Nats selected for three early-season Sunday night games

Catching up on more news during my vacation last week, I see that ESPN unveiled roughly one-half of its "Sunday Night Baseball" slate for the 2018 season. And lo and behold, the Nationals are actually prominently featured in a manner we haven't seen before by the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

The Nats were selected to play in three of the first seven "Sunday Night Baseball" games of the season, including the April 8 finale of their opening home series against the Mets. They'll also appear in a pair of Sunday night road games a few weeks later: April 22 at the Dodgers and May 13 against the Diamondbacks.

That comes in stark contrast to last season, when ESPN's initial "Sunday Night Baseball" slate included only one Nationals game (April 23 at the Mets), though the network eventually picked up three more games later in the season (July 2 at St. Louis, Aug. 27 versus the Mets, Sept. 17 versus the Dodgers).

Nationals-Nats-Presidents-Race.jpgThe Nationals are one of only four teams - joining the Mets, Yankees and Cubs - to be selected for three "Sunday Night Baseball" games among the first 16 weeks announced so far by ESPN. More games will be picked up over the course of the season.

Sunday night games traditionally aren't all that popular among players, coaches or even fans, given the late 8:08 p.m. Eastern start time and often difficult travel that follows the games. The Nats do catch something of a break with two of their Sunday night games in 2018, though, considering they'll be played in the Pacific time zone with local start times of 5:08 p.m.

The April 22 game in Los Angeles is followed by a short flight to San Francisco for the start of a three-game series with the Giants. The May 13 game in Arizona does require a long flight back to Washington afterward, but the Nationals have a day off before they host the Yankees in a marquee interleague matchup.

Meanwhile, start times have now been announced for nearly every game on the 2018 schedule. Under baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, there are more getaway afternoon games and off-days sprinkled throughout the season. Fourteen of the Nationals' series conclude with weekday afternoon games, 12 of those with local start times no later than 1:05 p.m.

There are now 20 scheduled days off during the season, plus the four-day All-Star break, up from 16 scheduled days off during the 2017 season.

In order to accommodate the extra days off without pushing the World Series too far into November, the regular season will begin on March 29, the earliest opening day in major league history.

The Nationals open the season on the road at Cincinnati and Atlanta, then return to Washington to face the Mets in their April 5 home opener, with a scheduled 1:05 p.m. first pitch for that Thursday matinee.

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