The Washington Nationals are finally coming to the same realization as championship favorites and overworked high school students worldwide: sometimes high expectations are tough to live up to. The Nationals entered the season as a perennial World Series contender after winning a league-high 98 games in 2012, but slow starts from new acquisitions Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano have contributed to the Nationals’ not exactly sprinting out of the gate.
But perhaps most disappointing for the Nationals has been the pitching of their “big three” out of the bullpen, the tandem that includes lights-out pitcher Drew Storen, All-Star Tyler Clippard, and $28 million free agent Rafael Soriano. In fact, none of the three relief pitchers boast an ERA of fewer than 3.00, and Soriano and Clippard currently hold ERAs of 5.14 and 5.40, respectively.
Even more disturbing than the slow start for the Nationals bullpen has been the pitching of recently acquired right hander Dan Haren. Haren, who has started off the year with a 1-2 record, currently has an ERA of 8.10 and has allowed 16 runs in just 13 and one-third innings. Furthermore, the Nationals have gone on to lose 15-0 and 10-3 in the two contests Haren has pitched in.
““Dan Haren’s ‘plus’ pitch is his command,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post after signing Dan Haren just before spring training. However, Haren’s command and velocity have slipped after a 2011 arm injury, and Rizzo may currently be pondering whether or not choosing not to resign Edwin Jackson was the correct decision at the end of the 2010 season. Another concern for Washington has been the defensive play of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has made four throwing errors in the Nationals’ last five games, showing signs of fatigue in a troubled shoulder that has repeatedly bothered the 28-year-old star.
However, the Nationals can find a silver lining in their less-than-stellar start. Starters Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler have been lights out for the Nationals, with a combined 4-0 record. Detwiler also leads all Nationals pitchers with a .90 ERA through the first 15 games of the season. Another plus has been the play of Bryce Harper, who—although battling the flu—went 4-5 Wednesday against the Marlins and is hitting .364 with 5 homeruns and 11 RBIs.
Although the Nationals have not enjoyed the start they hoped they would, fans need be reminded that baseball and its 162 game schedule is one of the longest of all professional sports. The 9-6 start in the Nats’ first 15 games is but a small sliver of a long and tumultuous season that is bound to have its ups and downs. The World Series favorites are certainly bound to shake off the dust and return to top form in the near future.