One of the hardest things to do during a baseball season is keep a level head. Teams play 162 games stretched over six months, playing weeks on end with twists and turns galore. So when the Washington Nationals lose five of their first six to the Atlanta Braves, their fiercest divisional opponent, it can be hard to keep a level head since the Nationals and Braves still have 13 games to play against each other and will not see each other again until June. So when I say the Nationals’ prolonged struggles against the Braves are actually meaningless, it may be hard to believe.
But it is true, however crazy it sounds. What matters more is what the Nationals do when they are not playing the Braves. Washington can struggle all year against Atlanta, but if they crush every other opponent they face, they can still win this division. Washington’s depth is being tested early with all their injuries, and so far they are rising to the occasion. The Nationals went out and built a more veteran bench this winter, with players who have more experience starting in place of everyday players on a consistent basis rather than just pinch hitting or being a defensive replacement like in years past.
One thing Washington struggled to do in 2013 was beat teams they were clearly better than. Early on this year, the Nats are stomping on lesser caliber teams’ throats early and they never stop applying pressure. If a team gets ahead of them early, the Nationals chip away and either win the game or make the other team earn it. In 2013, if they were behind early, they were basically down for the count, and it was just a matter of the final out being recorded. The tenacity and heart Washington has displayed early is something to be praised and encouraged by, because if they keep that up all season, they are going to be alright.
The Nationals’ struggles against the Braves are frustrating — that is a fact. But their struggles against Atlanta do not by any means indicate they are in trouble or will not make the playoffs as a result of troubles against one team. If Washington can play the way they have played against the New York Mets, Miami Marlins and even the way they have stayed in games with the Braves, this is going to be a very exciting season.