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Sorry for Radio Silence/its the Over-reaction Season!

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Cole: over reaction to his first start or not? Photo AP

Cole: over reaction to his first start or not? Photo AP

 

First off, welcome to the 2018 season.  Sorry for the lack of material here; its been a heck of a spring.  Shifting priorities and a job transition that included basically four months of overlapping tasks has sapped all my spare time.  Thanks for keeping the conversation going.  Today marks the official end of the main source of time issues … so perhaps starting in the coming weeks i’ll be able to return to all the “fun stuff” that I like to talk about.  Minor league pitching staffs, opening day trivia, starter rankings, nats prospect rankings/farm system rankings analysis, etc.  We’ll get there.

In the meantime, inspired by Keith Law’s frequent answer to questions in his chat yesterday,  lets have some  Over Reactions to the first few games of the season.

  1. A.J. Cole‘s first start debacle; disagree with me if you want, but was anyone really, really that surprised by his dud of a first start?  If you want to tell me that its just one game, SSS, yadda yadda … then what in his previous time in the majors gave you any impression that he had turned a corner?  I didn’t get a chance to post about it, but the signing of Jeremy Hellickson to me was a sneaky awesome move .. i absolutely think he can and will slot into that 5th starter spot and give much more competent starts for the big league team going forward.
  2. Ryan Zimmerman‘s slow start.  I have literally never heard of a player who “took off” the entirety of Spring Training like he just did.  Now he’s just 3 for 22 and has gotten sat twice in the season’s first week.  WTF is going on?  I am firmly in belief there’s some unannounced injury issue there that the team for whatever reason is being silent about.
  3. Koda Glover‘s shoulder.  Is Glover the new Christian Garcia at this point?  He’s now on the 60-day D/L… is he gonna come back off?
  4. Adam Eaton‘s ankle.  Hmm … considering the irony that the Nats traded not one, not two but eventually three guys who could have eliminated the entire A.J. Cole situation to acquire Eaton … and that he’s played a grand total of 29 games in a Nat’s uniform … any injury, even if minor, seems like a cause for concern.
  5. Catchers.  our three catchers are now a combined 3-22.

I realize its easier to focus on the negatives (above) than the positives (Bryce Harper‘s monster start, the other four starters excelling thus far, Eaton’s great production early).  But hey, its also conversation starters.

So which of these 5 issues above is really something you’re worried about at this stage?  Are you worried about nothing because its 7 games in and nobody should over-react to anything?    If I had to rank my 5 issues in terms of worry for me right now, not even being realistic and acknowledging that its still early, blah blah, i’d probably go 1,2,5,4,3.

How about you guys?  Anybody go to opening day?  We had SRO tickets but bailed when it looked like the wind chill was going to be in the 30s.  :-)

Written by Todd Boss

April 6th, 2018 at 1:42 pm

Spring Training conversation Place holder

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Maybe its the inverted W that keeps causing Glover shoulder issues? Photo via mlb.com

Maybe its the inverted W that keeps causing Glover shoulder issues? Photo via mlb.com

Hey guys.

So … in case you couldn’t tell, I’ve been swamped and have not been posting.  Its a job transition thing; I’ve gotten hit on all fronts and just have had no time to do much of anything outside of work.

At some point this spring, I hope to do a review of the non-roster invites, like I do every year, since we’re almost guaranteed to get an NRI making the roster.

Big news so far in camp, of course, Koda Glover lasting about 5 seconds into spring training before getting shut down due to shoulder soreness.   I’m beginning to think Glover is the latest incarnation of Christian Garcia, a guy with an 80 arm and a 20 ability to stay healthy.

I guess the other big news is non-news; Bryce Harper preemptively telling reporters to not bother asking him about  his pending free agency.  Fair enough; good luck having that directive stick as Harper (the biggest personality in the sport) travels to all the major baseball cities with beat reporters looking to fill inches.  Harper also made an off-hand comment about the Marlins, quickly retorted by Don “get off my lawn” Mattingly, who was subsequently ridiculed for  his over-reaction by none other than frequent Nat-hater Craig Calcaterra over at Hardball talk.

Chalk all that up to “slow news day.”

Glover’s injury quickly led to a 40-man deal for the ageless Joaquin Benoit, which will require a corresponding 40-man move.   I’m wondering if Glover to 60-day D/L won’t be the play, since they were pretty quick to shut him down post-MRI.  Actually, it probably makes more sense to officially move Joe Ross to 60-day D/L first,  since we won’t be seeing him til August  at the earliest.  (Post-publishing update: yup, that’s exactly what they did when the signing became official; moved Ross to 60-day d/l).

Speaking of Benoit, even given his guaranteed signing, I don’t see a pathway to the 25-man roster for him.  As I’ve noted before, the Nats bullpen is pretty full:

  • four veterans on guaranteed contracts in Doolittle, Madsen, Knitzler and Kelley.
  • three younger guys, all of whom have zero opens left: Grace, Solis and Romero.

Soooo, unless there’s another injury, or a DFA, I’m not quite sure how Benoit makes this team.

In other non-news … the Nats still don’t have much of a 5-th starter competition.  Mike Rizzo was quoted a few weeks ago “naming” A.J. Cole as his 5th starter.  And why not?  Also out of options, Cole makes the team or faces the waiver wire.  So it only makes sense for him to break camp with the team as its 5th starter.

Not much else to report for now.  Can’t wait for games to start so we can have our typical over-reactions to stat lines!

Written by Todd Boss

February 21st, 2018 at 10:15 am

Ask Collier; Pre-New Year’s Eve Mailbag

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Is this what we're waking up to on 4/1/2019?  Photo via barstoolsports

Is this what we’re waking up to on 4/1/2019? Photo via barstoolsports

 

In this slow baseball off-season news cycle, anything is good.  We’ve signed a handful of MLFAs, some of which may even contribute, and we’ve fortified a couple of known roster spots.  But nothing major has happened really (at least not to us).

Lets check in with mlb.com Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier, who posted a mailbag today on 12/28/17.


 

Q: What’s the impact of the Stanton to Yankees on Bryce’s next deal and potential for remaining with Nats?

A: I think its significant, and combined with a couple of other factors may actually help convince Bryce Harper to stay put.

First, the players union focused all its efforts on the Qualifying Offer  in the most recent CBA negotiations and gave up a huge concession in form of the luxury tax implementation.  Now, it isn’t a “salary cap” but it sure is acting like it.  When your biggest spenders (Yankees and Dodgers) are playing payroll games in order to get under neath the threshold … its serving as a defacto cap.  And it should be noted the Union did not get a corresponding “floor” … meaning that team after team will be punting on seasons ala Houston and Chicago and not spending money, thus bringing the FA spending down.  This situation will only continue into next off-season, which is setup to be the greatest Free Agency bonanza ever.  But are all these 2018 FAs fooling themselves into thinking they’re going to get the money they’re seeking?  You can already see the impacts; there’s been almost no movement in the 2017 FA market and I suspect that mid-level guys are going to get completely screwed.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have now committed $30M/year to an outfielder who basically plays the same position as Harper in Giancarlo Stanton.  And even the Yankees still need to find money to pay for pitching.  Can you field a competitive team with a thinned farm system and two players accounting for nearly half your payroll?  I don’t think you can.  Where would you even put Harper?  He’d have to commit to playing CF with Stanton and Aaron Judge in the corners … that’s a lot of power in the outfield yes .. but also not a ton of defense.

Lastly, there’s already rumors (a comment from a connected blogger recently) who is hearing that Harper may very well stay put.  And why not?  Thanks to a middling division filled with teams going in the wrong direction and a relatively young team with key players locked up … Washington isn’t the worst place to hang your hat for a while.  We offer him a deal with an opt out perhaps in 3-4 years, when he won’t even be 30 yet, and he’ll have another bite at the apple.

So, maybe Harper is going to be wearing the curly-W a while longer.

Collier thinks the Yankees are less obvious of a suitor … but that anything could happen.


 

Q: Should we read much into the lack of a Rizzo extension, or is it something that the Lerners would be more likely to do this summer (assuming everything is going well in-season)?

A: I wouldn’t read anything into the lack of movement; I continue to think the Lerner group treats its baseball employees no differently than its regular construction business employees, and have no issue letting employees go to the end of their deals before renewing.

Collier says the same.


 

Q: With news breaking of Realmuto wanting out of Miami, could you see the Nationals making a push for the young catcher?

A: Nope.  Nats are already overspending at the position and are going to be hoping for a Ryan Zimmerman-esque bounce back year from Matt Wieters.  And with them being so close to the luxury tax already (if not over it), I can’t see them spending even more money at a position where they’re already spending significant dollars.  I just don’t see this team throwing good money after bad at the catcher position.

Collier basically the same.


 

Q: I have to say that one of my biggest concerns with the new coaching staff is the absence of Davey Lopes. This is a team that should be using speed as a primary weapon, and Lopes’ coaching was essential to the younger speedsters on this team. Can you reassure me that both the coaching staff and Martinez will still buy into this approach and that they have the tools to make good on the potential headaches for opposing pitchers and defenders?

A; I dunno how anyone can make that claim honestly.  The only thing we have to go on is Joe Maddon‘s approach; will Dave Martinez use the same?  It will be a wait and see thing.

Collier thinks they’ll stay aggressive.


 

Man, that was kind of a lame mailbag.  No hot takes, nothing controversial.  We need some stuff to argue about.

Thankfully …. Hall of Fame voting is next week.  Can’t wait.

Operation Nats Off-Season; progress Report

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Is Adams our savior?   photo via ksdk.com/Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Is Adams our savior?
photo via ksdk.com/Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of the Matt Adams signing, lets get a status update on the “needs” of the team and what they’ve done so far now that we’re past the Winter Meetings.

Needs/Off-season todo list: Here’s what I listed as the team’s “pressing needs” in a 10/16/17 post.

  1. Resolve Dusty Baker situationStatus Update: they whacked him and hired Dave Martinez to replace him.
  2. Should we bring back Jayson WerthStatus update: no update here, in that Werth has not signed elsewhere but the tea leaves definitely seem to indicate he’s moving on.
  3. What do we do at Catcher? Status Update:  Nothing yet; our former backup Jose Lobaton has already signed, penning  minor league deal with the Mets.  Not that he was going to really be an option for us.  We’ve seen some rumblings about how the team is going to manage Matt Wieters‘ playing time, and there’s a couple more options out there at catcher (not the least of which is J.T. Realmuto, who has expressed publicly his desire to be traded now that the new Marlins ownership group has gutted the roster.  I still don’t see any change here in direction; I think the team will stay with internal options.
  4. Will they pursue FA extensions with key players?  Status Update: there were brief rumors of extension talks with Harper/Boras, same with Rendon.  Nothing with Murphy.  So not much.
  5. Do they need to pursue a Starting Pitcher?  Status Updatenot much news here yet; they’ve gotten Tommy Milone to return to the fold, signing a ML deal that I would think includes an opt-out if he doesn’t make the team (but that’s an assumption).  Right now the 5th starter is the winner of an A.J. Cole/Erick Fedde/Milone spring training run-off.  I would expect to see something happen here at some point this off-season.  One complicating factor: Cole is out of options…
  6. What is the Nats 2018 outfield?  Status Update: no news and no trades from depth, so its still looking like Eaton/Taylor/Harper with Goodwin and Stevenson as backups.  They did intimate that Victor Robles will be starting in AAA so that he can play full-time, a decision I fully endorse.  Goodwin in particular got some mention from John Sickels in his prep post for the Nationals farm system, wondering aloud what Goodwin’s numbers would look like with a full season of ABs.  I don’t see that happening here … so I still think there’s a trade coming.  Another complicating factor here: Goodwin is now out of options.
  7. Do the Nats leverage their sudden depth of position players in trade this off-seasonStatus Update: nothing yet here … maybe Billy Beane has been on vacation and he just hasn’t returned Mike Rizzo‘s phone calls for the next big Oakland-Washington trade.
  8. What do we do with the benchStatus Update: so far we’re starting next year with Severino as the backup catcher, we just signed Adams to replace Adam Lind as the lefty PH bench bat.  I still think we need a RH bat to replace the Chris Heisey role, a guy who could play a corner in a pinch.  Otherwise we’re on track here.  Keep in mind; Murphy may not be ready for opening day so right now we’re looking at Wilmer Difo in the starting lineup.
  9. What do we do with the bullpen Status Update: the team re-signed Brandon Knitzler, which I think is a quality move but may also complicate the bullpen.  We now have three relievers who are out of options (Grace, Solis and Romero), all of whom were utilized last year.  If you keep the four guys now signed for big money FA deals along with the 3 out-of-option guys … then you’re leaving in particular Koda Glover in the minors.  Or on the D/L.

So, just 3 of the 9 categories really addressed at this point, though not all 9 categories were really Mandatory to do this off-season.

What does our 25-man opening day roster look like right now?

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Roark, Gonzalez, Cole
  • RP: Doolittle, Madsen, Knitzler, Kelley, Grace, Solis, Romero.  (4 of these guys have guaranteed contracts, the other 3 are out of options)
  • C: Wieters, Severino
  • Inf: Zimmerman, Murphy, Rendon, Turner, Adams, Difo (likely one more here with Murphy on the 10-day D/L to start the season)
  • OF: Eaton, Taylor, Harper, Goodwin, Stevenson

Does that look like a World Series winning team?

Nats Non-News: Non-tender deadline, FA (lack of) market and Ohtani

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Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

Are the Nats really in the mix for Japanese superstar Ohtani? Photo via cbssports.com

As many others have noticed … there isn’t a heck of a lot going on right now in the “hot stove” season.  But given where we are in the regular off-season calendar, lets bang out a couple of topics.

First: the Non-tender deadline.

For the first time in an awful long time, the Nats have no real obvious non-tender candidates on their roster.  They entered the off-season with just four arbitration-eligible players and they are all set to be crucial pieces for 2018:

  • Bryce Harper technically would have been arb-eligible but signed away his 4th year for north of $21M.
  • Anthony Rendon comes off easily his finest season as a pro (his numbers across the board eclipse his 2014 5th place MVP season) and he should be in line to more than double his $5.8M 2017 salary.
  • Tanner Roark struggled in 2017 (… perhaps caused/aided by the frequently-seen WBC hangover?) but is still slated to be our 4th starter on a rotation that doesn’t currently have a fifth and should be in line for about an $8M payday.
  • Michael Taylor has established himself as one of the premier defensive center fielders in the game, will be set to start in 2018, and faces arbitration for the first time (likely to get around a $2.5M check).

Compare this to previous non-tender years (with links to non-tender specific posts from years past):

  • 2016: we non-tendered Ben Revere, waived Aaron Barrett before having to make the NT decision, and declined Yusmeiro Petit‘s option as a way of “non-tendering” him.
  • 2015: we non-tendered Craig Stammen, but kept NT candidates Jose Lobaton and Tyler Moore (eventually trading Moore after waiving him at the end of spring training).
  • 2014: we did not non-tender anyone, though a couple weeks later traded NT candidate Ross Detwiler to Texas for two guys who never really panned out for us (Chris Bostick and Abel de los Santos).
  • 2013: we did not non-tender anyone, only Ross Ohlendorf was a candidate, and in retrospect he probably should have been NT’d since he didn’t throw a pitch for the Nationals in 2014.
  • 2012: we non-tendered three guys (Jesus FloresTom Gorzelanny, John Lannan) in the face of a huge amount of arbitration players (10).
  • 2011: we non-tendered Doug Slaten deservedly, but tendered candidate Gorzellany.
  • 2010: we non-tendered Chien-Ming WangWil Nieves, Joel Peralta.  We also outrighted 5 guys prior to the NT deadline, DFA’d two more in December, and DFA/dreleased four more guys prior to Spring training in a very busy off-season.
  • 2009: we non-tendered Scott Olsen, Mike MacDougal
  • 2008: we non-tendered Tim Redding, now the Pitching coach for our Auburn Short-A team, so I guess there was no hard feelings there :-)
  • 2007: we non-tendered Nook LoganMike O’Conner.
  • 2006: we non-tendered or declined options for Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day (it might have only been Day who was officially non-tendered)
  • 2005: we non-tendered Carlos BaergaPreston WilsonJunior Spivey.

That’s a long trip down random memory lane for marginal Nationals players from yesteryear.

Post-publish edit: as expected, the team formally tendered contracts to the 3 arb-eligible players on 12/1/17.



The FA market in general seems to be held up by two major names: Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani.  Jeff Passan argues there’s other reasons (see this link) for the lack of movement, but one has to think the big names are a big part of it.  I also believe that this year’s “crop” of FAs is … well kind of underwhelming.  Here’s Passan’s ranking of FAs: his biggest names past Ohtani are Yu Darvish (who just sucked in the post-season, is coming off TJ surgery and doesn’t rate as the “Ace” he once was), J.D. Martinez (who blew up in 2017 but who has normally gotten a lot of his value from defense and he’s not getting any younger), Eric Hosmer (a 1B only guy, even if he’s really good, who seems like a safe bet to get over-pad and age badly) and Jake Arrieta (who has taken a step backwards from his Cy Young win and has already entered his decline years).  Plus, the “price” for signing some of these QO-attached guys (Hosmer, Arrieta plus other top-10 FAs like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Wade Davis) will be quite steep for big-market and/or Luxury tax teams like our own Washington Nationals.

Frankly, between the higher price of forced loss of picks due to our over-spending last season, our current payroll tightness (we seem to only have about $17M to spend to stay under the tax for all of next year) and the underwhelming lot of available players … i don’t see us really participating in this year’s sweepstakes.    Do we want to pony up for a middling 5th starter type like Jaime Garcia at the likely going price of $10M/year?  Or roll the dice with a MLFA like we did with some success last year (Edwin JacksonJacob Taylor).  Or just stay inhouse and let Erick Fedde continue to mature every 5th day on the mound?

Stanton, according to the tea-leaves i’m reading this week, seems like he’s heading to San Francisco, who is in desperate need for offense, outfielders and a franchise makeover after last year’s debacle.  Stanton could fit all three.  Which is great for him (he’s born and raised in California and would be joining a franchise that, despite its 2017 season, still has 3 WS titles in the last decade and a slew of marquee players to build around), great for the Nats (getting him out of the division), great for the “franchise” of Miami (who rids themselves of perhaps the 2nd worst contract in baseball behind Albert Pujols‘ and lets them get a relatively clean slate to start over for the new franchise ownership group), and of course awful for the “fans” of Miami, who thought they were finally getting rid of one of the worst owners in professional sports only to get slapped in the face with comical missteps by the new Derek Jeter-led ownership group, who managed to embarrass themselves in the most ridiculous way (by firing ceremonial Marlins legends for no good reason) early and then put themselves on the defensive needlessly by immediately crying poor and saying that they needed to pare payroll within a few days of taking over.  If i was a Miami fan I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I also think its notable that the first ex-Nat ranked on Passan’s list comes in at #43; the “ripe for regression” Matt Albers.  Brandon Knitzler comes soon after him (who could be a re-signing candidate frankly for us, to put the “law firm” back together), then you have to get all the way down to #62 to find Jayson Werth.  As compared to next off-season, when the Nats will have the #1 guy on the list.


Coming back to Ohtani (I’m going with the h in the name since after much research that’s what seems like the right way to spell it) ….

First things first: I desperately hope the Nats get him.  Anyone who thinks that they’re better off without Ohtani is a fool; he’s set to become one of the biggest bargains in baseball.  For the small price of a $20M posting fee, you get a guy who throws 100, is an 80 runner, and hits the crap out of the ball.  For a miniscule bonus figure (the max any team has seems to be about $3.5M; the Nats only have $300k) and then a MLB min contract.  Its just amazing.  His presence could literally change the face of a franchise for a decade for about the same amount of money we will have paid Gio Gonzalez this year and next.  I doubt he picks us though; it seems more likely he picks either a major market team (NY, Boston) on the east coast or (more likely) one of the west coast teams for better proximity to Japan and a larger Asian native market (LA, SF, Seattle).  But its all speculation.

Hey, did I mention that the Nats need both another starter AND a lefty-bat off the bench, right now??  Ohtani would be perfect!

Side Note: why the heck is he coming over now and subjecting himself to MLB minimum contracts and arbitration??  He’s literally leaving $100M on the table by not waiting just two years and coming over un-restricted.  I just cannot believe he’s doing this and costing himself so much money.  I get the lip service comments about wanting to challenge himself, yadda yadda, but when there’s literally 9 figures of money on the table, I just don’t understand the decision.  He’s projected to be better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, better than Darvish, both of whom got many times more money (Dice-K got $52M to him, $103M in total cost plus his posting fee), while Darvish got $60M to him and cost the Rangers $111M total with posting fee).  It seems crazy.

Can’t wait to see where he goes, and I can’t wait to see if he’s the real deal.

Ask Collier & Happy Thanksgiving

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Why do so many people think TRADING Harper is the way to win the 2018 World Series? Photo via fanragsports.com

Why do so many people think TRADING Harper is the way to win the 2018 World Series? Photo via fanragsports.com

A nice little surprise just before the Turkey day weekend: an ask Jamal Collier post on mlb.com.


Q: Would you consider trading Harper? I am one of his biggest fans, and I know the desire to win next year, but would the return be worth it in the long run?

A: Forensicane; don’t bother reading this next answer, because you’re not going to like it.

Teams attempting to WIN THE WORLD SERIES in the coming year do not trade their marquee players.  Not only that, but teams attempting to win don’t trade one of the best players in the league.  \

Not only that, but lets say for the sake of argument that the Nats WERE willing to trade Harper.  He’s got one  year of control left.  He’s set to make north of $20M in 2018.  He’s an injury risk.  And he’s absolutely going to Free Agency.  How much does anyone really think he’ll realistically fetch in trade right now?  If he were cost controlled or had multiple years of control left (like an Adam Eaton or a Jonathan Lucroy when he fetched a lot a couple years back) he’d get a kings ransom.  But he’s not; he’ll cost a significant portion of a team’s payroll in 2018 and gets just one year of service.

And then there’s this: why does anyone think this ownership group will trade him??  For many years, we’ve asked why the Angels hold on to Mike Trout and “waste” his talents on a sub-.500 team.  The answer is always the same: the owner in Los Angeles doesn’t want to move his marquee asset.  Why does anyone think that the Lerner group isn’t thinking the same thing?  Baseball is still relatively “new” in this town, still fighting it out for the casual sports fan.  What kind of message does it send to the casual fan base if you move your most marketable asset?  Who else on the Nats is getting goofy TV spots with national telecom companies?

So, no, the team isn’t trading Harper, nor should they.  Instead they should be doing *everything* they can to win in 2018 before he (and many others) walk out the door.  And (lets not forget), while I think its a certainty that Harper is in NY or LA in 2019 … we also were pretty sure Stephen Strasburg was heading out the door too, so you just never know.

Collier also expresses similar exasperation at the number of these questions he’s getting, then re-iterates many of the arguments above.


Q: You don’t list Adam Lind as a possible signee. Why not? Is it that Brian Goodwin can fill that role … but who is the backup first baseman?

A: I think Lind could resign … similarly to the way that Stephen Drew thought he could parlay his successful 2016 into a starting gig for 2017, Lind probably thinks the same.  Finding veteran bat-only beefy 1B/PH types on the open market is not tough; the Nats have specialized in this for years.  So they’ll do what they always have done; wait out the market, sign someone on the cheap later in the off-season if they get desperate, or otherwise have a cattle call in spring training for the backup bench bat.

Its worth noting that, much like one-year relievers, sometimes you catch lightning in a bottle with your pinch hitters and its worth cutting bat early, not later.  Consider some of the year over  year stat lines for our primary bench bats recently:

  • Adam Lind: great in 2017 (.303/.362/.513): can he repeat that in 2018?
  • Clint Robinson: awesome in 2015 (.272/.358/.424), then awful in 2016 (.235/.305/.332)
  • Chris Heisey: adequate in 2016 (.216/.290/.446), then fell off a cliff in 2017 (.162/.215/.270)
  • Tyler Moore: fantastic in 2012 (.263/.327/.513), then a combined .216/.264/.362 over PT roles the next three seasons before finally getting cut loose.
  • Chad Tracy: good in 2012 (.269/.343/.441), then not so good in 2013 (.202/.243/.326)

And some of these guys never even had a “good” season (ahem, Matt Stairs).

So, perhaps the smart thing to do is to let Lind go (as well as Albers for similar reasons) and try some one new.

Goodwin as a backup 1B??   No, that doesn’t make a ton of sense (he’s only 6’0″ and is an outfielder by trade), but he could feature as a backup outfielder easily enough.  Honestly, the “backup 1B” if Ryan Zimmerman goes down for any length of time probably is Daniel Murphy, with his position getting covered by Wilmer Difo.

Collier notes that it was the Nats who declined their part of the $5M mutual option, which somewhat surprised me honestly.  I would have thought it would have been the player to decline that and shoot for something more.  Nonetheless, it makes the odds of a reunion a bit lower. 


Q: Can you do a bit of an explainer about the new luxury tax rules, where Nats are with respect to threshold right now, and how that’ll inform Rizzo’s offseason (speculating anyway)?

A: Without going into it in great detail (I have a post about Nats payroll coming soon), right now as we stand I have the Nats 2018 payroll at about $170M in “real dollars” (counting arb estimates and deferred payments), but about $10M  higher in the eyes of MLB’s luxury tax calculators thanks to the Strasburg and Scherzer deals.  The team broached $190m with last season’s mid-season transactions and thus became a luxury tax spender for the first time (which will cost them significantly if they were to go after a QO-attached free agent, not that I think they will).

The luxury tax threshold for 2018 is $197M (see this wikipedia page for the link and figures).  So, I suppose the team has about $17M or so of “wiggle room” for transactions this off-season plus next mid-season.  That isn’t a lot, and all the high-priced players on our payroll are either key pieces or immovable (thanks Matt Wieters).   So unless they swing a huge salary, or trade some young assets in payroll-offsetting moves, I think the team will do very little this off-season.

Collier notes similar sentiments.


 

Q: Last year, the four top outfielders were out due to injuries for extensive periods of time. Shouldn’t they have six top-notch outfielders to draw from next year?

A: Easy to say in theory, harder in practice.   You generally only care 4 or perhaps 5 outfielders on a 25-man roster … so how do you make an argument to your 5th and 6th “top-notch” outfielders that they have to hang out in Syracuse for half the season until they’re needed?  Not to mention options statuses, 5-year veteran limitations and other things that get in the way of stuff like this.  This isn’t the 1950s when you could just stash players all over without regard to service time issues.

No, the better way to go is to have your named starters, then depend on your prospect depth to cover things.  And honestly, that’s kinda where the Nats are.  Going into 2018 without any moves, you’re looking at:

  • Starting OF of Eaton, Taylor and Harper.
  • 4th and 5th outfielders Goodwin and Stevenson, both prospects that we developed and being paid the MLB min.
  • 6th outfielder in the name of Victor Robles, who is just one of the best prospects in the game.
  • 7th and further depth still with the likes of Bautista or perhaps the Cuban Yadiel Hernandez who is 30 and could be closer than we think.  We have Jose Marmolejos on the roster still; couldn’t he fill in at LF even if he’s primarily a 1B?  And then there’s further-away prospects like Daniel Johnson, who hit pretty well between Low-A and High-A, seems like he’ll start in AA in 2018 and might push his way up.

That’s not too bad.  Btw, how good defensively is our OF projected to be in 2018?  Eaton at a corner in 2016 was one of the best in the majors, Harper has consistently been a positive-metric fielding RF with one of the best arms in the game, and Taylor just showed how statistically he rivaled the best defensive center fielders in the game.  You can’t discount this fact, and it will show itself next year as more fly balls are turned into outs.

Collier likes where our OF depth is.


Q: Why should we believe in Dave Martinez? What makes him different ?

A: I have not weighed in on the manager selection yet.  I thought firing Dusty Baker was a mistake, and that the team did not need to break in a new manager in the critical transition year of 2018.

Nonetheless, Martinez does click some boxes for me; he was a successful player with a long career and can command respect from even the veterans on this team.  He may not have direct managerial experience, but 10 years as Joe Maddon‘s bench coach is nothing to shake a stick at.  He had interviewed for vacancies for years, and deserved a shot.  Details of his contract show that he’s severely under-paid and this probably factored into the team’s decision to hire him (for whatever reason, this team remains “cheap” at the manager’s position), but I think he can do the job.

What makes him different?  Well, he’s clearly learned the “ropes” of managing underneath the game’s best, and in that position he would have had many opportunities to evaluate Maddon’s decisions, privately decide what he would have done, and then seen how things play out.  So he should be able to take the best of what the Cubs are doing and augment those experiences with those opinions he had that were not necessarily taken but which he believed were right.   I’m hopeful that his regime will go well.

Collier notes the points above, but also very fairly says that in reality we have no idea how he’ll manage here since he’s never done so before.  

 

Pressing issues for the Nats this off-season

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Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Since our season is over (but the hot-stove has not yet kicked in), i’ll piggy back on the recent posts to this same topic done by Mark Zuckerman at MASN and by Chelsea Janes at WP.

Their posts both touched on some of the same issues; i’ll take those issues and add in a few of my own.

Major issues for the Nats to address this coming off-season, how I would address them and what I think the team will do:

  1. Resolve Dusty Baker situation.  Many reports have noted that the team wants him back and that he wants to return.  I see little that he could have done differently in the 5-game NLDS loss to use as evidence that he’s not the right guy (you can’t lose when your pitchers throw 6 no-hit innings in playoff starts), and he’s so clearly a better man-manager than his predecessor Matt Williams that I see no reason not to extend him.   I know that the Lerner’s don’t like to do long term contracts, and lets just hope they offer Baker the raise he deserves for two straight division titles (and, in my opinion, the NL Manager of the Year in 2017 award that he should get for working around so many injuries this year).
  2. Should we bring back Jayson Werth?   Yes he’s the “club house leader,” yes he’s been here for seven years and has settled in the DC area.  But he struggled this year with both injuries and performance, is entering his age 39  year, posted a negative bWAR in 2017, and the team has a surplus of outfielders who are probably MLB “starters” heading into 2018, more than we can even field.  I think the team says to Werth something along the lines of the following: Go see if you can find a DH/part time OF job in the AL for a couple years until you’re done playing and then we’ll hire you back as a special assistant/hitting instructor/bench coach or something.  I’m not entirely convinced that Werth is a DC lifer though; he’s been kind of a nomad in his career.  Drafted by Baltimore, traded to Toronto (with whom he debuted), traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, signed as a FA with Philly for four years, then with us for seven.  Yes he’s been with us the longest, but this isn’t a situation like Ryan Zimmerman where we’re the only org he’s known.  I think he heads off to the AL for a couple years then comes back to the fold with a front office job.
  3. What do we do at Catcher?  I’ll quickly repeat what we’ve been discussing in the comments of previous posts; yes I know Matt Wieters struggled badly at the plate this year, yes I know he botched the 5th inning of that fateful game 5.  But he’s not going to decline a $10M offer after this season, nor is the team going to swallow that amount of money.  Prepare yourselves for another season of Wieters, who we can only hope bounces back in his “contract year” and gets a bump in performance.  Meanwhile, as much as we love the Jose Lobaton cheerleader routine, we do need more production from the backup.  Even though Lobaton got just 158 ABs this year, he still managed to put up a -1.0 bWAR figure.  That’s hard to do.  If only we could just have him only play for us in the playoffs … (big hit in game 5 in 2017, the clutch 3-run homer in 2016).  I suspect the team will go with Wieters and Pedro Severino as his backup, getting Severino at least two starts a week to get him up to speed on MLB pitching, then making a 2019 decision based on whether Severino looks like he could hit enough to be a full time starter or if he remains the backup to some FA acquisition.  We have others in the pipeline who may prove themselves worthy soon (Raudy Read in AAA, Taylor Gushue in AA, Jakson Reetz in High-A, Tres Barrera in Low-A, plus long-serving minor leaguers Spencer Kieboom and Jhonatan Solano in the AAA fold who may or may not come back for 2018).
  4. Will they pursue FA extensions with key players?  Namely, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy.  Lets take them one by one:
    1. Harper: lets face it, there’s NO WAY he’s not hitting free agency.  Scott Boras client with a chance to set the all time contract record?  Both guys have the ego required to pursue that avenue.  And yes, while some Boras clients (Stephen Strasburg) have taken pre-FA deals, very few do.  You hire Boras generally to get the biggest value deal and to leverage his relationships with owners so as to negotiate directly with them and that’s what Harper will do.
    2. Rendon: he’s still got two arb years: what I think the team will do is do a 2-year deal to buy out the Arb years and get cost containment.  MLBtraderumors projected Rendon’s arb salary for 2018 at $11.5M and they’re usually pretty accurate; I could see the nats offering Rendon a 2yr/$26M deal for $10M in 2018 then $16M in 2019 or something like that … maybe a little higher in his final year given his MVP-calibre season.  That’d be good for the team because Rendon might be a $20M/year player, and good for Rendon b/c he’s injury prone.  Past this though … Rendon is also a Boras client but he projects to me kind of like Strasburg in that he’s low-key and may want to commit to DC longer term.  Of course, Rendon is also a Houston lifer (born, high school and college there) so he could also want a return trip home to play for his home town team.  Probably an issue for the 2020 hot-stove season.
    3. Murphy: the Nats have gotten such a huge bargain with the Murphy signing.  He’ll only be 34 at the beginning of his next deal, and he plays a position (2B) that isn’t nearly as taxing as an OF or other infield position.  I would feel completely comfortable offering him another 3 year deal, increasing the dollars to maybe $16M/year (3yrs/$48M).
  5. Do they need to pursue a Starting Pitcher?  Absolutely, 100% yes.   Joe Ross is out for basically the whole of 2018, they traded away all their AAA depth last off-season, and the guys remaining in AAA (A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde) did not grab the 5th starter job like they had the chance to in 2017.  Edwin Jackson probably earned himself a shot elsewhere but was too inconsistent for my tastes.  I think the team splurges here, trying to get the best additional veteran starter they can find either on the free market or in trade.  The market for starters is intriguing: Yu DarvishJake Arrieta are Cy-Young quality arms available.  There’s some decent SPs like Masahiro Tanaka and Johnny Cueto who can opt out but who also may just stay put.  There’s #4 starter types like Lance Lynn and Jeremy Hellickson who are available and could be good 5th starters for us.  There’s guys who have put up good seasons but have struggled lately (Jaime GarciaFrancisco LirianoClay Buchholz) who could be intriguing.  So it’ll be interesting to see who they get.
  6. What is the Nats 2018 outfield?  Do they stick with Internal options or do they hit the FA/trade Markets?   I like a potential 2018 outfield of Taylor/Eaton/Harper.  I like Taylor in CF providing better defense than Eaton right now, given that ACL injuries really are 2-year recoveries.  Given Taylor’s big 2017 and his “Michael A Tater” NLDS, he’s more than earned a starting spot in 2018.  That leaves some surplus in the OF for 2018 … something we’ll talk about next.  There are some intriguing names out there on the FA market (J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Lorenzo Cain) who could slot into either LF or CF as needed and give a hopeful boost to the offense … but are any of those guys and their 8-figure salaries guarantees to be better than the cost-contained Taylor?  I don’t think so, and that’s why I think we stick with him.
  7. Do the Nats leverage their sudden depth of position players in trade this off-season?  In particular, i’m talking about Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin, both of whom played extremely well when given the opportunity and who both proved that they’re MLB starting quality.   If we stick with Taylor as a starter, then you have both Goodwin and Andrew Stevenson as able backups and that’s one too many.  If we (going back to the previous point) buy another outfielder, then that’s even more surplus.  I’m of the opinion that the team needs to sell high on both Difo and Goodwin and acquire needed assets (5th starter, bullpen help, near-to-the-majors pitching prospects).
  8. What do we do with the benchDrew, Lobaton, Kendrick, de Aza, Raburn all FAs, Lind has a player option but may want to try to parlay his excellent PH season into a FTE job.  So that leaves … not much.
    1. We have already talked about a backup catcher above
    2. We need a RH bench bat who can play corners (1B/LF): that was Chris Heisey to start the year .. but he’s long gone.  Kendrick ably filled this role … but he won’t sign back on as a utility guy given his excellent 2017.
    3. If Lind doesn’t exercise his $5M player option, we’ll need a big bopper lefty on the bench again.  We do have a guy like this on the farm and on our 40-man (Jose Marmolejos) but is he MLB ready?  He had a nice AA season, but AA to the majors is a jump.
    4. If we flip Difo, we’ll need a backup middle infielder.  Do we keep him assuming that Turner/Murphy will get hit with injuries (as they both are apt to do?)  Turner missed months, Murphy missed nearly 20 games in each of the past two years; is that enough to keep someone around versus flipping them?
    5. We do seem OK with backup outfielders right now, assuming that Andrew Stevenson is sufficient as a 4th OF/CF-capable defensive replacement/pinch runner type.

So, that’s potentially a brand new bench.  Luckily its not too hard to find veteran big-hitting RH or LH bats; we seem to do this every year and have some luck.  Middle infielders?  Would you sign up for another year of Drew?  I don’t think I would at this point; he just seems to brittle to count on.   I suspect the team will be quite active in this area.

9. What do we do with the bullpen Right now, given the departing FA relievers (Perez, Kintzler, Blanton, Albers), our “standing pat” bullpen for 2018 looks something like this:

  1. Closer: Doolittle
  2. 7th/8th inning guys: Madsen, Kelley, Glover
  3. Lefties: Solis, Romero
  4. Long Man: Grace/Cole
  5. Minors options: Adams, Gott

So, that’s a pretty solid looking bullpen if two guys in particular are healthy: Kelley and Glover.  Our entire strategy in the off-season seems to hinge on the health of these two.  I have no guesses; so lets assume one of them is good and one of them has a significant all of 2018 injury.  That means we probably pursue another Matt Albers type in the off-season.  Meanwhile, there’s a difference of opinion on the value of both our current lefties: Romero’s ancillary numbers were barely adequate and lefties hit him for nearly a .300 BAA, so he’s not exactly an effective lefty.  Solis blew up this season, posting a seasonal ERA of nearly 6.00 (his FIP was much better) and getting demoted at one point.  But he gets lefties out, Baker trusts him, and I can’t see him not being a part of the solution.  If the team thought they could improve upon Romero, perhaps they also pursue a lefty reliever (or resign the swashbuckler Perez).  I’m ok with Grace as a long man (though his K/9 rates leave something to be desired) but I’d also like to see the team convert Cole to relief at this point.  There’s some options issues to consider; Solis, Romero, Cole, and Grace are all out of options for next year, so they all either make the team or get cut loose.

 


So Summary:

  1. Bring back Baker
  2. Say good bye to Werth
  3. Stand pat on catcher with internal options
  4. Buy out Rendon’s arb years this year, talk about Murphy next year
  5. Get a decent 5th starter
  6. Go with Taylor/Eaton/Harper with Stevenson as your backup in the OF
  7. Yes, trade Goodwin and Difo for stuff
  8. Get one middle RH reliever, one middle LF reliever, convert Cole to relief
  9. Cattle call for bench bats next spring.

Am I missing anything?  Lots of talking points here.

 

 

Missed opportunities result in a Short Series loss; Season over

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Werth ends his Nats career with a K. Photo via getty images

Werth ends his Nats career with a K in the 9th. Photo via getty images

It was a tough watch, to stay up til nearly 1am watching the inevitable.  And it seemed inevitable to watch this team fritter away another NLDS clinching win through another wild outing from Gio Gonzalez to a rather inexplicable “failed starter giving relief innings attempt” from Max Scherzer.  That was the shocking part to me honestly; how does he give up 4 runs?

Just like in 2012 and in 2016, reliable bullpen guys leaked runs to either cut into hard-earned leads or to drip drip and put the game just slightly out of reach in the end.

The Nats drop a series to Chicago where they hit better (both teams were god-awful at the plate but the Nats only slightly more so), where their team ERA was a full point better than Chicagos, and where they outscored the Cubs 20-17 over five games.  Just as in 2016 when the Nats similarly outscored the Dodgers but dropped the series 3-2.

It was tough watching Ryan Zimmerman flail at a very tough slider from Wade Davis to end the 7th with runners in scoring position.  It was ridiculous to watch the umpires call Jose Lobaton out despite zero “conclusive evidence” that showed that the tag stayed on, killing a rally that looked like it was about to turn the tide of the game.  And it was pretty tough watching both Werth and Harper get punched out by the same uber-reliever Davis to end the game.  All in all, the Nationals batters left an astounding NINETEEN runners on base in this game.  Nineteen.  I guess they left their “clutch” pants at home.

Baseball Playoffs rarely distill down the “right” champion.  In fact, the team that had the best regular season record has subsequently won the World Series just five times since 1990 (the 1998 Yankees super team, the dominant 2007 Boston team, the 2009 A-Rod Yankees team, again with the 2013 Boston team and last year’s Chicago Cubs).   The other 22 champions during that time were not the best teams in their leagues and in some cases weren’t even the best teams in their divisions.  Miami famously has two WS wins but zero divisional titles in their history, which seems kind of ridiculous.  I’m not saying the Nats were necessarily “better” than the Cubs … they were separated by 4 wins over 162 games, but they deserved to win this series.

End of the line for Werth most likely, also for a handful of bit players, but the core of this team gets another shot at it next year.

Shout out to Michael A. Taylor, who may have shared series MVP honors with Strasburg for his exploits in this series (he drove in 8 of the 20 runs we scored in five games).  Between his renaissance this season at the plate and his exploits this series, it has me rethinking what to do with him for next season: I was pro-trade of Taylor and going with FA/Eaton/Harper outfield … but now i’m thinking you put some combination of Eaton/Taylor/Harper in that OF and save your cash for a 5th starter and/or more bullpen help.  But we’ll get into off-season moves later on in depth.

As for the rest of the offense, tts telling that the only  other guys on this team who drove in runs were the “key men” in the lineup: Harper, Rendon, Murphy, Zimmerman.  So our key guys struggled at the plate but still drove in the runs to keep it close.  Turner finishes off a disappointing season with a disappointing series … lets hope an off-season of rest gets him back to his late 2015 days for next year.

One last series stat.  Strasburg’s line: 14 innings, 6 hits, 3 walks, 22 punch-outs, a 0.00 ERA … and a 1-1 record.  He took a loss for his efforts in game 1.  Bully for him for taking his game 4 start and shoving it down every pundit’s throat who questioned him.  He really turned the narrative on his career with this performance … do you believe there’s still people out there who don’t think he’s an “Ace” in this league?  Maybe that nonsense will end, given his dominance down the stretch and in this series.

Next up for me; i’ll do playoff predictions I guess, because i like looking at pitching match-ups and guessing who might win.  Quick predictions: Houston beats over-their-depth Yankees, LA crushes the exhausted Cubs, and LA fulfils their destiny by holding the Houston bats at bay in the WS.  But we’ll dig deeper into it later.

See you 2016.  Another playoff opportunity lost for this team.

 

Nats salvage the split; how’s our chances of getting back to DC for a 5th game?

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Harper certainly liked Zimmerman's homer. Photo via fanragsports.com

Harper certainly liked Zimmerman’s homer. Photo via fanragsports.com

It was looking pretty gloomy heading into the 8th inning.  Trea Turner had just struck out for the 8th straight time (ok that was an exaggeration, but he is 0-8 with four punch-outs from the lead-off spot this series) with the bases loaded and the Nats had gone 17 innings and scored precisely one lucky run (Anthony Rendon‘s excuse-me-opposite field homer).

Then Carl Edwards Jr. hung a curve-ball to one of baseball’s best sluggers.  And I mean, he frigging hung it.  It came up to the plate on a big ole loop and Bryce Harper, who has been hitting majestic homers to the upper deck in RF since he was in his teens, did not miss.   Tie Game, and the curious bullpen usage of the 8th inning by Joe Maddon continued a few more batters, enabling Ryan Zimmerman to hit one *just out* of left field off a lefty reliever to cap off a 5 run 8th inning come back and seal the victory.

(Note, per comments, yes this definitely cracks my all time top 10 games list … we’ll publish it again in the off-season.  I think i’ve got it 8th or so).

So we head to Chicago with a 1-1 split and disaster averted.  How do things look in Chicago?  Lets look at the presumed starters here on out:

  • Game 3: Max Scherzer vs Jose Quintana: Scherzer is (hopefully) healed from his hamstring issue, and hopefully can get the Nats the win they need him to get.  Meanwhile, lefty Quintana has been decent for the Cubs since his acquisition, posting a 3.74 ERA for the team (which, ironically, is exactly the same ERA as Max’s career post-season ERA).  Not one current National has ever batted against him, so I’d expect some struggles at the plate from our team, especially our big lefties.  But, we also have some important RH batters who should benefit from facing a lefty starter who doesn’t have as good of stuff as Jon Lester has.  Advantage Nats.
  • Game 4: Tanner Roark vs Jake Arrieta: Arrieta’s 2nd half was awesome (he went 7-2 with a 1.29 ERA in the season’s last two months), but he also suffered a Hamstring issue that pushed his start back.  He hasn’t pitched since 9/26; how rusty will he be?  Roark got bombed in his last start (9/27), then struggled in a mop-up inning to keep him fresh (3 hits and a walk), and is a creature of habit in terms of preparation … so how will he look on October 10th after not having started for 2 weeks?  I suspect this game could get to the bullpens early on both sides.  Advantage Cubs though for the obvious reasons: they’re throwing a former Cy Young winner and we’re not.
  • Game 5 if we get here: Strasburg against Hendricks again.  We feel confident Strasburg will continue his reign of dominance … but can the Nats figure out how to be more patient against the soft-tossing Hendricks?

Lets not get ahead of ourselves here; we need to get the split in Chicago before we talk about Game 5.  When we get there, we’ll talk again.

Bright Spots for the Nats so far: Strasburg, the bullpen, Adam Lind‘s game changing pinch hit in his first post season AB.  Even Gonzalez‘s start wasn’t that bad.

Areas of Concern: The offense in general; the team is hitting just .136 and is lucky to have gotten the split.  Turner is the biggest concern; Werth is 0-fer but is putting the ball in play, and Rendon’s paltry BA takes some of the context out of the harder hit balls he’s hitting; they’ll fall eventually.

2017 Playoffs Predictions

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Now that we know that the Yankees battered the surprising Twins, and that the Diamondbacks outlasted the Rockies, lets do a quick prediction piece.

First; a quick look back.  I did the obligatory seasonal prediction piece in early April 2017; how did I do?

  • NL East: Predicted Washington in a close race, actual Washington (thought not by a “close” margin as I thought it would be over NY)
  • NL Central: Predicted Cubs by a fair margin, actual Cubs by “just” 6 games and it was close all year.
  • NL West: Predicted Dodgers “by a hair,” actual Dodgers by a mile even though both WCs came from the NL West.
  • NL Wild Cards: Predicted SF and NY, actual Arizona and Colorado.  Wow, could not have been further off here.  SF finished tied for the worst record in the game, and NY wasn’t far off.
  • AL East: Predicted Boston, actual Boston
  • AL Central: Predicted Cleveland by a lot, actual was exactly Cleveland by a lot (17 games to be exact).
  • AL West: Predicted Houston, actual Houston.
  • AL Wild Cards: Predicted Toronto and Texas, actual was NY Yankees and the surprising Twins.

So that’s interesting: I got all six divisional winners right, and whiffed on all four wild cards.  Maybe that’s the way modern baseball goes; thanks to rebuilding efforts its easier than ever to pick the divisional winners, but the two wild cards open up post-season baseball to a significant portion of the league.


Here’s my post season predictions:

  • NLDS: Nats over Cubs in five.  Nats should have enough to beat the Cubs if Scherzer is healthy.
  • NLDS: Dodgers over Arizona in five as well.   The Dodgers have their hands full and missing Arrieta a second time may be the difference maker.  I know Arizona gave LA fits in the regular season … but they’ll be more focused now.
  • ALDS; Houston over Boston in four: I think Houston just has too much firepower for Boston’s pitching staff, which is pretty thin past Sale.
  • ALDS: Cleveland over the Yankees in three; Cleveland whacked them in the seasonal series and should continue to romp.

Championship Series

  • NLCS: Dodgers over Nats in seven.  Seasonal series was 4-3, no reason not to think a NLCS would be the same.  I just don’t think the Nats will have enough to overcome the balanced Dodgers attack.  Maybe if the Nats had a guaranteed 100% healthy Harper i’d change my tune.  I hope i’m wrong.
  • ALCS: Cleveland over Houston in six.  Cleveland is just too good of a team and their pitching will overcome Houston’s.

World Series

  • WS: Dodgers over Cleveland in six.  Another heartbreak for Cleveland, but the Dodgers’ talent wins out with the help of home field advantage and two Kershaw starts.

Written by Todd Boss

October 5th, 2017 at 11:33 am