A long road trip for the Washington Nationals will tell us where they are as a team. What needs to happen to fly home a success?
Over the next ten days, the Washington Nationals face the biggest test of the young season.
At 7-5, the record shows Washington in front of the National League East by a half-game. The cold reality of the first 12 games feels different.
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Except for a brief weekend fling in Philadelphia, the Nats have been home bodies starting 2017. They played those Phillies well over the holiday weekend and caught the St. Louis Cardinals at the perfect time earlier on the homestand. No matter how those games looked, the home record is 6-3. You take a .667 winning percentage and run.
The serious business begins now.
For 10 straight days, the Nats visit Atlanta’s squeaky new SunTrust Field, open this season’s ledger against the New York Mets and make a dreaded early trip to Denver and the Colorado Rockies. Although what happens in the next week-and-a-half will not make or break the Nats, it might define them.
The offense is on fire.
Bryce Harper’s Easter walk-off set the tone. He is ready to carry his team as far as his body can take them. You can strike him out low in the zone, but mistakes will be pulverized. Add Daniel Murphy’s red-hot eye and Ryan Zimmerman’s resurgence and you have a team scoring at will.
Add a starting rotation which is effective, and it adds to a winning combination. If the Nationals score in droves, they have the pitching to win. Until you reach the bullpen.
Yes, we know the pen is in tatters. Sure, bullpen implosions are common in Major League Baseball. Washington came into the season with questions about the pen and those magnify every time a home run ball leaves the yard.
Sometime on this trip that beleaguered will need to pull a win out of nothing. When the bats get impatient, they do not produce. There will be at least once where a starter struggles and the bullpen gets to throw 12-15 outs to keep a game close.
What happens if we see an extra inning game go past the 13th or a night with long rain delays? Welcome to the long marathon of Washington Nationals baseball.
Every team faces uncomfortable moments of truth. It is rare for the Nats it might be now.
If they go .500 by the time their flight leaves Denver, take it no questions asked. The issues the Nats need to settle are not going away overnight.
Who knows, things may be clearer on their return.