Two games into the 2020 season, we may have already seen the worst of the Washington Nationals, but on a 1-1 ballclub, it stands to reason that we haven’t seen the best yet.
Start with the good in Saturday night’s 9-2 win over the New York Yankees. The first glimpse of the Nats’ extended bullpen was more than encouraging. Ryne Harper led a sharp relief effort that kept the Yankees at bay after the team spotted last-minute starter Erick Fedde leads of 3-1 after three innings and 3-2 after four.
Fedde actually pitched well enough to earn the win, allowing only one earned run and four hits in his four innings. But after striking out DJ LeMaiheu with the bases loaded to end the top of the fourth, he was done.
Had Fedde not expended the energy needed to get the extra outs required by four Nats’ errors, he might have pitched into the fifth and even earned a “quality start.”
Instead, Tanner Rainey, who was part of manager Davey Martinez’ circle of trust last season, earned it early this season, allowing only a walk in a scoreless inning. Harper was brilliant in his Nats debut, striking out Aaron Judge and Glyber Torres with a man on to end a Yankee threat in the seventh.
Any win with scoreless innings from James Bourque and Kyle Finnegan is a good win.
It’s also good that Victor Robles seems to be playing at full health after injuries limited his postseason run. Robles was hitting the ball all over the field on a four-RBI night. If he can move up in the order and keep hitting, he’ll do a lot to shore up the offense that had only one hit in the season opener.
Defense was not considered a liability in the Nats’ World Series championship season, but the five total errors last night do raise some concerns. We can probably blame a lack of preseason training, for those and the Yankees’ two miscues, plus Judge’s misplay on Asdrúbal Cabrera’s sixth-inning line drive. But in a year that could be trending toward video-game stats, giving away extra outs will cost even more than in a typical regular-season game. Looser defense could be cause for further concern, especially if the pitching staff turns out to be especially stingy.
We haven’t even seen Juan Soto bat yet, nor has World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg thrown a regular-season pitch in 2020.
It was obvious going into this season that it would be unlike any other, but now we’re seeing even more variables in the unpredictability. For now, let’s not take for granted the team’s strengths, like starting pitching, while we remain hopeful about the extra goodies we’ve glimpsed, like a surprisingly resilient bullpen and a productive lower batting order.