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Nationals have all of the pieces for a longer run in 2013

Oct 13, 2012, 2:04 AM EDT

Bryce Harper Reuters

Yeah, that was a particularly gruesome way to lose. But that will only make the eventual payoff that much sweeter.

Of course, the Nationals aren’t guaranteed anything going forward after losing in the NLDS to the Cardinals on Friday night. Shutting down Stephen Strasburg early was a move geared towards protecting the future, but the Nationals are far from assured of finishing with the NL’s best record again next year or even making it back to the postseason.

That said, things do look pretty good:

- A top four of Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler is not only a great rotation, but it will also be a cheap one. The quarter will make about $13.5 million total in 2013.

- Bryce Harper is only going to get better, and he appeared to get more adept in center field as his rookie season went on. That means the Nationals can maintain their Michael Morse-Harper-Jayson Werth outfield and re-sign Adam LaRoche to sign play first base if they’d like. And since Morse can play first base, they also have flexibility if LaRoche leaves as a free agent and they want to replace him with a leadoff-type center fielder.

- Wilson Ramos will from his torn ACL to upgrade the catcher spot. Kurt Suzuki would make for a very expensive backup catcher unless the Nats decide to trade him, but they’re cheap enough elsewhere that they should be able to afford to keep him at $6.5 million.

The Nationals should have the payroll flexibility to target a big-name starter if they want one, whether it’s through free agency or trade. Even if LaRoche departs, the offense should be better next year with growth from Harper and more at-bats to Werth and Morse. Ian Desmond may fall off a bit, but he just turned 27 and may simply be hitting his stride.

Having the NL’s best rotation on paper didn’t do the Phillies much good this year, but the Nationals have to be considered the NL East favorites in 2013. They just won 98 games with the NL’s second-youngest team (the Triple-A Astros being the youngest), and barring a major misstep, there will be more talent coming in than exiting this winter.

  1. sailcat54 - Oct 13, 2012 at 2:17 AM

    I suppose a paragraph on the Nats’ chances in 2013 is the bone they get thrown to them for choking in the NLDS. Oh well, I’d rather see the Cards play the Giants than the Nationals, anyway. I’d rather see two hungry, scrappy teams duke it out in the NLCS than watch an over-rated team who had expectations they would have the World Series handed to them on a platter just because they believed they were The Team of Destiny in 2012. The Cards taught them championships are earned, not bestowed.

    See you in 2013, Nats!

    • dcfan4life - Oct 13, 2012 at 3:19 AM

      I have no idea where anything you said came from. The Nats never expected anything. They fought to get where they were, with the Braves never going away, a late push by the Phils, all the controversy behind shutting down Strasburg, and then pushing the defending champs to the brink. No team in Washington EVER expects anything. Ever. Period. Asshole.

    • mattw70 - Oct 13, 2012 at 5:51 AM

      How can you have the best record over 162 games and be over-rated? And never heard anyone say they were bestowed the championship. Strange comment.

  2. schmedley69 - Oct 13, 2012 at 2:18 AM

    Phillies will be back to reclaim the division next season. They are going to send Charlie out with another ring. The run isn’t over. It’s just beginning.

    • dondada10 - Oct 13, 2012 at 7:30 AM

      Especially with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley entering their prime years.

  3. wetmorepsu12 - Oct 13, 2012 at 2:41 AM

    Honestly I don’t see the Nats doing as well next year. If (and it’s a big if) the phillies stay healthy, they could easily be the favorites next year. a rotation of a healthy halladay hamels lee and worley beats a healthy stras gio zimmermann and detwiler, especially in the playoffs, at least from a pitching standpoint. Harper will regress a little I believe because the NL knows him a little better now. Laroche will be 33 and he will likely regress a little. Laroche has always been good but he had a monster year this year, for his standards. I don’t see next year as being so good. Basically, if the phils do a little something to the OF and 3B, and Howard and Utley come back healthy, they will be the favorites next year. Their bullpen will be better, Horst and Aumont Are the real deal. But as I’m insinuating this is about what’s on paper, and its important to note that rarely ever translates over 162 games. I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s a little irrational to be putting the Nats down as frontrunners for the NL East so soon. Plus you can never disregard the braves, even without chipper.

  4. creek0512 - Oct 13, 2012 at 2:41 AM

    Nationals did not choke, they were beaten by the Cardinals.

    • blacksables - Oct 13, 2012 at 8:19 AM

      How about that choke job by Molina? Drawing a walk with 2 outs in the 9th inning of the most important game they played all year.

      Says choke artist to me.

    • Chip Caray's Eyebrows - Oct 13, 2012 at 10:24 AM

      Yeah, they kinda did. Sorry.

  5. craigmaitland - Oct 13, 2012 at 2:48 AM

    What happens if next yr Strasburg actually gets hurt, or Gio gets hurt, or Harper? All the pieces were healthy and in place this year. You don’t just throw away those chances.

  6. kelshannon19 - Oct 13, 2012 at 2:49 AM

    Keep kickin the Stros while they’re down…

    • stex52 - Oct 13, 2012 at 10:05 AM

      I’m with you, kel. Look to the longer run. It’s no fun now, but it will get better. And Houston can compete on salary in the AL West. (God, I hate DL Ball!)

  7. creek0512 - Oct 13, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    I hope the Nationals miss the playoffs for the next decade after their arrogance with Strasbourg. First time ever in the playoffs and they refuse to use their best player, as if they are guaranteed to make the playoffs again. That decision tells you everything you need to know about that organization. They deserved this defeat for insulting and not respecting the game.

    • chico54 - Oct 13, 2012 at 8:46 AM

      I understand everyones point about strasburg not pitching, but the easy thing was to let him continue to pitch. Wether they make it or not next year or near future to the world series its good to see the GM look out for the player and hold to what he believes what is best for his organization then to listen to others who I am sorry don’t have all the information that Rizzo has about his medical condition. Rizzo said from day one of spring training he was going to hold stras to a 160 inning. It wasn’t arrogant it was what rizzo believes is best for his player and the organization. If he was wrong so be it, I would be more upset that they didn’t improve the organization at the all star break, with either a starter better then Edwin Jackson or a left hand bat better then Tracy off the bench. And for National Fans I don’t think there were many who thought they would win 98 games or win the division so yes they can do it again but then again they could become the Braves whom so many people like to use as an example of how to run an organization, oh yeah only one world series win with maddox, smoltz and Glavine and the great pitcher Avery(who Leo and the braves ruined by over pitching him) or the last two years the phillies who still have a little window open but lets be serious, Utley will get hurt again and Howard struggles against lefties, So next year its anybodies game.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 13, 2012 at 8:56 AM

        with either a starter better then Edwin Jackson

        Maybe a nats fan can help me out, but what’s with the blame on Jackson (both here and on ESPN/Baseball Tonight)? Looking at the box score, I’d put it like Storen > Gonzalez > Clippard/Jackson. How Jackson is taking the brunt of the blame with Clippard who also gave up a run, Storen obviously should take most of it for giving up 4R in an inning, but taking 100 pitches to throw 5 innings and 3 ER when you are up 3-0 in the first and 6-0 after 3? Gonzalez should also get some major blame.

      • chico54 - Oct 13, 2012 at 9:45 AM

        I’m not saying Edwin lost last night I think storen and Gio are main two culprits. I was stating that Rizzo knew he was going to shut down Stras he should have tried to get an ace or possible a no 2 or no 3, I see Jackson as either a no 4 or no 5, an inning eater who at times shines but is too inconsistent to be counted on. But I have to agree with a lot of what people are writing about Johnson, he trusted his young players all year long but he should have played the game smarter last night. Jackson numbers against Cards were not good, why go to him. After the hit that knocked in 2 runs to tie it, why not walk Kozmo to face with T cruz or Motte, either way you give your team a better chance to win. And to not even have a lefty warming up to possible face the cards no 2 hitters is unacceptable in a do or die game. If storen was sharp against Molina and Freese,but they got hits, then I would understand going with Storen, should have gone to Gonzo to get Decalsco

  8. btwicey - Oct 13, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    Sailcat54 … Worst.comment.ever

  9. yousuxxors - Oct 13, 2012 at 4:56 AM

    cardinal baseball is like giants football

    • db105 - Oct 13, 2012 at 6:12 AM

      Agree. Not the best teams but are teams that get hot and lucky at the same time. Nothing wrong with that.

  10. haligert - Oct 13, 2012 at 7:16 AM

    Every season is “up for grabs”…sure on “paper” some teams wll look the best, but what it comes down to is staying healthy and “mentally tough” for 162+ games. (and yes, getting “hot” at the end of the season along with “lady luck” by your team’s side can only help too)

  11. husky2score - Oct 13, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    Great job Matt for finally realizing a team that had a decent and surprising year. O’s and A’s are next right?

  12. willclarkgameface - Oct 13, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    Eat my shorts, Rizzo.
    Eat my shorts.

    This league is all about staying healthy over the 162. Can Morse do it next year? How about Werth? Is Bryce REALLY going to get better? What if the kid has hit his mark in the big leagues and he never fulfills his expectations? Mike Trout laughed when Harper was on the cover of SI – JINX MODE!

    This is what happens when you take things for granted, thinking you can just win because being short only one man isn’t the whole team, right Riz?

    FOOL.

  13. buzzjunior42 - Oct 13, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    It’s funny seeing so many idiotic comments from bitter Philly fans. Being a DC fan, anytime I hear the word “choke” come out the mouth of any Philly sports fan I chuckle. It was a gut wrenching loss, but one they gained experience. I know nothing is guaranteed, but I will take this young roster over Phillys anyday of the week. Plus a strong farm system to boot…anyone who says the Nats had a disappointing year is nuts!! Great season Nats. Can’t wait til the 2013 season.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 13, 2012 at 8:44 AM

      I know nothing is guaranteed, but I will take this young roster over Phillys anyday of the week

      Personally, I love the comments from people like wetmorepsu12 up above, talking about all the regression that will hit the Nats and mentioning none of it in regards to the Phillies. “If Utley is healthy?” He hasn’t been in 4 years, and next year will be his age 34 season. “If Howard is healthy?” He’s been reduced to a platoon 1b with a $25M/year contract. How about a regression for Ruiz, who slugged almost 100 pts higher than his career best?

      It goes both ways.

      • haligert - Oct 13, 2012 at 9:07 AM

        Most of your comment makes sense, yet the last part about Chooch (Ruiz) I would challenge. ONLY because he made changes in his “approach” at the plate over the off season last year. Will he hit the same next season? That’s just not ever a guarantee with any player, and yet if he continues with the same “go with the pitch” approach I believe he can still deliver a better than average plate appearance.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 13, 2012 at 9:23 AM

        It’s entirely possible he made a change in his approach, and he’s now a .540 slugging hitter; however, one year isn’t enough of a sample size to say, moving forward, this is his true talent level. If he puts up another .500 SLG year next year or at least the first few months, we can say this is his new, true talent level.

        But to avoid it completely, along with the other comments I made smacks of hypocrisy.

  14. haligert - Oct 13, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    Agreed ! Plus playing that position is “grueling” ….time will tell.

  15. yarguy - Oct 13, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    In Pouliot’s world it is impossible for the Cards to have won on their talent, so the only possible explanation is the Nats lost.

  16. stex52 - Oct 13, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    Something we talked about last week. If you want the championship to go to the “best” team, then play 162 and give it to the winner. When you open it up to short series between ten good teams, all sorts of stuff can happen. So it goes.

  17. Kevin Gillman - Oct 13, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    Matt, I want to remind you that the 2007 Cleveland Indians won 96 games, and were one win away from reaching the World Series. And this was a team that featured Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia anchoring their rotation, yet the very next season, they won 77 games and haven’t been back to the postseason since. The Nationals can easily fit that bill. Will they? Who knows, but for everyone that believes going back to the playoffs will be easy, I remind them of that Indians team, because as good as Strasberg and Gonzalez are, they still haven’t reached Cliff Lee and C.C. yet. We’ll find out though, but that is the very reason why you pitch Strasberg throughout the season, just limit his IP, and skip his starts every now and then.

    • theawesomersfranchise - Oct 13, 2012 at 12:35 PM

      Iceburg Strasberg

  18. nicosamuelson2 - Oct 13, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    The Nationals got what they deserve.

  19. jl9830 - Oct 13, 2012 at 5:27 PM

    I don’t think it’s necessarily a guarantee that Harper only gets better next year; he’s only 19 and teams will adjust to him. Let’s see how he adjusts back. A sophomore slump is not out of the question.

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