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!
Pitchers and catchers report to Nationals spring training in a little over a week, the 2015 regular season starts in just under two months, but Nationals fans are still eight months away from the only results that matter in evaluating the 2015 season.
Every year is the year you’re supposed to compete for a championship, but for the 2015 Washington Nationals that sentiment is more than chest-beating hyperbole. It is a fact. Since the end of the 2011 season, when the Nationals surprised baseball with a second half surge and finished only one game under .500, the Nationals have been playing a game of increasing expectations that will have finally caught up with them in 2015.
The 2012 season was a surprise, a maybe wild card team ended up with the most wins in baseball. An early exit in the playoffs could be excused as a bit of inexperience and bad luck. The 2013 season was a season of regression, injuries, and underperforming bench players. But they were still a winning team. Even the most disappointed fan could see the core of the 2012 Nats were still good players.
Despite the disappointing end to the 2014 season, the silver lining may be that the 2012 season wasn’t a fluke. The Nationals are a properly good team. An excellent team, really. Deep at nearly every position on the field, young talent on the rise, established veterans with defined skill sets. They weren’t a bad team: Cold bats, questionable bullpen managing, and running into the Giants in an even year added up to another quick exit for the team with the best record in the National League.
However you characterize the last few seasons and their ultimate demise, 2015 will be different for one very important reasons: There will be no excuses for this team if they don’t have a successful October. Not injury, not bad luck, not small sample size. Not young players that need to mature, or old players that are regressing, or if the pitchers pitch like aces or are still learning:
I would say that the Nats first job is to make the playoffs, but at this point that needs to be a foregone conclusion. They are light years better than the bottom half of the NL East, and much better than the two teams that might compete for a Wild Card. The only point of the 2015 season between now and October is to get to October and win it.
I hate putting it like that. I’m a big fan of the regular season, and the day to day how did a guy do, who’s the new guy, what are we all going to dress up as at the park today: I am. Lose today? Get ’em tomorrow.
But 2015 isn’t like that. Players contracts are expiring. The team’s make up of personnel is at an all time high. They are better than nearly every other team that will take the field with them, and on par with the few that they aren’t. They are better than, or on par, with any other team that has won the World Series in the last five years. There is no talent gap that explains why the Nats can’t win it all.
They either will, or they won’t, and we won’t know until they do or they don’t. You thought other years were stressful?…
In the coming weeks we’ll be doing a variation on our usual spring training preview. You know most of the Nats, so our “Get to Know a Nat” series will be abbreviated so that you don’t spend a lot of time reading stuff you already know. We’ll also be posing questions for spring training and the regular season: Questions that will get at the few loose ends in and around the 2015 season that the Nats have.
But that’s just what they are: Loose ends. Whether the Nats keep Jordan Zimmermann all year or not, whether they find a second basement or not, whether Max Scherzer is the Opening Day starter or not: These are just jigsaw puzzles on a snowy day. A series of deck chairs to be rearranged on what will either be the Love Boat or the Titanic.
The wait is almost over. The wait is just beginning. Welcome back, Natstown.
With a week left of baseball, here are the standings in the NL East (and number of games each team has left)
WAS 91-64 (7)
ATL 76-79 (7)
NYM 76-80 (6)
MIA 74-81 (7)
PHL 71-85 (6)
Now look: This is a post that I’m writing and posting now. But really its for next May when, inevitably, someone will panic. When, in defense of the National League East crown (and hopefully other trophies and awards) the Washington Nationals lose a series to…some other team…and then people freak out. But please read it now if you like.
At some point in May of 2014 (and every other May) someone (read: a lot of people) remarked on how the Nats “couldn’t beat the Braves” because they were 1-5 in their first six games. No amount of “there are 13 games left against the Braves” or ” there are 100ish games left in the season” would calm these people, or stop them from yelling at me because I didn’t see it their way. Every trope just short of “Games are more important in September” was thrown at me, the biggest of course is that “There was no way the Nats could win the NL East unless they beat the Braves.” As an aside, apparently this was a two team division. in May.
Many of these things, as expected, resolved themselves. The Nats could and did beat the Braves. The Braves were not the only team in the division as they are dangerously close to slipping to third and below .500 for the season. (This, of course, casts into doubt whether the Braves were ever the “team to beat.”)
Anyway, with the complete implosion of Atlanta down the stretch, I decided to put that last unanswered question to the test. Did the Nationals have to beat the Braves (or any individual team) in order to win the NL East?
Name: Gregory Stuart Dobbs
Nickname(s): “Dober” or “Roy Hobbs”
DOB: July 2, 1978
Twitter?: None that I could find
From: Los Angeles, California
Position: Corner Infield/Outfield positions
Hand: Bats lefty, throws righty
With the Nats Since: Signed a Minor League contract with the Nationals on May 12, 2014 and was called up on May 16, 2014.
Just Who Is This Guy?: Greg Dobbs is a journeyman corner infielder/outfielder who has bounced around the Majors since 2004. Dobbs made his MLB debut on September 8, 2004 with the Seattle Mariners appearing for the first time as a pinch-hitter and hitting a home run in his first at-bat.
After a few years with the Mariners, he became a Philadelphia Philly and was a part of the 2008 World Series champion Phillies. In 2011, Dobbs signed a minor league contract with the Florida/Miami Marlins and was eventually DFA’d on April 29, 2014 and released on May 6, 2014. His release and eventual signing was perfect timing for the Nationals with Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper, both lefty bats, out with injuries.
Dobbs’ best year came in 2011 with the Marlins where he hit .275/.311/.389 with eight home runs and 49 RBIs. Through 941 games over 11 seasons, Dobbs is a career .262 hitter with 46 home runs and 273 RBIs. In 527 career games playing defense, Dobbs has a decent .972 fielding percentage over 3,547 innings.
What Happened in 2013: The 2013 season for Dobbs had him appear in 114 games, hitting two home runs and driving in 22 runs. He legged out 11 doubles and had a total of 54 hits, giving him a slash line of .228/.303/.300.
In the field, Dobbs played 51 games at first base and one game in right field for the Marlins. He only committed one error in 423 innings at first base and played perfect defense in his five innings in right field for the Marlins last season.
What’s happening in 2014 so far?: In 13 at-bats with the Marlins, Dobbs got off to a horrid start, batting .077 with four strikeouts and only one hit. All of his appearances were of the pinch-hit variety and didn’t log any playing time in the field.
So far, in his brief stint with the Nationals, Dobbs has appeared in seven games and is batting .313/.294/.375 with three hits in 16 at-bats. He has also driven in two runs. Look for him to provide a little bit of help to the Nationals offense when they’re in need of a lefty batter. Otherwise, Dobbs won’t do much more than be a stopgap
until ALR comes back from injury. unless there is another injury to ALR.
Jared Kobe (@SCviaDC) will be previewing the Nationals NL East Rivals leading up to the start of the season.
2013 Record: 62-100 (Pythagorean 64-98)
2013 Runs Scored: 513
2013 Runs Allowed: 646
The Marlins off-season was a relatively quiet one compared to the post-2012 apocalyptic sell-off. There were no big-splash, overpay signings as in years past; there were also no huge trades of established starters for younger, cheaper talent.
As evidenced by the run differential listed above, the Marlins main issue last season was the offense. They scored 85 fewer runs than the next closest team. Eighty. Five. They scored 97 fewer runs than the Astros, MLB’s worst team, and still managed to win 11 more games (which shows what good pitching will do for you).
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
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.