Apr 4, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) reacts with first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11) after hitting a home run against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Last season, the Washington Nationals had success in the first month of the season. Can they repeat that in 2017?
While the Washington Nationals still have over a month to go before spring training opens in West Palm Beach, Florida, it is never too early to look ahead to the 2017 regular season. Today, we are going to take a closer look at the first month in particular. While you can’t win a division in April, you can lose it.
Back in 2016, the Washington Nationals had a lot of success in the first month of the season. By May 1, the team was 16-7, yet they only had a half game lead in the NL East over the New York Mets because New York won eight games in a row at the time.
If you reflect back to the first month of the season, the Washington Nationals ended up not facing one playoff team. That didn’t happen until May 5 when the Nats began a four game road series against the eventual World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs.
So, what does April have in store for the Nats this coming season? Out of the 25 games that are scheduled to take place in April, only six of them are against playoffs teams from 2016 (two series against the New York Mets). With that being said, you never know what can happen.
With that being said, here are some of the things that stand out about the first month of the season from a schedule perspective:
Aug 2, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets center fielder Yoenis Cespedes (52) singles to shallow left during the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
NL East Opponents A Plenty
Out of the 23 April games the Nats played in 2016, only six of them took place against teams not in the NL East. This year, April remains pretty much the same thing as the Nats will play a NL East team 18 times within the first 25 games.
It all starts April 3 when the Washington Nationals start the season at home with a three game series against the Miami Marlins (April 3, 5-6). It should be an emotional Opening Day as Miami will play its first Opening Day since the death of their ace pitcher, Jose Fernandez. Remember Miami’s last series of the 2016 season was in D.C.
Last season, the Nats played six of their first eight games against the Atlanta Braves and won all six. In April 2017, the Nats have one series in Atlanta (April 18-20) at their new ballpark (SunTrust Park). Atlanta has added veteran starters Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia to their rotation and should be much better under Brian Snitker than last April.
While the Nats also play six games against the Phillies, the two intra-division series everyone will be excited for is the ones with the New York Mets (April 21-23, April 28-30). The April 23 game at Citi Field is already scheduled to be on Sunday night baseball on ESPN.
Washington went 12-7 against the Mets a season ago and second baseman Daniel Murphy was excellent against his former team. In 19 games, Murphy hit .413 with seven home runs, 21 RBI’s, and had a hit in every game. Of course, this matchup is always fun because of the talent that both starting rotations have.
If you want to win a division, you have to be able to beat up on the teams at the bottom of the division. Washington did that last year, can they do it again this year?
Oct 7, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers center fielder Ian Desmond (20) doubles against the Toronto Blue Jays during the seventh inning of game two of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
A Rare April Trip To Coors Field
A unique series in April will take place when the Nats wrap up a ten game road trip (April 18-27). They will wrap up the trip with a four game at Coors Field against the Colorado Rockies. This trip will be the earliest the Nats will travel to Colorado since they became the Washington Nationals back in 2005.
Whenever a team goes to face Colorado on the road, there’s a chance a lot of runs are going to be scored. At Coors Field last season, the Nats and Rockies combined to score 39 runs in the three games, including a Rockies 12-10 win in the series finale.
The big issue going to Colorado in April is what the weather might be like. Could we see a game cancelled because of snow? Will the temperatures be sub-freezing? The conditions could play a factor during this series.
While Ian Desmond won’t be visiting Nats Park until July, this is the first time the Washington Nationals will face him since he signed with the Texas Rangers last offseason. Will Desmond be playing first base during this series or will the Rockies sign another impact bat that allows him to go to the outfield?
If the Rockies can find some success with their starting rotation under new manager Bud Black, they could be a surprise in the National League with the talented offense that they have. Plus, this is a matchup that could have the second basemen (Daniel Murphy and DJ LeMahieu) that finished in the top two in the National League batting title. LeMahieu ended up winning it.
Heading into that series, the Nats will need to be aware of a team that will try to make a statement against one of the perceived National League contenders.
Nov 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler celebrates after hitting a solo home run against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
St. Louis Visits D.C.
From April 10-12, the Washington Nationals will play a three game series at Nats Park against the St. Louis Cardinals. Ever since Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, the Cardinals have usually had the upper hand over the Nats. Dating back to 2013, the Nats are 9-17 in their last 26 games against St. Louis.
However, last season, the Washington Nationals were 5-2 against the Cardinals, which included a rare three game sweep at Busch Stadium (April 29-May 1). The Nats gave up six runs in that entire series and got wins from Stephen Strasburg, Joe Ross, and Max Scherzer.
St. Louis missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010 and finished in second place in the NL Central. As of right now, the main additions to St. Louis this winter have been center fielder Dexter Fowler and left-handed reliever Brett Cecil (both signed via free agency).
While the Cardinals missed out on the postseason last year, they are still one of the more consistent franchises in the National League along with the Nats. Plus, Mike Matheny is one of the best managers in the NL. It’s always fun when these two teams play, even though it brings up bad memories for Nats fans from 2012.