Nationals Baseball: 163

Friday, September 21, 2012

163

That's all that's been guaranteed. A 163rd game. It is a playoff game, since all that means is a game played after the regular season that helps determine the champion. But given that the 1-game format is different than the rest of the playoffs, and only the non-division winners have to compete in this game, I can see why some prefer the term "play-in".  In the past extra games used to break ties have been considered part of the regular season, while the playoffs were for series of games. But this is the new system, and we just have to deal with it.

For me, the only reason to downplay this accomplishment is because the Nats are in-line for a bigger one, the NL East title. The playoffs are nice, but with the team fighting for a #1 seed, the WC game really isn't on anyone's radar, even as a fall-back. You could see that last night. They knew they were very very likely to get into the playoffs a month ago. This just confirms that they didn't horribly go off the rails in the past 30 days. Congrats, handshakes all around, now let's go home so we can rest up for tomorrow's game.

How is everything else going? NL East is still in line to be locked up by month's end. Sorry doomsayers. Like I said the sweep meant nothing in terms of the NL East title. Not to say that was completely meaningless. It meant a lot for the Braves and the Wild Card, essentially locking that up for them. It also knocked the Nats back a game or two so that they are in a dogfight for home field, the Reds a mere half-game behind after encountering the exact same level of resistance from the Cubs that you'd expect. The Reds take on Dodgers next, who are basically on death watch for the playoffs.  A opening game loss and a they might start packing it in. The Nats face the Brewers who have clawed their way back into contention, 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals. That's a gap the Brewers can cover, though they can't afford more than a couple losses. They should be fired up.

How'd the Brewers do it? I think the key is understanding that they've always been good. They had a rough start in every way. Aramis had an ice cold April. Lucroy got hurt. The inevitable decline of Nyjer happened.  Rickie Weeks was god awful. This all brought down what should have been an impressive offense. At the same time the starters struggled to pitch well early.  All that led to the Brewers being in 5th place in the NL Central, 7 games out and 9 games under .500 before the end of May. Slowly this was all corrected.  The starters got back on track, Aramis hit again, Norichika Aoki took over for Nyjer and hit well. Rickie Weeks wasn't terrible.  But the pen never got on solid footing and after clawing back to 3 games under they went on a bad luck 1-9 stretch where they lost five 1-run games, including four games in a row lost by 1 run. (The 5th one was a game against the Nats where they blew a 7-3 lead after 7, 9-7 lead after 8).  Another hole, another clawing out. Finally though the relief started evening out. Axford, Frankie Rodriguez, Livan weren't terrible. A kid named Kintzler is up and throwing pretty well.  With no weaknesses left to speak of they've been unstoppable recently. 22-6 in the last month.

This will be a nice test for the Nats.  The Brewers right now have the make-up, if not the record, of a playoff team. (unlike the Dodgers who can't hit even with their new players and aren't close to a playoff team with Kershaw and the rest injured).  The 2nd and 4th games of the series are the most interesting. In game #2 Wily Peralta, a pretty good young pitcher who's been lights out recently, takes on Gio who is trying to win that 20th game and possibly a Cy Young.  In game #4 Marco Estrada, a former Nat who has really come into his own for the Brewers, takes on ZNN.  These should be like playoff games.  Game #1 is a question mark between two decent pitchers, Shawn Marcum and E Jax, that haven't been pitching well recently.  Game #3 is a throw away with Wang facing the Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo.

If the Nats want 100 wins and/of HFA, a win tonight is a must because I have a hard time seeing them winning on Sunday.  Anything can happen sure but a loss tonight and I'm thinking you jump at a 2-2 split. 

20 comments:

Booyah Suckah! said...

Harper, I'd love to see an analysis of whether the Nats (and Nats fans) should really be gunning for HFA. Considering the Nats' record against the various teams involved, my first instinct is that I'd rather play the Giants than face the Braves, the Cards, or God forbid the Phillies if they happen to make it. Since the NL already has the WS HFA sewn up, and the Nats have almost as good a road record as they do a home record, would they rather finish second in the NL? What do the stats and/or the soulless automaton say?

Harper said...

Booyah - you have to take into account that whatever WC team the Nats face they'd miss their #1 starter, presumably used in that WC game. With that being the case you probably actually rather face the Braves out of the three likely WC teams. Their pitching after Hudson/Medlin is totally hit or miss and their offense is good but the Cards and Brewers are better.

As for the Giants, part of the reason the Nats have a 5-1 record vs the Giants is facing Cain once and Lincecum twice. Gotta take that into account. That being said their offense scares me the least but you'd have to face their top 3. THAT being said Vogelsong and Bumgarner are having rough ends of the season and they all pitch much worse away. BUT they start at home...

off the top of my head I say win the HFA - don't face that other teams #1, but if you gave me 4 teams on equal footing to face, I'd probably take the Giants

Anonymous said...

Of course, there's no guarantee you'll miss the #1. While the Braves will certainly line up either Hudson or Medlin for the game, the #2 wild card may have had to use their ace to make it into the game. Still, I'd take the HFA every chance you can.

Chaos

Booyah Suckah! said...

Yeah, I can't imagine they'd start anyone but Medlin in the WC game. Missing him would be huge.

Agree that the Nats have had some good luck against the Giants, but in a five-game series, you're guaranteed to see guys you've shown the ability to beat, like Lincecum.

I'll just say this: the Nats rotation has not exactly been as lights-out as they were earlier in the season. If that continues, I'd much rather face the lesser-of-all-evils offense of the Giants than get tuned up on for the first two games by the Braves or the Cards.

Anonymous said...

If you get swept in the first round all it means is 165 games, whats your point about 163?

calindc said...

3 playoff games > 1

Anonymous said...

When the season ends, 20 teams would love a chance to be playing in that 163rd game instead of getting ready for the offseason. Are you sure your a Nats fan?

Anonymous said...

When you haven't been to the playoffs since the Great Depression, it's worth more than a minor note. Sure I want them to win the division, and go far in the playoffs, but given what we have suffered through for the last few years, I think for the fans it is more than a handshake moment.

Harper said...

Anon - like I said the ONLY reason to downplay it is because the Nats are sure of more. If this was their way in, or a needed safety net then it's a big deal. But since the Nats are going to win the division and get to play a full series it loses significance.

It'd be like being the first Nat to hit 50 homers when you have 35 at the all-star break and get to 50 in August. Big deal? Sure. But you are past that by now.

Section 222 said...

The key thing about HFA isn't the NLDS, it's the NLCS. Starting on the road in the NLDS takes away a good deal of the edge offered by HFA. But I want us to be the No. 1 seed so we can play 4 NLCS games, if necessary, at Nats Park rather than the bandbox in Cincy.

cass said...

Anonymous:

You are a troll.

You virtually always take the opposite position of what Harper takes. Perhaps you might disagree with him a few times, but it's pretty much every time. And you state things in a very petty way. I might believe you are lacking a bit in social skills and that you just happen to disagree more often than not.

But no. After all these times, I think it's safe to assume you are just being contradictory to be contradictory. You sound mean because you are mean. You are a troll.

Others have been far too polite to you. Your opinions do not really deserve to be taken seriously, becasue you do not take them seriously. Please just go away.

Shane said...

Medlin will not continue to pitch the way he has pitched. I say every amazing game is one closer to the horrible blow up game. That blow up game will be the first one he pitches in the playins/playoffs.I'd bet beer on it.

WiredHK said...

I'm excited about each and every step this team takes to validate the season we've all watched play out. Last night was step 1, so that's fun. Now on to step 2, the division crown. It's all fun, there is no debate on that.

A little off-topic, but looking at Ross Detwiler's body of work since the start of August, has he not become the clear-cut #3 playoff starter on this team? He hasn't been killed (other than kinda in the Arizona start, where we were told later he wasn't feeling well prior to the outing but gave it a go anyway). He's been solid/ok in a few starts and then simply dazzling in several other starts.

Has he bumped EJax off the spot of #3 playoff starter?

Donald said...

I agree in regard to Detwiler, though I've always been a fan. The opposing argument is that EJax has playoff experience. I wouldn't be surprised if Det were #3, though, given how Davey likes to alternate the lefties and righties. So it might be Gio (L), Zimm (R), Det (L), EJax (R).

If Zimm were #1, then it might be EJax #3 to keep the R/L/R/L rotation. Not sure how much stock Davey puts in that.

On a related note, is there any chance that Storen becomes the closer? Clippard has been hittable for two months now.

Section 222 said...

Davey put a lot of stock in the R/L/R rotation during the season. With the extra rest available at the end of the season after we clinch, he could very well line up Gio and JZnn in games 1 and 2, and then come back with Det, and then Jackson. In the NLDS, they both will get one start if the series goes 4 or more games. But who is No. 3 and who is No. 4 definitely makes a difference in a 7 game series because your No. 3 starter may make two starts, while your No. 4 would make no more than one.

E-Jax has the playoff experience, but unless he really turns things up a notch down the stretch, Det could very well get that call.

Harper said...

chaos - true but you should miss at least one of the top 2. If it works out that you do face #1 (with #2 or #3 working that last game of the year) then STL looks much better. Big drop after Lohse

Sec 222- yeah you want it for the NLDS but it's not huge this year and it's not like the Nats could fall to #3 and lose it entirely. HFA for the NL is the long play figuring they'll meet Cincy in the NLCS.

cass - not sure it's the same guy.

Shane - it does feel like the whole thing is leading up to "The Braves never lose a game Medlen pitches.Oh no they just lost the WC game with Medlen pitching!"

Wired HK / Donald - if the playoffs started today yes Clip is #3 - but still 3 starts for EJAX right? 2 for Det? Things could change. Like Donald said lefty/righty might factor into it. Really unless they fall down 0-2 it doesn't matter. They'll use all 4 I think even down 1-2 in the NLCS.

Storen closer? If Davey's smart he won't do it. He'll use Storen to put out fires in the 7th, 8th and anytime else needed. Let Clip get some easy saves, then use Storen in the 9th for one the Nats really need and claim its because Clip needs a day off

Harper said...

sec 222 - 7th game! Didn't think about that. I guess the #3 would start twice but what if Det/Jax was terrible in game 3? Do you go four man basically ruling out using #1 or #2 again in game #7? Or do you start doing the 3-man thing to set up #1 for that last game if nec?

David said...

For the series I would hope we go down to a 3 man. I would take Gio on short rest over EJax or Det for a game 7

WiredHK said...

So I make my comments and EJax goes out and dominates against a red-hot Brewers club. Go figure. :)

Shame Clip has lost the magic, that was tough to watch...

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