Nationals Notebook: First series vs. Braves shows plenty of possibilities and problems

Groundskeepers prepare the field before an opening day baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

When you’re coming off of a 107-loss season, one doesn’t necessarily expect miracles. One also recognizes that the things that got you out of perpetual playoff contention will continue to show up and not just from time to time.

Thursday’s opener saw the team leave nine players on base, their starting pitcher struggle to get through three innings and their shortstop make mistakes in the field multiple times.

But at least the Nationals aren’t in last place: Sunday’s 4-1 win over Atlanta allowed Washington to climb out of fifth place in the NL East for the first time since April 21 of last year.

So let’s get our weekly recaps underway with a positive vibe, with the knowledge that in April you can still chant “small sample size.”

Digesting the Division: The first bites of 2023 have the New York Mets off to a 3-1 start but Justin Verlander on the injured list. Atlanta’s in second place with a 2-1 mark while Washington (1-2) holds down third place all by themselves. Miami (1-3) and Philadelphia (0-3) are in the rare position of looking up to the Nats in the NL East standings.

O’s Woes, or “number nine, number nine, number nine”: The Baltimore Orioles broke out the bats against Boston, scoring ten runs on opening day and plating 23 in the series. Unfortunately, the pitching allowed nine runs in each game, dropping two of three at Fenway Park. I’m going to say that might not be sustainable.

Washington Nationals’ Keibert Ruiz is greeted in the dugout after hitting a solo home run during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park, Saturday, April 1, 2023, in Washington. The Braves won 7-1. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Last Week’s Heroes: Keibert Ruiz hits .400 with a homer and two RBI while Alex Call drives in a pair. MacKenzie Gore strikes out six over 5.1 innings while allowing one run.

Last Week’s Humbled: Patrick Corbin only allowed two earned runs in his first start, but lasted just three-plus innings and needed 35 pitches to get through the 2nd. He also allowed a pair of unearned runs in the opener. C.J. Abrams’ three errors on opening day led to three unearned runs. Luis Garcia and Jeimer Candelario each hit .100.

Game to Watch: Wednesday, the Nats wrap up their series with Tampa Bay as Corbin gets his second start of the season. Will this be a bounce-back outing, more of the same or worse? The Rays pitcher Shane McClanahan, who tossed six scoreless innings in his first outing, is picking up where he left off in 2022 (12-8, 2.54 ERA and voted 6th in the AL Cy Young voting).

Game to Miss: Sunday, Washington concludes their series in Colorado with Chad Kuhl (6-11 with a 5.72 ERA last year) pitching against the Rockies’ Ryan Feltner (0-3 with a 9.92 ERA in spring training). I don’t know everything about the weather, but it also might be really cold in Colorado the second weekend of April.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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