One obvious key will be the Nationals’ starting rotation continuing to hold their own and defy the dire conventional wisdom that it would doom the rest of the team. For all nine games, the Nationals’ starter has at least kept them competitive – the day they lost, 11-2, Jordan Zimmermann left with the score 3-1. As a group, the rotation has a 4.29 ERA, which ranks 17th in the majors. Given the strength of their bullpen, that’s all the Nationals are really asking for.

Last season, Werth and Zimmerman tied for seventh in the National League with dueling .388 on-base percentages. Michael Morse had a .352 on-base percentage in 2010. Every other current Nationals regular had an on-base percentage lower than .324, the NL average, last year. Somehow, the Nationals are going to have make up for all the times Zimmerman gets on base at the top of the lineup.

Danny Espinosa had a .365 on-base percentage in two-plus minor league seasons, and he’s got an early .408 OBP this year. Maybe it’s time to see if he’s ready to hit second. The other options, seemingly, would be Jerry Hairston and Rick Ankiel, who last season had OBPs of .299 and .321, respectively.

The Nationals have no hope of really replacing Zimmerman, either his Gold Glove defense at third base or his slugging in the heart of their offense. He is one of the 10 best players in the National League. But it’s possible for them to stay afloat without, to at least provide him a chance to create a real impact on the season once he comes back. The Nationals will play about 20 games without Zimmerman. They would probably take 9-11.


Jayson Werth will face the Phillies for the first time tonight, and he is adamant about closing the gap between them and the Nationals.


Lehigh Valley 4, Syracuse 3: Craig Stammen allowed one run on three hits and a walk in five innings, striking out three. Collin Balester allowed no runs in two innings on two hits and a walk, striking out three. Balester has yet to allow an earned run in five innings. Chris Marrero went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk. Also, Cole Kimball was named the International League pitcher of the week, having allowed no runs in 3 1/3 innings with three strikeouts, one walk and two saves.

Harrisburg was suspended in the first inning against New Britain. But in the brief time they played, top catching prospect Derek Norris left the game with an apparent injury.

Winston-Salem 7, Potomac 5: Destin Hood went 2 for 3 with a walk and two doubles. Sandy Leon went 2 for 4. Rick Hague went 1 for 4 with a home run. Eury Perez went 0 for 5 but stole his fifth base of the year. Marcos Frias allowed one run in six innings on four hits and a walk, striking out two.

Hagerstown was postponed at Lexington.