The Washington Nationals are Faced with a Critical 16-Game Stretch

The Washington Nationals have gotten off to a bizarre and inconsistent start to the 2018 season. They’ve been without their best pure hitter, Daniel Murphy, and have had multiple players hit the disabled list including Adam Eaton and Matt Wieters. In the midst of the injuries they’ve encountered, the Nationals have played .500 baseball. They won their first four games (three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds and a win on the road against the Atlanta Braves), then lost five in row (two to the Braves and then swept by the New York Mets), and proceeded to win two out of three games earlier in the week versus the Braves.

Now, the Nats will be tasked with going head-to-head against some of the most formidable teams in the National League — a 16-game stretch that will either showcase their ability to be legitimate contenders or dig manager Dave Martinez‘s Nats into an early hole.

Four-Game Series versus the Colorado Rockies

After losing the final game of their three-game set with the Braves, the Nationals will begin a four-game series with the Colorado Rockies (6-7) Thursday night in the nation’s capitol. While they’ve struggled out of the gate, the Rockies still have a tremendous lineup. With Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu, Ian Desmond, Trevor Story, among others, in the fold, manager Bud Black has arguably the game’s most dangerous lineup. The Nats will need to match the likes of the Rockies’ offensive firepower and hold that high-octane order in check.

Three-Game Series at the Mets

Last weekend, the Mets (10-1) went into Nats Park with their brooms and swept the Nats. They did so through clutch hitting, productive outings from their starters, and bullpen execution. Four days after sweeping the Nats, the Mets have continued to shown that they’re a serious threat to dethrone the Nats in the National League East. Their rotation, headlined by Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, is healthy and throwing well, and manager Mickey Callaway‘s lineup is coming through in crucial late-inning at-bats.

The @Nationals soon begin a pivotal 16-game stretch that could make or break their season, with nine games on the road and all against tough opponents.Click To Tweet

With a three-game series next week in Queens, the Nats have to show that they can beat the Amazin’s, and win the three-game set. A major factor working against them is that Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg aren’t projected to make a start versus the Mets. But if the Nats don’t find a way to pull through and return the favor, the Mets will gather even more confidence, while the Nats drag their way out West.

Three-Game Series at Los Angeles Dodgers

Much like the Nats, the Los Angeles Dodgers (4-7) have struggled out of the gate, and are down a key contributor in their order (Justin Turner). Regardless of their early struggles, the Dodgers are a complete team and the defending National League champions meaning they’re a competitive opponent on any given night. And the Nats are projected to face Clayton Kershaw — which isn’t exactly an ideal matchup for a slumping team.

The Nats and Dodgers were viewed as arguably the two best rosters in the National League going into spring training, so even if they’re both off to rocky starts, it should make for a competitive series — one the Nats can’t take for granted.

Three-Game Series at San Francisco Giants

After they face-off with the Dodgers in La La Land, the Nats will head to San Francisco to take on the Giants (5-6) who are also off to a rough start. Third baseman Evan Longoria has gotten off to a treacherous start and the Giants are without Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija for the foreseeable future.

Down two top of the rotations arms and off to a bad start after winning just 64 games in 2017, the Giants pose an underwhelming threat. Contending teams beat up and take advantage of lesser competition, and despite their early struggles, the Giants are still going to be a West Coast opponent for the Nats on a road trip that could be grueling; they can’t play down to them.

Three-Game Series vs Arizona Diamondbacks

The Nationals will round out their competitive 16-game stretch with a fourth series versus an NL West team (the Arizona Diamondbacks). The D-Backs (9-3) have shown they can pose a threat to anyone in the National League. They’ve swept the Dodgers and have quite possibly the National League’s best rotation, for the moment at least.

With Zack Godley, Patrick Corbin, and Taijuan Walker pitching at high levels, while Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray look to return to form, the D-Backs have the arms to silence any order. For an inconsistent Nats’ lineup without Murphy and potentially Eaton (Eaton was placed on the 10-day DL on Tuesday, meaning he could return to the active roster before this series starts), the D’Backs are one of the last teams they want to see.

Nats Are In Disarray

The Nats have begun the 2018 season much like they did in 2015. They’ve dealt with multiple injuries concerning prominent position players, have been inconsistent, and been sent a threat from the rival Mets. There have been some positives to their hot start, though. Scherzer has pitched like his stellar self and recorded a complete game shutout Monday night. Outside of surrendering four runs to the Mets, Strasburg has pitched well, recording a 2.21 ERA. Bryce Harper is hitting at an MVP level and has reached base in half of his at-bats. Third baseman Anthony Rendon is also hitting .294, while veteran Howie Kendrick is hitting .350. At the same time, there have been just as many negatives surrounding Martinez’s ballclub.

Righty A.J. Cole has struggled with his command and surrendered 12 runs in his first two outings. At the plate, shortstop Trea Turner is hitting just .217, while Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Taylor have hit below .200. And being swept at home by the Mets was humbling for a Nats club that’s had their way in recent memory versus them.

The MLB season is just two weeks young, so it’s important for teams not to panic, but the Mets continue to win, are healthy, and playing like the best team in the NL East, for the moment. If they’re true contenders and the better team, the Nats will pull through, overcome the injury bug, play with a desperate mentality, and begin to turn a corner. The next 16 games, nine of which are on the road, will revive or send the Nats’ season down a murky path.

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