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Bring on the Braves

Apr 4, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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For all the rehashing and overanalyzing that took place at the end of the 2013 season, anyone who was trying to figure out what went wrong for the Nationals really could point to one simple fact: They couldn’t beat the Braves.

The Nationals were beaten up by their division rivals, going 6-13 against Atlanta and ultimately finishing 10 games back in the NL East. Suppose they merely held their own against the Braves and went 10-9. They would have wound up 90-72, only two games back. And suppose they reversed their fortunes against Atlanta altogether and went 13-6 in head-to-head matchups. Then they would have wound up 93-69, winning the division by four games.

Of course, none of that happened. And it’s perhaps too simplistic to attribute the Nationals’ underachievement last season entirely to their play against one opponent.

But this much can be said with certainty: If the Nationals are going to take back the NL East title in 2014, they’re going to have to play considerably better against the defending division champs.

The road begins today, when the Braves march into Nationals Park for this season’s home opener, a highly anticipated, early season showdown between the NL East’s best.

Just don’t try to get anybody wearing a Nats uniform to publicly say this is an especially important series.

“Not any more important than it was to play well here, or it will be to play the series after that,” Ryan Zimmerman said yesterday at Citi Field following his team’s series sweep of the Mets. “The goal is to win every series. Whether we’re playing the Mets, the Braves, the Cubs, the Padres, we try and win every series. We’ll go home, and that will be the goal for this weekend.”

The Nationals have been extremely careful not to say anything that could wind up on Atlanta’s bulletin board. Certainly they were humbled last year by the lopsided season series between the two clubs and enter this season with tremendous respect for their opponents.

“They’re a good team,” Danny Espinosa said. “They were a good team last year. It’s going to be another battle, another grind with them. It’ll be a fun series.”

Home openers already feature plenty of extra buzz. Add the Braves to the mix, and Nationals Park will be filled with energy this afternoon when both teams take the field.

There is, however, a major question the Nationals must answer before the first pitch is thrown at 1:05 p.m.: Who will throw that first pitch?

Tanner Roark was supposed to make the start, but the young right-hander was bumped up to yesterday’s game in New York after Jordan Zimmermann fell ill. Zimmermann went home early, and the Nationals are hoping their 19-game winner will feel well enough to make this start.

If not? Well, Ross Detwiler pitched two innings out of the bullpen yesterday. Taylor Jordan threw a simulated game on Tuesday, preparing himself for his scheduled start Sunday. So that leaves … Craig Stammen and a bunch of other relievers?

“I don’t know,” manager Matt Williams said after yesterday’s game. “We’ll have to see how it all plays out. We’ll get a report on (Zimmermann) and certainly monitor him tonight and tomorrow and see where he’s at.”

  1. 3on2out - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:27 AM

    The use of Detwiler for 2 innings yesterday was simply bizarre. Was Stammen the choice all along if JZ can’t go? Matty & McCatty: inscrutable unpredictable enigmas?

    • natinalsgo - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:41 AM

      MW claims he has a plan and yesterdays was Detwilers day to pitch and so he did. I don’t buy it.

      If JZim emerges from the ashes to start today then we will know this was just one big preplanned charade to throw the Barves off and brilliant I must add.

      • NatsNut - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:38 AM

        Yep. Its what im looking for.

      • Section 222 - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:53 AM

        Actually we won’t know that at all. At this point, it’s crazy to still think that this was all a ruse. Why not just say, “we’ve decided to let JZnn pitch the home opener.” It’s not like they need a doctor’s excuse to change the rotation order.

        I’m confused by the decision to go with Det yesterday, and I hope it’s because they felt pretty good about JZnn’s chances to recover by today. Or, they’d rather go with Stammen. He’s pitched well against the Braves in the past. (Remember the game when Stras had to leave with a back issue?) Plus, he has the kind of rubber arm that seems to adapt well to long outings and then going back to the bullpen.

      • Nats128 - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:32 AM

        I want to look smart when I suggested this week’s ago and hoping JZ toes the rubber today.

        Matty has shown he is unconventional in lineup construction and matchups.

        Please JZ!

      • Nats128 - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:37 AM

        222 Im thinking element of surpize as to keep the Barves in there normal rotation and the Mets didn’t have time to prepare for Roark.

        Genius if in fact JZ starts and the 2 posters who called it a stupid idea can now address Matt Williams as stupid.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:45 AM

        Maybe it was just sticking to the schedule. Maybe he doesn’t want to mess with Detwiler’s head any worse, by putting him in the bullpen, which ticked Detwiler off, and then pulling a “PSYCH! You’re starting tomorrow!”

        It’s Znn, anyway, so it’s all good.

      • Section 222 - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:50 AM

        Not saying he won’t start. There’s just no reason to think that if he does the sickness was all a ruse to fool the Braves, or the Mets, at least until there’s actual reporting to the contrary, as opposed to conspiracy theories here,

  2. Pete "Hit 'n Run" Wood - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:35 AM

    right you are:) gonna be interesting today!

  3. Steady Eddie - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:36 AM

    If JZimm can’t go, you look to Stammen for 3-4 innings if he can keep his pitch count manageable, Det for a couple (he threw only 25 yesterday which is like a long first inning for a starter), then split the rest. If you don’t get 6 out of those two, see if Drew is efficient for one inning, give him a second.

    I have a sense that after this first series, Tanner’s attitude will be infectious in the pen. (I know, bad indirect reference to JZimm.)

  4. Steady Eddie - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:56 AM

    Just think of it like a really long extra inning game where you don’t have many relievers left. (Remember that 15 or 16 inning game in Atl last August where ALR’s dinger beat the Barves? I think that was the one where Stras only lasted one inning and change (the one where he was tossed I think) and Det pitched the couple out of the rotation on his BP session day?

    Like that. Bizarre for a home opener but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Baseball is throwing some weird curves at Matty in his first week of managing, but this kind of one game adaptation is still nothing like the Barves’ makeshift rotation so let’s keep it in proportion.

    Hopefully JZ will be OK to go 5 and this will all be academic.

    • janebeard - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:55 AM

      You’re going to be there today, right?

  5. nycnatsfan - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:17 AM

    There are consequences to a bullpen game though. Burn through the pen today and you set yourself up for a rough weekend if either of the next two starters gets in trouble.

    If Matt Williams didn’t know whether Jzimm was likely good to go today when he put Det in yesterday, he made a mistake. Unless there’s some other solution not yet mentioned.

    • Steady Eddie - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:28 AM

      Of course you don’t want to use up most of your bullpen in the first game. That’s why you have to expect the 3-4 relievers you do use will each go multiple innings. And if JZimm doesn’t go today he can sometime this weekend, and then the Monday off day will let Matty straighten the rotation out again.

    • sjm308 - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:07 AM

      I read that Williams said that Det was scheduled to pitch yesterday and they wanted to keep him on schedule. It sounds pretty simple to me. Williams is looking at the big picture – 162 games -

    • ehay2k - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:09 AM

      I heard somewhere (MW’s postgame?) that Det needed to pitch yesterday – he hadn’t pitched since Mar 26 or something like that. So, in he goes. If JZ just had a 24 hour stomach bug, then he should be OK to pitch today. They sent him home and pumped him with fluids, so as long as he hurls only baseballs, he should be able to go at least 3 innings. That would be fine given the circumstances.

      No matter what happens this weekend due to JZ’s flu, there is no way I trade places with the Barves pitching situation. They have a very good bullpen, but looking at their replacement SP’s makes me wonder if the ‘pen won’t be smoldering by June, and completely cooked by August. This weekend we will get a good first look.

      GYFNG!

      • Eugene in Oregon - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:34 AM

        +1

  6. scnatsfan - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:01 AM

    If JZ had a stomach bug, got IVs yesterday and held food down last night then you could see him pitching today. We all know how much better you can feel in 24 hours.

  7. TimDz - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:02 AM

    Off Topic….
    Any Fister updates, Mark?

  8. sjm308 - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:05 AM

    Agree with most here that there is no need for secrecy or some cynical plot. Why can’t people just accept what is out there? This is not DC politics or for that matter any type of politics.

    Zimm got sick, they got him out of NYC and home with fluids and medicine and if he can pitch, he will. If not, we have 159 games left.

    Excited that the weather looks to be a iittle better then I saw a few days ago. I am excited for opening day but will be happy to stay dry as well.

    Here is something totally unrelated to this article.

    Two days ago Gio hits his homerun – Lets say its closer than what actually happens – the ump gives the homerun signal and the outfielders liesurely stroll after the ball – Gio keeps running hard and scores – The manager comes out and challenges the call and the homerun is overturned. Where do the umps place Gio? How do they know if it would be a double or triple? Should outfielders ignore the ump and play the ball like it is in play? Just wondering how this would work. My guess is that if it had been in play and the ump screwed up they would have placed Gio at 2nd but I am not sure that is the correct call since he continued to hustle and the defense did not.

    OK – Hope everyone has a great day!!

    Go Nats!!

    • Candide - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:16 AM

      Where do the umps place Gio? How do they know if it would be a double or triple?

      Without looking at the rule book, it’s my understanding that on some kinds of weird plays involving ground rules, that the umps can use their best judgment of how far a runner might have safely advanced before play stopped. I suspect something like that would apply in your case.

      I’m sure there’s an Earl Weaver kind of manager out there looking for a wrinkle in the new rules that he can bend to his advantage.

    • laddieblahblah - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:21 AM

      Great question. My guess is that Gio gets the home run. If the Braves choose not to hustle, then they pay the price, and Gio gets rewarded for playing it out. And, in a case where Gio has already crossed the plate, why would the Braves manager bother with a challenge, when the runner has scored, regardless of whether the ball went out, or not?

      But we won’t know, for sure, until we know.

    • jd - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:29 AM

      sjm,

      I think they would have to call it a ground rule double in your scenario.

      I also think that all the conspiracy theorists have a rich imagination. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by ‘tricking’ the Braves into not being ready for JZImm. You don’t think the Braves have a book on JZimm? they haven’t faced him like 100 times?

      Also, I think we should maybe stop 1st guessing MW for a while and admit that he has been pushing all the right buttons so far. I too criticized his lineups but maybe he’s still trying to figure out his team.

    • Eric - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:38 AM

      My guess is, unless the review showed that the ball’s first contact subjected it to some sort of ground rule, then the ground rule would guide the ump’s decision.

      If, on the other hand, the homerun were reversed but the review revealed that the ball simply hit the wall and fell into play, the run would stand and the Mets would be kicking themselves for lack of hustle.

  9. David Proctor - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    I like that we enter this series with a 1 game lead (I know that’s inconsequential on April 4, but let me be). It takes some pressure off the guys. As long as we don’t get swept, the worst that can happen is we’re tied again. If we win 2/3, we go up by 2.

  10. nats2005 - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    FWIW, on Fed baseball, he has a quote from Det saying that he was speaking JZ and expects him to go today.

    With Det pitching yesterday, no way we go with a BP Committee to start the home opener.

    That would be insane and completely look like Managerial (and GM) incompetence.

    JZ will start today.

    Diz

  11. nycnatsfan - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    I don’t in any way think there’s a sinister plot nor do I think these are disaster decisions. I’m just discussing the thinking and pointing out that it’s not so simple as turning to the bullpen and all is good. I’ve been a fan of the Nats since day 1 and will always be a fan, but that doesn’t mean I’ll agree with every decision made. That’s a big part of the fun of baseball. Debate, discussion.

  12. David Proctor - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:28 AM

    Jzimm is good to go.

    • Eric - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:48 AM

      Or, at least, he’s convinced them he is…fingers crossed he’s able to bring his “A” game!

    • adcwonk - Apr 4, 2014 at 10:15 AM

      Is that the fourth different lineup in four games? (Just asking!)

      Are the Braves going with Hale?

      Is he even experienced enough to have “book” on him? He’s had a grand total of 2 MLB starts in his life.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 4, 2014 at 10:40 AM

        Hale is listed as the starter, but they might just be doing that to throw the Nats off, and they really plan to use Greg Maddux.

        And Znn is technically listed, but they are still keeping Stammen ready, just in case Jordan cannot start after all.

        Personally, I doubt the Braves worry about it much.

  13. adcwonk - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    Boswell, today, after pointing out that the Nats went 7-24 combined against the Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers, (oy! reliving the nightmare!) noted that: “Last year, the Nats weren’t outmatched, just completely outplayed, which actually ought to sting even worse.”

    This weekend’s situation is the opposite of the Mets. Against the Mets it’s: “relax, we got this as soon as the starter sits down, because we can feast on the ridiculously weak bullpen” — against the Braves, it ought to be: “let’s jump on them soon, because the pen (yeah, Kimbrel, I’m thinking of you) is one of their strengths.”

    (Kimbrel: three seasons, three-time All Star, three-time NL save leader, career WHIP of 0.894 (!!). This season: two outings, six batters faced, no baserunners, 4 K’s. At least he only pitches one inning per game! The way to keep Kimbrel on the bench is to have the lead after 8 innings).

    GYFNG!

    • Eugene in Oregon - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:33 AM

      +1

    • David Proctor - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:38 AM

      Important to note that while we feasted on the Mets bullpen, we were tied or had the lead in all 3 games when their starter left. The bullpen just turned them from close games into blowouts.

  14. RPrecupjr - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    I am SO looking foward to today’s game, and at the same time, a little sad. This will be my first home opener without my dad, who taught me everything I know about baseball. His passing last May made the season even tougher in addition to what was happening on the field.

    I seem to remember there being a place to meet other Insiders before the game (behind one of the 300 sections,I believe), if someone could confirm that, that would be cool. I’ll be in Section 320 in Row E with my mother, wife, and three buddies from work, so come on down! (Or up, as the case may be)

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:52 AM

      The picnic benches behind home plate, on the 300 level, are a good spot, but it’s not reserved. I’ve gotten some strange looks from people when I tell people I’m looking for Mark, does anyone know Mark Zuckerman?

      Well, to be fair, that may not be the reason for the strange looks.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:54 AM

        I’ve also tried asking if these were the Insider-outside seats. Even stranger looks.

        Best was when I asked if anyone knew where The Sofa was.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 4, 2014 at 10:31 AM

        Oh, and the “Who’s going?” section might give a clue about whom to look for.
        http://prettyfrickenbueno.wordpress.com/whos-going/

    • janebeard - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:57 AM

      RP, I had that happen last year. I hope you are surprised and delighted to feel him with you in a new way, as I did. I really do.

      • sjm308 - Apr 4, 2014 at 10:17 AM

        Yes, I walk by there almost every game – lots of red shirts and jerseys but not 1 sign of an “Insider” I asked once and was given a very strange look, of course I am a very strange person to begin with

        Thanks for all the discussion on my silly question so I guess it wasn’t that silly

        go Nats!!

    • natsfan1a - Apr 4, 2014 at 11:44 AM

      I’m sorry for your loss, RPrecupjr. Watching baseball made me sad for some time after my brother, a big SF Giants fan, passed in 2010 (although he was quite ill, he did get to see his guys win it all).

      I won’t be there today but in the past folks have met up at the picnic tables behind sec. 312.

  15. sunshinebobby - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    Off to the park with the 84-year-old mother-in-law, Wanda. The bell is ringing. Beat these Barves. Everybody who’s going out, happy hooky and travel safely.

    And for the first time this home season:

    GYFNG!!

  16. jd - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    I think we have every reason to expect a series win and it will be disappointing if that doesn’t happen.

    • adcwonk - Apr 4, 2014 at 10:18 AM

      If you mean “expect” as in: odds are greater than 50% — yep.

      If you mean “expect” as in: a lock, well, as they say “that’s why they play the game”.

      (Odds of today’s game: http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/odds)

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 4, 2014 at 10:27 AM

        And it’s always disappointing to lose, ain’t it?

        I love winning, man. It’s, like, y’know, better than losing?

      • adcwonk - Apr 4, 2014 at 10:45 AM

        When I coached (a different sport), I would often say “play well, play smart, and remember: we’re doing this to have fun.” Then, after a nicely timed dramatic pause, I would add: “and, of course winning is more fun than losing.” ;-)

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 54 43 --
ATLANTA 54 45 1.0
MIAMI 46 52 8.5
NEW YORK 46 53 9.0
PHILADELPHIA 43 56 12.0
Through Monday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
TUE: Nats at Rockies, 8:40 p.m.
WED: Nats at Rockies, 3:10 p.m.
THU: OFF
FRI: Nats at Reds, 7:10 p.m.
SAT: Nats at Reds, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Reds, 1:10 p.m.
MON: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
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ON THE RADIO

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MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
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