The Washington Nationals are a team that had many question marks heading into this season. Would they be able to overcome their late-season collapse and regain the NL East crown or would it be a long season for the team from the Nation’s Capital. So far in 2016, so good as the Nats were able to sweep the home standing Atlanta Braves in a two-game series.
On Opening Day, Bryce Harper began his defense of the NL MVP award by going 1-3 with a solo home run off Atlanta starter Julio Teheran in the top of the first inning. He also walked twice.
Daniel Murphy, who the Nats acquired in the offseason as a free agent, started off his life as a Washington National in fashion. Murphy launched a solo home run of his own off Teheran in the fourth inning and later smacked the eventual game-winning double in the top of the 10th. He finished the game 2-3 with a home run, double and two RBIs.
In order to get to the 10th innings, Washington had to tie the game in the top of the ninth and did so when outfielder Michael Taylor, who replaced Ben Revere, knotted the game up with a sacrifice fly.
Max Scherzer pitched seven strong innings, giving up two runs (both earned off solo home runs) and three hits while striking out seven and issuing two walks. The Nats’ bullpen, which is a big question mark for this season, came in and did its job, allowing one hit and one run in three innings of work. Jonathan Papelbon, who was in the middle of Washington’s drama at the end of last season, came in to close the game out.
In the second game, pitching was the name of the game. Washington got 6 quality innings from Stephen Strasburg, who scattered six hits, giving up one run while striking out four and walking three. The Nats’ bullpen once again stepped up, pitching four innings and giving up just two hits and zero runs. Papelbon, who gave up the only two hits from the bullpen, once again closed the game out, giving him his second save of the season.
The Braves lone run came on an AJ Pierzynski RBI single in the bottom of the fourth. Starter Bud Norris was lights out until the nightmare seventh innings. Norris had allowed only one Washington baserunner to reach second base before the second inning, where the Nats would take advantage of a fielding error.
Atlanta shortstop Erick Aybar made a throwing error to allow the tying run to score and after that, the Nats made him pay dearly for it. Mat den Dekker, who was just called up that day, was called upon to pinch-hit for Strasburg in the seventh and took advantage of his time by drilling the go-ahead two-run double. This would be the insurance the Nats would need to go on to win the game.
While it has only been two games, Washington has showed it can play in close games and not have to outslug everyone. The bullpen has been sharp thus far and both Scherzer and Strasburg started the season off well.
Next up for the Nats is a seven-game home stand starting with three against the Miami Marlins on Thursday, with no game being played Friday, and then four against the Braves starting on Monday.