Nationals Arm Race

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

NLDS Game 5 via my “live texting”

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Rendon's struggles on the night led to an ending that was tough to swallow.  Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Rendon’s struggles on the night led to an ending that was tough to swallow. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

As I watched the NLDS game 5 unfold, I was texting with a couple of fellow baseball fans.  Here’s the content of my texts as the game unfolded for a “fun” look at my instant reactions to what was happening.  I’ve only edited the texts to correct my spelling errors as I furiously typed them after two stiff drinks from my basement … everything I wrote is in blue italics.

We pick up the thread at around 10:15 pm at the bottom of the 5th.

  • That pickoff  was a f*cking balk.  Yup, it was.  You’ll note that Bryce Harper was not even looking to steal and his eyes, once Julio Urias‘ leg crossed the plane, diverted to home assuming the pitch was going home.  I thought Harold Reynolds was awful announcing, but I agreed with him whole heartedly here when he said something to the effect of, “If they’re going to let him do that, he’ll pick everyone off.”  What surprised me was the lack of real complaining done by either Harper or Dusty Baker there, as if they knew arguing about it was futile.  In the end, it didn’t really affect the outcome of the game.
  • Scherzer looks better than I ever thought he’d do.  I assumed he’d give up 2 or 3 runs.  After his Game 1 performance, yeah six scoreless innings was well above the expected result.  
  • He will run the table in the 7th then Solis for the top of the order in the 8th and then Melancon.  Game is over.  Ha Ha.  Yeah, didn’t quite happen that way.  But after he made it through the meat of the order in the top of the 6th, that was a reasonable prediction.
  • Dumb play there on Werth at home; yeah, he was out by 30 feet.  Post-game analysis seemed to question what Bob Henley was looking at; at the point where the relay throw was in, he was still looking out in the outfield.  Is it possible that he thought the left fielder was still trying to retrieve the ball?  In a meager defense of the coach, they did have Danny Espinosa coming to bat, so its not like they had a high probability of a 2-out hit based on his series batting average.
  • [in response to a comment that it’s going to come down to the Nats bullpen] Except this year they’re stellar.  Nats Bullpen #1 or #2 in the league in FIP and ERA and they’ve been solid this post season; just two runs in 17 innings.  All true.  It didn’t matter.
  • Oh man homer.  Finally Max makes a mistake.  Except he really didn’t; look at the Pitch F/X plot of the ball Joc Pederson hit out: it was on the black and low; Pederson made a hell of a swing.  It isn’t like Max grooved a belt-high gopher ball there.
  • Why take him out now?  Don’t like that move.  Still don’t like the move yanking Scherzer; he’s on 99 pitches, he’s got 6-7-8 coming up; yes I could understand not wanting the top of the Dodger’s order to see him a fourth time, but if he already made it through all the sluggers, why not let him finish the inning?
  • First batter four pitch walk; Great.  I think the wrong guy is in the game.  Here of course i’m talking about Mark Rzepczynski‘s not-even-close four pitch walk upon relieving Scherzer, and of course i’m saying that Dusty has brought in the wrong lefty (I wanted Sammy Solis).
  • Geeze; well I guess I was wrong on the bullpen.  This was after the Carlos Ruiz hit gave the Dodgers the lead.
  • Every time Seager swings I think its going out he has such a powerful stroke.  Its funny, but Corey Seager didn’t really have that great of a series; 3-23 but his three hits were two homers and a RBI double.
  • Well that’s what happens when you don’t have a real CF.  And where the f*ck was Werth backing him up?  This was my reaction to Justin Turner‘s triple over Trea Turner‘s head.  Initially I thought he took a bad route, but in retrospect I think that ball was just crushed.  I did have a legitimate complaint about no backup though; Ruiz was running from first; could a backed up play and relay have gotten him at the plate?  Maybe, maybe not.  
  • I think Kelley just blew out his elbow again.  It did not look good when he did it … we now know he just threw so hard that he lost feeling in his hand.  I’ve done that too (never on the mound, but definitely making a 100% max effort throw as an infielder, usually on a relay home).  I’m glad he’s not seriously hurt.
  • 6 pitchers in the inning.  Crazy.  Just an observation.  I don’t know how long that inning took in “clock” time but it had to be over an hour.
  • The guy pitching Dayton?  He lived in my parent’s basement for a summer and I played with him several games back in like 2008.  He didn’t throw 93 back then though.  We’ve reviewed the Boss family’s personal connection to Dayton before… nothing new here.
  • Lifeline!! Holy sh*t!  This was of course the Chris Heisey homer.  Man; Heisey’s stat-line numbers may have sucked this year, but he definitely has come up big with pinch hit homers.
  • Love the move to the closer in the 7th.  [on Kenley Jansen entering the game way early]: I did, and a lot of the observers of the game did too.   Buck Showalter committed serious managerial malpractice for not getting Zach Britton into that do-or-die game, and now we’re seeing nearly every other manager left really thinking outside the box on closer usage.  Andrew Miller‘s numbers this off-season are just off-the charts; I know he’s not the “closer” but he’s absolutely the best reliever out there, and so is Jansen for the Dodgers.
  • Yeah!  Great PR [pinch runner] move too by Dusty.  That was putting in Joe Ross to run for Clint Robinson.  I will complain about Wilmer Difo later on, but I think its worth noting that the Nats bench came up relatively big in Game 5.  Heisey 2-run homer, Stephen Drew “drew” a walk (pun intended), Robinson got a  hit.  On the flip side, Pedro Severino flew out and both Michael Taylor and Difo struck out.
  • Can’t believe Werth struck out there.  Two straight un-clutch ABs.  Those two “un clutch” ABs were of course Werth and then Anthony Rendon both striking out with a runner on third.  Werth especially; all you have to do is hit a f*cking fly ball there and the game is tied.  That’s it!  Rendon’s strikeout clearly closed the book on him in Baker’s eyes.
  • Good night to be an Uber driver.  I think metro closed at 11:20: this was past midnight, observing that the stadium was still pretty frigging full.  Steve Case had departed though; he was in the center-field camera angle all night with his front row seats.
  • Huge Walk; 80% chance of a run now.  How about a f*cking Espinosa bomb.  This was in reference to Drew’s lead-off walk; RE of a man on first with no outs is above .8.  What does Espinosa do?  a bunt pop up??  From there two scrubs out quickly to end the 8th.
  • Well, at least the Nats have the top of the order in the 9th.  Yup; that was the silver lining; the top of the order, the best hitters on the Nats were getting a 5th shot at the title to eke out a run.  If anyone could do it, it would be Turner-Harper-Werth-Murphy.
  • I can NOT believe Kershaw is warming up.  Enough has been written on the topic by now.  But this was definitely shades of Orel Hershiser warming up in the 88 series, or Madison Bumgarner coming in for a relief outing on 2 days rest in the 2014 series.
  • We’ll know soon enough he’s definitely facing Harper.  I got this wrong; totally thought Kershaw would relief Jansen as soon as Turner AB was done.
  • Harold Reynolds is captain obvious.  I wish I could remember what he said, but it was pretty dumb.  Probably something like, “If the Nats don’t score here, they’ll lose.”
  • Nice inning lets see how big their b*lls are.  To channel the criticism of the 2014 team as levied by San Francisco pitcher (and long time Nats tormenter) Tim Hudson.
  • Katie Nolan is hot; this was my humorous comment about the Katie Nolan commercial during the pitching change in the 9th.   She is hot, and she knows a ton about sports, and her podcast is pretty good.
  • Why is there some idiot in a marlins jacket directly behind home plate?  Again, another “killing time” text.  On the TV broadcast some fool in a bright orange gaudy as hell Marlins jacket had positioned himself in pole position for the CF camera.
  • Why isn’t Kershaw in?  As Jansen walked Harper on four pitches.  I was starting to see the narrative; “Dave Roberts holds on to his closer one batter too long” as one of the Nats middle-of-the-order guys hits a walk-off homer.
  • Saving Kershaw for Murphy.  Yup, it became pretty clear that was the strategy.
  • Look at Kenley; he’s done.  He’ll walk Werth. Yup.  This was after watching a painful AB against Werth; clearly Werth was either going to drive a ball or he was going to get walked.  I think Roberts let him go at least one batter too long; he threw nearly half a game of pitches.  I saw a snarky post at HardBallTalk this morning “checking in with Dusty Baker,” who was quoted as saying that Jansen’s outing may affect him in the next series.   Well, its a reasonable concern; he threw a TON of pitches that night.  And he was gassed, perhaps before the 9th even started.  Imagine the narrative if the Nats had won with Kershaw warming up and with Jansen throwing his 50th pitch?
  • One day rest.  Poor form booing him he’s one of the best guys in the game.  Yeah, didn’t like the booing of Kershaw as he walked in.
  • This is an epic match-up all things considered.  Double could win it.   Murphy-Kershaw.  Murphy got him for 2 homers last post-season; could he at least drive in a run?
  • Ugh.  Worst case.  Now its up to a f*cking rookie.  That was it.  Murphy popped up.  Not a fly ball to even advance the runners.  Just worst case result given the situation.
  • This is 3 strikes fast.  My prediction of how long it’d take for Difo to whiff.
  • I bet they wish they had up Rendon right now.  This, and the early  hook for Scherzer, might be the two biggest second guesses I have of Baker’s moves in the game.  Rendon is your #5 hitter; yes I know he struggled all series and he had badly choked earlier in the game … but why are we ending our season with a kid who struggled in AA most of the year instead of one of your most important hitters?
  • Man.  That sucks.  Game over.

Welcome to the off-season.  When I get some time, i’m going to dig into the “draft class”posts.

 

 

13 Responses to 'NLDS Game 5 via my “live texting”'

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  1. From where I was sitting, there was some incidental attrition to catch the Metro – but the stands were pretty full right up to the end. Very proud of the Nats fans last Thursday (even though the lack of Metro pretty much gridlocked traffic around the ballpark).

    For all the second guessers, I’ll note a contrary view from Dave Cameron at Fangraphs titled “Don’t Blame This on Dusty Baker.” http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/dont-blame-this-on-dusty-baker/.

    Yeah, double switching out Rendon hurt. But he did it to keep Melancon in the game, setting up a potential closer vs. closer march through innings. The gamble there is that Stephen Drew (and the rest of the lineup) can tie or win the game before Rendon’s spot comes back up – and tying or winning the game is made much easier if Melancon can hold the Dodgers scoreless. That happened, the offense not so much. I don’t think that’s an irrational gamble going in.

    John C.

    17 Oct 16 at 1:35 pm

  2. JohnC; definitely a good point. In reality; Rendon had really let the team down in this game (7 LOB in 4 ABs…that’s tough to do), and its likely that Baker was watching those at bats with disgust and was ok with the switch to gain the advantages you mention.

    What’s really the point is that, for me, the game was really lost when the Nats had 1st and 3rd with one out and their #5 hitter up and couldn’t do anything. All Werth had to do was hit a fly ball. Nope. Couldn’t manage it. And then of course Rendon couldn’t put the ball in play either. RE of 1st and 3rd with one out is 1.13 with a 63% chance of a run scoring at all. The Nats never should have been in the situation they found themselves in the 9th.

    Todd Boss

    18 Oct 16 at 9:01 am

  3. Well, what really turned the game for me was the fact that the Nationals twice simply crushed baseballs in crucial situations (once by Rendon, once by Murphy); both baseballs had exit velocities of 105+mph – and both were lined directly to outfielders. Yeah, Rendon’s liner left two runners on. What the hell is he supposed to do? Not hit the ball so hard? I’d be shocked if Baker’s decision to double switch Rendon had anything to do with anything other than Rendon’s was the final in the order at the time. OTOH, two crucial Dodgers hits were a bloop hit that benefitted from a shattered bat (it carries to Werth in LF if the bat doesn’t break) and Ruiz’s would be double play grounder that was just off of Rendon’s glove.

    Which is why any single game in baseball really tells you not much at all about the players or the teams. Even short series turn on a lot of random stuff like that. It’s what makes postseason baseball so great, and what makes it so terrible.

    John C.

    18 Oct 16 at 10:28 am

  4. Boz addressed many of these issues, including the Rendon removal, at some length in his chat on Monday:

    https://live.washingtonpost.com/ask-boswell-20161017.html

    I believe they reported on FS1 that the 7th inning was one hour, six minutes.

    OK, I’m about ready to light the hot stove and stop looking back. What will it take to re-sign Melancon . . .

    KW

    18 Oct 16 at 10:31 am

  5. It is worth noting that the Nats lost a 5 game series but,
    a) outscored Los Angeles 24-19
    b) Lost all three games by one run
    c) faced Kershaw as a starter in two of their losses, and kershaw as the closer in the third.

    If you have Strasburg, you don’t start Ross in game 4.

    Noted also the luck factor in game 5 with our hits and their hits. I also think about that ball that Reddick flailed at and got.

    Todd Boss

    18 Oct 16 at 11:04 am

  6. Boswell definitely makes some interesting points in his chat. Which I begrudgingly say because a lot of the time I find myself believing he’s a dinosaur.
    – I liked his point about Scherzer’s dropping changeup usage correlated with his rise in homers.
    – Great point about Pederson’s homer; Scherzer started him with the same pitch AB after AB, which allowed him to “sit” on it and dive over the plate to crush it.

    Hot Stove analysis; i’ve already got drafts of “Nats GM for a day” and rule 5 … but i’ve started digging through the draft class posts. The first one is the hardest to write and i’m about halfway through it.

    Todd Boss

    18 Oct 16 at 11:14 am

  7. Boz also made John’s BABIP “bad luck” points as well. Coulda woulda shoulda. Like Boz, I believe the Nats totally blew the ’14 series. This one was just a tough outcome between a couple of pretty evenly matched teams. I thought the Nats were a better club, but they didn’t prove it on the field.

    KW

    18 Oct 16 at 2:40 pm

  8. And this just in: the Dodger pitching may be pretty good. Just ask Joe “The Genius” Maddon, whose teams don’t seem to hit in the NLCS.

    Boz’s #1 offseason suggestion for the Nats: bring back Desi to play CF. Oy. Yeah, because watching the Nats strike out 63 times in five playoff games just wasn’t nearly enough.

    KW

    19 Oct 16 at 5:16 am

  9. Here’s Desmond’s OPS figures by month in 2016: April: .685. May: .923. June: 1.019. July: .814. Aug: .552. Sept/Oct: .661.

    For a season OPS of .782 playing home games in a hitters park and an OPS+ figure of 104 or slightly above league average.

    I dunno about Desmond. Did he just get super hot for 3 months before reverting back to his normal form? His OPS for all of 2015 with us was just .674, but then the three years prior he was great.

    Would you want to commit dollars and a lineup position to someone so streaky?

    Todd Boss

    19 Oct 16 at 11:05 am

  10. No, no, a thousand times no. I’m glad for Desi that he played well enough to get paid, but not by us. I wouldn’t even really consider it, and I doubt Rizzo will, either.

    I would at least kick the tires on McCutcheon to see if the Pirates might sorta sell low in a deal involving Michael Taylor. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cutch traded somewhere this offseason. He really had a steep fall in ’16, but if he can figure things out, he would be a steal. Even in his “down” year, he still hit 24 HRs.

    To sign almost any of the “big bat” free agents, Harper would have to move to CF, as guys like Cespedes just aren’t CFs. Would Carlos Gomez be worth a look? He’s always had K issues and might be cheap after recent struggles. And of course there will be plenty of chatter about trading for Blackmon, Eaton, Inciarte, et al.

    I do wonder whether Justin Turner could play RF, but he’s a SoCal kid, and the Dodgers have twice the payroll of the Nats, so I doubt he’s going anywhere.

    Here’s my thought. It doesn’t involve a “big bat,” so folks won’t think it’s sexy. I’d trade Danny, Cole, Voth, and a second-tier prospect or two to the pitching-starved Angels for Andrelton Simmons. Turner stays in CF where he can get the most out of his speed plus has a winter and spring to actually learn the position. Simmons has a 7.9% K rate and the greatest range known to man. Contact and defense improve. And Danny goes to SoCal, so Boras shouldn’t be mad at us.

    KW

    19 Oct 16 at 12:37 pm

  11. Desmond: seen that movie–don’t care to see it again, especially given that he will turn 32 late next season. If he loses his speed he’ll also lose a lot of his value.

    My bet is that the Nats will stand pat on payroll, And that the Strasburg extension represents the one big financial commitment for this year. That pushes Rizzo into wheeler-dealer mode, which admittedly is his best attribute as GM.

    Karl Kolchak

    19 Oct 16 at 1:24 pm

  12. harper to CF is one of my hopes for the off-season, in that it really opens up the possibilities of adding a corner OF bat to the lineup and pushing Zimmerman to 7th where his struggles are mitigated.

    … but i don’t want to entirely bury the lede of my upcoming “GM for a day post” so i’ll stop there :-)

    Todd Boss

    19 Oct 16 at 2:05 pm

  13. Following on with what Karl said, and not getting too far ahead of Todd’s promised post (we do have a lot of cold winter months to kill, after all!), it should be pointed out that the Nats could do absolutely, positively nothing in the offseason and still be the favorites to win the division if Cespedes leaves the Mets, and perhaps no worse than the co-favorites if he doesn’t. The Mets have no idea how many of their pitchers will have their arms completely attached come the spring, or if David Wright can come back. And the Marlins took a huge, tragic blow at the top of their rotation and will lose other pitching as well.

    Anyway, I’m not advocating that the Nats need to completely stand pat, but everyone needs to understand that this is the baseline of discussion for Rizzo & Co. There’s no desperation to do any particular thing. I thought much of last winter’s waving of money at guys who weren’t great fits was somewhat ill-conceived. Too bad all they could get was Murphy . . . who turned out to meet the real need perfectly, and far beyond what they could have imagined.

    KW

    19 Oct 16 at 3:07 pm

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