Saturday, January 19, 2013

Nationals Might Be Even Better This Year

Bryce Harper - New York Mets v Washington Nationals

Last season, the Nationals made their first playoff appearance since 1981 when they were known as the Montreal Expos. It was the first playoff baseball team in DC since 1933. The Phillies went into the year winning the past 5 NL East crowns, but slumped last year as age might be catching up to them. The Nats won a major league high 98 games last year, but in a controversial decision; shut down Stephen Strasburg in mid September. It came back to bite them and they lost in an exciting five game set against the Cardinals. In Game 5, they blew a 6 run lead. It was a mighty collapse for them, but a unbelievable win for the Redbirds.

The Cardinals then suffered a collapse of their own in the NLCS, blowing a 3-1 lead to the Giants. I think the Cardinals have another World Series run in them again this year, but they will have some strong competition. The Giants have now won 2 out of the last 3 World Series and a force to be reckoned with in October. The Nationals might worry me more. They are a young team loaded with talent, and have improved themselves this offseason.

The Nationals starting pitching is among the league's best, if not the best. No way do they shut down Strasburg again this year. Barring injury, Strasburg will be ready for the playoffs(assuming they make it). After Strasburg, 21 game winner Gio Gonzalez is their second starter. Gonzalez, a lefty, came over from Oakland the previous offseason. Jordan Zimmermann finished 7th in the NL with a 2.94 ERA last season and is their number three. Edwin Jackson left for the Cubs in free agency, but the Nats picked up Danny Haren to be their number four. Haren dealt with some back problems and had a down year last season. I look for him to rebound this year. Lefty Ross Detwiler rounds out the rotation, and he is one of the best number five guys in the league.

This past week, the Nats signed former Yankee Rafeal Soriano to be their closer. They also have strong options in Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard for late inning relief. Storen was their closer later in the year, but was the losing pitcher in Game 5. Sean Burnett and Tony Gorzellany left via free agency, leaving Zack Duke as their only bullpen lefty. Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus return this year after strong performances last season.

The Nats lineup will be strong again this year. They finished 5th in the National League in runs scored despite injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Mike Morse, Wilson Ramos, and Ian Desmond during various points of the season. Adam LaRoche won the Gold Glove and was the Nats most consistent hitter last year. Denard Span was acquired from the Twins to be their leadoff hitter and center fielder. Span improves their defense, and moves Bryce Harper to left field. The 2012 Rookie of the Year, Harper should be even better this year in his age 20 season. Here's a look at their lineup.

CF Span
LF Harper
3B Zimmerman
1B LaRoche
RF Werth
SS Desmond
2B Espinosa
C Ramos/Suzuki

Ian Desmond had a breakout year last season, hitting 25 home runs and making the All Star team. His double play partner Danny Espinosa has a lot of talent, but needs to be more consistent at the plate. He has a good mix of power and speed. Werth will probably move down the order since Span was acquired. Kurt Suzuki caught most of the games for the Nats in the second half, but Ramos is the better hitter. Suzuki should still get some playing time since he's the better defensive catcher. The Nats recently traded Morse to the Mariners for prospects. Morse found himself without a position. Even without Morse, the Nats still have a strong bench in Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore, and Steve Lombardozzi.

Davey Johnson will be managing his final season in 2013 and will be retiring at the season's end. This Nationals team probably reminds him of the mid-80's Mets teams, which he also managed. They also had a mix with young phenoms like Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden and veterans like Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez. They had just as deep(if not deeper) team as the Nats do. I think they could make a push for 100 wins this year. The additions of Soriano, Haren, and Span, along with full seasons of Ramos, Strasburg, and others should make them even better.

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