Apr 15, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
Last week after the Nationals swept the Marlins before heading to Atlanta, we at CSN pointed out a coincidental parallel between this season and last. The Nats entered their series with the Braves with the exact same record (then 7-2) as they did in 2013 before getting swept by their rivals.
And then the Braves swept them again, taking Games 10, 11 and 12 of this season from the Nats, just as they did a year before. Well, what the Nationals did next in 2013 also happens to line up almost perfectly with this year.
In 2013, after losing three straight to the Braves, the Nationals bounced back with a blowout win in Miami against the Marlins. Jordan Zimmermann took the victory in a 10-3 game.
So, what happened last night? Of course, Zimmermann earned the win in a 9-2 blowout at Marlins Park. For the second year in a row the Nationals are 8-5 after 13 games with a nearly identical stretch.
With all those scheduling coincidences in mind, are the Nationals better this season, or is this just some bizarre replay of their disappointing 2013? The next few months will determine that, but for now they do appear to at least be deeper on offense.
Last season the Nationals were also hit by the injury bug early on. In April alone, Wilson Ramos and Ryan Zimmerman went on the disabled list, and Danny Espinosa took a pitch off his right wrist (he would later find out it was broken). The injuries later uncovered a lack of depth on the Nationals’ bench, and it contributed to their downfall.
This past offseason the Nationals were aggressive in revamping and deepening their bench, opting for experience and versatility. So far, through the season’s first two weeks, it is paying off.
Monday night’s game was a perfect example. Though they saw contributions from all around the roster, names who were not in their Opening Day lineup helped lead the way.
Espinosa, who entered the year as a backup infielder (and who was playing on the one year anniversary of breaking his wrist), went 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI triple in place of Zimmerman. He is now hitting .346/.414/.577 on the season through 11 games, has five extra base hits, and has cut his strikeout rate down to 17.2 percent, compared to his 26.9 career mark.
Kevin Frandsen also continued his excellent start to the year. Starting in left field due to Denard Span’s 7-day DL stint, Frandsen reached base safely for the fifth straight game. He has now reached on either a walk or a hit in seven of his last eight.
Frandsen was acquired late in spring for the final bench spot and has been huge for the Nats so far. He is hitting .346/.455/.421 through 11 games and playing better in the outfield than many would have predicted.
Tyler Moore had a game himself on Monday night. The 27-year-old started in the place of Adam LaRoche at first base and went 3-for-5 with a homer, two RBI and a run.
It’s only his fifth game of the year, and he had done little in his previous four, but Moore is already showing more promise than he did to start 2013. Last season he didn’t hit his first home run until his 18th game and didn’t have a three-hit day until his 46th.
Even Sandy Leon stood out at the plate on Monday night. The backstop had just one hit through his first 15 at-bats entering the game, but went 2-for-5 with two runs and two RBI. He also hit the first homer of his MLB career.
For a comparison to last year’s backup to the backup catcher, Jhonatan Solano never recorded a multi-hit game in 2013 and had only one multi-RBI game in 24 appearances. Those two RBI were the only ones he produced all season.
For those who watched the Nationals in 2012, you know how big a role the team’s bench played in their MLB-best 98 regular season wins. Those same people also recognize how the team’s lack of depth held them back one year later. Nationals players hit .283 collectively off the bench in 2012, but just .207 in 2013, for example.
It is still very early both in the season and the rehab schedules of Ramos and Zimmerman, but so far the Nationals’ bench is providing just what the team hoped when they put them together this winter. Perhaps the Nats’ bench can prove the difference in where the team goes from here.
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