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.
Apr 18, 2015, 3:58 PM EDT
Scary moment in today’s Phillies-Nationals game, as home plate umpire Brian Knight was forced to exit after he was hit in the facemask by a pitch in the top of the ninth inning.
Apr 18, 2015, 3:47 PM EDT
Greg Holland has been one of the game’s best relievers dating back to 2011, but the Royals will have to make due without him for a little while.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:56 PM EDT
The Cardinals are calling Holliday’s exit “precautionary,” so it’s probably safe to consider him day-to-day.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:27 PM EDT
Tracy, 26, was designated for assignment by the Yankees last Sunday.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:11 PM EDT
The Nats’ infield depth is being tested in the early part of the season.
Apr 18, 2015, 1:24 PM EDT
Schoop was off to a nice start so far this season, batting .259 (7-for-27) with three home runs and a .940 OPS over nine games.
Apr 18, 2015, 1:01 PM EDT
Reds right-hander Homer Bailey landed on the disabled list at the end of spring training while he completed his rehab from surgery to repair a tear of the flexor tendon in his elbow, but he has been activated to make his season debut this afternoon against the Cardinals.
Apr 18, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT
The Marlins are off to a disappointing 3-8 start this season and slugger Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t like what he has seen.
Apr 18, 2015, 12:10 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton’s future with the Angels is in question, as the two sides are discussing a number of scenarios to resolve their dispute.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT
V-Mart took a few days off this week to rest his knee.
Apr 18, 2015, 10:45 AM EDT
Danny Salazar was optioned to Triple-A after struggling during spring training, but he’ll now get an extended opportunity in Cleveland’s rotation.
Apr 18, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
It’s safe to say that nobody would have guessed this one.
Apr 18, 2015, 8:51 AM EDT
A quick recap of a busy Friday around MLB, including the exploits of Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon.
Apr 18, 2015, 7:17 AM EDT
There are, increasingly, two Angels camps when it comes to the Josh Hamilton matter: Arte Moreno and everybody else.
Apr 18, 2015, 6:49 AM EDT
When Angels owner Arte Moreno was asked if Josh Hamilton would ever play for the Angels again, he said “I will not say that.” With this listing, perhaps Hamilton is saying so himself.
Ruben Amaro on Andy Oliver’s decision to elect free agency: “I think it was a very foolish move on his part, but that’s OK.”
Apr 17, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Ruben Amaro seems a little upset that Andy Oliver didn’t want to start the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Apr 17, 2015, 10:50 PM EDT
The Mets will be stretching out Rafael Montero as a starter at Triple-A Las Vegas before bringing him back to the majors for a spot start against the Marlins.
Apr 17, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT
Mike Trout became the youngest to join the 100/100 club with a two-run home run on Friday night.
Apr 17, 2015, 9:17 PM EDT
Alex Rodriguez has two home runs on Friday night, leaving him two round-trippers shy of tying Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run leaderboard.
Apr 17, 2015, 9:11 PM EDT
Matt Carpenter made a cool maneuver to score the tying run in the bottom of the first against the Reds on Friday night.
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 50
- Josh Hamilton’s teammates say he’s in great shape and ready to play 27
- Mike Trout hit his 100th career home run to become the youngest member of the 100 HR/100 SB club 26
- Make that two: Alex Rodriguez hits second homer of the night, giving him 658 for his career 45
- Alex Rodriguez hit his 657th career home run 48
- Let’s all just stare at Kris Bryant’s numbers for a while 28
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 39
- The wait is over: The Cubs are calling up top prospect Kris Bryant on Friday 99
- The Commissioner’s Office thinks that the Angels could indeed go after Josh Hamilton under his contract (153)
- “Why Ted Cruz is like the Atlanta Braves” (150)
- “We no longer need the terrorists. We’re now so good at terrorizing ourselves.” (143)
- Another argument in favor of making the DH universal (127)
- When it comes to Josh Hamilton, Arte Moreno is a craven opportunist, not a “smart businessman” (116)