Joe Drugan: Be wary of April standings

The Nationals are off to the best start since their arrival in D.C., and there is a lot to be excited about, including one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and a team full of young talent. If you look at the standings this morning, it's easy to get even more elated to see the Nats in first place. Before you do get too amped about it, there are just a few things you should consider.

* Today is April 17. The Nationals have just finished their 11th game of the season, which means they have 151 to go, and a lot can happen through the dog days of summer - or the spring days of May, for that matter. Players get hurt, aces get shut down at an innings limit, teams streak and slump.

* The Nationals' pitching staff has been so good, it's almost impossible to believe. With a team 1.99 ERA and a WHIP around 1.00, this will be the driving factor if the Nats are going to succeed this season. We can expect Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann to continue to put together impressive starts, day in and day out, but eventually the bullpen will blow some games, and someone crucial will likely get hurt and spend some time out of the lineup. The bullpen has done a remarkable job covering in Drew Storen's absence until now.

* Perhaps the most important thing to remember: It doesn't matter what place the Nats are in today, it's where they are Oct. 3 that matters. First place in the National League East at any point in the season is impressive when you look at the dominant lineups and pitching staffs in this division, but you can't put too much thought into it. After all, the Mets are right behind the Nats in the East, and everyone has them finishing dead last this year. The Orioles are near the top of the American League East, and the Mariners and the Athletics are ahead of the Angels in the AL West. No one expects these things to be true a few months from now.

The Nationals are a bit different than the teams that are currently exceeding expectations in one way: People actually expected the Nats to be good. Not everyone, mind you, but some people predicted that the 2012 Nats would finish in the top two spots in the NL East. The way they've played since opening day certainly gives fans a reason to be encouraged.

The goal of pointing these things out isn't to be pessimistic. There is a lot to look forward to with this Nationals team. It's just about being realistic. For example, Ian Desmond isn't going to hit .346 this season, just like Jayson Werth can't possibly hit .341. At the same time, Ryan Zimmerman will hit much better than the .209 that he's hitting now. Baseball is unique in a way that no other sport is. The brutality of a 162-game season creates opportunities for both good streaks and bad ones, and the Nationals are in the middle of a pretty good one right now, winning six of their last seven.

Just remember, when it goes the other way, it's not the end of the world. It's just baseball.

Joe Drugan blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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