It was a tough weekend for the Nationals.
After a glorious opening series against Miami that included back-to-back shutouts, the Nats found the going much tougher on the season's first weekend in Cincinnati. They lost two of three to the Reds, including a 15-0 thumping on Friday night - the most lopsided loss since the team moved to Washington in 2005. Their first series loss in the magical 2012 season did not come until a sweep at the hands of the Dodgers in the final series of April.
If ever the first week of a season included the ups and downs of a full campaign, it was the first seven days of the 2013 season for the Nats. As good as the pitching was in the opening series, it was bad against the Reds, with starters Dan Haren and Stephen Strasburg giving up six earned runs apiece in Washington's two losses. Closer Rafael Soriano was tagged for two earned runs to blow his first save in a Washington uniform. He and the rest of the Nats were fortunate to have Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos bail them out with 10th-inning homers.
And as stellar as the Nats' defense was against the Marlins, it was troublesome in Cincinnati. The team committed errors in every game. Two of Desmond's three miscues were on Saturday, including one that allowed the Reds to close the gap against Drew Storen in the eighth. Bryce Harper added to the defensive struggles by airmailing a throw home that allowed a run to score. Kurt Suzuki committed an error in the blowout loss and Chad Tracy added one Sunday.
But even amid the home runs, RBI grounders, muffed plays and missed cutoff men, there were some positive signs for the Nats. Their power was on full display Saturday and Sunday, with all their runs in the series coming via the longball. And while the Reds' homers found their way into the front rows at tiny Great American Ballpark, the Nats' shots were no-doubt-about-it blasts that would have cleared the fences in most other parks in the major leagues.
The fact that two of those homers came off the bat of Ramos is an encouraging sign, too. After missing most of last season with a torn knee ligament, it's good to see him all the way back. Suzuki came through with some clutch power Sunday, too, hitting a three-run shot in the second to tie the game. Ramos is 4-for-9 with three homers on the young season and Suzuki is 3-for-9 with a homer. The Nats will need consistent production in the lower part of the order this season, and having two catchers who can come through in crucial situations will make it easier on the rest of the bench.
Strasburg made some tough pitches Sunday, twice retiring Joey Votto with men on base. He was hurt by balls that stayed in the infield or found their way through, not by hard hits. His strategy of pitching to contact still needs some work. He may need to go back to blowing hitters away in some situations, especially in small parks where a fly ball can change the game.
Ross Detwiler turned in a fine performance for six innings Saturday before the bullpen and defense let the Reds tie the game in ninth. He is one of three Nationals pitchers, along with Gio Gonzalez and Tyler Clippard, who have yet to surrender a run.
This past week will play itself out again many times over this year. The way the Nats respond to the slumps and the tough games will determine their fate. While the Nats definitely have the talent to meet high expectations this year, nobody ever said it was going to be easy. So buckle up. It looks like a bumpy ride, but a fun one.
Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. 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.