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Friday's Nationals Postseason Stock Watch: Jerry Blevins states his case!

The Nats drew one win closer to locking up the best record in the National League by splitting Thursday's doubleheader with the Mets. Perhaps more importantly, several of the candidates for the final few spots had eventful days.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

By splitting Thursday's doubleheader with the New York Mets, the Nationals lowered their magic number to clinch the best record in the National League to one.  With seven (combined) games remaining between the Nationals and the Dodgers, the Nats need just one of those games to fall their way.  While it was important to trim the magic number to one, the opportunity to evaluate some of the candidates on the fringes of making the playoff roster may have been more important.

Let's not foolishly say that one game is going to make this determination.  All of the players have put themselves in this position based on their play all season long.  When there's a close competition for those spots, these games leading up to the end of the regular season could play a large part in swinging decisions one way or the other.  We're going to take a look at some of the players fighting for those spots and how they may have separated themselves (good or bad) from their competition.

First, let's take a look at who seems to be locked in on the rosters:

Player Position Spots
Wilson Ramos C 1
Jose Lobaton C 2
Adam LaRoche 1b 3
Asdrubal Cabrera 2b 4
Anthony Rendon 3b 5
Ian Desmond SS 6
Bryce Harper LF 7
Denard Span CF 8
Jayson Werth RF 9
Danny Espinosa 2b/SS 10
Ryan Zimmerman ??? Bench 11
Stephen Strasburg SP 12
Jordan Zimmerman SP 13
Doug Fister SP 14
Gio Gonzalez Pitcher 15
Tanner Roark Pitcher 16
Drew Storen RP 17
Tyler Clippard RP 18
Matt Thornton RP 19
Craig Stammen RP 20

Though dc Roach made a compelling argument the other day that maybe Doug Fister should be the starter who gets pushed to the bullpen, I don't really see that as a possibility that the organization is looking at.  I've decided to list both Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark as "Pitchers" (rather than SP or RP) for the time being, though I have put my thoughts up elsewhere.  I've left a few extra spots in the "up for grabs" department.  I believe that it's a pretty safe bet that these two guys will be on the roster as well, (though they're not the locks that I've included on the list above):

Kevin Frandsen 1b/2b/3b/LF 21
Aaron Barrett RP 22

As I've brought up in recent articles on both the Nats possible bullpen options and the Nats possible bench options, there's some flexibility with that final spot.  Given that a starter is moving to the bullpen, the Nationals could either carry a seven man bullpen (including the starter, for 11 total pitchers) with a six man bench or an eight man bullpen (12 total pitchers).  When we include Frandsen and Barrett, we have the following breakdown of players that are expected to be on the roster:

  • 12 hitters (backup catcher, backup middle infielder, backup corner infielder, and a backup 1b/corner outfielder)
  • 10 pitchers (5 starters [4 of whom will start], 5 relievers
This means that the final three spots could either be two hitters and one reliever or two relievers and one hitter (which would almost have to be an outfielder).  We're going to review some of the candidates and see if any of them did anything to separate themselves on Thursday.

Final spots stock watch

Let's list the players that I consider to be on the fringes of earning those last three spots on the Nats roster. Players who saw action on Thursday are listed in bold:

Rafael Soriano RP
Jerry Blevins RP
Ross Detwiler RP
Blake Treinen RP
Xavier Cedeno RP
Nate Schierholtz OF
Scott Hairston OF
Michael Taylor OF
Steven Souza, Jr. OF
Tyler Moore 1b/LF
Jeff Kobernus 2b/OF/PR

Only Rafael Soriano, who warmed up during the seventh inning of Game 1, Ross Detwiler, and Jeff Kobernus didn't get into at least one of the two games.  Let's take a look at what the guys who did play may have done to help or hurt their cases.

Jerry Blevins

  • Situation: 4-4 tie in the sixth inning
  • Mets had Juan Centeno (L), their pitcher's spot (ended up being Josh Satin [R]), and Matt den Dekker (L) due up, so this was a perfect spot.  Blevins pitched a second inning, facing Wilmer Flores (R), Daniel Murphy (L), Lucas Duda (L), Curtis Granderson (L), and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (L)
  • Result: Blevins threw a 1-2-3 sixth inning with two strikeouts.  He returned for the seventh and walked Flores to lead off the inning.  He struck out Murphy and Duda before allowing a single to Granderson.  He completed his outing by striking out Nieuwenhuis and throwing two shutdown innings in a tie ballgame.
Blevins was fantastic today.  While I didn't love seeing him come out for a second inning, it was kind of a special circumstance because the Nats are playing four games in two days.  I was generally OK with the usage.  He faced eight batters.  Six of them were left-handed.  Neither right-handed hitter was particularly dangerous.  He struck out five of the eight batters he faced, allowing only a walk (to a RHH) and a single.  Blevins stock for making the postseason roster rose significantly in my eyes with today's outing.

Here's what Matt Williams had to say about Blevins:
He's able to pinpoint away from the righties and his curveball has been really good against left-handers. A couple of times in recent history he's gone in and struck out the side. But it's set up good for him. He threw a lot of pitches today, but it set up good for him with four consecutive lefties in there that he could go multiple innings for us. So, he pitched really well.

Analysis: I'll stick with my stance that I don't really want to see Jerry Blevins facing right-handed hitters, but if the postseason started tomorrow, I'd have him on the roster.

Blake Treinen
  • Situation: Game 1 starting pitcher
  • Results: 4.1 IP, 8 H, 1 BB, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 K, 64 pitches, 42 strikes
Treinen looked pretty hittable throughout today's game, as the single strikeout would indicate.  He allowed three hits and a run in the first inning.  At least one runner reached base in every inning outside of the fourth.  The Mets really seemed to be squaring him up in the fifth, with three hits (and a run) in the inning before he was pulled.  Xavier Cedeno came on and couldn't quite escape the jam, allowing both inherited runners to score.

More from Williams:

Early on the ball wasn't sinking as much so they got one in the first, but he pitched well enough to keep us in it. We ended up tying it later, but he pitched fine. We could have pushed him further, but with what we've got it's not important that we do that right now. But I think he gave us a chance.

I don't think that the fifth inning is something that we really need to focus on.  If Treinen had any chance to make the postseason roster, it was as a reliever.  Williams' very first sentence pretty much sums up his performance early on in Thursday's outing.  If the Nats are going to move a (second) starter into the bullpen for the postseason, he'd better show that he's going to be strong from the first pitch on.

Analysis: He was a long shot to make the postseason roster entering Thursday's game.  He didn't have a particularly strong outing.  With just three days remaining in the regular season, it's hard to see Treinen getting an appearance out of the bullpen over the weekend.  I think we can eliminate him as an option.

Xavier Cedeno
  • Situation: Entered trailing 2-1 in the fifth inning with runners on second and third base with one out
  • Due Up: Lucas Duda (L), Curtis Granderson (L), Kirk Nieuwenhuis (L), Ruben Tejada (R)
  • Results: Fell behind Duda 3-0 before getting a huge popout to SS to keep the runners from advancing. Fell behind Granderson 2-0 before allowing a sharp single that scored both inherited runners. Allowed a single to Nieuwenhuis.  Induced a groundout from Tejada.
He came into an extremely difficult situation and recorded a huge out, but he ultimately didn't escape the jam without allowing the inherited runners to score.  Both Granderson and Nieuwenhuis made sharp contact against him, so the hits can't be pinned on poor luck or defending.  Both Granderson and Nieuwenhuis are also left-handed, so it's not like he was out of his element facing a tough right-handed slugger.

Analysis: Cedeno also entered Thursday as an extreme long shot to make the postseason roster.  He will likely see more action over the final weekend, but his middling performance combined with Blevins' outstanding outing all but eliminates him from contention for the spot.

Nate Schierholtz
  • Situation(s): Pinch hit in the fifth inning in Game 1 and came through with a sharp RBI single to the right side.
  • Started Game 2 in CF (moved to LF in 8th).  Went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk.
Schierholtz hasn't proven to be much of an asset for the Nats since being signed to a minor league deal.  He's batting just .194/.242/.309 on the year (.229/.250/.368 in 40 PA with the Nats) and his two best selling points on the postseason roster are as follows:
  1. He bats left handed
  2. He provides good corner outfield defense and should be capable of filling in at CF in a pinch
We saw option two come into play in the night game, and we can't ignore its importance.  If the Nats choose not to carry Michael Taylor or Steven Souza on the roster, only Bryce Harper can fill in as the CF if something were to happen to Denard Span.  Schierholtz's defense didn't really come into play in the nightcap.  He did have a good day, though.  Schierholtz ended the day 2 for 5 with a walk, a double, and an RBI.

Analysis: The fact that the Nationals don't have another left handed option off the bench makes him one of the favorites to earn a spot on the roster.  He did more to help his cause than hurt it today.  He's not going to be a major threat off of the bench, but he's still a favorite to earn one of the final three spots.

Scott Hairston
  • Started Game 2 in LF.  Went 0 for 2 with a walk and a strikeout.  Was removed for defense in the 8th inning.  Made a terrific leaping grab at the wall to end the top of the fourth inning. If you believe in momentum (I don't, but I'll bring it up anyway), the Nats rally which led to all three runs in the 3-0 Game 2 victory occurred in the bottom of the fourth, right after Hairston's terrific grab.
Hairston seemed like an odd fit to start Game 2.  The main (only?) thing that Hairston really brings to the club is his reputation as a hitter who dominates against left-handed pitching.  The Mets were starting Zack Wheeler (R).  Here are Hairston's numbers over the past two seasons (and his career) against RHP:

2013 31 0 2 13 .097 .147 .129 .276
2014 21 1 0 10 .095 .125 .238 .363
Career 1399 57 101 375 .224 .282 .407 .689

His performance against RHP the past two years is obviously a very small sample size.  There's a reason for it!  He's shown very little aptitude against them in his career.  He's been even worse against them as his career has started to wind down.  Scott Hairston should never face a RHP.  Tonight, he started against one.  As with the Jerry Blevins example above, the fact that the Nats have four games in two days creates a bit of a special circumstance.

Analysis: This game didn't really tell us anything.  He made a spectacular grab at the wall, which does a little to destroy the narrative that he has no range and stone hands in the outfield.  The fact that he was starting against a RHP does make it feel like Hairston wasn't put in a particularly good situation to succeed with the bat.  He didn't.

Michael Taylor
  • Started Game 1 in CF.  Went 1 for 5 with a 2 run single, 2 strikeouts, and a CS. Replaced Scott Hairston in the 8th inning of Game 2. Struck out bunting foul (I've written too much tonight to include a rant, but I may get to doing that at some point on Friday!) in his only AB in Game 2.
  • Made a nice sliding catch on a shallow broken bat flyout in Game 1, though he broke back on the ball and didn't get the greatest read.
Since I'm of the opinion that two of the three spots should go to position players (I'd rather have a stolen base threat/extra bat off the bench and run with a seven man bullpen), I feel that Taylor should be in a pretty decent spot to possibly make the postseason roster.  His speed and athleticism make him an asset as a potential defensive replacement in the outfield.  They also make him a fine option as a potential pinch runner.

We got to see him showcase that athleticism with the glove tonight, even if it was really a good play that looked great because of his read off the bat.  He was caught stealing in the fifth inning of Game 1, and didn't get a very good jump.  The strikeouts are probably never going to go away as much as we hope, but he wouldn't figure to be all that high on the hierarchy of bench bats on the postseason roster.  It's his other skills that could be more useful.

Analysis: I don't think he did anything to really separate himself today.  A better jump on the stolen base attempt may have given the Nats a little more reason to think about how useful a burner could be off the bench.  He may be the best defensive CF in the organization (better than Span), which would make him an asset at all three outfield spots.

Steven Souza, Jr.
  • Entered Game 1 as a PH and remained in the game in RF.  He struck out in the 7th and walked in the 9th to bring the tying run to the plate.  Did not play Game 2.
If you've been reading me here at Federal Baseball this year, you know that I want Souza to be given more of a chance.  With today's doubleheader (with 2 RHP starting for the Mets), I thought there was a perfect opportunity for Souza to get an opportunity to shine.  Alas, he didn't start either game.  Given Souza's performance in Syracuse this season (with no real platoon splits) and the lack of any other bench hitters that seem to have success against RHP, I believe there's a good chance that Souza could be their second best bench option against RHP behind Ryan Zimmerman.  He's not being given much of an opportunity to prove it.

Analysis: If Souza isn't being given a chance to show what he can do as a starter when the Nats have a doubleheader where they're basically playing Split Squad games (and Span was unavailable), it's unrealistic to consider him a legitimate option to crack the postseason roster.  Maybe he starts one of the two games tomorrow.  I don't know why he isn't being given as much of a shot as Taylor (who had a great year himself, but doesn't appear to be as far along in terms of his development). It's possible Souza's not showing much in batting practice?  He could also still not quite be 100% recovered from his shoulder injury.  Whatever the reason, it appears we can pretty much scratch his name off the list of contenders.

Tyler Moore
  • Started Game 2 at 1b. Went 0 for 3 with a HBP, an RBI groundout, a run, and a strikeout
He hit a slow roller with the bases loaded and nobody out to drive in the Nats first run.  He beat out the back end of the double play and eventually came around to score when Anthony Rendon was hit by a pitch.  Moore had one tough play at first base and did what he's done on just about every tough chance he's gotten in September.  He dove and had the ball deflect off his glove.  This time it bounced to Cabrera instead of bouncing into the outfield, but Matt Thornton didn't cover first base anyway.

Analysis: Moore's inclusion on this list is more of a courtesy than anything.  I can't see him surpassing Cabrera, Espinosa, or Frandsen for a spot.  I don't see them carrying a fourth infielder unless it's Jeff Kobernus (in that pinch runner capacity).

Thursday Stock Watch

The Good The Meh (All but) Eliminated
Jerry Blevins Michael Taylor Blake Treinen
Nate Schierholtz Scott Hairston Xavier Cedeno
Rafael Soriano Steven Souza, Jr.
Ross Detwiler Tyler Moore
Jeff Kobernus