The Nationals return to DC on Tuesday, and there’s a lot for everyone to look forward to. One of the longest homestands of the season starts with a three game set against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Nats are here through the middle of next week, and there are plenty of reasons to get out to the ballpark. Let’s take a look at what this run of baseball brings, shall we?
Good Promos: First up, there are a couple of killer promos this homestand that you need to be aware of. First up is the $2 Tuesday night game against the Cardinals, which is tomorrow night. The Nats announced this past week that they’re extended the Scoreboard Walk happy hour special so it’ll run every game. For 2.5 hours before every game, you can get $5 beers at the Scoreboard Walk bars. Saturday’s game against Baltimore is Kids Jersey day, and Sunday’s game against Baltimore is free road hat day, so there are some pretty solid giveaways this homestand, too.
New Concessions: As was widely reported last week, the Nationals will be opening four new “concession concepts” along Scoreboard Walk this homestand, anchored by the New York Burger chain Shake Shack that has been the source of consistent lines at their Dupont Location. Also added to the group were Blue Smoke (barbeque), Box Frites (french fries) and El Verano Taqueria (Tacos), all part of Danny Meyer’s New York-based Union Square Hospitality Group. Look for a review Tuesday on the new concession spots.
Let’s Talk Ball: While we talked first about the promotions and the concessions that will likely get the fencesitters to come out to the ballpark (something that this fan community sorely needs are full seats, regardless of which inning they arrive.) it’s time now to take a look at the club. The Nationals played a lot of tight baseball on their 11-game sweep through the NL West, and are coming home with their first multi-city road trip with a winning record in three years. The Nationals took three of four in San Diego on the strength of their pitching, winning three tight contests to finish up the trip.
With the day off today, the club is hoping to rest a few key injuries to Roger Bernadina and Ian Desmond, as well as consider the activation of Ryan Zimmerman before tomorrow’s game. Current speculation is that Zim will return to the starting lineup tomorrow night for the first time since April 9th, and as much as the Nationals have missed him, he could be the key to turning the Nationals season around.
What went right: Pitching. Pitching. Pitching. As much as this was the Nationals’ Achilles heel last season, so far it has been its driving strength. Jordan Zimmermann was superlative yesterday in 7 scoreless innings, racking up 10 Ks and pitching in some very difficult situations with aplomb. Jason Marquis continues to rack up wins, and at 7-2 is currently tied for 7th among all starting pitchers in the NL. John Lannan’s last start against San Diego was his best of the season, going 6.1 IP with just 1 run on 6 hits.
What didn’t: The offense was, after its departure from Arizona, notably absent again this road trip. The Nats scored more than 3 runs just once in San Francisco and San Diego, and while pitching has improved this season, unless the team can start bringing runners around from 1st and 2nd, they’re going to be in a world of hurt. The team left more than 8 runners aboard in 7 games this road trip, and more than 10 runners aboard in 4 of those. While the broadcasting crew for MASN calls it unlucky, I call it failure to adhere to the old adage: “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.” In addition Livo had a pretty rough start against the Padres, something he should rebound from.
What’s important this homestand: Two things should happen this week that should make Nats fans happier than they are: Ryan Zimmerman’s return to the day-to-day lineup, allowing the Nats to make better use of Hairston and Cora as flexible infielders to spell Desmond as he recovers, and Bernadina in the outfield occasionally. In addition, Tom Gorzelanny should be coming off the DL this week, which means that Yunesky Maya will likely be heading back to Syracuse to focus his efforts on being less predictable the second time through the order.
One of the keys to this homestand will be getting Zim back in day-to-day rhythm of playing. It’s hard to come back from a long period of time when you’re not playing every day and settle into the common rhythm of play again, so I wouldn’t expect late-inning heroics on Tuesday night, but if we can see the core of Ryan back in place at third before the end of the Cards series, I’d say the Nats are in for a good homestand.
Little Road Notes: As we noted on Twitter last night, the 9th inning rally that won the final game of the road trip last night was started by Matt Stairs, who has been much maligned for his performance so far this year. This doesn’t get him off the hook for failing to deliver on a regular basis, but two hits in three games is a big step in the right direction for the 43-year old.