Nationals Arm Race

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

Panic time for 2018


The time has come to officially panic, both about Harper and this team. Photo via ftw/usatoday

The time has come to officially panic, both about Harper and this team. Photo via ftw/usatoday

I’ve certainly been among those making excuses for this team, and for players on the team, for a while now.   These points are true:

  • They are better than their pythagorean record; by runs scored versus runs against, they should be 45-39, in 2nd place ahead of the luckier Phillies but still 5 games back of the surprising Braves.
  • They’ve been incredibly unlucky in one run and extra inning games.  This is a direct input to the pythag record; they’re 8-16 in one run games and 2-4 in extra innings.  Both the teams ahead of them in the NL east have wildly better one-run records (13-6 and 18-7 respectively)
  • They’ve been just slaughtered with injury, at various times this year leading the NL in total players on the D/L and total man-games lost.
  • They’ve experienced a complete gutting of last year’s middle of the order, with Ryan Zimmerman disappearing for weeks on end with little-to-no idea when he’d come back, Daniel Murphy taking nearly half a season to recover from his surprise off-season knee injury, and Bryce Harper putting up one of his worst seasons … clearly pressing, expanding his zone and being amazingly unlucky in terms of BABIP thus far this season.

To add insult to injury, #2 starter Stephen Strasburg threw his annual arm injury into play early this year, our mid-rotation guys have struggled, and our #5 starters keep going down with injury.

What else is true?  This is a team that’s kinda old; average age 29.1 (which is only 10th), but which is helped greatly by the presence of youngest-guy-in-the-league Juan Soto.  And Old teams get hurt, a lot.  Meanwhile  young teams (like Atlanta at 5th youngest and Philly who are the absolute youngest teams) don’t get hurt a lot.

This season is starting to remind me of a couple of past seasons:

  • 2012, when the Nats were significantly improved from 2011 and took the league by storm, frankly, a year before they thought they would.  To me, this is the 2018 Braves.   The Braves only won 72 games last year; now they’re on a pace to win 94 games.  That’s a massive difference year over year and they’re doing it with almost  no off-season moves; all internal.
  • 2015, when the Nats themselves showed similar season-long malaise and only came to life at the end of the season when it was too late and all they managed to do was cost themselves draft position the next year.

So what now?  They just finished a relatively brutal section of the schedule, playing a ton of AL East teams.  AL teams are bad match-ups for any NL team thanks to the DH’s impact on roster construction … even if they’re playing a crummy AL team like Tampa or Baltimore.  But to face off against the likes of Boston and New York, who are juggernauts, with a sputtering offense and missing a couple of key arms … well its no surprise to me they got swept.

The next 3 weeks will be the season.  They have 3 series against poor teams where they should be able to go 8-3 or 9-2 if they’re a legit team.  The should get at least one arm back in Hellickson and maybe Fedde can be replaced like for like with the surprising Jefry Rodriguez until Strasburg shows back up.   Then we have to hope for a post-all star game bump and take it to Atlanta in the first season post ASG to make up some ground.

Now, what does this team have going for it?

  • Harper just cannot continue to hit this badly; at some point he should have a solid month.
  • This team was dominant in May; it can play .600 ball when it needs to
  • Strasburg returns likely after the ASG
  • The Nats have one of the easiest remaining schedules in baseball; slightly easer than Philly and significantly easier than Atlanta.   The Nats have no more interleague games either.
  • Furthermore, the Nats have already done all their West Coast trips; their worst remaining road trip is to Colorado the last series of the season.   Both their NL East competitors still have big west coast trips to make.

So the big question is this: can this team get it together a little now, a little in August and put themselves in a position to take back the division?   If they scuffle and go just .500 between now and the ASG … then no way.



Written by Todd Boss

July 5th, 2018 at 11:18 am

21 Responses to 'Panic time for 2018'

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  1. To see something both weird and encouraging, look at Fangraphs’ current playoff odds:

    FG still has the Nats as the favorites to win the division and as the team from the division most likely to make the playoffs. I guess the Nats are benefiting heavily from an easier schedule in the second half.


    5 Jul 18 at 11:35 am

  2. Harper and Murph carried the team last year offensively, with early help from Zim. Now Murph is very ordinary, Zim may never return, and Harper is doing his best to win the “Dave Kingman” award. Only Max is meeting expectations, and he hasn’t won in 5 starts.

    You’re right, the next 3 weeks is the season for them.

    old guy

    5 Jul 18 at 11:37 am

  3. These next 11 games are massively important. “Righting the ship,” “treading water,” and “beginning to think about selling off” are all in play based upon how they do between now and the ASB. I want to see 4 games back of the division going in to the ASB. I’ll take 5 games back. But if we’re still 7 games back (and trailing two teams), that hole may be too difficult to climb out of at this stage in the season.


    5 Jul 18 at 12:41 pm

  4. The Nats are in a hole because they aren’t playing up to their capabilities. Yes, they’ve had injuries, tougher schedule, unexpected challenges from ATL and PHI, but this team isn’t even at its “expected” 45-39.

    What’s it going to take? At least .600 ball the rest of the way, which would put them at 88 wins. I think 88 takes the division, but for reference, the NL wild card cutoff last year was 87. Now, it’s possible that the Braves and Phils fade and that the division can be had for less than 88, but .600+ ball needs to be the target.

    You get to .600 by clobbering sub-.500 teams, which the Nats are playing the next 11 games. Knock two or three off the games-back column before the post-AS head-to-head in ATL and it will be the young Bravos with sweaty palms. If the Nats putz around and are still seven games back by the AS break, though, then it really will be time to start worrying.

    I’m betting Murphy is about to turn the corner. If he starts hitting, with Rendon already going, that should take some of the pressure off of Bryce. That’s my theory/hope for now! (But I’m almost afraid to watch the Marlin series because if they don’t turn it on now, it could get ugly.)


    5 Jul 18 at 12:51 pm

  5. Derek — I was posting almost the same thing about games back at the same time. Really, I’ve always thought of those in five-game increments. If you’re more than five back, you’re in the danger zone but still within reach. If you’re more than ten back, it’s panic time.

    For reference, the Nats have never been more than four games back in a year they won the division, and that was in April of ’14. That number isn’t a real indicator, though, as they’ve never really have very close races, except when they were sputtering trying to catch the Muts in ’15.


    5 Jul 18 at 12:56 pm

  6. well so much for righting the ship. when your #5 starter gives up 7 runs in the first two innings … the game is already over.

    Todd Boss

    5 Jul 18 at 8:03 pm

  7. How about 9 thru 4 IP while your vaunted offense looks helpless against a soft throwing rookie in his second career start?

    I was truly optimistic that playing Miami would help cure their ails.


    5 Jul 18 at 8:37 pm

  8. Is there anyone on this team who will throw the bats out of the bat rack or something? Really, I want to see guys pissed. This series is supposed to be their new beginning, but they botch grounders and hit batters and make a total hash of it right off the top. Jeez.


    5 Jul 18 at 8:49 pm

  9. Put the kid to bed and they’re down 9-2. Happen to glance back and they’re frigging winning 10-9. Their leadoff hitter has hit two out, including a grand slam.

    If they can get a win when their #5 starter has given up 9 runs in 4 innnings … that’s found gold.

    Todd Boss

    5 Jul 18 at 9:46 pm

  10. Hell Yeah!!!! Unbelievable. Braves currently trailing as well. If this season turns around, this one is a contender for the all-time top-10 list.


    5 Jul 18 at 10:08 pm

  11. Jesus, now its 14 runs and its only the 7th inning. Turner now has 8 RBI from the lead-off spot.

    I hate to state the obvious sportswriter pun … but is this the turning point?

    Todd Boss

    5 Jul 18 at 10:08 pm

  12. Book it! Wow.

    Lots of negative buzz recently about Kevin Long, but I wonder if he’s been helping Trea get going. He’s certainly behind what Matt Adams has been doing.


    5 Jul 18 at 10:45 pm

  13. Tim Collins cleared waivers and is reporting to Syracuse. Very good news.

    Dodgers whiff on signing their first-round pick.


    5 Jul 18 at 10:49 pm

  14. Amazing how different the night now feels. I hope they keep grinding and not believing that all is magically well. Now let’s work on the SPs giving quality starts consistently.


    5 Jul 18 at 10:57 pm

  15. Great win at a much-needed time. That said, they’ve still got to play better baseball. They trailed the worst team in the NL 9-0 because of bad baseball, then gave up a three-run homer (two on with walks) that made things uncomfortably close at the end.


    6 Jul 18 at 7:58 am

  16. So, two games “After Team Meeting,” 2 wins and two games gained on Atlanta. Neither game was what we’d call a dominant deserved win … but that was kind of the point of our record in 1 run games/pythagorean … we’ve been on the losing end of games like these two for far too many of our fair share this season. Now tonight we have Scherzer going …. and then Sunday a toss-up by ptiching matchup trends. We’re getting healthy against the team we should be.

    Todd Boss

    7 Jul 18 at 4:47 pm

  17. OK, so NOW we’ve got the “dominant deserved win” . . . but didn’t gain anything in the standings. The ship seems to be turning in the right direction. And perhaps we should give Rizzo a little love for getting Reynolds for nothing! Between what Reynolds and Adams have been doing, it really may become a ticklish situation when(ever) Zim is ready.

    Now it’s time for Roark to actually show up on Sunday . . .


    7 Jul 18 at 10:53 pm

  18. Also, Robles and Glover got game action in the GCL today, and Joe Ross threw off the mound at Nats Park yesterday. He could be ready by August, although he hasn’t officially started rehab yet. Stras threw a pretty lengthy simulated game yesterday and could be ready by the ATL series. So the cavalry is on the way.

    Weirdly, I’m not quite sure how/if Robles fits with this team right now. They’re already basically benching Taylor to keep Soto in the lineup (with good reason). Do they burn service time for Robles to have him replace Goodwin on the bench? (For those who think they would bench Bryce in favor of Robles, um, no. For this team to ultimately go very far, their best everyday player has to get his mojo back.) As for Ross, if they don’t think he’ll make it all the way back in time, their most affordable trade option might be his older bro.


    7 Jul 18 at 11:10 pm

  19. Another option when Robles is ready is to trade Taylor. Yes, I know what Taylor did in the playoffs last year, and yes, I know he’s a terrific defensive replacement when he’s not starting. But here are his career numbers as a pinch hitter: .114/.162/.200. If he’s not starting, he’s not much, other than a defensive replacement.


    7 Jul 18 at 11:16 pm

  20. OK, I agree with the Natosphere that we’ve moved beyond the “hot take” level that Roark is becoming a problem. I just don’t know of an easy solution. There had been scuttlebutt about Tyson Ross, but he gave up 8 ER in 2.0 IP yesterday. The decision not to have EJax with the MLB team as a long man is looking pretty bad right now, particularly as he’s pitching well in OAK. The A’s are actually in the wild card hunt, though, so may not be sellers this year.

    Right now, Voth or Milone might be better than Roark. J-Rod is getting another start on Monday. I’m still not sold on him. Kinda scary that they’ve got Rodriguez and Hellickson scheduled back to back.

    It’s not just Roark, either. Overuse really seems to have caught up to Miller and Madson. I’d think about shutting down both of them through the break.


    8 Jul 18 at 8:04 pm

  21. As much as I hate to agree with Thomas Boswell, he had some very good points in his article today:

    For all our kvetching about the offense, here’s the stats Boswell pointed out about the starting pitching lately: Since Strasburg hit the D/L, our starters not named Scherzer have pitched to a 7.82 ERA and given the team one win while they’ve gone 9-18.

    Wow. That’s pretty eye opening.

    Todd Boss

    9 Jul 18 at 11:30 am

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