Nationals Arm Race

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

Game 5; by hook or by crook, we got here.

31 comments

Maybe they'll bring back out chocolate if Scherzer wins game 5. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

Maybe they’ll bring back out chocolate if Scherzer wins game 5. Photo via thesportsquotient.com

I didn’t really do a pre-NLDS prediction piece for this series.  A combination of work and life events conspired against me.

But if you had asked me what I thought a week ago about the Nats-Dodgers NLDS, I would have said the series would have basically gone like this:

  • Nats lose to Kershaw in Game 1 because he’s Kershaw
  • Nats rebound in Game 2 and handle the veteran Hill.
  • Nats throw their sole lefty who dominates the lefty-feeble Dodgers line-up
  • Dodgers then panic down 2-1 and throw Kershaw on short rest, who dominates us again.
  • … leading to the inevitable Game 5 back home.

Now … the above description isn’t exactly how these games have gone, but the end result has been the same.  The Nats hit Kershaw in Game 1 … but the Dodgers hit Scherzer harder; that was no 2-1 squeaker.  Game 2 was salvaged when perhaps the weakest hitter on the roster clubbed a 3-run homer into a 25mph wind, energizing the stadium and the team to a degree i’ve never felt before.  Gonzalez certainly did not “shut down” the Dodgers in Game 3, but the Nats bats came alive at the end to turn it into a 4hour 12min laugher.  In game 4 Kershaw did indeed go on short rest, and up until the 7th looked pretty dominant, but in a recurring theme for him in the post-season, he went one inning too long, loaded the bases in the 7th and was charged with a total of 5 runs on the night despite 11 strikeouts.  Nonetheless, the Nats bullpen (which it should be noted did not give up a single run in the first three games) finally faltered, with Treinen coughing up the game winner in the bottom of the 8th to long-time Nats nemesis Chase Utley.

So here we are.  Game 5 tomorrow 10/13/16.  Max Scherzer on full rest versus Rich Hill on three days rest thanks to the Saturday cancellation.   Hill, 37-yr old veteran journeyman with a career resurgence, has thrown precisely one game on 3 days rest in his career: he gave up 5 runs on 3 hits and 4 walks in just 3IP that day.   No offense to  Hill, but lets hope for that line again and for the Nats to get into the Dodgers incredibly taxed bullpen.

Meanwhile, Scherzer has to figure out a way to keep the ball in the park.  And he probably needs to go 6 or 7 innings to help a bullpen that has now thrown 17 2/3rds innings in four games.

How about the Offense for this team so far?   Hitting .259 as a team despite going against Kershaw twice and a bunch of one-out relievers most of the rest of the time.   The veterans have really come to play: Murphy, Zimmerman and Werth  all stepping up and crushing the ball.  Youngster Turner at the top hitting .353 … but 10 of his 11 outs have been punchouts.  Harper is just 3-14 with 4 walks … but to be fair, 13 of those plate appearances have come against lefties and 3 more have come against LA closer Jansen … not exactly the easiest series for Harper.

Who has not acquitted themselves at the plate?  Espinosa; 1-11 with 8 punch outs and being outright replaced in game 3.  I read elsewhere, this may change my “next year opinion” on Espinosa; he has looked beyond helpless at the plate despite being a switch hitter.  Remind me of this sentence this coming off-season if I start making arguments for keeping him and keeping Turner in center.   Rendon has had a “loud” 3-16 series; loud in that he has 4 RBI and a monster homer.  Severino is 1-9 but has been putting the ball in play and has not looked overmatched.

Can’t wait for game 5.

31 Responses to 'Game 5; by hook or by crook, we got here.'

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  1. Game. Five.

    How cool is this? This is partially my fault, because three months ago I bought tickets for a concert for Thursday night – making it inevitable that a game would be played. Sorry y’all. My bad.

    But I’m eating that concert ticket and will be a the game tomorrow night, yelling my damn fool head off and pulling like mad for a Curly W. Having suffered through several awful, horrible, double plus ungood seasons I’m not taking 97 wins and a shot at more for granted at all.

    John C.

    12 Oct 16 at 12:19 pm

  2. Any individual baseball game is a toss-up, all the more so in a close series. That said, I like our chances. Except for Danny, the offense is generally doing well, much better overall than in the previous playoff trips. Bryce seems very close to putting it all back together. He had some terrific ABs against the Best Pitcher on Earth (TM). Trea is starting to make more contact. Werth and Zim are turning back time. And of course Murph continues to be one of the best free agent deals of all time. We’re still waiting for a few of those Babe Murphy postseason jacks, though.

    That said, there have still been way, WAY too many LOB, and too many strikeouts. Put the ball in play. The Dodgers don’t have many plus defenders or much range, but they haven’t been forced to make a lot of plays.

    The Nat bullpen, feared to be a weakness, hadn’t given up anything until Tues. It’s been the starters who have been the bigger liability. Max may have been too amp’d in Game 1. Time for him to settle down, hit his spots, and dominate in $210M fashion. And since it’s Game 5, all hands should be on deck, Roark foremost among them. Even Gio might be able to go an inning or two if they need another lefty.

    KW

    12 Oct 16 at 12:33 pm

  3. JohnC: that’s the spirit! I’m sure you can flip the seats for cash.

    Todd Boss

    12 Oct 16 at 1:03 pm

  4. Lots of good “feel” for where the team is from Boz’s chat:

    https://live.washingtonpost.com/ask-boswell-20161012.html

    He’s also on board with trading Danny and Gio.

    KW

    12 Oct 16 at 1:16 pm

  5. Trade Espinosa; seems like it is a fait accomplis now; he has looked beyond hopeless in the playoffs.

    Trade Gio? …. well, he is under a very affordable option given what pitching is going for. Would you rather pay him $12M/year or some retread $12M/year on the FA market? He’s still young, very durable (has he ever gone on the D/L?) and lefty. If you move Gio and replace him in the rotation with someone like Lopez/Giolito/Voth/Cole, then you’re “saving” $11.5M in salary, which can be applied towards the holes we have to fill.

    Todd Boss

    12 Oct 16 at 3:49 pm

  6. I’ve always been in the don’t-trade-Gio camp, but I’m wavering. But the Nats aren’t going to have any other lefty starters ready for the big club within the next couple of years. They do, however, have some rotation decisions with Lopez, Giolito, Cole, and Voth (who got rocked in his AFL start yesterday, but not by Tebow, thank goodness).

    KW

    12 Oct 16 at 7:39 pm

  7. OK, here we go — the big day is upon us. Does the franchise take a significant step forward, or suffer another Groundhog Day?

    KW

    13 Oct 16 at 5:05 am

  8. LOVE the fog. If the air is early April-like “heavy” tonight, those cheap first-row homers off Max are staying in the park. And if the ball stays in the yard, he’s golden.

    KW

    13 Oct 16 at 7:45 am

  9. What doesn’t get mentioned is this will be the 13th (by Boswell’s count) or 15th(my count) start for Scherzer where there will be a lot of pressure and he has been Terrible in every one of those previous starts.

    I hope this is the first time he pitches well under pressure, but I’m not betting on it.
    The good news is, the bats are hot and may carry them.

    Mark L

    13 Oct 16 at 8:07 am

  10. MarkL: 13th or 15th start? Like, playoff start? http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=scherma01&t=p&year=0&post=1

    There’s his playoff game log: i count 11 starts and two relief appearances. 68 2/3 innings and a 3.93 ERA. His worst post-season starts were At Texas and At Baltimore, two of the best hitters parks in the game. And the Dodgers stack basically 8 lefties against him, making for a similarly tough matchup.

    Honestly, I think if he can go like 7ip and give up 3ER we’ll be fine. And that might be a good benchmark of expectations given the LA lineup.

    Todd Boss

    13 Oct 16 at 9:08 am

  11. I think its also quite interesting that the Dodgers have yet, even as of this AM on the day of the game, announced their starter. The rain delay has really, really screwed them. Maybe Hill really cannot go on 3 days rest so we’ll get the rookie Urias. He’s fantastic for his age of course, and had a very solid rookie season, but he’s still a rookie.

    Here’s Urias’ game logs; he went twice against the Nats this year: gave up 2 runs in 5 innings at Washington in June, then in July gave up 1 run in 4 innings in LA. Pitch counts were elevated both times: 94 in 5 innings and then 77 in 4 innings. Urias was pretty effective all things told; his three worst outings on the year were in Chicago, against Baltimore and in Colorado (echoing what I said before about Scherzer’s starts … those are pretty much three of the hardest outings for a pitcher). So maybe Urias is getting the ball.

    Todd Boss

    13 Oct 16 at 9:13 am

  12. Query: should Dusty consider using Gio out of the bullpen tonight? I haven’t made up my mind whether it’s a good idea, but here’s the case for it.

    We know the Dodgers are going to stack their lineup with lefties to face Max. We think (know?) that this would be Gio’s normal throw day, so he ought to be able to give us an inning given that he didn’t throw a bunch of pitches on Monday. We know that the Nats’ two best relievers are Melancon and Kelley, who are both righty. And we know (1) the Dodgers don’t hit lefties well; and (2) Roberts will sub aggressively to avoid lefty-lefty matchups once the Nats go to the bullpen.

    One of the problems Roberts’ aggressive subbing has created is having a righty batter face one of the Nats’ lefty relievers. I think that’s fine for Solis, but I’m terrified if Perez faces a righty and scared but not terrified if Rzep faces one.

    Gio can get righties out. If he’s the first guy out of the pen – you’d almost certainly need to have him start an inning – you force Roberts to decide early whether to sub or to let his lefties face Gio. If he subs, then it makes Kelley’s and Melancon’s jobs easier because he won’t be able to go back to lefties against them. If he leaves the lefties in, well, we get a L on L matchup with Gio and we still have 3 lefties in the pen to play matchup with later.

    The problem, of course, is that I don’t know if my heart can take Gio on the mound in the late innings of a winner-take-all game. It seems like it could work though.

    Derek

    13 Oct 16 at 10:05 am

  13. I would definitely throw Gio if the situation warrants. ‘Everyone is available’ would be my M.O., although I also don’t think Gio works well in a late game situation. Kelley and MM are my late inning guys.

    Pull out all stops and even Max, as great as I think he is, doesn’t get too long of a leash tonight.

    Go Nats! Pretty exciting.

    Wally

    13 Oct 16 at 10:44 am

  14. Well its official; just got MLB notification that Hill is starting. Have to think he’s on short leash.

    I did read some criticism of Dusty leaving Treinen in to face Utley with Solis warming; can’t disagree. Gio out of the pen on a throw day should at least be able to face one guy. Problem with Gio; wildness. Would you trust him not to just walk the guy? Question is; do you really need Gio out of the pen? All three of our lefties can go multiple innings. I wouldn’t want to leave Perez out there for a bunch but Solis was a starter until rather recently and Rzepszynski .. well he’s a frigging Free agent in a few weeks so who cares if you burn out his arm right?

    Todd Boss

    13 Oct 16 at 11:49 am

  15. All arms on deck for an elimination game (which Matt Williams didn’t seem to understand). The only guy probably not available would be Ross. If the Dodgers get a couple of guys on in the 1st, I’d probably have someone warming up. There’s no tomorrow.

    As for Gio, he’d need to start an inning, clean slate. As stress-inducing as Gio can be, he’s been in this situation before, as he started Game 4 in ’14 and Game 5 in ’12. He wasn’t bad in ’14, certainly wasn’t the reason the Nats lost. I could only see Gio if Max got bombed early, in an attempt to flip the Dodger lineup. After the 5th inning or so, the Nats have enough bullpen to work the rest of the way without Gio. If they get to extra innings, Roark likely would be the first long man up.

    Max was too hyped in Game 1, and by the time he calmed down and started locating his pitches, he had given up four runs. As I said above, I hope the “heavy” autumn air tonight will keep the ball in the park. Teams don’t tend to string together long rallies against Max. When he gets hurt, it’s with the big fly.

    On the flip side, with homers less likely for the Nats as well, they’ve got to string together the hits and walks and, crucially, deliver the RISP. Contact, guys, contact. We can’t strike out 15 times. Put the ball in play.

    KW

    13 Oct 16 at 12:41 pm

  16. Regarding Treinen, didn’t Dusty say he thought they’d hit Kendrick if Solis came in?

    I’m not sure that is correct. Do you pull a big game hardened vet like Utley when they are not even behind? Not sure they would have hit for Utley.

    Either way, Treinen did throw a pretty good pitch. Was low in the zone and had some movement I thought. Utley just did a great job getting the bat on it. Hope it’s not another Nat’s “what if” story… Can bury that with a win tonight.

    Wow that was a big at bat Rendon k’d on there, and against Blanton. That was the big moment to put them away. Turner is having such a weird series. He’s striking out all the time but then you look up and he’s still somehow hitting .353 for the series with a bunch of runs scored!

    Murphy just continues to amaze. Just a legend of a hitter. Hits Kershaw immediately from a month on the bench. Hits every situation and nails in clutch.

    Marty C

    13 Oct 16 at 12:55 pm

  17. C’mon Marty, you’re letting us down. You need to be calling out Harper for the big game!

    I agree with you about the Treinen pitch to Utley. It was low, possibly not even a strike. Treinen also had him down in the count. They got beat on a good pitch.

    KW

    13 Oct 16 at 1:02 pm

  18. Will be very interesting to see who the hero is tonight. DC legends or goats could be born before midnight. Compelling stuff.

    Marty C

    13 Oct 16 at 1:08 pm

  19. On using Treinen: as Dave Cameron at FG pointed out in his chat yesterday, Solis had thrown something like 35 pitches the day before. It’s possible that, and the fact that Treinen has actually been touch on LH batters this season (as opposed to last season), factored into Baker’s thinking. Given those facts I’m not inclined to criticize Baker. Heck, even with Treinen he arguably had Utley struck out, since Treinen got squeezed badly on a call that would have been strike two – which would have made the swing through for actual strike two, strike three. In addition to the pitch Utley hit actually being in a pretty good spot.

    John C.

    13 Oct 16 at 1:09 pm

  20. JohnC: you’re right i just read that myself in his chat. I forgot that and stand corrected.

    Todd Boss

    13 Oct 16 at 1:10 pm

  21. I just got off the phone with a guy heading to the game tonight. He asked me for my prediction. I gave him this whole rambling thought process on Scherzer and Hill and blah blah, and i get done and he goes, “wow, I was just going to say I thought the Nats would win.” :-)

    Here’s my prediction: Scherzer goes 7 innings but leaks a few runs; call it 3ER in 7ip. LA is just a bad matchup for him with so many talented lefties. He’ll give up a gopher ball to one of their big bats at some point. Meanwhile, I think the Nats knock out Hill in like the 4th either through pitch counts or ineffectiveness on short rest. Urias comes in and looks ok for a couple innings before himself getting hit, then its another bullpen slog. In the end, its advantage Nats though; their hitters just saw Hill four days ago and knwo what’s coming. Lobaton will start and the veteran presence behind the plate will make a difference of at least one run for Scherzer. But that one run could make a difference. Both bullpens are Gassed; but both have also been pretty effective. Nats relievers have given up 2 runs in 17 2/3rds innings but the Dodgers relievers themselves have thrown 16 innings and only given up 5 runs (4 of which came off their closer in a non-save situation that he seemed disinterested in).

    Scherzer gets it to Solis in the 8th and Melancon in the 9th and that’s game. But it’ll still take 4 f*cking hours and half the stadium will leave in the 7th when the metro closes.

    Todd Boss

    13 Oct 16 at 1:26 pm

  22. On game duration: my God, the Dodgers play the sloooooowest brand of baseball I’ve ever seen. They require more contemplation, more discussions, more mound visits, and make more pitching changes than this multi-decade fan can recall in any other team. That’s why these games are taking four hours or more to play. It’s excruciating to watch. That’s why, even if the Dodgers advance, I’m rooting against them. Their kind of baseball is bad for the sport.

    John C.

    13 Oct 16 at 2:23 pm

  23. Someone must have told Roberts that’s how to manage! Dusty, by contrast, doesn’t even negotiate. He motions for the reliever when he leaves the dugout.

    Predictions . . . at the risk of jinxing us . . . there hasn’t been a dominant performance by a starter on either team this whole series. If Max can make it through the first two innings and settles into his rhythm, we may see one. I would say that Max pitches a two-hit shutout and everyone gets to Metro on time. But who are we kidding? Even if Max pitches a two-hitter, the Dodgers are going to use seven pitchers and it’s still going to take 3.5 hours.

    Anyway, the Nats are going to score at least four runs. If Max and the bullpen keep it to three or less, Curly W. If the Dodgers get to four or more, I don’t like our chances. So I’ll say 4-2, Nats win.

    KW

    13 Oct 16 at 2:41 pm

  24. After watching so many “catcher runs to mound to discuss the pitch with the pitcher” in a game I think mound visits should be charged. In fact, i’m in favor of an overall limit to mound visits for a game. Agree JohnC; I was expecting these 2hour 30 minute games but not 4hours 15minutes.

    Todd Boss

    13 Oct 16 at 3:30 pm

  25. Fangraphs has Washington 54%-46% over Dodgers. http://www.fangraphs.com/livescoreboard.aspx?date=2016-10-13

    Todd Boss

    13 Oct 16 at 3:53 pm

  26. Cart before the Horse stuff, but http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/17787082/stephen-strasburg-washington-nationals-return-nlcs-dusty-baker-says

    As we suspected, the shortening of his bullpen session means he’s not gonna make it back for a potential NLCS. No surprise there. Might as well just give up hope.

    Todd Boss

    13 Oct 16 at 4:37 pm

  27. Mudville.

    KW

    14 Oct 16 at 12:46 am

  28. This truly is what it was like to be an Expos fan, for those of you who are a little younger than I.

    Torment.

    forensicane

    14 Oct 16 at 1:00 am

  29. I’ve never been so sorry to say “I told you so,” but I did say:

    1). That Rizzo trading Rivero for Melancon was merely plugging up one hole by opening up another.

    2). That middle relief was weak overall and that Rizzo should have done something else to fix it after trading Rivero.

    3). That the reason the “Alphabet” trade pissed me off wasn’t because they gave up an excellent minor league hitter but that the guy they were getting was thoroughly mediocre.

    4). That expecting the oft-injured Solis to carry much of the LH relief pitching load down the stretch was folly from the start.

    I place the blame for this debacle right at Rizzo’s feet. Yes, Max’s propensity to give up homers really hurt them, as did Strasburg’s injury. But it was Rizzo who, in addition to being responsible for the above, also made the final decision that having Difo on the bench was more important than having an 8th reliever, a decision made even more mind boggling by the fact that they knew at a minimum Gio and Ross/Lopez were likely to be short starts.

    At this point, Rizzo looks like the stereotypical NFL coach who gets his team to the playoffs nearly every year, but has no clue about how to win once he gets there. Maybe the best idea is indeed for the Nats to send him to Arizona in exchange for their 1st round pick so they can bring in someone who can better address the team’s in season needs.

    Rant over. I’m out.

    Karl Kolchack

    14 Oct 16 at 1:37 am

  30. I’m as frustrated as everyone else, but I don’t see a lot of recriminations. The Nats lost three one-run games against an evenly matched team. The Dodgers got more big hits when they needed them than the Nats did. If anything, I’d blame the lack of clutch hitting more than the bullpen, which was lights out for much of the series. The Nats really ended up missing a certain middle-of-the-order Buffalo bat.

    Sure, there were a lot of what-ifs. If Rendon fields or knocks down the Ruiz ball, there’s probably a different end to the story, but he was doing well to touch it. I have no idea what Henley was doing getting Werth thrown out by 30 feet. Urias balked twice and it wasn’t called, and he got a pick-off that ended an inning. I wouldn’t second guess leaving Max in, and in fact Pederson hit a ball that may have been out of the strike zone. I might have even left Max in after that.

    The Nats won 95 games and won the division going away against a very good Mets team. They faced the playoffs, which are a crapshoot anyway, without the guy who was their second-best hitter throughout the season and without their 1-A starter, who was among the league leaders when he went down.

    Next year . . .

    KW

    14 Oct 16 at 7:43 am

  31. KK, I have to say I agree with everything you said, #3-4 much more than #1-2.

    Rzep was the epitome of mediocre and it showed last night. Plus, Solis is great usually when he pitches but his fragility is so pronounced that he can’t be depended on.

    We gave up a lot for Melancon; enough that there should be an effort to sign him this offseason.

    Mark L

    14 Oct 16 at 8:25 am

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