There are so many numbers wrapped up in today’s outcome of the 19th and final meeting between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies this season. If the Nationals are fortunate enough to win their 90th game today, they would simultaneously push the Phillies below the .500 mark, and the Nats would notch the 48th time since 1961 that a team swept a 5-game series (h/t Steve Robison) which is a rare feat in the salaried controlled era of baseball as there have only been 5 five-game since 2015 and only one sweep so these are rare indeed.
The guy who was deemed irreplaceable a year ago by many in the media was replaced, and after the Nats were putting up an average of 5.3 runs per game compared to 4.8 last year along with the best outfield defense the Nats have ever had — Nats fans were able to move on (sort of) from Bryce Harper. Another factoid, that no matter how this game ends, the Nats will either finish their season record with the Phillies at a level of domination of either 14-5 or 13-6, and all of those taunts from the Phillies fans and their media about the wrath of Harper after a resounding 8-2 win by the Phillies on April 2nd in their first head-to-head game turned out to be nothing more than an outlier in the season series.
At the season ticket holders annual pre-Spring Training “Hot Stove” Q&A, General Manager Mike Rizzo spoke in-depth for the first time that he builds teams on paper to be a 90-win team going into Spring Training is a goal. As I wrote on February 1st,
“Sometimes you win over 90 and sometimes it is below 90 because in real baseball — stuff happens — good and not so good. Projections do not get you division crowns or World Series rings because in “real life” you have to play the games. Projections are like virtual reality, and MLB The Show™ 19 with all of their teases of Bryce Harper‘s future cannot predict the future. Mike Rizzo knows that paper wins only count when the game is over, and 90-wins only count when the standings in September actually read 90-wins.”
Well, here we are at the doorstep of 90-wins.
“And 90-wins is always a goal of mine to have a 90-win team on paper going into Spring Training,” Mike Rizzo said at the Hot Stove Q&A. “We believe we have that this year. We have had a lot of changes, and I think we signed nine new players on our twenty-five man roster…We really added to what I think and Davey thinks makes a championship organization tick. Pitching. Defense. Athleticism. Speed. I think we improved in all four of those aspects. It’s a big part of our identity as far as trying to develop a championship caliber club. Our scouting staff is as good as it has ever been. Our analytical staff and department is bigger and better and brighter than it’s ever been. We’re in a good spot. This so-called window is going to remain open for many more years.”
“When the off-season is done and Spring Training starts, we want to think that we have a 90-win type of team on paper. Games aren’t played on paper. I get that. I heard that, and I agree with it. My job is to create a roster analytically, and in the eye of the scouts and with the coaching staff has a chance to win 90-games, and 90-games sometimes — some years means 85, sometimes 82, sometimes means 95 or 98. So depending on luck — happenstance, injuries, health, all that stuff it varies. My job is to put together a 90-win team on paper that can compete in the National League East, and in the National League, and I think we accomplished that this year.”
Everything Rizzo said at that Hot Stove gathering was spot on. Back to reality, the Nationals have a game today, and this will be the last tune-up for Stephen Strasburg before the postseason begins. Will manager Dave Martinez push on Stras or ease back on him because exactly five days from now is the NL Wild Card game.
The Phillies are throwing another lefty today in Jason Vargas who they acquired in a trade with the Mets back in July. Vargas has pitched to a 4.40 ERA this season, and the 36-year-old was a 2004 draft pick of the Florida Marlins. In his splits, Vargas is worse in day games at a 5.13 ERA and 4.82 on the road. Lefties actually hit him better in reverse splits at a .258 batting average.
For the Nationals, expect many changes in the lineup as Davey Martinez continues to try to rest players. Yesterday, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon got the day-off. Today, you can expect Michael Taylor to be in the outfield and Ryan Zimmerman to get a start at first base.
Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals
Stadium: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.
1st Pitch: 4:05 pm EDT
TV: MASN, NBC Sports Philadelphia, MLB.TV
Nats Radio: 106.7 FM The Fan; SiriusXM® ( Streaming Internet 869)
Line-up subject to change (without notice):