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Playoff Reset: Dodgers vs. Nationals NLDS Game 1

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The Game: Los Angeles Dodgers @ Washington Nationals, NLDS Game 1
The Time: 5:30 PM EDT
The Place: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.
The Channel: FS1
The Starters: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) vs. Max Scherzer (Nationals)

The Upshot:

  • Max Scherzer (20-7,  2.96 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw ( 12-4, 1.69 ERA)? Yes please. One of the top Cy Young candidates for 2016 and the league leader in strikeouts facing off against the best pitcher on the planet is my kind of party. Kershaw is 10-2 with a 2.02 ERA in 14 games against Washington in his career and faced them once this season, allowing one run on seven innings in June. A couple of Nats — Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman — hit Kershaw pretty well. Most others don’t. Scherzer has faced Los Angeles ten times in his career, but not even once this season.
  • After the aces, things get a lot more uncertain for each team. Dusty Baker has been cagey about his rotation, but will probably go with Tanner Roark in Game 2 and then Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross. Although if their backs are up against the wall, Baker may call on Scherzer on short rest for a Game 4. The loss of Stephen Strasburg is looming large. For L.A., Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda are named for Games 2 and 3. Game 4, if necessary, would feature either Julio Urias or a short-rest Kershaw, again, depending on the state of the world.
  • Health is definitely an issue for Washington. I just mentioned Strasburg. Wilson Ramos, the catcher on whose offense the Nats so greatly depended for much of the season, is out for the duration with a torn knee ligament. 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper is in the lineup but has fought all manner of ailments this season and has not been himself at the plate. Infielder Daniel Murphy, who just missed snagging the batting title after hitting .347 this year, has missed the past couple of weeks with a strained glute, but he took BP and ran a bit yesterday and is expected to play.
  • There are a lot of familiar faces on these two teams, from Kershaw to Scherzer, Adrian Gonzalez to Jayson Werth, Yasiel Puig to Bryce Harper and so on. But one person you may not know unless you watched a lot of Nats games this year is a rookie, Trea Turner, who may have a bigger impact than anyone in either lineup. Turner, the Nats’ center fielder and leadoff hitter, hit .342 with 13 homers and 33 steals in 39 attempts in 73 games after his midseason callup. The Nats are really going to want Turner to get on base and distract Kershaw as much as possible.
  • Both of these teams have playoff demons to exercise. The Dodgers have won the past four NL West titles, but could not get past the NLCS in 2013 and have been bounced from the NLDS each of the past two seasons. The Nationals, for their part, won NL East titles in 2012 and 2014 but failed to advance past the NLDS. One of these two teams has to win this series, right?

Like the two ALDS pairings, this one is a pretty even match. Today we’ll see two of the best pitchers in baseball go at it. After that things get a little more . . . uncertain.

Lou Whitaker snubbed from the Hall of Fame again

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Long time Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker has long been one of baseball history’s most underrated players. He and Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell formed one of the best up-the-middle combos ever, teammates since Whitaker’s debut in 1977 to his final year in 1995.

Trammell is actually a great jumping-off point to support Whitaker’s candidacy. Here are their career counting stats:

  • Whitaker: .276/.363/.426, 420 doubles, 65 triples, 244 homers, 1084 RBI, 1386 runs, 143 stolen bases, 1197 walks (9967 plate appearances)
  • Trammell: .285/.352/.415, 415 doubles, 55 triples, 185 homers, 1003 RBI, 1231 runs, 236 stolen bases, 850 walks (9376 plate appearances)

Whitaker also had slightly more Wins Above Replacement over his career according to Baseball Reference, besting Trammell 75.1 to 70.7. FanGraphs’ version of WAR puts both players slightly lower but with Whitaker still in the lead, 68.1 to 63.7.

Trammell, like Whitaker, did not make the Hall of Fame through initial eligibility on the ballot voted on by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, beginning five years after their retirement. Trammell was elected two years ago on the Modern Era ballot. Whitaker fell off the ballot in his only year of eligibility, earning just 2.9 percent of the vote in 2001. Whitaker was again snubbed on Sunday night, receiving just six of the 12 votes necessary for induction. Trammell became eligible on the BBWAA ballot in 2002 and had a 15-year run, with his support running as far down as 13.4 percent in 2007 and peaking at 40.9 percent in his final year in 2016.

Trammell and Whitaker critics cited things like never leading the league in any important categories and never winning an MVP Award as reasons why they shouldn’t be enshrined. That last reason, of course, ignores that both contributed to the Tigers winning the World Series in 1984, but I digress.

Trammell should have been elected to the Hall of Fame on the BBWAA ballot. And, since the distinction matters to so many people, he should have been inducted on the first ballot. Among Hall of Fame shortstops (at least 50 percent of their games at the position), Trammell has the eighth-highest WAR among 21 eligible players. He has ever so slightly more WAR than Barry Larkin (70.4), who made it into the Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility with 86.4 percent of the vote.

Now, what about Whitaker? Among Hall of Fame second basemen (at least 50 percent of games at the position), Whitaker’s 75.1 WAR would rank sixth among 20 eligible second basemen. The only second basemen ahead of him are Rogers Hornsby (127.0), Eddie Collins (124.0), Nap Lajoie (107.4), Joe Morgan (100.6), and Charlie Gehringer (80.7). Whitaker outpaces such legendaries as Ryne Sandberg (68.0), Roberto Alomar (67.1), and Craig Biggio (65.5). Sandberg made it into the Hall in his third year on the ballot; Alomar his second; Biggio his third.

Among the players on the 2001 BBWAA ballot, the only player with more career WAR than Whitaker was Bert Blyleven (94.4), who eventually made it into the Hall of Fame. Dave Winfield (64.2) and Kirby Puckett (51.1) were elected that year. Also receiving hefty support that year were Gary Carter (70.1 WAR), Jim Rice (47.7), Bruce Sutter (24.1), and Goose Gossage (41.2) and each would eventually make the Hall of Fame.

WAR is not, by any means, a perfect stat, so the WAR argument may not resonate with everyone. Dating back to 1871, there have been only 66 players who hit at least 400 doubles and 200 home runs while stealing 100 bases. The only second basemen (same 50 percent stipulation) to do that are Whitaker, Hornsby, Morgan, Sandberg, Alomar, Biggio, Chase Utley, and Ian Kinsler. Additionally, Whitaker drew more walks than strikeouts over his career, 1197 to 1099. The only second basemen to do that while hitting at least 200 career homers are Whitaker, Morgan, Hornsby, Bobby Doerr, and Joe Gordon.

Whitaker was not without accolades: he won the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year Award. He was a five-time All-Star and took home four Silver Sluggers along with three Gold Gloves to boot. Trammell took home a similar amount of hardware: though he never won a Rookie of the Year Award, he did make the All-Star team six times. He went on to win four Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers.

In a just world, Whitaker would have been on the ballot for the then-maximum 15 years. In a sentimentally just world, he would have gone in side-by-side with Trammell in 2002. Whitaker’s candidacy certainly shouldn’t have fallen to the Modern Era ballot, and it shouldn’t have been further fumbled by a committee that gave him as many votes as Steve Garvey.