Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats early schedule partly to blame for .500 Record

9 comments

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
April 27 15 55.56%
May 28 12 42.86%
June 27 2 7.41%
July 26 2 7.69%
Aug 27 9 33.33%
Sept 27 6 22.22%
ttl 162 46 28.40%

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.

9 Responses to 'Nats early schedule partly to blame for .500 Record'

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  1. Nicely done. I’m not really all that worried about the year in general, but I am kind of pissed at all the errors and such.

    Mark

    24 Apr 13 at 12:45 pm

  2. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. The Nats are 5-1 against the AAAA Marlins and 5-10 against everybody else, including 2-10 against the National League. They have only about four or five players playing up to or exceeding expectations while everyone else ranges from injured to disappointing to stinking the joint out.

    Sure, it’s a long season, but even teams with high expectations can and do get buried by Memorial Day. I might buy LaRoche and Desmond turning things around, but the questions surrounding Zimmerman’s health, Danny’s cratering at the plate, Gio’s loss of control, Storen’s implosion, and the Haren horror are serious enough to think this team will be closer to .500 than 100 wins when it is all said and done.

    bdrube

    25 Apr 13 at 12:31 pm

  3. I agree with Todd’s take. I think that it has been a bad stretch against a good collection of teams, but I don’t think that it has ramifications for the season, other than the obvious that our main division rival has started well and we have to play 5+ games better than them over the rest of the season to win the division.

    Hitting disappears over stretches of time, and while we are certainly in the throes of that right now, I think that by the end of the year, this team (without any significant additions) will be no worse than middle of the pack in runs scored, and possibly upper third. Since we all need things to worry about, my longer term worries are (i) Gio and (ii) the bullpen. I think that the defense will revert to better production (it almost has to, no?) and the SPs will be fine. I even think Haren is going to be fine.

    But we need Gio to be near ace-like, and he is reverting to velocity and command that he had before coming here. When something like that happens, I always ask myself: ‘which was the anolmaly?’ If he doesn’t get back to last year’s peripherals, he may slide to a 3/4 type. That is my worry, any way. And the bullpen may just be due for one of those group off years. I really don’t have a good feeling about any of them.

    That being said, I was surprisingly encouraged by the St Louis series, as much as you can possibly be encouraged by being swept at home. I thought that the team played well everywhere except hitting, and pitching and defense is the formula for the Nats to win.

    So I will throw out an easy-to-criticize prediction: the worm turns here. We go 7-3 over the next 10, and get back to within a game or two of 1st place.

    Wally

    25 Apr 13 at 1:14 pm

  4. Wally–if I knew you in meat space, I’d be willing to bet you $20 that the Nats will be 3-7 in their next 10 instead of 7-3. Winner would be whoever is closer with 5-5 being a push.

    bdrube

    25 Apr 13 at 1:52 pm

  5. bdrube – I’d take it, although I probably deserve some odds since I’d be bucking the latest trend!

    Hey, what is meat space? Was that an autocorrect, or I have missed out on yet another cool thing?

    Wally

    25 Apr 13 at 2:10 pm

  6. You can’t win if you can’t score … and the Nats ran into good teams with good pitching right at a time when they couldn’t score. They certainly got a bit healthier in the hitting department last night against a poor Bronson Arroyo. More telling will be the rest of the Cincy series, as they are set for three straight games where I think the pitching matchup is basically even (Zimmermann-Bailey, Haren-Leake and then Detwiler-Cingrani).

    Todd Boss

    26 Apr 13 at 9:12 am

  7. But you proved your own point in a certain way bdrube; they’re 10-11 and that’s with “only about four or five players playing up to or exceeding expectations.”

    When the whole team plays up to expectations, they’ll be fine. Its just a combination of a tough early schedule (the point of the post) and bad timing for guys like LaRoche and Zimmerman to suck.

    Todd Boss

    26 Apr 13 at 9:21 am

  8. Turns out they did well against Cincy…better than I was expecting, especially against Arroyo. Three out of four ain’t bad at all and I’m hoping this is what turns things around for the Nats. Pitching was nothing short of excellent. Gonzalez and Zimmermann were locked in, Haren turned in a decent performance and while Detwiler wasn’t on his game as much as his previous starts, he wasn’t terrible. A lack of run support, yet another error and H-Rod turning in a classic H-Rod didn’t help. One thing tho….LaRoche is still just terrible. Rendon hasn’t been that hot at the plate but it looks like he’s trying as hard as he can. LaRoche looks like he’d rather be anywhere else.

    Mark

    28 Apr 13 at 6:47 pm

  9. Detwiler was death by paper cuts. I’ve never seen so many squibs turn into hits. 11 hits that went like this:
    - 15-hopper to Espinosa that went underneath his glove (well placed grounder)
    - Votto’s opposite field poke for a double (decently hit, but arguably a fluke hit despite Votto’s talent).
    - Brandon phillip’s liner up the middle (well hit)
    - Bruce’s decently hit grounder to RF
    - Cingrani’s ball that hit 3B
    ( Choo’s FC grounder to third that Espinosa dropped; should have been a DP )
    - Grotto’s nicely hit grounder to RF to score the un-earned run that never should have happened
    - Frazier’s nice hit to lead off the third
    - Miller’s weird mid-infield popup that fell for a hit
    - Cozart weak grounder to 3b that he beat out but probably was really a throwing error scoring Miller.
    – A weak grounder up the middle and a pop up that fell for a hit in the 5th.

    That’s 11 hits in 5 innings, of which half of them were seeing eye balls that just happened to either fall in or make their way through. One more reason the ERA is not always the best indicator of how a guy pitched.

    I will say this though; I wasn’t entirely a fan of Detwiler/Suzuki’s approach in the first inning of yesterday’s game. He threw 35 pitches and they were 100% fastballs. Now, I know you don’t generally want to throw the whole arsenal in the first inning so you have something new to show guys the 2nd and 3rd time through the order … but dammit, you don’t throw 3-4-5 hitters 6 consecutive fastballs! I don’t care how much movement you have on the ball, they’re going to hit it.

    Todd Boss

    29 Apr 13 at 11:06 am

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