The Nationals closed out their first series of the 2012 season with a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs, falling to 2-1 on the season.
With the opening series in hand, the Nats should be thankful to Cubs reliever Kerry Wood for failing to find the strike zone and first-year manager Dave Sveum for some tactical errors that helped them pull out the first two games. Still, the Nats can take away a few things from the series that will give them and their fans hope as they continue the season.
1. For the most part, the pitching is as good as advertised: Aside from Gio Gonzalez‘ poor start on Saturday and Ryan Mattheus‘ eigth-inning meltdown on Sunday, the pitching was solid. Stephen Strasburg was on top of his game on opening day, and Jordan Zimmermann allowed just one earned run on six hits and no walks in seven innings on Sunday. The bullpen was brilliant in Saturday’s win, holding the Cubs scoreless for 5 2-3 innings. If the arms continue to hold up, the Nats should be in most games.
2. Adam LaRoche has arrived: We can’t really say he’s back because his first season in Washington never really materialized. But after torn labrum scuttled his 2011 season and an ankle injury kept him on the shelf for most of spring training, he has quickly returned to the form that most fans expected when he was brought in from Arizona before last season. He’s off to a .417/.462./.917 start, with two “no-doubt-about-it” home runs and four RBIs. If he can keep up the power once Michael Morse returns from the disabled list, the Nats have the potential for a 3-4-5 lineup that could stack up against anyone else in the National League.
3. The bench is looking strong. To borrow a phrase from the great Earl Weaver, the Nats look so far like they have “deep depth.” Chad Tracy followed his strong spring with clutch hits in each of the first two games. Steve Lombardozzi contributed a game-breaking base hit in Saturday’s win, and Brett Carroll‘s baserunning was a key part of the first two wins. Lombardozzi, Mark DeRosa and Xavier Nady have also combined for credible defensive play in left field in Morse’s absence.
Next up for the Nats is a three-game series against the Mets in New York, starting tonight. The Mets have hit the ball well in their 3-0 start, batting .320. David Wright (.667 with a home run), Daniel Murphy (.385 with 2 RBIs) and Lucas Duda (.273 with two homers) will challenge the Nationals’ pitchers. Mike Pelfrey will take the mound against Washington’s Edwin Jackson in the first game. The Mets will start Dillon Gee against Washington’s Ross Detwiler in the second game, and the series concludes with a battle of No. 1 starters, with the Nats’ Stephen Starsburg going against New York’s Johan Santana.
For the remainder of the season, look for this space to include a recap of each series with a preview of the upcoming one. Significant games or developments will get their own posts, as will timely observations about the team’s progress.