Washington Nationals’ Ben Revere hits a double against the Chicago Cubs during the third inning of a baseball game Saturday, May 7, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
The Nationals, going into this extended early-season, 10-game road trip against three teams of various circumstance (its arch nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals, defending World Champion Kansas City Royals and the latest juggernaut, the Chicago Cubs), knew that the everyone would most likely draw up conclusions of how this team would be perceived for the immediate future. Having a terrible road trip wouldn’t be a death blow, but it would show that this team probably should not be taken seriously the rest of the season. However, if they had a good trip, things change for the better – and that’s exactly what they did.
Washington’s offense seemed to turn the corner during this trip, helping the Nationals win five of the first six games played. But there were still major issues that cost the team other winnable games albeit versus the best clubs Major League Baseball has to offer.
First, Jonathan Papelbon had lost some velocity in his fastball. His swing and miss rate is the lowest of his career, which is understandable given his age of 36. He is still a very capable closer, but there will be instances where he just can’t get anybody out with just his devastating fastball. He is going to have to bring a different plan and repertoire than what he is used to. Hopefully, he finds a perfect balance before General Manager Mike Rizzo has to make personnel decisions as the season lingers on.
The Nationals have started the first month of the season very well, and it is kind of amazing considering they have gotten next to nothing out of the first and second batters in the lineup. The return of off-season acquisition Ben Revere will put the inexperienced Michael Taylor back on the bench, and with less pressure, Taylor can develop as a serviceable bench role player until he is truly ready to contribute on a day-to-day basis. Having Revere in the lineup is huge for a couple of reasons. One, he is a lefty and will bring balance to the lineup. Secondly, he is a terror on the base paths. His speed will put a lot of pressure on the opposing defenses.
Washington Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez throws against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, May 7, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Anthony Rendon is another matter. He just hasn’t been the same player since 2014, and on Saturday, he was finally moved from the No. 2 spot in the lineup, replaced by Danny Espinosa. It is paramount to get Rendon’s bat in order; he is an All-Star level batter and this team just cannot compete with teams like the Cubs without him. The rest of the bats seem to be back in gear, scoring five or more runs in seven of the last nine games.
Max Scherzer’s propensity to give up the long ball continues to baffle fans and pundits, alike. After a solid start in a win against the Cardinals on May 1, he was shellacked for seven runs and four homers in only five innings against the Cubs on May 6. His 4.60 ERA is by far the worst on the staff, and as the highest paid pitcher, he has to get this together before this season becomes a wash for him and the team. The rest of the rotation continues to be great; it would be nice if Scherzer can join the party.
While the Nats were not able to win the series against the Cubs after winning five of six from the Cardinals and Royals, they showed that they can at least compete on their level sans a couple of quirky hits that favored the Cubs. It looks as if Washington will have to battle teams like the Mets, Pirates, Dodgers and the aforementioned Cubs, who are the presumptive favorites in the National League, for the other eventual playoff spots.