Nationals Arm Race

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

The Nats post-All Star game gauntlet of opposing Starting Pitchers


Hard to win games when you're going against guys like this for two straight weeks.  Photo via

Hard to win games when you’re going against guys like this for two straight weeks. Photo via

The Nats just finished being swept at the hands of our closest divisional rival, and the natives seem to be getting a bit restless.

I’m not worried.  You know why?  The Nats just finished one of the most brutal stretches of opposing pitchers I can ever remember.  To wit, here’s what they had to face coming out of the all star break:

  • LA: Bolsinger, Kershaw, Greinke
  • Mets: Harvey, DeGrom, Snydergaard
  • Pitt: Liriano, Locke, Burnett, Cole
  • Miami: Fernandez, Koehler, Haren
  • Mets: Harvey, DeGrom, Snydergaard

The 16 starters they’ve had to face since the All Star game include:

  • Six 2015 All-Stars (Kershaw, Greinke, DeGrom twice, Burnett and Cole)
  • The 2015 all-star game *starter* in Greinke
  • The two-time defending Cy Young winner in Kershaw
  • The guy who probably *would* have won the Cy Young in 2013 had he not gotten hurt (Harvey)
  • The last two NL Rookies of the Year (DeGrom and Fernandez)
  • Seven guys ranked in the top 20 in all of baseball for ERA, not to mention 4 of the top 10 and the two best in Greinke and DeGrom.
  • Five guys ranked in the top 15 in the game for pure fastball velocity (Snydergaard, Fernandez, Cole, deGrom and Harvey).
  • At least half of these guys being what i’d call an “Ace” in this league, and a handful more that are easily #2’s.

That’s just a brutal stretch.  By my estimates, I had the Nats with a favorable pitching match-up just three times in their first 16 games back: Zimmermann over Bolsinger (a win), Scherzer over Locke (a bad loss), and Scherzer over Haren (a 1-0 squeaker win).  Certainly I did not have us with a favorable matchup in any of the 3 games this weekend, and it was little surprise to me to see us get swept.  I thought we’d be lucky to be at .500 for these 16 games and with some bad luck they ended up this stretch 6-10.

Now here’s the good news.  We should get pretty healthy in the next week or so.  We face Arizona at home with four pitching matchups that favor Washington.  Then Colorado comes to town and are throwing a couple of guys that I’ve frankly never even heard of (Yohan Flande and Eddie Butler).  So a week from now we may be on a 6-1 or 5-2 streak and be back in happy town.

The Nats have been very streaky this year.  With apologies to “arbitrary endpoint” haters, you can divide the season into five neat streaks:

Start Date End Date Wins during Streak Losses during streak Record at end of Streak GB or GA in Division Key moments starting/ending streak
4/6/2015 4/27/2015 7 13 7-13 -8 GB Opening day instability of offense leads to sputtering start.
4/28/2015 5/27/2015 21 6 28-19 +1.5 GA Unbelievable 13-12 win in Atlanta on 4/28 ends 7-13 start to season and kicks off a 21-6 run
5/28/2015 6/19/2015 6 13 34-33 -1.5 GB Strasburg lasts just 5 batters on 5/28 and hits the D/L in Cincinnati
6/19/2015 7/12/2015 14 6 46-38 +2 GA Long road trip/tough schedule stretch ends with dominant Ross performance at home 6/20/15, kicking off easy stretch and full-strength pitching rotation
All star break
7/19/2015 8/2/2015 6 10 54-49 even Brutal stretch of opposing pitchers to start the 2nd half.

And now here we stand, on 8/3/15, even up with the Mets for the division and just a handful of games over .500.  Inarguably the Mets made great moves at the trade deadline.  But remember, they’ll face the same post-TJ decision on Harvey that the Nats did with Strasburg in 2012.  And Snydergaard’s max IP was 133 last year; He’s already at that for 2015 and its just the beginning of August.  Both these guys may be looking at regression or outright damage as they rocket past conservative workloads for 2015.  Will that work to the Nats’ favor?

I still like the Nats offensive capabilities once they’re fully healthy.  Its like getting players at the trade deadline, only you don’t have to bet the farm for them.  Will they hold up through the end of the season?  Will Strasburg return and give us the same level of pitching that Joe Ross has in his absence?  Lets hope so.


17 Responses to 'The Nats post-All Star game gauntlet of opposing Starting Pitchers'

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  1. I don’t follow national coverage that closely, but I haven’t heard a peep about a Harvey shutdown. It’s a conversation that *should* be starting and seems irresponsible if it isn’t. It’s not just innings, either; I couldn’t believe how many pitches they were letting him throw, which they’ve apparently done several times this year. Let’s see, in his 20 starts, he has been over 90 pitches 17 times and over 100 an astounding 12 times, maxing at 115. Syndergaard has thrown at least 88 pitches in all of his MLB starts and topped 100 in 7 of 15 outings, and deGrom has gone over 100 in 12 of 20 starts as well. So that young trio has thrown more than 100 pitches 31 times this year. Good luck with that, both later this year and for the future.

    In our camp, Joe Ross currently is at 115 innings. He threw 121.2 and 122.1 over the last two seasons. There’s nothing scientific about the Verducci Effect, but if you’re using it as a guideline, Ross has about 36-37 more innings to reach 30 above his previous high, so five or six more starts. He should get at least one more with Stras on a rehab start tonight, then we’ll see what happens.

    I still have my figures crossed about Stras, who looked really good with his new mechanics before he got hurt.


    3 Aug 15 at 12:40 pm

  2. Err, “fingers” crossed.


    3 Aug 15 at 12:42 pm

  3. Harvey’s situation is not quite analogous to Strasburg’s, because he’s several months farther into the rehab process than Strasburg was in 2012 because of the timing of the injury/surgery. The Mets could have brought Harvey back for a cameo last year but elected not to, saving those bullets for this season. I’m not expert enough to know whether/how much that affects the innings limits.

    John C.

    3 Aug 15 at 12:44 pm

  4. Harvey not quite exactly same as Strasburg, agreed. But they’ve been screwing around with a 6-man rotation for weeks at a time in no doubt to try to alleviate what i mentioned, no?

    Jeff Passan *killed* Matt Williams’ in his “10-degrees” piece, kind of alluding to bullpen and IBB issues that we’ve discussed previously. It was bad enough that the Nats’ two best relievers didn’t throw a pitch all weekend … but the IBB of Cespedes with his awful splits so as to have a lefty-lefty matchup with Thornton-Duda (Duda, aka the hottest hitter in the game) was probably worse.

    Todd Boss

    3 Aug 15 at 12:47 pm

  5. While obviously not happy about the sweep, I’m not in the gasping, rending of garments DOOM phase that a lot of Nats fans seem to be. For perspective:

    (1) Many have noticed that the Mets have an easy schedule from this point out. What a lot of people are missing is that the Nats also have an easy schedule from here out. Yes, the Nats have a West Coast road trip. The Mets still get to play the Pirates and the Yankees, two much better clubs.

    (2) The Nats not only have two games in hand and a one game lead in the loss column (which is why they are still technically in first place, although only by percentage points); the Nats are playing mostly at home (34 of 59 games) and the Mets are playing mostly on the road (32 of 57 games). The Nats have been a good home team (28-19, .596 winning percentage, +18 run differential). The Mets have been an awful road team (17-32, .347 winning percentage, -46 run differential).

    (3) Three days ago the Mets were LOLMets for having punted away a series at home in miserable fashion against an inferior team; their fans were alternating between rage and despair. The Nationals were coming off of a series win on the road in Miami and were pointed up. Now it looks different. But as Todd indirectly notes by his season recap, impressions like this change constantly in a 162 game baseball season. . “You’re never as good as you look when you win, or as bad as you look when you lose” applies equally to the Nats and Mets coming off this series.

    I know that perspective is not easy for a fan to maintain – heck, for some fans it’s apparently not even desirable! But remember perspective if you accidentally find yourself reading a comment from someone who doesn’t have any.

    The Nats do have work to do, and there are no guarantees – in either direction, although the pessimists and optimists have their own guarantees they are trying to sell. I, for one, look forward to a pennant race and all the thrills, chills, agony and exhilaration that come along with it.

    John C.

    3 Aug 15 at 12:48 pm

  6. Sorry about the html fail. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

    John C.

    3 Aug 15 at 12:49 pm

  7. JohnC I fixed your intended italicized, i think 🙂

    I think my (perhaps unstated) point of the post is this: the team is streaky, so we have to be patient. And, No team in the league could have done much better than the Nats just did in going 6-10 against a slew of hard throwing, Ace-calibre all stars. That won’t always be the case. I’ll bet the team can put in another 20-8 streak and we’ll be happy again.

    Todd Boss

    3 Aug 15 at 1:30 pm

  8. Good stuff Todd.
    It’s hard to gauge a team when the manager hasn’t had an original thought in his life.

    Regarding Williams ignorance of platoon splits, he has never understood them.
    In October he had Adam LaRouche, someone who had stopped hitting lefties for over a year starting and batting against them while allowing Ryan Zimmerman to rot on the bench.

    Just think Alvin Dark & Gene Mauch plus 30 years without gaining any knowledge over that time.

    Mark L

    3 Aug 15 at 7:05 pm

  9. Well, I dunno what I think. Sure, it’s been a hard stretch of pitchers and some of our guys are working their way back into shape. No arguments there. But there are two sides to the Nats frenzy right now – we are horrible plus Matt Williams shouldn’t coach LL, or this is all just injuries and bad luck (plus Matt Williams shouldn’t coach LL), and now that we’re healthy we’re going to go on a roll and win by 7-10 games.

    I think both views are pretty unrealistic, and aren’t looking at things objectively. I am in a different place, and have been since early June. I don’t think the Nats are nearly as good as their preseason evaluations proclaimed. I am not talking about the injuries, I mean if the season started today and everyone was healthy, I’d see them as an 85-87 win team, talent wise. That’s about where I see the Mets now after their trades, so being tied, while lucky in some respects, feels about right.

    I doubt anyone agrees with me right now, but I’d say the pitching is clearly worse than we thought, starting from the back end forward. Fister’s GB rate has been dropping since his Detroit days, and his 2014 now looks flukey based on a high strand rate. I am not sure he is even a 5 any more if he can’t keep the ball down. Gio’s stuff still seems pretty good, but he can’t seem to consistently get through 6 innings any more, limiting his value. Scherzer is great and I still believe in Stras. JZ then becomes the guy that makes this either a great, top heavy staff, or just good. And his 2015 has been just good, to me, and I don’t know which way I go for the future. Don’t get me wrong – he’s still good, I am just saying, will he still be a strong #2, or is he sliding towards a more solid 3?

    Then lineup: Ramos, Desi, Zim, Werth have looked horrible. I understand injuries are at play with some, but I doubt whether anyone can say confidently that for any of those four, the nature of their performance this year, whether due to their injuries + age or decline, is definitely an aberration. So right now it’s Harper and Rendon, and thankfully Escobar is still hitting. Then we just hope for one of the other guys to get lucky.

    My point here isn’t to be all doom and gloom, it is just to say that I reset my expectations a while ago, based on how I see the team as currently constituted. There are some positives this year: (1) biggest might be luck. Widely reported that Rizzo wanted to extend Desi, Fister and JZ and he has to feel good that he didn’t, even JZ cause it would have been $125-150m and I am not sure I do it any longer. Ross look like a quality starter; MAT has value (whether if it’s as a starter, or a quality 4th remains to be seen); some guys on the cusp of the bigs look ready (not just Turner; Jordan has been lights out in AAA; I’d swap him for Fister in a heartbeat).

    So this year should be interesting and next year looks better than it once did. But Rizzo bet big on this year, namely the performance of a lot of his big name guys, and that clearly hasn’t worked.


    3 Aug 15 at 7:54 pm

  10. I agree with most of what you write, Todd. Where I disagree is that Friday and Saturday we faced 7+ innings of their bullpen and didn’t score at all against them. A good team works the counts and scores an occasional run or two vs top pitchers, and tries to get them out of the game to have a few innings to feast on the bullpen. But, we faltered against the pen.

    Not using Storen and Pap in those same two games was awful. The IBB to Cespedes to face Babe Duda… even worse.

    But, this team is so much more talented than the Mets and they are going to have to start limiting innings of their young guns, so I’m confident we’ll win the NL east. However, Rizzo better get MW some help with in-game management before October, because we’ll be facing great pitchers then as well.

    Andrew R

    3 Aug 15 at 10:48 pm

  11. As a continuation of the criticism of Williams’ recent handling of the bullpen … guess who comes into a 5-0 game in the 8th last night? Why yes indeed its our 8th inning guy! Drew Storen. Bullets wasted.

    Todd Boss

    4 Aug 15 at 9:24 am

  12. Andrew R: I think we’re on the same page. I still think this team will win the NL East; despite their moves I don’t think the Mets are an 89-90 win team and the Nats have been projecting to about 89-90 wins for weeks now.

    What I do think happens is this: we win the NL East by a game or two and then get crushed by either St. Louis or (perhaps more likely) Los Angeles in a divisional series. I just don’t think this team is better than those two teams.

    Todd Boss

    4 Aug 15 at 9:26 am

  13. Fister basically guaranteed his departure w/o QO last night in my mind. His velocity is way down and he’s gone from one of the best kept secrets in the game to a rapidly aging guy who can barely throw it mid 80s. But its ok: I think the Nats would gladly take a soft tissue injury to Fister right now in order to give Joe Ross more starts.

    And Trea Turner continues to amaze; he’s hitting at or above his career minor league split even despite being one of the first of his draft class to make it to AAA. Desmond == bye bye.

    What a trade that’s looking like right now.

    Todd Boss

    4 Aug 15 at 9:31 am

  14. We’ve seen the playoffs are such a crapshoot. If Max throws 2 gems and Harper has a month like he had in May, we could win it all. But, if there are close games, I don’t like our odds with MW matching wits with Matheny, Bochy, Maddon, or Mattingly.

    As for yesterday, I’m fine with bringing in Storen OR Papelbon there – I understand they need work. But, if tonight’s game goes as planned and Storen and Pap close out a win, then are they both unavailable tomorrow??? Why not give Storen work yesterday and plan to use Pap today no matter what – that would keep their rest on different schedules. SMH

    Andrew R

    4 Aug 15 at 9:31 am

  15. The “matching wits” comment brings to mind my general take on managers: none of them are very smart. Mattingly? Really? And despite the three rings, Bochy made a number of bonehead decisions during the Nats’ sweep a few weeks ago. Widely ridiculed Ned Yost had the Royals in Game 7 last year. So yes, while I certainly agree that MW’s bullpen usage has been head-scratching, I don’t think there are many other superior intellects in baseball to be pining for. There’s no Bill Belichick, Greg Popovich, or Phil Jackson, guys just clearly smarter than their rivals.

    Yes, I’m very much on board with Ross replacing Fister in the rotation once Stras comes back. Ross should get one more Stras-slot start, meaning that Fister would probably have one more opportunity after that. MW’s willingness to bench Werth last night in favor of Robinson gives me hope that he’ll be quicker with the hook for other defective parts. Time to give Espi some ABs at SS, too, although Espi hasn’t been going too well recently, either.

    In the glass half full department, Rendon is making regular, solid contact, and RZim has two HRs in three games. If those two regain reasonable form in short order, the top of the lineup will quickly look a lot better. I have much less hope for Werth, though.


    4 Aug 15 at 9:54 am

  16. Williams’ usage of Storen is starting to remind me of … the idiotic usage of Storen in the 2012 NLDS. Johnson throws Storen in game one, then inexplicably throws him in an 8-0 loss in game 3. Which meant that he was throwing in his third straight game (which he never does) in the critical game 5 loss.

    If Storen “needed work” he should have thrown in a game that meant something, not a blow out loss. Stupid, stupid.

    Todd Boss

    4 Aug 15 at 10:52 am

  17. A hot Scherzer should be worth two wins in a short series. And you would have to think that either Strasburg or Zimmermann would be able to give us at least a third win, no matter who the opponent.

    That is unless your idiot manager yanks you with one out to go since his little strat-o-matic “How to be a MLB Manager” card says that you have to bring in your “proven closer” in a “save situation” because that’s “what you do” in the bigs.

    Todd Boss

    4 Aug 15 at 10:54 am

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