As the defending National League East division champions, the Washington Nationals will undoubtedly have a bulls-eye on their chest as the other four teams in the division are looking dead set to unseat the Nationals. Kicking off the 2017 season would be a home series against the Miami Marlins and a weekend trip up to Philadelphia to take on the hated Phillies.
In what is becoming some sort of awesome tradition, Bryce Harper hit another homer in Game One on Opening Day, leading the Nationals to a 4-2 victory on April 3. The 24-year-old right-fielder has played in five Opening Day games at the major league level and has hit five home runs across four of them. He hit two in 2013, one in 2015 and another a year ago. Ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg in his fourth Opening Day start picked up the victory and the new additions to the roster wasted no time becoming factors in winning here in D.C. The win was highlighted by a two-run, go-ahead, pinch-hit homer from Adam Lind. New centerfielder Adam Eaton also showed his value, recording a double hit, two walks, a steal and a run scored.
Game Two was won by the Nationals, 6-4, as starting pitcher Tanner Roark earned his first victory of the season. Veteran batter Ryan Zimmerman connected for his first dinger of the season and Bryce Harper and Matt Wieters both drove in two runs.
Bullpen issues in the late innings of the last game of the series cost the Nationals a clean sweep as the Marlins erased deficits in the eighth and ninth innings, and Miami earned its first win by beating Washington, 4-3, in Game Three on April 6. The lengthy rain delays may have had an effect in a game that was put on hold for more than an hour, both at the start and in the middle of the sixth inning. Starting pitcher Gio Gonzales was solid in his first start of the season, scattering seven hits over six innings giving up zero runs in the process.
Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Jayson Werth hit homers to back Max Scherzer and the Nationals held on for a 7-6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Four on April 7. Harper also seems to love playing in Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Since the start of the 2015 season, Harper is slashing .351/.433/.860 with nine home runs in the 15 games he’s played inside the Phillies’ home ballpark.
Scherzer’s first start was solid, erasing any doubts about the recovery of a fractured finger in his throwing hand. He gave up just four hits and two runs while throwing seven strikeouts in nearly seven full innings pitched. He looks poised to have another great season.
Game Five on Saturday turned into a debacle from the onset as spot starter Jeremy Guthrie did not make it out of the first inning before he was relieved after giving up an unfathomable 10 runs in the inning. Washington eventually gave up a team-record 12 runs in the first inning and went on to lose the game, 17-3.
Horrible starts aside, it looks as if the bullpen will be a main issue for team manager Dusty Baker. Going into the season, the team made some solid acquisitions to bolster the arms so it’s not time to panic. This is a veteran laden roster and they have only played five games out of 162. Yet, its success or lack thereof is indeed worth monitoring as the starting pitchers should not have to bear a seemingly unfair majority of pressure for the team’s pitching success. The bullpen must hold down its fair share.
Next – Washington faces the St. Louis Cardinals in a three-game series in D.C. April 10-12, and then hosts the Phillies in another three-game series April 14-16.