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Looking at early schedules in National League East

Mar 28, 2014, 11:53 AM EST

Is it still possible to catch the Braves?

In examining what went wrong for the Nationals last season, one could argue it all started off on the wrong foot. After beginning 2012 with a winning record after their first month, the Nats finished April of 2013 a game below .500. They posted the best record in baseball from Aug. 9 to Sept. 24 at 30-12, but it was too little too late.

Though the importance of starting fast could be stressed every season, the Nationals have been vocal about avoiding what happened last year. Plus, recently the Atlanta Braves have made scorching out of the gate their calling card. Last season, for instance, they began the year 12-1.

Here is a look at how the Nats and Braves have fared through April over the last two seasons:

2012 Nationals – 14-8
2013 Nationals – 13-14

2012 Braves – 14-9
2013 Braves – 17-9

In terms of strength of schedule, both the Nationals and Braves are expected to have a relatively easy time this year. FanGraphs recently projected the difficulty of each team’s regular season calendar based on average opponent WAR. The Nats have the easiest schedule and the Braves are second. That probably has a lot to do with each team facing the Phillies, Mets and Marlins all the time as FanGraphs also projects the National League East to be the worst division in baseball.

Of course, just because the other three teams aren’t expected to contend for the division this season, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Every year teams make surprise leaps.

If it were to happen, however, those teams will have to survive tough early schedules. Based on 2013 opponent win percentages, the Nationals and Braves have it the easiest early on.

Here’s a look at each NL East team’s March and April schedules:

New York Mets – .520 opponent win % in 2013
Schedule – Nationals, Reds, Braves*, Angels*, Diamondbacks*, Braves, Cardinals, Marlins, Phillies*

Miami Marlins – .502 opponent win % in 2013
Schedule – Rockies, Padres, Nationals*, Phillies*, Nationals, Mariners, Braves*, Mets*, Braves

Philadelphia Phillies – .487 opponent win % win 2013
Schedule – Rangers*, Cubs*, Brewers, Marlins, Braves, Rockies*, Dodgers*, Diamondbacks*, Mets

Washington Nationals – .475 opponent win % in 2013
Schedule – Mets*, Braves, Marlins, Braves*, Marlins*, Cardinals, Angels, Padres, Astros*

Atlanta Braves – .467 opponent win % in 2013
Schedule – Brewers*, Nationals*, Mets, Nationals, Phillies*, Mets*, Marlins, Reds, Marlins*

*Road games

As you see, the three hardest first month schedules – at least by this measure – belong to the Mets, Marlins and Phillies. If the Mets were to make some noise this season, for example, they would have survive what is a brutal first run in April. After facing the Nats in the season opening series, they play the Reds, Braves, Angels, D-Backs, Braves and then the Cardinals. All of those teams could conceivably win their divisions this year.

Health could also play a factor in how these teams begin the season. The Braves have well-documented injuries to their pitching staff, and the Mets will play the year without Matt Harvey. Jon Niese will also not be ready for Opening Day. Though the Nationals are unsure of when Doug Fister will debut, they look pretty healthy in comparison.

When it’s all said and done, schedules are just schedules. The Nationals have to take care of business when the actual games start. But just looking at the road ahead, the stage is set for a good April. It’s up to them to take advantage.

  1. naterialguy - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    off topic sorry, but does anyone think they will be playing the game at Nats park tomorrow?
    not looking good 😦

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:11 PM

      Accuweather has it as a better than 50% chance of rain all day long, and not particularly warm, either. Certainly a bad day for anyone with a strained latisimuss dorsi, even a fan.

    • Jb - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      They’ll get five innings in somehow if only so they don’t have to figure out how to rain check all the STH who were forced to buy this game as part of their plan.

      • tcostant - Mar 28, 2014 at 1:48 PM

        I agree – the game won’t be made up so they will try to get five innings in, so they don’t need to give away the box office.

        If you think it’s gonna rain, but cheap sheats on stubhub and get the rain check. Some bargins suchs as LF Corner ($6), Club ($25), Home Plate Reserved ($25), Diamound ($79).

      • slidell2 - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:44 PM

        Anyone who bought a half-season plan got stuck with 4 tickets! Gall in the Nats ticket sales department is unmitigated. Next year, I’m taking my chances with Stubhub.

      • Jb - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:33 PM

        Not true. I have a half season plan and I got one ticket. That’s because I have one seat (mine) in my plan. You apparently have four seats in your plan.

      • zmunchkin - Mar 28, 2014 at 7:30 PM

        I have a two seat full season plan and I am pretty sure I was only charged for 81 games.

      • zmunchkin - Mar 29, 2014 at 6:47 AM

        Correction. After checking my account statement I was charged for 82 games.

  2. Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:07 PM

    Seems to me we heard this last year, about May’s schedule IIRC.

    “There’s a reason they play the games.”

    Besides selling tickets and TV rights, I mean.

  3. Candide - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    Well, to some extent, the Marlins have a tougher schedule than the Nats because the Marlins don’t get to play the Marlins, and the Nats don’t have to play the Nats.

  4. jd - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:22 PM

    Not to minimize what Mark says I would like to stress that the Nats didn’t lose their season with their bad start last year because they were nearly caught up to the Braves by the all star game only to have a horrible slump out of the 2nd half gate coupled with Atlanta getting hot at the exact same time.

    • NatsLady - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:41 PM

      Agree. It was that slump after the All-Start game, when guys SHOULD have been healthy and ready, and the Barves were basically playing .500 ball that we had a “second” chance. And then, if we HAD played .500 ball, we STILL could have caught them with that hot streak at the end of the season (or at least caught Cincinnati). But it was a bad slump–a postseason killer, if you will. Also, after that, Davey lost faith in the team. Jayson didn’t (because he’s seen it before), but Davey did. I attribute part of that to Davey’s being in a poor state (remember how he had to have treatment on his back, probably more than we knew). Some of Davey’s postgame and radio interviews were really sad around then.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:56 PM

      I’m sure Mark would have made much the same point, but as it happens, this was Chase’s post. Just saying.

    • Section 222 - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      Absolutely right. There were two bad stretches — the West Coast trip/ Baltimore home and series in May, and the pre and post ASG collapse (Marlins, Phillies Dodgers, Pirates.) April was bad, but it wasn’t fatal. We still had a shot as the ASG approached, but the season was lost by the time the Braves came to town on early August.

    • micksback1 - Mar 28, 2014 at 1:24 PM

      what is positive about the Nats as a whole is the fact that 86-76 was a disappointment. This is how far they have come. can’t wait for the opener!!

      • Joe Seamhead - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:28 PM

        Great point, mick. I still look at how good we actually have gotten to be that so many saw 10 games over .500 as a bad year, in spite of a horrible string of injuries and bad years by a few players. Of course to some it was all the GM or the manager’s fault.

  5. NatsLady - Mar 28, 2014 at 12:36 PM

    Final spring training post. Seems like it went by fast… a lot faster than waiting for it went.

  6. Doc - Mar 28, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    It will be interesting in the game with Detroit, to see if Jordan can adjust to the Tigers reading his pitches last time out.

    Also, of interest is that both Roark and TJ are pitching in the same game–sorta like the proverbial taste test.

    I wish them both luck. Both of them came out of nowhere last year to become big leaguers.

    Both Roark and Taylor overcame previous stats and prospects’ scouting reports. These guys are part of a baseball tradition where underdogs can still achieve and do well.

    Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Nats!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Gooooooooooooooooooooo Baseballl!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. thelatencn - Mar 28, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    Interesting. The ESPN announcers yesterday were talking about how tough the Nats April was, basing their view on the fact that we have to play the Cardinals and Angels, and don’t get the Phillies.

  8. philipd763 - Mar 28, 2014 at 2:11 PM

    We should not take the Marlins lightly because they have four young power arms in their starting rotation! Furthermore, the Nationals have always had trouble beating the Fish.

    • natsjackinfl - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:03 PM

      You should never take any one that puts on a Major League uniform and takes the field lightly.

    • Joe Seamhead - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:31 PM

      I think that the Marlins will finish 3rd in the NL East, ahead of the Muts and the Phools.

  9. kirbs3256 - Mar 28, 2014 at 2:45 PM

    April is Braves X 2, Angles, Cards…..not that easy.

  10. NatsLady - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    According to Twitter, Fister has been place on the DL.

    Fister to DL. Lat strains aren't common and they're definitely troublesome. Perfect place for biomechanical analysis w kinetic chain issue.— Will Carroll (@injuryexpert) March 28, 2014

  11. NatsLady - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    If you think WE got troubles… Phillies

    • natsjackinfl - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:41 PM

      Thanks NL. Notice how all were retroactive 10 days? I owe Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone an apology.

      • jd - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:01 PM

        And that’s before Howard, Rollins, Utley, Bird et. al hit the DL. Amaro is still waiting to have a season where they are all healthy. Someone forgot to tell him that this gets less likely every year. Their other problem of course is that all of their stars aren’t quite as good as they used to be even when healthy. No one has been able to beat father time yet.

  12. chaz11963 - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    Overall, I must say, I am feeling pretty good about things this year. I have been anxiously (paranoid) watching and following them through ST and overall they really look strong.

  13. NatsLady - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    I found an article on lat strains. It’s from 2011, but it shows number of games missed.

    Lat Strains

    • Section 222 - Mar 28, 2014 at 5:56 PM

      Scary. Is it possible that McCatty’s cautious approach stopped him from aggrevating it and might lead to a quicker recovery? Let’s hope so.

      • Eric - Mar 28, 2014 at 6:07 PM

        Also, isn’t a lat stain what sidelined Stras for a pretty short (2 or 3 starts) stint last year?





As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
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SAT: 10:30 a.m.

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