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.
May 29, 2015, 9:01 AM EDT
The latest radical suggestion from the baseball commentariat is like all of the others: it’s a solution in search of a problem.
May 29, 2015, 8:23 AM EDT
Great Moments in Politics.
May 29, 2015, 7:13 AM EDT
Corey Kulber’s last four starts: 3-0 with 50 strikeouts and two walks in 32 innings. Yowza.
May 28, 2015, 11:39 PM EDT
Red Sox prospect left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings in his major league debut against the Rangers on Thursday.
May 28, 2015, 10:51 PM EDT
Rockies prospect David Dahl suffered a “massive laceration” in his spleen following an outfield collision Thursday and required season-ending surgery.
May 28, 2015, 10:03 PM EDT
Hamilton got a rousing ovation from the home crowd in his return to Texas.
May 28, 2015, 9:05 PM EDT
Jarrod Saltalamacchia was cut loose by the Marlins earlier this month after proving to be a disappointment in his three-year, $21 million contract, but the Diamondbacks are ready to give him a shot.
May 28, 2015, 8:22 PM EDT
Kazmir left his start yesterday against the Tigers after three innings with shoulder tightness, but it sounds like he might not have to miss much time.
May 28, 2015, 7:40 PM EDT
Tanaka has been sidelined since April 23 due to a right forearm strain and right wrist tendinitis.
May 28, 2015, 7:01 PM EDT
The 39-year-old Ortiz has just one hit in his last 20 at-bats and is batting an uncharacteristic .216/.303/.377 with six home runs and 18 RBI across his first 43 games this season.
May 28, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
The Indians placed Santana on the paternity leave list Thursday following the birth of his daughter.
May 28, 2015, 4:52 PM EDT
Nava has struggled all season, hitting just .159 with zero homers.
May 28, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT
Michael Taylor suddenly has a full-time job.
May 28, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Seven and two-thirds innings, 12 strikeouts and nothin’ else doin’.
May 28, 2015, 2:37 PM EDT
Great Moments in . . . wah?
May 28, 2015, 12:50 PM EDT
Kingham cracked top-100 prospect lists last season and this season.
May 28, 2015, 12:16 PM EDT
Jay has been out since May 10 with a wrist injury.
May 28, 2015, 11:53 AM EDT
I don’t do requests and even if I did, I would’t do Rush requests. But you all have broken me down.
May 28, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
“I have nothing to complain about.”
May 28, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
He just opted out of his deal with Tampa Bay.
- The schedule: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it 0
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 28
- Eduardo Rodriguez dazzles in major league debut 15
- Masahiro Tanaka expected to rejoin Yankees next week 4
- Alex Rodriguez is the all-time AL RBI champion. Sorta. 76
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 86
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak: Matt Adams out 3-4 months, possibly the year, with torn quad 60
- Bryce Harper leads in the first round of National League All-Star voting 29