Something went wrong in Washington last year. The Nats went from winning the division with the best record in the league in 2012 to winning only 86 games and finishing second to the Braves. That led to the retirement of Davey Johnson and now Matt Williams will take over as manager this year. Williams, formerly a great slugger with the Giants, Indians and Diamondbacks, and most recently a coach with the Diamondbacks, is inheriting a pretty good team that went through some mishaps last year. How are the Nats looking for 2014? Well, I’m writing about them in this series, aren’t I? Let’s see how they’re looking.
Let’s start with the most hyped player on the Nationals, 20 year old Bryce Harper. Harper burst onto the scene in 2012 as a 19 year old, and ran away with the Rookie of the Year award. He was hampered a bit by injuries last year, but still put up overall solid numbers, especially for a 20 year old sophomore. Harper played in 118 games, hitting .274/.368/.486 with 20 homers and 58 RBI. While he hasn’t quite put the fear of God in anyone like Mike Trout has in the AL, there’s no question that he’s the best player on the team, and they need him to stay healthy and have himself a breakout season. The reckless abandon with which he plays defense might cause him to miss some games last year, but I love the effort and hope he stays aggressive. Allegedly, he spent the offseason getting “as big as a house” a, so look for some more homers in 2014.
The rest of the lineup shakes up with regulars like Adam Laroche (who might platoon at first with Tyler Moore (who I’ve heard can turn the world on with his smile and take a nothing day and make it suddenly seem worthwhile), and Ryan Zimmerman (26 homers in 2013) will be back to play third. Youngster Anthony Rendon will take over at second base, which is a good thing because he can allegedly hit very well. Ian Desmond, meanwhile, quietly put together an excellent season, hitting .280 and joining the 20/20 club. The much maligned Jayson Werth again had trouble staying healthy, but he managed to hit .318/.398/.532 with 25 homers in his 129 games. Denard Span is there to add some speed and defense to the mix, and the Nats are still waiting for 26 year old Wilson Ramos to put it all together, including his health. He has great potential, hitting .272/.307/.470 with 16 dingers in 78 games last year, but he needs to be on the field to break out.
Not Just Strasburg anymore
The Nationals have done a great job of developing their young pitching. It helps when you get the number one pick in the draft and take one of the best pitching prospects in recent memory, but they’ve done more than just pick high in the draft to get Strasburg. They also have Jordan Zimmermann, who is a different kind of pitcher, but still won 11 more games than Strasburg did in 2013. Let’s not forget about Gio Gonzalez either, who won 21 games in 2012 and put up a 3.36 ERA last year too. They lost Dan Haren this off-season, but managed to replace him with Doug Fister, who should be an excellent veteran addition to this rotation. Those four guys facing the Mets and Marlins 40 times this year? Forget it.
I read somewhere the other day that Soriano has lost a bit of a step since his days in New York, but he put up 43 saves and a 3.11 ERA last year for the Nats, so I’m not sure it matters. The dude can close out games, and he should get plenty of opportunities this year too. Other than that, the Nats have about 100 guys in the bullpen who throw 150 mph. It’s ridiculous. Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, Drew Stoern and the newly acquired Jerry Blevins should make for a solid group. Not too many games are gonna get away from the Nationals if they’re up early.
As I mentioned before, last year was a tough one for the Nats. Almost everyone picked them to win the division, and some people even picked them to win the World Series. All that pitching, all that young talent, and they somehow came up short. I think this year, they’ll stay healthy and make a considerable run at the world title. The Braves stand in their way for the divisional crown, but I think Washington will overcome in the end. They might be my pick to be the NL representative in the World Series.
Harper. Duh. Also, on offense, feel free to take Desmond in your top five shortstops, and Zimmerman should provide some power and run production. I think Werth’s bounce back season put him back on the map, but that injury history is worrisome for sure. Ramos would be a top tier catcher if he wasn’t almost guaranteed to get hurt. You can gamble on him, but I’m not sure I would… at least without a backup plan.
Featured image courtesy of: Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports
- http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/01/03/bryce-harper-is-trying-to-get-as-big-as-a-house/ (back)
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