April by the numbers

April has come and gone for the Nationals, and nobody can say they saw the season’s first month playing out the way it did.

A COVID-19 outbreak sidelining nine players? Injuries to Juan Soto and Stephen Strasburg? An implosion by Patrick Corbin? A complete lack of production from Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber?

There were, of course, surprisingly positive developments as well. Who expected Joe Ross and Erick Fedde to become consistently dominant pitchers? Josh Harrison and Yadiel Hernandez to become top-of-the-lineup stalwarts? A bullpen that has become perhaps the strength of the entire roster?

Let’s break down that roster by parts and evaluate how they each performed during a most unusual opening month to the 2021 season ...

OFFENSE
Runs/G: 3.5 (14th in NL)
AVG: .248 (2nd)
OBP: .314 (7th)
SLG: .378 (9th)
OPS: .692 (8th)
BB: 57 (15th)
SO: 181 (2nd fewest)
Thumbnail image for Harrison-Swinging-Blue-Sidebar.jpgEvaluation: It’s hard to find a lot to like about the way the Nationals hit in April, but when you see their rankings it becomes clear they were far from the only team in the National League to struggle at the plate. The absence of Soto over the last 10 days was noticeable, though Trea Turner has stepped up and taken over as the lineup’s most productive hitter. Harrison and Hernandez also have proven to be unexpected godsends. Bell and Schwarber had wretched months, but each was showing signs of breaking out in the last week. Victor Robles began the month as the leadoff hitter and finished it as the No. 8 (and even sometimes No. 9) hitter.

ROTATION
ERA: 4.94 (12th)
WHIP: 1.326 (11th)
K/9: 9.05 (7th)
BB/9: 3.62 (11th)
HR/9: 1.98 (15th)
IP/start: 4.97 (12th)
Evaluation: There are a lot of troubling numbers here, but they don’t entirely tell the true story. The Nationals were victimized by a host of bad starts, at least one from every member of their original rotation. But they also saw every member of that group produce at least one outstanding start, several of them from Max Scherzer, Ross and Fedde. What they need is more consistency from this group, especially until Strasburg returns. Perhaps Jon Lester’s arrival will help, as would Corbin settling down and finding his groove.

BULLPEN
ERA: 3.66 (4th)
WHIP: 1.208 (4th)
K/9: 8.35 (15th)
BB/9: 4.12 (8th)
HR/9: 1.14 (7th)
Saves: 3 (13th)
Evaluation: Is it possible the Nationals bullpen is actually their biggest strength right now? It appears that way after a strong April that got better as it went along. Despite a bit of a sluggish start, Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson and Tanner Rainey are rounding into form and look like a formidable trio in the late innings. Wander Suero had been outstanding before suffering an oblique strain, but Kyle Finnegan, Kyle McGowin and Sam Clay have stepped up to take on more prominent roles. Even Austin Voth, banished to the bullpen after losing the competition for the No. 5 starter’s job, is blossoming into a compelling short reliever with increased velocity.

DEFENSE
Errors: 10 (2nd)
Fielding%: .987 (4th)
DRS: 18 (t-1st)
Defensive Efficiency: .730 (2nd)
Evaluation: Who saw this dramatic turnaround? The Nationals were the majors’ worst defensive team in 2020. So far, they’ve been among the sport’s best in 2021. The key contributors have been Turner (who has excelled at shortstop) and Robles (who has returned to his Gold Glove-caliber form in center field). But there have been surprises as well. Starlin Castro has looked better than expected at third base. Schwarber has been far better than expected in left field. And Yan Gomes and Alex Avila have combined to throw out 45 percent of basestealers, best in the NL.

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