It’s May 2, and the Nationals have beaten the Giants for the second time in three games to get the month off to a good start. May will not be an easy month, starting with the world champion San Francisco ball club and continuing with a grueling NL East road trip to Philadelphia, Florida and Atlanta. After a short five-game home stand, the Nats hit the road again.
And all of this without Ryan Zimmerman.
The news of his impending surgery and loss for at least six weeks is sobering indeed. Third base will be a committee of Jerry Hairston, Alex Cora, Brian Bixler and possibly Michael Morse if Laynce Nix’s bat continues to boom and Jim Riggleman has to get him in the lineup. Plus, if Adam LaRoche, the notoriously slow starter that he is, doesn’t heat up soon, the Nats manager will have to consider Nix for cleanup like he did Sunday against the Giants.
LaRoche’s defense has been spectacular at first base, and many of us in the press box and broadcast booths have him saving at least a dozen and maybe closer to twenty errors or opponent hits so far. He has to be in there, but it may not be in the No. 4 hole to produce runs and protect Jayson Werth.
April featured the Nats facing Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson and Josh Johnson in the first week, then winning a series at New York in the second. When they came back home, they ran into Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, then swept Milwaukee. A rain-plagued road trip to St. Louis and Pittsburgh produced four losses in six games, then a series loss to the Mets at home. But, Washington will gain at least a split with the Giants and have a chance to head for Philly with momentum.
I will remember April for several things; a new broadcast partner in F.P. Santangelo, who has worked very hard to get to know our team quickly; the emergence of Wilson Ramos, who got my vote for NL Rookie of the Month; and, first and foremost, the Nats’ surprising and impressive pitching.
The staff set a franchise record for April with a 3.58 ERA, 8th-best in the National League, and were in the top two in the league in fewest home runs given up and fewest walks. Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis each won three games, and Marquis’ five-hit shutout of San Francisco on April 29 was the highlight of the month.
The defense, while still making errors, is obviously better, and Ian Desmond has played well as a new Dad after some unnerving times before the birth of little Grayson. Pudge has been spectacular behind the plate and his first 10 hits of the season produced 10 RBIs.
The offense? Here’s the big question regarding this team for the next month and a half without Zimmerman, a clutch hitter throughout his first five full years in the big leagues. Who will step up and get hot? It needs to be several guys, and if the pitching keeps doing what it has been, May could be a nice month for our Nationals.
With all these road games in the windshield, this team needs to be hitting on all cylinders ... and very, very soon!