After today the Nationals will no longer have the fail-safe phrase at their disposal.  Nothing writes off inefficient offense or porous pitching better than “it’s only April”.  Even though these games count in the standings as much as the games in August and September.  And while one shouldn’t panic at 7-9…one should have cause for concern at 12-16.  They rank a middling 17th in runs scored…and although one can explain that by realizing they’re still missing arguably three of their best four hitters (Eaton-Murphy-Rendon), the regression of Ryan Zimmerman (.191 with 13 RBI in 27 games) isn’t going away.  The bullpen’s ERA of 4.91 is 25th best and has been healthy for the most part.  May means matchups with contenders like Arizona, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers plus surprising Philadelphia.  It’s only April for just one more day…

Dissecting the Division- the New York Mets remain the problem that won’t go away atop the standings after going 3-3 on their road trip.  Yoenis Cespedes ranks second in the NL with 25 RBI while Asdrubal Cabrera’s .340 batting average is one point behind St. Louis’ Tommy Pham.  That’s a good duo to build your lineup around.  Atlanta and Philadelphia are both 1.5 games back;  the Braves rank second in the majors with 151 runs while the Phillies’ 16 quality starts is tied for sixth most in the bigs.  The Nats are 3-3 against the Braves and 2-4 against the Mets this year;  they play Philadelphia for the first time this Friday.

O’s Woes- the Orioles won a series for the first time in three weeks by taking two of three from Detroit.  Anything to stop the profuse bleeding.  There are still fundamental problems facing this fifth place club, from combustible starting pitching (their 5.34 ERA is third-worst in MLB) to underwhelming offense (26th in runs scored, 27th in batting average and 29th in on base percentage).  Will their west coast road trip represent a different direction or a disaster?

Last Week’s Heroes-  Max Scherzer struck out 10 and helped end a Nats losing streak.  We’ll overlook how he’s no longer hitting over .300 for the moment.  Sean Doolittle tossed three scoreless innings.  Andrew Stevenson hit .500 with 5 RBI while Howie Kendrick batted .450 with 2 homers…justifying a move to the #4 spot in the order.

Last Week’s Humbled- Moises Sierra hit .154 with 6 strikeouts while Pedro Severino hit .167.  Stephen Strasburg allowed 5 earned runs in 6.1 innings of work.  Manager Davey Martinez’ strategy and tactics have drawn concern.

Game to Watch- Sunday Max Scherzer pitches against Philadelphia in the series finale against the guy many wanted the Nats to sign-Jake Arrieta (who happens to be 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA).  What could have been…

Game to Miss- Saturday Tanner Roark and Vince Velasquez is your mound matchup…while at Capital One Arena the Caps will be hosting Pittsburgh.  Virginia Gold Cup rages as well.  Oh, and there’s also that Kentucky Derby thing…

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