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Posted at 08:29 AM ET, 03/23/2011

Nationals’ schedule presents an early test


The Nationals are off today, and tomorrow they’ll return to the field just one week away from opening day. They still have to finalize their rotation, decide on the composition of a bullpen that has less clarity now than at the outset of spring and choose a center fielder. The certainty is that, once the season begins, the Nationals will be tested immediately.

Eighteen of the Nationals’ first 36 games come against teams that had winning records in 2010, 15 of those against 2010 playoff teams. That doesn’t count a three-game series in mid-April with the Brewers, the team that improved perhaps more than any other this offseason. (Then again, Zack Greinke could still be on the shelf at that point with his rib injury.) It also doesn’t count six games with the Marlins, against whom the Nationals are14-39 over the past three seasons. The Nationals play six of their first 30 games against the Phillies and their hellacious starting rotation.

It’s not all so grueling. The Nationals get to play nine of their first 24 games against the Pirates and Mets. But the other 27 games out of their first 36 will be against difficult opponents.

The start to the Nationals’ season could be crucial in regard to the security of Manager Jim Riggleman, who is managing in the final guaranteed year of his contract. General Manager Mike Rizzo has expressed confidence in Riggleman, but he has not exercised Riggleman’s 2012 option. A bad start, in any sport, for any manager or coach working without a contract beyond the current season, will arouse uncomfortable speculation whether it’s warranted or not. A good start could help convince Rizzo he should address his manager’s uncertain situation.

The Nationals can avoid those issues a strong start. Against their schedule, it won’t be easy.

FROM THE POST

Zack Greinke considered playing for the Nationals after meeting with Ted Lerner this winter and hasn’t ruled out signing with them as a free agent, Sheinin writes.

Boz says the Nats will police themselves in the clubhouse this season.

By  |  08:29 AM ET, 03/23/2011

 
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