Notes on Will Harris and proposed new division alignment

In a possible three-division realignment for an abbreviated and rescheduled 2020 campaign due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Nationals would be placed in the East alongside the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Blue Jays, Rays and Marlins.

Breaking down the teams in this potential division for 2020, the Yankees and Rays made the postseason last year. The Nats, Yankees, Rays, Red Sox and Mets all had winning records. The East division would include every member of the American League East and four members of the National League East.

Against these teams last year, the Nats went 60-37 (.619), 44-32 (.579) versus the NL East, 2-2 against the Orioles and 4-3 against the Pirates.

The Nats last played the Red Sox (0-3), the Yankees (2-2), the Rays (2-2) and Blue Jays (0-3) in 2018. The Nats went 9-11 in interleague games in 2018 and 14-6 against the AL last season.

nats park flag.jpgIf MLB starts the season in late June, it might be beneficial for the Nats, who went 56-29 (.659) after June 23 last season on their way to a playoff berth and World Series championship.

In a 99-game schedule, the Nats would play each team 11 times, which would be three separate series, possibly set up so two of those series would include a doubleheader or just go to a four-game series. If they add just one game to that scenario, then you could have an even 50 games at home and play one opponent 12 times.

* The 2020 Nats bullpen includes the addition of right-hander Will Harris, who posted a career-best 1.50 ERA in 2019, with a 4-1 record, four saves and a 0.93 WHIP. Harris helped the Astros to the AL West title, 10 games better than the Oakland A's. The right-hander allowed more than one earned run only two times in 68 appearances. Harris allowed at least one earned run just eight times.

Of course, he allowed one run in each of his last two appearances in the World Series against the Nats, but whitewashed opponents 10 straight times in the postseason prior to Games 6 and 7.

The former Astros hurler had splits that were pretty even for batting average against: .183 versus right-handed batters and .207 against left-handed batters. His strikeout-to-walk radio was a whopping 11.33 against left-handed batters. Amazingly, he allowed only one regular season homer at Minute Maid Park before Howie Kendrick's heroic foul pole-clanging blast in the World Series.

Pairing Harris with Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle allows the Nats to need only six innings out of their starters. The Nats got off to a horrendous start last season, thanks in part to a bullpen that regularly gave up leads. Harris was particularly good as the season wore on last year, posting a 1.30 ERA in the second half of 2019. In high-leverage situations, opponents batted just .229 with only two extra-base hits in 75 plate appearances. He made 48 appearances in the seventh or eighth innings, 31 coming in the seventh. He had a 1.81 ERA in innings seven through nine and opponents hit just .178 against him with runners in scoring position.

The addition of Harris, plus the potential for a truncated season, might also allow manager Davey Martinez the opportunity to not have to push his starters too long in games. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin pitched a ton in the postseason last season. Having Harris around should lessen that burden for another run at a postseason berth in 2020.

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