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.
Aug 4, 2015, 4:14 PM EDT
A shocking announcement from the Tigers today.
Aug 4, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
He has a strained forearm.
Aug 4, 2015, 3:12 PM EDT
No Royals were suspended.
Aug 4, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
He calls it a “hail Mary”
Aug 4, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT
In between the DL stints Freeman played just 10 games.
Aug 4, 2015, 1:19 PM EDT
He played two games for the Yankees.
Aug 4, 2015, 12:27 PM EDT
Incredible numbers for a 20-year-old shortstop.
Gregg Zaun to Yordano Ventura: “stop writing checks with your mouth that your skinny ass can’t cash”
Aug 4, 2015, 11:44 AM EDT
Gregg Zaun, as always, providing a voice of reason.
Aug 4, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
He’s pitcher number two they received in the David Price deal.
Aug 4, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
“I only have one head.”
Aug 4, 2015, 9:48 AM EDT
Not having access to athletes and coaches would be a bummer at first, but over time the press would do just fine with it.
Aug 4, 2015, 8:44 AM EDT
Congratulations to Mike Hessman. The greatest minor league lifer of them all.
Aug 4, 2015, 8:02 AM EDT
A.J. Pierzynski is a national freakin’ treasure.
Aug 4, 2015, 7:22 AM EDT
A few weeks ago I had no idea what an Adonis Garcia even was.
Aug 3, 2015, 11:01 PM EDT
Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre hit for the cycle tonight against the Astros. And he needed just five innings to do it.
Aug 3, 2015, 10:25 PM EDT
It’s August 3 and the Mets are all alone in first place in the National League East.
Aug 3, 2015, 10:03 PM EDT
Mike Hessman is the new minor league home run king.
Aug 3, 2015, 9:36 PM EDT
Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg has been sidelined since July 4 with a left oblique strain, but it sounds like he’s rounding into form for the stretch run.
Aug 3, 2015, 9:13 PM EDT
The Braves are calling him day-to-day, but these type of injuries are notoriously tricky.
Aug 3, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT
Clayton Richard tossed six innings of one-run ball in a win over the Padres on Sunday, but he was designated for assignment by the Cubs today for the second time in the past two weeks.
- Dave Dombrowski out as Tigers General Manager, team president, Al Avila takes over 0
- Blue Jays’ Aaron Sanchez, John Gibbons disciplined in the wake of Sunday’s plunkings 28
- Believe the hype: Carlos Correa is already a superstar 22
- Gregg Zaun to Yordano Ventura: “stop writing checks with your mouth that your skinny ass can’t cash” 89
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 55
- Adrian Beltre needs just five innings for the third cycle of his career 16
- Mets blow out Marlins, move past Nationals for first place in NL East 26
- Yordano Ventura calls Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accuses him of stealing signs 73
- The benches cleared in Friday’s Giants-Rangers game (208)
- Blue Jays acquire David Price from the Tigers (113)
- Rangers land ace left-hander Cole Hamels from Phillies (106)
- Royals make another big move, get Ben Zobrist from A’s (95)
- Report: Rockies trade Troy Tulowitzki to Blue Jays for Jose Reyes and prospects (92)