Each week, Bryan Lienesch puts together the MLB Power Rankings, and looking over the list, there were certainly a few things that required a bit of follow-up discussion. I got a chance this morning to discuss a few things with him, specifically regarding the Washington Nationals.
GuysNation Rob: When you come up with your Power Rankings, what are the top two factors you look at each week?
Bryan (@bclienesch): Well I think the top two factors have to be a team's record juxtaposed with their strength of schedule and how they've fared specifically since the last rankings
How about individual players? When someone is added to a team through a trade, or a batter goes into a slump or someone is sidelined by injury, is that taken into account?
Bryan (@bclienesch): Sure. These past rankings were especially difficult because the trade deadline has just occurred and we really don't have a large enough sample size to see how teams will respond. Injuries also are factored in but we've seen teams react differently to impact players hitting the DL. Washington shined with a pile of stars sidelined while the Dodgers seemed to struggle the second Matt Kemp went down.
Slumps don't weigh in so much as they're fairly hard to predict when they will begin and end.
Your strength of schedule factor seems to have weighed in considerably this week. I'm not sure of any other way you can justify the Yankees being ahead of the Nationals.
Bryan (@bclienesch): Yes, absolutely. New York and Washington are within just a couple games of one another but the Yankees have the toughest strength of schedule in the league. A part of that is from playing in the AL East, but that doesn't explain it all. If it did, Toronto and Boston would have tougher schedules because, of course, they have to play the Yankees regularly.
When the two play their division's worst teams, I think there is a striking difference between Toronto and Miami.
So it's an overall strength of schedule, then? Because when I'm seeing that the Yankees only took ONE win against the Orioles in New York last week, and lost a game to the lowly Mariners this past weekend, I'm not seeing a lot of strength there.
Bryan (@bclienesch): Yes. What you're referring to definitely factors in but every team goes through highs and lows. If we judged solely based on every two weeks, Cleveland would have easily been the worst team this week and I think it's fair to say that's just not true. For teams to really fall down in the rankings, especially when they've had as good a season as New York or Washington has had, you really need to see a consistent downturn in their play. People probably forget back in June the Yankees swept the Nationals IN D.C. Was that a statement? Absolutely. But that wasn't an accurate reflection of those two teams, either.
Safe to say that losing two of three to the Phillies is not as impressive as the Yankees doing the same against the Orioles, given that the Fightin' Phils are in the position people expected from Baltimore this year—ten games under .500 and not even sniffing the Wild Card?
Bryan (@bclienesch): That is true, and record in contrast to how they've done recently is an interesting debate. Baltimore is 6-4 in their last ten games and Philly is now 5-5. For Baltimore, that's sort of on par with their season so far whereas Philly, whose record you see is worse in the same span, has shown marked improvement in relation to their season so far.
Again, not all teams are created the same at the same time. Philadelphia and Miami are within a half game of one another and the Nationals lost two of three to one and took three of four from another. How do you explain that? The answer is you can't, really. All you can do is interpret results with an informed point of view.
The past two weeks have seen Tyler Clippard collect six saves for the Nationals. With Drew Storen coming back and getting a save last night, might that upset the balance at closer in Washington?
Bryan (@bclienesch): I think yesterday's ninth inning in Washington was a statement that Storen will be closer if he pitches the way he did last year. The fact is no matter who pitches the eighth and who pitches the ninth, it's a good problem for the Nats to have. With those two anchoring games, it essentially forces their opponents to play seven-inning ball games. That's a huge advantage heading towards the fall.
Over that same span, Strasburg had two great outings—13 innings, one earned run, but 17 strikeouts. He also had a drubbing at the hands of the Phillies where he let up six runs in four innings and allowed more than twice as many hits as he got strikeouts. Is that any reason for panic?
Bryan (@bclienesch): No, especially because any performances related to Strasburg are going to be moot in a couple of weeks. Going forward though, it's important to remember that this kid STILL hasn't played a full baseball season in his career. He's been so good that the fanbase is leaning on him to perform. But that doesn't change the fact that he's still receiving on-the-job training.
Aside from Saturday's performance, Jordan Zimmerman seems fairly consistent. He has gone six innings in each of the seven starts prior to that, and he allowed fewer than two earned runs in each of those. That type of player, mixed with what Gio Gonzalez is doing, should people be looking at this rotation as one of the top two best in baseball?
Bryan (@bclienesch): Absolutely. The Angels have the rotation with the big paychecks, but the Nationals have the rotation with the big results, and it's all about pitching depth. With Strasburg in there, Washington has not one but two full-fledged aces in him and Gio Gonzalez and Zimmermann, who has been sorely underrated his entire career, might be the best number 3 pitcher in baseball.
When I say pitching depth let's remind people of this: The Nationals have a guy with a pair of nineteen-win seasons working middle-inning relief out of the bullpen right now. It's really an embarrassment of riches.
Sean Burnett hasn't given up a run in 35 of his 42 appearances this season, Tom Gorzelanny hasn't given up a run in weeks... with the importance of pitching in the post season, dare we say it... are the Nationals the favorite to win the National League at this point?
Bryan (@bclienesch):It seems unfathomable, doesn't it? Could a sub-.500 team one year go to the World Series the next? The way I've been looking at it is give me the reasons they AREN'T the favorites. When you pose that question, nine times out of ten you'll hear crickets chirping. Like any team, they're prone to their slumps. But when they're on, they can consistently win games by scoring two or three runs. That's a tremendous amount of pressure for their opponents.
The MLB Power Rankings can be found each week on GuysNation.
A D.C. Native, Bryan Lienesch loves talking sports with people on Twitter (@bclienesch)