David Huzzard: For starters, Nats battling tougher early schedule in 2013

Through 14 games last season, the Nationals were 10-4 coming off an 11-4 loss to the Houston Astros in their 14th game of the season. It was a hot start - and an important one, as the Phillies were missing key pieces, the Marlins weren’t playing up to expectations and the Braves were missing Tim Hudson. The Nats’ hot start catapulted them into a division lead they would only relinquish once during the rest of the season.

It was an impressive start, but it came against the eventual 101-loss Cubs, 88-loss Mets, a Reds team that started out of the gate 11-11 in April and the 107-loss Astros. Through the first 14 games of 2012, the Nationals faced three of the bottom five teams in the National League and the slow-starting Reds.

Through 14 games in 2013, the Nationals are 8-6 coming off an 8-2 loss to the projected 100-loss Marlins. So far in 2013, the Nationals have played and swept those Marlins, dropped a series 2-1 against a Reds team that won 97 games in 2012, swept a White Sox team that went 88-74 in 2012, gotten swept by an unbelievably hot Braves team and are heading into the rubber match of their second series of the season against the Marlins.

The Nationals should handily win the season series against the Marlins, but even in the Nats’ worst season of 2009, they won three games against the division champion Phillies. The Nats were not going to go 19-0 against the Miami Marlins.

The Nats have looked out of sync to start the season, having run into several outs on the base paths, committed too many errors in the field, a bullpen with an ERA north of 5.00 and have had three starters already have starts allowing six earned runs or more. To say the Nationals have not looked sharp may be an understatement, but combine the sloppy play with the level of competition and the Nats at 8-6 are coming out on the right side of the schedule. It gets no easier, however.

After finishing the current road trip against the Marlins and Mets, the Nationals return home to play a Reds squad that handed them their first two losses of the season and the Cardinals, who dispatched them in the National League Division Series. With Matt Carpenter now at second, the Cardinals are an even better-hitting team than they were then. The Nationals then finish out the month with the first two of a four-game series in Atlanta. May gets no easier, as the Nats finish out that series in Atlanta and then head to Pittsburgh to face a Pirates team that is struggling. But you can never underestimate a player like Andrew McCutchen, who is hitting .442/.505/.907 against the Nats in his career.

The Nats then return home briefly to take on the 2012 American League champion Tigers and the Cubs before heading back out on the road for a 10-game trip against the Dodgers, Padres and Giants. That is 10-road games across the country and six of them against contending teams that were over .500 in 2012. The Nats come home to face their chief rival Philies, interleague rival Orioles and then close out the month with two at the Orioles and one in Atlanta. It is a tough couple of months, with 36 of 55 games coming against teams that finished .500 or better in 2012 and 18 of 28 games in May on the road.

There are no excuses for the Nats’ sloppy play, but they do not get the light part of the schedule to start the season, and so far have a record of 4-5 against other contending clubs. The Nats are going to have to pick that up as the season goes along. In 2012, the Nats were 48-36 against teams that finished with a record of .500 or better - a winning percentage of .571, which happens to be exactly in line with the Nationals’ total 2013 winning percentage. But they have also played five games against the Marlins.

It is far too early in the season to call anything a problem. The Nationals have only played four different teams and if the World Series were played in April, the Braves would win it. The schedule in April and May looks tough but when faced with 37 of their final 60 games against contenders in 2012, the Nationals responded by going 37-23. The 2013 Nats do not look crisp, but all teams go through cold streaks, and like every streak in baseball, this will end.

David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals for Citizens of Natstown, 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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