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Nats Off-Season Roster Considerations

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Do the Nats bring back this famous celebration couple? Photo via Brobible

Since we have no playoffs to discuss, we’re pivoting immediately into off-season mode.

The Nats procedurally on 9/28/20 activated all their 10-day DL players. They also procedurally recalled the last three remaining players from the 40-man alternative site for the purposes of off-season moves. Amazingly, they ended the season with 9 players on the 10-day DL and just one healthy player on the 40-man roster not already playing (Raudy Read).

https://www.mlb.com/nationals/roster/transactions/2020/09

Free Agents to-be are immediately declared FAs at 8am Central time the day after the World Series ends. The team doesn’t have to restore its 60-day DL players until 5 days after the World Series ends, which allows them to add them back after free agents are declared and after the team has a small exclusive window to negotiate. So, we have to wait for about a month to see the next dominos fall, but we can start to speculate now.

Based on my records, here’s how our roster will look in the off-season, which will drive the decisions to make. We’ll classify these players into 5 categories

Category 1: Players under a “veteran” contract for 2021 (7): Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Hudson, Harris, Gomes, Castro. Seven players but a huge payroll hit (per Cots, these 7 players count for $120M or so in cap space next year.


Category 2: Pre-Arbitration players under full team control (22): Voth, Fedde, Crowe, Finnegan, Harper, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, AWilliams (TJ aug 2020), Read, Garcia, Noll, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque, Kieboom, Sanchez, Romero, Barrera. That’s a ton of players on pre-arb deals, which is important since they will represent a huge chunk of the active roster in 2021. I think a few of these pre-arb guys are in discussion for “first 40-man guy to get DFA’d when the team needs room” territory (Noll, Williams, Sanchez) but for now, they’re all in play. Note: a couple of these guys were technically MLFA signings in 2020 so i’m not sure if they are now pre-arb or still FAs. Apologies if I got their status wrong).


Category 3: Arbitration-eligible players for 2021 (8). Here’s where we start discussions. Player by player:

  • Suero (A1); lock to tender
  • Turner (A3): lock to tender
  • Soto (A1): lock to tender. I saw something recently that seemed to indicate he may or may not be a Super-2 guy, but he was projecting to be Super-2 after last off-season so i’m assuming he’s Arb-eligible this year.
  • Taylor (A4); Nothing has really changed with Taylor; he struggled at the plate again but hit a few bombs, which drove his OPS+ figure up a bit from what you’d expect for someone who hit below .200. The change in Taylor in 2020 is that his defensive numbers COST him WAR this year instead of helped. Probably Small Sample Size driven, but Taylor’s bigger problem is that his direct competition as “4th outfielder” on this roster Andrew Stevenson just blew up in 2020, making Taylor an obvious non-tender candidate.
  • Guerra (A4); his contract status is odd; he has bounced back and forth on and off the roster and signed a combo major/minor FA deal this past off-season. But Cots lists him as arb-eligible, so i’m not entirely sure if he’s a FA or if he’s arb eligible. My guess is that the team cuts another deal with him and non-tenders him if he’s eligible then immediately re-signs him the next day.
  • Barrett (A3); another odd case; how much does sentimentality count? The team called up a slew of other prospects before recalling Barrett this year, he pitched in 2 games then hit the DL. It seems to me he’s a non-tender candidate and at age 32 could be facing one last shot at making a MLB roster next year.
  • Elias (A3); 2020 a lost season for Elias, who went onto the 60-day DL early and barely pitched in 2019 for this team as well (thanks to the idiotic decision in Aug 2019 to allow him to hit, which resulted in a leg injury with him running out a grounder in a meaningless at bat). The Nats didn’t give up a ton to acquire him (giving up two decent minor league arms in Taylor Guilbeau and Elvis Alvarado) so I can’t imagine them non-tendering him, but how do you do salary evaluation of a player who misses an entire year?
  • JRoss (A3); he opted out in 2020, and his absence was felt immediately when it became clear his 5th starter replacements could not cut it. I think you tender him and he goes back into the starter competition for 2021. Worst case he gets cut mid-way through spring training and the Nats escape with 1/6th of his salary.

Category 4: Players with Options for 2021 (5): here’s where we start having some tougher decisions.

  • Sanchez: $12M club option, $2M buyout: I’m not sure how you take this option if you’re the Nats after the season we just saw. Sanchez was lucky to post the numbers he did in 2019 (his FIP was more than a half a point higher than his ERA), and he bottomed out in 2020. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Thames: $4M mutual option, $1M buyout. Thames posted just a 65 OPS+ playing primarily as a 1B/DH type. That’s just patently awful, considering how many options there were on the market for “non-mobile mid-30s slugger.” Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Holt: $5M club option, $750k buyout. He took a significant step back from his Boston numbers, which resulted in Milwaukee cutting bait on him a month into a 2year deal. Despite his positional flexibility (he played 6 positions in 20 games for the Nats) I don’t see how you guarantee $5M to a guy who didn’t “wow” you in his audition. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Eaton: $10.5M club option, $1.5M buyout. Phew; what do you do here. His fourth straight year in offensive decline. He was awful defensively. But he’s only 31; does the team take the $10.5M option and roll the dice that 2020 was an anomoly? If they cut him, do they have a replacement minor leaguer that makes sense (not really no). So do they roll the dice that they can get comparable production on the FA market for the same price? How much does sentimentality factor in here? Clubhouse presence and managerial relationship? Again, he’s only 31, which is a lot different from 36 (see next). I think the team exercises the option.
  • Kendrick: $6.5M mutual option, $2.25M buyout. Word came out a few days ago that Kendrick was considering retirement until he got hurt. I’m not sure I buy that, not with a 6.5M option on the table and more gas left in the tank. Another sentimental pick here; a guy who can plug in multiple positions in a pinch and who now has the DH to settle into if need be. Also a factor here; much like in poker, if you’re into a hand already for the big blind, why not make a call for a little bit more? Declining the option only saves them $4M, and it may be worth the cost to keep a veteran presence around one more time. I mean, if Eaton is there, you gotta keep his buddy Howie right? Exercise the option.

Category 5: Unrestricted FAs (6). Now, there’s nothing the team can really do with these guys since they’re FAs. But we can talk about whether or not we think the team pursues them in the off-season:

  • Suzuki; do you re-sign a 37yr old catcher? He’s been amazingly consistent at the plate the last few years while splitting time pretty evenly with Gomes. Still sporting a decent OBP. Is he getting pushed out by rising minor league depth (hardly, unless you think Read or Barrera is an option in the majors in 2021). I might pursue a 1-yr deal.
  • Cabrera: reverted to his 2018-19 form at the plate, league average providing poor, slow, aging defense at multiple infield positions. I think you move on.
  • Harrison really showed a jolt for this team, but he’s a 2B on a team with a prospect seemingly installed there for the longer run.
  • Doolittle: tough one. Struggled last year, struggled this year. A huge part of the community, outspoken leader. Maybe bring him back on an incentive-laden deal?
  • Freeman (TJ Aug 2020); really bad timing on his TJ surgery, as he’s a FA and will be rehabbing on his own.
  • Zimmerman, the most difficult decision of all. The team was onboard with a $2M deal for 2020 before he opted out for completely understandable family reasons. 2020 was his age 35 season; I’d guarantee him a $2M incentive-laden deal to be a 1B/DH platoon with a lefty slugger for 2021 absolutely. When he’s healthy he can hit, and doing nothing but DHing will help keep him on the field. Its worth a flier for a guy who is either retiring to the Nats front office or playing in 2021.

If the team does exactly what I say here, what would be our needs heading into the off-season? First lets see how this would look from a roster perspective (not counting FAs):

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, JRoss (A3), Voth, Fedde, Crowe, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, Romero
  • RP: Hudson, Harris, Suero, Elias, Finnegan, Harper, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque
  • C: Gomes, Read, Barrera
  • INF: Castro, Turner, Garcia, Noll, Kieboom, Sanchez, Kendrick
  • OF: Soto, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Eaton

Immediate thoughts on areas of need:

  • Another starter. I’m just not sure you can go into 2021 with your 4th/5th starters being Ross, Voth, Fedde and Crowe. I’m not sure I trust what I saw from McGowin or Braymer. Espino has never really succeeded in the majors and seems like the definition of a 4-A guy. And Romero? Maybe he can step up now that he’s gotten his debut out of the way.
  • Reliever help: I see 5-6 mlb-quality relievers here, but we’d need like 12 on the 40-man roster.
  • Catcher; as discussed with Suzuki above
  • Infield: well, right now your starting infield in 2021 is Castro/Kieboom at 3rd, Turner at SS, Garcia/Castro at 2nd, Kendrick at 1st (if they exercise his option), with Noll and Sanchez in AAA or released. They probably need more depth here.
  • Outfield: If they exercise Eaton’s option, then little needs to be done. If they don’t, then they’ll need a starting corner OF.

In other words, they need help basically everywhere.

Thoughts? did I get anything wrong?

Opening Day Starter Trivia 2020

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Verlander makes his 11th career opening day start, tying him for the active lead. Photo via sporting News.

Verlander makes his 12th career opening day start, putting him in the clear lead. Photo via sporting News.

Every year I update this long-running XLS for this increasingly anachronistic relic of tracking Opening Day Starter honors for teams.  But it does make for some good trivia questions.

After this year’s opening day, which involved few fans and

  • Most Opening Day StartsActive Leaders:
    • Justin Verlander makes his 12th career Opening day start, double the next closest competitor now.
    • Next closest are two veterans, each of which who has 8 career opening day starts, neither of which made 2020 opening day starts (Clayton Kershaw and Jon Lester).
    • Special mention of Felix Hernandez, who is technically active with the Braves but is not on their 40-man roster.  He has 11 but seems like a longshot to make another.
  • Current Leading Consecutive streak:
    • 3; shared by Verlander, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola
    • Julio Teheran had a streak of 6 broken this year; he signed with the Angels in the off-season
  • Number of first-time Opening Day Starters in 2020: 18 of 30
    • Soroka, Alcantara, Hendricks, Woodruff, Musgrove, Flaherty, Marquez, May, Paddock, Milone, Eovaldi, Morton, Giolito, Bieber, Boyd, Heaney, Montas, Lynn
    • This is easily the highest number of 1st time opening day starters since I started tracking this.
  • Most surprising opening-day starters in 2020:
    • Tommy Milone getting the opening day start for Baltimore.  Just crazy.
    • Sonny Gray getting his 3rd career opening day start, 5 years after last getting one for Oakland.
    • Johnny Cueto getting his 5th career opening day start, also 5 years after his last.
    • Trevor May, who gets a last minute spot start filling in for the injured Kershaw.  The rich keep getting richer out in LA; he was more than adequate, quite a showing for a guy who would normally be in AAA yet could clearly make nearly every other rotation in the league.

Historically, here’s the all-time record holders:

  • Most Ever Opening day StartsTom Seaver with 16.  Tied for 2nd place with 14 is Jack Morris, Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton
  • Most Consecutive Opening Day StartsJack Morris, all of whom’s 14 opening day starts were in a row.

Hope you enjoy this useless trivia!

Do we really think there’s going to be a season?

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I alluded to this in comments on the previous thread…. but it is a question worth asking.

Here’s the rough timeline for the 2020 season:

  • Friday, June 26: Transactions freeze ends at noon ET
  • Sunday, June 28: Teams must submit 60-man player pool names by 3 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday, July 1: Teams report to Training Camp 2.0
  • Friday, July 24: New Opening Day
  • Monday, August 31: Trade deadline (usually July 31)
  • Tuesday, September 15: Players must be on big league roster to be eligible for postseason

So, notably, here we sit not even to July 1 yet, and we have the following issues:

MLB has a plan, of course.  And true to MLB fashion, its vague and arguable throughout.  Per the “contingency plan” they can stop the season if:

  1.  if restrictions on travel throughout the country are imposed;
  2. if the season poses “an unreasonable health and safety risk to players or staff to stage those games,”; and
  3. if the competitive integrity of the season is compromised by the number of players who are available.

Those aren’t “or” clauses; they’re “and” clauses.  Meaning all 3 need to take effect.  #2 in particular seems particularly vague enough to basically never be agreed as being true by the 35-40% of this country that still seems to think this pandemic is a joke or a media invention.

I mean, what do you do if the virus hits a team and knocks out a third of their roster?  You can’t possibly ask them to keep playing with a bunch of minor leaguers.  That clearly compromises the integrity of the season.  Meanwhile, we already have players like our own Ryan Zimmerman make pretty cogent arguments that they’re in really tough spots personally to expose themselves to three months of high-risk travel and group settings (If you’re Zimmerman, with an immuno-compromised parent and a small child at home … what would YOU do?)

I dunno.  I think its a frigging mess.  As much as I like baseball and want a season to discuss and analyze, as much as I want to see Max Scherzer vs Gerritt Cole on opening day … part of me thinks we’re gonna get to mid-July and there’s going to be huge roadblocks to play.   We’ll see I suppose.

When our 60-man roster is announced i’ll do another post to talk about it.

 

Post-publishing addition: I completely forgot to add in concerns  about (some of which was mentioned in the comments):

  • our foreign players actually being able to fly HERE
  • our foreign players actually being allowed to fly home.
  • state-based flying restrictions just announced.
  • the fact that the DC mayor has apparently banned large gatherings and the Nats may not be able to train at home.

just so many issues.

Written by Todd Boss

June 28th, 2020 at 8:33 am

Getting the band back together: Cabrera re-signs along with other moves

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Cabrera is back. Photo via newsday

Cabrera is back. Photo via newsday

It was a busy Saturday for Nats GM Mike Rizzo.  In quick succession we heard about three moves:

  • The team re-signs 2B/3B Asdrubal Cabrera, 1yr $2.5M.
  • The team signs 2B Starlin Castro to a 2yr/$12M deal
  • The team previously signed RHP David Hernandez sometime in Dec 2019 to a minor league deal (which was just announced on Baseball America)

Cabrera was awful for Texas last year and got outright released; he lit it up for Washington, mercifully taking over for the completely ineffective Brian Dozier and lighting it up for the team down the stretch (slash line for DC last year post-signing: .323/.404/.565).   Cabrera played 3B for Texas but mostly 2B for DC; right now he’s your starting 3B opening day save any other move.

Castro clearly is the starting 2B; he moved there a few years ago, played it exclusively for several years but moved to 3B last season to make room for a prospect.  He was reportedly telling teams in FA he was only interested in playing 2B … so we have our starting 2B.  His signing seems to clarify what the team’s infield will be looking like come April.  He has two straight years of right around league average OPS+, but in 2019 he spiked homers, hitting 22 of them on the year playing a lot of games in pitcher-friendly NL East stadiums.

Hernandez was a great middle reliever in 2018 for Cincinnati, but blew up last year and signs a MLFA deal in an attempt to get back to the majors.  I like this as a low-risk/high reward move for a team always looking for the next 6th/7th inning RH reliever.

With these moves … as per the updated Big Board, your starting lineup come 4/1/20 looks like this (here’s a guess as to the lineup)

  • Eaton (RF)
  • Turner (SS)
  • Soto (LF)
  • Kendrick (1B)
  • Castro (2B)
  • Cabrera (3B)
  • Suzuki (C)
  • Robles (CF)
  • Pitcher

That’s  … a big step back from what we showed offensively last year, obviously.  The loss of Anthony Rendon in the middle of the order is pretty apparent.

Is this a playoff team?

—————-

Cabrera becomes the fourth 2019 team member/FA to re-sign with the team, joining Stephen StrasburgHowie Kendrick and Yan Gomes.  Pretty much the entire industry assumes Ryan Zimmerman is re-signing to be a bench bat as well.  So a lot of the veteran crew that was credited with helping the team win in October is now back.

Is this a good thing?

The oldest team in the majors last year has now resigned FAs who will be playing in their

  • age 34 year (Cabrera)
  • 32 (Gomes)
  • 31 (Strasburg) and
  • 36 (Kendrick).

They join other presumed starters and key relievers north of 30 in :

  • Kurt Suzuki (2020 will be his age 36 year)
  • Max Scherzer (35),
  • Anibal Sanchez (36)
  • Adam Eaton (31)
  • Sean Doolittle (33)
  • Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias (both 31)
  • Wil Harris (35)
  • Starlin Castro (30).

Um.  That’s a lot guys on the wrong side of 30.   And a lot of assumptions that the production like we got out of Cabrera (143 OPS+) continues into 2020 if he’s indeed the starting 3B.

———————————-

Oh, ps: all appropriate tabs in the Big Board are now updated for these transactions.  We’re now at 36/40 on the 40-man roster.  New payroll estimate is $185,452,709, leaving us $22,547,291 under the cap for 2020.  For all of you still holding out hope for Josh Donaldson … you should stop.  He’s soliciting 4yr deals north of $100M; the numbers don’t add up.  If this team has $22M and change left and are not going over, then we’re out of the Donaldson mix.

I’m not sure what’s next.  Does the team pursue a trade for a 3B?  Clearly they don’t want to give up Victor Robles in a Kris Bryant trade (and I don’t blame them, whether or not they have one year or two of his services).  Maybe we’re going to see some Rizzo trade magic coming soon.

Hall of Fame candidates with Nationals ties (2019 version)

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Dunn on the 2020 HoF ballot. Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images North America

Dunn on the 2020 HoF ballot. Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images North America

This is a semi-recurring piece that we’re bringing back out because your 2020 Hall of Fame class has not one but two former Nats players of some prominence have made it onto the 2020 ballot.  We have not done this post in a couple years, so I’ll catch up the last two HoF ballots and then do the 2020 ballot Nats players.

See the 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 versions.

At the end we speculate about who the first Hall of Famer might be wearing the Curly-W.


2020 Ballot players with Nats ties (2020 ballot).  Mark Zuckerman beat me to the punch here, writing an excellent article on both the below players.

  • Adam Dunn; two seasons of three true outcomes, the slugger Dunn was a great presence, took a beer-league softball player approach to hitting, and crushed the ball for this team for two seasons while Mike Rizzo rebuilt the farm system.  In 2010 he somehow avoided the ignominious feat of 200 strikeouts in a season by just one … a figure he subsequently blew through two seasons later as his career collapsed in Chicago.  I doubt he gets any votes and his career implosion upon moving to Chicago remains an oddity; he had 462 career homers but was essentially done as a player at the age of 33.  He should have had 5-6 more seasons of hitting 35 homers, putting himself firmly in the conversation of the best power hitters in the sport’s history.  Sometimes sluggers just … lose it, and fast.
  • Alfonso Soriano played one infamous year in Washington in 2006, was forcibly removed from his preferred position at 2B in spring training, had a 40/40 season, still holds the franchise season record for homers, and used his one season in Washington as a launching pad for a massive contract in a big market going forward.  His departure netted us two comp picks under the old system (he was a “type A” FA), which we used to select Josh Smoker and Jordan Zimmermann, one of which helped setup the franchise for

One other interesting name on this ballot?  Cliff Lee, who was with the franchise just prior to its move to DC, but was part of the ridiculous Bartolo Colon trade made in 2002.


2019 Ballot players with Nat’s ties: (2019 ballot with voting results and stats from baseball-reference.com).

We forgot to do this post last year, but there was one candidate with Nats ties:

  • Rick Ankiel, who spent two full seasons with Washington providing amazing defense in center (to go along with his amazing arm) but paltry hitting at the plate from 2011-2012.   In 2012 he was essentially a backup to newly promoted Bryce Harper for the Nats break-out season, but he did not appear for the team in the 2012 post-season ( he was not on their 2012 post-season roster).  Ankiel’s comeback story is pretty compelling, but it did not earn him  any hall of fame votes and he fell off the ballot after one year.

2018 Ballot players with Nats ties (2018 HoF Ballot):

  • Livan Hernandez: wow, what an important player in our history.  He was the starter in our first ever game in DC, and also started our first home game.  He made the all-star team that year.   He came back to the team in 2010, retired in 2014 and for a time was part of the Nats spring training staff.  He was named on one ballot and has fallen off going forward.
  • Brad Lidge: an infamous member of the Nats-to-Oblivion club, he signed on as a former-closer middle reliever for the 2012 team and got lit up.  Not Trevor Rosenthal lit up, but he was not effective.  He was released in June and hung em up.  He did not receive any votes on the ballot.

Notably, Vladimir Guerrero was elected in this ballot, long time Montreal player.  If only he had made it to Washington.

 


Nats connected names on the 2017 ballot and 2017 eligible:

  • Ivan Rodriguez, aka “Pudge,” who surprisingly signed a 2-year deal with the team after the 2009 season and played his last two years with the rebuilding team, splitting time with the up-and-coming Wilson Ramos and retiring after the 2011 season.  He was part of the rebound years for the franchise but missed out on their breakout 2012 season.  There was some surprise when he got in on the 1st ballot, given his PED rumors, but I take his election as a sign of the changing times with the electorate.  There’s definitely a difference between suspicions and a real failed test, and inarguably Pudge is one of the best catchers of all time so there’s no reason to keep him out.  Here’s a great link of a video of Pudge finding out he was elected.
  • Matt Stairs, whose name I can’t quite say without cursing, who sucked at the teet of the Washington Nationals payroll for half a season in 2011 before being mercifully released on August 1st of that year.  His final slash line in his sole season with the team: .154/.257/.169.  He went 10-65 with just one XBH for the entire season.  Stairs now is now a regular in my semi-annual “Nats to Oblivion” posts, last done in April of 2016.  He received zero votes and falls off the ballot.
  • Alex Cora: like Stairs, he signed on as a veteran FA to be a role player with the 2011 Nats and retired after the 2011 season.  Unlike Stairs, Cora wasn’t judged to even be worthy to make the ballot.
  • (As we all know, Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera and Larry Walker all grew up with the Montreal franchise, but never appeared for the team post-move to Washington, so I havn’t included them here.  Cabrera was the closest to appearing in a Nats uniform, getting traded to Boston mid 2004 season just prior to the move).

Useful Hall of Fame links links:

  • 2017 Ballot on baseball-reference.com, with links to vote counts, stats, etc.
  • Full Voting figures via BBWAA.com

The rest of this post will let you answer the trivia question, “Prior to Ivan Rodrigiez’s enshrinement, what former Nats player has come the closest to Hall of Fame enshrinement?”  (Answer at the bottom).

We’ll work from most recent to oldest.

2016 Ballot:

Not a single Nats-connected was on the official Class of 2016 ballot.  As it turned out, There’s actually quite a few guys who were *candidates* for the 2016 ballot by requirements, but who didn’t make the cut who also had connections to the Nationals.  In fact, there’s quite a few of them.  Here’s a good list, thanks to the excellent research by Bill from platoonadvantage.com.

  • Ronnie Belliard: Played pretty well for the god-awful stretch of Nationals teams from 2007-2009, posting a nifty 123 OPS+ during the middle season before getting traded away at the 2009 trade deadline for two minor leaguers who never went anywhere (Luis Garcia, Victor Garate).  Stuck with Los Angeles one more season before hanging them up at 35.  Played parts of 13 seasons in the majors but didn’t rate a spot on the ballot.
  • Jesus Colome was an important part of the Nats bullpen during the same 2007-2009 span that Belliard was involved with, getting more than 120 appearances his first two seasons before posting an 8 ERA in 2009 and getting DFA’d in July.  He got picked up the next year by Seattle and got a few appearances (hence why he’s not on the “Nats to Oblivion” lists) and, if you can believe it, is still pitching at age 37 in the independent Atlantic league as we speak.  He did manage 10 distinct years w/ MLB appearances though, so he qualified.
  • Jose Guillen came to Washington with the Expos, played one solid year in 2005, had a season-ending elbow injury in 2006, then bounced around the league for a few more years.  He was active for 14 total seasons but never made an all star game.  He hit 24 homers for the surprising 2005 Nats … and led the league in HBPs.
  • Cristian Guzman signed a somewhat controversial 4yr/$16M contract (it cost the team its 2nd round pick) that started when the team moved to Washington, was god-awful his first year, then had to have shoulder surgery to miss the entirety of 2006.  He recovered his stroke in 2007 and actually made the all-star team in 2008 (our only representative during the dark years) … which was enough to convince our idiot GM Jim Bowden to give him a 2yr/$16M extension to an aging shortstop w/ no power on the wrong side of 30.  Not surprisingly, his OPS dropped 100 points in 2009 and the team dumped him on Texas in a trade-deadline deal after he had lost his starting job to Ian Desmond, netting the Nats two RHPs (one of which Tanner Roark makes this one of the better trades ever consummated by the Nats executive staff).  Guzman played in 15 more games for Texas, batted .152 and never played again.

2015 Ballot:

  • Aaron Boonewho signed a 1yr/$1M FA contract to be a backup corner infielder with the abhorrent 2008 Nationals team.  Boone’s crowning baseball achievement was his extra innings walk-off homer that ended one of the best games in MLB history (Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS between Boston and the Yankees, ranked #6 by MLB’s panel a few years back when ranking the best 20 games of the last half century).  Ironically one of his lowest moments was just a couple months later, blowing out his ACL that subsequent winter while playing pickup basketball, costing him the entirety of the 2004 season and the trust of the  Yankees organization.  He missed 2/3rds of the 2007 season after another left knee injury and the Nats were probably his last gasp shot at extending his career at the age of 35.  He got a decent amount of playing time thanks to the fragility of Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson, somehow got another guaranteed MLB deal the following year, went 0-14 for Houston and was released.  He’s now an analyst with ESPN.  Received 2 votes on the 2015 ballot.
  • Ron Villone signed a minor league deal in 2009 and was quickly added to the Nats active roster, where he appeared in 63 games as our primary one-out lefty.   He pitched the entirety of 2010 on another minor league contract with Syracuse, posting a 6.59 ERA as a 40-year old and never earning a call-up.   In 2011 he was invited to spring training again (perhaps with the hope that he’d join the organization as a coach) but he got cut, then pitched a handful of indy league games for his home-town New Jersey indy league team, got hammered, and hung them up.   He retired having played in 15 seasons for no less than 12 different teams.  In 2012 he took a pitching coach job with the Cubs organization (one of the teams he managed NOT to play for during his career) and has been moving up their organization in that capacity since.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.
  • Julian Tavarez signed a one-year deal in the beginning of 2009, started out decently but had an awful stretch that resulted in his DFA in mid July 2009.  He never threw another pitch in organized ball, abruptly retiring considering his mid-season release.  He ended a 17-year career spanning 11 different franchises.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.  According to his wiki page, he now resides in a suburb of Cleveland (his original professional team) but does not list any post-career activities, baseball-related or otherwise.  Received Zero Hall-of-Fame votes by virtue of not appearing on the BBWAA ballot.

Both Tavarez and Villone belong to the infamous “From Nationals to Oblivion” club, a topic we revisit on an annual basis.

Note: it is not entirely clear to me why Villone and Tavarez were not actually ON the 2015 ballot; both seem to have the qualifications (10 years of experience and 5 years retired) and both were on previous versions of the “anticipated ballot” at baseball-reference.com, but neither showed up on BBWAA’s official ballot for this year.  Pete Kerzel did a post reviewing “Nats connected” 2015 ballot members when the ballot came out in Nov 2014 and only mentioned Boone.  I include them here since it seems to me they *should* be on the ballot and I’m not sure why they were not (unless someone is passing judgement on the “quality” of HoFame ballot members).  Are they pushed to subsequent ballots for some reason?  If anyone has insight i’d love to know.

2014 Ballot:

  • Paul Lo Duca: one of Bowden’s more infamous signings; he went from our opening day catcher in the 2008 season to being released by August 1st.  The highlight of his tenure here was having his name being revealed in the Mitchell Report just a couple days after signing with us.  After his release, he signed on to finish out the season with Florida, took a year off and attempted a come back in 2010 (signing a ML contract with Colorado but never appearing above AAA).   Hard to believe this guy was a 4-time all-star.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2013 Ballot:

  • Royce Clayton; signed a contract to be the Nats shortstop during the lean Jim Bowden years, and then was included in the Mega swap of players that headed to Cincinnati in the 2006 season.  He hung around for one more season in 2007 as a backup short stop and retired afterwards.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.
  • Mike Stanton was picked up in mid 2005 after being released by the Yankees, and he pitched well enough for the Nats that he was able to fetch a couple of low-level prospects in a late September move to Boston (who was looking for some late season bullpen cover).  The team then re-signed Stanton for 2006, and flipped him again mid-season, this time to the Giants for Shairon Martis.  Stanton toiled a one more season before hanging them up after 2007.   Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

2012 Ballot:

  • Vinny Castilla: signed a two year deal to join the Nats, timed with their inaugural season in Washington, but was traded to Colorado for SP Brian Lawrence when it became apparent that Ryan Zimmerman was set to man the hot corner in DC for the next decade or so.  Played one more season and retired after 2006.  Received Six (6) Hall-of-fame votes.

2011 Ballot:

  • Carlos Baerga: signed a one year deal as a 36-yr old to join the Nats in their inaugural season and serve as a backup infielder.   Hit .253 in part-time duty and hung ’em up after a 14-year career that can be well described as “journey-man.”   He was an integral part of the early 90s Cleveland Indians as their starting 2nd baseman and a 3-time all-star, and ended up playing on 6 major league teams and spent parts one season in Korea.  Received Zero hall-of-fame votes.

So, outside of Pudge’s election, the Nats greatest Hall of Fame achievement is Vinny Castilla receiving 6 sympathy votes.

We still have to wait a while to see another player with a “W” on their hat in Cooperstown.

So, who might that actually be?  In the years since we started this sad post, the team has acquired and played more than a few elite, regular all-star type players who may very well be in Cooperstown at some point.

  • Bryce Harper?  Not likely; if he makes it, he’ll likely wear a Philly cap based on the 13-yr contract he’s signed there.
  • Anthony Rendon?  despite his great 2019 season, he suffers from similar issues as guys like Scott Rolen; top-notch defensive 3B are a tough sell to Cooperstown.   He’s now signed with LAA for the next 8 years or so; if he makes it to Cooperstown, he’ll have earned it likely based on his next few seasons of work moreso than what he’s done with Washington … which means no curly-W for him.
  • Max Scherzer: most likely; he’s basically guaranteed his Cooperstown entry with his 3rd Cy Young award, two of which have come with Washington.  I think that pushes him over the edge to wearing our hat.
  • Stephen Strasburg: right now he seems like he’s in the Kevin Brown category of good but not great pitchers when it comes to Cooperstown consideration; he needs a Cy Young on his resume before someone really considers him.

My 2019 MLB Awards Predictions

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Is Trout going to get shut out again? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

Is Trout going to get shut out again? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

Hi there.  Its time to write about the “silly season” of baseball.   Its my annual awards predictor piece.

(Important note: despite publishing this after the post-season … like the voters, I write the entirety of this at the end of September.  This is not skewed or influenced by anything that happened in the post-season.  Which is pretty important, because likely NL MVP Cody Bellinger was embarrassed in the NLDS while his competitor Anthony Rendon really out-classed him, both in that series and throughout the post-season.  Same thing with Cole versus Verlander for the NL Cy Young; after the post-season, i’m sure many would want to reconsider their votes).

Side Note: I was listening to a Ringer podcast and Bill Simmons had a very simple, elegant solution the long running debate about what the “Most Valuable Player” means.   His point about the MVP is the same as my point: how can you be the “most valuable”player on a team that only wins 75 games?  You were so valuable that you prevented that team from only winning 65 games?   Instead he thinks we should add an “Most Outstanding Performance” award in each league to identify exactly what it says; the best individual performance irrespective of the player’s impact on the playoff race.  Many times it may very well be the same player.  But a lot of the time it won’t be.  The “MOP” can be heavily driven by WAR totals, perhaps looking at all three iterations of it.

So, would MVP and MOP differ over the past few years?  Lets look.  Here’s a list of MVP winners historically, and then links to b-r’s WAR, fangraphs WAR and BP’s WAR.

  • 2018: MVPs were Christian Yelich and Mookie Betts.  MOP candidates:  Still Betts in the AL, Jacob deGrom in the NL (who won the Cy Young fwiw)
  • 2017: MVPs were Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Altuve.  MOP candidates: Aaron Judge or Corey Kluber in the AL, Max Scherzer in the NL (both pitchers mentioned won the Cy Young)
  • 2016: MVPs were Kris Bryant and Mike Trout.  MOP candidates?  Probably Trout and Bryant still, though Scherzer has a case (and he won the Cy Young here too)
  • 2015: MVPs were Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson.  MOP candidates: Harper and Trout.  Harper was head and shoulders above anyone this season, as was Trout (who lost b/c his team was bad).
  • 2014: MVPs were Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout: MOP candidates?  Kluber and Kershaw (both were cy Young winners).

So, of the last 10 MVPs, i’d say that half of them were not also the “MOP” that year.  That’s half the MVPs, even given more modern thinking in voting for the award.


anyway, to the predictions:

  • AL MVP:  Alex Bregman
  • NL MVP: Cody Bellinger
  • AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole
  • NL Cy Young: Jacob deGrom
  • AL Rookie: Yordan Alvarez
  • NL Rookie: Pete Alonso
  • AL Manager: Rocco Baldelli, Minnesota
  • NL Manager: Mike Shildt, St. Louis

Discussion/Reasoning

  • AL MVP: Even though Trout plays for a crummy team, and even though he missed most of Sept with injury, I think he may win.  But Houston’s clean-up hitter Alex Bregman provides a pretty compelling case from a value perspective.  If two players have the same WAR but one plays for a 107 win team and the other’s team didn’t win 70 … i think we know who should win.  I like Betts and Matt Chapman to get votes here too.  Not sure which Yankee gets the “best player on the playoff team” votes for them.  It wouldn’t completely shock me if Trout won in a close vote, but I’ll go Bregman for now.
  • NL MVP: It was probably a neck-and-neck battle between Bellinger and Christian Yelich, who had exploded in the 2nd half to “catch” Bellinger’s monstrous first  half.  But a season-ending knee injury costs Yelich the bulk of September, likely ending his chances.  I think it goes Bellinger 1, Yelich 2, and then maybe the Nats Anthony Rendon getting some down-ballot love.  Also look for Ronald Acuna to get votes, as the “best player on the playoff team” for Atlanta.
  • AL Cy Young: Cole going away, with his teammate Justin Verlander 2nd.  What a late-career arc for Verlander.  I initially thought Verlander might get this with some sympathy votes, but Cole’s narrative was so dominant (as were his stats) and his 2nd  half so incredible that I find it hard to believe he won’t take the prize.
  • NL Cy Young.  This was absolutely Hyung Jin Ryu‘s award to lose for most of the season.  Then it looked like Scherzer’s to lose until he got hurt … which has opened the door for DeGrom to repeat.  I think Strasburg‘s ERA will look too high as compared to deGrom’s despite his career year.
  • AL Rookie: Dating back to perhaps mid last season, when it became clear that Toronto was manipulating his service time, this was Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s award to lose.  And, despite all the hype, he probably has lost it thanks to a pretty medicore first half.  it took him months to get going, eventually heating up in August to post nearly a 1,000 OPS for month.  Might be too little too late to catch Houston’s slugger Alvarez, who has top-of-the-leaderboard wRC figures.
  • NL Rookie: Alonso hit 53 homers; how can you not give him the ROY?  Understood there’s other qualified names, but Alonso’s accomplishments make him pretty famous, and makes him a shoe-in for this award.  No point in mentioning 2nd place here; this should be unanimous.
  • AL Manager: Baldelli wins the award for “most surprising AL team” to get the Mgr.  Everyone knew the Yankees and Astros would be good.  Maybe Oakland’s manager (Bob Melvin) or Tampa’s manager (Kevin Cash) gets votes or wins outright.  Maybe Yankees manager (Aaron Boone) gets some credit for navigating the myriad of injuries he has to face.
  • NL Manager: Shildt wins here out of apathy.  The NL race was mostly decided in the West before the season started, so hard to give it to Dave Roberts.  We knew Atlanta could repeat, so hard to make an argument for Brian Snitker.  the NL race was more about teams flailing that should have been better (Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, maybe even Philadelphia too).  Maybe i’m wrong and the press sees the recovery job the Nats did this year and gives it to Martinez.

Finalists announced on  11/5/19;  i didn’t miss any of my top candidates, but was kind of surprised by some of the finalists.


Actual Award Results added as they were awarded (updated post-publishing).  Voting results on baseball-reference.com for 2019 BBWAA awards.

  • AL MVP: Mike Trout in a close one over Bregman, 17-13 in 1st place votes
  • NL MVP: Bellinger in a tight one as well.
  • AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander 17-13 in 1st place votes over Gerrit Cole.
  • NL Cy Young: deGrom nearly unanimously, with 29/30 1st place votes.  Scherzer 3rd, Strasburg 5th, Corbin 11th.
  • AL Rookie: Alvarez unanimously.  John Means 2nd, Brandon Lowe third, Eloy Jimenez fourth, Cavan Biggio fifth.   Guerrero finished 7th, getting a handful of 3rd place votes.
  • NL Rookie: Alonso with 29/30 votes.    Mike Soroka 2nd,  Fernando Tatis Jr. 3rd.  Victor Robles finished 6th with one 3rd place vote.
  • AL Manager: Baldelli, edging out Boone.
  • NL Manager: Schildt barely over Counsell.

My prediction results: 6 for 8.    I switched out original guesses that would have had me 8 for 8 by over-thinking things.  I do like that Trout was not penalized for his performance, and kind of remained surprised Bregman didn’t win in the end.


 

Links to other awards that I didn’t predict this year (again, updated post-publishing as they’re announced)

Other links to awards worth noting


Ranking the top Nats post-season games of all time

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The new Nats #1 all -time game. Photo via nytimes.com

The new Nats #1 all -time game. Photo via nytimes.com

In the wake of the 2019 World Series run, I thought (while its fresh in everyone’s mind) it’d be a fun one to try to rank all the Nats post-season games.

I put in my top 10, then put in all the other candidates in chronological order.  For years I had a running list that conflated regular season exploits and post-season glory; now there’s so many games to consider just from 2019 that I’ve separated them in my (future) larger list of Best and Worst games.  As it turns out, I’ve got 8 of our top 10 post-season games now being from the 2019 run.

Feel free to discuss and tell me i’m wrong.  Nicely please 🙂

Greatest Nats Post Season Games:

  1. October 30th, 2019: WS Game 7 win.  Scherzer throws 5 heroic innings, the Nats beat Greinke with a Rendon homer and a Kendrick homer to seal it, then run away to take Game 7.
  2. October 9th, 2019: NLDS Game 5Howie Kendrick caps a come-from-behind win with a grand slam in the 10th to exorcise the Nats playoff daemons and seal their first ever playoff series win, 7-3 over the Dodgers.
  3. October 29th 2019: WS Game 6 win; Strasburg masterpiece, Turner controversy at first, Rendon homer exploits, another elimination game rally.  This game had it all.
  4. October 11th, 2012NLDS Game 4Jayson Werth walk-off homer in an epic battle against Lance Lynn, hitting the 13th pitch of the at-bat (!!) on a line-drive into the seats.  Ironic that what I think is the most special game in Nats franchise history occurred the day before what I consider to be the worst game in franchise history.  (note; thanks to my former coworker Eric Hay for correcting me on my pitch count memory here in the comments).
  5. October 1st, 2019come-from-behind Wild Card win over Milwaukee on Juan Soto‘s bases-clearing single in the 8th against super reliever Josh Hader.  First ever franchise “win-or-go-home” victory.
  6. October 11th, 2019: NLCS Game 1: Anibal Sanchez keeps a no-hitter into the 8th and the team blanks St. Louis to steal game one on the road and set the tone for what became a 4-0 sweep.
  7. October 9th, 2016NLDS Game 2 comeback win over the Dodgers: after dropping the first game in a missed opportunity, the Nats fell behind quickly 2-0 and the crowd was quiet, worried and lethargic.  That all ended when the team put some runners on base for Jose Lobaton, who clubbed a 3-run homer into a stiff wind coming in from left; the crowd exploded, the team relaxed and they tacked on a couple of runs later for a 5-2 win.
  8. October 12th, 2019: NLCS Game 2: Scherzer throws seven innings of one hit dominant ball to power the Nats to the win and the surprising two game sweep on the road.
  9. October 22nd, 2019: WS Game 1: The offense surprisingly gets to Astros ace Gerritt Cole while Scherzer holds on for the shock game 1 win in Houston.
  10. October 23rd, 2019: WS Game 2: The Nats explode on Astros pitching for 12 runs to shock the baseball world and take a 2-0 series lead.

I’m putting the 2019 WC winner just below the Werth homer.  I realize this is not a popular take; I like the way that frequent commenter MarkL put it in a discussion just after the WC game:  “[the WC winner] excitement level is #2 after the Werth game but #1 in importance.”  I agree with that sentiment.  If the Soto hit had been a walk-off we wouldn’t be having this argument; it’d easily be #1.  But its ok for a non-clinching game to be considered great; consider that most pundits put Game 6 of the 1975 World Series (aka the “Fisk  homer”) as the greatest game of the last 50 years…. and it was won by a team that went out the next day and lost game 7.  It doesn’t matter in the end, since the Kendrick homer trumped them both, and then the WS winner trumped all.

Post season honorable mentions (in chronological order):

  • October 7th, 2012: NLDS Game 1: 2-run rally in the 8th on Tyler Moore‘s flair to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis in the first ever playoff game for the team.  In theory it should have completely set up the Nats to cruise through the series.  Didn’t quite happen that way (see worst games ever).
  • October 6th, 2014: NLDS Game 2: Beating Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 NLDS; our only 2014 post-season win and the only time Bumgarner lost that post-season.
  • October 10th, 2016NLDS Game 3, a win in Los Angeles 8-3 to grab back home field advantage and put themselves on the brink of advancing.
  • October 7th, 2017: NLDS Game 2: Behind homers from Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats dump 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th on the Cubs to turn what was looking like a 2-0 series deficit into a 6-3 victory.
  • October 11th, 2017: NLDS Game 4: Stephen Strasburg shakes off illness and pitches the game of his life, punching out 12 in 7 scoreless innings in an elimination NLDS game against Chicago.  Michael Taylor squeaks out a grand-slam in the 8th to turn a 1-0 nail-biter into a 5-0 win to force a decisive game 5 back home.
  • October 4th, 2019: NLDS Game 2: Nats jump on Clayton Kershaw early, Strasburg shuts down the Dodgers to steal a game on the road
  • October 14th, 2019: NLCS Game 3:  Nats score four in the 3rd to set the tone and run away in Game 3, nearly guaranteeing the series win behind another dominant Strasburg performance.
  • October 15th, 2019: NLCS Game 4: A shocking 7 run first was all the team needed to complete the sweep at home behind a rocking crowd and move onto the World Series.
  • October 8th, 2019: NLDS Game 4: Scherzer dominates the Dodgers in a NLDS win-or-go-home Game 4 at Nats park, Zimmerman blasts a 3-run homer to put the team ahead for good, and the Nats push the series back to LA for Game 5.

Unbelievably, the 2019 Nats are WS champs!

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They did it. Photo via nytimes.com

They did it. Photo via nytimes.com

The final  unbelievable act in an unbelievable season has come to pass.  The cardiac kids overcame yet another 2019 playoff elimination in-game deficit (their 5th of the post-season I believe) to rally in the late innings for an improbable win.

Only this time, it was in Game 7 of a World Series that they were 2-1 underdogs in at the start and in which they got swept on home soil.

Game thoughts:

  • Max Scherzer pitched better than i thought he would, but labored to get through 5 innings on more than 100 pitches.
  • Zack Greinke was pitching the absolute game of his life, and I thought this team was done for in the 6th.
  • For all the scorn heaped on Patrick Corbin … damn what an outing.  Three scoreless innings, faces just one over the min, gets the W in game 7.  Bravo.
  • Anthony Rendonhe continued to make himself a lot of money with his off-season.  Same with Strasburg (a subject for another day).
  • Kendrick finally came alive to win it for the team.  Eaton had a heck of a game.  Soto; well, nobody in America will be surprised by Soto again after this post-season.

Now, some more detailed thoughts on the absolute butchering of the pitching management by Houston’s manager A.J. Hinch.

  • Why would you possibly take out a guy in Greinke who had completely flummoxed the Nats lineup for 6+ innings in that situation?  He was on just 80 pitches.  Yes he’d given up a homer to Rendon, and yes he’d walked Soto … but that’s the two most dangerous hitters in the lineup.  Once you get past Soto, you have to favor your chances against our 5-9 (with all due respect to Kendrick of course).  I couldn’t believe our fortunes there, to move on from Greinke and get into the suspect bullpen.  Was Greinke gassed?  On 80 pitches?  Was he giving up a ton of sharp hit balls?  Rendon’s homer was hit hard, sure, but it was also a rare mistake from a guy who had been painting corners all night.  You pitch around Soto b/c you don’t want him to beat  you.  I just couldn’t believe this over-managing move.
  • Then, instead of bringing Gerritt Cole or his closer … he goes with Will Harris.  Ok.  I guess you could have looked at  Harris’ numbers prior to this inning this post season and said, “oh that’s their stopper.”  But he’s clearly  not better than Greinke.  So it was karma when 3 pitches later Kendrick gets a lucky homer off the foul pole.  Just amazing turn of luck.
  • NOW he goes to his closer Osuna.  Still no Cole, who was idly throwing the ball in the pen.
  • Then, in the next inning, he leaves in his one-inning closer to runout of gas and give up another run.
  • THEN in the next inning he cycles through more of his ineffective bullpen, who leaks two more demoralizing runs to make the 9th a coronation.
  • Cole?  Sitting on his ass in the bullpen.  Peacock?  burned last night.  he eventually goes with 4th starter Jose Urquidy to stop the bleeding, 5 runs too late.

I was texting along with friends throughout all of this, calling the debacle as it happened.  Houston deserved their fate here for pulling an effective starter 30 pitches too early.    And the Nats made them pay.

Go Nats!  This is a long time coming.  A long time coming for everyone who was there at the beginning, helped support this team for years before they actually began trying, who stuck with them as they tried to find their way.

 

WS Game 1 quick recap; shocking win for Nats

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Can't even buy a beer; but he's already a post-season star. Photo via NYpost

Can’t even buy a beer; but he’s already a post-season star. Photo via NYpost

So, in my preview, I thought that the Nats really could “steal” one of the two games in Houston.   I never thought they’d steal game 1 by getting to Gerrit Cole.  But they did; putting more runs on him (5) in just a handful of innings than he’d given up in 22+ across three previous post season starts.  So much for narrative.  And I don’t think he pitched “badly” per se; i think the Nats just hit the ball well and made him pay for upper-zone fastball misses like other teams have not.

Hand it to this team; this was a complete team effort to win.   Max Scherzer just didn’t look sharp on the night, burning through nearly 110 pitches in 5 innings.  He didn’t seem like he had any command of his off-speed stuff, and Houston is just too good of a hitting team to not make you pay.  Patrick Corbin worked his way through his mid-start relief inning (notably; does this push his start to game 4 instead of game 3?  Not a bad idea honestly if you think Anibal Sanchez is the hotter hand to take possibly two post-season starts), Daniel Hudson bailed out the shaky outing from Tanner Rainey, and Sean Doolittle kept it together to close it out.  Great pitcher management on the night; Davey Martinez did not hesitate to yank Rainey and keep the inning from getting out of hand.

Then there’s the hitting: up and down the order, the Nats made it happen.  Credit to Ryan Zimmerman for putting the team back into the game, of course credit to “working his way towards a post-season MVP award” Juan Soto for having a game of the ages on the biggest possible stage.  But up and down the order, this team got timely hits.

I thought the Nats might be able to get to Verlander in game 2; can they possibly take two games on foreign soil again?

One other point: one through nine, this Astros lineup is stacked (well, at least 1-7).  Geeze.  All night i’m chewing nails watching them try to get through this order.  Giving up “only” four runs seemed like an accomplishment; the Nats are going to have to hit this series moreso than I thought just to keep up.

WS Pitching Preview: Nats vs Astros

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Corbin is the key to this series. Photo via Arizona republic

Corbin is the key to this series. Photo via Arizona republic

The 2019 World Series is here.  And boy does it look like its going to be a heck of a pitching duel.  Thanks to the Astros finishing off the Yankees in 6 games, they (like our Nats) are able to perfectly setup their rotation as they wish.  Which means … wow we’re going to have some pitching duels.

Here’s a preview of the pitching matchups, with my predictions game by game.

  • Game 1; 10/22/19: Was@Hou: Max Scherzer vs Gerrit Cole: Cole is either finishing 1st or 2nd in AL Cy Young voting and has been unhittable this post season (3 starts, 22 2/3rds innings, 10 hits, 8 walks, just ONE earned run, 32 Ks).  So its going to be a tall task to get to him in Game 1.  Scherzer is Big Game Max: he got hit a bit in the WC game, but his three NLCS and NLDS appearances are pretty solid: 15 innings and one earned run vs the Dodgers and Cardinals, including a 1-hit 7 inning domination of St. Louis in Game 2 to really put the series out of reach.  Prediction?  I think Cole continues his hot streak and out-duels Scherzer in a 1-0 or a 2-1 type game.
  • Game 2: 10/23/19: Was@Hou: Stephen Strasburg vs Justin Verlander: Verlander likely wins the Cy Young (if it isn’t Cole) thanks to an amazing age 36 season … but he’s been quite hittable this post-season.  He’s got 4 starts, has given up 10 runs in 23 innings.  Strasburg has not been hittable, this off-season or any other; he continues to put up Sandy Koufax esque post-season numbers; he got hit in LA but held on to keep the team in the game, then blew away St. Louis.  I like Strasburg here and think the Nats can sneak a win in game 2.
  • Game 3: 10/25/19: Hou@Wash: Zack Greinke vs Patrick Corbin: i wonder what Arizona fans are thinking when they watch this game.  Greinke might be the best #3 starter in the game, or maybe Corbin is.  Greinke got knocked out by Tampa in the NLDS, and wasn’t lights out or anything in the NLDS either; the Nats can score runs against him.  Corbin has also been hit or miss this post-season, with an ugly 7+ ERA despite striking out 26 in 13 innings.  The Astros hit the ball, irrespective of lefty or righty, so this game might be one where the bullpens of both teams get exposed a bit.  Can Corbin make it happen?  One good thing going for him; he’s significantly better at home vs on the road (2.40 ERA versus 4.18 ERA away).  Of course … Greinke shows reverse H/A splits himself, and is no stranger to playing the Nats (he dominated the Nats in June, shutting them down in our park to the tune of 7ip, 2h).  I think Astros can get back home-field advantage here.
  • Game 4: 10/26/19: Hou@Wash: Bullpen vs Anibal Sanchez: Game 4 could be interesting; the Astros don’t really have a 4th starter they trust; they’ve gotten to this point riding their big 3 starters and getting by with openers and bullpen games otherwise.  So this could be former Nat Brad Peacock or perhaps Wade Miley, who seemed to be their 4th starter all season but who didn’t even appear in the ALCS.  Can Sanchez do what he did again against St. Louis?  Can a bullpen game shutdown the Nats?  I like the Nats here to get a solid start and to get at the slightly-hittable Houston bullpen.
  • Game 5: 10/27/19: Cole vs Scherzer: You think big-game Max is losing a home start?  I don’t think so.  The Nats get to Cole and take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Houston.
  • Game 6: 10/29/19: Verlander vs Strasburg: Verlander recovers and pitches the game of his life to push the series to Game 7.
  • Game 7: 10/30/19: Corbin vs Greinke: Nats get to Greinke again, Corbin gets hit … game turns into a bullpen game … Nats pull another late-inning come back and win in 7.

Sound good?

One thing I did want to point out.  There’s a very solid sportswriter narrative out there that teams can get “cold” with long layoffs like the Nats have had.  And there’s some SSS proof that indeed teams who sweep have a struggle in the series.  Teams are just 1 for 9 in the World Series after sweeping the LCS in four games since 1985 (when the LCS was expanded to 7 games).  See https://sports.yahoo.com/tbs-crew-explains-nationals-avoid-044927265.html (thanks Luke Erickson for the link, which you can also find on ESPN and other places).   This is obviously worrisome for the Nats, who have taken some steps to stay hot.  On the one hand, I think a veteran team will benefit from the longer layoff to rest muscles and get bodies ready to go.  I think Victor Robles will cherish the time to let his leg heal a bit.  And of course, the rest lets all the starters (most of whom were pulling double duty starting and relieving) to rest up and get into their regular schedules.   On the other hand …. 1 for 9.  And they’re going against a 107-win team.

One other thing worth pointing out: the four games in the AL gives the Nats a unique opportunity to finally be able to play their best defensive roster and stick MVP Howie Kendrick in the DH spot.  I like having Asdrubal Cabrera in the lineup with his switch-hitting bat and veteran approach and his better-than-Kendrick defense.   That’s huge for this team.