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Nationals potentially facing a daunting schedule in reported 60-game layout

Nationals potentially facing a daunting schedule in reported 60-game layout

Baseball is officially making an attempt to start their 2020 season. And as the Nationals look to officially begin their repeat campaign, they face a tougher task than others to get back to the World Series.

There will be a 60-game schedule for each team. How those games get divided up are what is going to make that title defense all the more difficult. 

The schedule will be broken up into 40 divisional games and 20 interleague games with their geographic counterpart, according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman. 

That makes Washington's quest all the more difficult. Geographically and to try and limit travel it makes perfect sense. But from a competitive standpoint, that hurts the Nationals. The team goes from having to play the AL West in their interleague schedule to the AL East, which boasts arguably the best team in the sport in the New York Yankees. 

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Here would be the Nats' 2020 opponents:

NL EAST

-Atlanta Braves
-Miami Marlins
-New York Mets
-Philadelphia Phillies

AL EAST

-Baltimore Orioles
-Boston Red Sox
-New York Yankees
-Tampa Bay Rays
-Toronto Blue Jays

The American League West had three teams that were below .500 last season, two well below, and set up a series of favorable games for Washington. Now they will face the pennant favorite Yankees, the Rays who are building off their Wild Card berth last year and the always competitive Red Sox roster.

That's not even factoring a tough division. Atlanta still won the division. Philly is well, Philly with Bryce Harper and co. And the Mets have a stellar starting pitching rotation. 

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When it's all said and done, that's sevens teams, including the Nationals, that have a legitimate shot at the playoffs this season. Six of the Nationals possible nine opponents coming off a .500 or better season. 

At least the positive news is that all the division opponents will face the same obstacle. The issue is competing for one of the two Wild Card slots against teams elsewhere in the National League. 

The Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs and Red play three really bad teams (the Pirates, Tigers and Royals). The wild West could go in several directions.

The Nationals will play each of their division rivals 10 times throughout the course of the season, according to The New York Post's Joel Sherman. It is rumored that the teams will play four interleague teams five times each. One report says that each team's natural interleague partner will play each other six times, according to USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale. For the Nationals that would be the Orioles, which would favor the defending champs. 

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Stephen Strasburg’s debut shows he still has a ways to go

Stephen Strasburg’s debut shows he still has a ways to go

WASHINGTON -- Elegant pitching took place in the top of the fourth inning Sunday when Anthony Santander led off the inning.

Stephen Strasburg threw him a 79-mph curveball for a called strike. An 87-mph changeup was a ball. Another changeup produced a swinging strike. A third consecutive changeup led to another swinging strike and an out.

Strasburg needed just 43 pitches to finish four innings in his season debut. The problem was he went to pitch the fifth -- and that his achy right hand still has mild issues.

He recorded one out, faded rapidly and was removed after allowing five sudden runs. The hook was too late. The Nationals fell behind, 5-0, and were on the verge of a weekend sweep at the hands of the Orioles and a troublesome 4-8 record before the game was suspended because of oddball circumstances with a malfunctioning tarp.

“You can look at the negative, or you can look at the positive,” Strasburg said. “I think there was a lot more positives. I'm just going to focus on that. Obviously command and execution wasn't very good there in the fifth. They just hit a bunch of singles and found the right spots. So they made me pay for it.”

Strasburg’s start came two weeks after he was supposed to be on the game mound for the first time in 2020. A right wrist impingement caused a nerve problem in his right hand, which led to pain in his thumb. All of the issues with the hand subsided after time off and treatment. He threw a bullpen session Wednesday. Sunday, “Seven Nation Army” poured out of the stadium speakers for the first time this season.

The first four innings showed a pitcher with lowered velocity, but exceptional command. In essence, Strasburg looked like himself. Plenty of curveballs, changeups and outs. Of his 69 pitches, 37 were curveballs or changeups.

RELATED: NATS VS. ORIOLES SUSPENDED DUE TO EXCEPTION IN MLB RULE BOOK

Javy Guerra quickly worked to warm up when Strasburg faltered in the fifth inning. The first out of the inning came on a 101.1-mph line drive from Dwight Smith Jr. It was a harbinger.

Austin Hays hit a line drive to right field. Chance Sisco hit a line drive to right field. Davey Martinez and trainer Paul Lessard came up the dugout steps to head toward the mound because Strasburg shook his right hand. Strasburg waived them back to their spots, though there was an issue.

“To be honest, I felt it,” Strasburg said of his hand pain. “I don't know if it was necessarily like fatigue or just not having necessarily the stamina built up quite yet. But it's something where I don't think I'm doing any long-term harm on it. But it does have an impact on being able to feel the baseball and being able to commit to pitches. That's something I haven't quite figured out how to pitch through it yet, so I think the goal is to continue to get built up and get the pitch count up to where that won't be flaring up over the course of the start.”

He walked the next batter. Pitching coach Paul Menhart went to talk to him. This, presumably, is when Strasburg should have been removed from the game. He was left in.

Bryan Holaday singled. A run scored. Hanser Alberto doubled. Two runs scored. Santander singled. Two runs scored.

Guerre came in. Strasburg departed.

The good news is Strasburg finally made a start in 2020. And, Max Scherzer is expected to return to the mound on Tuesday in New York.

The bad news is 25 percent of Strasburg’s potential starts are over. Starting pitchers were only in line for 12 this year. He missed two, then failed in the fifth inning in what would have been his third start. That gives him nine to go -- if the season makes it to the end -- with a hand that isn’t quite right.

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Davey Martinez defends Nationals' grounds crew following tarp snafu

Davey Martinez defends Nationals' grounds crew following tarp snafu

Sunday's matchup between the Nationals and Orioles came to a halt in the sixth inning due to a brief rainstorm, but the game was delayed and eventually suspended after the grounds crew had multiple issues unraveling the tarp to cover the infield.

For much of the rainfall, the infield and pitcher's mound in Nationals Park were exposed. As the rain continued to fall, the dirt turned into slushy mud.

Despite the grounds crew's inability to properly cover the field, which ended up being the reason for the game's suspension, Nationals manager Davey Martinez refused to place blame on the crew.

"Feel bad for our grounds crew," Martinez said to reporters after the game was called off. "Personally, these guys, to me, are the best if not one of the best. Unfortunate that that happened."

RELATED: NATS-O'S WAS SUSPENDED, NOT CANCELED, DUE TO AN EXCEPTION IN MLB'S RULE BOOK

The whole situation was a perfect metaphor for 2020 as a whole, a year of chaos and unexpected twists and turns, mostly in a negative fashion.

While Sunday's game came to a finish prematurely, Martinez said all his team can do is keep moving forward and be ready to play the New York Mets on Monday at Citi Field.

"There’s going to be days when you don’t know what to expect. This is part of it," Martinez said. "So, we just got to keep moving on. At the end of the game, I told the guys, pack up, we’re going to New York. Get ready to play [Monday]. That’s all we can do."

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