Washington Nationals: An early 2018 report card

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: Bryce Harper
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: Bryce Harper /
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Despite their sluggish start, the Washington Nationals are not a bad grade. Just past the eighth pole, here is an early report card.

We are over three weeks into the 2018 season, and the Washington Nationals have a record of 11-14 and are in fourth place in the National League East.  It is not the start the team was hoping for, but the season is still young.  Now is a good time for an early season report card.

Offense

The early season cold weather often has a negative effect on a team’s offense.

Considering the fact that the Nats have played several games this year with the game time temperature in the 50’s and low 60’s, the team can be forgiven for the sluggish April numbers.

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Overall, the Nats have done a fair job of putting runs on the board. The team’s 4.08 runs per game after Thursday’s 15-2 win in San Francisco, is good for eleventh in the NL. While the team as a whole has a batting average of only .228 (10th in the NL), the Nats rank fourth in the league in homers (25) and sixth in on base percentage (.323).

Perhaps the biggest advantage for the offense in the early season is the stolen base. The Nats lead the league with 27 swiped bags. No other team in the NL has stolen more than 17.

Offense grade: C

Starting Pitching

The big four of Max ScherzerStephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark have been as good as expected to start the year, collectively pitching to a 2.78 ERA.

However, the biggest question mark for this staff has been the fifth starter. A.J. Cole made two lackluster starts and, after a disastrous bullpen demotion, was designated for assignment. The team then turned to veteran Jeremy Hellickson, who the Nats hope will take the reins and solidify that fifth spot. Hellickson’s first two starts were solid but time will tell.

Starting Pitching grade: B+

Bullpen

Much like 2017, this year’s bullpen began with some question marks.

Overall, the bullpen sports a 5.28 ERA. The Nationals continue to make moves to find the combination that works, including designating Enny Romero for assignment and calling up 35-year-old RHP Carlos Torres.

The back end of the bullpen remains in the hands of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle and Dave Martinez has shown that he is not afraid to mix and match when necessary. Like the fifth starter situation, the Nats are in a wait and see situation.

Bullpen grade: C-

Bench

Due to the injuries to many of the starters, including Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters, the Nationals have had to rely heavily on their bench to begin the season.

Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo have started 20 and 15 games, respectively. After a hot start, Kendrick’s bat has somewhat cooled, but he is still batting a respectable .286 average. Difo’s average currently sits at .210.

Matt Adams was signed as a replacement for Adam Lind, but has struggled to duplicate Lind’s success from 2017. Brian Goodwin provided replacement level value before heading to the 10-day disabled list with a wrist injury.

The breakout star of the bench has been catcher, Pedro Severino, who was called up when Miguel Montero was placed on paternity leave. Severino’s has provided a steady offensive presence (.239 avg, .333 on base percentage) while playing stellar defense behind the plate. In fact, some are now wondering if Martinez is considering a platoon at catcher.

Bench grade: C

Final Analysis

The early season offensive struggles can somewhat be forgiven due to the weather and injuries to a significant portion of the starting lineup. The bullpen struggles are a little more concerning, as there is no obvious significant help looming on the horizon.

Next: Why Nats fans should keep hope alive

Overall Grade C