The Nationals started this season on the road, without their closer or their cleanup hitter, and they will still come home with a 4-2 record, both losses having come by one run. In the big picture, even if their offense hasn’t made it easy, it’s hard to quibble with that start.
This afternoon, the Nationals will open Nationals Park against the Cincinnati Reds, their first two series inviting cheerful questions. Can they hold on to first place for just 156 more games? Has a pitcher ever won the Cy Young on a 160-inning limit? Was 1951 really the last time the Nationals started 4-2? Will Teddy win?
It helped that the Nationals opened with the Cubs and Mets, two teams expected to find their way to the bottom of the standings. But for the Nationals taking two series on the road is no small thing. They have gone 64-98 on the road and 85-76 at home over the past two seasons.
“We’ve had a history in the past of not being a good team on the road,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “We’re certainly capable of winning on the road. That’s the mindset. I’m glad we’re opening on the road, so we can show and let everybody know we can win on the road.”
Keeping in mind we only have six games to study, promising signs have sprung from all over. Ian Desmond has had as good of a start as you could have hoped for, reaching base in 12 of 29 plate appearances and playing flawless, often excellent, shortstop. Their five bench players have gone 11 for 35. The Nationals have been the most patient team in the National League this season, having taken 4.04 pitches per plate appearance. Their team .346 on-base percentage ranks second. While the sample isn’t big enough to draw conclusions, that’s a promising start for a team that has struggled in those areas.
The Nationals still haven’t made it look pretty so far. Their offense has shown signs of life, but yesterday the Nationals culled four runs from 10 walks and nine hits, going 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position and leaving 14 men on base. They squandered a bases-loaded, no-out chance in the sixth, coming away with no runs after Xavier Nady hit a line drive to the second baseman and Mark DeRosa bolted for third rather than freezing.
“Myself included, we just need to relax,” DeRosa said. “Just get the guy in from third. I think sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to knock everybody in instead of just concentrating on passing the baton.”
Said Desmond: “That one was kind of bittersweet. Being a little colder, I think we were just flatter. It wasn’t really great playing conditions. But yeah, we did leave some base runners out there. You’re happy because we won, but at the same time you’re kind of upset that we could have walked away with a blowout.”
Instead, they just walked away with a win, and more reason to hope as they open their own ballpark.
FROM THE POST
Stephen Strasburg surpassed 100 pitches for the first time as a pro in a 4-0 win over the Mets.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Lehigh Valley 7, Syracuse 6: Bryce Harper went 1 for 5 with a triple and struck out twice with two men on and two outs. Corey Brown went 4 for 5 with a double. Tyler Moore went 2 for 3 with a home run and two walks. Jhonatan Solano went 3 for 5.
Harrisburg 8, New Britain 4: Destin Hood went 2 for 4 with a triple, a double and four RBI. Jose Lozada went 3 for 4. Paul Demny allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings on five hits and five walks, striking out one.
Potomac 6, Myrtle Beach 3: Michael Taylor went 0 for 3 with two walks. David Freitas went 3 for 4 with a walk. Justin Bloxom went 2 for 4 with a double.
Lexington 3, Hagerstown 0: Rick Ankiel went 1 for 1 with a walk. Brian Dupra allowed one earned run on five hits and no walks, striking out three.