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The SportsTalk Shop: Harry Kalas, Charlie Slowes & the Nationals

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We are right at the 1/5-th mark of the Major League Baseball season.  While that might not seem like an impressive number, it is a key time in a team’s season.  Once you pass the“30-games” mark, the excuse “well, it’s still early” starts to wear thin and teams start having to take some long looks at players’ abilities.  It’s also the time that teams have to start realizing that early season surprises, whether positive or negative, may just be for real.

This week, we’ll take a look at the Nationals season to date (we’ll next look at the Phillies’ issues and question marks in an upcoming blog entry).

To help us break down Washington’s first 30-games, I had a chance to speak with Nationals Play-by-Play Voice Charlie Slowes about their outstanding starting rotation, an extremely wild game against the Braves and their upcoming schedule.  A few weeks back marked six years since the passing of the late, great broadcaster Harry Kalas, and Charlie gave us some unique perspectives on the legendary announcer.

A couple additional notes about the Nats.

All things considered, the team’s slow start (the Nats lost 15 of their first 23 games) hasn’t really hurt the team.  Considering the injuries to hit the bullpen and to their lineups, they’ve survived most of those “bumps” and have bounced back strong.  Both Jayson Werth and Denard Span—two keys on offense and defensively in the outfield—came back earlier than some had expected.  Span has not missed a beat since his return, flirting with an impressive slash line (.305/.354/.525 heading into this past weekend).  While Anthony Rendon’s oblique injury continues to linger, Bryce Harper, with (finally) an injury-free season to date, has blossomed into the star the team expected him to be.

The bullpen, led by closer Drew Storen and his nine saves, is beginning to flesh out its respective roles following the loss of Craig Stammen to a season-ending injury.  Tanner Roark has made a successful transition back to a reliever’s role, with three holds heading into the Atlanta series.  Aaron Barrett has been solid from the right side, holding opponent’s batting averages under .200 (and a WHIP under 1), and southpaw Matt Thornton having success so far against both right and left-handed hitters.  Sammy Solis also looked impressive holding the eighth-inning lead in the series finale against the Braves.

Also, despite an incredibly hot start by the Mets, Washington is still playing in an incredibly weak division this year, and they should be able to beat up on their divisional opponents quite a bit, even if Rendon continues on the disabled list.  When the Nats’ offense—which has shown a propensity to be streaky—goes through another lull, they should be able to avoid any long losing stretches thanks to their starting pitching depth as they look to move up in the standings over the next few weeks.  Here is a look at their upcoming series:

May 11-13 :         at Arizona
May 14 – 17:       at San Diego
May 19-20:          vs. Yankees
May 22-24:          vs. Philadelphia
May 25-27:          at Chicago
May 29-31:         at Cincinnati

The Nationals still have many more games coming up against NL East teams, and I can’t imagine Washington not compiling a better-than-500 record against them going forward.

As the 2011 Phillies found out, it’s not how many you win during the regular season.  The big key is for Washington to continue to play well, stay near or at the top of the division, and try to keep everyone healthy through the summer.  Hopefully Rendon comes back with enough time to find his stroke and the lethargic start to the season becomes a distant, if not forgotten, memory.

Special programming note.  Mark your calendars and be sure to come out to see “RCN SportsTalk” as we broadcast live from Buffalo Wild Wings on Grape Street in Whitehall, PA.  This will be the first of several shows we’ll be broadcasting on location this summer.   Keep checking back to the RCN-TV website for updates on these special programs as SportsTalk “goes wild” this summer!