The Nationals are about to embark on a 20 games over 20 days gauntlet, which is relatively brutal, when your job is playing baseball. The good news is much of it is at home, the first 6 and the last 5 all take place in Nationals Park, which may see some more fans come out. Between the untimely demise of the Caps season and the arrival of spring weather, you might see some people at the ballpark. The second homestand will draw some visiting fans, so we’ll see just how the stadium fills up. The other good news is that you and I get to watch the Nats play every day if we so choose, which is pretty great.

Their journey begins, as I said, at home, and they are going to play the Braves who are sitting uncomfortably in last place in the NL East. They are probably not the worst team in the division, and they have a chance to leapfrog at least the Nats depending on how the series plays out. But they’ll start by facing Livan Hernandez, who is tied for the league lead in ERA at 0.87. The Nats get to face Kawakami tonight, who is better than his almost five and a half ERA indicates, although hopefully not tonight. They then get to host their recent nemesis, the Marlins to finish out the homestand. Before the end of the weekend, they’ll likely face several young and impressive pitchers – Tommy Hanson, Chris Volstad, Josh Johnson, and Anibel Sanchez. The Nats bats will probably need to come through this week in order to exit it with a winning record.

After that, they have to go up to New York and face the Mets, who are only 1/2 a game out of first. A year ago, that didn’t seem ridiculous, today it is surprising. Perhaps not as surprising as a 13-12 Nats team, definitely not as surprising as a 16-10 Padres team, but surprising nonetheless. The Mets have won through excellent pitching, not through hitting, which is even more surprising. It is possible that they will be exposed even before the Nats have to go up there. From there, they have to travel to Denver, keep in mind this is without an off day, to face the team that many have picked to win the West.

Finally, they’ll finish by coming back home, for a week later series rematch against the Mets. They get to follow that with a home matchup against the Baltimore Orioles, who have won the least amount of games and lost the most this year. Of course, they’ve only played 28 games, by the time the Nats face them, they’ll have played 16 more, so they could be in much better shape. And if they’re not, playing a natural rival 45 minutes from home may be the spark they need.

The 20 game stretch should be a great test for this team. If they emerge with a winning record, it will be the end of May, and several pitchers including Strasburg, Storen, Wang and Detwiler could be on the verge of rejoining the team. If, after 20 games in a row, the Nats are still looking good, it may be time to start getting excited.

By Charlie