With the first week of the 2018 season under the Washington Nationals belt, the team sits 4-5 after being swept at home by the hated New York Mets. Despite starting the season 4-0, Washington has scuffled and fallen below .500 for the first time since August 2015.
So who exactly are these Nats? The team that started 4-0 or the team that lost 5 straight? The answer, obviously, is somewhere in between. The reality is, however, that it is hard to win 95 games in a season when you lose 5 straight.
So what is real and what is not?
For starters, Bryce Harper’s start is very real. He is absolutely LOCKED at the plate. The key for Bryce is, and always has been, how quiet is he at the plate? Harper’s struggles start when he starts pulling the ball and he falls away from pitches. So far, for the fourth consecutive April, Harper is well balanced at the dish and hitting to all fields.
His 1.535 OPS (OBP + Slugging) is a full .105 higher than the next player in the MLB. That is ridiculous. Six of his first 10 hits have been Home Runs and he is tied for the league lead with 13 walks.
To get a clean look at how locked in Bryce is at the plate, watch his Home Run to left center on Saturday. One the prettiest home run’s you will see. Bryce stays with the high outside fastball and takes the pitch to the opposite field. Perfect balance. Perfect swing.
Bryce Harper leads @MLB with 5 HR.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 7, 2018
While Bryce Harper is setting the MLB on fire, the man designated to protect him is on the struggle bus. Ryan Zimmerman, who took an extended vacation through Spring Training, is hitting .111 with a .422 OPS. That is not good. In fact, it is awful.
Despite his rocky start, however, these struggles are not real. Yet.
Zim is arguably the streakiest hitter in all of Baseball and has caught some tough early breaks. If #11 continues to struggle into late May than there is reason for concern. Right now, though, it is not the time to start questioning the elder statesman of the Nationals.
Need proof? For starters, Zim is a .280 career hitter and is coming a season which he hit .300 and had an OPS above .900. Those numbers and his propensity to get hot suggest his time will come. For more tangible evidence, his at bat last night suggested a player ready to find his groove.
Pinch hitting in the eighth inning, Zimmerman finally attacked a 90 mph cutter on the outer half of the plate. The ball was absolutely scorched. It was his second ‘barrel’ of the season and had an exit velocity of 109.1mph. With a near 80% hit probability, Ryan just missed a lead off double and a slump busting hit.
Barrel: Ryan Zimmerman (2) [WSH] off AJ Ramos [NYM]: 109.1 mph, 17 degrees (Lineout)
— MLBExitVelocity (@MLBExitVelocity) April 9, 2018
At bats like that will leave teams in a bind and help protect Harper.
On the pitching side, the Starters will be fine and the bullpen has been pretty good to date. Having said that, Brandon Kintzler’s struggles are real.
Washington’s 7th inning reliever really struggled in the series over the weekend. Kintzler appeared in all three games, allowed runs in all three, and took losses on both Saturday and Sunday. A small sample size yes, but his struggles in the Spring suggest this may be more of an issue than Washington would prefer. The reliever’s track record suggests he should be alright with a career ERA of 3.42.
The worry comes from his WHIP (Walks, Hits, Per Innings Pitched). Kintzler’s 2.50 WHIP through four appearances is bad. He has given up multiple hits in his last three outings and walked 4 in the process. Again, a small sample size, but those are rough numbers. For anyone.
Lastly, there has been a pleasant surprise to start the season. Backup catcher Pedro Severino, who should have been on the roster last year, has been great behind the plate.
The best defensive and most athletic catcher on the roster, Severino was sent down to AAA to start the season so that he could play every day. A week in and a call up later, the young backstop should stay in the show and has proven to be real.
In 40 career games and 73 ABs, Pedro has slashed .274 with an OPS of .808. Another small sample size (see the trend?), but considering the well documented struggles of Washington’s catchers last year it is a welcomed sight.
The 24 year old has been great in his five games to start the 2018 campaign. Seve ripped an RBI double last night against the Met’s Matt Harvey and has shown discipline at the dish with a .588 OBP. That number, and his .417 batting average, are going to dip and may even slump, but he has earned the right to be on the 25 man roster.
More Pedro Severino please. What isn't to like? The athleticism? The fact that he can hit? The better than average speed for a catcher? He will get better at calling games as he does it more. Let him play.
— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) April 7, 2018
Further, if the Nationals are hell bent on him playing every day, Severino should split time with Matt Wieters when he is healthy. It would be a major positive for an organization needing a long-term plan at catcher.
With the season still really young, these are just takes on what the season could have in store for Washington. Maybe Harper cools and Zimmerman never finds his groove. Hopefully Kintzler regains his 2017 form. It is far too early to tell what will happen.
The sample sizes are just that – too small.
The Washington Nationals are a good team and will win a lot of baseball games. Yes, they got swept by a team that is hungry to compete for the Divisional crown. Yes, they have lost 5 in a row. But this team also won 4 in a row and has Max Scherzer on the bump tonight.
Baseball is a marathon. It is not built for Twitter’s instant gratification. Be patient. The wins are coming.