After the euphoric start to the 2012 season, and a decidedly failing grade on their first major test, the Nationals are limping back home.
The team’s stellar pitching during its 12-4 start could not overcome the offensive weaknesses that became so obvious during the team’s first losing streak of the season, one that now stands at four games after a three-game sweep at the hands of the National League-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.
The games were all close, and the Nats even had chances to win. But make no mistake about it — what they got from Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Capuano and the rest of the Dodgers was nothing less than a beatdown. The teams with the two best records in the league went head-to-head for three games, and the most experienced, most complete, and yes, the best team won — hands down.
The Nationals managed just five runs and 15 hits in the three-game series, striking out a shocking 30 times. They managed just one home run, by Adam LaRoche, and went an abysmal 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position. The one time they had a chance to hold a lead in the ninth, Henry Rodriguez blew it with wildness before Tom Gorzelanny served up Kemp’s home run in the tenth.
Now, as the calendar turns to May, the road gets more complicated. Two straight playoff teams come to town: Defending NL West champion Arizona, riding a two-game winning streak, and the reigning NL East champion Phillies, looking to right their own ship after a difficult start.
But there is good news, even on the offensive front. Bryce Harper, who will make his Nationals Park debut tonight against the Diamondbacks, is 2-for-6 in his first two big leagues games. Another guy playing in his first game at Nats Park, Tyler Moore, is 1-for-4. Both are better than the entire cast of characters that has played left field since the start of the season. Ryan Zimmerman could add to the offensive punch if he comes back off the disabled list on Sunday as planned.
No one thought it would be as easy as the 12-4 start indicated, and the team certainly is not as bad as it has shown in the last four games. The Nats have enough pitching to keep them in any game. Now they just have to hit the ball well enough to win.
In this week’s series against Arizona, Trevor Cahill (1-2, 3.70) starts tonight for the Diamondbacks against Jordan Zimmermann (1-1, 1.33). The D-backs send Joe Saunders (2-1, 0-90) against Edwin Jackson (1-1, 3.16) in Wednesday’s contest, and the series concludes Thursday with Arizona’s Ian Kennedy (3-0, 3.38) against the Nats’ Ross Detwiler (2-1, 1.64).