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Nats see tough road trip as good test for where they're at

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Nats see tough road trip as good test for where they're at

There is a significant contrast in the quality of teams the Nationals have faced thus far this season through 21 games and the caliber of clubs they are about to see on their upcoming 10-game road trip. It's a major scheduling quirk and as of Friday morning, the Nats are standing right on the middle of it.

Behind them is the second-easiest schedule in baseball to this point based on opponents win percentage. And up ahead are three teams that finished among the four best records in baseball last season. The worst team they will play coming up on this road swing based on their 2015 regular season record is the Kansas City Royals. They led the American League with 95 wins and later won the World Series.

The trip begins in St. Louis against a Cardinals team that led baseball with 100 wins last season. And the journey closes with the Chicago Cubs, a 97-win team that reached the NL Championship Series.

It's an unusually difficult road trip, to say the least.

“It’s one of the tougher trips I think I’ve probably ever been on," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.

"There are three or four times on the schedule where you say, 'Hey this is going to be a heck of a road trip,'" manager Dusty Baker said. "It's going to be a test."

The Cardinals and Cubs boast the two highest-scoring offenses in baseball right now. The Cards have a +48 run differential and the Cubs - who have the best record in baseball at 16-5 - are +74. 

The Cubs and Royals rank in the top 10 in MLB in team ERA, the Cubs are second only to the Nats in baseball in the category. The Royals have the seventh-best bullpen ERA and everyone knows they can play defense.

All three teams will present challenges and, if you ask some members of the Nats, that could be a good thing.

"This is going to be a test to see -- a barometer to see how good we are right now," Baker said. "We're not full-forces yet, we haven't been and we've done pretty well, because Ben Revere, one of our igniters, is getting ready… but it's going to be exciting."

"You enjoy the challenge," Zimmerman added. "I think you get to see what we’re really made of. Go out and play three really, really good teams and I think the guys in here are excited for it.”

The Nationals are going to learn a lot about themselves over the next 10 days, that's for sure.

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Nationals' pitching staff rocked in Colorado as Nats close out ugly road trip

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Nationals' pitching staff rocked in Colorado as Nats close out ugly road trip

The Washington Nationals lost to the Colorado Rockies, 9-5, Wednesday afternoon and fell to 11-12 on the season. Here are five observations from the game...

1. The Anibal Sanchez experiment is not going well so far.

The veteran right-hander came to Washington over the winter fresh off a fantastic season in Atlanta, one that was an aberration from previous years and may have extended his career. The Nationals hoped he would be much more like his 2018 version and not the guy he was from 2015 through 2017. 

But through five starts, the results have not been pretty, and Wednesday was his worst game yet. Sanchez got rocked for six earned runs on nine hits and five walks in five innings of work. His season ERA sits at 6.00 and he has 16 walks in 27 total innings.

The early returns on the Nats rotation have not been great. Patrick Corbin is their only starter with an ERA below 4.00. But Sanchez has been far and away the weakest link.

The Nats closed out their road trip with a 2-4 mark. Both series were against teams with losing records. They have lost three of their past four series overall.

2. Adam Eaton also had a rough day. His worst moment was in the bottom of the third, when Raimel Tapia knocked a bases-clearing double over his head in right field. 

Eaton appeared to misjudge the ball by stepping in too far. He jumped in an attempt to make up for it with a leaping grab, only to have the ball sail past him and to the wall. Though Victor Robles sprinted over to back him up, Eaton made the play look even worse by giving up on it and doubling over with his hands on his knees in frustration.

Just one frame later, Eaton struck out with the bases loaded to end the top of the fourth. He went 1-for-5 on the day with his lone hit a single in the top of the ninth.

Eaton also had a minor injury scare. While running out a grounder in the first, he slowed down and appeared to be limping. He was then shown on TV chatting with trainer Paul Lessard in the dugout. 

3. Because this is the 2019 Nationals, the bullpen of course played a factor and once again it was an adventure for Trevor Rosenthal.

Per usual, he was pumping heat but with zero control. He began the eighth inning by hitting Charlie Blackmon and finished the frame with three runs allowed on two hits and a walk. Of his 31 pitches, only 16 were strikes and three were wild. 

Those three runs were costly because the Nats scored two in the ninth and left runners on the corners. If Rosenthal had pitched a clean eighth, it would have been a one-run game.

Rosenthal has allowed runs in six of his seven appearances this season. He now leads the majors with five wild pitches.  

Rosenthal remains one of the Nats' highest upside relief options, so it may pay off down the road if they show patience in him. But it continues to be a disaster just about every time he takes the mound.

4. It wasn't all bad for the Nats. Juan Soto, who fouled a pitch off his right ankle in Tuesday's game, played in this one and launched his fourth homer of the season over the right field fence. He also drew a walk.

Jake Noll made the first start of his MLB career and landed his first hit. He rifled a double down the left field line in the second inning to score Matt Adams. 

Noll started at third base, which was a bit of a strange sight. By now everyone knows of him as the guy who looks like Ryan Zimmerman; now he's playing his old position?

5. The Rockies got a key piece back in their lineup, a guy who is a familiar face to Nats fans. Wednesday was Daniel Murphy's return from a fractured left finger. 

The injury gave him a four-to-six week recovery timeline, but he came back a few days early. Perhaps that can be taken as a sign of hope for Trea Turner, who remains out with a broken finger himself.

Murphy did some damage against his former team. He singled in his first at-bat off Sanchez, then walked and scored in the third inning. He also moved a runner over on a lineout in the fourth that contributed to a run.

Murphy's best highlight, though, came in between innings when he barely avoided disaster while running onto the field during the Rockies' equivalent of the Presidents Race.

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By the skin of his teeth, former Nat Daniel Murphy avoids getting run over by Rockies' giant tooth

By the skin of his teeth, former Nat Daniel Murphy avoids getting run over by Rockies' giant tooth

You thought your Racing Presidents days were over, Daniel Murphy? Think again. 

Murphy, the second baseman for the Colorado Rockies and former first baseman for the Washington Nationals, was almost knocked over by a racing… tooth? The Comfort Dental Tooth Trot is a stadium staple at Coors Field, and Murphy got stuck in the action. 

Distracted, Murphy walked out of the dugout and right in front of the racers. He jumped out of the way as fast as he could, but couldn’t avoid getting shaken up by, you know, the giant tooth running toward him

Murphy was reinstated from the 10-day injured list Wednesday after fracturing his left index finger during the second game of the season. He was planed on the list on April 1 and missed 20 games. He was reinstated for Wednesday’s game against the Nationals to play first base and bat third, according to the Associated Press.

In 2016, Murphy was traded to the Nationals from the New York Mets, where he played for seven seasons. He signed a three-year, $3.75 million contract with Washington. He was traded to the Cubs in 2018, two and a half years into his time with the Nats. 

In December, he was traded to the Rockies to earn $19 million in 2019, according to Ken Rosenthal.

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