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Beltway Baseball: What went wrong in 2013?

Oct 7, 2013, 4:04 PM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

It’s been a week since the Nationals’ season ended, giving Mark and I some time to think about the year that was. 86 wins was not enough for the Nats to make the playoffs, and was nowhere near what many expected this team to accomplish in 2013. So, why exactly did they underachieve?

In this episode of Beltway Baseball, we give our theories as to why the team was such a disappointment. It’s a complicated answer, but there are several factors that stood out to us.

We also look back to last offseason, with this one in mind, wondering what move general manager Mike Rizzo would like to have back, if he was afforded a second chance.

  1. breakbad1 - Oct 7, 2013 at 4:35 PM

    Did Chase just say what a good season Espinosa had in 2012? — And that the Nats hoped he could have another good season in 2013, just like he did in 2012? That is not the way I remember things at all. I thought he had a lousy season in 2012, struck out more than almost anyone in the National League, and did absolutely nothing for us in the 2012 playoffs. Am I remembering all this wrong?

    I’m glad to hear Mark’s comments about how nobody ever got worried about how lousy the team was playing. I got so sick of hearing Davey and everyone say, “don’t worry, it’s early.” This was foolish talk and the team paid a high price for it. Hint: if you open a restaurant and people get food poisoning on your opening day, don’t say “it’s early” and “I’m not worried about it.”

    I also agree with Mark regarding the team’s inability to score runs for almost 5 months. What’s funny is how Haren took the blame for allowing runs, when it really didn’t matter how many runs scored on him. By the time Haren let the score get to 3-0 in a game, the Nats were, for all intents and purposes, going to lose.

  2. Whack-A-Mule - Oct 7, 2013 at 6:47 PM

    Mr. Breakbad1 is correct in denigrating Espinosa’s offensive performance in 2012. Espinosa emphatically DID NOT have a good year at the plate in 2012. Modest power (17 HR), modest RBI (56), low OPS (.717), modest BA (.247) and a LEAGUE-LEADING 189 strike-outs.

    His 2012 could only be thought to be a “good season” in comparison to his appalling 2013 (and minor-league demotion).

    Unless he becomes a hitter, an offensive contributor via a raised batting average, raised OBP (.315 in 2012)
    and MANY FEWER strike-outs (fewer than 1/2 his 2102 total), his brilliant defense does not compensate.
    He is, he has become, a classic “good glove, no hit” shortstop. He lacks the offensive chops for a second baseman. He has never shown that he had the chops in the first place.

    Without an offensive re-birth/make-over, he has no place in the Nationals’ future.

  3. waddueyeno - Oct 7, 2013 at 7:29 PM

    break –
    love the line about the restaurant

    whack –
    may the force of destiny be with you.

  4. pchuck69 - Oct 7, 2013 at 8:26 PM

    Not signing a veteran for the rotation will be a huge mistake that this team will regret, if Rizzo does it.

    I think too many people are unfamiliar with the state of the Nationals high minor pitching and I don’t know how that could be the case. The AAA pitching last year was a WRECK. There was nothing there as a backup for the big team. Remember they had to sign Chris Young last year. CHRIS YOUNG!

    They need three or four major league arms in AAA to backup the big team pitching. You don’t push that pitching forward until it’s absolutely seasoned and none of the potential starters people are talking about are that. They could all use more time in the minors.

    There will come a time next season when this team needs pitching help from the minors and we’ll need them to be ready.

    • therealjohnc - Oct 8, 2013 at 12:53 AM

      AAA pitching was bad last year, but it’s hyperbole to say they had nothing there as a backup for the big team. There was this guy Tanner Roark, he did all right.

      Personally I’m on the fence about signing a veteran pitcher, in part because there’s not much out there (Bronson Arroyo? Freddie Garcia?). And what there is, is likely to be expensive. So, how do the Nats look if they don’t sign a veteran pitcher? Your larger point about Syracuse this year is correct, but not relevant because most of the deadwood is gone (so long, Yunesky Maya, Jeff Mandel; off to the bullpen, Ryan Tatusko); there is pitching on the rise. Remember that Ohlendorf is under team control for next year, and has minor league options. So assume no free agent signing, and that the Nationals rotation is Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler and one of Ohlendorf/Karns/Roark/Jordan. That means at least three of those last four guys are leading your AAA rotation, with one probably in Nats town as long man/swing starter. The other two AAA starters are likely to be Daniel Rosenbaum and Caleb Clay. Rosenbaum had an off year, but Clay, a former 1st round pick, was quite good (2.48 ERA, 0.988 WHIP).

      Hey, actually that’s not too bad in terms of depth. Coming up at AA would be A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray, Blake Treinan, Taylor Hill and Blake Schwartz. And at Potomac (High A) would be Matt Purke, Brian Rauh, Sammy Solis, Kylin Turnbull, Brett Mooneyham. The Hagerstown rotation will likely feature two 2013 draftees (Jake Johansen and Austin Voth), Lucas Giolito, Dakota Bacus (the guy they got from the A’s for Suzuki) and Pedro Encarnacion. Not too shabby. Even Auburn, which was dreadful in 2013, will have a rotation built with pitchers coming off of the Nationals’ dominant GCL Nats (49-9!).

      Of course injuries happen; some of these guys will step up and others will fall back. But there is depth there now, and also depth potentially to make a Gio-type deal. I’m just not sure that there is a Gio-type pitcher who is arbitration eligible (therefore expensive) and on a small market non-contending team.

  5. Whack-A-Mule - Oct 7, 2013 at 9:10 PM

    D’accord.
    At least one veteran major league pitcher needs to be added.
    Perhaps Rizzo is contemplating another seismic shift “a la Gio”.
    We certainly have pitching quantity at the minor league level
    which can be traded away.

    Detwiler, although talented, is unlikely to pitch 200+ innings in 2014.
    That really positions him as a 5 1/2th starter (or 6th).
    That leaves 2 full-time slots (400 innings worth) yet to be filled.
    Perhaps one might gamble one of those slot on a rookie or rookies,
    but an established starting pitcher of talent and repute (NOT declining
    journeymen such as Jackson or Haren) is needed. That will cost prospects, money
    or both.

    This club cannot poodle around for a season or two while its finer (younger) pitching
    prospects mature.
    We are not (yet anyway) blessed with the likes of Kershaw, Wainwright, Scherzer or Verlander.
    Depth in the starting rotation, beyond what is currently available, will be necessary if
    we are to become competitive with the likes of St. Louis, Los Angeles, Atlanta etc.
    These are teams which, right now with current personnel, we cannot and will not beat.

    It’s not just the bullpen in need of a makeover; the starting rotation is far from complete.

    (Aside to “waddueyeno”: Force of Destiny, indeed. Trabuco is a muleteer, after all.)

    • therealjohnc - Oct 8, 2013 at 12:06 AM

      Teams that we cannot, and will not, beat? It’s unpossible, you say? Yes, because 2013 proves 2014 just like 2012 proved 2013. Oh wait …

      It’s easily plausibe that the Nats rebound back over 90 wins again next year and are right there for the division and possibly more. Yes, with essentially the same personnel, just a few tweaks around the edges of the roster.

      • therealjohnc - Oct 8, 2013 at 12:06 AM

        My one concern is that they may miss Davey more than his detractors would have us believe.

  6. David Proctor - Oct 8, 2013 at 1:08 AM

    Ding dong the witch is dead. The Braves fall.

    • therealjohnc - Oct 8, 2013 at 1:50 AM

      Dueling questionable manager’s moves there. I hated Mattingly’s decision to go with Kershaw on short rest (although to be fair, if his fielders hadn’t turned into the Keystone Kops then Kershaw may well have tossed a shutout). But the Braves ending their season with Kimbrel not throwing a pitch is just foolish. I remember in 2003 in Game 7 of the ALCS
      Mariano Rivera pitched three innings and the Yankees won in 12. If your season is on the line, make them beat your best. Especially with an off day Tuesday.

    • natsfan1a - Oct 8, 2013 at 7:24 AM

      Didn’t stay up for the end, but delighted to see the lead held. Maybe the Bravos can find some needy kids somewhere to take that shipment of flaccid foam hatchets off their hands. They’ll have to find somewhere else to play rules enforcer, too. (Could be a difficult Thanksgiving for the McCann clan, what with diners being blocked from the turducken off and all.)

      Now, if somebody could just knock out those birdies. Yeah, that would be nice.

      On another note, how about the end of that Oak/Det game? Those two dudes must have done debate club back in the day. Some truly insightful and compelling points were made, before the benches emptied. (Actually, it’s just like rolling off a log for Balfour. He’s a talky guy.)

  7. NatsLady - Oct 8, 2013 at 2:33 AM

    Here is my assessment.

    In 2012 the Nats were an 85 win team, + or – 5 wins. So 90 was quite plausible. They “over-achieved” in 2012 by a combination of a healthy rotation, I mean a REALLY healthy rotation, unexpected performances from the bench, and luck, for example Morse being healthy and productive at just the right time, and coming out of the gate 14-4.

    With his moves for 2013, Rizzo figured to improve the team to 90 wins, + or – 5. And that’s exactly what happened.

    What “went wrong” was people starting from the Nats as a 98-win team in 2012. They weren’t, they were built as an 85-win team (plus the margin of error), hence the Stras shutdown. Other moves were intended to get the team to a winning record (and MAYBE a wild-card). If you go back to June of 2012 it wasn’t AT ALL clear that the Nats were going to run away with the division, all five teams were still in it, theoretically. The Marlins folded and the Mets were a chimera, and the Phillies ran out of steam, but you didn’t know that in June. You didn’t know the Giants were going to come East and completely wilt in the summer heat… you knew the Astros were bad, but you didn’t know they were THAT bad–and a dozen other “lucky” things that happened in 2012.

    If you start from the 2013 Nats as a 90-win team, then you see that that is what they exactly were, or would have been without the last few losses after they were out of it for good. Unfortunately, 90 wins wasn’t making it to the playoffs in the NL this year, the best they could have done was tie Cincy.

    That’s not to say the Nats couldn’t have been a 95 win team–that was within the margin of error. Espinosa/HRod/Lefty specialiest, etc., might have added up to 5 wins–maybe.

    The question going forward is can Rizzo build a 95-win team for 2014? That’s a lot to ask without a blockbuster trade off of prospects or signing Cano or something that could impact the team financially in later years. But if he can, then it is up to that team to win 95 games.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 58 47 --
ATLANTA 58 50 1.5
MIAMI 53 54 6.0
NEW YORK 52 56 7.5
PHILADELPHIA 47 61 12.5
Through Wednesday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
THU: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
FRI: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SUN: Phillies at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Orioles at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
TUE: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Full season schedule

Mark joins Rob Carlin and Joe Orsulak every Thursday at 4 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet for a half-hour show on the Nats, Orioles and rest of MLB. Re-airs Thursdays at 11:30 p.m., Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 11:30 a.m.

ON THE RADIO

As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

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