First trip west in 2016 presents challenges (Nats win 8-5)

A full 41 percent of the baseball season has now been played, which is more than ample time for teams to face a wide assortment of competition from other divisions within their own league and even outside their own league.

So how is it that the Nationals tonight are facing their very first National League West opponent of 2016?

Baker-Coaches-Blue-Lined-Up-Sidebar.jpgIn an odd quirk to their schedule, the Nats somehow avoided any NL West opponent through their first 66 games. They are the only team in the majors who hasn't yet played anyone from another division within its own league. Which means they still must play 33 of their final 96 games against the NL West, a fairly hefty percentage.

As his team prepared for its first trip to the other side of the country and tonight's series opener in San Diego, manager Dusty Baker admitted his longstanding concern about the scenario the Nationals now face.

"The West Coast has always been tough on teams," Baker said earlier this week in D.C. "Lot of distractions out there. I'll talk to the guys today, because I've seen the West Coast destroy teams."

"Destroy" may be a bit of an exaggeration, but these trips do present their own set of challenges. The Nationals face the Padres and Dodgers over the next seven days. Six of those games will start after 10 p.m. EDT. And that's to say nothing of the distractions that often face players when visiting California.

"Everybody has friends, relatives, couple fleas and some parasites on the West Coast," Baker said. "It's true. Everybody. Families like to go to the West Coast. ... I've seen guys rent boats. I've seen guys sunburned. I've seen guys go to Universal Studios and can't get a ride back, can't play because they've got blisters on their feet."

Update: There's been plenty of offense early in this game. The Padres got two runs off Tanner Roark in the bottom of the first, taking advantage of Roark's poor command (a lot of sinkers that hung over the plate). But the Nationals responded with one run in the top of the second on Stephen Drew's sacrifice fly, then added three more in the top of the third on back-to-back, opposite-field homers by Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos. For Harper, it was his first homer in 15 games. For Ramos, it was his first in three days. And so the Nats lead 4-2 after three innings.

Update II: Make it 4-3 Nats after five, thanks to a laser of a home run by Wil Myers in the bottom of the fifth. That 113-mph line drive to left came on a first-pitch fastball by Roark, one of several he has thrown tonight that have tailed a bit too much back over the heart of the plate.

Update III: Who says it's impossible to hit the ball out of Petco Park? The Nats have three homers tonight, the latest coming from Anthony Rendon, who drilled a pitch to left-center for a solo shot in the sixth. That was a 2014-version swing from Rendon, a bullet to the gap. The Padres got a run back in the bottom of the inning, but the Nats responded with an unearned run in the top of the seventh, Clint Robinson's sac fly bringing Ben Revere home. So it's 6-4 Nats at the stretch as Baker turns to his bullpen to try to close this one out.

Update IV: That's your ballgame. Nats win 8-5 after tacking on another pair of runs in the top of the ninth, including a bloop RBI single by Harper. That removed a save situation in the ninth, but Blake Treinen and Felipe Rivero did each toss a scoreless inning, with Rivero then returning to start the ninth. Rivero let two men reach base, so Baker wound up summoning Shawn Kelley to record the final two outs in what became a save situation. All in all, a good, solid win in the opener of a long road trip.

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