The Nationals’ 19 games against the Mets this season, the first of which comes tonight in New York, were envisioned as 19 chances to show their superiority. That will not be the case tonight. The baseball world will turn its gaze to Citi Field for the most enthralling pitching matchup in baseball: Stephen Strasburg vs. Matt Harvey.
You know all about Strasburg. Harvey, drafted seventh overall in 2010, is the 24-year-old rookie flamethrower with a 0.82 ERA and the same pitching DNA as Strasburg. This season, Harvey has thrown his fastball at an average speed of 94.2 mph, third in the majors. The leader: Strasburg, at 95.7 mph.
Including 10 starts last year, Harvey has 95 strikeouts in the first 81 1/3 innings of his career. Only two active starters can match Harvey’s career 10.51 strikeouts per nine innings: Yu Darvish and, of course, Strasburg.
“I’m glad they got another good young pitcher coming on that’s showing a lot of promise,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “That’s good for New York and good for baseball.”
For years to come, Harvey-Strasburg will provide thrills in the National League East, especially if the Mets’ other top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler, has as much success once he joins Harvey in Queens. For tonight, it will also provide a challenge for a Nationals team that righted itself with a series win in Miami.
There seems to be an awful lot of discussion about how much to worry about the Nationals for a team that stands tied for the third-best record in the National League. The Nationals moved to 9-6 after their series win in Miami, which puts them on pace for 97 wins. But when expectations are cranked to a World Series or Bust level and the Braves start 13-2, external anxiety mounts.
The concern, in some regards, is justified. Areas in clear need of improvement, like the bullpen’s performance, Dan Haren’s rocky start and Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing, surfaced. The two quality opponents they’ve played, the Reds and Braves, beat them five times in six games, including 15-0 and 9-0 boat races. Those losses in early showdowns stick in the mind.
However, do not overlook what has gone right – notably Bryce Harper’s fast start, Ross Detwiler’s emergence, Jordan Zimmermann’s excellence and Kurt Suzuki’s contributions – and the importance of beating up on bad teams. Games between contenders are more exciting and more fun to deconstruct, but playoff teams build their records on the backs of the hapless.
Last year, the Giants went only 44-42 against opponents with winning records. But they won the NL West because they went 50-26 against teams that finished below .500, and once in the playoffs they won the World Series. It’s important to compete with the best teams, but it’s necessary to dominate the bad ones.
The Nationals, with an 8-1 record against the Marlins and White Sox, are doing that so far. The Cardinals and Reds will come to Washington next week, ending a difficult April schedule and giving the Nationals another chance to score a win against a top-shelf opponent. By then, we will have a little clearer idea about how much to worry, but still a full five months of the season to go.
FROM TODAY’S POST
Boz’s guide of what should and shouldn’t worry you from the first 15 games.
The Nationals are in full support of Ryan Zimmerman, but opinion around the league as to the severity of his throwing issues varies.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Buffalo 27, Syracuse 9: The Chiefs held the Bison to three touchdowns and two field goals. Tanner Roark allowed 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings on 12 hits and a walk, striking out two. Patrick McCoy allowed nine runs, four earned, in 2/3 of a relief inning on seven hits and a walk. Chris Marrero went 3 for 5 with a home run. Micah Owings went 3 for 4 with a triple. The pitcher-turned-outfielder is hitting .333.
Harrisburg 5, Altoona 4: Brian Goodwin went 2 for 5 with a triple. Anthony Rendon went 0 for 3 with two walks. Caleb Clay allowed one run in six innings on three hits and no walks, striking out five.
Frederick 9, Potomac 8 (12 innings): A.J. Cole allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings on four hits and two walks, striking out four. Jason Martinson went 2 for 6 with a double and a home run. Michael Taylor went 2 for 5 with a double. Billy Burns went 2 for 4.
West Virginia 7, Hagerstown 4: Mike McQuillan went 2 for 2 with two walks. Ronald Pena allowed one earned run in 4 1/3 innings on four hits and three walks, striking out three.