WASHINGTON -- As the season’s first full month comes to a close, the Nationals find themselves in familiar territory. A year ago, they closed March/April with a record of 13-16, an underwhelming start for a team with grand postseason aspirations. Well, they find themselves in virtually the same situation following
WASHINGTON -- As the season’s first full month comes to a close, the Nationals find themselves in familiar territory. A year ago, they closed March/April with a record of 13-16, an underwhelming start for a team with grand postseason aspirations. Well, they find themselves in virtually the same situation following Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Cardinals. It dropped Washington to a season-low four games under .500 at 12-16 -- an underwhelming start for a team with grand postseason aspirations.
“Is tomorrow May 1?” manager Dave Martinez said. “I can't wait until tomorrow.”
May was actually the Nats’ best month of the 2018 season, where they ratted off a 20-7 record and seemed to get back on the right track. They are hoping for similar fortunes this time around.
However, injuries are starting to threaten their ability to climb out of this early-season hole they have created for themselves. Three members of their starting infield are currently on the injured list, with third baseman Anthony Rendon (left elbow) joining shortstop Trea Turner (right index finger) and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (right foot) on the shelf prior to Tuesday’s game. With Rendon sidelined for at least the next week, the Nationals are going to need to make up for his lost production elsewhere.
Adam Eaton and Victor Robles did their part with back-to-back homers in the third inning off Adam Wainwright, but this offense managed just three more hits after that inning, leading to Washington’s eighth loss in the past 11 games.
“You can’t overemphasize that these are several of your best, most productive players [on the injured list],” general manager Mike Rizzo said prior to the game. “We have to find ways to win without them.”
Perhaps starting pitching will be the way they do it. After all, the starting rotation is the area of the roster they have invested most heavily, including signing Anibal Sanchez as a free agent on Dec. 27. But Sanchez got tagged for three runs in the fourth inning and lasted just five innings on Tuesday, continuing what has been a rocky start to his tenure in D.C. His ERA rose to 5.91 after this outing and he has completed six innings in only one of his first six starts with Washington.
“Team wise, I think we’re early,” Sanchez said. “It’s April and I know a lot of things can happen. We’re not in the situation that everybody expected, but definitely we’re way early in the season ... personally I think we are going to turn around everything soon. We showed that in Spring Training. I trust in my team and I trust in myself. We can start a good month in May.”
What has been most encouraging lately for the Nats has been the sudden steady production from the bullpen. They tossed four scoreless innings in this game and have now thrown 16 scoreless innings with 21 strikeouts and five walks over the past three games.
With the bullpen showing some semblance of order, the Nationals need to get their lineup turned around from this recent skid. In their past 10 games, they had posted a slash line of .235/.307/.395 entering Tuesday. They have confidence in the replacements for their injured starters -- Howie Kendrick at third, Carter Kieboom (Washington's No. 1-ranked prospect) at shortstop and Matt Adams at first -- and faith in the talent in the rest of their lineup to overcome a few missing pieces and a slow start.
“If everybody [does] his part, everything will be good and we’re going to win a lot of games,” left fielder Juan Soto said. “It doesn’t matter when they come back. I know we prefer when they’re in the lineup, but if everybody [does] their part, everything’s going to be good.”
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.