Thursday night at Nationals Park, the Nats will conclude their series against the Pirates and then move on to the grueling, extended portion of their schedule. Starting Friday, when the first-place Orioles come down I-95, the Nationals will face nothing but heavyweights from then until late June.
This is what a beast of a schedule looks like, all in three-game series chunks: home against the Orioles; at the Phillies; at the Braves; at the Marlins; home against the Braves; home against the Mets; at the Red Sox; at the Blue Jays; home against the Yankees; home against the Rays; at the Orioles.
All of those teams except the Phillies (19-19) and Red Sox (17-20) currently have winning records. Those two both have positive run differentials, and they have as much talent, on paper, as any team in baseball that does not call Arlington, Texas home. Over those 33 games, the Nationals will face teams with an average .564 winning percentage, which equals a 91-win pace.
The stretch will also start to shake out where the Nationals stand in their division. After their weekend series against the Orioles, the Nats will play 15 consecutive games against the National League East, which is becoming a tough, bunched division. Only 4.5 games separate the first-place Nationals from the last-place Phillies. It is the only division in baseball without a sub-.500 team.
“I think it’s going to be a dogfight,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to it. I think we match up pretty good against the ball clubs in our division. We’re a lot different ball club than we were last year. But it’s going to be fun.”