The Nationals are going to be all right. A pair of "road" wins over Toronto leaves Washington 3-4 before breaking until Tuesday against the New York Mets. But that 1-4 start was worrisome before Carter Kieboom started earning his rep as the next star and others finally found their bats while reducing silly defensive plays. But then, who expected much without pitcher Stephen Strasburg and slugger Juan Soto against two strong American League teams? Add Anthony Rendon now plays in California, Ryan Zimmerman opted out and Gerardo Parra's in Japan, and the lineup looked quite different from the one that won the World Series nine months ago. Fortunately, Strasburg (thumb) could return next week while Soto is expected against the Mets after a series of negative COVID-19 tests. That alone should help, though the Nats have pitched well while using a truckload of relievers. In a season where 16 teams make the postseason, the Nats merely need to stay above .500 to make the playoffs. But, that's not the goal. Repeating as champions in a season that's more like a sprint than its usual marathon pace means more urgency. The Nats needed their first week to acclimate to so many new situations caused by the pandemic. An empty Nats Park with awful fake crowd noise is distracting, but for both teams, so that can't be blamed. No, Washington needed to rekindle last year's late-season magic as the primer for this whole campaign. When the Mets arrive, Washington must regain its steam-rolling edge that led to an improbable title run in 2019. Ironically, the spark may have returned in a scoreless game on Wednesday. The new rule of starting the 10th inning with a runner on second base saw the Nats combine a little luck and pluck to score four runs. On Thursday, they collected 13 hits in a 6-4 victory over the Blue Jays. Even Michael A. Taylor hit his second homer despite an agonizing .143 average. The two victories resembled much of last season when clustering hits and finishing opportunities. It was a stark contrast to the 1-4 start when sleepwalking through games. Players came to the plate looking like they'd rather be anywhere than playing ball, as if the pandemic left them reluctant to play. But it only took a homer off the foul pole, a win, a moment to rediscover the joy of the game. The Nats are seemingly having fun with their silly bugle gestures and dugout dancing. Oh yeah, the Nats are going to be all right.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks