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Apr 16

Streak Over, Nats Look to Rebound

It wasn’t close to the unbelievable 10-game winning streak that marked the Nationals inaugural 2005 campaign, but the team’s recent five-game run was enough to keep them in first place in the National League East, and the final three games of that streak gave them a third straight series win, this time over the Cincinnati Reds.

So, 10 games into the season, we have a glimpse of the team’s strengths and weaknesses in 2012. Much as we imagined, the strengths begin with pitching, especially at home. Not many teams have seen a turn around the rotation like the Nats took from Tuesday through Saturday, when no starter gave up more than three hits, and the entire starting staff gave up just two earned runs. The bullpen was equally excellent, especially Craig Stammen, who pitched in three games in the Reds series, winning two of them, and allowing no runs on just one hit and two walks (one intentional), while striking out nine.

But the weaknesses, clutch hitting and power, were one reason why the team did not get the sweep against Cincinnati and the winning streak ended. The Nationals hit just one home run during the Reds series, by Xavier Nady, and Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth are the only players who hit consistently with runners in scoring position.In Sunday’s extra-inning loss, the Nationals left the winning run on base in the eighth inning and the tying runs on base in the 11th.

But there’s no cure for a streak-ending loss than a reset of the rotation and a visit from the Houston Astros, who were the worst team in baseball last season at 56-106. While they come into the series hitting slightly better than the Nationals, .255 to .247, their team ERA is 3.46 to the nationals miniscule 1.99, and Houston has given up eight homers, four times as many as the Nats. That’s just what the slumping offense could use.

Stephen Strasburg (1-0, 0.69) starts for the Nats in the opener against Kyle Weiland (0-1, 7.20). Gio Gonzalez (0-0, 3.38) opposes Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez (0-1, 2.38) in Game 2. In the third game, Jordan Zimmermann (0-1, 1.29) pitches against Houston’s Lucas Harrell (1-0, 3.27), and in the final game, Edwin Jackson (1-0, 2.57), takes on Bud Norris (0-0, 3.46).