The Nationals, needless to say, are not having a stellar start. For Nationals fans, it’s like the world is ending. Twitter has been a tire fire in recent weeks, and all of the bad takes I’ve seen are astounding. I’ve seen calls to pack it up and go home, they’re done. Trade away all the players. Burn it to the ground and start all over again.
Admittedly, the Nationals have been pretty bad to start off the year. They’ve gone 10-14, hitting .230 overall and .218 with runners in scoring position. But I don’t think this is exemplary of what this club is going to be down the stretch, and it’s too early to be throwing in the towel.
Nationals fans need to take a step back, calm down, and breathe. We have been absolutely spoiled for the past six years. From 2012-2017, the Nationals went 555-417 (.571) and made the postseason four times in a league where only 10 out of 30 teams make the playoffs (two of which get eliminated after one game). Half the teams in baseball would kill to have success like the Nationals have had over the past half a decade. We haven’t had to see truly uninspiring baseball for a long time. It’s not the end of the world, and the Nationals do not have to blow it up because of one bad month. There is still time. It’s only April, this team is filled with exceptional talent and there have been a multitude of factors working against it.
Injuries have bit the Nationals hard and have kept many of their prolific bats out of the lineup. Adam Eaton, after his surprising start back from that grisly injury, went on the disabled list as a precaution against aggravating something bigger, and has only played in eight games. Anthony Rendon fouled a ball off his foot and hasn’t played in almost two weeks. Daniel Murphy has yet to see the field this year. Brian Goodwin, an important lefty bat off the bench, also went on the DL. That’s arguably a third of your offensive power sidelined. Naturally, the offense is going to suffer with three Silver Sluggers and a one-time triples leader sitting on the shelf. That is going to get better as they return from injury.
The Nationals have also been on the receiving end of some absolutely atrocious officiating. It’s bad luck, and it always seems to happen to the Nats (to my completely unbiased eye), but there’s nothing you can do about that except pray for the development of robot umpires.
Finally, the division is actually good this year. Aside from the Marlins, the National League East has some pretty stiff competition. The Phillies and Braves revitalized with youth, are hungry and looking to make some noise. The Mets, at the moment, look to be healthy and that rotation is finally living up to that 2015 World Series hype. Will it be sustainable? Who knows? Regardless, the Nationals have locked up the division easily in the last few seasons, but this year, if they want it, they’re going to have to fight for it. Nothing will come easy this year.
There are a few things that the Nationals do have control over and need to start fixing if they want to get their record back where they want it to be. First, they have to stop making baserunning blunders. This was more of a problem earlier in the year than it is now, but I’m still wary.
The hitters can also work on making adjustments and working the count more. While being aggressive at the plate is great, grinding pitchers down and making them throw a lot of pitches and work harder can also work in your favor. The Nationals have been making a lot of soft, easy, quick outs, which is not what you want when you’re trying to sustain offensive pressure. Additionally, they need to get some hits with runners in scoring position. Can’t score runs if you leave men on base.
Finally, the bullpen needs to improve, especially at holding leads. I’m getting visions of ghosts of bullpens past, and I’m not enjoying the déjà vu. The starters, particularly the front end of the rotation, have been doing some fairly strong work, but the bullpen has been not so great, giving up lead after lead and flushing starters’ hard-earned wins down the drain. This is likely not the last iteration of the 2018 bullpen, especially as offseason acquisition Joaquin Benoit has yet to make an appearance. If the bullpen makes some adjustments, that will only help the Nationals in the long run.
So relax, have a drink. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The baseball season is full of peaks and valleys, and so many things can happen over the course of a year. As long as the Nationals can tread water while they’re scuffling, it should be OK. And maybe they’re not as good as last year. But I know they can be better.
Liz Barr blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @RaiseTheBarr1. Her opinions on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s 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.