May 1, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Well, the season’s first month is now complete, and what a tumultuous month it was for the Nationals.
Wilson Ramos broke his hand on Opening Day. Ryan Zimmerman couldn’t throw the ball across the diamond, then broke his thumb on a pickoff play at second base. Doug Fister hurt himself on the final day of spring training.
Ian Desmond leads the majors in errors and owns a paltry .646 OPS while striking out a staggering 36 times. Leadoff man Denard Span has a .295 on-base percentage. Big offseason acquisition Nate McLouth is hitting .108.
Stephen Strasburg hasn’t pitched like an ace. Taylor Jordan was a bust before getting demoted to Class AAA. Tyler Clippard couldn’t be trusted to hold a late lead.
And then there’s Bryce Harper, who admitted he was “lost” at the plate, was benched for not running out a groundball and now is out 6-to-8 weeks following thumb surgery.
What a disaster of an April for the Nationals, who now head to Philadelphia with tails between their legs, hoping to somehow right their ship and improve their … 16-12 record?
Wait, what? Isn’t this team in disarray right now? Wasn’t this a wholly disappointing first month of the season, a mere continuation of their underachieving performance in 2013?
Not exactly. Say what you want about the path they took here — and there’s plenty that can be said — but the fact remains that the Nationals are in much better shape than you might have thought. With their two-game sweep in Houston, they’re four games over .500 and — get this — on pace to win 92.5 games this season.
That’s right. The Nationals are playing at a 92.5-win pace. Does that mean they’re going to win 92-93 games this season? No, but if they merely recreated April five more times, that’s where they’d end up, most likely in the playoffs.
How have they managed to do this, despite all the negative developments outlined above? Well, it turns out this is an incredibly talented ballclub, across the board.
They’re scoring 4.25 runs per game, second-most in the NL. Their 3.27 ERA as a pitching staff ranks sixth in the NL. Their defense, while a legitimate problem early, has improved: They’ve only committed three errors in their last seven games, better than any MLB club but the Braves.
On an individual level, the Nationals have received some fantastic performances to date. Adam LaRoche looks like his 2012 Silver Slugger self. Anthony Rendon ranks in the top-10 in the NL in runs, hits, doubles, triples and RBI. Danny Espinosa is a new man. Tanner Roark is baseball’s best-kept secret. Rafael Soriano and Drew Storen collectively have given up one run in 19 2/3 innings.
Point is, this is a good ballclub. Is it a perfect ballclub? Not even close. But given everything that has transpired through the first month of this season, the fact the Nationals stand where they do today should give everyone plenty of reason to believe they’ll be just fine over the next five months.
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