It’s time to stop talking about it and let the games speak for themselves. This offseason left the Nats fans with a lot of questions. Was Bryce hurt or can he repeat his MVP year? Was Murphy held out of the World Baseball Classic lineup because he was injured? Is Adam Eaton worth two top prospects? Can the bullpen compete without a closer? Will F.P. Santangelo turn off more viewers with more insulting comments? In just a small sample size of 6 games it feels like we got the answers to all those questions and more.
The Nationals went 3-3 on opening week and that record is telling. Half wins / half loses: some things went right and some things went wrong. It should be noted that the competition was less than stellar as the Nats faced bottom dwellers in the NL East. Two of our concerns were relieved as Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy combined for 3 home runs and 9 RBIs. Bryce’s slump last year did not continue and we can only hope that he isn’t developing as just a great April hitter. Murphy impressed by hitting safely 6 days in a row and getting 4 extra base hits. The world still thinks Murphy is a subpar fielder and Jim Leyland went with comfort players in the WBC rather than the NL MVP runner-up.
The Nats also got a few welcomed surprises with great batting and fielding from Zimmerman and Werth. The ageing vets lead the teams with a combined 15 strike outs, but also combine for 5 home runs and 12 RBI. Jayson Werth (who will be 38 in May) had a very Werth-like opening week. Washington has seen Werth in deep slumps and amazing streaks, like the franchise tying 46 games consecutive streak reaching base safely. When Werth signed in 2011 few might have thought that at the end of the contract (where he’s making $21 million a year) would he be anything more than an overpaid veteran. Werth has opened to a great season and at this point I can’t think of anyone else in the system I’d rather see in left field.
We might be able to say the Adam Eaton trade was worth the cost. If the theory is the team must go for the World Series in a small window of ageing players and expiring player control then I understand the trade more after Eaton’s first week numbers. In front of Harper, Eaton leads the team with 7 walks and 6 runs. I almost don’t want to see him steal when Harper and Murphy are hitting because their bats can move the runners around. It’s just refreshing to see someone on base when Harper and Murphy are hitting. Eaton could be the long-term leadoff hitter, not just because Turner is day-to-day. I’d rather see his experience in that spot right now rather than a Taylor or trying to force Werth up the lineup like they had to do last year. Remember last season when Daniel Murphy was the leadoff hitter by default?
The question that became a realized nightmare is the bullpen. The Nats pitchers have a 7.64 ERA when pitching in the 7th inning and later. If Eaton is considered an off-season success then the off-season blunder was spending $10.5 million on Wieters rather than bolstering the pen - especially since Lobaton still factors to get a lot of playing time this season. Despite a blown save and a shaky 9th on Friday Treinen looks to retain the closer position. He pitched 5 times in 7 days so the question becomes if he can handle the workload. Even when the Nats have a blowout the rest of the relievers need to complete the game without making it a save situation. Glover and Solis may be the stars the teams hopes they are, but neither player has made the team out of Spring Training until now and the learning curve might be tough when plotting them into high stress situation early in the season.
Game by game highlights
April 3 vs Marlins – Nats win 4-2 Lind saves the day and secures a win for Strasburg off the bench with a 7th inning Home Run
April 5 vs Marlins – Nats win 6-4 Zimmerman homers. Romero and Blanton make the game a save situation and Treinen comes in for his second straight game letting a run get by him.
April 6 vs Marlins – Nats lose 4-3 All 4 opposing runs come in the 8th 9th and 10th innings. Gonzales gets 7 strikeouts in 6 scoreless innings. Eaton, Werth, and Zimmerman homer. Treinen comes in the 9th inning with two outs and a runner on the bases. His first blown save.
April 7 at Philadelphia – Nats win 7-6 They blow a 7-0 lead and Mad Max didn’t want to come out in a tiring 7th. Treinen comes in again for the 4th straight game letting 2 runs score in a scary 9th.
April 8 at Philadelphia – Nats lose 17-3 In this throw away game as Guthrie couldn’t get out of the first and an already taxed bullpen gets charged for 7 runs over 8.1 innings.
April 9 at Philadelphia – Nats lose 4-3 Strasberg puts in 7 strong innings allowing 3 runs on 5 hits and getting 8 strikeouts. Zimmerman comes off the bench in the 9th to hit a game tying 3 run home run but Glover couldn’t shut the door and gets his first loss of the season.
Looking ahead: All games are at home this week against St. Louis and Philadelphia. It’s a warm week in Washington which is typically good for hitting. It’s too early to push the panic button but many pre-season pundits have said that the Nationals can’t make the playoff without fixing their bullpen situation. Those predictions get louder with every late game mistake. The Nats got a little cute with the roster leaving an extra bench player on (Michael A. Taylor) but never played him. If they stick with being cutesy Joe Ross could see his first start of the season on Friday but technically the roster would be on normal rest with the off day on Thursday. I’m not on board with a strict 5-man rotation this early in the season and I think Ross could use another tune-up start. Ross started in Syracuse where they can limit his pitch count and watch his shoulder recovery. He’s never pitched a full season and a couple weeks of limiting his pitches wouldn’t hurt.