Nats survived roller coaster to begin season, now can settle in

The Nationals flew home from St. Louis on Wednesday night, owners of a 3-6 record. It’s not a record anyone is going to brag about, nor should it be, but neither is it a record anyone should be afraid to acknowledge.

Given all they’ve been through already during a roller coaster couple of weeks to begin the season, 3-6 hardly feels like a disaster.

The Nats were missing nine major league players during their opening three-game series against the Braves. And perhaps the three most important position players from that group also missed the subsequent three-game series in Los Angeles.

Once they had their full lineup and bullpen intact, the Nationals marched into St. Louis and won two of three. That’s no insignificant feat, all the more so when you consider the events of Tuesday night’s loss.

Thumbnail image for Strasburg-Delivers-Gray-Baltimore-Sidebar.jpgWould you believe the only game they lost to the Cardinals was the one started by Stephen Strasburg, who was torched for eight runs in four-plus innings? The two games they won at Busch Stadium? Those were started by Erick Fedde and Joe Ross. Go figure.

There are plenty of things that still aren’t going right for this team as it prepares to open a seven-game homestand against the Diamondbacks and Cardinals. Strasburg is a huge question mark heading into his next start Sunday afternoon. Patrick Corbin needs to right his ship tonight after a poor season debut in L.A.

Victor Robles and Trea Turner have had a few moments at the plate, but neither has found his groove yet. Tanner Rainey is still trying to rediscover his fastball velocity. Luis Avilán was a mess in relief of Strasburg on Tuesday night.

And there has been either a defensive or baserunning blunder pretty much at least once per game, in a few cases contributing to a loss.

So all is not perfect in NatsTown right now. But plenty of things do look right.

Juan Soto is batting .375/.474/.594 and showing his sluggish spring was indeed nothing to worry about. Ryan Zimmerman (.346/.370/.500) is showing his torrid spring was a sign of things to come. Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber and Josh Harrison have made a significant difference since they were cleared to join the active roster Monday.

Ross has been lights-out and hasn’t allowed a run yet in 11 innings. Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson, Austin Voth, Kyle McGowin and Hernán Pérez (yes, Hernán Pérez) have combined to allow zero runs on two hits over 10 innings of relief. Wander Suero has pitched in six games already and has looked better each time he’s taken the mound.

There’s a lot to like so far. And there’s reason to believe things will continue to trend on an upward trajectory, in part because the toughest portion of the Nats’ early-season schedule is now behind them.

The Nationals’ first nine games all came against projected division winners, not to mention the two teams that faced each other in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series only six months ago. No, they didn’t look like they stacked up well with the Dodgers right now, but they didn’t have their full lineup at that point and they still had a chance to win two of the three games.

The schedule begins to ease up now, with four games against the Diamondbacks this weekend before the Cardinals return the Nats’ trip from this week. The Mets, Blue Jays and Marlins follow.

The Nationals aren’t assured of anything. They still need to play well, hit well and pitch well. They need to stay healthy. They need their big-name players who haven’t looked right yet to figure it out, and pronto.

But if someone detailed for you everything this team was going to have to deal with in the season’s first two weeks and would emerge with a 3-6 record, would you have been terribly upset or begrudgingly satisfied?

In short, the Nats survived that brutal stretch to begin the season. Now it’s up to them to show they can start thriving.

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