That the Nationals sit at 16-18, still hovering around .500, with one of the league’s least productive offenses so far is incredible enough by itself. But they’ve actually been doing it – been hitting .224 with a .295 on-base percentage and still winning almost half the time – against what has probably been the toughest schedule in the majors to this point.
Of the Nationals first 34 games, they’ve only played nine against teams with a losing record. They’ve played the Phillies and the Marlins, the team with the best record in the majors and the second-best record in the National League, six times each*. They’ve gone 10-15 against the teams currently over .500, 6-3 against the ones under, about what you’d expect.
*Take out the Phillies’ 5-1 mark against the Nats, and they’re still 18-10.
A more nuanced way of looking at schedule strength puts the Nationals at the top of the majors. Baseball-Reference.com figures schedule strength by looking at how many runs per game, on average, a team’s opponents have outscored their opponents. The Nationals’ opponents have outscored opponents by half a run per game; the Angels and Brewers are second at 0.3.
It will not get any easier tonight for the Nationals, who open a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves and the hottest pitching staff in the majors. Since April 22, Braves’ starters are 9-1 with a 2.10 ERA, having struck out 86 batters and walked 20. The Braves have gone 12-4 in those games and have won seven of their past eight.
The Braves actually have the third-best run differential per game in the majors at 1.2. By Pythagorean winning percentage, which is based purely on runs scored and runs allowed, the Braves would have the best record in the National League, at 23-13. The difference between their Pythagorean record and actual 20-16 record represents the unluckiest in the league. (The Nationals have a 15-19 Pythagorean record, so they’ve been slightly lucky but mostly on the pace their run differential would precdict.)
Keeping in theme of their rough opening schedule, the Nationals tonight will Tim Hudson, whose dominance against the Nationals you are probably already well aware of. In 19 career starts, including this April when he allowed the Nats one run in seven innings in a win, Hudson is 11-2 with a 1.88 ERA against them. Basically, facing the Nationals turns Hudson into a the starter version of Mariano Rivera. He’s not exactly the elixir for the Nationals are looking for to break out of their slump.
Looking ahead to once the Nationals return home, their schedule doesn’t exactly let up. They play the Marlins three more times. They’ve hung tough against Florida this year, but that pitching staff does not scream, “slump buster.” And then the Nationals will face the Pirates for two games, which may not be as easy as it sounds – Pittsburgh is 18-17 this year.
The Nationals sit at 2-4 on their road trip, and a series victory at Atlanta would give them a 4-5 record, which would have to be viewed as a resounding success given how they started in Philadelphia and the quality of competition they faced. It won’t be easy against Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe, but these Nationals are used to a challenge by now. They deserve credit for staying afloat against a difficult schedule.
FROM THE POST
Still settling in with the Nationals, Jayson Werth is trying to simply things after “trying to do much” during the start to his Nationals tenure.
Jason Reid writes Mike Rizzo and the Nationals need to make progress on offense in order to achieve the balance necessary to win in the future.
A man named Bob Hudson saw his first ballgame at Griffith Stadium 75 years ago, and Dave Sheinin tells his story with his typically beautiful touch. Must-read.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 8, Norfolk 4: Brad Meyers allowed four runs in five innings and five hits and a walk, striking out five. Cole Kimball allowed one hit and struck out one in a scoreless inning. He has yet to allow a run in 12 1/3 innings. Tug Hulett went 2 for 2 with two doubles and two walks.
Harrisburg 3, Atltoona 2: Tim Pahuta went 2 for 3 with two home runs. Matt Chico, for some reason, went 1 for 1 as a pinch-hitter. Derek Norris went 0 for 2 with two walks. He’s hitting .137 but still has a .318 on-base percentage. Ryan Mattheus struck out one in a perfect inning and has allowed one run in 13 innings this year.
Winston-Salem 5, Potomac 3: Destin Hood went 2 for 4 with a double. Michael Lozada went 2 for 2 with a double, a triple and two walks.
Delmarva 3, Hagerstown 2: Robbie Ray gets top billing today over Bryce Harper. In his professionl debut, Ray took a no-hitter into the fifth. He allowed no runs in five innings on one hit and no walks, striking out six. Harper went 2 for 4, stretching his hitting streak to 13 games.