Mar 5, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Washington Nationals.
The Big Question: Can the Nationals reclaim their throne atop the NL East?
The Nationals were everybody’s pre-season darlings going into the 2013 season. Yours truly, in fact, picked them to represent the National League in the World Series. They just never got it going, struggling to reach .500 deep into August. A late-season run in which they went 32-16 in the final 48 games gave fans a glimmer of hope that they could grab a Wild Card spot, but they ultimately fell short at 86-76.
Don’t let their disappointing season hide some stellar performances by some Nationals players, though. Jayson Werth posted a .931 OPS, tied for the sixth-highest in baseball with Troy Tulowitzki. Bryce Harper’s season was the 26th in baseball history in which a player posted 3.5 or more WAR before his 21st birthday. Stephen Strasburg posted an even 3.00 ERA and would have been in the Cy Young conversation if not for Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, and Jose Fernandez making a 3.00 ERA look bad.
One big reason why the Nationals lagged compared to 2012 was their production at second base. Compared to 2012, their OPS from the position dropped 30 points. Danny Espinosa struggled, primarily due to a broken wrist. He finished with a .477 OPS and lost his job to Anthony Rendon, who posted a .743 OPS.
Denard Span wasn’t quite as good as they hoped when they acquired him in a trade with the Twins. He was half as good for the Nationals in 2013 as he was for the Twins the year prior according to Baseball Reference’s WAR, dropping from 5.1 to 2.4. In 2012, the Nats had Harper and his 5.2 WAR in center, so it was a noticeable difference.
The Nationals weren’t terribly active over the winter. Their marquee move was acquiring Doug Fister in a trade with the Tigers. They made a smooth move in acquiring reliever Jerry Blevins from the Athletics for minor leaguer Billy Burns. Also of note, the club hired Matt Williams as manager, taking over for Davey Johnson, who retired.
What else is going on?
- Williams is making Rendon and Espinosa compete for the job at second base. Rendon should be considered the favorite for the job, but a bad spring for the former and a good one for the latter could tip the scales.
- The Fister trade was an absolute steal and gives the Nationals one of the scariest rotations in baseball. The Nationals gave up minor leaguer Robbie Ray, reliever Ian Krol, and utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi. Fister posted a 3.67 ERA for the Tigers last year with a 3.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
- Werth will turn 35 years old in May and he’s been plagued by injuries over the last two years, and generally over his career. While he was incredibly productive with the bat, the Nationals have to be concerned about his ability to hold up over a grueling 162-game season.
- Closer Rafael Soriano’s strikeout rate declined from 25 percent to 18 percent last season. While a 3.11 ERA and 43 saves aren’t anything to complain about, closers generally find it tougher to succeed striking out fewer than 20 percent of batters. The National League average for relievers overall last season was 21 percent. If Soriano continues to regress, the Nationals may want to consider moving Tyler Clippard into the closer’s role.
Prediction: The Nationals are bringing back essentially the same club that won 86 games last year, except Doug Fister is replacing Dan Haren. They’ll have a stronger bullpen with Blevins, a healthy Werth, and better production at second base. They should get back into the 90-win club at the very least. First place, NL East.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:50 PM EDT
After playing fewer than 100 games in each of the previous four years Navarro has had a solid season as Toronto’s primary catcher, hitting .282 with 12 homers and a .734 OPS in 131 games at age 30.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
As first reported by Jim Bowden of ESPN and SiriusXM, the Cardinals have cleared right-hander Michael Wacha to return to the starting rotation this Saturday evening against the visiting Reds.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:18 PM EDT
Perkins had a 2.44 ERA with just two homers allowed and a 64/9 K/BB ratio in his first 55 innings, but in his last eight appearances he’s given up 10 runs–including five homers–in 6.1 innings for a 14.21 ERA and .429 opponents’ batting average.
Sep 17, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Stanton, who hit .288 with a league-leading 37 homers and a league-leading .950 OPS before the injury, will end up missing the final 17 games of the season.
Sep 17, 2014, 5:12 PM EDT
Forget it, Jake. It’s Colorado.
Sep 17, 2014, 4:51 PM EDT
After a solid first half Teixeira has batted .179 with 43 strikeouts in 42 games since the All-Star break.
Sep 17, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Still not as bad as his golf swing.
Sep 17, 2014, 3:53 PM EDT
Good to see MLB make the smart call and suspend Stroman for headhunting.
Sep 17, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
The Nationals starters are getting a breather today.
Sep 17, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Altuve is on pace for the most hits in a season since …
Sep 17, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Pedants of the World Unite!
Sep 17, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
This year he hit .264 with nine homers and a .767 OPS in 99 games, including 47 starts at catcher.
Sep 17, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
He’ll mash lefties (hopefully) and play some first base.
Sep 17, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Despite playing for five different teams and in general not being particularly valuable Delmon Young is headed to the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.
Sep 17, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
When the Giants acquired Jake Peavy from the Red Sox in late July expectations were minimal.
Sep 17, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
“His mindset is he wants to come back and play. Ours is, absolutely, if it can happen.”
Sep 17, 2014, 12:51 PM EDT
Jonathan Papelbon got seven games for the crotch-grab. Joe West gets one game for the Papelbon grab.
Sep 17, 2014, 12:28 PM EDT
Another day off for the Dodgers’ ailing shortstop.
Sep 17, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT
Most people either thought the O’s would lose this year or, at the very least, thought they’d win differently. Either way: they are the AL East champs.
Sep 17, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
“Hey honey? I have some good news and some bad news . . . “
- Michael Wacha cleared to return Saturday vs. Reds 0
- Marlins officially shut down Giancarlo Stanton for the season 2
- Umpire Joe West suspended for one game for his part in the Jonathan Papelbon incident 50
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights 81
- Jose Altuve breaks Craig Biggio’s franchise record, tallying his 211th hit of the season 12
- Orioles beat Blue Jays to clinch AL East title 38
- Tanner Roark dominates as Nationals clinch NL East 22
- Masahiro Tanaka to pitch on Sunday 11
- Chris Davis suspended 25 games for amphetamine use (92)
- A few thoughts about the discrimination lawsuit against the Mets (91)
- Giancarlo Stanton diagnosed with multiple facial fractures and dental damage (91)
- Bud Selig can’t remember the last domestic violence incident in Major League Baseball (88)
- A couple of initial thoughts on the Chris Davis suspension (83)