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May 29, 2014 / Nat Anacostia

Déjà vu? Is this a repeat of last season?

At the start of 2013, the Nats were the consensus pick to win the AL East, and a number of pundits saw them winning the pennant or even the World Series. Instead, they fell behind the Braves early, suffered a series of injuries, and never really got going until the last two months of the season when the pennant had slipped out of reach.

Does it sound familiar? Once again, a much hyped Nats team has stumbled out of the gate. On May 29, 2013, the Nats were 27–26 and 4.5 games behind the Braves. This season it’s arguably worse, as they’re 25–27 and 2.5  games behind both the Braves and the Marlins. I’ve already seen an article asking which players they should be selling before the trade deadline. Are the Nats destined to repeat last year’s disappointment?

The Nats’ offense has been pretty awful in May. But let’s not forget that their offense actually was pretty good in April.

Last season I did several long posts assessing the team’s progress as the year went along. I won’t attempt a similar analysis here, but one thing I was looking for was evidence that our expectation from certain players had shifted as the year went along. In 2013, as early as mid-May it was pretty clear that several Nationals (Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Dan Haren, Danny Espinosa, Tyler Moore, Ryan Zimmerman, and Steve Lombardozzi) were not living up to expectations, and that we were probably going to have to downgrade our expectations. On the other hand, a couple of players (Jordan Zimmermann and, at least early in the season, Bryce Harper) were exceeding expectations.

This year, when I look at the numbers, I’m not seeing something similar. Although some players have had hot spells and cold spells, for the first two months as a whole, with only a couple of exceptions, I’m not seeing the players who greatly exceed or fall short of expectations. The players who are falling significantly short of expectations are the injured players. It’s really as simple as that. If they can come back from their injuries without a dropoff in performance, there’s not reason to think this team can’t play as well as anticipated for the rest of the season.

Of course, that may not be enough. FanGraphs still sees the Nats with a 44.8% chance of winning the division and a 61.5% chance of making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus has them at 38.4% and 48.8%. Both numbers a down quite a bit from where they started the season. But with a weak division and opponents who have their own health problems, there’s no reason the playoffs should be considered out of reach. The hitters who are in slumps need to start hitting, and Strasburg and Zimmermann need to have some regression in their batting average allowed on balls in play. I still think the keys to this season will be Harper and Strasburg, so I’m hoping that when Harper returns he will be fully healthy. This team still has lots of talent and has a good chance to turn the season around.

 

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