Well, the Nationals return to D.C. tonight for a 3 game series against the Blue Jays and on the heels of a six-game interleague road trip in which they went 2-4 in games against the Rays and Yankees. While most would view this record as typical of the Nationals' 2009 season, many may be surprised to see that those 2 wins came against the New York Yankees, the team with the highest payroll and most continual hype in all of MLB.
As a Yankees fan, I was expecting a fairly easy time with the Nationals, and by that I mean a 3-game sweep. Although the Yanks' pitching (both starters and relievers) has been suspect at times, I expected that the games would play out as most games involving the Nationals do. The Nats put some offense on the board early and jump out to the lead, only to have the late inning relievers give up a multiude of gophers and the defense seemingly shut down.
The Yankees took the series opener 5-3 in a pitching matchup that featured Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia against the Nats' Shairon Martis. Coming in to the Bronx, the Nationals had posted only 16 wins, 5 of which belonged to Martis. He is a strong young righty who showed his strength against a potent Yankees lineup. The Nats' bullpen unraveled late and the Yankees took advantage, sending in Mariano Rivera to close out the Nats and take game 1.
Games 2 and 3 featured strong performances by Nats' pitchers John Lannan and Craig Stammen, respectively. Lannan, a native New Yorker who grew up a Yankee fan, stymied the pinstripers, going 8 and 1/3 in a 3-2 win. In a rain-delayed Thursday game, Craig Stammen earned his first major league win, shutting out the Yankees 3-0. Oh yeah, that was the Nats' first shutout of the season.
Pretty embarassing for the Yankees, who round out the interleague schedule on the road against the Marlins, Braves and Mets. Coming into Wednesday's game, the Yankees were 23-0 in games where they surrendered three runs or fewer. Now they are 23-2. In their six interleague games against the Nats (the other three came in 2006), the Yankees are 2-4.
For the Nationals, this series will still likely play a meaningless role in what has been and is likely to continue to be a dismal season. We did get some glimpses of things to look forward though in the Yankees series: young starters being economical with pitch counts and going deep into games, an infield defense that actually made some impressive plays, and smart baserunning all around.
The Nationals return home tonight for six straight, three against Toronto and three against the Red Sox. They then finish up the interleague session with three games at Camden Yards vs. the O's. With the amount of bandwagon Red Sox fans in the D.C. area, there is no question that the atmosphere at Nationals Park next week will be very much like a game at Fenway. But, at least its getting some fans in the seats. Who knows, maybe we'll be surprised and see the Nats take another series they aren't supposed to.