From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Districtly Speaking
Hello Nationals fans,
I figured it was a great time to check in.
Before jumping into our 14-4 start, I want to talk about the Capitals and how their playoff run created its own set of challenges for me personally. I am on the West Coast with the ballclub and Wednesday’s first pitch came just one hour before the Caps faceoff in Boston. A dilemma for sure, but one that could be overcome by technology.
I had a heck of a time shifting between the game in front of me and the Caps game, which I was watching (between pitches) on my iPad. But, as day gave way to night, all of my hard work was rewarded as both the Nationals and Caps won. Later, I noticed that the Wizards won their 5th straight game for the first time since 2007. What an evening for DC sports fans!
As everyone reading this knows, Game 7s are special no matter the sport. However, it seems as if Game 7s in hockey are almost holy in nature. The Caps play last night certainly matched the game’s stakes.
Intense, physical, smart and concerted is how I would describe last night’s effort in a season-saving, 2-1 victory in Boston. And really, it had to be that way in order to advance.
The Bruins were game. This was hardly the case of a satisfied defending champ going through the motions. My eyes told me that the Bruins played well in each game of the series. But our Caps won the closest playoff series in NHL history against the defending Stanley Cup champions because they played slightly better. One goal better, in fact.
I am so happy for my friend, Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis, General Manager George McPhee, head coach Dale Hunter and all of the players. I don’t think any DC sports fans will forget this series, Joel Ward’s goal or Braden Holtby’s playoff arrival.
But now comes the hard part. Our Caps work is not done. We only know that they could play, under various scenarios, either the Rangers, Flyers or Devils in the second round. But before looking ahead, I hope for one night at least, the Caps enjoyed their spoils.
Back on the diamond, things are going well on all fronts, outside of the injury bug that has bitten our cleanup hitter (Morse), our closer (Storen), our most experienced starting pitcher (Wang) and now our best player (Zimmerman). Thankfully, we entered the season with depth all around the diamond. 162 games in six months is a grind and it is folly to believe that any club can go injury-free or even close to it.
But the bench has been up to the task. Through just 18 games, Chad Tracy (game-winning hits on Tuesday in San Diego and on April 7 at Wrigley Field), Xavier Nady (April 13 game-tying pinch homer vs. Reds, rally-sparking double on Tuesday at San Diego) and Steve Lombardozzi (4-for-5, 2 RBI on April 16 vs. Houston) have already played integral roles in victories this season.
There is also depth on the pitching staff. While we thankfully have not yet had to call upon our obvious rotation depth, it should be noted that all seven relievers have pitched important innings in close games this season. There really have been no exceptions. Winning streaks will do that and thus far our bullpen has more than held its own in contributing to our early season success.
Which brings me to the starting rotation. There has been none better in baseball. And the gap is widening with seemingly every start. There really is not much to say other than Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Jackson and Detwiler have collectively been beyond exceptional.
The formula from my seat has been a healthy share of strikeouts, precious few walks and keeping the ball in the ballpark.
And despite this early-season dominance, Davey knows we are in this for the long haul. The five starters have combined to throw just 110.2 innings this season. That ranks 16th in MLB and does not suggest even a whiff of overuse.
One thing that I have noted about Davey is his innate ability to balance tonight’s result with “tomorrow.” That is, an understanding of where we are in the scope of a game, a series, the season, and just as importantly, where these pitchers are in terms of their careers.
I am looking forward to our series this weekend against the Dodgers, who are playing as well as they have in a few years. I never miss our trip to Dodger Stadium, which really is on any short list of the top venues in all of sports. The place is oozing with history, the backdrop is spectacular and the fans are always knowledgeable.
Tonight’s finale at Petco Park is my 16th straight game. I hope we can finish off the sweep and keep the good vibes rolling.
Let’s go CAPS! … Let’s go NATS! …