Distinguished Senators, the Washington Nationals Blog That Is Great

Monday, August 31, 2015

Keep the Dog Far Hence

Sir James George Frazer posited that in pre-historic fertility cults, a sacred king representing the sun was ritually murdered to ensure a good harvest. It seems like a pretty disruptive way to organize your government, and it's probably not true anyway. Regardless, you have to wonder how the doomed king felt about all of this. Did he know?

The Nationals are in St. Louis this week for a series that could turn into the kind of ritual sacrifice that got TS Eliot so excited back in the day. Everything's perfectly set up for it:
  • The Nats are 5.5 back. 
  • Time may be slowing down, but it is still moving ahead and, from the Nats' perspective, running out. 
  • It's getting to be harvest time.
  • The Nats are the reigning kings of the National League East and thus representative of the sun.
  • The Cardinals are far, far better at baseball. 
It's the baseball equivalent of drugging the king, dressing him up like a stalk of wheat, and telling him to look over there while you prepare your stone axe for the mortal bonk. 

I'm guessing that's how they did it. I wasn't there.

Meanwhile, the Mets get to play the Phillies. The Nats get the best team on the road; the Mets get the worst team at home. You have to appreciate the symmetry.

My point is that if you haven't yet given up on the Nats, you might not have any choice by the time these series conclude. They have squandered a comfortable-seeming lead and spent enough time staggering around like a recently-bonked king that merely playing well isn't going to make any difference.

To paraphrase the last thing Anne Bonny ever said to her pirate boyfriend, had the Nats fought like men, they needn't have been hang'd like dogs.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A True Story

I'm finding this all very tedious. The Nationals are 6.5 half games behind the Mets; 10 games out of the wild card. They win some; they lose some. The poor bastards who have to write about this team every day force themselves to find narratives after every game, but your narrative is only as good as tomorrow's starting pitcher.

It is - let's face it - unlikely that the Nats are going to make the playoffs. MLB's official odds put the chance at less than one in ten. Not impossible, but nothing more than a Padres or an Orioles fan can expect. Watching Nats games is thus less compelling than it used to be. As much as Carpenter and FP will deny it, we're just biding our time until the mathematicians say it's over.
Key: The Nats are the one that sucks.

I'm going to tell you a true story here. I had an outbreak of gnats in my house. There's no need to panic - the source has been identified, and crafty traps have been lain. It's just a matter of time before the last one perishes.

That's how I spend my evenings now: Waiting for the gnats to die.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Minnie Churl

I checked to see if everything still sucks, and it does.

Is it churlish to be unhappy with merely winning a series rather than sweeping it? Maybe. I don't know. I'm comfortable with my churlishness. Call me Churlie Hustle. Churl Haggard. Churles the Second, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.

What's going to happen now is that the damn Mets are going to stroll into Coors Field like they own the place, and then will proceed to own the place.

The Nationals, meanwhile, seem likely to take one of three at home from the Brewers.

If I sound pessimistic, it's only because everything sucks, up to and including my favorite baseball team.

It sounds like Ichiro is going to return to the Marlins next year.

That led me to reflect on how it sure seems like Ichiro is terrible now except when he's playing the Nats. I was relieved to discover that the statistics back up my impression.

Ichiro is hitting .262 overall, .245 against not the Nats, and a pretty impressive .394 against Washington.

So here's to the Nats for geting us closer to lots of discussions about whether Ichiro has more hits than Pete Rose. The answer to that question, by the way, is and will continue to be "No."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Some Stats

I was looking up some stats for some random players that don't have anything in common. It's one of the things I do to pass the time until the Nationals' season ends on October 4.

Gerardo Parra in August: 295/348/492, three homers, 130 OPS+

Yoenis Cespedes in August: 292/313/462, two homers, 111 OPS+

Ben Zobrist in August: 383/500/638, three homers, 12 walks, 213 OPS+

Michael Taylor in August: 230/266/361, 1 homer, twenty damn strikeouts, 72 OPS+

Leadoff hitter Jayson Werth in August: 125(!)/200(!)/229(!), 1 homer, 19 OPS+(!!!!!!!)

Jonathan Papelbon in August: Five innings

Monday, August 17, 2015

Like a Duck

That could hardly have gone worse. Everyone was terrible; everything is terrible. We get a day off before the Nationals head east to resume the Rockiest-style ass-kicking that started a few series ago.

I don't think my mind has come to terms with the likelihood that the Nats are going to miss the playoffs. I'm just kind of dazed. Like William Rosecrans after Chickamauga, I'm stunned and confused like a duck hit on the head.
Current worried status: DEFCON Rosecrans. "This way to 80 wins, boys!"
If the Nats are similarly stunned and confused, they're hiding it by trying to sound as blasé as they were at the trade deadline. "We got 'em right where we want 'em" seems to be the attitude.

That kind of thing can be reassuring, I guess, if your cult is being investigated by the IRS or CPS or whatever and you want to be reassured that your leadership has everything in hand. In this case, though, it smacks of laziness and indifference. It's like Frank Robinson's back.

So our favorite team is about to be a laughing stock, and I think that's what bothering me the most. I'm not looking forward to the 2015 Nats being mentioned along with the 1964 Phillies and 2007 Mets. People are going to be laughing at us for this wreck of a season. Forever.

You know what Medea did when she thought everyone was going to laugh at her? She killed her kids and a couple other people and then bailed in a flying dragon chariot. Whatever the baseball fan equivalent of that is, I'm getting there.
Thinking about it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Big Difference

My experiment in quantum baseball physics was a failure. I didn't watch one single pitch of that series, but nevertheless the Nationals are 3.5 games behind the Mets. I feel like it's below my station even to look at the Wild Card standings, but the Nats are 6.5 games away from baseball's very worst kinda-sorta playoff spot.

I'm just going to copy and paste myself, because it sure sounds like that series turned out the same as the last time the Nats faced the Dodgers.
The narrative seems to be that the Nats ran into a "gauntlet of aces," so who can blame them for losing? The Dodgers threw reigning MVP Clayton Kershaw, unpleasant weirdo Zack Greinke, and even Mike Bolsinger at us - we should be happy we won one of them! 
Which, I mean, yeah, it's tough to hit Kershaw and Greinke, just as it's tough to watch Kershaw's Subway commercial or (I'm guessing) have a conversation with Greinke. 
But what do we think is going to happen when we get to the playoffs? Hitting tough pitchers is how you win a World Series, dammit. The opposition isn't going to be running Jerome Williams out there in October.  
If you can't score runs off good pitchers, you lose. My evidence for this is the 2014 postseason, in which the Nationals couldn't even score runs off the remains of Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy, and they lost.
So this series loss is not something to brush off as bad starting rotation timing. The playoffs are nothing but bad timing. They don't let the Bolsingers pitch in October; you have to hit the good ones.
Change "Mike" to "Brett" and "Bolsinger" to "Anderson," and everything I wrote back in July is still true.

The big difference between then and now is that on July 21, I more or less assumed that the Nats were going to have a chance to play badly in the postseason.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Shrödinger's Nats

Legendary physicist Erwin Shrödinger didn't get HBO, so he had to wait to watch Game of Thrones until it came out on DVD. You'd find him in his lab at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies with his hands clamped over his ears, yelling "No spoilers!" while his colleagues discussed events.
That's Austrian for "When is season 5 coming out?"
Shrödinger realized that, because of quantum something or other, as long as he hadn't seen what happened on Game of Thrones, it hadn't actually happened. I know it doesn't make sense, but this is all according to physics.

This has been illustrated with a helpful parable about doing terrible things to a cat. We're against that kind of thing here at Distinguished Senators, so we went with the HBO thing.

The same principle applies to baseball games that start so late there's no way you're going to watch them. Let's face it - the Nationals are very likely to lose ground this week. But - and once again, this is physics talking - if I don't watch it and don't look at the results the next morning, it never happened.

You know how when you're a kid and there are monsters under your bed, they can't get you if you pull the covers over your head and don't whatever you do look at them? That's what I'm doing this week.

If you care about the Nats, don't tell me what happens.

Monday, August 10, 2015


Worry status update: I am now this worried.
Does this look more worried than the last one? Let's just say it does.
The Rockies were lousy even before they exiled their best player to Canada. They were able to win fully two-thirds of this weekend's games despite having been defanged at the trade deadline.

Really, though, they didn't beat the Nats. They just beat up on Drew Storen. I'm surprised to find out that that's actually making me feel a little bit better.

Even if you put those losses entirely on Storen - which is fine by me - there's plenty to worry about.

Denard Span might not play again this year. Like someone following the instructions of Archie Bell and the Drells, Span's back has tightened up.

This is a real problem, since one of the places the Nats could have expected to improve was center field. Yes, we all love Michael Taylor, but he's not getting it done.

The other day Dan Kolko was relating a conversation he'd had with Matt Williams: Given that Span has tightened up now and we're slated for more Taylor than we'd expected, did Williams want to see Taylor do anything differently?

No, of course not, we are told Williams said. Don't change a thing. As this happened, Taylor's stats appeared in the background, complete with a .280-something on-base percentage.

So, there's nothing you'd like to Taylor do better? Not even one thing? Maybe there was a misunderstanding and he thought Kolko was asking him about Mike Trout.

I'm also worried about Max Scherzer. Daniel Descalso is as perfect a candidate for the Doug's Dingers program as there is, and there's Scherzer stepping in there and scherzing one up for him.

I mean, he hasn't thrown a no-hitter in weeks.

I went and saw The Church last night. Distinguished Senators contributor Steven Kilbey tried to make us all feel better during "Metropolis."

Don't say nothing good will ever come of this
Don't say the damage is worse than it is

I get that, Steve. There's a long way to go. But you can't expect a room full of people who just watched their team lost two of three to the damn Rockies to look on the bright side.

It's like he didn't even know!

Friday, August 07, 2015

Dead Pledge

This is what four months of charity gets you? They sent Doug Fister to the bullpen.

I don't get it. If Fister's pitching badly enough that you don't want him in the rotation, why do you want him in the bullpen? That's not what a bullpen is for.

This isn't the 1950s. You don't just use dudes who aren't good enough to start in relief. Fister wasn't struggling because because he was running out of gas; he was struggling because his sinker didn't sink. He usually doesn't stay in the game long enough to run out of gas.

He's exactly the kind of pitcher who is not going to thrive as a reliever.

The bright side is that Joe Ross is staying in the rotation. I'm a big fan. Joe Ross strikes out everyone and doesn't give a damn about their feelings. Based on his performance so far, the Nats have already won the Steven Sousa trade.

This being the Nats, even the bright side has a dark side. It sure sounds like Nats management, not having learned the most obvious lesson of the team's last four years, is going to put Ross on some kind of cretin innings limit and make him stop pitching.
Using the 25-30 percent concept as a guideline, Ross’ cap could be somewhere around 153 innings (a 25 percent increase) and 159 innings (a 30 percent increase). And if Ross is averaging about 6.5 innings per start so far in the majors, he could have about five (conservative) to seven starts left in the season. In other words, about the rest of the month.
Yeah yeah developing pitchers young arms blah blah blah whatever. Are you people trying to win? This season is what matters. Maybe you don't mortgage everything to go for it this year, but mortgage something. If this means pushing Joe Ross to the point that he has a 2% higher chance of blowing out his arm in three years, do it.

This isn't the time to play the long game. It's time for the short game. Work on your putting. We're in minigolf territory here. Watch out for the windmill.

So what exactly is the argument against starting Clint Robinson in left field against righties? Well, what's an argument that doesn't include "veteran" or "$21 million" or "I'm afraid Jayson's going to come after me with a shiv made of pressed-together newspaper and prison oatmeal."
Or a sock and an Altoids tin

Thursday, August 06, 2015


This isn't happening against top men. The Diamondbacks aren't any good. Jarrod Saltalamacchia ("jump the stain"?), who wasn't good enough to play for the Marlins, is clowning the Nationals.

But not as much as they're clowning themselves. You win championships by doing the little things. There is no littler thing than throwing the ball to first base. It's baseball's quantum. Aaron Barrett couldn't seem to handle it, though.

Other little things include not issuing a walk when the bases are loaded (they did that one twice) and not getting outpitched by Tyler Moore.

I've had this feeling for a while now that the Nats are doomed once the playoffs start because they're shoddy at fundamentals and have a manager who's always thinking three moves behind.

I'm not so concerned about that anymore, because now I don't think they'll make the playoffs at all.
I am this worried.
The Mets are two games ahead, they're about to play a bunch of patsies, and they seem to be propelled by Destiny, who is an idiot.

The Nats are two games behind, they can't beat also-rans at home, and they refuse to tell Jayson Werth to sit down and not play baseball.

Today I was reduced to checking if the Nats would at least get a Wild Card berth.

They're three and a half games out.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015


Why exactly is Ian Desmond playing every day?

The Nationals' roster construction philosophy appears to be built around a variation of the first line of the Hippocratic Oath. Instead of "First do no harm," it's "First don't hurt anyone's feelings (except for Drew Storen's)."

You can't replayce Jayson Werth - that would be insulting. You can't sit Ian Desmond no matter how terrible he's been. Feelings, man.

Perhaps the Nats would be surprised to learn that neither "First do no harm" nor "First don't hurt anyone's feelings (except for Drew Storen's)" is actually in the Hippocratic Oath. I learned that about a minute and half ago, and I still haven't recovered from the shock.

If Hippocrates didn't say it, maybe it's not a good principle for running a baseball team.

Hippocrates: "Don't blame me for this garbage, bro."
You don't need me to tell you that Ian Desmond has not been a contributor this year. He's hitting like Jayson Werth, and he's fielding like Jayson Werth. A list of possible shortstops who would be doing less than Desmond to sabotage 2015 includes:
  1. Jason Martinson
  2. Miguel Tejada
  3. Trea Turner
  4. Cristian Guzman
  5. Yunel Escobar
  6. Danny Espinosa
Espinosa's the most obvious option, but why he's not playing is anything but obvious. He has one (1) plate appearance since the Pirates series at the end of July. Why do you pinch hit with Werth (56 OPS+) when Espinosa (101 OPS+) is sitting there on the bench trying to remember what playing baseball is like?

Sure, Espinosa's not a real shortstop, and sure, his beard starts, like, right under his eyeballs, but neither of those should be enough to keep him out of the lineup like this. Put him at second, Escobar at short, and Rendon at third. Or just leave him at short and see what happens. The Nats are getting F-minus production from short; Espinosa can maybe get that up to a C.

I don't know - is it really just about Desmond's feelings? Everyone seems to like him; maybe the Nats are worried about a mutiny if Desi gets dissed, and the Werth situation shows that they are afraid to make a grown man cry by sitting him.

Or maybe they think Desmond's the best option. That's even worse.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

First Loser

Why are all these terrible things happening to me? I try to be a good person. Like halfwit LA rackets kingpin Mickey Cohen, I have killed no men that in the first place didn't deserve killing.
The example I try to live up to.

You're not always rewarded for doing the right thing. Mickey Cohen went to prison and got brained with a lead pipe. And here I am looking at the blue, orange, and undeserving hindquarters of the New York Mets.
The Nationals' view

Matt Williams put in another masterpiece of bad managing last night. Doug Fister went into a frenzy of charity, anointing three new Doug's Dudes. (Honestly, that homer to Nick Ahmed is probably worthy of a whole Doug's Dingers post, but I'm all out of jokes about that.) After five, Fister was clearly done, but Williams sent him out to hit anyway. I don't know why Williams hates taking pitchers out of the game, but he's awfully reluctant to do it even when everyone knows it needs to be done. Cf. Joe Ross on Saturday.

Still, a good manager wouldn't have won that game. Even if you take out Doug Fister at the exact right time (i.e., while he's warming up), you don't win if you don't score.

I'm starting to think that acquiring a closer who never gets to close didn't solve all the Nats' problems.

Meanwhile, Yoenis Cespedes, whom the Nats should have at least attempted to get, drove in four runs as the Mets - who seem to be some kind of idiot team of idiot destiny - romped all over the Marlins.

Monday, August 03, 2015

At Least

I said the Nationals didn't have enough offense, and they don't.

I said Matt Williams was going to bumble them out of any chance of winning anything, and I was right.

Jeff Passan goes in hella hard on Williams here.
The reigning NL Manager of the Year hasn't acquitted himself as much of a tactician in his year and a half on the job, and his performance over the weekend did nothing to sway his reputation otherwise. It was bad enough that two unnecessary intentional walks backfired Saturday. Parking Storen and Papelbon in the bullpen for the entire series showed a troublesome adherence to standard principles more open-minded managers long ago ignored.
It's funny - Williams comes off so well when you hear him talk. He seems competent, and he uses really big words, especially for a major league manager. I think I heard him say "obstreperous" in a pregame interview once.

I'm sure that's how he got the job. Mike Rizzo already liked him, and I bet he aced the interview. "Sure, he's never managed before, but he was a really good player, and he said 'ebullient'! And 'abjure'! He even used them correctly. As far as I know."

But it's one thing to sound like a smartypants fancy lad when Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler and lobbing softballs at you; it's quite another thing to run a baseball team successfully.

Williams can't do it, and it's too bad, and we're pretty much screwed. Even if the Nats do recover from this weekend's disaster and win the division - which is more likely than not - he's going to run into a much better manager in the playoffs and get styled on.

If the Nats don't make the playoffs, at least he's fired, right?