Suffering is a Result of the Game

Baseball is not a sport for those that hang importance on every victory. What is ultimately important in baseball is winning series and having winning streaks that last longer than losing streaks. The 2013 Nationals are off to the same 4-2 start as the 2012 Nationals even though those records were achieved in very different manners. The 2012 Nationals won series 2-1 against the Cubs (61-101) and Mets (74-88) to open up the season. The 2013 Nationals swept the understaffed Marlins and lost a series on the road 1-2 to the projected NL Central champion Reds. When the Nats play that Reds, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, and Braves on the road the result of the series should be 1-2. Those are the coin-flip games the Nationals are going to play and when those games are on the road the advantage turns ever so slightly in the favor of the home team.

Last season the Nationals had an April showdown series against the Dodgers. Bryce Harper made his debut, the Nats pitching was brilliant, Henry Rodriguez blew a save, and the Nats got swept. This past series against the Reds was very different. The Nats had their big free agent starting pitcher give up six runs in four innings of work, Ross Detwiler pitch brilliant and club five homers on offense to take the middle game, and then had their Ace, Stephen Strasburg, attempt to emulate Dan Haren's performance by giving up six runs in six innings of work. The argument can be made that Strasburg was finished after five innings, but if he truly is the Ace of this staff then he is the pitcher the team wants on the mound in the sixth no matter how he has looked.

Unlike the series against the Dodgers in 2012 where the Nationals just got plain beat the Nationals did a lot to help the Reds cause. There were a number of defensive errors and miscues that cost the team precious outs. With seven errors the Nats are not off to a great defensive start, but with their level of talent that will even out. The good news of all this is that the Nationals went on the road against one of the best teams in the NL, didn't play their best baseball, and still got out of town with a win. That series could have and maybe should have gone much worse with the way the Nationals played. If they hadn't have had a power show Saturday afternoon then they would have lost all three games and the complaints from the peanut gallery would be much louder.  

Baseball is the longest season of all sports. The Nats finished 2012 with the best overall record and still lost 64 games. Many believe it would be an achievement for the Nats to match their 2012 record, but in order for that to be the case they have to lose 62 more games. Fans of baseball understand that the results of individual games don't matter as much as the results of a week or a month, and after the first week of the season the Nats are 4-2. If they play this way every week they will end up with 108 wins. That is on the margins of the possible, but not in the realm of the probable. The Nats have the talent to end the season with a win total in the high 90's and maybe even eclipse the 100 win mark. One series in April, on the road, against one of the best teams in baseball changes nothing.  

The first two months of the 2013 season are brutal for the Nats. They now welcome in the White Sox and Braves for a homestand. Both of those teams finished over .500 in 2012 and the White Sox led the AL Central for much of the season. The Braves are the Nats chief division rival and added every Upton they could find this off-season, and are off to a fast start. After that the Nats head out on the road to play the Marlins and Mets which isn't bad except for being on the road, but the Nats should return home having won a majority of those games, but they happen to return to Pete Kozma and the Cardinals for three before the early rematch between the Reds. Every one of those games is going to be tough, and then the Nats strike back out on the road to play that Braves and Pirates. The Pirates are a team desperate to finish over .500 for the first time since 1992, and Andrew McCutchen is hitting .442/.505/.907 against the Nationals.  

May is a month full of road games the Nats play 18 of 28 games on the road including a 10 game road trip against the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants. Those games against the Dodgers and Giants are going to be some of the toughest the Nats play all season. The rest of May has the Nats playing Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers at home, the Cubs at home, then the ten game west coast trip, returning home to play the Phillies who may still have a healthy Utley and Howard, the Orioles, and then finishing the month at Baltimore and Atlanta. 12 of the Nats 16 remaining April/May series are against teams labeled as contenders. The only series the Nats should win are those against the Marlins, Mets, Padres, and Cubs. All the rest could go either way.  

Baseball is a sport with a lot of suffering built in. Do not be shocked if the Nats happen to be at .500 at the end of May. Things do loosen up quite a bit once May passes, but the important thing is getting there and hanging around until that date arrives. The Nats are a very good team, but so are a number of the teams the Nats have to play in April and May and many of those series are on the road. This is a tough early schedule for the Nationals, and the results of it should do little to change any predictions for the Nats. It would be great if they could get hot while playing a number of these good teams and take a number of these coin-flip series. The baseball season is 162 games for a reason. It is a season of attrition, and as Ross Detwiler showed on Saturday the Nats have stoppers along every point of their rotation. The Nats had a good first week winning four out of two, and now it is time for week two and the Nats to do it again.

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