Optimism before a tough weekend series against the Mets aces!

Winner’s Circle; Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

The Nats are 6-4 since April 12th when they got all of their position players back from the COVID IL list. That’s the second best record in the NL East behind the Marlins who were 7-3 in that span. There is a little more optimism today surrounding the Nats even after Juan Soto went on the 10-day IL two days ago with shoulder inflammation. But optimism only seems to last when the going is good, and the team won both of those games without their 22 year old star outfielder.

“We’ve had a lot thrown at us the first couple weeks of the season,” key reliever Daniel Hudson said. “Guys are battling.”

Looking ahead to this weekend series will spook some of that optimism out of you. The Nats are in New York for a 3-game series against the NL East first place Mets. Timing is everything in baseball and who you face. The Top-3 ERA pitchers in the NL are Corbin Burnes, Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman. Guess which two the Nats are set to face this weekend? Right, you guess it and the matchups pin the Nats #6 pitcher against the Mets #1 in Erick Fedde v. deGrom and the Nats #5 pitcher against the Mets #2 in Joe Ross v. Stroman.

NL ERA leaders 4/21/2021

The Mets could have pitched deGrom today on regular rest, but chose to bump him to tomorrow to face the Nats, and they will go with Joey Lucchesi to start today in Chicago against the Cubs.

If you want some optimism with your morning coffee, the Washington Nationals as a team are 4th in the Majors in batting average at .253. They are doing that at a time when three starters are batting lower than their weight. Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber, and Victor Robles are batting .161, .200 and .204 respectively and each is in the 500’s on their OPS. The Nats have three starting pitchers batting .333 or higher. Yes, baseball is a funny game.

“I like the fact that Bell stayed on the ball, hit the ball the other way,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Like I said, it’s just a timing thing with him, but he’s getting better, and I like where he’s at.”

Keep in mind the Nats injury list is lengthy with several stars on the 10-day IL besides Soto. The Nats are still missing Jon Lester and Will Harris who have yet to appear in a game this season. Stephen Strasburg joined them on the 10-day IL with shoulder inflammation, and the Nats lost Wander Suero and Luis Avilan from the bullpen.

The Nats lost 9 key players to the COVID IL including their two catchers, two starting pitchers, their closer, second baseman, first baseman, and leftfielder. Setup man Will Harris started the season on the 10-day IL and they have lost lefty reliever Avilan for the entire season with a torn UCL in his pitching elbow. Now with two of the best players in baseball out with Soto and Strasburg, the Nats just need to hold it together long enough and “stay in the fight” and try to stay optimistic.

“We talk all the time about getting off to a good start, and then things happen that you can’t control,” Martinez said. “After every game, and every morning when I wake up, that’s the first thing I tell myself: ‘Just control the controllables.’ You’ve got 26 guys on the roster. Do the best you can with those 26 guys. You know they’re going to give you effort, and that’s all I can ask from them.

“And just keep playing baseball. It’s a long season. It’s not like last year. Last year, it was imperative that you got off to a good start. We’ve got 162 games. If you look at our schedule, our first 40 games are going to be tough. I just tell myself, ‘Focus on getting through the day, and then move on to the next day.’ That’s all I can think about.”

Sometimes the team’s overall record defines the team. At 7-9 and tied for last place with the Braves in the NL East, the real reality is where you are now. But you can look ahead and hope for the best when everyone returns from the IL and players like Bell, Schwarber, and Robles click into place with their bats.

“I don’t want to be 7-9, that’s below .500,” Max Scherzer said. “Obviously as a team you want to be better than that. … We’re starting to play better baseball. … Everything it takes to win, we’re starting to see that. Hopefully we continue to play better, and we continue to play better to our competition.”

If the Nats can somehow shock the Mets and win this weekend Series, there would be more reason for optimism going forward. But yes, optimism usually only lasts when you’re winning.

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