of the early part of the year, and maintained its lead.

Philadelphia made its choices, signing major dollar contracts to extend its own guys and to buy its rotation and its key bullpen members.  And now you have to live with those decisions, which leave you with an aging roster overpaying for the decline years of your players.  Meanwhile Washington rode the wave of 100-loss seasons, committed to building its farm system, didn’t overpay for Free Agents, and now sits with one of the youngest teams in baseball (3rd youngest pitching staff and youngest on-field staff), with a below-average payroll and the best record in the majors.

Sour Grapes Jimmy Rollins.  You should get used to 3rd place because its probably where the Phillies reside for the next several years, until you can jettison your ill-signed contracts and start over.