Nationals Arm Race

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

MLB Post Season Predictions

17 comments

How far will Atlanta get in Chipper Jones' swan song? Photo Thearon Henderson/Getty Images via nytimes.com

Everyone has to do a prediction piece, right?

First, a re-cap.  Here’s my predictions at the beginning of the season for how the divisions would shape up;

  • AL East: New York Yankees
  • AL Central: Detroit
  • AL West: Los Angeles Angels
  • AL Wild Cards: Tampa, Texas

AL Narrative: 2/3 for divisional winners and 3/5 for playoff teams.  Not bad.  Oakland and Baltimore shocked everyone, as did the Angels’ failure to really play to their talent/salary.

  • NL East: Philadelphia
  • NL Central: Milwaukee
  • NL West: San Francisco
  • NL Wild Cards: Atlanta, Cincinnati

NL Narrative: 1/3 on divisional winners, 3/5 on playoff winners.  It was hard to see Philadelphia falling to third place, just as it was hard to see Washington improve 17 games from 2011.


Now for the playoffs:

  • AL Wildcard: Texas over Baltimore
  • ALDS: Texas over New York Yankees
  • ALDS: Detroit over Oakland
  • ALCS: Texas over Detroit

AL Narrative: Texas loses the AL title on the last day of the season, but I still think they’re the best AL team.  This is the wake-up call they need to power through the playoffs.  The Yankees are given a huge disservice to have to face Texas on the road right out of the gate; a matchup I don’t think they can win.  Detroit could get the ALCS win but I don’t doubt it; Texas owned them this season (winning 3 of 4 in Detroit and 7 of 10 overall).   Oakland are red-hot but can’t match up with Detroit’s pitching.

  • NL Wildcard: Atlanta over St. Louis
  • NLDS: Atlanta over Washington
  • NLDS: Cincinnati over San Francisco
  • NLCS: Atlanta over Cincinnati

NL Narrative: Atlanta throws unbeatable ace Kris Medlen to win the play-in game, then promptly takes the first two games of the NLDS on the heels of their sweep of the Nats in mid September.  The Nats can’t overcome Medlen’s only NLDS start and lose the series when they can’t sweep a 3-game set here in Washington next week.  Meanwhile San Francisco’s bats go quiet against Cincinnati and the Reds club their way into the NLCS.  Medlen gets two starts in the NLCS, shortening the series to the point where Atlanta cannot be beaten.

World Series: Atlanta beats Texas.  Story book ending for Chipper Jones, and another heartbreak for Texas as they lose their third consecutive World Series.  Texas just isn’t as strong pitching-wise as they were last year, don’t have enough lefties to shut Atlanta down, and I don’t think Yu Darvish will be up to the challenge.  Meanwhile Medlen continues his other-worldly streak of starts; Atlanta has now won 23 consecutive games which Medlen has started (12 this year and another 11 to close out 2010).  There’s no reason not to think that streak won’t continue into the post season; he’s given up a grand total of NINE earned run in his 12 starts this season.

This isn’t the most positive prediction for the post-season for the home team, but the Nats sputtering end to the season does not inspire confidence.  Swept in Atlanta, splits with Milwaukee and then pounded in St. Louis means they’re walking a tightrope in the post-season.  If they get a win in Atlanta, they may win the NLDS.  But the 2-away/3-home structure really works to the detriment of the higher seed; its relatively easy for a team to win 2 straight at home … while its relatively difficult to win 3 straight at home.  But that’s the predicament the Nats may face when they return to Washington.  And get ready for the inevitable “You shouldn’t have shut down Strasburg” pieces, because they’re a-coming unless Washington wins the World Series.  In fact I’ll bet writers already have them penned and in the can, ready to publish (kind of like obituaries for old movie stars that are in hospice).

However, if somehow Atlanta blows the wild-card game I reserve the right to completely re-do these predictions :-)

Written by Todd Boss

October 4th, 2012 at 5:18 pm

17 Responses to 'MLB Post Season Predictions'

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  1. I would have thought that the days when sports writers type could just pull stuff out of the proverbial butt was of yesteryear.

    Maybe the Nats would lose to the Braves. Regardless, I don’t think that it would be tied to having recently lost those 3 games to the them.

    Let a monkey pick the winners next time—they apparently can paint pictures too!

    Brandon Davis

    4 Oct 12 at 10:44 pm

  2. I call them like I see them. Trust me, nobody would like to see the Nats win more. But I have a bad feeling about the way this team sputtered down the stretch and got thoroughly outplayed just two weeks ago in Atlanta. I honestly think we’re going to struggle to get a split in Atlanta, and even if we do Medlen goes in game 3 here; in Medlen’s last start against the strike-out happy Nats he K’d 13 guys in 7 innings in a no-decision. As much as I hate to say it, an early exit also means more Shutdown-Strasburg posts questioning Rizzo’s competence.

    You criticize the post but don’t offer your own opinion? How do you think the Nats match up to either St. Louis or Atlanta right now? Even if we face St. Louis, they fairly whipped us on their turf not a week ago, scoring 26 runs in 3 games. That doesn’t give me a good feeling either. The team has cooled down at the wrong time.

    Todd Boss

    4 Oct 12 at 11:00 pm

  3. Sputtering ends to a season are not necessarily indicative of how a team will do in the playoffs, especially if that team is healthy, which the Nats are as much as they have been all season.

    I grew up a fan of the White Sox, and I have vivid memories of how the 2005 Sox had led wire-to-wire during the regular season and built up a 15 game lead in early August, only to see that lead dwindle all the way to 1.5 in late September before they rebounded and clinched the division.

    Nobody gave the Sox a chance in the playoffs that year since they hadn’t won a playoff series since 1917 and were “sputtering” at the end of season. Next thing you know, they went on an 11-1 run and swept the World Series in four games.

    Personally, I see the Nats splitting in Atlanta and taking the series in five games.

    bdrube

    5 Oct 12 at 7:26 am

  4. Nice post, Todd.

    Curious why you think we got “thoroughly outplayed just two weeks ago in Atlanta.” We should have won the second game of that series and the first was a toss-up.

    I’m also curious why you glossed over the September LAD series win. Those three games were big for both team.

    I get that the Nats weren’t playing brilliant ball the last month or so of the season but they did still finish over .500 in September. Certainly much better than Texas played – who you picked to win the AL.

    One last note – I’d much rather us play St. Louis. I know we got hammered twice a few weeks ago against them but those two abominations were started by Det and EJax.

    I see a Nats/SF NLCS & a Yankees/Detroit ALCS with the Yanks over the Giants in the WS.

    Anyways, thanks for the food for thought. Always fun reading your stuff.

    Chris

    5 Oct 12 at 8:57 am

  5. I’d love to see the Nats split in Atlanta, because it’d mean I was wrong and we’d live to see another day. But I don’t think we beat Medlen in Game 3, meaning this is really the Nats having to win a game in Atlanta and then 2 of 3 in DC. I’m not the only person predicting the scenario I laid out.

    The Nats took the season series 10-8 …. but the Braves took September 4-2, including the sweep two weeks ago.

    Todd Boss

    5 Oct 12 at 9:09 am

  6. Well, I was just looking quickly at a potential ATL matchup. I may have been slightly over-emphasizing our 3 game sweep in Atlanta by saying we were “thoroughly” outplayed. But our starters didn’t really throw that well (Jackson gave up 4 runs in 5 1/3, Gonzalez better; 2 in 5) and we couldn’t hit their B-starters (Minor: 1 run in 6 with a 4.31 era on the season, Hanson 2 runs in 5ip and he has a 4.33 era on the season). The only reason Medlen didn’t shut us out was because Harper hit a hanging curve out for our sole run of that 2-1 loss. For me, that season sweep overshadows the 10-5 advantage we had over Atlanta the rest of the season.

    I also think the fact that Washington has to travel TO Atlanta, just after Atlanta gets a WC win, is a huge disadvantage for a bunch of guys who have never sniffed the post season. There’s going to be pressure, none of our guys have gone through it while Atlanta’s have, and I think that stuff all matters. Perhaps these are all points I should have put into the post; i just wanted to get it out so I could do a pitching matchup post today.

    I place an emphasis on momentum heading into the playoffs. Why have we had so many wild card divisional series and world series winners? Because often times the divisional winner coasts into the playoffs while the wild card guys fight to earn their spot all the way in. To your point about Texas … see the next paragraph.

    One last thing; I think the playoff structure is a HUGE huge disadvantage to the higher-seeded teams. How stupid is it that the #1 seeds in both leagues have to travel and only get one guaranteed home game?? The home-field advantage in baseball games is only about 55% but its still an advantage and you make a team travel to start the biggest games of their lives (in most cases). This is why I like both Texas and Atlanta to not only win the WCs but then win the subsequent divisional series. Texas/Detroit is going to be tough to call honestly. I don’t know what to make of the Cincy/SF series … maybe I’ll change my mind after looking at the pitching matchups.

    Todd Boss

    5 Oct 12 at 9:25 am

  7. Todd, you’re one of the most insightful writers out there, but you are definitely a “glass-is-half-empty” guy, my friend :)

    My take for the WC and AL/NLDS games: Texas is toast. They can’t finish big games. They’re rapidly becoming the Buffalo Bills of MLB, and it’s in their heads now. Hamilton’s error is symptomatic of a larger disease: They choke because they’re afraid of losing. Remember “Mr. Baseball”? They’re not trying to hit, they’re trying not to miss. Baltimore wins the ALWC game, but then lose to the zombie Yankees in 5 games. Oakland has heart, but that shouldn’t be enough against Detroit’s superstars—Tigers in 4.

    In the NLWC game, should be a great game, but Atlanta wins behind Medlen. That said, I am very iffy on this game. Guess what: Medlen is on a great roll, but he isn’t going to win all his starts for the rest of his career, and I predict his streak will end this month. In the NLDS, I don’t believe the Braves can beat both Gio and Z’mann, so it will be 1-1 or 2-0 Nats when the series goes back to DC. Detwiler and Jackson are both much better pitchers at home than on the road. Also, Atlanta’s WC game ensures Medlen will only be available once for the NLDS. Nats win in 5. Reds lose first two in SF and lose series 3-1.

    clark17

    5 Oct 12 at 10:36 am

  8. I have been accused of having no fun, yes. And yes, I thought about that as I did that prediction piece. I am glass-is-half-empty when the deck is stacked against you. If this series was starting in DC I’d have a completely different take. I can’t find the reference but someone looked up the records of the favored teams in the 2-away/3-home format and it was atrocious; 11-21 or something like that. And that’s for the team with the better record!

    If this was a 2-2-1 format (first 2 in dc, 2 in Atlanta, last one here) i’d be talking a different tune. I’d be talking about throwing two dominant lefties back to back at home (Gio and Detwiler) and getting a 2-0 lead, then throwing Jackson to the wolves in game 3 against Medlen before coming back and pounding them with Zimmermann and his good road record in game 4. We win that series 3-1.

    (assuming Braves win, as I did): I’d say that the Braves lesser ability to hit lefties would give Gio the best shot to win in Game 1. Zimmermann has great road-splits and could be great in game 2. Buuuuuuuuut. The Braves just beat Gio in Atlanta in mid September. So that’s no lock either. We’ll be going against probably Hudson at home and he’s no slouch. He has that ridiculous record with 3+ run leads in his career, and the Braves can put up runs.

    But Hey, what do I know. That’s why they play the games :-)

    Todd Boss

    5 Oct 12 at 11:48 am

  9. I have noted before that you are the Eeyore of the internets when it comes to the Nats :)

    Argument 1: As noted by the number crunchers at Baseball Prospectus, how a team finishes the season doesn’t matter. Or in math speak, the correlations amount to ” … a whole lot of nothing, an essentially random relationship between recent performance and first-round success. None of the correlations even reached .05 in either direction, and six of the eight were actually negative.”

    Source: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=14911)

    But by all means, be concerned about how the Nationals played in September. They either will play well or they won’t. But regardless of result it will have had little or nothing to do with how they finished the regular season.

    Opening on the road really doesn’t matter that much either. The Nationals were 50-31 (.617) at home, scoring 367 runs. They were 48-33 (.597) on the road, scoring 364 runs.

    The playoff experience narrative is also easily adjustable to results. If the Nationals don’t play well, they “were overwhelmed” or otherwise new to the experience. If they do play well, then they are young enough so they “don’t know what they don’t know” and just played loose and carefree. And you can find recent examples to fit either story line.

    You seem quite willing to site one middling start to raise concerns about Gio, without noting that in his three starts this season against the Nationals Tim “he’s no slouch” Hudson has given up 22 hits, 17 runs and 16 earned runs in 18 2/3 IP. If the Nats should be concerned about Gio, the Braves must be terrified about Hudson in Game 1 (assuming, as we both do, that the Braves are the team that advances).

    I think the Nats open with Gio vs. Hudson in Game 1, and Zimmermann vs. Minor in Game 2. Medlen vs. Detwiler in Game 3, and either Lannan or Jackson against Hanson or Maholm in Game 4. Could it be a disastrous sweep? Sure. For either team. But if you put a gun to my head and made me choose the winner, I’d go with the Nationals. The Braves lineup has been terribly inconsistent all season long, and just terrible against LHP. The Nats have three solid-to-good LHP in the bullpen and least two (DJ has flirted with using Lannan against the Braves) of the four starting pitchers. It’s possible that the Braves would only see one RHP in a five game series, and that one is “no slouch.”

    John C.

    5 Oct 12 at 12:53 pm

  10. Good points all. I am eeyore. All the more appropriate as we expect our first kid and I start to get far more familiar with the work of A.A. Milne :-)

    It is a fair point that any concerns I have about Washington’s finish can equally be applied to Texas, who I think still makes the WS. I have no proof other than a “gut feeling” to back these things up. I had a post idea talking about how the team seemed to be struggling to the finish line but never got to it. Not statistically related, just a feeling. Lots of tired arms, lots of sloppy games played in the run-in. I just hate that the 2012 Nats narrative will read “they shouldn’t have shut down Strasburg” no matter what happens, unless we win the Series. And even then, critics will say something like “they’d have swept the series if they had Strasburg.”

    Is Hudson a “big game” post season pitcher? http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hudsoti01.shtml shows 1-3 with a 3.46 ERA all told, but he’s only got one post-season start in the last 6 years, an excellent no-decision for Atlanta in 2010. Not much to go on. Minor has zero post-season appearances. Even less to go on. Maybe i’m being colored by watching what the team did against Kendrick last monday (clinch night). Against the same middling starter they pounded a week prior, the Nats were just impotent. Maybe they were all just really tired on Monday.

    Todd Boss

    5 Oct 12 at 1:11 pm

  11. First, I’d like to state that I actually fear the Cardinals more than I fear the Braves. The Cards are over-achievers: After losing LaRussa, Pujols, and others, they’ve achieved the rare feat of being a defending champ with low expectations. They’re playing with house money, and Atlanta should be nervous.

    Second, I read a fascinating stat this week. During Medlen’s unreal string of winning starts, the Braves have been only a .500 team in games that Medlen DIDN’T start. It’s amazing to me that a playoff team could be that dependant on one pitcher, and—should Atlanta beat the Cards—Medlen should start only one game against the Nats in the DS. Meanwhile, the Braves will have to win two-of-three against Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Z’mann, and Ross Detwiler just to avoid having to face Gio Gonzalez again. I agree with John C that the Braves have a lot more reason to be anxious than the Nats than vice versa. Todd, you are investing WAYYYYYYYY too much in a single three-game series in September, and the Nats played well in two of those three games. Before that series, the Nats were an astounding 10-5 against Atlanta, and one of those five losses was the super-flooky 9-0 collapse.

    Finally, I could be wrong, but I think you’re putting more into this Strasburg angle than the media will. Once he was shut down, the press mostly moved on (Strasburg’s final start meltdown helped). During their mediocre finish, I didn’t read or hear any “see, they shouldn’t have shut down Strasburg” comments from the national or local media, in part because Lannan pitched fairly well until his final outing. And whatever happens in the postseason, I’m near-certain that no credible media source is going to question Rizzo’s “competence”. Mike Rizzo should be in line for executive of the year, regardless of postseason results, and there’s no “incompetence” angle to the Strasburg shutdown. Incompetent belongs to John Henry for hiring Bobby Valentine; or to Stan Kasten and the LA Dodgers FO for trading for a quarter-billion dollars in additional payroll and not even making the playoffs; or to Jim Bowden, just for the hell of it! Whatever happens in the playoffs, I believe the only people who would attack the Nats for shutting down Strasburg are the sports people who make provocative statements just to get attention—idiot former jocks like Curt Schilling and Mitch Williams, along with attention-starved sell-outs like Skip Bayliss and—just added!—Michael Wilbon (to paraphrase Michael Corleone in Godfather 2, “You broke my heart, Wilbon! You broke my heart!”).

    clark17

    5 Oct 12 at 2:45 pm

  12. Todd — reposted from Nats Insider:

    I also did a little research this morning in response to those (like Todd Boss on Nationals Arm Race) who would pick either the Cards or the Braves over the Nats because of their most recent series against us. And others have said that the Braves and Cards were playing better than we were in the last month, that we were stumbling into the playoffs.

    First, as Boz has written recently, there’s a big difference in motivation when a must-win team is facing a nice-to-win team. When you get to the playoffs, everyone’s motivation is the same, win or go home.

    Beyond that, as Harry Truman said, let’s look at the record. In the past month, starting with the first series that extended into September, the

    Braves were:
    14-5 against non-contenders
    6-7 vs. contenders (Phi 2x, Mil, Nats)
    6 of final 18 games played against contenders

    Cards were:
    9-6 vs. non-contenders
    8-9 vs. contenders (Nats 2x, Mil, LAD, Cin)
    10 of final 19 games played against contenders

    Nats were:
    8-2 vs. non-contenders
    12-11 vs contenders (Cards 2x, Atl, LAD, Mil, Phi 2x)
    All final 19 games played against contenders

    Who’s the only team of those three with a winning record against playoff-caliber (and playoff-motivated) teams?

    Your NL East Champion Washington Nationals!

    Steady Eddie

    5 Oct 12 at 4:12 pm

  13. Well, so much for that. Braves are out after throwing the ball all over the field and Medlen wasn’t so “invincible” after all. The Braves were the same pretenders they always are. The Nats may lose to the Cardinals, but at least we can throw out all of this nonsense about the team going out early because they were “sputtering.”

    bdrube

    5 Oct 12 at 9:19 pm

  14. Wow. I can’t believe that call. I just can’t.

    clark17

    5 Oct 12 at 9:58 pm

  15. Okay, I’ve recovered from the worst umpiring call since the Jeffrey Maier game. This one was worse, actually. The impetus behind that bad call was Maier reaching out over the wall. In this case, the umpire himself was the cause of the bad call. The IF fly rule is a tricky thing, but it can’t be applied 60 feet into the outfield.

    All that aside, I should have gone with my gut on that game: I had a gut feeling the Cards were going to win, but I narrowly picked the Braves because my head disagreed with my gut. The Braves have been chokers since I was still in college (i.e. they don’t handle pressure well), and St. Louis had zero pressure on them in last night’s game. Also, someone was going to get to Medlen eventually. Now the Nats are facing the team I fear most in the NLDS. The Cardinals are dangerous. I can see St. Louis sweeping the Nats much easier than I can see us sweeping them. That said, I don’t believe either team will sweep. I’ll take the Nats in 5, but I’m worried.

    As for the AL, as I said, Texas is toast. They may never win a WS with this current team. Talent is great, but they lack heart. I’ll stand with my current AL picks: Yankees in 5, Tigers in 4.

    clark17

    6 Oct 12 at 7:39 am

  16. Yeah, so much for that. Medlen’s line wasn’t horrific: 6 1/3rd, only 3 hits and no walks. That’s less than a half a base-runner an inning and he ends up giving up 5 runs. 3 errors will be your downfall every time.

    Todd Boss

    6 Oct 12 at 8:54 am

  17. Awful, awful call. A clear example of the umpire over-thinking the call and inserting himself into a game situation where he didn’t need to. I’m surprised they didn’t over turn the call frankly. The Protest was ridiculous; clearly this was an opinion call and you can’t protest them. Surprised the umps even allowed it. Bases loaded with one out is such a big difference than 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs. Here’s a quick matrix for 2011 RE matrix: http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/run_expectancy_matrix_2011_is_1969_1992/ . Bases loaded with one out you expect 1.5 runs. 2nd/3rd with 2 out you expect .5 runs. That call *may* not have factored in to the game result (based on what happened after it) but momentum is key and that call killed it.

    Todd Boss

    6 Oct 12 at 9:10 am

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