For one day, I'll stop calling them the Scats. Oops, I guess I just did. Here's my take on game one of the sunny weekend series against the Marlins.
When the Marlins Are Up
--Is Emmylou for real? I still say no. Emilio Bonifacio's problem with the Nationals is that he simply struck out way too much for a guy who has no power and few walks. To be successful, he's just got to put the ball in play constantly, a la Cristian Guzman. So far this year, his strikeout rate is 25% (compared to 27% last year) and his contact rate is 77.0% (77.9% last year). He's hacking more than ever, as he's drawn just one walk in 45 PA. His line drive rate is up a bit, from 21.5% to 25.8%, suggesting that he's making sharper contact. But that's not going to sustain him. Right now he's riding on a .500 BABIP, and the regression to the mean started yesterday with an 0-for-5 with 3 Ks against Kenshin Kawakami (who does not have big time strikeout stuff).
--Hanley Ramirez is off to a solid but unspectacular start, going .289 / .341 / .500 over the first 9 games. He's been more aggressive hitting out of the 3-hole so far, swinging at 50.0% of pitches seen, compared with 40.9% last year, though the sample size is still too small to say for sure whether he's changed his approach or just seen a few extra pitches to hit. One note: the biggest knock on Hanley has always been his fielding, but UZR says he was a touch above average in his first week, and the Marlins would do backflips to get average defense from Hanley.
--It's not terribly shocking, but top prospect Cameron Maybin, who turned 22 right around Opening Day, is really struggling. He has just one extra-base hit and has K-ed in 42.9% of his plate appearances this year, which is even worse than Lastings Milledge's whiff rate. I assume Maybin showed up early to work on his birthday, though, since he's still here. Or, it could be that the Marlins are better than the Nationals at developing young players and try not to yank guys around out of sheer panic or evaluate based on ludicrously small sample sizes.
--Jorge Cantu is locked in. Either that, or he's faced some incredibly bad pitching. Maybe both. He's making contact on 94.3% of pitches in the zone and also 94.1% of pitches out of the zone. He's hitting .370 / .469 / .630. He simply doesn't have the plate discipline to maintain this over time, but Cantu has shown the ability to get hot like this. Hopefully it'll end tonight.
--Dan Uggla's another Marlin off to a great start. He's walking more than ever (16.2%), and his power is back big time (.290 ISO) after recovering from an ankle injury that he fought through in the second half last year. He's a beast, in his prime, coming in riding a hot streak. Our relievers might wanna wear headgear.
--If this season was Jeremy Hermida's last chance to salvage a career for himself, he's making the most of it, at least so far. His on-base skills have always been suspect, but he's drawn 6 walks in his first 35 plate appearances and he's swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone (21.8%, down from 27.8% last year). These are the skills he needed to improve on to make the leap, and at just 25, it's possible that this perennial prospect may finally be blossoming at the big league level.
--John Baker's continuing the excellent on-base skills and patience at the plate that made him an offensive plus late last season. He's shown no pop and striking out a ton, however.
On the Mound
Ricky Nolasco's been hit pretty hard in his two starts so far this year, first on Opening Day against the Nationals and again against the Mets. He's coming in with a 7.36 ERA.
Looking closer at his peripherals, he's pitching better than the overall ERA would suggest. Last year, his 4.43 K:BB ratio was seventh in MLB, and so far this year he's at 4.00, still excellent. His strand rate is 53%, which is very low, and his BAPIP is .343, which seems high at first blush, but not really once you factor in that 29.4% of balls in play off Nolasco have been hit for line-drives.
Bottom line, it looks to me like he's the same guy he was last year--the velocity is the same, the command is the same, and he's missing bats about the same. He's either just run into some good hitters or just missed on some pitches. But I expect he'll be fine.
He throws a standard four-pitch repertoire of fastball, slider, curveball, and change, and he's a flyball pitcher who historically has struggled a bit with lefties (though that split almost totally vanished last year).
Matt Lindstrom, the Marlins' closer, seems ok after a straining a rotator cuff in the WBC. Former Royal Leo Nunez, former Oriole Hayden Penn, and former Athletic Kiko Calero have been ok in the early going filling the middle spots in the 'pen. Renyel Pinto hasn't been good and isn't really any good. Logan Kensing, probably more talented than any of the above other than Lindstrom, has struggled.
Season Record: 6-2
Can the Nationals make it two in a row? Sorry, nope. Nolasco has his first really good start of the year, and the Nationals start to remember that their .352 team BABIP ain't normal. Marlins win, 6-2.