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Nats Postseason stock watch: These kids are OK

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In the early game Friday, the Nationals played most of the regulars and clinched home field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. In the nightcap, they finished a grueling slate of four games in 36 hours with a lineup that looked an awful lot like the one that Syracuse Chiefs fans saw all season. Did anyone step up and make their case on Friday? Let's take a look.

Michael Taylor's skills were on display in three of the Nationals four games in the past two days.  Is it possible he's playing his way onto the postseason bench?
Michael Taylor's skills were on display in three of the Nationals four games in the past two days. Is it possible he's playing his way onto the postseason bench?
Mitchell Layton

On Friday, the Nationals completed a grueling schedule of 4 games in 36 hours.  While this is certainly not ideal for a team that had already punched their postseason ticket, it did afford Matt Williams an opportunity to shuffle the lineup a bit more than usual.  The expectation was that we would get a chance to see some of the youngsters and bench options a bit more this weekend anyway, particularly once they got that last bit of business out of the way.

The last bit of business was securing the top seed in the National League, which they did in Game 1 of Friday's doubleheader with the Marlins.  Most of the regulars started in Game 1 behind starter Doug Fister, who had his most dominant outing as a Washington National.  Anthony Rendon got the scoring started with a first inning homer.  While the Nats would tack on three more runs throughout the game, Fister didn't need them.  He fell just five pitches short of throwing a Maddux as he struck out nine and scattered three hits in the 4-0 win.

With that business out of the way, we got to see a few more of the players who may have a chance to try and play themselves onto the back of the postseason roster in the nightcap.  As we did yesterday, let's begin by taking a look at the players who appear to have locked up their spots.

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
Kevin Frandsen 1b/2b/3b/OF 12
Stephen Strasburg SP 13
Jordan Zimmerman SP 14
Doug Fister SP 15
Gio Gonzalez Pitcher 16
Tanner Roark Pitcher 17
Drew Storen RP 18
Tyler Clippard RP 19
Matt Thornton RP

20

Kevin Frandsen

In yesterday's post, Frandsen was listed as on the bubble.  While his play today (2 for 5, 2 RBI singles) certainly didn't hinder his chances of earning a spot, my decision to put him on the roster had as much to do with the positions he can play as anything else.

Many of you are aware that I wasn't particularly confident that Ryan Zimmerman would be physically ready to handle playing third base just yet.  I doubt he's going to be able to play there at all in the postseason.  The first step that he has to make on a fly ball in the outfield doesn't put nearly as much pressure on his hamstring as the first step/lunge that he has to make on the infield.  All indications are that they're still going to try to get him some game action there (either this weekend or in a simulated game) before the NLDS, but I'm going to stick with the wait and see approach.

For now, that means that Kevin Frandsen figures to be the primary backup at both corner infield spots.  Espinosa could probably handle either position in a pinch, but I feel they'd rather be sure they have an experienced option.  That said, Frandsen hasn't really taken the bull by the horns.  After Friday's 2 for 5 day, he's batting just .216/.216/.216 (yes... that's 0 walks and 0 extra base hits) in 37 September AB.

On The Bubble/Probably In

Aaron Barrett RP 21
Craig Stammen RP 22

Aaron Barrett

  • Situation: Entered the game trailing 9-6 with nobody out and a runner on second base in the seventh inning.

Barrett threw an inning in relief in the nightcap.  He came in to replace an ineffective Xavier Cedeno, who had already allowed two runs in the inning without recording an out.  Barrett would strike out his first batter and then allow a weak chopper down the first base line. He flubbed it, picked the ball up, and threw it into right field.  The inherited runner scored.  Barrett then got a shallow flyout and Adeiny Hechavarria was caught stealing to end the inning.

Analysis: On the single, he had no shot at getting Hechavarria at first base.  He really should have just eaten the ball and kept the runner at third base.  Still, even the hit wasn't sharp contact.  I'm just about ready to put him into the bullpen, but I can't say for certain that the Nats won't opt for a more experienced reliever (Soriano?) for that spot.  There's probably a good chance he gets one more outing on Sunday.

Craig Stammen

  • Situation: Came into the game for the top of the ninth inning trailing 10-7.  When he left the game, it was 15-7, there was a runner on first base, and there were still zero outs in the ninth inning.

Stammen was a lock coming into tonight's game.  I can't drop him off of the list based on one poor outing, but this one was pretty hideous.  Stammen allowed six hits (pretty much all rockets) including a grand slam to Enrique "Kike" Hernandez.  He did not retire a single batter.  He did get what could have been a double play ball against the second batter he faced, but Danny Espinosa had vacated the shortstop hole because the Marlins were executing a hit and run.

Analysis: I'm probably overreacting.  The fact of the matter, though, is that when Stammen doesn't have it, he's not bad... he's brutal. In fact, this was Stammen's third outing this season where he's allowed five runs.  That's pretty much unheard of with a quality reliever (which I believe Stammen is because... well... he's been one for three years now).  He allowed five runs against these same Marlins on April 15 (1.0 IP).  I'm sure that many of you remember that he also allowed five runs in the 8-2 extra inning loss to the Orioles in July (0.2 IP).  I'd like to see him get another appearance on Sunday to see if he can put this terrible outing behind him.  There are only going to be so many innings to go around, though.

On the Bubble/Steady

Player Position
Jerry Blevins RP
Nate Schierholtz OF
Michael Taylor OF
Rafael Soriano RP
Ross Detwiler RP
Steven Souza, Jr. OF
Scott Hairston OF

Blevins is the lone player on this list that didn't play today.  He threw two pretty fantastic innings in Game 1 on Thursday.  Given that Matt Thornton is currently the only left-handed pitcher that I have on the roster, Blevins tops the list.  He's outperformed Detwiler recently and it's difficult to see the Nats carrying just one lefty in the bullpen.

Nate Schierholtz

  • Situation: Entered Game 1 as a defensive replacement for Ryan Zimmerman in the ninth inning. Saw no defensive chances.  Didn't get an at bat.
Schierholtz did make a bit of a case on Thursday.  With home field advantage locked up, there's a pretty good chance that he starts one of the final two games.  As is the case with Blevins (LHP need), the Nats don't have any left-handed hitters off the bench other than Danny Espinosa (switch-hitter who will preferably be batting right-handed if he bats at all).  This gives Schierholtz a built in edge.

Michael Taylor
  • Situation: Started Game 2.  Went 2 for 5 with a ringing double off the out of town scoreboard, a line drive single to right field, a run, and a strikeout.  While he showed bunt in his first at bat, he did not lay one down and inspire another rant!
  • Since his glove is part of the reason the Nats would consider him, he had one really good play (cut off a ball in the gap and threw a rocket into second base), one play where he got kind of turned around and lost the ball near the track, and another where he threw about a fifteen-hopper to the plate.  He showcased his talent, but also showed his inexperience.

Taylor started one game in each of the doubleheaders.  He also came in late in Game 2 on Thursday.  The fact that he was given more opportunities than a player like Souza or Hairston seems to be encouraging to his chances of making the roster.  Of course, Denard Span made just one start in those four games, and Taylor is the only other true CF on the roster (Schierholtz started one as well), so take that with a grain of salt.

He definitely showed that he can turn a fastball around tonight, though he didn't look particularly impressive against breaking balls.  This is something that is to be expected with a young player who has just 529 plate appearances above A ball.  He showed a nice opposite field approach tonight, which is impressive for a young power hitter.  All four balls he put in play were to the right side (double, single, [soft] lineout, groundout), so he seems capable of hitting to all fields instead of being focused on pulling the ball.

Analysis: His only real chance to make the roster is if the Nats decide to carry an extra bench spot for a pinch runner/defensive replacement instead of using that final spot on an eighth reliever.  I find that to be the optimal use of that final roster spot, so I think he may be there.  He's performed fairly well the past two days, and that potential speedster on the bench seems more important than a redundant and underperforming pinch hitter like Scott Hairston.

Rafael Soriano

  • Situation: Entered the game trailing 10-7 in the 8th inning of the nightcap.  Recorded the first out on a sharp liner to first base by Christian Yelich.  Induced a shallow fly ball to left field off the bat of Donovan Solano.  Watched Casey McGehee hit one to the track that Souza dropped for an error.  Got Garrett Jones on a shallow fly to left field.
OK... There was some good and some bad here.
  • Let's start with the good.  Soriano basically recorded four outs.  Souza did his best Featherstone impersonation, which forced Soriano to get four outs to escape the inning.  He did so.
  • The bad?  He faced four batters and allowed two extremely well struck balls.  Moore made a nice self-defense play on Yelich's liner.  Souza should have made the play on the ball that he dropped, but it was absolutely smoked out towards the left field bullpen.
There was something odd that I noticed during the game.  I'd been looking for it because when I broke Soriano down in the bullpen article earlier this week, I noticed that Fangraphs showed the velocity was down on his slider.  Soriano has typically been a two (three, sort of) pitch reliever, relying mainly on his fastball, his cutter, and his slider.  He's been mixing in a curveball lately.

Matt Williams elaborated after the game:
He worked through the lefty, threw some curveballs tonight, which was interesting, a little bigger breaker tonight. Cutter was good. Fastball was good and 93, so he worked through good.
I thought there might be something to that.  I could definitely notice a little more vertical movement on his breaking ball a few times tonight, and I certainly noticed the variance in velocity.  His curveball was being thrown in the mid-70s.  His slider was still touching the mid-80s.  It could help to fool hitters a bit more, and he didn't seem to have trouble throwing the curve for strikes.

Analysis: Again, with just two games left, the innings are going to be hard to come by.  I'd like to see Soriano get another outing because he's still got a shot.  He can be a useful part of this bullpen in the postseason if he can find his form.

Ross Detwiler
  • Situation: Relieved starter Taylor Hill after the Marlins had gotten to him for four runs in the fifth inning.  Entered with a runner on third base and two outs.  Lost an eleven pitch battle with Adeiny Hechavarria, throwing just one offspeed delivery in the entire at bat.  It ended with a ringing double into the left center field gap and scored the inherited runner.  Struck out PH Ed Lucas to end the inning.  Came back for a second inning.  Allowed a single (runner cut down trying to go for second), but it was otherwise uneventful.
Detwiler probably had some ground to make up after Blevins' outstanding effort in Thursday's game.  He allowed a couple of hits in 1.1 innings.  He didn't look comfortable throwing anything but his fastball (this isn't new).  He allowed two hard hit balls against the five hitters he faced and also allowed the inherited runner to score.

Analysis: Detwiler may get one final chance to prove he deserves the spot over Blevins, but he appears to be on the outside looking in.  Aside from the fact that he's left-handed, Detwiler does bring the fact that he's a converted starter capable of working multiple innings to the table.  Unfortunately, with a starter already moving to the bullpen, that's an asset that plays stronger in the regular season than the playoffs.

Steven Souza, Jr.
  • Situation: Started Game 2 in LF.  Went 1 for 4 with a mammoth home run deep into the Red Porch Seats (Gif below) and a walk.
  • Had an up and down game defensively.  Souza had two misplays and an error.  The first misplay didn't cost the Nats, as he got caught in between diving for a ball or keeping it in front of him.  It deflected off his body and went to Taylor to hold the batter to a single.  He misread how a ball was going to bounce off the wall along the third base line and let it get behind him for a bases clearing triple. He also made the error on the Soriano fly ball.  Finally, he made one outstanding play to limit Reed Johnson to a single on what looked like a sure double into the corner.

First, let's check out that majestic blast:

Souza_hr_medium

He looks like he's in slightly better shape than he was after Thursday's games, but he doesn't look like he has a real shot at the postseason roster.  His defense was exposed in Friday's game, so the option of using him as a late inning defensive replacement for, say, Jayson Werth is probably off the table.  While he's shown some ability as a stolen base threat, he doesn't have the gamebreaking speed that a player like Taylor or even Jeff Kobernus does.  The only real shot that he had to fight his way onto the roster was to prove that he's a better hitter (at this point in their careers) than Scott Hairston, Kevin Frandsen, and/or Nate Schierholtz.  There just doesn't seem to be enough time for him to prove that he is.

Analysis: Based on that last statement, you probably already know that I think he is a better hitter than those guys.  To be blunt, those guys don't set the bar very high.  What they do have that he lacks is experience.  I could see the club carrying Taylor because he has that elite tool that the Nats won't find elsewhere.  Souza's a more balanced and complete player, but doesn't have that overwhelming tool.

Scott Hairston

  • Situation: Pinch hit in Game 2 against Brad Penny.  Popped out to second.
The fact that Hairston was used against Brad Penny (RHP) inspired me to look up some pictures of Inigo Montoya to describe what Penny might have wanted to say when Hairston stepped into the batter's box.  I went with this one:

Frabz-i-am-not-left-handed-1aa4b4_medium

I can't hammer it home enough that Scott Hairston has shown little aptitude throughout his career to hit right handed pitching or that he's been even worse the past two seasons than he was earlier in his career.  The man has a .090/.145/.164 line against right-handed pitching the past two seasons.  If he's not going to be used properly, just don't use him.

Analysis: I continue to push him down on the depth chart because I don't believe that there is any way that Hairston should possibly make this roster.  I continue to leave him on the bubble because I believe that when all is said and done, they're going to find a way to carry him.  No... I won't be happy if they do.  I bear the guy no ill will.  I'm sure he's a nice person.  He's just not one of the 25 (30?) best players on the Nationals.

Voted off the island

Player Position
Xavier Cedeno RP
Jeff Kobernus 2b/OF
Tyler Moore 1b/OF
Blake Treinen RP

Xavier Cedeno

  • Situation: Entered trailing 7-6 in the 7th inning. Scheduled hitters were Garrett Jones (L), Reed Johnson (R), Justin Bour (L)
  • Allowed a bunt single to Jones, who laid down a shift-beater.  Johnson is the guy that Scott Hairston is supposed to be (a lefty masher) and ripped a single through the left side.  Bour tagged a two-run double into the right-centerfield gap.  That was all Matt Williams needed to see.

Let's try to be fair here.  There wasn't much to be done about Jones laying the bunt down the third base line, even if Cedeno was in to serve as the LOOGY against him.  Johnson (.303/.319/.409 vs. LHP this year... .310/.363/.454 lifetime vs. LHP) may be the absolute worst possible matchup for a LOOGY.  Cedeno's job is to get LHH out.  Johnson's job is to wear LHP out.  Perfect storm.  There's no real forgiving the double by Bour, which was absolutely smoked.

Analysis: Cedeno had a long uphill climb.  He wasn't real great Thursday.  He wasn't good at all Friday.  See you next year.

Jeff Kobernus

  • Situation: Started Game 2 at second base. Looked solid defensively.  Went 0 for 3 with a HBP and a run.

Analysis: Kobernus was the sneaky candidate who could possibly make the roster solely as a pinch runner.  It would seem that Michael Taylor has a shot at earning that role.  Taylor would likely bring more overall value to the roster if force to pinch hit or serve as a defensive substitute.  Thanks for playing.

Tyler Moore

  • Situation: Started Game 2 at first base.  Went 2 for 5 with a homer, a single, two strikeouts, and a GIDP.
Moore's home run was almost out of nowhere.  He hasn't shown much of anything with the bat in his few opportunities to start lately.  He struck out swinging in each of his first two at bats.  He then came up with runners on the corners and nobody out in his third at bat and promptly grounded into a double play.  Then.... Baseball!  After Moore had looked horrible at the plate all night, he hit a high drive over the out of town scoreboard for a home run (sorry... don't have a Gif of that one).  He closed his night out with a two out single in the ninth.

Analysis: I've never really viewed Moore as a contender.  The home run was nice, and he does have some pop off the bench.  Maybe I should have left him on the bubble, but I don't think he was really there to begin with.  Frandsen is more versatile and can back up first base (so can others [Zim?]).  Neither he nor Souza are particularly strong corner outfielders defensively, but Souza at least has some range.  Moore would be a pure pinch hitter if he made the postseason roster, and I just don't see him as particularly high on the depth chart in that scenario.

Blake Treinen

Eliminated Thursday

I promise this will be trimmed down a bit when I review tomorrow's (one!) game.  The players who I've marked off already will be gone, and I expect to make a few more "cuts" tomorrow.  Finally, let's honor another team that clinched their first playoff berth in 29 years and the circus act that we saw in Game 2 of the doubleheader:

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Royals - ("Sad Clown With The Golden Voice" Version) - Lorde Cover (via ScottBradleeLovesYa)