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When the Washington Nationals’ Game Notes for the finale with the Colorado Rockies were released on Sunday afternoon, there was still no starter listed for the series opener with the New York Mets on Monday night. There were, however, hints over the last few weeks, as A.J. Cole struggled in his 2018 debut, and put up a solid start the second time out, that the Nats would make a change in the fifth spot in the rotation once Hellickson, who signed on in D.C. late this Spring, joined the team once he was up to speed.Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez updated reporters on Hellickson’s progress on Friday, after the veteran right-hander’s latest throwing session in Florida.
“He threw a side actually [on Wednesday],” Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr.“I guess he threw well. Now we’ll just have to wait and see. He’s getting to the point now where he feels like he’s ready. I know he’s got another side coming up so we’ll see where we’re at.”Martinez wasn’t ready to commit to a change in the rotation at that point, at least publicly, noting that Cole rebounded well from his disastrous 2018 debut the second time out and was, “was pretty much” what he expected when the right-hander was named the Nats’ fifth starter at the start of the season. His lack of options played a role at that point as well.
“We haven’t made that decision yet,” Martinez said Friday. “A.J. pitched well, but we haven’t made any decisions yet.”After today’s series finale with the Colorado Rockies, however, Martinez made it official.Ah, the 2018 New York Mets. Saturday’s Say Hey, Baseball captured the team’s hot start. The team stepped into the 2018 season acting brand new. The 2017 Mets? They don’t know her. Couldn’t have been them. Losing streaks? Can’t relate. Only two teams have a better record and only three teams have a better run differential than they do. The bullpen has played to be impeccable and the offense is producing. It took until Saturday to record the team’s second win. The Mets have moved the playoff meter in their favor more than any other team. Partly, because the Nationals, across the standings in the NL East, are too busy doing their best to keep their heads above water and their win percentage above .500 to notice.
The Nationals haven’t won a non-Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg start since the fourth game of the season, 11 games ago. The Mets swept them, then the Braves took two of three. The hole in the fifth starter spot, filled by AJ Cole’s career 5.13 ERA, has not helped, but it has not been the dawning of the Nationals problems. Cole gave up only two runs (improving from the 13 he allowed in his season debut) in his second start. Those two runs, a four-run deficit, and another two-run deficit were insurmountable through Washington’s second series with Atlanta, against even a rotation who last year combined for only 7.1 fWAR and a bullpen who last year combined to be the 27th best in baseball. In total, the Nationals have produced just over two runs per game, even after a “breakthrough” game in which they put up only their second four-run frame this season to beat the Rockies 6-2.
It has taken an orchestration of low offensive performance across the roster to get to this point. Fifteen games often have a measured impact on final standings, but they don’t have much predictive value. The NL East has been a cesspool in years past. With the strength of the competition back on the upswing and the Nationals underperforming, it’s easy to laser in on occasional errors or an offseason of stagnancy in which the biggest move made was departing with a manager who recorded 192 wins and never dipped below a .500 record in two years seeming to bite at their heels. Washington isn’t as bad as they’re playing, of course, and the end results will probably still show that. A sputtering offense plays opposite to rose-colored glasses; it makes reality so much worse.
The Nationals are joined by the Dodgers, the Cubs, and the Yankees in early season underperformance. It is reasonable to suspect these supposed-to-be super teams are being framed by small sample sizes. Afterall, first impressions mean nothing in baseball.The Washington Nationals have opened their season 6-8 coming into the weekend, having just lost catalyst Adam Eaton to the DL and third baseman Anthony Rendon out of Saturday’s lineup after hurting his toe on Friday.
The Washington Nationals were widely assumed to have an easy road to an exceptional record in 2018, but while their play hasn’t been perfect, it’s the rest of the division being better than many believed that has the Nationals opening Saturday in 4th place in their own division.Let’s look at each of those division foes and the challenge they place for the Washington Nationals this season going forward:The Braves have been rebuilding since the 2014-2015 offseason, when they traded away multiple major pieces of their organization for minor leaguers and young players. That rebuild is seeing its first wave hit the major leagues, and the #1 farm system for multiple years running, according to Baseball America, has shown its strength in its young players this season.
The scary part for the Nationals is that the Braves should only get better this season. Uber-prospect Ronald Acuna should come up from AAA early in the season, power left-handed arms Luiz Gohara and Max Fried are on the cusp of the major league rotation. Multiple power arms are going to work their way into the rotation.
The talent level of the Braves in August and September should be better than April, and already, the Braves have taken half of the contests on the season against the Nationals, going 3-3 over their first six games, outscored by Atlanta 27-24 in those matchups.The Marlins have shown to be as expected, and they are the one team that opened Saturday below the Washington Nationals in the National League East standings.The scary thing for the Nationals to consider with the Marlins is that they are already seeing some of the highlights that a young team like theirs can produce, like a first-time starter going six no-hit innings in his first career start, young 3B Brian Anderson sports a .400+ on base after his first 13 games, and center fielder Lewis Brinson is playing incredible defense. More will be on the way and in any game one of those young players could flash out and spoil what should be a win on paper for the Nationals.
Washington Nationals fans on Twitter have taken to the hashtag “#LOLMets” to make fun of their Big Apple division rivals. Instead as those hashtags abound with every new injury the Mets suffer, they just keep winning, now off to the best start in the major leagues at 11-1.The Mets have elite pitching at the front of their rotation, and they’ve shown with new manager Mickey Callaway that they will be managing a deep pitching staff of talented arms in unique ways that can maximize performance of all pitchers on staff.The Mets lack some in lineup depth in a direct comparison to the Washington Nationals, but with both clubs seeing first-year managers at the helm, it could be an interesting matchup throughout the season, one the Mets have swept so far this season.