A quick thought, stemming from the comments of the previous post. I’m looking at the starters that the Nats have gone up against to contribute to their current .500 record and they’ve gotten beat by some pretty tough guys. Johnny Cueto, Adam Wainwright, and Matt Harvey (despite his small sample size) are all “Aces” in this league, among the best in the game. Meanwhile guys like Tim Hudson, Homer Bailey, Shelby Miller and Paul Maholm (not normally, but so far in 2013) are all “near aces” or what I like to call #2 starters in the game.
The Nats have gone up against all of these guys and come away with 7 of their 10 losses (as of 4/24/13). There’s no shame in losing to a dominant starter like Harvey or Wainwright.
(Now, as for why the Nats other three losses are against such pedigree’d pitchers as Dillon Gee, Julio Teheran and Alex Sanabia, well, that’s probably another blog entry…).
Anyway, the opposing pitchers have highlighted this blog post’s point: The Nats have had a very tough April schedule. I didn’t really notice it until last week when I saw who the next three opponents were: St. Louis, Cincinnati and Atlanta. Nothing like 11 straight games against 2012 playoff teams while you’re struggling to make your fanbase nuts.
Here’s a quick monthly broken-out guide to the Nats schedule (and a link to the entire schedule in list form) when looking at 2012 playoff teams to get a sense of how tough April is for us:
|Month||Games||#vs 2012 playoff teams||Pct|
Look at how front-loaded this schedule is, and then look at what this team is up against in June and July. 15 of 27 games in April against 2012 playoff teams; Cincinnati twice, the Braves twice and a 3-game set vs St. Louis. That’s a lot of games against very good teams. It’s no wonder we’re exactly a .500 team right now.
But then look at June and July; just four total games against 2012 playoff teams (two against Atlanta a the beginning of June and then two in Detroit at the end of July). The Nats are going to have nearly 8 straight weeks of games in the middle of the season against teams that not only missed the playoffs last year, but in many cases were downright awful and are on pace to be just as awful this year. Teams like Minnesota, Colorado, San Diego, Miami, and Pittsburgh. Plus a bunch of games against teams from our own division that we know are going to be struggling to be .500 clubs all year (namely, New York and Philadelphia). They also will go an entire month (from August 19th to September 16th) without playing a 2012 playoff team.
Now, the above table analysis doesn’t take into account that there are still dangerous teams out there on the schedule. Kansas City is improved for 2013. The Phillies are not going to be an easy out. We’ve got an extra game thrown in against Milwaukee (a team with a winning record last year). Los Angeles and Arizona aren’t going to be easy teams to beat either. But we shouldn’t forget that this Washington team won 98 games themselves last year and should be the bully on the playground this year.
In a previous post I showed a scenario where the Nats can break-even on season series against the “good” teams in the league but be dominant against the lesser teams in the league and end up with a significant amount of victories (north of 100 wins) on the season. Now, so far we’re not exactly breaking even against Atlanta, St. Louis or Cincinnati, but we have been somewhat holding serve against lesser teams like Miami and the White Sox. We just need to get through this early stretch.
I’m not saying, by the way, that this team doesn’t have concerns. The team isn’t hitting well, especially our #4 and #5 hitters (only the most important ones). Dan Haren has been absolutely awful as compared to expectations so far. Strasburg has looked hittable. Gonzalez has been pitching scared. The bullpen has been erratic. The defense has been ghastly (they lead the league in Errors right now). And I havn’t exactly been the biggest fan of Davey Johnson‘s managing thus far. But right now these are small sample sized concerns that can (and should) iron themselves out.
The message is this, all is not lost. Its early. The Nats are going to struggle for the next week to keep up with Cincinnati and especially in Atlanta. We will likely have a losing record on May 1st (I personally see us splitting the home Cincy series and losing 2 of 3 in Atlanta). But we need to be patient and wait to see how this team performs as it enters its “easy stretch” in a couple months. A win in June is just the same as a win in April, and a .500 month can be easily offset by a .700 month or two later in the year.