Nationals: Series by Series Predictions for the Month of April

Robert WoodCorrespondent IMarch 27, 2013

Nationals: Series by Series Predictions for the Month of April

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    The Washington Nationals' expectations for the 2013 season are to win the World Series. Anything less would be a disappointment.

    But to achieve that goal, it would help if the Nats got off to a fast start.

    So, with that in mind, here are the series-by-series predictions for the Washington Nationals for the entire month of April.

1. April 1-4: Marlins @ Nationals, 3 Games

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    The Nats can ease into the 2013 season.

    First of all, they play the depleted Miami Marlins. Second of all, the series is at the friendly confines of Nationals Park. Third of all, it's a three-game series spread over four days.

    Opening Day, however, will not be that easy. The Nats will feel emboldened by sending a limitless Stephen Strasburg to the hill, but their excitement will be tempered when they face the Marlins' Opening Day starter, Ricky Nolasco.

    The California native owned the  Nationals last year. In four starts against the Nats, Nolasco was 2-2, but that included a complete-game shutout in both of his victories. Nolasco had a 2.45 ERA against Washington, which batted only .209 against him, for the two lowest numbers posted by Nolasco against any team that he faced more than once during the season. So, expect a low-scoring game on Opening Day.

    But the 2013 Marlins are a shadow of their former selves. The Fish are without their team leaders from a year ago in batting average (Jose Reyes), runs (Reyes), OPS (Reyes), ERA (Mark Buehrle), wins (Buehrle), shutouts (Josh Johnson), saves (Heath Bell) and WHIP (Buehrle). The Marlins will also be missing a top-of-the-lineup threat while their starting rotation and their bullpen have both been stripped bare.

    Despite a challenging Opening Day game, expect the Nationals to give the Marlins a rough start to what should be a very long season.

    PREDICTION: Nationals sweep.

    NATIONALS' RECORD: 3-0

2. April 5-7: Nationals @ Reds, 3 Games

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    The honeymoon ends quickly for Washington.

    The Nats face off with the Cincinnati Reds for three games at the Great American Ballpark in the second series of the season, which is sure to be a good one. While Washington finished the 2012 season with the best record in baseball at 98-64, Cincinnati was second-best with a 97-65 record. Both teams won their respective divisions.

    The Nationals went 5-2 against the Reds in the seven-game 2012 season series between them, but the season set was much closer than it appeared. Three of the seven games were decided by one run, three were decided by extra innings and three  were won in the final at-bat.

    Expect the 2013 season series to be no different. It all starts with the starting rotations. James Wagner of The Washington Post reported on March 16 that "it appears the rotation will look like this: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, (Dan) Haren and (Ross) Detwiler." And according to ESPN, the Cincinnati Reds have already determined their rotation. So, the series should shape up like this:

    1. Dan Haren vs. Homer Bailey
    2. Ross Detwiler vs. Mike Leake
    3. Stephen Strasburg vs. Johnny Cueto

    Two teams with deep rotations will make for a very evenly matched series once again and the series finale should be an early-season preview of two NL Cy Young favorites.

    PREDICTION: Nationals win two of three.

    NATIONALS' RECORD: 5-1

3. April 9-11: White Sox @ Nationals. 3 Games

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    For the first time in their history, the Nationals will play an interleague series before they pay their taxes.

    The Chicago White Sox will visit Nationals Park for the third series of the season as the South Siders begin their second season under manager and former White Sox player Robin Ventura.

    In Ventura's first season at the helm, Chicago finished 85-77. Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLBTradeRumors.com stated during the offseason that "the White Sox weren't able to reach the playoffs in 2012, but they have enough above average players to project as contenders in the American League going forward."

    This should be a good early-season test for the Nats, against one of the better teams in the American League.

    But the best thing about this series for the  Nationals is that it will be played in the National League ballpark. What does that mean, you say? No Adam Dunn.

    PREDICTION: Nationals win two of three.

    NATIONALS' RECORD: 7-2

4. April 12-14: Braves @ Nationals, 3 Games

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    The NL East does not go through Philadelphia, despite the musings of Jimmy Rollins.

    The NL East once again is a two-horse race and it should again come down to a photo finish for the second year in a row between the Nationals and Atlanta Braves.

    Every game between these budding division rivals will matter, even in the middle of April. The Nationals will host the first series of the season, and should be able to throw Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez for the final two games of the series. The pair of aces will have their hands full with the Braves' potent lineup, bolstered by the additions of the Upton brothers—BJ and Justin.

    The two bullpens should also keep this series relatively low scoring. Washington now has three closer-caliber relievers in Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, each of whom may be inferior to Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel.

    Expect the Braves to beat the Nationals out of the gate by taking this early series.

    PREDICTION: Braves win two of three.

    NATIONALS' RECORD: 8-4

5. April 15-17: Nationals @ Marlins, 3 Games

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    For the fifth series of the season, the Nationals will have another go at the moribund Marlins, this time at what is sure to be a nearly empty Marlins Park.

    Just don't expect the Nationals to sweep the season series, or even this series for that matter. The Marlins will steal a game or two, and may have their best chance in this series.

    The Nationals will send the back end of their rotation against the Marlins for the three-game set, as Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren and Ross Detwiler would be the projected starters. The Marlins have an advantage right there, simply due to not having to face Stephen Strasburg or Gio Gonzalez.

    The bigger advantage the Marlins have is their ballpark. Simply put, Marlins Park is cavernous and the Marlins' pitching staff—or what's left of it—loves to pitch there. If the Marlins get a late lead, this park will play right into the hands of quite possibly the best pitcher remaining on the  staff, Steve Cishek. The side-armed reliever gave the Nationals fits last year, and should step into the full-time closer role quite nicely in 2013.

    PREDICTION: Nationals win two of three.

    NATIONALS' RECORD: 10-5

6. April 19-21: Nationals @ Mets, 3 Games

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    The Nationals will get a day off for travel before they take on the Mets in New York.

    Last season, the Nationals dominated the Mets, winning 14 of the 18 games in the season series. Expect more of the same this season.

    Bill Baer of Hardball Talk predicts the Mets will finish in fourth place in the NL East, same as they did in 2012. Baer further explains what ails the Metropolitans:

    The Mets are in a transition period. The outfield is thin, the bullpen is thin, the starting rotation is a combination of young arms and injury-prone veterans, and the infield aside from David Wright is lacking.

    The Nationals must try and fatten up on the likes of the Marlins and Mets when they are not facing the more challenging teams on their schedule.

    PREDICTION: Nationals win two of three.

    NATIONALS' RECORD: 12-6

7. April 22-24: Cardinals @ Nationals, 3 Games

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    Here it is: the rematch of last year's exciting National League Division Series.

    OK, so it's only April, but the memory of the Cardinals' epic comeback in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS still burns brightly for the Nationals and their fans. So even a series between these newly bitter rivals in late April will be intense.

    But don't expect it to be easy.

    Last season, the Nats took four of seven in the closely contested season series. This year's series may play out the same way. Drew Silva of Harball Talk predicts the Cardinals will finish the season in, "second place in the National League Central, winners of a Wild Card spot." That would be the same as last season.

    Due to how the starting rotations are projected to line up for this series, Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez will not be able to at least partially erase the memory of his Game 5 start. As he told James Wagner of The Washington Post, Gonzalez learned how to manage high-pressure situations by pitching in the World Baseball Classic, under the tutelage of USA pitching coach Greg Maddux:

    I know from experience in the postseason, I was overwhelmed by all the noise and stuff like that. But now I look at it and try to do the same thing, what Greg did, take that away and try to minimize it and think of something so simple that can help you tune it out. 

    Perhaps Gio will get a chance to deal better with the pressure of facing St. Louis later in the season. Much later.

    PREDICTION: Nationals win two of three.

    NATIONALS' RECORD: 14-7

8. April 25-28: Reds @ Nationals, 4 Games

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    As if April has not been challenging enough, the Nationals will play a four-game series against the defending NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds at Nationals Park in the final complete series of the month.

    Mercifully, it will also complete the season series between the two National League contenders.

    If the starting rotations stay true to form, the Reds will miss Stephen Strasburg this time around, but they not Gio Gonzalez, who would face Mat Latos in an intriguing matchup to open the series.

    An even better mound matchup could come out of the bullpen throughout the series. Rafael Soriano, of the Nationals, has been one of the best in the business for some time now and Aroldis Chapman, of the Reds, has quickly established himself as possibly the best closer in baseball. It will be fun to watch those two duel each other with games on the line. 

    PREDICTION: Series split.

    NATIONALS' RECORD: 16-9

9. April 29-30, May 1-2: Nationals @ Braves, 4 Games

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    The Nationals will be happy to see April come to a close after finishing a brutal 11-game stretch with a four-game series in Atlanta against the Braves.

    Unfortunately, May will not get off to a better start, as this series will be split by the end of the month. 

    It won't be easy for the Braves either as the race for the NL East title will be a dogfight between both clubs all season long.

    Every game will matter, even in late April and early May

    PREDICTION: Series split.

    NATIONALS' RECORD: 18-11