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.
Oct 24, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
The conventional wisdom is that the good-defense, low-power Royals aren’t hurt all that much by playing in AT&T Park. I tend to disagree with that.
Oct 24, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
It would actually make a lot of sense.
Oct 24, 2014, 1:05 PM EDT
GM salaries are about to skyrocket.
Oct 24, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Will he follow Andrew Friedman to Los Angeles?
Oct 24, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
The powerful and controversial drug is allowing Game 2’s hero to battle through shoulder pain.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT
Great Moments in Peanuts and Cracker Jack
Oct 24, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT
For the second straight year we realize that Miguel Cabrera finished the season in way more pain than the Tigers had let on.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:04 AM EDT
Oct 24, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
Quite the hot take from John McGrath of the Tacoma News-Tribune
Oct 24, 2014, 9:08 AM EDT
A day later, Strickland has a better handle on how he mishandled things on Wednesday night.
Oct 24, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
A man with a history of intentionally misstating the facts about stocks does so about baseball.
Oct 24, 2014, 7:13 AM EDT
We’re tied 1-1. I guess that doesn’t make Game 3 “crucial.” Maybe it makes it “pivotal.” Not sure. Gonna have to consult my baseball cliche dictionary.
Oct 23, 2014, 11:01 PM EDT
Do you want to feel really old? OK, here goes.
Oct 23, 2014, 9:58 PM EDT
After stepping down as assistant general manager of the Nationals earlier this month, Bryan Minniti has accepted the same role with the Diamondbacks.
Oct 23, 2014, 8:57 PM EDT
Moss will use crutches for around four weeks and the expectation is that he’ll begin running in 12 weeks.
Oct 23, 2014, 8:16 PM EDT
Aoki’s defense has been an issue throughout the postseason, with Yost frequently taking him out late in games.
Oct 23, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT
One of the game’s top shortstop prospects, Russell saw some time at second base in the Arizona Fall League.
Oct 23, 2014, 7:19 PM EDT
Take notes, Braves fans.
Oct 23, 2014, 6:49 PM EDT
Tim Lincecum is being sent for an MRI regarding the lower back/side issue which caused him to exit from Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night.
Oct 23, 2014, 6:31 PM EDT
Dave Magadan surfaced as a candidate for hitting coach vacancies with the Yankees, Athletics, Red Sox, and Mets, but he’s sticking with the Rangers.
- Andrew Friedman got $35 million to leave the Rays for the Dodgers … and he might be underpaid 6
- Shocker! Joe Maddon to opt out of his contract and leave the Rays 85
- World Series Reset: On to AT&T Park 14
- The World Series ratings are low. So what? 97
- John Hart to be named Braves President of Baseball Operations 3
- No, Ned Yost didn’t “out-manage” Bruce Bochy. His players played better 69
- At least Hunter Strickland entertained us last night 37
- Royals even up World Series with 7-2 Game 2 victory 43
- So, if you’re not a fan of the Royals or Giants, who ya got? (129)
- Erroneous Narrative Alert: no, the Giants are not a “gritty,” anti-stats organization (122)
- Pedro Martinez has some opinions about who the new “face of baseball” is (112)
- PANTY RAID! Homeland Security agents confiscate unlicensed Kansas City Royals underwear (109)
- The World Series ratings are low. So what? (97)