Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for September, 2017

So what did we learn from the LA series?

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Strasburg is the man. Photo allansgraphics.com

Strasburg is the man.
Photo allansgraphics.com

When you squinted at the possible pitching matchups for the big weekend series, I thought perhaps we’d at least get two decent match-ups.  Instead, We got the following thanks to the Nats “6-man rotation:”

  • Edwin Jackson vs Alex Wood
  • A.J. Cole vs Rich Hill
  • Stephen Strasburg vs Hyun-Jin Ryu

So, that’s certainly not LA’s best (we missed both Kershaw and Darvish, who you’d have to say are their #1/#2 right now), but we didn’t exactly throw our best either.  Jackson is a MLFA signing/substitute #5 starter and Cole had a nifty 5.88 ERA in AAA and is our notional “6th starter” right now.

Jackson got bombed, Cole leaked a couple of runs but the Nats could do nothing with Hill (one hit over five, a solo HR).  To their credit, there were no spring training split squad lineups this weekend, so maybe there’s a slight concern about “fatigue” in the offense as we wind down the season.

What the Dodgers did get was a lovely tour of our bullpen, thanks  in no small part to Jackson’s 2 1/3 inning outing friday.  So there’s that.  And to their credit the bullpen pitched amazingly.  6 2/3rds innings on friday giving up just 3 hits and 0 runs, 4-hitless innings on saturday,  Plus our standard 7/8/9 guys throwing three more shutout innings in the finale when our bats finally got going.

So, here’s what I think we learned this weekend:

  • Roark will be the 4th starter in the playoffs: I think Jackson’s outing clearly took him out of any 4th starter conversation that might have remained.  I still think he’s a threat for the last bullpen arm, unless they decide to go with one extra lefty who can throw lots of innings in the form of Matt Grace.  In the end it might just be matchup driven as we’ve discussed.
  • We need Harper back; we didn’t even face LA’s best and in a long series we get Kershaw twice plus whatever other shenanigans he does on short rest.  We scored 9 runs in 3 games … 7 of them against LA’s flailing bullpen.
  • Our offense struggles against good lefties: which is not good news, since we didn’t even face LA’s *best* lefty starter this past weekend.
  • Our bullpen is … solid: for all the angst it caused us in the first half of the year, this bullpen just *completely* shut down a stellar offense.  That’s great news for our chances in October.
  • Strasburg is better than Scherzer right now: great start last night; 3 hits and 1 run in 6 innings … and one of those “hits” was a ball that Taylor absolutely should have caught.  Not sure why that was not an E-8.  Nonetheless, you have to like the chances of a series where someone has to go against Scherzer/Strasburg 4 times out of 7 games.
  • A LA-DC series will be epic, if we can get there.  We took 2 of 3 in their house and they returned the favor, with both sides not really getting their optimal lineups or rotations going for either series.  No such excuses if both teams can get to the NLCS (which, I might say, is no given … LA has a losing record against both its potential WC opponents and the Nats have never won a post-season series and are set to face the Cubs).

What are your thoughts?

 

 

The race for the 2018 #1 Draft Pick

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SF is in the lead to have first crack at top prep SS Brian Turang. Photo via baseball America

SF is in the lead to have first crack at top prep SS Brice Turang. Photo via baseball America

About this time, I like to look at the bottom of the standings to see who’s going to have the first crack at talent in next year’s Rule-4 amateur draft.

With two weeks left (roughly 13-15 games), here’s how things stand.  There seem to be 4 contenders for the title (records as of saturday morning 9/16/17).

  1. San Francisco, 57-92.  what a season for the Giants, going from presumed contenders to currently owning the worst record in the majors.  They’ve lost 15 of their last 20 and might not be catchable for the #1 pick.  Pretty impressive for the team with the 5th highest opening day payroll.
  2. Philadelphia: 57-90: we knew they’d be bad and so did they … but they’ve played .500 ball for the last month to take themselves out of the running for their 2nd straight #1 overall pick.  They seem likely to end up 3rd or 4th.
  3. Chicago White Sox: 59-88: another team that clearly waived the white flag this past off-season, but which stocked up so heavily on top-end prospects that their possible end of 2018 rotation (Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Carson Fulmer and Michael Kopech is a murder’s row of 1st round/highly rated prospects.  They could return to glory and fast, especially with another year of top draft picks.  They’ve rebounded as of late though and are playing themselves out of the running for #1 overall.
  4. Detroit: 61-86: keep an eye on the Tigers though, who have won just 8 of their last 30 and have (finally) admitted to themselves they need to sell, moving face of the franchise Justin Verlander and probably selling off everything they can this coming off-season.  Detroit by the way had the 2nd hghest payroll on opeing day only behind the Dodgers.  Now that’s hard to do.
  5. New York Mets: 63-84: they’re 6 games out of the “lead” but are in free fall, losing 20 of their last 30 and being led to the finish line by a manager that should be canned for incompetence this off-season.

Next few teams: As, Reds and Padres, all of whom are playing .500 ball right now and seem unlikely to get into the top 5.

End of year prediction: SF, Detroit, Mets, Philly, White Sox.

So who’s in the “race” for #1 overall next summer?  Its really early, and these rankings drastically change with spring performances, but here’s some of the top names to keep in mind:

College:

  • Brady Singer RHP, Florida. Dominant in 2016 CWS. 2017 USA Nat’l team.
  • Casey Mize RHP, Auburn. 2017 USA Nat’l team star.
  • Nick Madrigal 2B, Oregon State: Golden spikes semi-finalist 2017 as sophomore. All-american as Soph. 2017 USA Nat’l team.
  • Seth Beer 1B/DH Clemson: monster freshman year in 2016: Dick Howser award, Golden spikes finalist. 2017 USA Nat’l team.
  • Griffin Conine OF, Duke. Jeff Conine‘s son. Exploded in Cape Cod League 2017, All-Cape 2017, named top prospect
  • Jeremey Eierman SS, Missouri State; All-American 1st/2nd team 2017 as sophomore. 2017 USA Nat’l team invitee.

High School

  • Kumar Rocker RHP, North Oconee (GA) (Vanderbilt commit). 18U team.
  • Brice Turang SS, Santiago (CA) (LSU commit). 18U team.
  • Ethan Hankins RHP, Forsyth Central (GA): (Vanderbilt commit). 18U team.
  • Jared Kelenic OF, Waukesha (WI) (Louisville commit). 18U team.

If the draft was tomorrow, it’d probaby go Turang, Singer, Rocker at the top.

Congrats on 4th Title in 6 years and a mailbag to kick off discussions

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Can Harper come back from this unnatural-looking injury? PHoto via si.com

Can Harper come back from this unnatural-looking injury? PHoto via si.com

The subject says it all.  This is easily the earliest the team has ever clinched; normally its like the 2nd to last game of the year.   (Previous clinch dates in order: 10/1/12, 9/17/14, 9/25/16).  I will be adding the 2017 clincher to my running/ever growing list of notable Nats games, to be republished this off-season after we win the World Series ;-).

From a content generation standpoint I have started (after not doing them in 2016) the pitching staff reviews for the minor leagues … but they’re slow to develop because we ran through SO MANY pitchers in AAA and AA.  So those are coming eventually.  Its been a challenging couple of months for me personally, hence the lack of content.

Meanwhile, with the off-day comes a mailbag from Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier.  Since i’ve been struggling with content generation lately, lets do a response to kick off some conversation.


 

Q: What does your beat reporter’s gut tell you about Bryce & October? If Werth can’t get his timing either… OF is looking tough

A:  Well, this is the million dollar question isn’t it?  I read somewhere and will paraphrase someone’s research about the Nats offense with and without Bryce Harper … and its about a run/game less.  That’s significant.  His knee injury was worse than we originally thought and includes a calf strain too.  He’s got about 3 weeks left to get back.  My prediction is that Harper makes it back but is hobbled/not 100%.   Meanwhile Jayson Werth has fewer at bats in June/July/Aug/Sept combined than he had in April alone, and now he has a shoulder issue.  No wonder the team called up its #1 prospect Victor Robles.  I’m also beginning to think that Robles is part of the post season discussion, since these two guys are struggling and Alejandro de Aza isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire.

OF prediction for October: Werth, Michael Taylor and Harper starting but struggling, with the team turning to Howie Kendrick as needed and carrying Andrew Stevenson as its 5th/defensive replacement/pinch runner.  Robles comes into play if there’s another injury over de Aza or Rafael Bautista or anyone else we can think of.

Collier thinks Harper will be there in October but doesn’t speculate any further on the OF


Q: Right now, I have no faith Kelley won’t give up hard hit balls whenever he comes in. Odds he makes the playoff roster???

A: We may have to revisit our post-season roster predictions, published on 8/26/17, given what’s been going on.  At that time I went with Doolittle, Madsen, Kintzler, Albers, Glover, Perez, Grace,  Romero as the bullpen, leaving out Shawn Kelley.  However, it does not look like Koda Glover is making it back, so we need another name up there.  That could be a lefty like Solis, or one of struggling vets in Kelley/Blanton, or perhaps more likely Edwin Jackson.  Nonetheless, I think Kelley has pitched himself out of contention.

Collier agrees; he does not think Kelley merits a spot on the post-season roster either.


 

Q: Will @EJ36 be on the postseason roster?

A: Well, speaking of.  Yeah I think he makes sense as the 8th man in the bullpen right now.  He can spell a starter if they get into trouble early and he’s certainly pitched like he deserves it.  He also has experience relieving and could come in and throw middle innings if need be.  I like him as the Glover replacement in the above question.

Collier completely agrees.


 

Q: Based only on the Nats Park locations: what’s better, Ben’s or Mike Isabella’s?

A: I don’t know how anything can ever top Ben’s Chili Bowl for ballpark fare.

Collier is a huge fan of the subs at Mike Isabella’s.  Maybe he doesn’t like getting chili all over his game notes.


 

Q; Will some of the vets who don’t make the playoff roster still travel with the team?

A: Oh yeah, they’re still part of the team and will want to take part.  They know how things go; you can get onto the NLCS foster even if you’re not on the NLDS roster.  You aren’t going to just give up on your season’s accomplishments because you got squeezed out of the roster.

Collier says the same.


 

Q; Since Goodwin looks like he is not returning, who do you think will be our backup CF for the playoffs?

A: I kind of answered this above, but I do think its going to be Stevenson over Robles or others.  Primarily because I think he’s more of a CF than other options, he’s sufficiently fast to pinch hit, he’s older and more experienced, and he’s projecting to be a very good defensive CF (24.5 UZR/150 in his limited time there).

Collier goes with Stevenson too.