WARNING: The following post goes against conventional fan logic and feelings, asking readers to consider a viewpoint they likely do not agree with. The post espouses an opinion on what you, the reader, may care to adopt as an attitude, or feeling, toward the sport of baseball and, in particular, the Washington Nationals. It is not, however, an attempt at fan police or making you do something you don’t want to do.
It’s just an opinion piece. It’s meant to be agreed and disagreed with. I’m not sure why I feel I need to explain that, but I do.
So, for your consideration…
With the World Series over, and Boston victorious it’s time we had a talk.
It’s time to let go of the Cardinals. It’s time let go of Pete F. Kozma. It’s time to move on, and move up and move forward. It’s time for a little self reflection and a lot of honesty. While I understand the instinct to root against the Cardinals (The enemy of my enemy…) it is time to accept the the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t do anything to you, they were just there when it happened.
This is not the Hatfield and McCoys.
No Review-Preview this time around gang I’m not sure I can bring myself to do one. Okay, the Nats got swept by the Cardinals, but strangely looked better (on the pitching and defense anyway) doing it. The Cards have great pitchers and great bats. The Reds are coming into town and they have good pitching and great bats. The Nats could have all, or none, of any of those at any given time because it’s only April and no one knows what the heck is going on.
Okay that’s your review-preview. On to the Cliff Notes:
- Dave Huzzard knows a ton about baseball. When he writes up stuff for MASN as a guest blogger, it’s top notch stuff. This week he put in crystal clear terms why you the Espinosa/Lombardozzi debate at second base isn’t even a debate. Basically, I’m with Dave the right thinking people can’t honestly compare the two. (Also, I need to figure out how to get one of these guest blogging gigs).
- Speaking of the Huzz, here is Twitter Convo we had today naming excellent baseball books. It’s a good idea to get a book list for new fans that want to know more about the Nats, the sport or the stats that explain it. In fact, we did a podcast last year about it. Still updating a page with books is probably a good idea.
- Matt’s Bats watched BP from the field, and basically everyone you’d want to come say hi came and said hi. I do not wear my jealousy well, particularly when it is directed at an 8 year old.
- From the Sports Bog: Henry Rodriguez throws a ball into the President’s Club. To be fair it took the long way round, and he’s actually been a much better pitcher so far this year. Also “Full Monkey-Tilt” might be the early candidate for this year’s “Clown Question Bro.”
- Lastly, Nationals Prospects is a blog I’ve been reading more of lately. This weekend they ran a story about the call up of Anthony Rendon which included some skepticism regarding the timing of the call-up. Being a high level top prospect is a tough job on a call up, especially when a chunk of the fan base expects you to fix things as soon as you get to the show. Couple that with the fact he’s following two “once in a decade” type of players like Harper and Strasburg, and well…expectations can be outsized very quickly. (and yeah, lying to reporters-while part of the gig-is still cruddy).
There are a million places to go get a recap and preview of every game, but here at Nationals 101 we prefer to take a slightly bigger slice of the pie. The Review-Preview will take place between series and give a quick recap of the previous series (including anything we think you can learn from the series) and what you can look forward to in the next series coming up.
Normally a 3-3 road trip is a cause to celebrate. When expectations are high (and the talent you play allegedly low) it comes away feeling a little flat. Still, in the span the Nats split their 6 games, the Braves managed only two wins, which gives them a game up…in April, with 140+ games left to play. So while all games are weighted equal, it is still the case that the overwhelming majority of games haven’t been counted yet.
The Nats took the first series from the Marlins two games to one. They blew out the Fish in the opener 10-2, dropped the second game with three starters missing 8-2, but bounced back in the finale to take the series with a 6-1 score.
The Nats dropped their opener against the Mets as Matt Harvey out-pitched Stephen Strasburg (and just about everyone else I’ve seen this year), losing 7-1. The second day also featured seriously shaky starting pitching, with Gio Gonzalez having a meltdown in the fourth inning to lose a three run lead. Still, the bats were alive with four home runs (two from Bryce Harper) and they won a game on offense 7-6. Sunday’s game featured the debut of top prospect Anthony Rendon much to the delight of many a fan looking forward to his debut. Unfortunately and 0-4 and error later for Rendon seemed like piling on after the Nats dropped the finale in a sloppy 2-0 loss.
So What Happened? For the most part, the same thing that’s been happening all Month. The Nationals have been winning games handily, or losing them because of sloppy play. Dan Haren has yet to do anything to convince anyone he’s going to be a good pitcher, and Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez seem to be taking too many pitches to get anyone out at all. Even when three errors don’t directly cost runs (as on Sunday) that makes Jordan Zimmermann throw more pitches than he needs to. Letting the Mets of the hook by swinging at a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded and no outs (ahem Jayson Werth) also cuts a huge break to a guy like Dillon Gee who had been averaging more than 8 runs a game before the start Sunday.
Our constant refrain of “It’s Only April” isn’t actually meant to excuse the sloppy play of the Nationals, or some how make you feel like a lunatic for thinking the Nats are playing poorly. The Nats are indeed playing very poorly at times so far this month. The reason to keep in mind that it is April is to remind you they have plenty of time to play well (and they will play well).
It’s a trick of the mind: When the Nats have played less than 20 games, those 7 or 8 bad games are a big percentage of the pie. It’s important to remember that the pie isn’t 20 games big though-it’s 162 games big. What’s 20 bad games out 162? or 30? or 40? or even 50? Not a lot, that’s what.
I think a lot of fans who are the most worried tuned into the team sometime after the Capitals bounced out of the playoffs, or even later. August maybe? July? It’s easier to stomach losses when you are already watching an established winner-particularly with no serious expectations on them (externally, anyway). It’s much tougher to come into the season at the begnning season with triple the expectations and have to learn, from the start, just what a winning season looks like top to bottom.
“It’s Only April” doesn’t make you feel better in the moment, it only illuminates that it is only one moment in many. In July, April will not matter nearly as much as you thought it did.
Lost In The Shuffle
- The Nats haven’t had to do a lot of “over coming” so far this year. They won games they were tied late in the game for, they’ve held on to leads despite furious comebacks-but the 7-6 Mets win on Saturday was the first time they actually battled back to win a game from behind. (Note: I’m not counting the two times they were down 1-0 to the White Sox after the first inning). I’m likely adding narrative to where there isn’t actually one, but it looked like the Nats had some fight in them for the first time this year. Last year, I didn’t count them out of any game-up until Saturday, I had been a few times.
- Bryce Harper had the flu and went 3-4 in Miami. Seriously.
- Miami beat the Reds, and took them to 14 innings the next day. Also the Braves lost twice to the Pirates. Hopefully fans can stop worrying about who loses to who and who beats who in April and taking it as a harbinger of the whole season…soon. My head would appreciate it.
- Ryan Zimmerman had a tender calf in game one of the Marlins series before being pulled. Thanks to how rules work, you can retroactively put someone on DL so long as they haven’t played since they were pulled and his 15 day stint started Thursday instead of Sunday when they announced it. Wilson Ramos also is on the DL, though he’s a week in already.
- Steve Lombardozzi filled in admirably this week, going 7 for 21 in 6 starts against the Braves, Marlins and Mets. He did get owned by Matt Harvey going 0-4, just like most everyone else did on the Nats Friday night.
- 0-4 and an error for Anthony Rendon. Not an auspicious start, and it might be something Davey has stuck in his craw when it’s time to decide if he stays up or goes down. That said, just as if he went 4-4 and helped turn two double plays-it would still only be one game out of about 12 he’ll play before the Nats have to figure that out. Plenty of time for him to make his case either way.
St. Louis Cardinals
Let go of your anger and don’t expect and easy revenge match for the Nationals. The Cardinals are a no joke team. They post the same 10-8 record as the Washington Nationals, and also look up at division rivals they know they can catch and beat. The Cards have also beaten teams handily when they win, and lost games inexplicably when they haven’t.
Many fans will be familiar with the virtues the Cards boast: Yadier Molina is a hitter nearly impossibly to strike out, and Carlos Beltran is a 30+ HR guy.
The Nats will send Dan Haren to the mound Monday night. He might need to seriously get a good game in if he doesn’t want everyone in DC to completely hate him. The Cardinals will send Shelby Miller to the mound for his first apperance against the Nationals ever. He’s more or less a three pitch pitcher (Fastball, Curveball Change-up) but he has thrown a few cut fastballs this year as well. He’ll be a riddle the Nats will want to solve quickly given the limited data they will have on the newcomer.
The Nats then send their best pitcher thus far, Ross Detwiler to face former Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright. The Nats have done well against Wainwright, particularly at Nats Park (1-2, 7.24 ERA and 2.2ish WHIP), but he’s still a dangerous pitcher when he’s on. Given the uncertainty around him on the mound, the Nats need to get after Wainwright and make the most of Detwiler if he has another great start.
The Wed afternoon finale will feature Stephen Strasburg and Jamie Garcia. Garcia is a solid pitcher, averaging about 3.5 runs given up per game and 1.3 hits per inning pitched. The Nats clobbered him last year for 6 runs on 9 hits in 5.1 innings pitched.
What To Hope For
Not to look ahead, but the NL Central leading Reds come in after the Cards for a four game tilt over the long “revenge” week this seems to have shaped up to be. The Nats will likely be looking to show they can beat good teams and get some of these error/pitching monkeys off their back. Over 7 games, 5 wins at home seems to be what the Nationals should feel like they should get. Four is acceptable, 6 or 7 would be special. With the Reds being just as tough ast the Cardinals (maybe tougher) the Nats would do well to get 2 of 3 from the Redbirds, heading into the extended weekend series looking to win 3 out of 4.
All week we’ve been talking about how predictions work and how you can, pretty accurately, take a stab at just how well a team might do (if, of course, you can figure out how many runs they’ll score/give up).
What follows flies completely in the face of al of that. While I don’t think I can get away with talking about predictions all week and not stick my own neck out there, I can forewarn you that this is a totally unscientific, gut-checking style of prediction. There are no stone-cold lead pipe locks, bold predictions when we get back from commercial. These really are just a bunch of thoughts I have for the season this year.