February 27, 2015

Washington Nationals own historic rotation…for now

Once again, we’re in the difficult position of evaluating an off-season move without immediate data, and as far as the Clippard/Escobar trade can be the sort of dejecting move that leans on past data for pessimism, the aquisition of right hander Max Scherzer gives us the sort of situation to be optimistic about and to play with some numbers.

Adding perennial Cy Young candidate to the rotation, the Nationals a shot at a pitching rotation that could be favorably compared to the 1996 and 1997 Braves or the 2011 Phillies.

The Scherzer signing appears to be a massive one in more than just his contract. Scherzer’s 6.0 WAR ranked eighth last year in all of baseball, but his 723 strikeouts over the last three seasons lead the Majors over that period, and outstrip Clayton Kershaw’s 700 and Stephen Strasburg’s 630 by a fair margin.

On paper, the Nationals have now assembled a pitching rotation that joins the 1996 and 1997 Braves, and the 2011 Phillies in terms of quality. We could sit around and talk all day about which of those rotations were the best, but of those four, at least on paper based on this past year’s performance, the 2015 Nationals would likely stack up fourth. The problem here is that we’re getting into that dangerous “predicting the future” part of this job that really isn’t the sort of thing I’m known for doing with any accuracy.

However, we can look at some past data to see the regular season results. I want to focus on three post-strike/post-expansion teams: The 1996 and 1997 Braves, and the 2011 Phillies. I started these comparisons by looking at Cy Young Award Vote-getters, but I decided that data was too subjective, as it was looking for a single best player, and not a best rotation, and that lead me to the Pitching WAR scoreboard over at Baseball-Reference.com.

The 2011 Phillies put together one of the most remarkable pitching staffs we’ve seen in a generation, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels combining for 24.1 WAR that season. Halladay and Lee hardly walked anyone, and though Clayton Kershaw topped many individual categories, the Phillies’ 1-2-3 punch was substantial. Lee threw six complete game shutouts, and Halladay added eight complete games of his own. It’s hard to imagine a more dominant three-man combination.

When it comes to dominant rotations, though, you have to look at the 1990s Braves. The 1997 Braves combo of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Denny Neagle combined for 22.6 WAR, representing the second, fifth, eighth and ninth positions on the NL board for that season. The 1996 Braves combo of Smoltz, Maddux, Neagle and Glavine put up 26.2 WAR, representing second through fifth positions on the board.

Both of those are just absolutely staggering marks, and there’s a reason that Glavine and Maddux are in the Hall of Fame, and Smoltz was just selected.

I’m not saying that the 2015 Nationals are guaranteed be any of those three, but I am saying that this is their best chance at becoming something unique and wonderful for the fans to watch. I, for one, look forward to seeing how a starting rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister will handle a year together. There isn’t an “easy” day in there for the opponents.

Hell, there isn’t even a “just medium-hard” day in there.

If you use the 2014 numbers, Scherzer, Roark, Zimmermann, and Fister would have combined for 20.5 WAR, representing the fourth, seventh, eighth and 10th positions on the NL leader board for pitcher WAR. When you consider that Roark is likely the odd man out, the Nationals rotation combined for 15.2 WAR across the other four starters, which goes to 21.2 WAR when Scherzer gets figured in. For comparison’s sake, the reigning World Champion Giants’ rotation in 2014 ended up with about 8.8 WAR.

The biggest question become: What do you do when you have six pitchers for a five-man rotation? How does Tanner Roark handle a move to the long relief slot in the bullpen? Do you execute a trade for more offense now, and if so, whom?

Zimmermann’s name has been mentioned on the hot stove all winter long as a pending free agent at the end of the year. Over the weekend, media reports said the Nats would listen to offers for Strasburg. Roark has the most cost-certain number of years. Fister is an impending free agent himself. And even the almost-forgotten Gio Gonzalez was mentioned early in the offseason as a potential target for some teams.

These are all impossibly weird questions to consider for a team that was, five years ago, losing ninety to a hundred games a year.

The Nationals are a franchise that has now made the commitment to go for broke in the 2015 season, betting that a championship now — where none have existed in the District in almost twenty-five years — would be the sort of generational uplift that a newer team needs to make for an immensely profitable enterprise, and not just the sort that makes several million in profit. This is a commitment to winning a whole generation of young fans and commit them to a club for decades to come, and it’s the sort of thing that a baseball team needs more than ever right now in a football-heavy market in a time when baseball’s popularity has been on the wane.

The structure of Scherzer’s deal suggests that the Nationals are using this as an uplift contract — much as they did with Jayson Werth’s deal, which has largely proved worth its asking price — with some of the money deferred over the 2022-2028 timeframe. It’s impressive to think that my son, who is barely walking at this point, will be in high school before the deal is paid off, but that’s what has me thinking this deal was a statement to the rest of the players, the division foes, and the league. That statement is unequivocal at this point: this is the year the Nationals go the distance.

Is it enough? Can a team with dominant pitching and a good-if-not-world-class offense go on to win it all?

Suffice to say: this is rarified air, and the sort of thing that can get you deep into the playoffs. But none of those three previous teams won all the marbles. The 1997 Braves lost the NLCS to the Florida Marlins, a team with 10 fewer regular season wins. The 2011 Phillies didn’t make it past the Cardinals in the NLDS, who had 12 fewer regular season wins. The 1996 Braves lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Stellar pitching isn’t the entire playoff picture. They’re not going to win it all based on pitching alone, but without that pitching, this isn’t a team that gets anywhere close.

Washington Nationals NLDS Game 4: Nats fall short in San Fran; eliminated from playoffs

The San Francisco Giants scored three runs — without the benefit of a base hit — and beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 to eliminate the Nats 3-1 in the five game National League Divisional Series.

The game was filled with poor umpiring, bad defense by the Nats, and questionable managerial decisions. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 158 Review: National League Crown in Sight as Gio, Nats Top Mets

Near the top of a long list of indicators the Washington Nationals want to see as the gear up for the postseason is the return of the Gio Gonzalez of old.

And, on Thursday night, the Nats saw just that as Gonzalez delivered his greatest outing of the season to help the Nats to a 3-0 win over the New York Mets in game two of a split doubleheader at Nationals Park.

Gonzalez (W, 10-10) threw 70 of 103 total pitches for strikes, allowing just one hit and two walks through seven innings pitched while fanning a career-high 12. His fastball reportedly reached 94 MPH, and his entire arsenal worked as the Mets struggled to make contact. In fact, Gonzalez struck out six consecutive batters beginning with Lucas Duda to start the top of the second and ending with starting pitcher Zack Wheeler to close out the third.

The Nats’ offense was slow to awaken against Wheeler (L, 11-11), but in the fourth, they made do with back-to-back singles by Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos. Nate Schierholtz drew a walk to load the bases before Tyler Moore grounded into a force out that plated Werth to make it 1-0 Nats.

Then, Scott Hairston walked and Mets catcher Anthony Recker came up with a passed ball as Ramos came home to make it 2-0.

With two outs and the bases loaded once more, Wheeler hit Anthony Rendon with a pitch to hand the Nats a 3-0 lead.

The inning would turn out to be Wheeler’s ugliest of the night, and the Mets’ relief tossed three innings of scoreless baseball, but Gonzalez and the Washington bullpen never let up.

Lefthander Matt Thornton allowed no runs on two hits in the eighth, and Drew Storen tossed a 1-2-3 ninth to close out the Nationals’ victory.

 

THE GOOD: For most of the season, the Nats have seemingly waited for Gio Gonzalez to perform like Gio Gonzalez again. And, as of late, he has done exactly that – with Thursday night’s outing amounting to his best performance yet. On the heels of Gonzalez’s phenomenal delivery, the Nats’ magic number for the best record in the National League is just one.

THE BAD: The Nats went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine base runners.

THE STATS: 3 R, 6 H, 4 BB, 10 K, 1-for-11 RISP, 9 LOB

 

Washington Nationals Game 152 Review: Five-Run Fourth Helps Nats Top Marlins

The Washington Nationals posted five runs – all with two outs – in a fourth inning rout to help pave the way for a 6-2 win over the Miami Marlins Thursday.

Starter Gio Gonzalez earned his ninth win of the season after allowing two runs on six hits through seven innings pitched. Oddly enough, though his counterpart, Brad Hand, lasted just five innings, he tossed three perfect innings until the Nats’ bats awakened in the fourth.

Before that point, the Marlins had grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second after Gonzalez gave up a single to Jeff Baker and an RBI double to Reed Johnson. Gonzalez struck out Adeiny Hechavarria before forcing both Jarod Saltalamacchia and Enrique Hernandez to line out.

In the top of the fourth, the Nats showcased their ability to keep pressure on their opponents.

Anthony Rendon hit a one-out single before stealing second base with two outs. The stolen bag paid off as Rendon came home on a double by Wilson Ramos. Ramos came home on a single from Ian Desmond, and Bryce Harper kept the inning alive with a single to give Washington runners at the corners.

Asdrubal Cabrera singled in Desmond, advancing Harper to third. Both Harper and Cabrera came home on a single by Kevin Frandsen and a throwing error by Johnson in right.

When all was said and done, Gonzalez returned to the mound with a 5-1 lead over Miami.

In the fifth, that lead expanded to 6-1 after Rendon singled and scored on a double by Jayson Werth.

Miami earned back a run in the bottom of the sixth after a double and stolen base by Christian Yelich, and an RBI single off the bat of Baker.

The Nats went on to hold off the Marlins’ offense while Craig Stammen and Rafael Soriano each provided an inning of hitless relief to end the game.

With the win, the Nationals have improved to an NL-best 88-64 record, two games ahead of the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.

 

 

THE GOOD: With the except of just a couple potential trouble-spots, Gio Gonzalez came up with a solid outing against the Miami Marlins. With debate circulating about what type of role Gonzalez may carry into the playoffs, it was nice to see the South Florida native showcase his strengths.

The Nats seemingly took manager Matt Williams’ advice to never ease pressure off an opponent. They tallied four two-out RBI and went 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

While Nationals manager Matt Williams undoubtedly made a clever call in opting to pull the closer role from Rafael Soriano, you can’t help but applaud a decent outing by the on-again-off-again-on-again-off-again closer.

THE BAD: Denard Span went 0-for-5 with a strike out.

THE STATS: 6 R, 11 H, 10 K, 4-for-9 with RISP, 5 LOB

 

Washington Nationals Game 146 Review: Nats Fall Behind Early, Lose Late to Mets

NATS CAN’T COMPLETE COMEBACK, LOST TO METS

In front 25,000 at Citi Field on Friday night, the Washington Nationals fell to the New York Mets 4-3 in a comeback effort that fell just short of a winning mark.

The Mets got things started in the bottom of the first inning, taking advantage of a lead-off single and a hit and walked batter. With the bases loaded and just one out, Travis d’Arnaud doubled to clear the bases. On the play, Lucas Duda appeared to have been thrown out at home, but catcher Wilson Ramos (1-for-4, RBI) couldn’t hang on to the baseball. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 141: LaRoche Helps Nats Sneak Past Phillies with 3-2 Win

First baseman Adam LaRoche went 2-for-4 with two home runs to help the Washington Nationals to a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies Sunday afternoon.

In addition to LaRoche’s two runs scored, Ian Desmond crossed the plate once to account for the third run on a day in which both starting pitchers came through with decent outings.

Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez (W, 8-9) had the upper hand throughout the game, however. Through six innings pitched, he allowed just two runs – one earned – over five hits and three strikeouts. For Philly, Cole Hamels dealt three earned runs over seven hits, three walks and seven strikeouts through 6.1 innings.

Philadelphia came up with the unearned run early when, with two outs and Grady Sizemore on first, Marlon Byrd singled up the middle. On the play, Denard Span committed a throwing error, which allowed Sizemore to score and brought Byrd to third. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 136 Review: Nats top Dodgers at Chavez Ravine

SPAN HOMERS TWICE AS NATS TIGHTEN CLINCH ON LEAGUE’S BEST RECORD

In years previous, the Washington Nationals used to have all the trouble in the world on west coast road trips. This year, it’s been a different story, especially of late.

The Nats got six quality innings from Gio Gonzalez and four home runs — two from Denard Span — to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-4 in the first of a three-game series.

[Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 116 Review: Gio shaky, offense absent in Sunday night loss to Braves

After the marathon game Saturday night, including a nearly four-hour rain delay then extra innings, the Washington Nationals could have used a crisp, clean outing from starter Gio Gonzalez.

They didn’t get it.

Gonzalez was shaky and the offense was almost non-existant, as the Nats fell to the Atlanta Braves 3-1 at Turner Field. The loss drops the Nats lead over the Braves to 3 1/2 games in the N.L. East.

Gonzalez allowed just two runs, but gave up six hits and four walk in just 4 2/3 innings. He needed 111 pitches to record the 14 outs, though eight of those came via strikeout.

The Nats got on the board first, as Ian Desmond socked his 18th homer of the season to right center field. But that’s all they got.

Atlanta drew even in the bottom of the inning. Justin Upton clubbed a 3-2 changeup to straight-away left field for his 21st homer of the year. It also marked Upton’s 1000th hit and 500th RBI of his career.

Gonzalez (L, 6-9, 4.00) then proceeded to allow two home base runners in the inning, but escaped unscathed — except for his elevated pitch count.

That high pitch count finally got to him in the fifth.

Emilio Bonifacio lead off with a bunt single and Gonzalez walked Tommy LaStella, though the rookie second baseman tried to sacrifice. Freddie Freeman grounded into a 4-6-3 double play and it looked like Gonzalez might escape danger again.

But he issued another walk, this time to Upton. Jason Heyward then hit a grounder to Danny Espinosa, playing in short right field on an extreme shift, but Adam LaRoche also tried for the grounder and Gonzalez failed to cover first base. Heyward was safe and Bonifacio scored on the play without a throw.

Braves starter Alex Wood cruised. Over 7 1/3 innings, he gave up just the Desmond homer, four other hits, and three walks, striking out 12 along the way.

Atlanta picked up another run in the eighth off Jerry Blevins in his second inning of work. He sandwiched a walk to Chris Johnson between strikeouts of Heyward and Gerald Laird. But consecutive hits by Ramiro Pena and pinch-hitter Evan Gattis — both right-handed hitters – pushed the Braves’ third run across.

Blevins is allowing a .321/.400/.449 slash line to right-handed hitters this season.

The Nationals have a much-needed day off Monday before starting a three-game series with the New York Mets on Tuesday at Citifield. Doug Fister (11-3, 2.49) pitches for the Nats. The Mets have not announced their starter.

NATS NOTES: The Nats recalled OF Michael Taylor from AAA-Syracuse and placed OF Steven Souza on the 15-day D.L. with a “left shoulder contusion” sustained when he slammed into the right field wall chasing a home run in Friday night’s game.

  • Denard Span went 2-for-4, extending his hitting streak to 14 games and on-base streak to 36 games.
  • LaRoche had a rough night, striking out all four times at bat, stranding five runners.
  • Jayson Werth, nursing a litany of injuries, went 0-for-1 but walked three times.

Washington Nationals Game 111 Review: Gio’s Shaky Outing No Match for Wheeler

NATIONALS FALL TO NEW YORK METS IN SERIES OPENER

Gio Gonzalez allowed four runs on six hits and two walks through six innings Tuesday night as the Washington Nationals fell to Zack Wheeler and the New York Mets 6-1 at Nationals Park.

Gonzalez was shaky from the start, as he allowed a one-out triple to Daniel Murphy before David Wright brought him home with a single to left.

Wheeler helped himself to a 2-0 lead in the top of the second after Travis d’Arnaud led off with a double. Chris Young went down on strikes and Ruben Tejada grounded out, advancing d’Arnaud to third before Wheeler singled in d’Arnaud off a first-pitch fastball.

The Nats earned one back in the bottom of the inning, not by awakening the offense but by taking advantage of Wheeler’s short loss of control.

Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond started the inning with back-to-back walks before Bryce Harper went down on strikes. Then, Asdrubal Cabrera walked to load the bases, allowing LaRoche to come home on a wild pitch with Jose Lobaton batting.

Lobaton managed to hit a sharp grounder, but the ball hit Cabrera who was running toward third base at the time. Cabrera was called out and Desmond was forced to retreat to third, while Lobaton was awarded the single. Gonzalez came to the plate next, but could not repeat Wheeler’s earlier luck, ending the inning with a fly ball to center fielder Juan Lagares.

The Nats threatened again in the bottom of the third after Denard Span and Anthony Rendon started things off with back-to-back singles. On his own gnome night, however, Jayson Werth grounded into a double play that advanced Span to third. LaRoche drew a walk to keep the inning alive but the struggling Ian Desmond could only manage a ground ball to end the inning.

Gonzalez held on to match Wheeler until the top of the seventh.

In the seventh, however, it quickly became apparent that the Nats’ left-hander had run out of gas.

Young worked Gonzalez for a nine-pitch walk to start things off before Tejada chopped an infield single to short.

At that point, Nationals manager Matt Williams called on Drew Storen to pitch to Wheeler, who advanced Young and Tejada on a sacrifice bunt. Storen managed to hit the next batter, Lagares, with a runaway sinker, before allowing Daniel Murphy to single in Young and Tejada.

Storen did manage to strike out Wright, but Lucas Duda singled to left to add the Mets’ third run of the inning.

In the eighth, the Mets tacked on their sixth run of the night with Blake Treinen on the mound for Washington.

Treinen hit his first batter, d’Arnaud, with a pitch before allowing Young to single. Tejada lined out in the next at-bat, but pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis singled in d’Arnaud to make it 6-1.

 

THE GOOD: On a night when the Nats’ offense never fully came to life, Adam LaRoche went 2-for-2 with two walks and a run scored. Filling in for catcher Wilson Ramos, who is on paternity leave, Jose Lobaton was the only other Nat to post two hits on the night.

THE BAD: There were innings in which Gio Gonzalez looked like the Gio Gonzalez of old, and then there moments where he just didn’t seem to have his stuff. Add to that, Drew Storen and Blake Treinen each allowed a run.

THE UGLY: The Nats went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven. On a night when Mets’ pitching worked its way into jams with control issues, the Nats failed to capitalize.

THE STATS: 1 R, 8 H, 4 BB, 7 K, 7 LOB, 2-for-9 RISP

 

Washington Nationals Game 106 Review: Nats Fall to Phillies off Rough Start by Gio

On a beautiful night in the District, there was little to marvel at in the Washington Nationals’ 10-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday night.

As opposing starters, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez and Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee hardly topped a combined five innings pitched on the night. Lee lasted just 2.2 innings thanks to an elbow strain, and Gonzalez failed to round out a full four innings, having given up five runs on eight hits and 77 total pitches.

Oddly enough, both teams held the game scoreless through the first three innings.

In the fourth inning, Gonzalez fell apart fast, giving up back-to-back singles to Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz to start.

Grady Sizemore followed through with two-run double before Darin Ruf drew a walk. [Read more…]

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