Nationals Arm Race

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

A look at the Nats 2014 schedule…

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One of the interesting components of the Nats 2013 schedule, often repeated in this space in the early parts of last season, was how “front-loaded” it was in terms of opponent quality.  The team’s April and May of last year was loaded with playoff calibre teams, and it wasn’t really a surprise that the Nats were just a .500 team early on.  That front-loading also led to a very sparse period in June and July of 2013 where the team played 8 straight weeks of games against teams who failed to make the 2012 playoffs.  I didn’t sweat our .500 record at the end of April because of it, pointing to the crucial June/July period as a spot in the schedule where the team should have “made up” for its early season.  As we now know, the team continued to play flat all summer and only finally “woke up” when playing a very soft September schedule, and the .500 record in the early parts of the season was far more indicative of the 2013 team than practically any of us thought going into the season.

Caveat before going on; yes I know that the fact that a team made the playoffs in 2013 doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to make the playoffs in 2014.  And yes I know that poor teams from last year are improving and could be more “frisky” in 2014.  That being said … I feel like we’re in a very odd time in Baseball, where payroll issues, changing dynamics caused by the collective bargaining agreement, and teams being stuck in transition are leading to teams being very slow to change their fortunes.  Only Six teams in the NL finished with winning records last year; the 3 divisional winners, the 2 wild cards and the Nats.   If you look at the other 9 teams … which are honestly going to be in a position to improve and be a playoff challenger at this point?  Certainly not Miami or the Cubs.   Philadelphia looks to be in continued decline.  The Mets signed a bunch of re-treads and lost their main pitching weapon.  The Giants spent tens of millions of dollars and didn’t improve their team.  The Padres have 1/5th the payroll of their divisional rivals in Los Angeles.  Colorado still has no pitching.  Arizona keeps losing trades to get rid of players who don’t fit their manager’s beliefs.   Perhaps only Arizona could be friskier in 2014.   Its hard to look at the divisions and not basically predict a repeat of 2013’s playoff races.  Maybe Cincinnati and Pittsburgh regress a little bit.  St. Louis and Los Angeles look every bit as strong as they did last year.  So, basically the games we need to be worried about are almost entirely driven by last  year’s playoff teams.

How does the 2014 schedule shape up, doing analysis of opponents by their position in 2013?  Lets take a look.  Breaking down our 2014 schedule by month:

# games # games vs 2013 playoffs # games vs 2013 winning rcrd
April 28 10 10
May 27 13 15
June 28 7 8
July 25 3 5
August 28 6 6
Sept 26 9 9
ttl 162 48 53

So, once again the team starts the season with a relatively tougher schedule, having to play two sets against the Braves and a 4-game set at home against St. Louis in April.   The Braves by all accounts are weakened by the loss of two key players (Tim Hudson and Brian McCann), and have done relatively little to improve their team this off-season, so perhaps some regression from last year’s 98 win team is in order.  Still, the Braves are the primary competition for the NL East crown and those early games will be crucial.  The Nats also will play the payroll-heavy/possibly improved Angels and the up-and-coming Padres in April, in addition to two 3-game sets against the Marlins and their band of up-and-coming youngesters.  It could be another rough month.

May doesn’t get any easier; fully half their games are against 2013 playoff teams.  The Nats get the Dodgers and their murderer’s row of pitchers at home, then a west coast trip in Oakland and in Arizona (who finished 81-81 last year and could have made the table above look even more daunting), then a 3-game set at home to Cincinnati (who look to be somewhat weaker but still present a great rotation) before traveling to Pittsburgh for 4-games (tough) and then finishing the month at home against AL-power Texas.  That’s a tough month.

June eases up a bit, but it does feature another west-coast trip that includes four games in San Francisco (who could be improved this year) and then three in St. Louis (where we were swept badly last year), before returning home for a big four-game set against divisional rival Atlanta.  The rest of the month looks manageable.

July looks to be the easiest month of the season; the toughest series will be in Cincinnati and a home-and-home against Baltimore.  The entire baseball world is questioning the direction of Baltimore these days, but they are an AL team that features Chris Davis and a plus offense, and those interleague “rivalry” games are always tough.

August features lots of divisional games early on, a 3-game home set against Pittsburgh, and then the beginning of the final west-coast trip of the season in Seattle (an interesting team for 2014).   September starts with the toughest series of the year; 3 games in Los Angeles and then finishes with seven straight divisional series … including the last 10 games against the Mets and Marlins.  Which may be a good thing if the team is chasing a playoff spot or positioning towards the end of the season.

Conclusion: like in 2012 the Nats early schedule is significantly tougher than the middle portion (especially August, where they play just 6 games against teams with winning records in 2013).  The Nats will have to weather the storm early on and hope to dominate and catch up on playoff rivals during the dog days of summer.   Why is this important?  Because generally speaking if you can go .500 against the good teams and then go about .600 against the other teams, you’re almost guaranteed a playoff spot.  Consider: if the Nats go 24-24 in their 48 games against playoff teams, then play .600 ball in the other 114 games (68-46) … that’s a 92 win season.   I think that’s a great goal for this team; 6 games improved with a hope of picking up a few of those games against Atlanta and pipping them for the divisional title.

ps; just 8 days until Pitchers and Catchers report!

Written by Todd Boss

February 5th, 2014 at 9:20 am

13 Responses to 'A look at the Nats 2014 schedule…'

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  1. Pretty interesting. I wonder what the Braves schedule looks like? I think that they are going to be very solid again. They’ll miss McCann certainly, but I am not sure Hudson would have been one of their top 5 starters. Also, I think the Mets will be a solid third in the division, and not an easy pushover.

    Did you consider running this for teams based on the ZIPS projections, rather than 2013 records?

    Took the family to Ft Myers last week for the FCPS 4 day weekend. Passing all those spring training sites gave me baseball fever. Let spring training begin!

    Wally

    5 Feb 14 at 4:48 pm

  2. I’m honestly not a fan of any of those projection systems. I just always feel like they’re completely wrong in obvious ways for players, and I read them and immediately dismiss them every time. Like projecting Bryce Harper to have fewer at bats and lesser numbers this year than last; just look at his April of 2013 for a good “projection” of what he is capable of.

    Braves will be solid; They were 10 games better than the Nats last year. Is Fister over Haren worth 3 wins? At least. How about a healthy 5th starter over a bunch of mediocre to bad 5th starter starts last year from Karns and duke? A couple wins. Hudson was the Braves’ Ace last year; i think he’s absolutely on their rotation if they resign him. And Hudson owned the Nats. That’ll make a dent.

    Todd Boss

    5 Feb 14 at 5:07 pm

  3. Maybe you are right, but Medlen, Teheran and Minor are clearly better at this point, IMO. So you are down to Beachy and Wood, maybe a Floyd rebound? It would be close, I think.

    But their line up has upside, even after subtracting McCann. Uggla may still suck, but if he does, he will not get the PAs that he had last year, and I would bet that BJ Upton will improve. Maybe not to historical standards, but he was worth over 3 WAR in five of the last six seasons, so even bouncing back to league average picks up almost 3 WAR right there. It is going to be a fight, and neither team is overly dependent on 1 player.

    Wally

    5 Feb 14 at 5:35 pm

  4. Hey – Jonah Keri just wrote a piece on the Orioles for Grantland, and in there is quite a bit of new info on the MASN deal. It doesn’t answer all the questions, but it adds more information than I have ever heard before. Worth a read.

    Wally

    5 Feb 14 at 7:41 pm

  5. One of the more interesting points was that MLB is paying the Nats an undisclosed amount to supplement the MASN payments while the dispute is worked out, ostensibly to keep the Lerners from suing. He also says that MASN is leaving tens of millions on the table by having a subpar subscriber deal (so regardless who gets what between O’s and Nats, the total amount is being undersold to cable).

    Wally

    5 Feb 14 at 7:56 pm

  6. Last year, the Nats were not a team that was ready to start the season, which became painfully apparent in Cincinnati. There had been no competition in the spring, and lots of guys weren’t right, physically and/or mentally. Harper charged out of the gate, only to hit a wall (or two). Haren, Storen, Espinoza, and the bench imploded, almost from the start. Werth was still months from being healthy. Span still thought he was in the AL. Gio had Biogenesis on the brain.

    So yeah, here’s hoping that the Nats have their heads and their health in much better shape for April and particularly for May 2014. And yes, they need to kick the Braves around, early and often. This year, Stras won’t miss, and Matt has his back. (Hmm, Matt vs. Fredi might be interesting.)

    But all in all, a baseball season is about taking care of your own business. The Nats didn’t start doing that last year until they were in a deep hole. Don’t worry about the Braves unless they’re in the opposite dugout. If the Nats stay reasonably healthy, they can win 95+. If not, scramble as best you can and make a good run at the end for a wild card.

    KW

    5 Feb 14 at 8:52 pm

  7. Braves: agree on their rotation not “needing” Hudson, which is probably why they let him go in FA. Wood seems to project as a reliever with his funky delivery but so far so good (I mean, they keep saying the same thing about Sale and he just continues to throw 33 starts of 140 ERA+ ball).

    Todd Boss

    6 Feb 14 at 7:24 am

  8. The Keri piece w/ the MASN tidbit about MLB paying the Nats under the table is amazing to me. Clearly Selig realizes just how screwed the Nats franchise is, and how bad an owner he has on his hands with Angelos. You have to wonder; if this sale had gone down now, instead of 2004 before the rise of RSNs and their importance, would that TV deal really had gone through? A new owner of the Nats would have *never* agreed to this deal.

    I think the eventual outcome of the MASN bs is a split into two RSNs. I can see the Nats getting an escape from MASN and perhaps starting their own RSN deal (or perhaps joining to Comcast who already has the Wizards and Caps) and maybe you throw Angelos a small ownership piece as makeweight.

    That being said …. for every bit of irritation I have with Angelos over this deal, at the same time you have to see things from his vantage point. He lost a massive chunk of his market, he needed to be compensated for that. This deal is incredibly unfair to Washington … but it was probably fair to Angelos to gut his fanbase. That’s not entirely the story of course (Angelos also made conscious effort to basically stop competing in some ways in 1998 … and subsequently saw his attendance drop in half), but it is an important point.

    Todd Boss

    6 Feb 14 at 7:29 am

  9. Agree: Here’s an X-factor in the Nats in 2014, one that I harped on over and over last year. Matt Williams is NOT going to allow the Nats to be bullied the way that Davey Johnson was. How many times did Harper get thrown at by Atlanta with no retaliation? Uh-uh; that ain’t happening this year. In fact, I think Williams might just go on the offensive in their first series to send a message, especially if the Nats take 2 of 3 along the way.

    One of my pre-season posts is doing a WAR analysis of the team to try to predict W/L; of course last year that analysis predicted something ridiculous like 108 wins. :-) I can do a re-cap of where that analysis went bad when i do that prediction for this year.

    Todd Boss

    6 Feb 14 at 7:35 am

  10. Yeah, I have to agree that looked at from Angelos’ perspective, you can see his side of things and might, if you were neutral, think that he is the more aggrieved side. He had a property right that he sold, and everyone, including the Lerners, made decisions with full knowledge of his deal. Now that it turns out after the fact that he got a phenomenal deal, everyone wants to retrade it. I mean, that isn’t completely accurate because we don’t really know how the reset should get interpreted, but retrading the deal because it was too lopsided would never fly in the ‘real’ world.

    But I was very encouraged by the article, because to me, the fact that MLB is paying the Nats side money shows me that the league recognizes that this market is important and wants them to have sufficient resources to field competitive teams. That is a great sign for our long term health. Although I agree that the ultimate resolution probably involves either a split up with a big payment to Angelos, or a sale of MASN in its entirety to a third party that will maximize total revenue for everyone. I would think that the league is pressing for that before the RSN bubble bursts.

    Wally

    6 Feb 14 at 10:51 am

  11. I’ve decided to expand on this line of reasoning, coupled with a great article that just came out talking about all of MLB’s legal issues … will post tmrw.

    Todd Boss

    6 Feb 14 at 12:15 pm

  12. Great, look forward to it.

    Wally

    6 Feb 14 at 12:32 pm

  13. new posted; see latest entry…

    Todd Boss

    7 Feb 14 at 11:16 am

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