Podcast! 2015 Nats Season Preview with @NoahFrankWTOP

EDIT: I fixed the audio so it is properly mixed.

Noah Frank joins our show to talk about where the Nats are right now and how they look for 2015. On the show: the 25 man roster, the rash of injuries suffered by the team, how good is the Nationals rotation, is this bullpen sustainable, Strasburg, Harper, a little Matt Williams, an NL East preview, a rest of the MLB preview, and plenty more. Enjoy!

Spring Training Question 4: Can Tanner Roark Fit In the Starting Rotation?

@aNatsFan gets Roark on the mound.

@aNatsFan gets Roark on the mound.

So you may have heard in December that the Nationals have the best starting pitching rotation in baseball, or darn close to it. You may have heard more recently that the Nationals made that rotation even better with the addition of free agent Max Scherzer.

The rotation was already stacked. Ranked by fWAR across both leagues, The Nats featured Jordan Zimmermann (#10) and Stephen Strasburg (#13), two top 20 pitchers overall. Gio Gonzalez didn’t pitch enough innings to be a qualified starter (thanks shoulder issues), but still posted a 3.1 fWAR and would have slotted him around 30th overall. Doug Fister was technically the worst of the bunch, at 54th overall and a 1.3 fWAR, but I don’t think you’d find a Nats fan who’d complain about him (or wouldn’t agree that fWAR may be cheating him a bit based on how its calculated).  The rotation, as a whole, finished first overall in fWAR – and then they added the 7th best pitcher by fWAR to that.

A pitching rotation we thought was the the X-men turned out to be the Justice League, and now it is a Justice League with three Supermen (probably from alternate timelines), a Batman and a Wonder Woman (and you’re a damn fool if you’re snickering at Wonder Woman. She’s awesome).

And then there is Green Arrow, personified in this case as Tanner Roark. Resourceful, not super powered, but still one of the better Justice League alum: We all remember the time that the Arrow saved all his super powered bretheren (yeah, yeah, yeah: Batman doesn’t have super powers: But anyone who can go toe to toe with Superman and win counts). But is there room for Arrow on a Justice League of heavy weights like-

Sorry, I totally got side tracked. Point being: One of the questions that will resolve in spring training is whether there is room for 3+ WAR pitcher on a rotation of Ubermenches? The deck is stacked way against him, but let’s go through the possibilities anyway.

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Nats Spring Training Question #5: Is the 25 Man Roster Already Set?

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As far as I can figure, the 2015 Nationals will head into Spring Training with at least 23 of their 25 slots filled and ready to go. A luxury to be sure, and not one that will repeat itself anytime soon. Over the next few seasons, at least a handful of free agents will be leaving each year, many from key positions. For example, the 2016 Nationals could be starting the season without Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Ian Desmond and Denard Span: And that’s just me thinking of starters off the top of my head. Each year after next, similar names may be on the way out the door, each requiring a spring training for new players to become acquainted with the team, young players trying to play their way on, and a parade of healthy competition for starting spots.
But the future is the future, and today is today: And today, the Nats won’t have to think too hard about a lot of the spots on the team. Each MLB club is allotted a 25 man roster to play day-to-day with, and an expanded 40 man roster where the additional 15 players are in the minor leagues, but available for call up at a moment’s notice.
Seriously, I just went through the roster and I’m not sure there is anywhere for anyone to break into the top 25. There, legitimately, may be no camp battles in 2015. So let’s count them up.

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Nats 2014 Mid-Season Review Part I: The Standings and Pitching Are Better Than You Think

The Washington Nationals have played precisely half of the games they are scheduled to play in the 2014 campaign. Since we, as a species, tend to like the easily divisible, I present unto you the longstanding tradition of a “mid season” review of the Washington Nationals – 2014 edition.

Standings: The Washington Nationals (43-38) are currently tied atop the NL East with a half game behind the Atlanta Braves (44-38) 5 games above .500. (They were tied after 81 game each, Atlanta’s just played one more already). This is certainly a step up from last year when Washington (41-40) trailed Atlanta (47-34) by 6 games. It also isn’t nearly as good as Washington (48-33) leading Atlanta (42-39) by 6 games.

Indeed, while both teams are maybe playing not quite as well as they had expected, it might be the first time Nats and Braves fans are seeing the “race” they were supposed to the last few years. There is no doubt that the 2013 Nats stumbled out of the gate and the Braves managed to stay hot (enough) all year, much the way the 2012 Nats blew it out of the box and never looked back. This year, neither team has run away with the division.

Atlanta owns the season series thus far (3-7), which only highlights their struggles against teams in the other 71 games. The problem for the Braves is that the Nationals are getting healthier (about to, finally, field their Opening Day line up since the middle of the game on Opening Day), and the Braves, really, are not.  Nine of those last 80 games for the Braves are against Washington, The other 71 are not.

The Marlins (4.0 GB), Mets (6.0 GB) and Phillies (7.0 GB) don’t appear to be in this race for the long haul.

Starting Pitching: Continue reading

Get To Know A Series: Cincinnati Reds

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Washington Nationals (23-20) vs. Cincinnati Reds (19-23)

2014 Head to Head Record: 0-0
2013 Head to Head Record: 4-3 Washington

Monday May 19, 7:05p ($1 Hot Dog Night Y’all!) 

Stephen Strasburg (3.48 ERA, 2.34 FIP, 11.6 K/9) v. Mike Leake (3.09 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 5.25 K/9)

Tuesday May 20, 7:05p

Doug Fister (4.76 ERA 6.51 FIP 6.35 K/9) v. Johnny Cueto (1.25 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 9.5 K/9)

Wednesday May 21, 4:05p

Tanner Roark (3.65 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 7.30 K/9) v. Alfredo Simon (2.45 ERA, 4.61 FIP 5.26 K/9)

The Nats and Reds have been similar ships sailing a similar course over the last three years. The two teams were outs away from meeting each other in the NLCS in 2012, took steps back in 2013 (although the Reds made a wild card spot) and are currently floating around injured early in the year. The Reds and Nats are currently down a star pitcher (Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez) and several bats at least for this series. No Jay Bruce or Joey Votto, just like there will be no Bryce, Ryan and Adam.

The Reds however have had the worse end of it, 4 game back of the Nats and under .500. They were outscored 20-4 this Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia, and are prone to giving up chunks of runs when they lose. a 6-1 loss to San Diego las week, as well as an 11-2 loss last Saturday to Colorado. The series presents a key opportunity for the Nats to beat a middling, not awful, team and establish they can muddle through these injuries better than other teams can.

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Get To Know A Series: Arizona Diamondbacks

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Washington Nationals (19-18) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (15-25)

2014 Head to Head Record: (0-0)
2013 Head to Head Record: (4-2)

Monday, May 12 9:40 p.m.

Jordan Zimmermann (2.92 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 9,24 K/9) v. Josh Collmenter (3.77 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 5.97 K/9)

Tuesday, May 13 9:40 p.m.

Stephen Strasburg (3.42 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 12.17 K/9) v. Bronson Arroyo (4.89 ERA, 4.66 FIP, 4.66 K/9)

Wednesday, May 14 3:40 p.m.

Doug Fister (10.38 ERA, 11.16 FIP, 4.15 K/9)  vs. Brandon McCarthy (5.66 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 8.5 K/9)

Let’s all hope that Matt Williams homecoming goes a lot better than Gio Gonzalez and Jerry Blevins’ did. The Nationals leave the nightmare that was a series in Oakland in which they scored a grand total of four runs over two if the 29 innings played, lost Adam LaRoche to the DL, got walked off, blown out twice and featured a mound meltdown from Smiley himself.

So if you had to play a road series right now, it’d be hard to find a better one to play than the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks who are just 3-15 at home, and 15-25 overall. The Diamondbacks have given up and astounding 214 runs, averaging well over 5 given up a game. They are -63 in run differential. Compare that to the Nats who needed a completely crap the bed kind of weekend to get to -3 run differential. You may think that watching the Nats is awful, but being a Diamondbacks fan this year might be a completely special kind of WTF.

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Talking Points: Different Weekend, Same Story

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Look gang, this week’s talking points…I”m not in a super chipper mood. I know normally I’ve taken on the tone of “hey it’ll all be okay” but I’ve got to admit, this has got me spooked. As such the talking points I’m giving you this week may be a bit more dour than you are used to.

It’s not that they got swept by the Braves, it’s that they got themselves hurt doing it.

  • It’s true. Friday I was engaged in several twitter chains talking about the relative “worth” of a game against the Braves. In my mind, the games are not much more important than against any other NL East team. So with only 6 games done, and 13 to go I wouldn’t say I’m happy about the Nats being 1-5 against the Braves, but I’m not ready to panic yet.
  • Although, I guess while we are on the topic the only reason I have to not panic is the larger, grander scheme of baseball. Things tend to even out, and good teams tend to go in peaks and valleys. So I’m really just sort of betting black here because it keeps coming up red and it just has to come up black sooner or later, right? right? (Translation: The Nats have certainly given me very little reason to believe they can beat Atlanta…but I felt that way about the Nats/Phillies series for years, so it could happen!)
  • No, the real problem is that the Nats added to their walking (or not walking) wounded. Doug Fister has yet to make a start, Scott Hairston pulled a lat and Wilson Ramos is also out a month before the series started.
  • By the start of the game on Sunday Denard Span was put on the 7 day DL as an overly cautious move to protect against concussion, Jayson Werth (who is still playing) pulled his groin, and Ryan Zimmerman broke his thumb getting tagged out on a slide back to second base.
  • The only way I saw the Nats losing was through extensive injury. Go ahead, look through our 2014 player previews. This is how it starts.

There is no good time to miss players, but April is better than September for sure.  Plus, the Nats are in much better shape than last year to deal with injuries.

  • As Citizens of Natstown tweeted above, and most reasonable baseball people agree, the Nats bench this year is much better suited to deal with a month long injuries.
  • The infield depth is much better than the outfield depth, so having to shift guys around there is a little easier. Nate McLouth profiles very well to replace Denard Span in CF (particularly given Denard’s slowish start…again) for the short term.  
  • And yeah, all the games count equally, so missing Zim, Ramos, Span, Fister, etc. is never a good thing. But if you could choose to to get them back in a month and still have most of the season to go, or lose them to injury near the end of the year during a playoff push…well I’ll take this version. The 2012 Nats were successful in large part because they managed to tread water for about 2-3 months while starters recovered from injury. The post-all-star-break Nats were in good shape down the stretch because the team got more talented without having to trade for it.
  • Unfortunately, my mindset is changed. I don’t expect the Nats to go out there and own it for the next month (though I’m happy to be surprised). I’m now in full “tread water” mode. I expect they’ll be keeping pace, rather than setting it, and hopefully pouring it on starting in June or so.
  • Yeah I don’t know what Mike Rizzo is thinking here. I mean you’re the GM, you have to stick up for your guys…but maybe not say it like that.
  • Not that I think the Braves are scouring for bulletin board martial, nor do I believe that is really a “thing,” but I think you can say “we have full confidence in our team” and “We know we can win these games.” Without having to posit you are both “not scared” and are better than the team that has handed your team’s ass to it over the last going on two years.

Nationals101 has it all wrong. James O’Hara was the only voice of reason all weekend during that series. 

  • James is another wonderful writer over at CitsofNatstown. He wrote this on Saturday and you should read it. here are his tweets from when I was indulging in full on panic mode:

  • All of these things are completely true and ought to give Nats fans smarting from an ass-kicking in Atlanta. Take solace in the young man’s wisdom, and follow him on twitter.