I’ve been doing so-called 18-game posts since June 2012. The idea was inspired by that MASN call-in show that Phil Wood and two other guys whose names I can never remember are on. I don’t know the name of the show either, something like “Three Old Guys Talk About the O’s, and Occasionally Mention the Nats.”
Anyway, one of the O’s experts brought up the idea of looking at the 162 game season in 18 game increments. He noted that a team that goes 10-8 in all nine increments wins 90 games, while a team that goes 8-10 wins only 72. I thought this was an interesting way to look at the season and I find it particularly useful to remember that that the difference between a playoff team and an also ran could be just two games that go the right way, or the wrong way, in each 18-game stretch.
Thus were born my 18-game posts, and I continued to do them as comments on NatsInsider, semi-religiously, over the past four years. Ghost invited me to post them here and I’m glad to have a new home for them. Here’s my recap of last season, 18 games at a time: http://www.talknats.com/2015/10/12/the-final-18-game-recap-of-2015-by-section222/
At worst they are a silly distraction, but they can also offer some interesting perspective or at least be a conversation starter.
You probably recall that last year’s first 18 games were a disaster. Unfortunately, CSN’s takeover of NatsInsider.com has made it impossible to link to my 18-gamer, but who would want to read that anyway? It wasn’t pretty. We started off 2-6 and finished the first 18 games at 7-11.
So how’s it going this year? As if you don’t know! After yesterday’s thrilling series finale against the Twins, the Nats are 14-4, matching the team’s best ever 18 game start in 2012. And those 18 games included some amazing moments:
#Nationals #washington #GoNationals Wire Taps: Bryce Harper hits 100th home run, which was a grand slam; Steph.. https://t.co/UtT7DsLxUd
— Nationals Views (@NationalsViews) April 15, 2016
Nats hit four HRs in an inning (Viewer Advisory — This video includes frequent images of the sculpture monstrosity in Miami):
Roark Ks 15 Twins:
(Washington Post) #Tanner #Roark mows through Twins with 15 strikeouts in seven innings :.. https://t.co/pzVoZuxeng pic.twitter.com/5Kep7mjWiI
— InUSANews.com (@inusanewscom) April 23, 2016
It’s worth remembering, of course, that this start has been accomplished against some of the worst teams in baseball. We have yet to play a single game against a team with a winning record at this point in the season. The Braves are 4-14, the Phillies 9-10, Marlins 6-11, and Twins 5-14. In contrast, 7 of the next 18 come against two of the best in baseball, the Cubs and the Royals, and 6 more against two historically good teams with somewhat underwhelming records so far – the Cards and Tigers. Let’s see where things stand round about May 14 before getting too excited.
One cautionary note in addition to the upcoming schedule – after the 18-gamer that followed last year’s terrible start, there was a lot of discussion in the comments about whether the season was doomed. I got some grief for suggesting after the first 18 games that a quick turnaround was needed or the season could go off the rails very quickly. Clearly, the season wasn’t doomed. The Nats put together several solid stretches, starting with going 12-6 in the very next 18 games. They could have won the division with better play in July and August. That’s where the season fell apart, not in the first three weeks.
But the first 18 games were a harbinger of real problems. Injuries of course, but also inconsistent pitching, failures in the middle of the lineup (except for Bryce, obviously), and a shaky pen.
Similarly here. The first 18 games this year shows a team with great potential – the best player in baseball with a strong supporting cast, a very strong starting rotation, even though Max has yet to show his $200 million form, and a bullpen that’s, well, not horrible, and might be pretty good. And it seems to have a spirit and a magic that was missing last year. Winning a game like yesterday’s is often something that happens to a team headed for good things.
TIE GAME, PEOPLE! #IBackTheNats pic.twitter.com/NQcyh2wtXG
— Nationals on MASN (@masnNationals) April 24, 2016
But while the hot start is great, it doesn’t guarantee a darn thing. The Nats need to shore up some weaknesses –the leadoff spot for one. And Bryce isn’t going to hit 81 homers and drive in 207 runs. So Rendon, Zim, and Werth need to hit better than they have so far. Last year showed that Bryce can carry the team on his back only so far.
But yes, he can carry it pretty far:
.@Nationals trailed by one in the 9th.@Bharper3407 came up to pinch-hit …https://t.co/EtcVjcjduU
— MLB (@MLB) April 24, 2016
Speaking of Bryce, it seems like good idea to start a new tradition for these posts and memorialize his work at the plate as well as the team’s during each 18 game stretch.
A few items of note. He has as many HRs as Ks. He has more BBs than Ks. He still hasn’t grounded into a DP, and he already has 3 SBs. (27 for the season anyone?). As for his slashline —
Anyway, back to the Nats. We all know that a great start doesn’t guarantee a playoff berth. They can’t rest on their laurels. But it’s also true that they don’t have to be world beaters the rest of the way to have a very good season. Even if we play .500 baseball (72-72) from here on in, we’d end up with 86 wins. That’s not good enough to win the division or, perhaps, even to make the playoffs. But it’s three more wins that we had last year.
And if we average 10-8 in each of the next eight 18 game sets? That’s 94 wins and an NL East crown. We’d take that for sure, right?