Opening weekend for the Nationals had some pleasant surprises and should inspire more hope for this team than in recent years, even after the 11-2 drubbing at the hands of the Braves on Sunday.

Spring training felt longer than usual this year. As with any team, dreams of a winning season are most vivid at the end of February when everybody has a chance. Despite their spring training winning record, the Nats made some moves that were questionable for a team trying to get more athletic and give their young prospects a chance. It seemed everyone except Jim Riggleman and Mike Rizzo preferred the Nats keep anyone else besides Matt Stairs and Laynce Nix on the 25-man roster.

Those moves notwithstanding, there were some general trends from opening weekend that showed the Nationals might be a better team this year than last. It’s always difficult to tell anything from just three games (and probably unwise, too), but I saw a much more patient and better defensive team than the Nationals of last year.

Overall, these Nationals hitters really work the opposing pitcher. I love that Jayson Werth says that he enjoys working long counts to get the opposing starting pitcher to run up his pitch count and exit the game early. For the most part, the other Nationals hitters do the same thing. Zimmerman, LaRoche, and Morse all worked multiple full counts. Now, a little bit of that needs to rub off on some of the younger Nationals hitters. It’s vital that Ian Desmond works the opposing pitcher into longer counts as the leadoff hitter and he didn’t always do it this first weekend in April. Espinosa seemed to hack even more than Desmond.

The good thing is that Espinosa really made up for it with his defense this weekend. He seemed to snag everything on the right side of the infield. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’ll be a huge upgrade at second base over Cristian Guzman, even though it’s only been one series.

Putting Werth second in the batting order is a good move for now. He always seems to get on base. Also, his work on the base paths was really one of the only positives from a sloppy game Sunday.

It’s unfortunate that a bullpen blowup had to ruin otherwise good feelings about how competitive this team will be in the National League. Luckily, if Doug Slaten continues to post a 12 WHIP and Brian Broderick isn’t able to compete, there are guys like Collin Balester waiting in the wings to get the bullpen back to where it was last year.

Speaking of pitching, wasn’t it nice to see the starters hold their own.

We’ll get an early reading on where these Nationals stand in the NL East with their next two series on the road against the Marlins and the Mets. The Marlins owned the Nationals last season, so a series victory would be huge. If they continue to do the little things right, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.