Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats clinch: a remarkable comeback is complete


Rendon; the unsung hero. Photo Nats Official via

Rendon; the unsung hero. Photo Nats Official via

I posted in this space at the end of May a post called “If we’re waiving the white flag...” , which led to a rather spirited debate as to whether the team could even rebound.

Well, here we are at the end of September, and the team has clinched a wild Card spot.

Arbitrary endpoints for this team:

  • May 23rd: 19-31: 2nd worst record in the NL (trailing only Miami)
  • Since?  67-38; best in the NL.

Here’s my mea culpa; I lost hope in this team in May.  I gave up.  I cannot believe they turned around the season so well.   They’re still going to lose the division by 10 games, but they made it to the coin-flip game.

We won’t know the particulars of the WC game; is it going to be here or on the road?  Is it going to be against Milwaukee (likely) or will the reeling Cubs or floundering Mets pull a rabbit out of their hat to advance (not likely).  So I’ll save predictions and analysis until we know who and where we’re playing.

Congrats to the team for making it to the post season in a trying year ahead of (likely) an off-season of transition.



Written by Todd Boss

September 25th, 2019 at 10:48 am

Posted in Nats in General

18 Responses to 'Nats clinch: a remarkable comeback is complete'

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  1. Thanks Todd!

    To me, what’s most remarkable is that the Nats clinched a playoff spot with five games left in the season. I thought there was a decent chance they’d be in it till the end of the season, but I figured it would have to go down to the final series.

    Also noteworthy: the Braves improved substantially right around the same time the Nats improved, and by a similar amount. In retrospect, the early deficit to the Phillies didn’t matter, because the Nats were enough better than the Phillies to overcome it. But the deficit to the Braves did matter, because the Braves are good, and it’s a lot harder to overcome a deficit to a good team.


    25 Sep 19 at 12:47 pm

  2. A fun fact:
    – when they were 19-31, they were 8.5 games behind Atlanta.
    – Today, after their amazing season-long run … they are 7.5 games behind Atlanta.

    so, despite their entire season long run … they have made up ONE GAME on Atlanta. ONE. that’s amazing.

    Todd Boss

    25 Sep 19 at 1:22 pm

  3. Todd — Welcome back! And just in time . . .

    It’s been a crazy season. There were lots of injuries early in the year, but none season-ending (except for Glover). The bullpen, which many thought had been built for success, imploded from Day 1. (I heard Richard Justice, a well-respected national baseball writer, say that he and many folks he had spoken with thought the additions of Rosey, Barraclough, and Sipp gave the Nats a terrific back end. Rizzo wasn’t the only one who was wrong.) A fair amount of the propping up came from literal rejects: Parra (who has since reverted to the mean but was integral in the turnaround), Rodney, and then the hot-hitting Cabrera, who has driven in 35 runs in his 34 games as a Nat. Kendrick not only made it all the way back from a career-threatening injury but has had a career year.

    There have also been some star-level constants throughout the year, with Rendon and Soto at the plate and Strasburg and Corbin on the mound. Doolittle was indispensable until he burned out, but the old Doo finally looked back in form on Tuesday afternoon. Max was in Cy form until he got waylaid in midseason. Perhaps the time off will leave him with more in the tank for the postseason. Once Turner and Eaton finally got healthy, they started looking like the stars we thought they could be. Trea has scored 94 runs in only 118 games. He’s just two ticks short of .300 and three from SLG .500. Suzuki had a remarkable part-time season until getting hurt (hopefully close to back to healthy, already hitting), while Gomes has finally found his stride while playing more late in the year. Together, they have 28 HRs and 103 RBIs from the catching spot.

    Five playoff teams in eight years. Don’t take it for granted, people. I grew up following a team that didn’t make the playoffs until I was a freshman in college.


    25 Sep 19 at 1:42 pm

  4. Congratulations to the team for hanging in there. Todd, don’t worry about punting on the team in May. You had a LOT of company on that train. At least you acknowledge it (like Barry Svrluga at the WaPO; he’s actually been pretty freely poking fun at himself for giving up on the team).

    Regardless of how long the team goes in the postseason, this has been a fun season for me. First of all, I got to go to baseball game this season where I couldn’t last year because of health issues. And the team has been fun to watch. Even the “Baby Shark” thing has been fun when one is at the stadium – watching thousands of people bopping along like that is fun. YMMV. Well done lads, congratulations. And like DM said, “stay in the fight.”

    John C.

    25 Sep 19 at 2:47 pm

  5. To follow on what John said, I like this team, a lot. It really seems like a TEAM. Harper-bashing is easy, but he was never totally mixed in the chemistry, however you want to put it. It’s hard to imagine the team doing the MVP chant and beer baptism with him the way they did with Rendon. It also now seems like the Werth “clubhouse leadership” wasn’t really what we were told it was. Boz has alluded to this several times, particularly in his chats. The Beard really was more the brooding presence he seemed to be.

    Anyway, there seem to be plenty of real “leaders” in the current bunch, and they ALL seem to have a good time together. Heck, even Zim is diving around, pounding bases, and pointing to the dugout. Will this chemistry translate to anything in October? We’ll see. I sure don’t think this squad will get as tight as past ones have.

    The playoffs are a total crap shoot. The Nats lost the season series to all four of the other NL playoff teams, so expectations will be low, for once. But they played the Dodgers tough in their last engagements, and they have the starting pitching to match up with any team. Bring it on!


    26 Sep 19 at 10:24 am

  6. Nats and leadership: i’d hope they have some “leaders” in the clubhouse, in that they’re one of the oldest (if not oldest) teams in the league ( says 8th oldest bats, 3rd oldest pitchers).

    Todd Boss

    26 Sep 19 at 11:23 am

  7. Todd, I know you’ve had a soft spot for Voth for years; this is the year he finally showed he belonged. Another big game tonight.

    Mark L

    27 Sep 19 at 6:56 am

  8. I have always liked Voth. He seems to have picked up some velocity in the past couple years and really shined this year. I like where the rotation is right now. 2020 guaranteed to have Scherzer, Corbin, Sanchez. If Stras opts out i like their chances of re-signing. Then the 5th spot a competition between Ross, Voth and Fedde again. No more hellickson experimentation. Voth has really done the best of those three contestants at keeping baserunners off the bases.

    Todd Boss

    27 Sep 19 at 2:04 pm

  9. Nome field for WC now clinched, and now the possibility of our WC opponent being forced to play a tiebreaker for the NL Central division?? That is drastically changing this picture.

    Todd Boss

    29 Sep 19 at 10:01 am

  10. Yes, pulling for MIL and STL to end up tied and have to burn their top pitching in a divisional playoff game.

    I’m really impressed with how the Nats finished this week. I was concerned about concluding with five in four days with the Phils and then three with the desperate Indians. The Nats methodically destroyed both of them.


    29 Sep 19 at 2:01 pm

  11. I don’t think there’s going to be a 5th starter competition among Voth, Ross, and Fedde again. First of all, all three are out of options, so it would make a lot of sense to move one or two of them this offseason. Voth seems to be the clear “winner,” with strong performances down the stretch, even in several big games. If any of the three are on the postseason roster, it probably will be Voth.

    Ross is next in line, and starting the last game on Sunday. He has been up and down in his MLB appearances this year. Will he ever get back to how he was in 2016? That may be a stretch.

    Then we have Fedde, highly drafted and perennially hyped, and striking out less than five per nine innings in his MLB time this year. It sure looks like his Nat time is up. He probably can be an effective back-of-the-rotation starter for a number of teams, so a trade would be the smart approach.

    Do they trade Ross as well? Or plan to keep him on the MLB roster as a swingman? His slider has always seemed like a pitch that could make him an effective reliever, but it’s also possible that he might be worth more in trade value as a starter than he is knocking around in the Nat ‘pen next year.

    I wonder what the value would be if the Nats packaged two young, controlled starters together.

    One other note about Voth: he’s been efficiently getting outs in the minors for a long time, but it took minor-league pitching coordinator Menhart getting promoted for him to get a full look in the majors.


    29 Sep 19 at 2:18 pm

  12. Here’s what I see as the biggest question going into the WC game: are Stras and Corbin really going to work out of the ‘pen? There’s a lot of talk that they will. There’s such a different mentality to that than preparing to start, though. Let’s see, Corbin did get relegated to the ‘pen some in 2016 in the midst of a tough season, but of course Stras has always been a starter. The Nats have had some bad playoff experiences with Max and Roark out of the ‘pen, but of course also the memorable J-Zim dominance in 2012.

    But who are we kidding? With the game on the line, we want to see Stras strutting out of the ‘pen instead of Suero. That’s a no-brainer. One would think that unless things take a dramatic bad turn, the preferred ‘pen options would be limited to Stras, Corbin, Hudson, and Doolittle, who finally looks back to his old self.


    30 Sep 19 at 9:25 am

  13. KW – I agree. These are the rules I would use:

    1) if the deficit or lead is four runs or fewer, the only pitchers allowed in the game are Max, Stras, Corbin, Hudson, and Doolittle
    2) if the deficit or lead is two runs or fewer, the only pitchers allowed in the game are Max, Stras, and Corbin
    3) a pitcher must be pulled if the team gets three or more runs behind while he is pitching

    I know that Strasburg has never pitched out of the bullpen in MLB, and I know that it’s possible he won’t perform as well because of it. However, the 2019 Nats’ bullpen is terrible. Even the very best members in it – Hudson and Doolittle – haven’t performed all that well. The season is on the line Tuesday. The team simply cannot leave Strasburg and Corbin on the bench and allow a far less good and far less important pitcher blow the game. It simply cannot happen.

    In 2014, with the Nats facing elimination, in a game Bryce Harper had just tied by hitting a ball into the San Francisco Bay, Matt Williams brought in Aaron Barrett. Barrett was a good pitcher in 2014, and has always seemed like a good guy. But Stephen Strasburg was on the bench and available to pitch. You simply do not trust your season to Aaron Barrett when you have Stephen Strasburg available. Maybe you’re put in a position where you have to rely on Aaron Barrett to save your season (extra innings, other baseball strangeness), but Matt Williams had a choice between Stephen Strasburg and Aaron Barrett in 2014 and he chose Aaron Barret. That cannot happen again.


    30 Sep 19 at 10:40 am

  14. My ideal would be Max for five innings, Stras for four, and Corbin starting on Thursday in Chavez Ravine. (Incidentally, no worries with a Sanchez start in Gm 2, or even Gm 1, as he retired something like 19 straight Dodgers in his last outing against them.)

    I avoided the “controversy” of Max over Stras, but Boz has a lot about it:

    I’m not losing sleep over this decision. I still think Stras will pitch multiple innings on Tuesday, probably more “high-leverage” ones than Max. I’d have Stras warming up by the 4th inning regardless, earlier than that if Max gets into any kind of trouble.


    30 Sep 19 at 12:38 pm

  15. My ideal scenario would be Max for 100-110 pitches in 7 innings, and a five-run lead so Strasburg doesn’t have to pitch.

    Whether to bring in Stras or Corbin in relief (if the situation warrants it), I think depends on what the Brewers do with the lineup. The Brewers do have some lefties with real and persistent platoon splits (Moustakas, Thames). Even though I think Stras can get these guys out, I might prefer Corbin.


    30 Sep 19 at 1:32 pm

  16. I’m not sure that I trust Max for more than six innings, unless it’s really the 20K Mad Max version, and even then not for more than 100 pitches. I think we’re going to see Stras, and that Nats Park will go crazy for it, much like the J-Zimm inning in 2012.

    FWIW, 2019 splits vs. LHB:

    Strasburg: .192/.259/.328
    Corbin: .190/.260/.248
    Doolittle: .221/.241/.416
    Hudson: .205/.280/.368
    Scherzer: .255/.317/.446

    Not sure I want Max facing Moose and Thames for a fourth time, perhaps not even for a third time, considering the other options.


    30 Sep 19 at 2:07 pm

  17. good points all. new posting a prediction piece soon.

    Todd Boss

    30 Sep 19 at 3:50 pm

  18. I think I prefer Max vs. Moose or Thames a third or a fourth time over both Doolittle and Hudson. Not so much over Strasburg or Corbin, but my preference could be affected by how Max is looking.


    30 Sep 19 at 4:39 pm

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