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.
Jun 30, 2015, 4:29 PM EDT
Which was pretty much the only choice they had, yes?
Jun 30, 2015, 3:58 PM EDT
Let us use this column to talk a bit about how rumors got started back in the day and how they get started now.
Jun 30, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
Gallo played 25 games in his first taste of the big leagues.
Jun 30, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT
Chris Bassitt will start in his place.
Jun 30, 2015, 2:31 PM EDT
No one is quite sure when All-Star third baseman David Wright will be back.
Jun 30, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT
Not that anyone really wants you to know it’s up for bid.
Jun 30, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT
He’s making $4.8 million.
Jun 30, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
The old park housed the Eugene Emeralds until 2009
Jun 30, 2015, 12:02 PM EDT
Two men enter. One man leaves.
Jun 30, 2015, 11:26 AM EDT
I’d like to tell you a story about bullpen history and a young man named Tony La Russa.
Jun 30, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
The majority of the baseball-watching world hasn’t seemed to notice yet.
Jun 30, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
Warren had a 3.59 ERA in 14 starts.
Jun 30, 2015, 9:25 AM EDT
And Chris Young was not too pleased about it.
Jun 30, 2015, 8:51 AM EDT
It goes far, far deeper than you ever could’ve imagined.
Jun 30, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
One he gets past 45 pitches he turns every opposing hitter into Lou Gehrig.
Jun 30, 2015, 7:32 AM EDT
Mike Trout put on a clinic against the Yankees last night.
Jun 30, 2015, 12:23 AM EDT
We often take intentional walks for granted. Four tosses to the catcher. How hard can it be? Pretty hard, at least sometimes.
Jun 29, 2015, 11:45 PM EDT
Hamilton now has 40 stolen bases on the year, which is more than 15 MLB teams. You are reading that correctly.
Jun 29, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT
You’ve probably heard this advice for hitting knuckleballers before: If it’s low, let it go. If it’s high, let it fly. Well, Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval took that to the extreme tonight against R.A. Dickey of the Blue Jays…
Jun 29, 2015, 9:09 PM EDT
Of course that happened.
- Rangers activate Josh Hamilton from disabled list, send prospect Joey Gallo to Triple-A 3
- Huston Street says he’d retire if he was used like a 1970s-style fireman 39
- CC Sabathia looks like a reliever 23
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 55
- AL All-Star voting update: now “only” five Royals in the starting lineup 59
- Andy MacPhail introduced by the Phillies. And the first topic of conversation is sabermetrics 20
- What a world: Orioles are in first place and Ubaldo Jimenez has been their ace 16
- Settling the Scores: Sunday’s results 99
- With the same-sex marriage decision, the San Francisco Giants get another big win (275)
- Joe Maddon is the latest manager to rip instant replay. He’s got a point. (109)
- Settling the Scores: Sunday’s results (99)
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights (79)
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights (75)