Tuesday, March 02, 2010

So Miguel Batista, Dana Brown, and Jim Bowden walk into a bar, and . . .

I suppose I’m coming around to Chris’s way of thinking, because I’m done with spring training before it’s really even started. Maybe it’s the team, maybe it’s the coverage, or maybe it’s an overriding desire to see some baseball that actually matters – I don’t know. I do know that it doesn’t much interest me which two out of four scrubs were able to muster dribblers against Sir Strasburg during live BP -- although perhaps even that interests me more than imagining what Wil Nieves’s “wow look” looks like.

Anyway, I’ve moved onto something arguably even less productive: schedule watching!

Take a look at this sucker. The Nats play 42 games before interleague ball makes its triumphant return. This first quarter of the season goes accordingly: 3 against Phillies, 3 at Mets, 3 at Phillies, 3 against Brewers, 4 against Rockies, 3 against Dodgers, 3 at Cubbies, 3 at Marlins, 3 against Braves, 3 against Marlins, 3 at Mets, 4 at Rockies, 2 at Cardinals, 2 against Mets. Of course, a lot can change from season to season, but going by 2009 results the weak sisters among this group are the Mets (70-92) and the Brewers (80-82).

Yuck it up with the Mets bashing, because they might be the Pepcid in an otherwise groan-inducing early season schedule. All four of last season’s National League playoff teams are on tap for the Nats prior to the quarter-pole. Lord only knows if, by mid-May, we’ll either be tired of the Rockies or sick and tired of the Rockies. The Nats get ‘em for four during a week in which they host last year’s best in the NL West – and then, just as things seem to settle into a predictable Marlins-Braves-Marlins type of drip-drip-drip, the Nats have to do it again with the Rox, this time at their place. That nine-game road trip to New York, Denver, and St. Louis might prove to be, as Bob Carpenter would say, with much profundity, really “interesting.”

I can’t say with much confidence whether playing 31 of your first 42 games against teams with winning records the year before (thank you, Mets!) is in any way notable, but it doesn’t seem to be a particularly propitious circumstance for Our Washington Nationals. What follows are in no way predictions, since this exercise is severely hindered by all kinds of moving targets, but would this be unreasonable?

- Phillies: 2-4
- Mets: 4-4
- Brewers: 2-1
- Rockies: 3-5
- Freeway Dodgers: 1-2
- Cubbies: 1-2
- Fish: 2-4
- Braves: 2-1
- Cards: 0-2

That adds up to 17-25. I tried to account for home park effect and some random variance crap, so adjust at your leisure. At any rate, that kind of start over the first 42 games (a tiny bit over a quarter of a season) would project to 67 or so wins over the course of a full season.

Of course, that’s not how it actually works – what you do in 42 games needn’t determine what you’ll do in the 120 games to come. And, with that in mind, we reach the second part of the schedule: 3 against O’s, 3 at Giants, 3 at Padres, 4 at Astros, 3 against Reds, 3 against Pirates, 3 at Indians, 3 at Tigers, 3 against White Sox, 3 against Royals, 3 at O’s. That’s 34 more games, through the conclusion of the interleague slate.

What this next group of 34 games reflects is how much the first 42 games will set the tone for the Nationals’ season. Let’s use the 17-25 record doodled above as a point of reference. Alter the record three or so games in either direction, and the season looks a lot different. Mark the Nats down to 14-28 or 13-29, and things scarcely look prettier than they seemed in Acta Land. But boost them up to 20-22 or (heaven forfend) .500 through the first 42 games, and you know what the reaction will be? Well, on the broader national level, it will probably be indifference, but for those following the team it will be a pleasant sense of surprise and the hope that maybe, just maybe, the Nats will be relevant on Independence Day.

Take a look again at that 34 game stretch. The 9-game swing out west doesn’t look appetizing, but at least the Padres and Astros don’t amount to much. They can really try to make some hay with home series against the Reds, Buccos, and Royals. They travel to Cleveland, but who knows if the Tribe will even have a rotation by then? The six games against the O’s are sort of a toss-up. If the Nats don’t get slaughtered in the first 42 games, and if they don't encounter disaster on that long road trip out west, and if they beat up on the little sisters, then there’s an avenue for the Nats to be somewhere in the neighborhood of .500 when they take the field in Atlanta on Monday, June 28.

Obviously, that's a lot of ifs. And ifs are pretty much the domain of bad teams. "If the starters hold together, and if a couple of reliable relievers emerge, and if the bats come together, and if the fielding tightens up, . . ."

Sound familiar?

Not all of those things will work out -- not over the entire season, at any rate. But if the team holds up well during that rough first six or seven weeks, the season might be much more interesting for much longer than you might guess at first blush.

5 Comments:

  • As ESPN pointed out, the Nationals start with the toughest schedule in the National League. It's enough to set Strasburg up as some kind of savior even more. "The Nats schedule since the end of May, when Steven Strasburg was called up, is 5 games over .500"! Of course, nobody will point out the Pirate-heaviness of that period, since it would get in the way of a good story.

    By Blogger Positively Half St., at 3/03/2010 4:54 AM  

  • Re the title, does the next sentence involve Ray King?

    By Blogger Sam, at 3/03/2010 10:25 AM  

  • "Of course, that’s not how it actually works – what you do in 42 games needn’t determine what you’ll do in the 120 games to come."

    Crazy talk.

    By Blogger Harper, at 3/03/2010 10:45 AM  

  • This is fairly amusing.

    http://twitter.com/SBFNats320

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/03/2010 12:48 PM  

  • That nine-game road trip to New York, Denver, and St. Louis might prove to be, as Bob Carpenter would say, with much profundity, really “interesting.”

    I've tried to use Sunshine Bobby's glass-always-half-full approach to those first 42 games. Giving the Nats every break, I got 'em going 9-and-33. Worst-case scenario: 6-and-36.

    Has anybody ever started 0-and-42?

    By Anonymous Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_is_Too_Pessimistic_for_Me, at 3/04/2010 8:42 PM  

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