Cable television is a luxury for many people these days. That means that Nationals fans who wish to follow their team could have trouble accessing MASN, the Nats’ home broadcasting network. Hence, the importance of radio.
“Sometimes all it takes is a comeback like this to turn your fate around,” an authoritative voice crooned over the airwaves.
That was Charlie Slowes, the play-by-play announcer for the Nationals’ radio affiliate 106.7 FM The Fan, speaking on April 16 during a tight game between the Mets and the Nats. A few pitches later, Michael A. Taylor, who entered the game with a .193 batting average, walked to force in the go-ahead run, and the Nats went on to win 8-6.
Taylor’s go-ahead walk came at a critical juncture early in the season. The Nats lost eight of their previous 11 games entering the series against the Mets, who stormed out of the gates to a 12-2 record. The Nationals ended up taking two of three games in the series to stop their early season skid.
For all 14 seasons that Nats baseball has existed in DC, Slowes has been the voice calling the games, engaging fans through the airwaves. When we got a chance to chat with Slowes off-air, he noted that it’s important not to sound the alarms just because of a slow start.
“You’re talking about a tenth of a season,” Slowes told On Tap the morning after the April 16 game, adding that there’s reason to keep the faith in a reigning first-place team. “I’m always excited at the start of a season. They’ve got Scherzer and Strasburg at the top of the rotation. They’ve got a backend of the bullpen that they didn’t really have last year, with a track record of success. Bryce [Harper] looks like he’s primed for a big, big year.”
Slowes noted that this April was abnormally cold and dismal, hardly the kind of weather that wakes Major League hitters out of their offseason slumbers – even the cherry blossoms stayed in their beds a few weeks longer than expected.
“Hell, let’s see the weather get warm,” Slowes said. “It hasn’t really been baseball weather. But you figure by May, it will be.”
Any baseball fan worth his weight in pine tar knows that warm weather and hitting go together like spaghetti and meatballs. Moreover, key pieces in the Nats’ lineup were missing at the start of the April 16 game. Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy – essential pieces in the Nationals’ batting order – spent time out of the lineup in April because of injury.
The Nationals entered the April 16 game with MLB ranks of 13th in runs scored, 19th in team batting average and 15th in team on-base plus slugging. At the end of 2017, the Nats ranked fifth, fourth and fourth in those categories, respectively. With a fully loaded lineup, one would expect the numbers to more closely resemble last season’s.
But unlike last season, when the Nats finished 20 games ahead of the second-place Marlins, our team has more to worry about than just their own performance. The National League East has vastly improved.
For example, the Mets welcomed back their young pitching phenom Noah “Thor” Syndergaard and potent hitters Michael Conforto and Yoenis Céspedes, all of whom missed significant time in 2017. Meanwhile, the Braves and Phillies have started to reap the benefits of their “rebuilding” phases. For both teams, a talented crop of young prospects has finally begun to arrive at the Major League level.
But maybe a little competition isn’t so bad.
“Maybe that will be a good thing,” Slowes said. “When you are a runaway winner in the division, and you don’t play any meaningful games, then September becomes a little bit more like spring training. Then you’ve got to flip a switch [when the playoffs begin].”
After a shaky performance coming out of this year’s spring training, the Nationals needed to search hard to flip that proverbial switch. If nothing else, the Nats – to invoke another idiom – have gotten a wake-up call to start the season.
For more info on the Nats’ 2018 season, go to www.mlb.com/nationals.
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