AFRO Sunday57

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The second half of the season started off with a bit of unwelcomed familiarity from the Washington Nationals’ pitching staff as they played the blame for a loss in the first series of the second half of the 2015 Major League Baseball season.

Washington lost a three-game home series, 2-1, against the leading team in the National League West division, the L.A. Dodgers, July 17-19. Despite the series loss, Washington still led the National League East with a 49-41 record at the time.

Ace pitcher Max Scherzer aside, Washington’s pitchers have played average at best this season, particularly starters Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann, along with others in the Nationals’ bullpen. This was evident in the two straight losses Washington suffered to end its series with the Dodgers over the weekend.

Washington managed to win its first game of the series against the Dodgers, 5-3, despite Zimmermann’s shaky start on July 17. But Fister gave up nine hits and four earned runs in a 4-2 loss to the Dodgers on July 18, and the Nats’ bullpen ruined Scherzer’s strong six-inning performance of just one run allowed by giving up four runs in a 5-0 loss in the series finale on July 19.

It also didn’t help that Washington’s bats faced L.A.’s ace pitchers, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, two of the very best pitchers in Major League Baseball. Kershaw and Greinke limited the Nationals’ offense just enough to help make Washington first series following All-Star break a losing effort.

But this is exactly the test Nationals fans wanted to see the NL East division leader face during the latter stretch of the season. Nats’ fans know their team can beat the weaker teams of the league. The question is: Can they take care of business against the best teams in the game, such as the West-leading Dodgers? This poor half-season start didn’t help make their case, but there’s still 70-plus games remaining, with more premier opponents remaining on the schedule. The following weeks will prove if Washington can beat the best teams in the league, something they will have to do if they wish to progress further in the postseason than they did last fall.

Stay tuned.