The Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals open a three-game series in the nation’s capital Tuesday.
A division title is not won with a great April, but a porous first month can certainly push a team out of contention. The Arizona Diamondbacks experienced the consequences of the latter in 2016.
Arizona finished 12-14 after one month of a six-month regular season, which included a 5-11 mark at Chase Field. The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers did not get out to fast starts either but starting fast never hurts.
Regardless of how division foes perform, most players will say early momentum matters. Manager Torey Lovullo, speaking to MLB.com, said he likes that the team is playing for each other.
"“I like the effort we give. I like the focus we have. I like the brotherhood that I’m watching. I like the family that we’re turning into. When I think about the first month I think about a strong bond inside that clubhouse and that’s really exciting to me.”"
Only the Nationals (170) scored more runs than the Diamondbacks in April (141). Diamondbacks’ pitchers finished with the eighth best ERA (3.81) in baseball and the starters 3.34 ERA was second in the majors.
The Diamondbacks April success amounted to the third highest run differential in baseball (+29.0) behind the New York Yankees (+43.0) and Washington (+48.0).
If it were not for Fernando Rodney’s subpar performance, the Diamondbacks could have easily been 18-9. Instead, Arizona sits five games over the .500 mark at 16-11 and a half game behind the Colorado Rockies in the National League West
Before Lovullo’s Diamondbacks open up a three-game series at Nationals Park against Dusty Baker’s Nationals, Venom Strikes sat down with our FanSided partners, District On Deck for their perspective on the upcoming series.
More from Venom Strikes
- Happy Thanksgiving Diamondbacks Fans! We have lots to be thankful for!
- The perfect holiday gifts for the Arizona Diamondbacks fan
- Diamondbacks make some BIG 40-man roster Moves
- About time! Diamondbacks to now provide housing for Minor League players
- What is the Rule 5 Draft? How does it impact Diamondbacks?
Q&A with District On Deck co-editor Ron Juckett
VenomStrikes: What has Ryan Zimmerman been eating? The first baseman is on track for a comeback season of the ages. In your mind, what has fueled his resurgence at the plate?
District on Deck: Spinach and milk. OK, not really. Hopefully, nothing that will run afoul of the rules. Zimmerman had a horrible spring until halfway. After grounding out all the time, he started elevating the ball and is on a serious roll.
Really, this is the first time since 2013 that he’s fully healthy. Whatever they worked on in Florida and his good health are the reasons. So much fun to watch
VenomStrikes: Bryce Harper set the April record for runs scored in a month. How much better can he be or in other words, what is his ceiling?
District on Deck: Well, maybe he can close. Seriously, he is not swinging at pitches outside the zone and is seeing the fastball well. Hard to top his numbers, so far. His timing at the plate is light years where it was last fall.
This is the player fans expected after 2015 and who will break the $40 million a year barrier. Hard to see him this good the rest of the way, but he has reached the point where he can carry a team on his back. 40-50 homers are not out of the question.
What impact does the loss of Adam Eaton have on this season and beyond, given the haul of players Mike Rizzo gave up?
District on Deck: It’s a big loss this year. Eaton delivered what the Nats wanted, a good on-base guy with speed and good baseball intelligence. He’s a team player who had an immediate clubhouse impact. He will be missed.
Michael Taylor has the job for now. He is notorious for striking out, but played very well against the New York Mets this past weekend. Defensively, he is an upgrade over Eaton in centerfield, but the offense is a concern.
Remember, Eaton is under control for four years. The plan is to move him to a corner outfield position, where he is a much better defender, depending on what Jayson Werth decides to do next year. All along, the front office wanted Trea Turner to play his native shortstop. They dumped old shortstop Danny Espinosa to the Los Angeles Angels before trading for Eaton.
Although Dane Dunning is lighting up the minors, the Nats were right to make the trade. Eaton did not have an injury history with Chicago and you can never anticipate when these things happen. A trade for the future the Nats can be comfortable with.
VenomStrikes: Trea Turner recently hit for the cycle and almost had another one. Is he baseball’s next superstar?
District on Deck: Boy, he is the real deal.
Turner can turn a walk into a double. He can hit for power, slash doubles and triples and can field. Yeah, everything is aligned for Turner to join the level of Mookie Betts and Kris Bryant as the cream of this generation. He had a hamstring issue earlier but looks better now.
If/when Harper leaves, Turner can fill the role of a superstar. Turner doesn’t have Harper’s power, but can steal 60-80 bases and hit 20 homers. He’s a game changer.
VenomStrikes: The bullpen has been the Achilles heel of this team. Is the loss of Mark Melancon and the current “closer by committee” situation the sole explanation?
District on Deck: No, not really.
Losing Melancon hurt, along with not signing Greg Holland or Kenley Jansen, but the bullpen problems are deeper than closer.
Washington has a double whammy of no one having an assigned role or dependable on a regular basis. If you thought Matt Albers and Ollie Perez would be the best relievers out of camp, you are lying.
They’ve overused Enny Romero and the starters to a degree and simply have no one reliable to use. When Koda Glover gets off the DL, he and Shawn Kelley will be okay at closer until Glover learns the job.
Getting games to them remain an issue.
"Arizona Diamondbacks: Yasmany Tomas makes highlight reel play"
Many thanks to Ron for answering questions about the Nationals.
Read District on Deck for the best coverage of the Diamondbacks first May opponent.