Memorial Day is the first official turn of the Major League Baseball season–most teams have played at least one-fourth of their season by now and streaky weeks become extended trends. While the game is often a mosaic of trends in both directions, the Nationals have dominated since the calendar turned. The team’s 16-5 mark is the best in the Majors this month (although they did win their last three games of April)…and they’ve passed the early rabbit New York Mets (consecutive 1-0 shutouts over the first weekend setting the trend). How much of a cushion will the Nats create before they cool down?
Cutting down on the K’s– one reason for the upswing in offense has been the decline in strikeouts. The Nats struck out the 2nd most in the Majors last month, while in May the team’s whiffed the 11th fewest times in the bigs. A top of the order with contact guys Denard Span and Yunel Escobar gives the meat of the lineup more opportunities…and it’s paid off.
Bullpen Boost– the Nationals relievers rank 8th in ERA this year…and they’ve gotten help from veterans (Drew Storen’s 14 saves lead the NL) and rookies (Matt Grace is 2-0 this month after making his big league debut five weeks ago). Grace’s path to the majors was nerve-wracking: he was called up from AAA Syracuse and saw his flight get delayed twice–arriving at the ballpark less than an hour before gametime. Now that Casey Janssen’s healthy, a strong pen gets a little mightier.
Hero of the Week– Duh. Bryce Harper has owned this month (.386, 11HR and 26RBI) and last week was no exception. Sunday’s opposite field hit that brought home an insurance run in a one-run game wasn’t as majestic as one of his bombs, but just as much of a game-changer (let the record show he scored on the next at-bat). His patience at the plate has paid off; Harper is one of two players with more walks than strikeouts this month (Dan Uggla being the other) and his 41 RBI lead the big leagues.
Zero of the Week– Stephen Strasburg is 1-3 with a 10.20 ERA this month, with Saturday’s shelling by Philadelphia sending everyone scrambling wondering what might be wrong. He’s reached the 5th inning just once in May…and his ills have been pinpointed as “misalignment” underneath his right shoulder as well as an ankle injury that’s causing Strasburg to alter his throwing motion. When healthy, the righthander is a 15-game winner. He doesn’t appear to be there now– and getting #37 in gear for the long haul will be key.
Game to Watch– it’s not official yet, but doing rotational math would likely place Max Scherzer (5-3, 1.67 ERA) on the mound at Wrigley Field Wednesday against Jon Lester. Two guys who proved their mettle in the American League each enjoying strong starts in new locations. The Cubs also boast a manager that resembles Barry Goldwater in Joe Maddon. Even if he double switches for no apparent reason, in your heart you know he’s right.
Game to Avoid– May 31st the Nationals visit Cincinnati. The Reds are in a tailspin with eight straight losses and boast a manager that would make Tommy Lasorda rethink what he thought about Dave Kingman’s performance. Their rotation is already somewhat shorthanded with Homer Bailey done for the year. And it’s the end of May. After the last few weeks, are we really ready to say goodbye to this month?