Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for October, 2019

Unbelievable! They did it!

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Kendrick for the win! Photo via USA Today

Kendrick for the win! Photo via USA Today

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

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

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

Wow.

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

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

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

New #1 game; no argument this time.

Written by Todd Boss

October 10th, 2019 at 1:34 am

Starters as mid-relievers Strategy finally blows up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NLDS Preview: Nationals vs Dodgers

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2019-mlb-postseason

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

Here’s a preview of the 2019 NLDS.

MLB Post Season schedule

Likely Pitching match-ups:

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

then, in DC in July:

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

So.  what can we glean from this?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Bravo to the team, bravo to fans.

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

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

Does this game supplant Werth walkoff?

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

 

Written by Todd Boss

October 2nd, 2019 at 10:53 am