Editor’s Note: HTTD contributor Patrick Rice provides his latest thoughts in his ongoing “Zimm’s Corner” monthly report on the Washington Nationals. Note that this post was written just prior to the Nationals 2-0 loss to the Mets yesterday evening.
Nationals Record: 23-15 (1.5 games ahead of the Mets & Phillies)
It took 40 games into this season, but tonight marks the first of 19 games between the Nationals and Mets. Washington started the month winning three of four and then promptly got swept out of Chicago by the Cubs. They have since righted the ship, but a defining road trip looms against NL East foes.
To recap, it has been an exciting month thus far the Nats. They have played .500 baseball and had a flair for the dramatic. Washington has seen everything from being swept, yelling expletives at umpires, walk-offs, 20 strikeout games, and inside-the-park-home-runs.
While there has been considerable excitement, this week is a crucial one for Washington. With three games in New York and three more in Miami, the Nationals have a chance to gain some steam and separation early on in the year.
With the Mets series starting tonight, let’s take a quick look at the rest of May:
Things we know: Pitching Cures All
While Max Scherzer had struggled out of the gate, his counter parts have been everything and more. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark have all been as good or better than advertised.
Then, without warning, Mad Max came back and wanted a piece of the pie. His 20 strikeout game was a marvel and something special to watch. His turn in the rotation marks the beginning of the Mets series. What does he have in store tonight? No idea. But do not take a shot of whiskey for every strikeout… big gulps eh?
The best way to stay in contention and make a run in October is with pitching. The Nats have plenty, and then some. With a team ERA of 2.97, the Nationals can rely on their pitching more so than in years past. Questions remain in the back end of the bullpen, but there is no doubting the strength of this team: its starting pitching.
Thing(s) to watch: Ryan Zimmerman
I could write about number of slumping stars on the Nationals, but I’m most interested in Ryan Zimmerman. Manager Dusty Baker has been patient with #11, and I believe that is the right move. The slugging first baseman is known to heat up with weather and you can bet the Nationals are hoping that trend continues.
However, there is no secret that teams are not scared of Zimm. The Chicago Cubs walked Bryce Harper seven times and made Zimmerman beat them. He promptly left 14 baserunners on base in an extra inning loss.
The reason this is important is Daniel Murphy. The hot hitting second baseman has been scorching thus far hitting in the five hole. With Zimm batting clean up, Dusty had a dream scenario of lefty (Harper), righty (Zimmerman), lefty (Murphy). Yet, Zimmerman’s struggles have prompted Baker to switch Murphy to the 4 hole.
Time will tell if it pays off, but the early returns have been ok. Murphy is still hitting and Zimm seems to be finding his groove with 3 home runs in the last 5 games.
#11 is hitting a light .234 out of the gate and has an OPS 134 points lower than his career average. He has shown signs of life, but has yet to really put anything convincing together. Right now, he is, arguably the most important player to the Nats offense moving forward.
Here is to hoping he can get it going. After all, this blog is called Zimm’s Corner…