The Unknown Crisis also known as Max Scherzer

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Like his eyes, Max Scherzer seemingly had two different seasons in 2015 – one powerful, striking and attention-grabbing, like his blue eye, and one mediocre, flying under the radar, like his brown eye. Even though Scherzer posted a 2.79 ERA, starting 33 games and pitching a career high 228.2 innings, the stats that will forever be associated with his historic campaign last season which included two no-hitters, there was still a hugely problematic span for the big righty.

From April to June, Max Scherzer headlined the NL Cy Young Award Conversation, holding steady to a 1.75 ERA, striking out 130 and holding opposing batters to a meager .179 clip, all on top of a no-hitter that was one out away from a perfect game. But when the calendar turned from June to July, something clicked in Scherzer’s head – or rather, unclicked. His starts went from must-see events and guaranteed wins to a decent start and a good game, to a serious problem. From July 7th to September 7th, the “ace” posted an ERA of 5.11 in an average of 5 innings per start, numbers, that for two months, certainly doesn’t look like it should belong to someone who commands a $210 million contract. All of this was forgotten in late September and early October, when Scherzer posted a string of incredible starts, capped off by yet another no-hitter, against another playoff team, the New York Mets.

Nats fans ended the season with the notion of Scherzer as an incredible pitcher who enjoyed a historic season. While two no-hitters are an accomplishment that is unprecedented, the biggest factor in the Nationals rotation worked against them for two months, and that’s not acceptable.

But what, if anything, was behind this sharp decline that took the most dominant pitcher in the league to a mediocre starter who could barely last five innings?

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Looking at the lineup (48 days in advance)

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The Nationals haven’t had a lack of hype surrounding their last two seasons. The magazines were filled with predictions of parades on the National Mall, banners on South Capitol Street and a Curly W in the books for the last game of the season. We all know the rest of the story –  two seasons, one regular season disappointment, one 18-inning heartbreak.

Despite the incorrect predictions, there are still two large and legitimate reasons that in the past two year’s baseball previews, in big, bold letters, under the “World Series Champions” label, the words “Washington Nationals” have appeared more often than nearly any other. One is their talented rotation, which analysts like me and those on MLB Network could babble on about for hours. The other is the depth of their lineup, the “Red Line”. The Nationals possess what many would call the most dangerous lineup from 1-8, with offensive weapons at every stop.

Given the changes in the lineup made over the offseason, the lineup has the possibility to be different. It’s hard to believe Matt Williams and Mike Rizzo would mess too much with last year’s success excepting an injury.

Last year, the Nationals lineup eventually stacked up like this:

1. Denard Span, CF

2. Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B

3. Jayson Werth, RF

4. Adam LaRoche, 1B

5. Ian Desmond, SS

6. Bryce Harper, LF

7. Wilson Ramos, C

8. Asdrubal Cabrera/Danny Espinosa/Kevin Frandsen, 2B

9. Pitcher

Despite early season woes, this lineup took the Nationals to an NL East Championship. The majority of the players remain – all but two. Even so, Ryan Zimmerman will move to 1B but it does give Matt Williams a couple options on how he wants to shape his lineup. Here’s (barring any trades or injuries) the official Side of Natitude prediction. Continue reading

Max Scherzer’s deal looks crazy – is it?

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At the beginning of November, if you looked any Nats fan in the eye and told them with a straight face that Max Scherzer was going to sign a 7-year deal worth $210 million with the Nationals, they would’ve laughed at you. They would’ve laughed so hard, that they cried. They would’ve told you to break the news while you were flying to the moon on your unicorn.

While nobody has flown to the moon on a unicorn, the Max Scherzer deal shocked the world. Not only was it from a team nobody expected, but the deal’s value went beyond expectations.

The Nationals now have an ace – a Cy Young Award winner – a 20 game winner for the next seven years. They have a pitcher with playoff experience, a pitcher that is tested and proven. They also have a pitcher who they owe $210 million.  The deal goes against almost everything Mike Rizzo stands for and everything the Nationals have done in the offseason since 2010. And yet, it still happened.

The 14-year plan

Scott Boras, Scherzer’s agent, does not leave money on the table. Ever. But Scherzer’s deal had an interesting little caveat, deferring half of the deal, meaning the Nationals are holding off on $105 million dollars for the next seven years and are instead paying the righty $15 million a year for the next fourteen years. The money never went back onto the table – its just a slower process.

This frees up $105 million dollars for the Nationals. $105 million dollars could extend Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond or Doug Fister, the three hot-button issues for the Nats this offseason. Also, with $105 million off the payroll, every executive can breath a little easier when they sign other free agents.

But what about the kids?

While the deal does free up space to extend one of the three players on contract years that will command more than $100 million, it’s assumed that one pitcher will be leaving. Unfortunately, one of those pitchers will be Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister or maybe even Stephen Strasburg, all vital pieces to the ball club. But the time to freak out is most certainly not now.

Jordan Zimmermann and/or Doug Fister and/or Stephen Strasburg won’t be on the Nationals come 2016, which is fine for multiple reasons. It gives the Nationals first round draft picks, a commodity they haven’t enjoyed since 2012. Even so, extensions shouldn’t be a huge issue considering that the Nationals have two of the best pitching prospects in the minors in Lucas Giolito (ranked as the 8th overall prospect in the league by MLB.com) and A.J. Cole, who are expected to be in the Majors by 2017 and 2016 respectively.

But, Giolito and Cole may not be ready by 2016 or 2017. So, who’ll help fill the void? That’s where Scherzer comes in – he would take over the lost spot. The Nats are deep enough to still have an outstanding rotation, even without Strasburg, Fister or Zimmermann.

The question has been thrown around all offseason – “Mike Rizzo has built a winner, but can he maintain it?” $210 million and seven years for Max Scherzer may look like the craziest thing the Nats have ever done and the opposite of trying to maintain a winner. But in reality, it might just end up being the smartest.

Revisiting The Normal

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The Two Wild Card Teams Have Advanced To The World Series.

In the year 2008, things seemed a bit simpler. The Philadelphia Phillies owned the best record in the National League and went on to win the NLDS, the NLCS, and then the World Series, all convincingly. And then the tides began to turn in 2012. All of the sudden, the field of four became five. The Wild-Card team, instead of waiting patiently with the rest of the league, had to play a game to decide their fate against another contender. And while many cried out that it unfairly punishes the teams who normally got a free pass into the Divisional Series, something different happened this time around.  Continue reading

The Rafael Soriano Era Comes To a Close, And The Right Man for The Job Is In Front of You.

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Soriano stands after blowing a save against Los Angeles.

Soriano has been inconsistent and blown six saves since the All-Star break. 

Drew Storen has had a major bounceback season this year, pitching dominantly.

Drew Storen has had a major bounceback season this year, pitching dominantly.

He was supposed to be the final piece of the puzzle. Even though Drew Storen had come off of a career year, the Nats wanted insurance. So, they gave Soriano the closer role instead of Drew Storen based on veteran experience and coolness under pressure after Storen blew a two run lead in the fifth game of the NLDS.

But, on the heels of what may soon be considered the franchise’s most successful stretch of all time, one problem has persisted. In fact, the problem created the record. Rafael Soriano was that problem. In his past twelve save opportunities, Rafael Soriano has given up one run or more in seven of them. He owns a 6.98 E.R.A. since the All-Star Break, and his FIP, which takes out all possible lucky or unlucky factors is 3.16, which compared to Craig Kimbrel, is more than 1.5 points higher. These numbers are unacceptable for a closer in general, but a closer on a postseason team especially. After giving up three runs and two home runs on Friday night, it looks like Soriano’s stint as closer may be over, especially since the Nats can’t afford meltdowns like that on a consistent basis when they reach the postseason.

And while the rest of D.C. wonders who will replace him, whether it will be new but lights out reliever Matt Thornton or long-time setup man, Tyler Clippard, the choice is actually obvious. The only pitcher in the bullpen who has postseason experience as a closer under pressure, been consistent all season and has closing experience is Drew Storen. It seemed to be a given after last year that the Nationals would let Soriano go, and Storen would return to his old spot. But now that Soriano is in a downwards spiral, there is no better time to prepare Drew Storen for the future than now. If he was given the role down the stretch, he would get experience under the pressure that September brings and would be prepared for the postseason. If the Nats are expected to make postseason runs for years to come, wouldn’t Drew Storen, the once and future closer be the right one to put in the driver’s seat if the pitcher they brought in to perform in these types of situations can’t perform the tasks?

While many people are not sure of him, due to his rocky 2013 performance, it’s actually quite easy to explain. 

“‘You basically send a guy a message this offseason, for having one bad game, that he’s not the guy for the job,'”Said Drew Storen’s friend and bullpen partner, Tyler Clippard. “‘He’s only human. I mean, it’s going to get to anybody. Eight months later, you get to a point where he’s struggling, and you turn the page on him and you send him down. I just think it’s been handled very poorly.'” 

 

Storen in all likelihood would be more than happy to take his old job back. On closing, he has said “That’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do, and that’s what I want to do.” 

 

 

 

 

Unlike Anything You’ll Ever See: Ten Games, Five Walkoffs, Hundreds of Stories

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It started innocently enough. A blowout of the Mets started the streak, which was not a new accomplishment. The Nationals easily swept the series. Then, it began to get more challenging as Pittsburgh came into town. The Nats were barely able to hold on in the first game, as Rafael Soriano continued his struggles, but was able to hold on for a 5-4 win. The next game, after three lead changes, the Nationals were able to walk-off on a Wilson Ramos double. The next night, Scott Hairston owned the magic bat, and he lead the home team to the second straight walk-off. After sending Pittsburgh home without a win to show for the series, Arizona came to town. LaRoche continued the walk-off theme, sending an absolute moon-shot into right field to end it. The Nationals were finally able to win without a walk-off the next day, destroying the D-Backs 8-1. But, the next night held another walk-off, as Rendon singled to end it. And the very next day, a 0-0 tie was broken on an errant throw by Jordan Pacheco. The Nationals won their tenth straight, and Matt Williams, as promised, will break out the ancient impersonation of “The Great Bambino”, Babe Ruth. But in terms of being the most important thing, none of the things that were just mentioned have been the most impressive element of this ten game win streak.
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The Biggest Hero This Year Is Not A Player

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While Anthony Rendon has had an astounding breakout season, hitting for power, average and just plain well, he is not the reason this season has happened the way it has. While Jayson Werth enjoyed a hot month of July, Denard Span has been the consistent lead off hitter the Nats have needed, the rotation has been outstanding and the bullpen has been lights-out, the big reason the Nationals have been doing what they are doing is behind the scenes. Continue reading