The Washington Nationals got off to a slow start in 2019. Historically, the Nats have their best years when getting out of the gates hot.
The old saying goes that “April showers bring May flowers.” For the Washington Nationals in their 14 years in Major League baseball, first-month wins have brought post-season play to the Nation’s Capital.
The Nationals’ top performances in season’s first month have come in the years where they’ve hung National League East Division champion pennants at Nationals Park.
In 2012, the Nats rode strong pitching and timely hitting to a 14-8 mark in April. In 2014, Washington won 16 of its 28 first month games, and the 2016 team was victorious in 16 of its 23 April contests. The Nats’ best mark in an opening month came two years ago when the 2017 Nationals’ squad bashed its way to a 17-8 first-month mark.
In the three most recent seasons where the Nats did not get to the post-season, early season struggles were part of the problem. The 2013 team stumbled out of the gate with a 13-14 first-month mark and finished ten games behind division winner Atlanta.
Matt Williams’ second Nats team in 2015 won only 10 of its 23 first month games before righting the ship to get into first place in the division at the end of July but stumbled down the stretch to finish seven games behind the Mets. Last year, the Nats were an inconsistent 13-16 in the first month of the season and ended up only two games above .500.
How vital is first-month success? Of the 84 Major League division winning teams since the Nats began to play in 2005, only 16 of them finished below .500 in the season’s first month. Of the 126 playoff teams during that time, 27 lost more games than they won in March/April.
The Nationals’ first-month story is not entirely written as they have four home games left before the calendar turns to May, and it certainly would be a good time for the team to make a push to finish the opening act of the season on an up note.
The inconsistent start to the 2019 season has been due to many factors, but perhaps the biggest has been the well-documented lack of success of virtually all Washington relief pitchers not named Sean Doolittle. The Nats bullpen’s 1.634 WHIP rate is the third worst in the Majors, behind last place teams in Baltimore and Kansas City. If there’s any solace to be had in the shockingly bad start to the season, Nats’ relievers have been somewhat unlucky as opponents have a .335 batting average on balls in play (the second worst BAA in the Majors behind Kansas City).
It’s no secret that the Nationals bullpen needs to pitch better in order for the season to turn around. If it doesn’t, the 2019 Nationals will be on the wrong side of history.